The man claims that women, given the chance, are never true. The woman cites the case of the Nut-brown Maid. They play through the story. The woman will follow her man, even to the greenwood, and will fight for him, etc. The ballad ends by praising women
Nut-Brown Maid, The Partial text(s) *** A *** The Not-Browne Mayd From Percy/Wheatley, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, Volume II, pp. 35-47. Derived from the edition in Richard Arnold's 1521 Chronicle, but touched up. Be it ryght, or wrong, these men among On women do complayne; Affyrmynge this, how that it is A labour spent in vayne, To love them wele; for never a dele They love a man agayne: For late a man do what he can, Theyr favour to attayne, Yet, yf a new do them persue, Theyr first true love than Laboureth for nought; for from her thought He is a banyshed man. (29 additional stanzas)
Given its elaborate stanzaic structure, regular alternation of speakers, and elaborately formal language, it seems clear that this should be accounted a literary rather than a folk production. I know of no version in oral tradition.
A parody of this song, "The New Nutbrowne Maid," occurs as early as 1520. Obviously this makes the original even older. The earliest date depends on the age of Arnold's _Chronicle_, which is undated. The latest date I have seen is the 1521 date cited above. Garnett and Gosse's _English Literature: An Illustrated Record_, which prints a facsimile, dates the _Chronicle_ to 1502/3.
Garnett is also quite effusive about the merits of the piece, but adds that "One famous ballad stands out prominently from the rest as being, so far as is known, the invention of the anonymous writer. It is _The Nut Brown Maid_...." The only anonymous ballad? Uh-huh.
Percy's version, from what I can tell, appears to come from the _Chronicle_ text, only with several of Percy's pet archaizing tricks (he did at least improve the punctuation to something resembling sense). - RBW