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Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre

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Wikipedia article

"'Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre'" (Marlborough has left for the war), also known as "'Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough'" (The death and burial of the invincible Marlborough), is a popular folk song in French.


The burlesque lament on the death of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (16501722) was written on a false rumour of that event after the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709, the bloodiest battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. It tells how Marlborough's wife, awaiting his return from battle, is given the news of her husband's death. It also tells that he was buried and that a nightingale sang over his grave.

For years it was only known traditionally, and does not appear among the many anecdotic songs printed in France during the middle of the 18th century. Beaumarchais used the tune in his 1778 play 'The Marriage of Figaro' for a despairing love song for Cherubino. In 1780 it became very popular. For instance, the tune concludes a sonata (in D-major) for viola d'amore and viola composed by Carl Stamitz in 1780 while in Paris. And it happened that when Louis XVII of France was born in 1785 (son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and heir to the French throne) he was wet-nursed by a peasant named Genevive Poitrine. The nurse, whilst rocking the royal cradle, sang "Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre". The name, the simplicity of the words, and the melodiousness of the tune, interested the queen, and she frequently sang it. Everybody repeated it after her, including the king. The song was sung in the state apartments of Versailles, in the kitchens and in the stables it became immensely popular.'Le Petit-Trianon et Marie-Antoinette,' ditions Tlmaque, by lisabeth Reynaud, April 2010, p. 288, [http://www.antiwarsongs.org/canzone.php?id=2562&lang=fr "Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre, ou Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough"], antiwarsongs.org

From the court it was adopted by the tradespeople of Paris, and it passed from town to town, and country to country. It became as popular in England as in France. Johann von Goethe came to hate Marlborough simply on account of the prevalence of the tune he encountered during travels in France. It also became popular in Spain due to the Bourbon dynasty's influence on Spanish nobility. The name of Marlborough was modified to an easier to pronounce Mambr. It was sung by children while playing Hopscotch (Rayuela). The Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (17781839) created a series of variations for guitar on the theme. It then spread to Latin America.

The rage endured for many years, slowly fading after the French Revolution, although, it is said that Napoleon liked to hum the tune, for instance when crossing the Memel (June 1812) at the beginning of his fatal Russian campaign.

The melody also became widely popular in the United Kingdom.'The Times' (London, England), 28 March 1826, p. 2: "The Power of Music. A visiting foreigner, trying to recall the address of his lodgings in Marlborough Street, hums the tune to a London cabman: he immediately recognises it as 'Malbrook'." By the mid-19th centuryThe song may have featured in an "extravaganza" given at the Princess theatre in London at Easter 1846, during which fairies hold a moonlight meeting: "...the meeting closes with a song of thanks to Robin Goodfellow (Miss Marshall), who had occupied the chair,...and who is assured that "he's a jolly good fellow." "Princess's." 'The Times' [London, England] 14 April 1846: 5. 'The Times' Digital Archive. Web. 1 October 2012. it was being sung with the words "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", often at all-male social gatherings.'The Times' reprinted an article from 'Punch' describing a drunken speech given at a (fictional) public meeting. The speech ends: "Zshenl'men, here's all your vehgood healts! I beggapard'n here's my honangal'n fren's shjolly goo' health! "For he's a jolly good fellow, &c (Chorus by the whole of the company, amid which the right hon. orator tumbled down.)" "The After Dinner Speech At The Improvement Club." 'The Times', [London, England] 23 March 1854: 10. 'The Times' Digital Archive. Web. 1 October 2012. By 1862, these lyrics were already familiar in America.Review of a piano recital: "As a finale he performed for the first time, a burlesque on the French air, 'Marlbrook', better known to the American student of harmony as "He's a jolly good fellow". 'The New York Times', 4 October 1862 From this version, the melody also became the tune for a popular American campfire tune 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain'.

The song has been translated into several languages, including an English version published by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 19th century.


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Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,

Ne sait quand reviendra.


Il reviendra-z- Pques,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

Il reviendra-z- Pques,

ou la Trinit.


La Trinit se passe,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

la Trinit se passe,

Malbrough ne revient pas.

Madame sa tour monte,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

Madame sa tour monte

si haut qu'elle peut monter.

Elle voit venir son page,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

elle voit venir son page,

tout de noir habill.

Beau page, mon beau page,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

beau page, mon beau page,

quelles nouvelles apportez?

Aux nouvelles que j'apporte,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

aux nouvelles que j'apporte,

vos beaux yeux vont pleurer!

Quittez vos habits roses,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

quittez vos habits roses,

et vos satins brods!

Monsieur Malbrough est mort.

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

Monsieur Malbrough est mort.

Est mort et enterr.

Je l'ai vu porter en terre,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

Je l'ai vu porter en terre,

par quatre-z-officiers.

L'un portait sa cuirasse

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

l'un portait sa cuirasse

l'autre son bouclier.

L'autre portait son grand sabre,

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

L'autre portait son grand sabre,

et l'autre ne portait rien.

On planta sur sa tombe

mironton, mironton, mirontaine,

on planta sur sa tombe

un beau rosier fleuri.

La crmonie faite,

mironton, mironton,c mirontaine,

la crmonie faite

chacun s'en fut coucher.

Alors autour de sa tombe

Mironton, mironton, mirontaine

Alors autour de sa tombe

Romarins l'on planta.

Sur la plus haute branche

Un rossignol chanta

On vit voler son me,

Au travers des lauriers.

Chacun mit ventre terre,

Mironton, mironton, mirontaine

Chacun mit ventre terre,

Et puis se releva.

Marlbrook the Prince of Commanders

Is gone to war in Flanders,

His fame is like Alexander's,

But when will he ever come home?

Mironton, mironton, mirontaine.

Perhaps at Trinity Feast, or

Perhaps he may come at Easter,

Egad! he had better make haste or

We fear he may never come home.

Mironton etc.

For Trinity Feast is over,

And has brought no news from Dover,

And Easter is pass'd moreover,

And Malbrook still delays.

Milady in her watch-tower

Spends many a pensive hour,

Not knowing why or how her

Dear lord from England stays.

While sitting quite forlorn in

That tower, she spies returning

A page clad in deep mourning,

With fainting steps and slow.

"O page, prithee come faster!

What news do you bring of your master?

I fear there is some disaster,

Your looks are so full of woe."

"The news I bring fair lady,"

With sorrowful accent said he,

"Is one you are not ready

So soon, alas! to hear.

"But since to speak I'm hurried,"

Added this page, quite flurried,

"Malbrook is dead and buried!"

And here he shed a tear.

"He's dead! He's dead as a herring!

For I beheld his berring,

And four officers transferring

His corpse away from the field.

"One officer carried his sabre,

And he carried it not without labour,

Much envying his next neighbour,

Who only bore a shield.

"The third was helmet bearer

That helmet which in its wearer

Fill'd all who saw it with terror,

And cover'd a hero's brains.

"Now, having got so far, I

Find that by the Lord Harry!

The fourth is left nothing to carry.

So there the thing remains."

Mironton, mironton, mirontaine.

In popular culture

The song is one of several contemporary tunes that are played by the musical box of the Negress head clock, made in Paris in 1784. Rita Dove references the song and the clock in her 2009 poem "Ode on a Negress Head Clock, with Eight Tunes".

Ludwig van Beethoven used the tune in his musical work 'Wellington's Victory', which, like Tchaikovsky's later '1812 Overture', features real cannon shots.

Goethe references the song in the "Zweite Elegie" of his 'Roman Elegies' (17861788). Heinrich Heine then mentions Goethe's reference in his "Zweiter Brief aus Berlin" (16 March 1822) as example of a catchy tune.'Heinrich Heine Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke', vol. 6, Manfred Windfuhr (ed), Hoffman und Campe, [http://germazope.uni-trier.de:8080/Projekte/HHP/werke/baende/D06/getpage?pageid=D06S0021&mode=1 p. 21]

The song is referenced in Nikolai Gogol's 1842 novel 'Dead Souls', when Major Nozdryov's playing of the mazurka devolves into the common tune in chapter 4.

The song is referenced in Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1866 novel 'Crime and Punishment', where Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova tries to make her children sing the popular Russian version in public shortly before her death.

An operetta titled 'Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre' was produced in Paris in December 1867 with Suzanne Lagier. One act each was written by Georges Bizet, Lo Delibes, mile Jonas and isidore Legouix (see Classical music written in collaboration).

The song is referenced in Leo Tolstoy's 1869 novel 'War and Peace', where Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky sings the last two lines of the first verse of the song to his son Prince Andrei after hearing Russia's military strategy (Part One, chapter XXIII).

The song is referenced in Vladimir Nabokov's 1969 novel 'Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle', in chapter 40; Blanche hums it while Lucette and Ada, observed by Van, practice drawing flowers in one of the nursery parlors.

The song is referenced in Patrick O'Brian's 1979 novel 'The Fortune of War' in chapter 8 when Captain Jack Aubrey hears it being sung by French soldiers in a bar in a hotel from which Aubrey helps Stephen Maturin and Diana Villiers escape.

In 2004, Wolfgang Meyering's folk group "Malbrook" did an instrumental of the song on their debut album.


Further reading


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