powered by FreeFind


Highwayman Love

A romantic light opera in two acts

Book by F.R. Bell: Lyrics by Harold Ellis: Music by W.H. Bullock

FROM earliest Elizabethan times there had run a legend in the Yorkshire House of Lovel which told as follows:

'Lovel's line from sore distress
Rescued was by Royal BESS.
When its doom is written plain
BESS shall save the House again.'

How, in the romantic days when George the First was king, young Sir Harry, latest heir of Lovel's line, found his fortunes suddenly imperilled by a kinsman's malice; how his betrothed, the fair Bess Mannering, believing herself to be the 'Bess' foreshadowed by the prophecy, renounced her happiness to shield her lover; and how Destiny, in the guise of a chivalrous highwayman, intervened in the nick of time to 'save the House' - this is the central motif of the opera, through which the 'Lovel Legend' threads its way to a surprising, but at the same time literal, fulfilment



LOVEL COURT, near York, is en fête one May afternoon, 1720, for the coming of age of Sir Harry Lovel, whose widowed mother, Lady Lovel, is giving a reception to the tenantry. Their junketings are to conclude with a masquerade, the county guests including General Mannering, Governor of York, and his daughter Bess, with whom Sir Harry is in love. Bess's hand is also sought by the young heir's uncle, Sir Jeffrey Digby, Bart., a shifty financier, who till now aided by Obadiah Blunt, his notary, and Diggory, the steward-has had control of the Lovel revenues. At the moment he is promoting a swindling concern called 'Bubbles, Ltd.,' in which the credulous Governor has been induced to invest all his wealth. An escort of Grenadiers, under Sergeant Mustard, heralds the arrival at the fête of the Governor, his daughter, and Sophy, her maid. Sophy is captivated by the dashing sergeant, much to the chagrin of her father, Solomon Smug, head watchman of York, who desires to see her wed Dr. Flute, the bashful Minster organist.

The Governor announces a reward of 1,000 guineas for the capture of a highwayman, one Denis O'Neill, and proclaims it an offence against the realm to give him shelter. Two of the company-John Braddlum, the village innkeeper, and Isabel, a gipsy girl-are in league with O'Neill (who is loved by the gipsy), and when, a little later, the highwayman unexpectedly appears on the scene, Isabel's alarm for his safety is great. This feeling turns to jealousy when Bess, surprising the two together, takes the stranger for a guest and welcomes him to Lovel Court. Sir Harry's entry causes an awkward situation, but O'Neill averts discovery by telling the lovers that the elusive highwayman is already in their midst, posing as a guest (which is true enough), and he gaily accepts Bess's suggestion that, to expose the intruder, he (O'Neill) shall attend the masquerade 'disguised as a highwayman himself.

Unluckily for Denis he has been recognized by Obadiah, who informs Sir Jeffrey. To vent his spite upon Sir Harry, now Bess's accepted lover, the baronet holds over her a threat of publicly accusing Sir Harry of harbouring the highwayman unless she will renounce her lover in his (Sir Jeffrey's) favour. Invoking the 'Lovel Legend,' he persuades the distressed girl that she is the 'Bess' destined to 'save the House,' and eventually-to spare both Sir Harry and her father, whose duty it will be to arrest her lover - she yields.

It is now evening. Before all the masqueraders Sir Jeffrey triumphantly proposes for Mistress Mannering's hand; reluctantly she consents. Instantly there comes a thundering 'No!' from the mysterious stranger, whose chivalry has been stirred by Bess's charm and evident distress; Obadiah as promptly denounces him as O'Neill; the watchman attempts to arrest him-and the next moment sees the highwayman galloping away on his black mare, 'Bonnie Bess,' with the Grenadiers in hot pursuit. 


Later the same evening the villagers are seen deriding Solomon, who is in the stocks for allowing O'Neill to get away. Before being released he is the indignant spectator of a love scene between his daughter and the sergeant. The Grenadiers are still searching for the highwayman, who is lying concealed in the inn until Braddlum and Isabel can effect his escape. To do this, the gipsy girl alarms the soldiers with a creepy witch story, and when Denis suddenly appears from the inn in witch's garb they flee in panic. By a further stroke of luck O'Neill, masquerading this time as an old apple-woman, overhears Sir Jeffrey dispatching Diggory to London with the title-deeds of the Lovel estate, which he is secretly mortgaging to keep his bubble company afloat. To cover the fraud Obadiah has prepared forged copies of the deeds to palm off on Sir Harry. Disregarding danger to himself, O'Neill tells his discovery to the lovers, and cheers their hearts by promising to recover the deeds and expose Sir Jeffrey's duplicity. Meanwhile, Denis's presence at the inn has been detected by Solomon and Dr. Flute, who covet the reward, and the highwayman finds himself trapped by the soldiery. Once again, however, by a skilful ruse he turns the tables on his pursuers and rides off in the moonlight, leaving the unfortunate Governor a public laughingstock.


Daybreak next morning finds Solomon bemoaning his worries as a watchman. Sir Jeffrey gets the news that 'Bubbles, Ltd.,' has burst, and that a warrant is out for his arrest Isabel, no longer jealous, is desperately hoping that her highwayman lover has succeeded in overtaking Diggory and the deeds, on the recovery of which so much depends. The whole village has now learnt of Sir Jeffrey's financial ruin, and the Governor is furious on finding out how he has been duped. In his grief he is consoled by Lady Lovel, for whom he discovers a tenderness which rapidly ripens into mutual love. He sternly forbids his daughter's marriage to Sir Jeffrey, who has, however, one more card to play. Foiled in his earlier attempt to involve his nephew's honour, he now hands over to the unsuspecting heir the bogus documents. All at once a horseman is heard approaching; it is O'Neill! The highwayman has kept his word. Flushed but triumphant, he enters with the miserable Diggory his prisoner, and on him the purloined title-deeds. Sir Jeffrey and his confederates are arrested by the Governor, who recovers the money he has entrusted to the baronet; Sir Harry is free to marry Bess; Sophy is happy with the sergeant, O'Neill with Isabel - and the opera ends with the delighted company toasting the name of 'Bonnie Bess,' the highwayman's mare, whose all-night gallop to Lovel. Court has proved, to the surprise of no one more than Bess Mannering herself, the true though unsuspected fulfilment of the legend's prophecy that 'Bess shall save the house again.'


  • SIR HARRY LOVEL, of Lovel Court (Tenor).
  • SIR JEFFREY DIGBY, Bart., his Uncle (Baritone).
  • MAJOR-GENERAL MANNERING, Governor of York (Baritone)
  • SOLOMON SMUG, Head Watchman (Bass).
  • SERGEANT MUSTARD, of the Grenadier Guards (Bass).
  • OBADIAH BLUNT, a Notary (Baritone).
  • OLD JOHN BRADDLUM (Host of the 'Lovel Arms').
  • DOCTOR FLUTE, Organist at York Minster (Tenor).
  • DIGGORY, Steward at Lovel Court (Baritone).
  • GAFFER JARGE, the Oldest Inhabitant.
  • DENIS O'NEILL, a Highwayman (Baritone).
  • LADY LOVEL, Sir Harry's Mother (Contralto).
  • BESS MANNERING, the Governor's Daughter (Soprano).
  • SOPHY, Bess's Maid and Solomon's Daughter (Mezzo- Soprano).
  • PEGGY} (Serving-maids).
  • ISABEL, a gipsy girl (Contralto)




Before the Terrace at Lovel Court, near York.
A May afternoon, 1720.


Outside the 'Lovel Arms.'
Scene I - The same evening.
Scene II - Early next morning.

The curtain falls for a few minute after Scene I to denote the passage of time.



Introduction and Opening Chorus
(Rustics) Fill up the Can
Ballad (Lady Lovel and Chorus) The Legend of the Lovels
Song (Sir Harry) My Lady Disdain
Duet (Sir Jeffrey and Obadiah) The Villains of the Piece
Chorus (Girls) and Song (Isabel) The Fortune Shop
Entrance of Grenadiers (Solo Sergeant, & Chorus of Rustics) With Tootling Fifes
Ensemble The Governor's Body-Guard
Song (Governor and Chorus) The Governor of York
Exit of Chorus Come, then, lasses
Legend Music
Song (O'neill, with Isabel) Highwayman Love
Duet (Bess and Sir Harry) When a Man would Woo
Song (Bess) The Magic of May
Legend Music
Chorus (Solo, Solomon) Lads and Lasses, here's Frivolity
Finale (Act I):
(a) Song (O'neill and Chorus) The Nightbird
(b) Recits and ensemble - One moment, pray


Chorus (Rustics) Here's a Source of Joy Ecstatical
Trio (Sophy, Sergeant, Solomon) A Military Life
Song (Governor and Grenadiers) Guard, turn out!
Scena (Isabel and Chorus) The Little Witch
Trio (Sir Jeffrey, Diggory, and Obadiah) Deportment
Song (Sir Harry, with Bess, Isabel and O'neill) Life and Love
Quartette (Bess, Lady Lovel, Sir Harry O'neill) Let us Raise a Tuneful Measure.
Ensemble (Bess, O'neill, Governor, Sergeant, and Chorus) When the Roundshot goes a-flying


Entr'acte and Song (Solomon) Witches and Watches
Quintette (Sophy, Isabel, Dr Flute, Solomon, Sergeant) Ring the Merry Marriage-bell
Duet (Governor and Lady Lovel) Matrimony
Finale of Opera - Highwayman Love