Ambree, Mary (fl. 1584)

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Ambree, Mary (fl. 1584)

Captain who fought to liberate Ghent from the Spanish.

In 1584, when the Spanish captured Ghent in the Netherlands, Dutch and English volunteers moved in to liberate the city. Among them was a captain named Mary Ambree. She was said to be avenging the death of her lover, a sergeant major slain in the siege. Frequently mentioned in old ballads, Ambree is the subject of one preserved by Thomas Percy.

Then Captain Courageous, whom death could not daunt,
Had roundly besiegéd the city of Gaunt,
And manly they marched by two and by three,
And foremost in battle was Mary Ambree.

Ben Jonson refers to Ambree in the Epicoene, as does Jonathan Swift in Tale of a Tub, and John Fletcher in The Scournful Lady. The ballad in Percy's Reliques is often quoted by the writers of Jonson's time, and, like him, they frequently gave the name of Mary Ambree to any extraordinary virago who adopted man's attire. Over time, the name was so commonly used in this manner that, in 1931, P.C. Wren, author of Beau Geste, wrote the novel Sowing Glory about a woman French Legionnaire and gave her the name Mary Ambree to protect the identity of the actual woman upon whom, he maintained, his book was based.