“Old Granny Wales (Granny O'Whale, Granua Weal)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1823 (Green Mountain Songster, according to Stanchfield)
Keywords: political nonballad America nobility
Found in: US(MW)


"Old Granny she rose in the morning so soon,.. Saying, 'They're wronging my children that's over the sea." She meets Lord Cornwall, Lord Bute, Lord North, Lord Granville, and complains about the Tea Act. They argue; she wishes her children success


It appears that there is only one traditional collection of this song, by Bessie Mae Stanchfield, taken from Elma Snyder McDowell of Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Stanchfield published this version in _California Folklore Quarterly_ Volume 4, Number 4 (October, 1945), pp. 393-397. McDowell had it from her father; based on Stanchfield's notes, this would appear to mean it was in circulation in Minnesota around 1880.

Stanchfield, in researching the song, consulted very many eminent folklorists (I have seen the letters she wrote; they are in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society). They proved very unhelpful; none even noted the connection with Grace O'Malley, known as Granuaile (for whom see "Granuaile" and the related songs). Stanchfield's speculation was the Granny Wales either Benjamin Franklin (an "old granny" who was for a time, in effect, the American representative trying to negotiate with the British parliament) or perhaps the country of Wales itself.

I have no doubt, however, that Old Granny Wales is in fact Granuaile, and in this I am confirmed by Bruce Olson (Digital Tradition notes on Granny Wale), John Moulden (private communication), and Kenneth Porter (Notes and Queries, in _Western Folklore_, Volume 13, Number 1 (January,1954), p. 51; note that _Western Folklore_ is the successor of _California Folklore Quarterly_). All four of us reached this conclusion independently: This is a song of the Irish wishing the Americans well in their rebellion.

Apart from Granuaile, the characters and events mentioned in the McDowell text are:

Lord Cornwall: Cornwall is properly a duchy, and I know of no one named Lord Cornwall in this period; I suspect this is an error for General Cornwallis. (Unless it's a sort of geographical error for the Earl Dartmouth, Secretary for the Americas when the troubles began.)

Lord North, Lord Granville, and infamous Bute: Frederick, Lord North, later second Earl of Guilford (1732-1792), was Prime Minister 1770-1782. His behavior toward the colonies was much better than this song might imply; he actually *repealed* most of the Townshend Duties which had made the colonies so restless, keeping only the tea tax as a sort of token of British sovereignty (the tea tax, according to Stanley Weibtraub, _Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire_, Free Press, 2005, p. 4, was a quarter of the tax charged in England; on p. 19, he notes that total taxes on Americans were only about 1/25 the effective tax rate paid by British subjects) and also as an attempt to get rid of a lot of tea stuck in East India Company warehouses (see Don Cook, _The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies, 1760-1785_, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995, pp. 166-167; Albert Marrin, _The War for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution_, Atheneum, 1988, p. 33). His real problem was that he was George III's Prime Minister, so he had to do something to keep that unwise monarch happy. For more on these guys, see "Taxation of America."

Lord Granville: George Grenville (1712-1770), MP from 1741, Secretary of State 1761, Prime Minister 1763-1765. He came into office with a big problem: According to Robert Middlekauff, _The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789_ (Oxford, 1982), p. 57, he came into office with the national debt up to 122 million pounds (the result of the expensive battles of the Seven Years' War/French and Indian War). Britain was taxed to the limit, and the government felt that it needed to keep troops in America. Somehow, they had to be paid for. It was decided that the Americans would have to pay a share. After some fiddling with various tarriffs, Grenville imposed the Stamp Act, which was the first major cause of American revolutionary unrest (Marrin, pp. 14-15). (It is ironic to note that he lowered other duties, such as that on molasses -- Middlekauff, p. 58 -- but did his best to make sure it was collected.)

Infamous Bute: John Stuart, Third Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Prime Minister 1762-1763. He had been the tutor of the future George III from 1755, and his influence with that monarch was felt to continue long after he left office (see John Cannon, editor, _The Oxford Companion to British History_, Oxford, 1997, p. 145). He was, however, hated by just about everyone except the King (Cook, pp. 30-31), and he drove many Lords out of government.

Middlekauff, p. 20, has much to say of Bute, "The friendship [between George III and Bute] seems to have developed easily -- in part, we may suppose, because George craved affection and kindness and Bute responded with both. Yet... Bute held the upper hand: he was twenty-five years older, strongly opinionated, obviously intelligent, and he was in charge of the prince's education.... Bute himself knew much but did not understand men or human conduct. His pride reinforced the prince's; his propensity to judge others by abstract principles... strengthened a similar tendency in the prince. Master and pupil then and later commonly mistook inflexibility for personal strength and character" (p. 20).

It was Bute who first started building up the peacetime army (Cook, p. 34, attributes this to a desire to place George III), forcing the raising of money to maintain them. This started the cycle of taxes, continued by Grenville, which caused so much trouble with the colonies. Especially since Bute did nothing to make it clear why he did what he did.

Lexington Battle: The Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 18-19, 1775. Note that the colonists did not win at Lexington (where British regulars tore the Minutemen to pieces); the victory came in the guerilla actions on the way to Concord.

Bunker Hill: The Battle of Bunker Hill, fought on June 17, 1775 at Breed's Hill (not Bunker Hill). The British won, in that the Americans had to evacuate the site, The claim that 1200 Britons lay dead is exaggerated: This is about the number of actual casualties, but Cook, p. 226, says 232 British were killed and 950 wounded. For Bunker Hill, and Joseph Warren who died there, see "The Sword of Bunker Hill."

Darby. Bixby, and Graves: I'm guessing that Darby is Captain John Derby, whose ship brought the first word of Lexington and Concord to England (Cook, pp. 219-221). Bixby I can't identify, There were naval officers named Graves later in the war, though I don't know why they would be mentioned in 1775, which seems from internal evidence to be the date of this song. - RBW

Historical references

Cross references


  2. Roud #2817
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