A lady is mourning for her blackbird, who "once in fair England... did flourish." Now he has been driven far away "because he was the true son of the king." She resolves to seek him out, and wishes him well wherever he may be
Sparling claims his six verse text is "an unmutilated version" accessible "for the first time in a hundred years.... In every other collection [including Duffy] it has appeared as three stanzas, made up of fragments." Zimmermann's text agrees essentially with Sparling's. - BS
The first broadside versions of this song date to 1650, obviously referring to Charles II, who was then in exile. It wasn't safe to refer to him by name, so the allegorical "blackbird" was used. It seems also to have been used of James II, and perhaps also to his son James III. However, the title came to be most strongly associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie.
After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the same situation arose as in 1650. It was generally not safe to speak of Charlie, so the Jacobites adopted various circumlocutions -- the "blackbird," the "moorhen," or simply "Somebody."
The Jacobite Rebellions had their roots in the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688/9. The British King James II (James VII of Scotland) was Catholic, and had just had a Catholic son. This was unacceptable, and James was overthrown on behalf of his Protestant daughter Mary II (died 1694) and her husband William III (died 1702). When Mary and her sister Anne died without issue (1714), the throne was awarded to the utterly disgusting George I of Hannover (died 1727). The result was the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, intended to bring James II's son James (III) back to the throne.
The rebellion sputtered, and another revolt in 1719 was stillborn.
In 1745, Prince Charles Edward (the son of James III) took up his father's cause. 24 years old, handsome, and with an aura of nobility, Charles thoroughly scared the Hannoverian dynasty, but was at last defeated and driven into exile. But his face and bearing burned their way into the hearts of the Scots for many years to come. - RBW
Also collected and sung by Kevin Mitchell, "The Royal Blackbird" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS