32  The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an/ English man born [Euing 327]

Author: Anonymous

Crime - immorality Crime - piracy Death - unlawful killing Death - warfare Economy - hardship/poverty Emotions - excitement Emotions - fear Emotions - horror Employment - sailors/soldiers Environment - buildings Environment - sea Environment - weather Gender - masculinity Gender - sex Morality - general Places - English Places - European Places - extra-European Places - nationalities Places - travel/transport Politics - controversy Politics - foreign affairs Politics - power Recreation - alcohol Religion - Muslims Religion - atheism Religion - divine intervention Society - friends Violence - at sea Violence - interpersonal

Song History

In 1609, bookseller John Busby Senior registered ‘The seamens songe of Captayne Warde’ and ‘The seamens songe of Danseker the Dutchman’ as two distinct ballads, suggesting that at this early stage they were issued on separate sheets (Rollins). All surviving issues date from later in the seventeenth century, and they invariably present the two songs side by side, as on our featured edition. The Seamans Song remained successful into the 1660s and 1670s but was subsequently displaced by a different song about Captain Ward (see Related texts).

John Ward’s life-story has been pieced together by historians from references in dozens of different sources, most of them hostile. He originated in Faversham (Kent) and it seems to have escaped the notice of most scholars that he may well have been the John Ward, son of Robert and Elizabeth, who was baptised there on 20 December 1563 (see Ancestry).

In adult life, he became a fisherman, got married and moved to Plymouth (Devon). According to his literary critics, he failed to raise the tone of the town, being poor, drunk, cowardly and morally dissolute. His vocabulary is also said to have consisted almost exclusively of swear-words. It seems certain that during the last decade of the sixteenth century he became a privateer, sailing out of Plymouth to harry and rob the ships of other nations - preferably Spain - with the tacit approval of Elizabeth I's government (see Bak). Was he perhaps the 'Captain Ward' who, at an unspecified date in the queen's reign, was rewarded for his services with the right to collect a levy on all pilchards exported from Dorset, Devon and Cornwall (Calendar of State Papers)?

In 1603, James I succeeded Elizabeth and set about the business of bringing England's long war with Spain to an end. As a direct result, opportunities for semi-licensed privateering in the Caribbean and elsewhere were severely curtailed. This change of circumstance probably explains Ward's decision to join the crew of a royal ship named the ‘Lion’s whelp’. Service did not suit him, however, and before long he gathered a gang of fellow malcontents, stole another ship and began the piratical career that was to make him an international celebrity. Ward and his men used trickery to take vessels of varying size and value as they made their way to Algiers (he renamed a stolen French ship the ‘Little John’, perhaps with a respectful nod towards Robin Hood’s brawny sidekick).

In the years that followed, Ward steadily added further stolen ships and crews to his developing fleet. He is said to have had as many as 500 men under his command, and he conducted numerous raids off the north African coast, targeting merchant ships of all nationalities. By 1606, Ward had established a base in Ottoman Tunis, after forming a close alliance with Uthman Dey (also known has Cara Osman) who, as captain of the Janissaries (Turkish soldiers), was the city’s effective ruler.

Ward had to split his profits with Uthman’s regime but in return he was permitted to sell his stolen goods in the local markets and recruit local men to bolster his English crews. In this manner, he is also said to have played an important role in introducing native Barbary corsairs to the square-rigged fighting ships, sailing techniques and navigational know-how that were well established in northern Europe.

Ward’s arrangement with Uthman Dey enabled him to grow exceptionally wealthy between 1606 and 1609. He did particularly well from the taking of several Venetian merchant ships, all laden with an array of spices, gold and other materials. With such triumphs behind him, the fisherman from Faversham built a private palace in Tunis, consuming the finest foods and employing a personal bodyguard. Ward’s lifestyle at this time was described by his critics as violent, decadent and debauched (‘sodomy’ is mentioned more than once).

It was not all plain sailing, however, and Ward also suffered several setbacks in this period. He attempted to win a pardon from James I – this was often possible for reformed corsairs who bolstered their applications with deal-sweetening gold – but his efforts were rejected. Some of Ward’s own men fled with one of his ships, and a Venetian vessel that he had adopted and re-fitted as his flagship began to leak and had to be abandoned. To make matters worse, a former passenger on one of Ward’s ships informed the English ambassador to Venice that the pirate king was almost bald, constantly drunk or asleep, and ‘a fool and an idiot’ who boasted that he would rob his own father if they were to meet at sea.

These disappointments, particularly the ruling out of a pardon, probably help to explain Ward’s decision in 1609 or 1610 to convert to Islam, or ‘turn Turk’ in English Jacobean parlance. He also married again, this time to an Italian woman who lived in Tunis. Ward continued pirating until c. 1612 but hereafter seems to have entered a state of semi-retirement, living off his illicit gains and indulging his hobby of incubating chickens’ eggs in camel dung.

In 1615, the Scottish traveller, William Lithgow, stopped in Tunis for ten days and spent some time in Ward’s palace. He ‘dyned and supped’ with the pirate on several occasions, finding ‘old Ward’ a generous and ‘placable’ host. Ward died of the plague in 1622 and, several decades later, was remembered in a Tunisian source as the famous corsair, Captain Wardiyya, who became a Muslim and served the rulers of Tunis (see Ransome).

In English sources, Ward is frequently paired with the Dutchman, Simon Danseker (the name was spelt in several different ways), and it seems that the two men operated for a time in a sort of alliance in the Mediterranean, before falling out in c. 1609. This narrative is reflected in the second song on our featured edition.

Danseker was a Dutch counterpart of John Ward, operating from a base in Algiers, rather than Tunis. He came originally from Flushing and had served in the army of the States General of the Netherlands before moving to Marseille and then turning to piracy around 1607. Danseker’s subsequent attempt to switch back to a more conventional life was more successful than Ward’s, and he eventually returned to Marseille, under the protection of the French crown. In c. 1615, however, Louis XIII sent him to Tunis on a diplomatic mission and, while there, his past came back to haunt him. The local regime tricked and trapped him, then beheaded him for his previous crimes. As the ballad had earlier warned, ‘Such as live by theeving/ Have seldom times good ending’.

As far as we can tell, The Seamans Song enjoyed particular phases of popularity around 1609 and then again during the 1650s and 1660s (though the song may well have been in print throughout the intervening period). Both phases coincided with episodes of particular concern over the dangers posed to English shipping by Barbary corsairs. James I, in the early years of his English reign, repeatedly issued proclamations to address the threat and, on a single day in 1609, fifteen captured pirates were hanged in Wapping.

Not surprisingly, news of Ward’s activities stimulated considerable interest at this time, and authors spoke of ‘many flying fables’ and ‘much talke’ about the pirate. He was still topical in 1612 when the playwright, Thomas Dekker, imagined a group of spirits in the underworld anticipating the arrival of Ward and Danseker.

Piracy was similarly problematic in the years around 1660, and the regimes of Cromwell and Charles II were deeply concerned at the threat posed by Barbary corsairs to English interests. In fact, the situation had grown worse since 1609 and North African privateers regularly attacked English vessels in English waters and even raided southern English communities to abduct hostages. There were said to be thousands of English captives in Algiers and Tunis, where they lived as slaves while hoping to be freed on the payment of ransoms.

English governments, whether revolutionary or royal, were constantly preoccupied with the need to place relations with the Barbary states on a more sustainable footing, and this headache continued to throb into the late seventeenth century. It cannot have escaped notice that the capacity of the Barbary corsairs to operate in English waters was due in part to men like Ward and Danseker, who had taught an earlier generation sailing techniques that now helped them to operate far beyond the Mediterranean. The success of the song before and after the Restoration of 1660 is thus readily comprehensible.

It is noticeable, however, that The Seamans Song is not by any means consistent in its criticism of Ward and Danseker. There must, therefore, have been other reasons for its success. In fact, the song-writers oscillate between condemnation and admiration. Overall, the English pirate is denounced for his deeds but the song also includes references to ‘Lusty Ward’, his men ‘of courage and of might’, and the manner in which ‘His name and state so mounteth’. The title refers, apparently with something very like pride, to ‘the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born’. Danseker’s ‘gallant mind’ has also ‘won him great renown’ and both pirates participate in ‘proud adventures every day’. Such remarks are constantly qualified by the acknowledgement that the pirates are directing their manly prowess towards reprehensible ends but the tone of celebration is nevertheless unmistakable.  In Bernard Capp's words, the corsair of the ballad is 'an ambivalent figure, part hero, part villain'.

Clearly, there was something appealing about the ‘rover’ who could not be contained by land or by the social and political structures that necessarily constrained conventional humans. David Vitkus has dubbed such individuals ‘rogue cosmopolitans’ who transcended their low birth-status by ‘gaming those elite systems of trade, patron-client relations, war, diplomacy, and so on’.

In various ways, the ballad offered the singer, listener or reader a vicarious escape from normality. It facilitated a range of imaginative journeys: from land to sea, from England to Turkey, from lawfulness to criminality, from religion to irreligion, from poverty to riches, and from a sexually mixed society to a world of men (the ballad-makers’ intention of attracting male consumers in particular is also suggested by the title, the opening  appeal to ‘Gallants’, and the fact that the only women mentioned in the ballad are the widows created by the pirates' violence). English society was intensely hierarchical in the early modern period, and this is a song that glorifies rebels even while condemning them.

Ward’s abandonment of his homeland also raised interesting questions in an era characterised by a developing sense of English national identity. The second line of the ballad calls him ‘Captain Ward of England’ but the subsequent song describes a man who has, through his own personal efforts, become something else entirely.

As with so many hit ballads, The Seamans Song provided much matter for debate. Moreover, the possibility that ordinary English people might identify with such an extraordinary character was probably enhanced by the fact that Ward’s Kentish origins were clearly known and verifiable. Numerous individuals from seventeenth-century Faversham shared his surname, and one wonders whether the antics of their relative brought them guilt or glory.

According to contemporary sources, John Ward was also known as ‘Jack’ and as ‘Birdy’, ‘Sharky’ and ‘Sparrow’. He has therefore been identified as the inspiration for ‘Jack Sparrow’, the character played by Johny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (see Milton). Some characters simply cannot be kept out of popular culture!

Christopher Marsh



Anon, The famous sea-fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow. To the Tune of Captain Ward (late seventeenth century?)

Anon, Newes from sea, of two notorious pyrats Ward the Englishman, and Danseker the Dutchman. With a true relation of all or the most piraces by them committed unto the sixt of Aprill 1609 (1609). Reissued in the same year as Ward and Danseker, Two notorious pyrates.

Greg Bak, Barbary pirate. The life and crimes of John Ward (Stroud, 2006).

Andrew Barker, A true and certaine report of the beginning, proceedings, overthrowes, and now present estate of Captaine Ward and Danseker, the two late Pirates: from their first setting foorth to this present time (1609)

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

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series. Charles I. 1625-26 (1858), p. 259.

Bernard Capp, British slaves and Barbary corsairs 1580-1750 (2022).

Robert Daborne, A Christian turn’d Turke: Or, The tragicall lives and deaths of the two Famous Pyrates, Ward and Dansiker. As it hath been publickly Acted (1612).

Thomas Dekker, If it be not good, the Divel is in it (1612), L4r.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Sila Şenlen Güvenç, ‘A foe to all Christians’, Çanakkale Araştırmaları Türk Yıllığı [The Turkish yearbook of Çanakkale studies] 29 (2020), pp. 35-54.

James I, By the King. A proclamation for the search and apprehension of certaine pirats (1604).

James I, By the King. A proclamation against pirats (1609).

William Lithgow, The total discourse, of the rare adventures, and painefull peregrinations of long nineteene years travailes from Scotland (1634; edition of 1640), pp. 359 and 380-81.

Christopher Lloyd, ‘Captain John Ward: Pirate’, History today 29.2 (February 1979), pp. 751-55.

Nabil Matar, Turks, moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (New York, 1999).

Giles Milton, ‘Pirate John Ward: the real Captain Sparrow’: https://www.historyextra.com/period/elizabethan/pirate-john-ward-the-real-captain-jack-sparrow/

David R. Ransome, ‘Ward, John [called Issouf Reis, Captain Wardiyya] (c. 1553-1623?), Oxford dictionary of national biography

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. 2390, 2393 and 2394.

Adrian Tinniswood, Pirates of Barbary (2010).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ [search for Roud numbers 224 and V30770 – there are references to The Seamans Song under both numbers].

David Vitkins, ‘Rogue cosmopolitans on the early modern state: John Ward, Thomas Stukeley, and the Sherley brothers’ in Claire Jowitt and David McInnis (eds.), Travel and drama in early modern England (Cambridge, 2019), pp. 128-49.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘The Kings going to Bulloign’ (lost melody; standard name - The King’s going to Boulogne)

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

No tune has been found under the title ‘The King’s going to Boulogne’ and we have been unable to discover a melody with a strong connection to this song in later vernacular tradition. In the circumstances, we have not made a recording.

Echoes (an overview)

The early ballad that gave this lost tune its name was apparently about King Henry VIII’s capture of Boulogne in 1544-50, but no surviving copy has been found. The same melody was also nominated on a handful of other ballads during the seventeenth century, beginning with The Seamans Song of Captain Ward, clearly a successful publication. This described the exploits of two famous pirates, Ward and Dansekar, and managed simultaneously to celebrate and criticise them. A similar ambivalence characterises Richard Johnson’s ballad, The Life and Death of the Famous Thomas Stukely (part fearsome hero, part failing husband). It is worth noting that Stukely had actually been present at the siege of Boulogne under Henry VIII, and he may therefore provide a link with the original, lost ballad.

The two other songs on the list did not focus on particular individuals in the same way, but they retained the manly militarism that was clearly the tune’s primary area of influence. The fact that both Newes from Argeir and  Good Newes from the North were positive accounts of successes achieved by royal forces may indicate that the melody was heard primarily as celebratory music, despite the moral criticisms levelled at adventurers like Ward and Stukely.

The songs listed below are also connected by occasional verbal echoes. The Seamans Song of Captain Ward, for example, opens, ‘Gallants you must understand,/ Captain Ward of England’, and The Life and Death of the Famous Thomas Stukely begins, ‘In the West of England,/ Born there was I understand’ (this song was actually composed long before the publication date of the surviving copies).

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

Songs and Summaries

The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born + The Seamans Song of Dansekar the Dutchman, his robberies done at Sea... The tune is, The Kings going to Bulloign (registered 1609; F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 327; EBBA 31994.  Crime – piracy; Gender – masculinity; Morality – general;  Violence – at sea, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, warfare; Politics – controversy, foreign affairs, power; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – excitement, fear, horror; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – sea; Places – English, European, extra-European, travel/transport; Religion – heathens/infidels. In the first song, Captain Ward’s piratical prowess is trumpeted but his life of violence, immorality and lechery is soundly criticised; in the second,  the deeds of Dansekar, Ward’s former partner in piracy, are added to the mix, and again the text seems caught between adulation and condemnation.

The Life and Death of the Famous Thomas Stukely... Tune is King Henries going to Bulloign (composed before 1612; J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86). Pepys 2.130; EBBA 20750. Bodies – clothing; Death – warfare; Emotions – excitement, shame; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Violence – between states;  Family – children/parents; Gender – masculinity, marriage; Morality – romantic/sexual; Environment – wonders, landscape; skies/stars; Places – European, extra-European, travel/transport; Recreation –alcohol; Royalty – general. This describes the extraordinary life of the Elizabethan gallant and mercenary, Thomas Stukely, who wasted the wealth he acquired through marriage, thus upsetting his good wife, and then travelled widely, fighting for foreign kings and finally meeting his death at the hands of friends whom he had led into a fearful battle in Barbary.

Newes from Argeir, of the proceedings of our Royall Fleete since their departure from England... To the tune of, King Henries going to Bolloigne (‘Imprinted at London by G. P.’, 1621-24?). Pepys 1.94-95; EBBA 20281. Emotions – pride, patriotism, excitement; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Politics – foreign affairs, war; Places – extra-European; Gender – masculinity; Environment – sea, animals, wonders, skies/stars Violence – at sea, between states; Recreation – food, alcohol. The royal fleet is so powerful that potential enemies either lavish its Lord General with gifts in order to deflect danger, or they come off second best if they dare to do battle at sea.

Good Newes from the North... The tune is, King Henry going to Bulloine (‘Printed by E. G...’, 1640). Wood 401(133). News – political, domestic; Crime – robbery/theft; Death – warfare; Violence – civil war; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; Environment – animals; Places – English, nationalities, travel/transport; Recreation – alcohol, food; Religion – prayer; Royalty – praise. This describes an incident in which a group of vile Scottish rebels descended on the house of a gentleman near Durham, only to be soundly routed by a troop of English soldiers who happened to be stationed nearby (the incident is presented as a warning to the King’s enemies).


The tune was also chosen for one of the songs in Good and True, Fresh and New Christmas Carols (1642). This was a short, celebratory drinking song entitled ‘A merry Caroll for the same day’ (St. John’s Day), and it opened with the line, ‘Come bravely on my Masters’. Although this was also a religious song, finding evidence of ‘Gods plan’ in social fellowship, it seems likely that in performance it also brought to proceedings a note of piratical excess!

Early editions of another ballad about Ward, The famous sea-fight, were set to a tune called 'Captain Ward. This cannot, however, have been 'The King’s going to Boulogne' by another name because the two ballads present very different metrical patterns.

Christopher Marsh


Good and True, Fresh and New Christmas Carols (1642).

Richard Johnson, A CROWNE-GARLAND OF GOULDEN ROSES (1612), C5r-8r.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Shield with lion and ship

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)

This woodcut was deployed fairly regularly and fairly predictably in the second half of the seventeenth century, usually to illustrate songs about sailors. It appeared on most seventeenth-century editions of The Seamans Song and on several other ballads as well. All surviving versions of the picture seem to have been produced from the same woodblock, and the progressive deterioration in its condition can be traced in the ballads listed below. By the end of the seventeenth century, the lion at the top of the shield had disappeared completely and the rest of the image was difficult to recognise. The fact that it was still used may tell us something about the popularity and familiarity of the picture.

Beyond a link to the sea, the image does not appear to have carried significant associational cargo. It illustrates ballads about heroic English sailors, pirates of questionable morality, wanderers who return to their lovers, and merchants who make bets about the wives of other men. Sometimes, the precise deployment is skilful and inventive, as on A Pleasant New Song where the seaman’s rival attachments to the ocean and to his wife are nicely contrasted. More often, however, the woodcut serves primarily to inform casual viewers that these are sea-ballads, leaving them to forge specific text-image connections for themselves.

Songs and summaries

The Sailors onely Delight Shewing the brave Fight between the George-Aloe, the Sweep-stake, and certain Frenchmen at Sea (F. Coles, J. Wright, Tho Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1655-58). Roxburghe 3.204-05; EBBA 30851. Employment – sailors/soldiers; Crime – piracy; Violence – at sea; Emotions – excitement; Gender – masculinity; Environment – sea; Places – travel/transport, extra-European. A sailors’ song with a distinctive double-refrain, telling the story of a confrontation between two English merchant ships and a French vessel, off the coast of Barbary (picture placement: it appears beneath the title and in between two ships).

The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born + The Seamans Song of Dansekar the Dutchman, his robberies done at Sea (F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 327; EBBA 31994.  Crime – piracy; Gender – masculinity; Morality – general;  Violence – at sea, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, warfare; Politics – controversy, foreign affairs, power; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – excitement, fear, horror; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – sea; Places – European, extra-European, travel/transport; Religion – heathens/infidels. In the first song, Captain Ward’s piratical prowess is trumpeted but his life of violence, immorality and lechery is soundly criticised; in the second, the deeds of Dansekar, Ward’s former partner in piracy, are added to the mix, and again the text seems caught between adulation and condemnation (picture placement: the shield appears over the opening lines of the second song).

Love and Gallantry: OR, A Noble Seaman's last adieu to his Mistris (Philip Brooksby, 1670-98).  Roxburghe 3.236; EBBA 30877.  Gender – courtship; Death – warfare, heartbreak; Emotions – sorrow; Nature – sea; Politics – foreign affairs, Royalist; Royalty – praise, authority; Violence – at sea.  A seaman bids farewell to his mistress when he is drowned in combat, and she responds with tears and a desire to join him beyond the grave (picture placement: the shield appears beneath the title and alongside a grand tomb).

The Merchant-man and the Fidlers wife (Fr. Coles, Tho. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 4.163; EBBA 21825.  Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, femininity, masculinity, sex, sexual violence; Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Recreation – music, games/sports; Humour – bawdry; Violence – sexual.  A fiddler and his wife take a journey in a merchant’s ship, and the two men make a bet over the chastity of the woman (picture placement: the shield appears beneath the title, alongside a gallant with hand on hip).

A Pleasant New Song betwixt a Saylor and his Love (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger,  1682-84).  Pepys 4.156; EBBA 21818. Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; Employment -  sailors/soldiers; Environment – animals, crops, birds, sea; Religion – ancient gods; History – ancient/mythological; Recreation – music; Places – travel/transport. A sailor returns home after a long time away and persuades his wife not to be resentful (picture placement: the shield appears beneath the title, and a How-de-do-man walks towards it).

An Invitation to Lubberland. WITH An Account of the great Plenty of that Fruitful Country (J. Deacon, 1685-88). Roxburghe 2.226; EBBA 30687. Recreation – food, alcohol, music; Places – travel/transport; Emotions – excitement; Humour – extreme situations/surprises; Bodies - nourishment; Environment – flowers/trees, wonders, buildings, weather, landscape; News – sensational, international; Morality – general. This contains news, brought by a visiting ship, of the wonderful nation of Lubberland, where food is plentiful, behaviour is unrestricted and the rulers are ‘The king of knaves, and queen of sluts’ (picture placement: it appears beneath the title, to the left of a man who stands on a globe and exclaims ‘Hey for Lubberland.’)

The Trappan'd MAIDEN: OR, The Distressed Damsel (W. O. and A. M., 1695-1704). Pepys 4.286; EBBA 21947. Places – travel, extra-European; Employment – apprenticeship/service, female/male, agrarian; Emotions – anxiety, sorrow; Economy – hardship, household, livings; Bodies – clothing; Nature – animals.  A young woman, sent to Virginia against her will to serve a master and mistress, describes the hard work and appalling conditions in which she lives (picture placement: the lower portion of the picture, featuring the ship, appears over the second half of the text).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The Seamans Song was closely related to two pamphlets about John Ward, both published in 1609. The first of these, Newes from sea, was registered with the Stationers in June by John Busby Senior, the same publisher who entered the ballad a month later, and it seems clear that the song was based on the longer publication. Busby was evidently hoping to cover all possible markets during the phase in which Ward had such topical value.

Essentially, Newes from sea presented a much more detailed account of Ward’s life and actions than the ballad could provide. We are told, for example, about Ward’s unsuccessful attempts to send money home to his wife in Faversham, and the book includes letters supposedly written by the masters of two London ships, the Charity and the Pearl, both of which had recently been attacked by Ward and his men.

Other details that appear in the ballad can be traced directly to News from sea. Ward, for example, commands twenty-four ships, has a Turkish bodyguard, and has recently attacked not only the Charity and the Pearl but also the Trojan, the Elizabeth and the Bonaventure of Hull. It is noticeable, however, that the pamphlet account seems to lack much of the admiring counter-text that is a feature of the ballad. In News from sea, Ward is hardly ever spoken of as a kind of hero. This perhaps tells us something about the perceived differences in taste between ballad-consumers and book-buyers.

A consistently critical tone also characterises the second pamphlet, Andrew Barker’s True and certaine report. The Busbys were clearly keen to keep the profits from Ward’s story in the family, and this text was entered by John Junior in October 1609, several months after the registrations of Newes from sea and the ballad.

If the composition of A true and certaine report did indeed follow that of the song, then certain references – the allegation that Ward practised ‘sodomy’ in Tunis, for example – may have been added to the new pamphlet because of the success of the ballad (this particular sexual practice is not mentioned in Newes from sea).

Not surprisingly, A true and certaine report also contains a great deal of detail that is not in the ballad, some of it made possible by the fact that Barker was himself one of Ward’s victims and could claim first-hand experience. There is clearer information, for example, on Ward’s status as a corsair who serves the political and military leaders of Tunis, and many of the pirate’s English accomplices are mentioned by name. Barker, the captain of a merchant ship, is also keen to point out that London’s losses at Ward’s hands already amount to £200,000. In addition, the author provides fuller information on Ward’s background in Plymouth, and his reputation among his former neighbours. Barker claims that the future renegade was regarded as ‘a fellow, poore, base, and of no esteeme’.

In 1612, Ward was also the subject of Robert Daborne’s play, A Christian turn’d Turke. The pirate’s conversion to Islam did not feature in the pamphlets or the hit song, though Barker did refer at one point to ‘our apostate countriman’. News of Ward’s decision to ‘turn Turk’ may not have reached England until c. 1610, and Daborne claimed novelty value by placing it at the heart of his narrative.

In other respects, Daborne had clearly learned from the earlier sources and he skilfully dramatises some of the detail. One of Ward’s early victims, for example, warns him to moderate his conduct with the words, ‘A little calmer sir, you are not now in Kent,/ Crying herrings seven a penny’. There is not much evidence, however, of a direct link to the ballad, and Daborne’s text stands apart from the pamphlets in sometimes presenting Ward as thoughtful and eloquent, rather than mono-syllabically foul-mouthed.

Daborne's most striking innovation comes, however, at the end of the play when Ward kills himself in order to avoid death at the hands of Uthman Dey, his former ally. His dying wish is that other pirates will learn the lessons of his demise and do battle with Islam. Given that Ward still had over a decade to live at the time of composition, this was wishful thinking on the author’s part.

The Seamans Song was clearly the source that came closest to celebrating Ward’s lawlessness, though it also condemned him for it. At the opposite end of the spectrum was a poem written by Samuel Rowlands in c. 1613. This was addressed ‘To a reprobate pirate that hath renounced Christ and is turn’d Turke’ and its final line hinted at the identity of the intended recipient: ‘Perpetuall flames is reprobates Re-ward’.

As these words suggest, Rowland’s poem was uncompromisingly critical and it presented no hints of admiration, whether sneaking or otherwise. Ward is described as a ‘wicked lumpe of onely sin’, a ‘villaine’, a ‘Hellish Beast’, a ‘cursed Theife’ and a ‘devouring monster’. He is further charged with simultaneously serving the Turk and the Devil, and with luring others along same path. Rowlands accuses Ward of ‘Having a garment ready in thy hall,/ For him that next from Christian faith doth fall’.

Last but not least, we must mention another ballad about Ward, entitled The famous sea-fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow. This does not seem to have been registered but was probably composed in the middle decades of the seventeenth century (an earlier date of origin cannot, however, be ruled out).  It is not closely related to The Seamans Song, although it focuses on the same individual and can probably be understood as an attempt to tap into the success of the original while moving the tale in a bold new direction. The famous sea-fight seems to draw its inspiration loosely from Ward’s attempt, in c. 1608, to obtain a pardon from the king, and it builds a fictional narrative upon this foundation.

In the ballad, Ward requests an audience with the monarch and promises to pay thirty tons of gold as a ransom (a reference to the fairly common piratical practice of effectively buying royal pardons). The king is unimpressed and sends his mighty ship, the Rainbow, to deal with Ward, once and for all (the Rainbow would also have been remembered as one of the ships used by Francis Drake in his famous raid on Cadiz in 1587).

Having located Ward, presumably off the Barbary coast, the Rainbow opens fire but the bombardment has no effect upon the pirate vessel. Ward, unruffled, tells the Rainbow’s captain to deliver a message to the king: ‘If he reign King of all the Land,/ I will reign King at Sea’. The Rainbow duly returns home, and its captain advises James that Ward’s ship is ‘so strong,/ it never will be tane’.

The famous sea-fight also appropriates certain imagery from another hit pirate-ballad, A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton. ‘Shoot on, shoot on, says Captain Ward’ when the Rainbow fires on his ship, recalling Barton’s words of encouragement, ‘Fight on, fight on, my merry Men all’. And the captain of the Rainbow’s reluctant conclusion that his opponents ‘were brass on the out side/ yet Ward was steel within’ is clearly intended to call to mind the earlier description of Barton as ‘brass within, and steel without’.

The famous sea-fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow clearly took over as the most popular ballad about Ward in the closing years of the seventeenth century. It was also printed regularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it survived as a folk-song into the twentieth (it is Child Ballad number 287).

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Anon, Newes from sea, of two notorious pyrats Ward the Englishman, and Danseker the Dutchman. With a true relation of all or the most piraces by them committed unto the sixt of Aprill 1609 (1609). Reissued in the same year as Ward and Danseker, Two notorious pyrates.

Andrew Barker, A true and certaine report of the beginning, proceedings, overthrowes, and now present estate of Captaine Ward and Danseker, the two late Pirates: from their first setting foorth to this present time (1609)

The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born, The tune is, The Kings going to Bulloign (registered 1609 and printed regularly thereafter).

Robert Daborne, A Christian turn’d Turke: Or, The tragicall lives and deaths of the two Famous Pyrates, Ward and Dansiker. As it hath been publickly Acted (1612).

Samuel Rowlands, ‘To a reprobate pirate that renounced Christ and is turn’d Turke’, in his More knaves yet? The knaves of spades and diamonds. With new additions (1613), B1r.

Anon, The famous sea-fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow. To the Tune of Captain Ward (mid-seventeenth-century?)

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The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an/ English man born,   The tune is, The Kings going to Bulloign,

[We have not recorded this song because the tune is unknown]


GAllants you must understand,

Captain Ward of England,

a Pyrate and a Rover on the Sea,

O[f] late a simple Fisherman

In the merry town of Feversham,

grows famous in the world now every day


From the Bay of Plimouth

Sailed he toward the south,

with many more of courage and of might

Christian Princes have but few

Such Seamen, if that he we were true,

and would but for his King & Country fight,


Lusty Ward adventrously,

In the straights of Barbary

did make the Turkish Gallies sore to shake

Bouncing Canons fiery hot,

Spared not the Turks one jot,

but of their lives great slaughter he did make


The Ilanders of Malta,

With Argostes upon the Sea,

most proudly braved Ward unto his face

But soon their pride was overthrown

And their treasures made his own

and all their men brought to a woful case


The wealthy ships of Venice

Afforded him great riches

both gold & silver won he with his sword

Stately Spain and Portugal

Against him dare not bare up sail,

but gave him all the title of a Lord.


Golden seated Candy

Famous France and Italy

with all the Countries of the Eastern parts,

If once their Ships his pride withstood

They surely all were cloth’d in blood,

such cruelty was plac’d within their hearts,


The riches he hath gained

And by blood=shed obtained

may well suffice for to maintain a King

His fellows are all valiant Wights

Fit to be made Princes Knights,

but that their lives do base dishonours bring.


This wicked gotten treasure,

Doth him but little pleasure,

the land consumes what they have got by sea

In drunkennesse and letchery,

Filthy sins of Sodomy,

these evil gotten Goods do wast away,


Such as live by theeving,

Have seldom times good ending,

as by the deeds of Captain Ward is shown

Being drunk amongst his Drabs

His nearest friends he sometimes stabs,

such wickedness within his heart is grown


When stormy tempest riseth

The causer he despiseth,

still denies to pay unto the Lord

He feareth neither God nor the Divel,

His deeds are bad, his thoughts are evil,

his only trust is still upon his sword.


Men of his own Countrey,

He still abused vilely,

some back to back are cast into the waves

Some are hewen in pieces small,

Some are shot against a wall,

a slender number of their lives he saves


Of truth it is reported

That he is strongly guarded,

by Turks that are not of a good belief,

Wit and reason tells them

He [t]rusteth not his Countrey=men,

but shews the right condition of a thief,


At Tunis in Barbary

Now he buildeth stately,

a gallant Palace and a Royal place,

Decked with delights most trim,

Fitter for a Prince then him.

the which at last will prove to his disgrace.


To make the world to wonder,

This Captain is Commander

of four and twenty ships of sail,

To bring in treasure from the sea,

Into the Markets every day,

the which the Turks do buy up without fail,


His name and state so mounteth

These Countrey men accounteth

him Equal to the Nobles of that Land

But these his honours we shall find

Shortly blown up with the wind,

or prove like letters written in the sand. Finis


The Seamans Song of Dansekar the Duchman, his robberies done at Sea.

To the same tune,


SIng we (Seamen) now and than

Of Dansekar the Duchman,

whose gallant mind hath won him great renown

To live on land he counts it base

But seeks to purchase greater grace,

by Roving on the Ocean up and down.


His heart is so aspiring

That now his chief desiring,

is for to win himself a worthy name

The Land hath far too little ground,

The Sea is of a larger bound,

and of a greater dignity and fame.


Now many a worthy Gallant

Of courage now most valiant,

with him hath put their fortunes to the Sea,

All the world about have heard

Of Dansekar and English Ward,

and of their proud adventures every day


There is not a Kingdom

In Turkey or in Christendom,

but by their Pyrates have received loss

Merchant men of every Land,

Do daily in great danger stand

and fear do much the Ocean main to cross.


They make Children fatherlesse

Wofull widows in distresse

in shedding blood they took too much delight.

Fathers they bereave of sons,

Regarding neither cries nor moans,

so much they joy to see a bloody fight.


They count it gallant hearing

To hear the Canons roaring,

and Musket-shot to rattle in the sky,

Their glories would be at the highest

To fight against the foes of Christ

and such as do our Christian faith deny,


But their cursed Villanies,

And their bloody Pyracies.

are chiefly bent against our Christian friends

Some Christians so delight in evils,

That they become the sons of Divels

and for the same have many shameful ends


England suffers danger

As well as any stranger,

Nations are alike unto his company,

Many English Merchant men,

And of London now and then,

have tasted of their vile extremity,


Londons Elizabeth

Of late these Rovers taken have,

a ship well laden with rich Merchandise

The nimble Pearl and Charity

All ships of gallant bravery,

all these are made a lawful prize,


The Trojan of London

With other ships many a one,

hath stooped sail and yielded out of hand,

These Pyrates they have shed their bloods,

And the Turks have bought their goods,

being all too weak their power to withstand,


Of Hull and Bonaventer,

Which was a great frequenter

and passer of the Straits to Barbary,

Both Ship and men late taken were,

By Pyrates Ward and Dansekar,

and brought by them into Captivity,


English Ward and Dansekar

Begin greatly now to jar,

about dividing of their gotten goods

Both Ships and Souldiers gather head

Dacsekar from Ward is fled,

so full of pride and malice are their bloods.


Ward doth onely promise

To keep about rich Tunis,

and be Commander of those Turkish Seas

But valiant Duchland Dansekar,

Doth hover neer unto Argier,

and there his threatning colours now displays


These Pyrates thus divided

By God is sure provided,

in secret sort to work each others woe,

Such wicked courses cannot stand,

The Divel thus puts in his hand,

and God will soon give them an overthrrw.


Printed for F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson.

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

No. of known editions c. 1560-1711: 6

No. of extant copies: 4

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Coles, Vere, Wright and Gilbertson, 1656; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Captain Ward').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1609.

3-year periods that produced multiple editions: 1661-63 (2)

New tune titles generated: 'Captain Ward' (1 ballad).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Pre-1640 bonus: yes.

POINTS: 12 + 4 + 20 + 5 + 12 + 2 + 0 + 20 = 75

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This box will be used to highlight any new information on this song that might come to light after the launch of the website.

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