"The first morning of March in the year '33" the King's County fox hunt finally takes Reynard. He asks for pen, ink and paper to write his will. He leaves his estate and money to the hunters and backs it up by giving them a check on the National Bank.
This is a real mess -- so much so that every new text I've turned up has forced me to reclassify the old ones. There seem to be four related families of texts here. This is lyrically very close to the Irish song "The Hare's Dream," but after much hesitation I've split that off because it's found mostly if not entirely in Ireland (perhaps only in Ulster), and it's about a hare, not a fox.
That leaves three versions with English roots:
1. The political "Bold Reynard" versions.
2. The Fox Chase versions not ending in the death of the fox
3. The Fox Chase versions ending in the death of the fox
The first of these seems to exist in fragments, so although the political content seems clear, it's not obvious just which politicians are involved.
The second is the one I have heard recorded -- though it came from a bunch of folkies, so they may have preferred a non-hunting version. My original description of that form was: "The hunters set out in pursuit of Reynard the Fox. Crafty Reynard leads hunters and hounds on many a wild goose chase. At last the hunters give up, and Reynard returns to his snug den. (He sends the hunters a cheque to pay for their losses!)"
The third, which is the basis for the description, is what appears in Leather and O'Conor.
Possibly these types should be split, but it would be impossible to split fragments and one has to suspect that all the rewriting is deliberate.
In the United States (or possibly in England, if a fragment from Baring-Gould constitutes evidence), the song changed even more dramatically -- so much so that, after some hesitation and discussion, we reclassified it as a separate song, "The Bold Ranger."
The song is still about a hunt (sometimes for "Reynard," but now often for "Rainer" or "Ranger"), but the result is almost a moniker song, with verses perhaps influenced by "Three Jolly Huntsmen." No longer does the song start in the victim's lair; no longer is Reynard leading the huntsmen astray; rather, they meet various people who tell them how to find the fox. The choruses in this version are often extravagant, though the verse retains the "Tallyho" form.
Leather reports that her version was written by a Richard Matthews "in the reign of George III." Matthews may well have been responsible for a particular version, but without more evidence, I hesitate to attribute the whole song to him.
Although this song has points of similarity to "Bold Reynard ('A Good Many Gentlemen')," Kennedy and others clearly state that they are different -- and indeed, they have few details in common except that they describe a foxhunt. - RBW
Hoagland begins "The first day of spring in the year ninety-three" and adds a subtitle of "A Song Celebrating the Great Hunt of 1793." - BS