90  Cupids Courtesie:/ OR,/ The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon [Euing 39]

Author: P., J.

Recording: Cupids Courtesie

Bodies - injury Emotions - anger Emotions - disdain Emotions - longing Emotions - love Environment - birds Environment - flowers/trees Environment - landscape Environment - rivers Family - children/parents Gender - Cupid Gender - courtship History - ancient/mythological History - romance Places - travel/transport Religion - ancient gods Violence - interpersonal Violence - punitive emotions - contentment

Song History

Unfortunately, there were two mid-seventeenth century ballads with the title, Cupids Courtesie, and it can sometimes be difficult to disentangle them. The ‘other’ one has a different subtitle - ‘in the wooing of fair Sabina’ – but most references go no further than ‘Cupids Courtesie’. We have opted for the song about ‘The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon’ for several reasons: it was definitely registered with the Stationers’ Company, using its full subtitle, in 1664; there are many more surviving editions and copies of this song than of the alternative; it appeared in contemporary song-books more regularly than its namesake; it also survived more strongly into the eighteenth century; and it generated two popular new titles for its tune (see Featured tune history). Undoubtedly, it was the more successful of the two songs.

In 1847, John Payne Collier claimed to know of an Elizabethan manuscript that included the text of Cupids Courtesie but he provided no reference and the source has not come to light. It seems more likely that the ballad was newly composed by ‘J. P.’ in the late 1650s or early 1660s. We have not been able to identify this individual with any certainty. Most ballads by J.P. are concentrated in the period 1656-79, raising the possibility that the author was in fact the famous music publisher, John Playford. He was highly active during these years, and other ballads have been attributed to him (Love in the blossom, for example). Without further evidence, however, it is impossible to be sure.

On the surface, Cupids Courtesie may strike modern listeners as a light and mildly humorous song about an encounter between a wandering gallant and Cupid, the blind and juvenile Roman god of love. The humour perhaps lies in the gallant’s failure to recognise the famous deity, despite the presence of his signature ‘Bow and Quiver’. The gallant then compounds his error by disrespecting Cupid and trying to hire him as a servant. Not surprisingly, Cupid shoots the gallant, plunging him into romantic torment, but he subsequently relents and everything ends well. This, it seems, is an extended metaphor for the painful progress and unpredictability of love.

It is also worth remembering, however, that to early-modern readers, listeners and viewers, Cupid may have rather more complex a character than we might imagine. According to Jane Kingsley-Smith, Cupid was bound up in a tense cultural confrontation that played out with particular energy between the 1550s and the 1630s as a consequence of the English Reformation.

Two issues in particular were under discussion: first, the alleged worship of idols by Roman Catholics and the extreme reaction against aspects of visual culture by the most zealous of Protestants; and second, attempts by reformers to clamp down on illicit sexual pleasure, leading some to believe that their clean-up campaign had itself gone too far. Cupid was recruited on both sides of these debates but he was probably of particular value to those who felt critical of key tendencies within England’s version of the Reformation.

Kingsley-Smith documents Cupid’s ‘sudden cultural ubiquity’ in art and literature during this period, a development that may have rendered him more new and exciting to contemporaries than he is to us. Moreover, Cupid was sometimes represented not as a chubby cheeky chappy with a mischievous interest in love and sex but as a cruel and disturbing tyrant who could cause serious harm and bore comparison with the figure of Death (they both carried darts, for example). And Cupid’s status as an edgy mythological superstar was perhaps further enhanced by the manner in which his youthfulness, nakedness and relationship to his mother, Venus, hinted at forms of sexuality that went beyond the obvious and conventional.

It seems, however, that Cupid was beginning to lose his controversial reputation from the 1630s onwards. In Kingsley-Smith’s view, he became in the second half of the seventeenth century a much safer and more trivial character. Our ballad sits in the early stages of this shift, and it is therefore interesting that its narrative tension revolves around the question of whether Cupid’s threats should be taken seriously or not by the gallant. Perhaps the song was more successful than all the other ballads about Cupid (see Related texts) because the authors, perhaps inadvertently, raised what proved to be a crucial issue.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, CUPIDS COURTESIE: in the wooing of fair Sabina. To a pleasant new Tune (registered ?1656; edition of 1663-65).

Broadside ballads from the Bodleian Library: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

John Payne Collier, A book of Roxburghe ballads (1847), p. 80.

William and Cluer Dicey, A catalogue of maps, prints..., old ballads..., garlands &c. Printed and sold by William and Cluer Dicey (1754), p. 46.

English Broadside Ballad Archive: https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/

English Short Title Catalogue.

G. E. B. Eyre, A transcript of the registers of the Worshipful Company of Stationers: from 1640-1708 AD, 3 vols. (1913-14), vol. 2, pp. 37 and 336.

Jane Kingsley-Smith, Cupid in early modern literature and culture (Cambridge, 2010).

Madden Collection, Garlands, vol. 1, nos. 228-30, Cambridge University Library.

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (1924; Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1967), nos. 457-58.

Wit and mirth, 6 vols. (1719-20), vol. 6, pp. 43-46.

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Featured Tune History

‘To a pleasant Northern Tune’ (standard name: Cupid’s courtesy)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its career, paying particular attention to the ‘echoes’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was nominated for the singing of more than one ballad. In the list presented in the ‘Songs and Summaries’ section below, we have endeavoured to include as many of the black-letter ballads that used the tune as possible, under any of its variant names. Titles from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type (these are also in colour when there is a link to the relevant ballad page on the website). It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).  In most cases, we list the earliest surviving edition of a ballad, though in many instances there may have been earlier versions, now lost

Versions and variations

The list of ballads provided below indicates that this tune had considerable appeal in the later seventeenth century. As it travelled through ballad culture, it generated an impressive variety of titles. Three were inspired by the words of our hit ballad: ‘Cupid’s courtesy’, ‘Little boy’ and  ‘Through the cool shady woods’. Further names for the tune derived from other ballads that nominated it: ‘The virgin’s complaint’, ‘[I am] so deep in love’, ‘When Sol will cast no light’, ‘My pretty little rogue’ and, probably, ‘Ring of gold’ and ‘Farewell by dearest dear’.

Despite the tune’s popularity, it was written down only rarely. In fact, the only version that we have so far found is in the eighteenth-century song collection, Wit and Mirth (not surprisingly, this has provided the basis for our recording). Perhaps the simplicity that rendered the tune memorable among ordinary ballad consumers failed to endear it to more sophisticated composers. Despite its simple structure, the melody packs one surprising punch, namely the sharpened seventh that arrests the listener’s attention at the end of the penultimate line. This combination of predictability and unpredictability may possibly help to explain the evident success of the melody.

Echoes (an overview)

This was a highly popular tune from the 1660s until and beyond the end of the century. It was used almost exclusively for courtship ballads, and there can be no doubt that it was widely and consistently understood as a romantic melody.

A majority of the songs that are listed below presented narratives that emphasised the power of love in a variety of ways: by revealing the activities of Cupid (as in Cupid's Courtesie, apparently the first ballad to use the tune); by discussing the devotion of separated lovers (as in THE Couragious CORONET); by showing that romance could overcome the divisions of social status (The Kentish Yeoman); or more simply by telling stories of happy mutual devotion.

The power of love was also at work in more tragic ballads featuring women driven to despair by sweethearts who are either despicable (THE Bleeding Lovers Lamentation) or, more heroically, killed in action (The Pensive Maid). More rarely, there were ballads in which women criticised men or men criticised women for their alleged inconstancy in love (The Maidens Complaint and The Yong Mans Vindication).

The only song in the list that does not deal with courtship is The Boatswains Call, a recruitment song that urges men to join up and fight the French in the 1690s. Interestingly, this piece seems to pick up on the soldiers who feature fairly prominently in the courtship ballads (see, for example, The Seamen and Soudiers [sic] Last Farwel to their Dearest Jewels) but it does not mention love. The pointed message, communicated partly through the tune, is that in current circumstances love of one’s country is more important than love of one’s sweetheart or spouse (scorn is directed at men who stay at home because they are loath to leave their wives).

The songs are connected not only by their themes and melody but by a remarkable number of textual cross-references. These run through the entire list and only a small number can be identified here. The tone was set early on when CUPIDS CURE opened ‘All in a shady Grove,/ as I lay musing’, closely following Cupid's Courtesie, which began, ‘Through the cool shady Woods,/ as I was ranging’ (both songs also rhymed languish and anguish, as did several others). The distinctive second half of the tune often inspired lyrics that echoed one another:

‘I have heard all thy plaint,/ which sore doth grieve me,/ But now my dearest Saint,/ I will relieve thee’ (CUPIDS CURE).

‘From thy sweet company/ although it grieves me/ I must divided be/ and forct to leave thee’ (The Seamen and Soudiers [sic] Last Farwel).

‘I’le fold thee in mine arms,/ nothing shall grieve thee;/ I’le keep thee from all harms,/ dear do not leave me’ (The Maidens Lamentation).

The same portion of the tune was used for lines rhyming jewel and cruel in three different ballads (and in several others besides):

‘Nothing but what is just,/ my dearest jewel,/ Then set thy heart at rest,/ Ill not be cruel’ (The Bashful Batchelor).

‘Ile venture life or Limbs/ for thee my Jewell,/ Then be not thou unkind/ nor prove not cruel’ (The Shooemakers Delight).

‘O hold thy had dear Love/ be not so cruel/ For I will constant prove/ to my dear jewel’ (Love and Loyalty).

The Valiant Sea-mans happy return to his Love opened with verses that paraphrased very closely those found in The Pensive Maid, before branching out to provide the narrative with an entirely different ending. The word ‘shady’ appears in the opening lines of several songs, while ‘pleasure’ and ‘treasure’ were rhymed in similar ways in at least six of the ballads.

Some of the songs, when considered as part of the series, feel almost like composites of moving parts lifted from elsewhere. The Kentish Yeoman, for instance, uses numerous rhymes – jewel/cruel, anguish/languish, pleasure/treasure – that would have been familiar to anyone who had heard other songs to the tune.

Many of the songs also deploy particularly potent words at the end of the sixth line, coinciding with the tunes unexpectedly sharpened seventh. The words are usually different but the effect of this melodic jolt is similar, forging a connection between many of these terms (fire, shiver, languish, wonder, mourning, passion, tremble, ravish, unconstant, smother, affrighted, inflamed).

[See 'Postscript', below, for additional notes on this melody].

Songs and Summaries

Cupid's Courtesie: OR, The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon... To a pleasant Northern Tune (registered 1664; F. Coles, 1666-80). Euing 39; EBBA 31699.  Gender – Cupid, courtship; History – ancient/mythological, Romance; Emotions – disdain, anger, longing, contentment; Environment – flowers/trees, birds; Religion – ancient Gods; Violence – punitive.  A young man makes the mistake of belittling and patronising Cupid, so the boy with the bow lets fly in order to teach him a lesson.

CUPIDS CURE: OR, An Answer to CUPIDS CRUELTY... Tune of Cupids Curtesie (Richard Burton, 1664-79). Douce 1(47a). Gender – courtship, femininity, Cupid; Emotions – sorrow, love, joy; Environment – flowers/trees. A woman is desperately sad because she believes her lover has forsaken her, but fortunately he turns up to deliver comprehensive reassurance.

The Maidens Complaint against Young-Mens Unkindness... To the Tune of, Cupids Courtesie (probably composed c. 1664-65; J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 3.220; EBBA 21233.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity, Cupid; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger.  A maiden complains at the inconstancy of her sweetheart and advises women to love one another rather than men (this song was also issued as The VIRGIN’s COMPLAINT...)

The Seamen and Soudiers [sic] Last Farwel to their Dearest Jewels... The tune is, I am so deep in Love, or, Cupids Courtesie (F. Coles, T. Vere, R. Gilbertson and J. Wright, 1664-65). Euing 328; EBBA 31995. Emotions – love, sorrow, excitement; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Politics – foreign affairs, war; Violence – at sea, between states; Morality – political; Environment – sea. A man bids a sad farewell to his sweetheart, explaining that it is his duty to do battle against the Dutch ‘for this our Nation’.

The Yong Mans Vindication Against the Virgins Complaint... To the Tune of, the Virgins Complaint, or Cupids Courtisie (Rich. Burton, 1664-79). Roxburghe 3.108-09; EBBA 30429. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – suspicion, hope; Bodies – adornment; Morality – romantic/sexual; Recreation – music. An answer to The Maidens Complaint (aka The VIRGIN’s COMPLAINT), in which a man argues that not all members of his sex are unreliable and that many women are themselves ‘false-hearted’ (he estimates that only one in ten is virtuous).

Cupids Tryumph... Being an Answer to Cupids Courtesie... The tune is Saraban, used in Dancing-Schools. Or, Cupid Courtesie (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). 4o Rawl. 566(76). Gender – Cupid, courtship; Emotions – scorn, love, joy; Religion – ancient gods; Bodies – clothing, injury; Violence – punitive; Recreation – walking; Society – rich/poor. A companion-piece to Cupids Courtesie, featuring a wealthy lady who scorns Cupid and is duly led to fall in love with a poor man (a happy marriage, built on true love, is the result).

The Bashful Virgin: Or, The Secret Lover... Tune of, I am so deep in Love: Or, Little Boy, &c. (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79).  Pepys 4.30 EBBA 21696. Gender – courtship, femininity, Cupid; Emotions – love, anxiety, fear, hope. A shy, young woman, suffering the pains of a love that she fears may be unrequited, summons up the courage to tell her sweetheart how she feels about him.

A Serious Discourse between two Lovers... To the Tune of, When Sol will cast no Light, Or, Deep in Love (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79).  Pepys 3.98; EBBA 21101.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, Cupid; Economy – money; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – longing, love; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Environment – animals, buildings. A young man persuades a maiden to marry him by declaring his love and promising her material comforts.

The sweet Salutation on Primrose Hill: Or, I know you not... To the tune of, Though Father Angry be: Or, Deep in Love (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Pepys 3.53; EBBA 21050. Gender – sex, courtship; Family – children/parents; Emotions – longing, shame; Morality – romantic/sexual; Environment – landscape, flowers/trees, animals; Places – English; Recreation – music. A maiden is impregnated by an unreliable man and has to endure considerable suffering before finally forcing him to take responsibility for the child (this song does not fit the tune well and seems out of line with most of the other ballads in this list).

The West Country Wooing, OR, The Merry conceited Couple... Tune of, When Sol will cast no light: Or, My pritty little Rogue (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Crawford 835; EBBA 33372. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity, sex; Bodies – looks/physique; Emotions – longing, love; Economy – money; Morality – romantic/sexual. A man declares his lustful love for a woman and she, after satisfying herself that his intentions are honourable, agrees to ‘sport and play’.

The Pensive Maid: OR, The Virgins Lamentation for the loss of her Lover... Tune of, Through the cool shady Woods. Or, Deep in Love, &c. (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Pepys 3.10; EBBA 21003.  Gender – courtship, femininity; Death – grief, warfare, suicide; Emotions – sorrow, love; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Violence – between states; Politics – war, foreign affairs; Environment – weather, rivers. A young woman is informed that her sweetheart has been slain in a foreign battle, and she subsides in despair.

The Shooemakers Delight: Or, A New Dialogue betwixt a West Country Shooemaker & his Love... To the Tune of, When Soll will cast no light (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Roxburghe 4.70; EBBA 31385. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, joy; Employment – crafts/trades; Economy – trade, money, livings, hardship/prosperity; Family – children/parents; Environment – flowers/trees, birds; Recreation – walking; Society – friends. A shoemaker returns from his travels to resume his courtship of a woman named Betty and, despite his shaky economic prospects, she receives him with joy.

The Bashful Batchelor... Tune of, The Ring of Gold (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Euing 15; EBBA 31658. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, anxiety, joy; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Family – children/parents, kin, inheritance; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Economy – money; Society – friends, rich/poor. A dialogue, in which a squire’s daughter urges the servant whom she loves to proceed with his courtship despite the disapproval of her family and the fear of disinheritance.

The Lady’s Tragedy... To the Tune of The Ring of Gold (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Crawford 1345; EBBA 34073. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – despair; Death – suicide, heartbreak; Family – children/parents; Morality – romantic/sexual; Places – English; Violence – self-inflicted. A young woman prepares to commit suicide, heart-broken as a consequence of her abandonment by a deceiving sweetheart.

The Valiant Sea-mans happy return to his Love, after a long seven Years absence... Tune of, I am so deep in love: Or, Through the cool shady Woods (P. B. and E. O., 1672-85). Wood E 25(153). Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Death – grief, warfare; Emotions – sorrow, love, joy; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Violence – between states; Politics – war, foreign affairs; Environment – weather, rivers. This is effectively an alternative version of The Pensive Maid in which the returning seaman poses as a stranger bearing news of his death before revealing himself finally to his loyal and joyous sweetheart.

Love and Loyalty... Tune of, when Soll will cast no light (F. Cole, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clark, 1675-80). Pepys 3.123; EBBA 21132. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, despair, guilt, joy; Death – suicide; Environment – animals, birds, flowers/trees, weather; Recreation – music. A lady contemplates suicide because of her ‘disloyal Knight’ but he arrives in the nick of time to apologise for having tested her and to assure her of his undying love.

The Maidens Lamentation. OR, An Answer to the Seamen and Souldiers last farewel to their dearest Jewels... To the Tune of, I am so deep in love: OR, Cupids Courtesie (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E 25(139). Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, anxiety; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Violence – at sea; Environment – sea, weather; Politics – war; Bodies – adornment. A woman, answering the earlier ballad, begs her sweetheart not to go to war but eventually accepts that he must.

THE Bleeding Lovers Lamentation: OR, Fair Clorindas sorrowful Complaint for the loss of her Unconstant Strephon... To the Tune of, The Ring of Gold (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96).  Roxburghe 2.32; EBBA 30175. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – despair, love, anger; Death – heartbreak; Bodies – physique/looks; Morality – romantic/sexual. Clorinda is heartbroken because her beloved Strephon appears to have fallen in love with somebody else.

The Covetous-minded Parents, OR The Languishing young Gentlewoman...Tune is, Farwell my dearest Dear (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, Back, 1688-96). Roxburghe 2.84; EBBA 30558. Emotions – love, anger; Gender – courtship, femininity; Family – children/parents; Economy – money; Society - friends. A young woman resolutely refuses to abandon her true love for the wealthy man whom her parents have picked for her.

The Kentish Yeoman... Tune is, The Ring of Gold (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96).  Pepys 3.284; EBBA 21298. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, anxiety; Family – children/parents, kin; Economy – hardship/prosperity, money; Society – rich/poor; Places – English. A wealthy man courts a poor woman, rejecting her objection that his parents will find her too lowly for him.

Sir William of the West... Tune of The Ring of Gold (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96). Roxburghe 2.518; EBBA 31026. Gender – courtship, Cupid; Emotions – love, joy; Economy – money; Family – children/parents; Bodies – clothing. Young Sir William proposes marriage to Mary, a parson’s daughter, and she accepts with enthusiasm.

The Boatswains Call... To the Tune of, Ring of Gold (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1689-96). Crawford 1090; EBBA 33727. Employment – sailors/soldiers; Emotions – excitement, scorn, patriotism; Politics – war, foreign affairs; Violence – at sea, between states; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage; Morality – political;Death – warfare. A forthright recruitment ballad, urging all men to commit to the war against Louis XIV and mocking those who find cowardly excuses for staying at home.

THE Couragious CORONET... Tune of, Ring of Gold (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1692). Pepys 4.71; EBBA 21737. Gender – courtship; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Emotions – love, hope; Places – European; Politics – war, foreign affairs, Royalist; Royalty – praise; Violence –between states. A letter from a brave English soldier in Flanders to his sweetheart at home, reassuring her of his love and urging her to wait patiently in the hope that he will return home alive.


The melody was also used on several white-letter ballads, most of which followed their black-letter cousins in concentrating upon romance, and some of which answered existing ballads directly. See, for example, An Answer to The Lady’s Tragedy and An Answer to the Covetous-Minded Parents (both 1675-96?). An ANSWER to the Mournful Monarch (1691) was more distinctive in that it imagined the words of James II’s queen, responding to the criticisms of her that had been placed on her husband's lips in an earlier ballad. These were political songs, set in the aftermath of James’ flight from England in 1688, but the tune used in An ANSWER also introduced a note of troubled romance.

The melody’s on-going popularity in the eighteenth century is suggested by its appearance in some of the ballad-operas of the 1730s (see, for example, Chetwood, below).

Christopher Marsh


Mr. Chetwood, The Lover’s Opera (1729), p.8.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 147-51.

Wit and Mirth (1719-20), vol. 6, p. 43.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Cupid in circle

The purpose of this section is to provide evidence relating to  the career of the image under discussion, paying particular attention to the ‘reflections’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was chosen to illustrate more than one ballad. The list given below includes all ballads from the Pepys and Roxburghe collections that feature this woodcut or a close variant (these are the two largest collections, including approximately 3300 sheets, in total). References to ballads from other collections occur only when the featured edition of the song under consideration here (or the featured edition of another song from our list) comes from such a source. Ballads from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type, and they also appear in colour where there is a link to another song in the database. Please note, however, that the editions of hit songs listed below are not necessarily those for which digital images are presented on this website. Cross-references to other examples of our featured woodcuts are also presented in bold. It is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).

Reflections (an overview)

Images of Cupid were common on seventeenth-century ballads but this particular woodcut has not been found on any other sheets in the two largest collections. The only title listed below is therefore our featured edition, taken from the Euing collection. Nor was the woodcut used on other editions of Cupids Courtesie, though the pictorial scheme – Cupid taking aim at an unsuspecting gent – was frequently retained with different images. It is not possible to determine why the picture was not re-used more frequently. Did the bold circular frame dominate the page too heavily or did the woodblock simply break or go missing?

Songs and summaries

Cupid's Courtesie: OR, The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon (F. Coles, 1666-80). Euing 39; EBBA 31699. Gender – Cupid, courtship; History – ancient/mythological, Romance; Emotions – disdain, anger, longing, contentment; Environment – flowers/trees, birds; Religion – ancient Gods; Violence – punitive. A young man makes the mistake of belittling and patronising Cupid, so the boy with the bow lets fly in order to teach him a lesson (picture placement: he appears over the opening lines, taking aim at a man who walks towards him with his hand extended as if in greeting).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

Another ballad of the Restoration period, Cupids Tryumphe, was presented as an answer to Cupids Courtesie.  Essentially, it told a parallel story in which the individual who doubts and insults Cupid is a woman rather than a man. On this occasion, Cupid is outspoken in expressing surprise that she appears ignorant of his story, and he uses an early-modern equivalent of the modern question, ‘Have you been living under a rock?’ He asks ‘What rock, or toomb, or cave,/ hath cooly kept her?’  before shooting the lady with one of his love-arrows. Again, however, the ending is a happy one. The text of Cupids Tryumphe also echoes lines from Cupids Courtesie at certain points, as do several of the other ballads that use the same tune (see Featured tune history).

Beyond such examples, the seventeenth century produced a great number of books and ballads about Cupid but not many of them seem directly related to our ballad in terms of precise verbal content (and this includes the other ballad that is confusingly entitled ‘Cupids courtesie’). It is notable that Cupid-ballads are concentrated heavily in the second half of the century, suggesting a new phase in the little love-god’s career, linked perhaps to the relative relaxation of sexual mores that is often associated with the Restoration era.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Anon, CUPIDS COURTESIE: in the wooing of fair Sabina. To a pleasant new Tune (registered ?1656; edition of 1663-65).

J. P., Cupids Courtesie: OR, The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon... To a pleasant Northern Tune (registered 1664; edition of 1666-80).

Anon, Cupids Tryumph. Though his Diety [sic] is impeached, by his power he is justified. Against the repraoches [sic] of a Coy Scornful Lady. Being an Answer to Cupids Courtesie... The tune is Saraban, used in Dancing-Schools. Or, Cupid Courtesie (1666-79).

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Cupids Courtesie:/ OR,/ The young Gallant foild at his own Weapon.

He scorned Cupid and his Dart,/ Until he felt a wounded Heart.

To a pleasant Northern Tune.     By. J.P.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


THrough the cool shady Woods,

as I was ranging,

I heard the pretty Birds

notes sweetly changing;

Down by a Meadow side,

there runs a River,

A little Boy I espy’d

with Bow and Quiver.


Little Boy, tell me why

thou art here diving,

Art thou some Run=away,

and hast no biding?

I am no Run=away,

Venus my mother,

She gave me leave to play

when I came hither.


Little Boy go with me,

and be my Servant,

I will take care to see

for thy preferment;

If I with thee should go,

Venus would chide me,

And take away my Bow,

and never abide me.


Little Boy, let me know,

what’s thy name termed,

That thou dost wear a Bow,

and go so armed,

You may perceive the same,

with often changing,

Cupid it is my name,

I live by ranging.


If Cupid be thy name,

that shoots at Rovers,

I have heard of thy fame,

by wounded Lovers:

Should any languish that

are set on fire,

By such a naked Brat,

I much admire.


IF thou dost but the least,

at my Laws grumble,

Ile pierce thy stubborn Brest

and make thee humble:

If I with golden Dart,

wound thee but surely,

There’s no Physicians art;

that e’re can cure thee.


Little Boy with thy Bow,

why dost thou threaten?

It is not long ago

since thou was beaten:

Thy wanton Mother fair,

Venus will chide thee,

When all thy Arrows are gone,

thou mayest go hide thee.


Of powerful shafts you see,

I am well stored,

Which make my diety,

so much adored:

With one poor Arrow now,

Ile make thee shiver,

And bend unto my Bow,

and fear my Quiver.


Dear little Cupid be

courteous and kindly,

I know thou canst not hit

but shootest blindly.

Although thou calls me blind,

surely i’le hit thee,

That thou shalt quickly find,

Ile not forget thee.


Then little Cupid caught

his Bow so nimble,

And shot a fatal Shaft

which made him tremble:

Go tell thy Mistress dear,

thou canst discover,

What all the Passions are,

of a dying Lover.


And now this gallant heart,

sorely was bleeding,

And felt the greatest smart

from Love proceeding:

He did her help implore,

whom he affected,

But found that more and more,

him she rejected.


For Cupid with his craft

quickly had chosen,

And with a leaden shaft,

her heart had frozen,

Which caus’d this Lover, more

sadly to languish,

And Cupids aid implore,

to heal his anguish.


He humble pardon crav’d

for his offence past,

And vow’d himself a slave,

and to Love stedfast;

His prayers so ardent were,

whilst his heart panted,

That Cupid lent an ear,

and his suit granted.


For by his present plaint,

he was regarded,

And his adored Saint,

his Love rewarded:

And now they live in joy,

sweetly imbraceing,

And left the little Boy

in the Woods chasing.


Licensed and Entred according to Order.

London, Printed for F. Coles, in Wine-street, near Hatten Garden.

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This ballad is included according to the criteria for List C (see Methodology). The evidence presented here is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, as of 1st January 2024.

New tune titles deriving from the ballad: 'Cupids Courtesie' (5 ballads).

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Thackeray, 1689.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1662.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 7

No. of extant copies: 11

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 20 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V6890).

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 10 + 10 + 5 + 14 + 11 + 0 + 2 + 0 = 52

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