79  Win at first, lose at last; or, a New Game at Cards [Bodleian Wood 401 (149v-150r)]

Author: Price, Laurence (fl. 1628–1675)

Recording: Win at First, lose at Last

Emotions - anger Emotions - anxiety Emotions - joy History - recent Politics - Civil War/Interregnum Politics - Restoration Politics - Royalist Politics - celebration Politics - controversy Politics - domestic Recreation - games/sports Religion - protestant nonconformity Religion: Protestant/Puritan Royalty - praise

Song History

Win at first was originally published by the prolific ballad specialist, Francis Grove, in 1660.

Publication History

Win at First was just one among hundreds of published songs that welcomed the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Only one 1660 edition of the song is known, despite its striking and (apparently) unique woodcut portrait of Charles I – perhaps one of the royal portrait images that Grove boldly entered in the Stationer’s Registers in 1658.

At some time after 1663, the rights to many of Grove's successful ballad titles were bought from Grove's son by the Ballad Partnership (then under the leadership of Francis Coles). It was 1680, however, before they seized the opportunity to re-issue Win at First, during the furore that raged across the three kingdoms in response to the 'Popish Plot' and the Exclusion Crisis (for more on these episodes see The Ballad of the Cloak). 1680 was a particularly opportune moment for the song as, not only were memories of the civil wars being weaponised by both Whig and Tory polemicists, but there was also a new craze for sets of engraved ‘plotting cards’, illustrated with all the various characters and events included in the convoluted Popish Plot allegations. Although the licensing act had lapsed in 1679, the partners (several of whom were leading figures in the Stationers' Company) took no chances with the strong possibility of censorship by the draconian licensor of the press, Sir Roger L’Estrange. The ballad's imprint included both a date (1680) and (for the first time) an author indication: L.P. (Laurence Price).

The song was consistently regarded as an ultra-loyal ballad and further political crises provided new opportunities for new editions to be printed, either on single sheets or in collections of loyal songs. It was reprinted, for example, around the time of the Rye House Plot in 1683 and in response to each of the nine general elections held between 1695 and 1713. Moreover, the song was issued in both London and Dublin. A unique fully engraved edition with musical notation, held in the British Museum, is entitled A New Game of Cards. This edition cannot be dated with any certainty, but engraved music sheets like these were sold by specalist music shops from the mid-1680s, which suggests the sheet was printed for use by instrumental players.


Win at First, Lose at Last provided a royalist account of the main players involved in the rise and fall of the Protectorate and the Restoration, figured as a game of cards. Card-playing was ubiquitous in early modern Britain and Fortuna was a compelling figure in classical, literary, and popular culture. Card-playing allegories too were popular. By bringing together the mysterious complexities of providentialism, irrational fortune, and the limitations of human agency, writers used the metaphor of card-playing to deliver comfort and a modicum of understanding to winners and losers in the games of life, love, war, and politics.

However, Win at first was not unique in applying this popular allegory to song. In fact, it was a sequel to an earlier ballad entitled A New Game at Cards. In the first song, the game of cards was played between ‘three cheaters’ - the ‘hot’ Irish, the ’cheating’ Scots and the ‘round[head]’ English. The verses recounted the history of the civil wars from the Bishops Wars of 1639 to the King’s imprisonment by the Army in 1647, after the Scots had ‘sold’ him back to England.

There is a very clear similarity between the two ballads. The earlier ballad opened with the lines:

You Gallants all that love to play,

At Cards to pass the time away,

I will tell you a new game,

If you will please to learn the same,

Such a game you have not seen,

Play with all the Knaves without King or Queen.

And its repeating chorus line ran:

            For there was a secret in the thing,

            That the Knave of Clubs should beat the King.

Win at First directly referenced the earlier song and its chorus in its first verse:

Ye merry hearts that love to play

At Cards, see who hath won the day;

You that once did sadly sing,

The Knave o'th'Clubs hath won the King:

Now more happy times we have,

The King hath overcome the Knave

It also identified the earlier song’s allegorical references to the four knaves in the pack:

Old Noll was the Knave o'th'Clubs,

And Dad of such as Preach in Tubs:

Bradshaw, Ireton, and Pride,

Were three other Knaves beside:

And they play'd with half the Pack,

Throwing out all Cards but black, etc.

And it went on to tell how the names of the knaves had changed in the intervening period:

Lambert, Haslerige, and Vain,

And one-ey'd Hewson took their places,

Knaves were better Cards than Aces.

Nearly twenty years after A New Game of Cards came out, the author of Win at First expected his readers and listeners to know the earlier song. This may seem surprising given that only two copies of one anonymously published edition of A New Game of Cards survive, but other evidence indicates that the earlier song was better known in its day than its survival history suggests.

In first place, the ‘pleasant new tune’ cited on The New Game of Cards subsequently became known as ‘the three nimble shuffling cheaters.’ In 1652, another satirical song, Lionel Lockier’s Character of a Time-Serving Saint, was also set to ‘the Tune of the three cheaters’, although the ‘cheaters’ in the song were not card players, but rich, greedy, and hypocritical puritans, who showed no charity to the poor. Secondly, the first lines of The New Game inspired several new tune titles, including the one cited for Win at first. Thirdly, the Coles-led ballad partnership, whose business model was to buy rights to songs that had already sold well, included The New Game at Cards when they (along with all the other ballad specialists) entered their post-war backlog of ballad copyrights into the Stationers Registers in 1656 (see The Ballad Business essay). No edition of A New Game of Cards now survives that is imprinted with the names of the 1656 partnership. However, together with the Win at first references, and the tune evidence (see also Featured tune history), we might safely conclude that The New Game of Cards, to which Win at First was a much anticipated sequel, was indeed well-known.


While Win at first was a continuation of The New Game at Cards, the original song probably took direct inspiration from an anonymous pamphlet, published early in 1643 when hopes for a peaceful solution to the wars were high. It was one of a spate of 1640s pamphlets that likened the civil wars to a game of cards (see Related texts). 

Illustrated with a King of Hearts card, the pamphlet’s title page effectively laid out the argument of the five-page text:

The bloody Game at Cards. As it was played betwixt the KING OF HEARTS. And the rest of His Suite, against the residue of the packe of cards. WHEREIN Is discovered where faire play; was plaid and where was fowle. Shuffled at London, Cut at Westminster, Dealt at Yorke, and Plaid in the open field. by the Citty-clubs, the country Spade-men, Rich-Diamond men and Loyall Hearted men

The pamphleteer described the 'game' up to the point of the 1643 peace negotiations and was obviously anticipating success. But peace did not come, and, in effect, the pamphlet became just the first round in a trilogy of 'games of cards' texts. Shifting from prose to song, the second round was The New Game of Cards (which explains the "New' in the title) that took the narrative up to 1647. This was followed in 1660 by the third 'round', Win at first, which brought the 'game' to an end.

The allegorical approach and content of The bloody Game at Cards is so like that of both the subsequent ballads, it seems quite possible that all three were written by the same hand. Textual similarities between the 1643 pamphlet and the 1660 ballad help to support this analysis. Compare these verse lines from the pamphlet:

You Common Cards how durst you play your parts?

In open field against the King of Hearts

… may such Cards, I pray,

Be burnt, that 'gainst the King of Hearts will play

with the closing couplet of Win at first:

For till we saw the King return’d,

We Wished the Cards had all been burn’d.

In their 1680 edition, the Ballad Partners posthumously attributed Win at first to Laurence Price. Though this cannot be taken as definitive evidence, there are several reasons why we might accept their attribution. In first place, two of the partners, Francis Coles and Thomas Vere, had long been well-acquainted both with Price and the original publisher of Win at firstFrancis Grove. Secondly, Coles and Vere (along with William Gilbertson and John Wright II) had registered The New Game of Cards in 1656, so must have known who the original author and publisher were. Thirdly, Price was an able and politically engaged pamphleteer as well as being the most successful popular songwriter of the 1640s and 50s. If (as is likely) he authored Win at first, there must be a strong chance that he also wrote the first two parts of the ‘game of cards’ trilogy.

Angela McShane


Angela McShane, ‘Laurence Price, balladeer and pamphlet writer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Mark Knights, Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture (Oxford, 2005)


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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Yee Gallants that delight to play’ (standard name: A new game at cards)

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

This tune was known variously as ‘[A New] game at cards’, ‘Yee gallants that delight to play’, ‘All you that do desire to play’ and 'The three cheaters'. It was not frequently written down but versions can be found in a manuscript volume of verse in the Bodleian Library that belonged to Elias Ashmole and on one edition of a closely related song called A NEW GAME AT CARDS (our recording is based primarily on the second of these). These two versions are both printed by Simpson, who notes that they vary in several respects but are nevertheless examples of the same tune. The contrast between the two is evidence of the manner in which melodies shifted and developed as they crossed time and space. There was no definitive version, and singers must constantly have adjusted the tunes they knew in order to fit the particular texts under view.

Echoes (an overview)

The success and the associations of this tune were built on two closely-related Royalist ballads of the period 1639-60, the second of which is our hit song, Win at first. This was in fact a sequel to the slightly earlier ballad, A New game at Cards, and it adopted the tune and adapted the text of its model (see Song history). Both presented recent political developments in England in terms of a strangely inverted game of cards, but where the first was gloomy because the ‘knaves’ had beaten the ‘king’, the second was happy to report that the ‘king’ was back at the head of the pack.

Some of the later ballads that nominated the tune drew on its playfully serious associations to make sharp points through humorous metaphor. Poor Robin's Dream, for example, presented social criticisms in the guise of an imagined stage-play. And The Royal Match (1690) discussed international affairs in terms of a bear-baiting event. There are also hints of the original ballads’ edgy playfulness in LONDONS Drollery, which describes a bitterly inventive procession in 1680 that mocked all aspects of Catholicism. The text of The Virgin Race, a song about four maidens who run against one another in scanty clothing, is flippant by comparison, though it seems possible that the tune introduced a certain tone of mockery that is not explicit in the text.

The political-religious theme returned in Englands joys increased and The Downfall of POPERY, and it is intriguing that the same melody animated a pair of songs that celebrated James II’s coronation and deposition respectively. There was perhaps something of a tussle going on here between the melody’s dominant connection with the Stuart cause and its more occasional outings in alliance with anti-Catholic texts. One ballad, No Money, no Friend, attempted to pull the melody in yet another direction, taking issue with all the gaming references in the main thread of ballads and appropriating it instead for a song warning against wasting one’s money on idle pastimes.

There are numerous intertextual references within these ballads, and only a few can be noticed here. The first two songs on the list displayed closely-related opening lines  - ‘You Gallants all that love to play’ and ‘Yee merry hearts that love to play’ – and these exerted considerable influence over subsequent songs. LONDONS Drollery starts, for example, with an appeal to ‘All you that do desire to know’ and The Virgin Race calls on ‘You that do desire to hear’ (though admittedly the second line – ‘Of a Virgin Race run in York-Shire’ – takes us in a different direction). The moralising ballad, No Money, no Friend, targets instead ‘ALL you that freely spend your Coyn’ and follows this up with criticism of those who ‘play the Fool’ or ‘pick up every Idle Jack’. It may be too much of a stretch to suggest that this is a joke about card-games, though there does also seem to be a playing card on the alehouse table depicted in the woodcut.  More clearly, The Royal Match references the hit songs at the start of the series: the line ‘Fighting the Bear for a French Crown’ recalls ‘Yet he would play for an English Crown’ in A New game, and the later ballad also mentions sporting wagers and matches.

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

Songs and Summaries

A New game at Cards; OR, The three Nimble Shuffling Cheaters. To a pleasant new tune, OR, what you please (no imprint and no date, but registered 1656). Wood 401(147). Politics – controversy, domestic, Royalist; Recreation – games/sports;  History – recent; Royalty – praise;  Humour – satire, verbal, extreme situations/surprises; Emotions – anxiety, anger.  A song that represents British events of the 1640s and 1650s as a card game – played between an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman – according to curious rules in which the Knave of Clubs scores more highly than a King.

Win at first, lose at last; or, a New Game at Cards... To the Tune of, Yee Gallants that delight to play (Fran. Grove, 1660). Wood 401 (149). Politics – controversy, domestic, Royalist, celebration; Recreation – games/sports;  History – recent; Royalty – praise;  Emotions – anxiety, anger, joy. This sequel to the song above celebrates the Restoration of Charles II, portraying the horrors of the previous two decades through the extended metaphor of a game of cards, managed by cheats but now reclaimed by the forces of order.

Poor Robin's Dream, commonly call'd, Poor Charity... To a compleat Tune, known by Musicians and many others, or, Game at Cards (registered 1668; J. Clark, 1668-74). Euing 285; EBBA 31899. Recreation – theatre; Politics – domestic, plots; Bodies – looks/physique, clothing; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Society – criticism; Emotions – confusion, sorrow; Employment – unemployment; Morality – general; News – general. An unemployed man falls asleep in his chair and has a perplexing dream in which a series of characters – Time, Conscience, Plain-dealing, Dissimulation, Poor Charity, and Truth – take to the stage in turn and make their representations.

LONDONS Drollery: OR, The Love and Kindness between the POPE and the DEVIL... The Tune is, All you that do desire to Play, At Cards to pass the time away (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Pas[singer], 1680-81). Roxburghe 2.292-93; EBBA 30747. Recreation – public festivity, music; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, clergy, angel/devils; Politics – plots, controversy, domestic, satire; Emotions – excitement, hatred; Humour – deceit/disguise, mockery, satire; News – political; Bodies – clothing; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Places – English.  A song describing a vehemently anti-Catholic mock-procession that took place in London on 17 November (the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession) 1680.

No Money, no Friend. The Spend-thrift he, when 'tis too late, Laments his sad and Wretched state... The Tune is, All you that do do [sic] desire to play/ At Cards, to pass the time away (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 4.255; EBBA 21915.  Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship; Society – friendship; Emotions – sorrow; Family – kin; Economy – hardship. A man laments the fact that he has spent all his money in disreputable pastimes, and he warns others that one’s money and one’s friends tend to run out together.

The Virgin Race; Or, York-shires Glory... Tune is a New Game at Cards (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, [and] T. Passinger, 1681-84). Pepys 4.26; EBBA 21693. Recreation – games/sports, public festivity; Bodies – clothing; Emotions – excitement; Humour – extreme situations/surprises; News – general; Places – English. This describes a two-mile race between four female virgins in Yorkshire, won by Ann Clayton (Nan to her mates), and it goes on to sing the praises of Yorkshire maidens in general.

Englands joys increased, By the Happy coronation of James the Second... Tune of, A New Game at Cards (J. Clark, W. Thackery, and T. Passinger, 1685). Pepys 2.229; EBBA 20842. Politics – celebration, domestic, Royalist, obedience; Royalty – praise; Recreation – music, public festivity; Emotions – joy, excitement; Religion – Christ/God. A song praising James II while simultaneously asserting the loyalty of all English people and warning those who are not loyal that disobedience will not make them happy.

The Downfall of POPERY; OR, The Distressed JESUITS in Flight... To the Tune of, A New Game at Cards (A. B., 1689).  Pepys 2.282; EBBA 20897. Politics – celebration, domestic, Royalist; Religion – Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – praise; Emotions – relief, joy; Gender – masculinity; Death – execution. An expression of joy and relief that the ambitions of Catholics to take over the nation have been terminated by the arrival of the ‘valiant Prince’, William of Orange.

The Royal Match of BEAR-BAITING... Tune of, The new Game at Cards (B. C., 1690). Pepys 5.376; EBBA 22199. Politics – foreign affairs, controversy, power; Royalty – criticism; Violence – animals, between states; Environment – animals; Emotions – excitement, Patriotism, frustration; Humour – verbal. This praises the bravery of two mastiffs, one English and one Dutch, whose eagerness to confront Louis XIV’s French bear was only frustrated by a lack of resolve from their own commanders.


Some of the political ballads listed above were also issued in white-letter format during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (see, for example, Win at first, and lose at last and The Royal Match of BEAR-BAITING). The tune does not appear to have been used regularly for additional white-letter texts, nor for other songs in published collections.

Christopher Marsh


Elias Ashmole volume of verse, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Ashmole 36-37, fo. 105.

A NEW GAME AT CARDS (early eighteenth century), British Museum 1866, 1110.259.

Claude M. Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 508-11.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Courtier and countryman

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 picture appeared regularly on ballads of the mid-seventeenth century, and the differences between surviving versions make it clear that more than one woodblock existed (often a sign that a picture was popular). By the time the woodcut was chosen for Win at first, it appears to have gathered strong associations with humour and trickery. It illustrated songs, some of them crude, about country bumpkins come to town, deceitful beggars, and men who knew they were in love but could not say with whom.

At first sight, the image may not appear directly relevant to the text of Win at first, but its existing reputation perhaps helped to generate meaning by implying the prospect of laughter and mockery. Another ballad-maker apparently attempted, in John Hadlands advice, to redirect the image’s associations by choosing it for a cautionary tale about the dangers of dissolute living. This effort does not appear to have been particularly successful, and the old resonances remained. In 1660, A pleasant dialogue added jubilation to the jest by deploying the woodcut on a song in which a countryman and a citizen enthuse about the arrival in London of General Monck and the prospects of a royal return. This new association with the coming of the King may also help to explain the image’s presence on Win at first and, in particular, the decision to place these two joyous individuals right next to a portrait of the monarch. For some reason, the courtier and the countryman were not used on later editions of the ballad.

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

Songs and summaries

An Excellent Sonnet: OR, The Swaines complaint, whose cruell doome, It was to love hee knew not whom (J. Wright, 1602-46).  Roxburghe 1.110-11; EBBA 30072.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, singles; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery, satire; Emotions – confusion. A young man is deeply in love but cannot identify the object of his affections, and he asks us not to laugh at him in his predicament (picture placement: they appear beneath the title, alongside Queen Elizabeth).

Impossibilities. OR, A matter of no thing, yet some thing youle finde I know in the reading, will pleasure your minde (Edward Wright, 1611-56).  Roxburghe 1.164-65; EBBA 30102.  Society – criticism; Humour – extreme situations/surprises; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual, social/economic, general; Employment – apprenticeship/service, crafts/trades, professions; Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, sex; Nature – animals, birds, weather; Religion – charity; Places – English. This argues that the world will be truly renewed and full of honest people only when a long list of highly implausible developments have occurred (picture placement: they appear beneath the title and alongside a front-facing gallant).

The cunning Northerne Begger, Who all the By-standers doth earnestly pray, To bestow a penny upon him to day (F. Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.42-43; EBBA 30034.  Society – rich/poor, urban life, rural life; Humour – deceit/disguise; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Disability – physical; Employment – begging, sailors/soldiers; Economy – extortion; Religion – charity; Family – children/parents; Places – English; Recreation – alcohol, tobacco.  A beggar describes the disguises and devices he employs in order to trick honest people out of their money (picture placement: they appear over the third and fourth columns of text, close to a verse describing the beggar’s trick of masquerading as ‘some Country fellow’).

John Hadlands advice: Or a warning for all young men that have meanes, advising them to for-sake lewd company Cards, Dice, and Queanes (Francis Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.522-23; EBBA 30349. Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship, fashions, games/sport, hospitality; Economy – money; Emotions – sorrow; Society – friendship; Bodies – clothing; Employment – female; Morality – general.  A once wealthy man regrets having wasted all his money on alcohol, games and women, and he advises others to avoid the same fate (picture placement: they appear on the right side of the sheet, alongside a woman with a fan).

A pleasant new Dialogue: OR, The discourse between the Serving-man and the Husband-man (F. Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.98-99; EBBA 30066.  Employment – agrarian, apprenticeship/service; Bodies – clothing, nourishment; Recreation – alcohol, food, fashions; ; Society – rural life; Gender – sex; Emotions – anger.  A nobleman’s servant and a husbandman quarrel over whose life is more pleasurable and valuable, with the husbandman winning out in the end (picture placement: they stand beneath the title).

The Great Boobee (R. I., 1644-61?).  Roxburghe 3.228-29; EBBA 30871.  Humour – misunderstanding, mockery; Society – rural life, urban life; Recreation – sight-seeing, alcohol, food, games/sports, fashions, reading;Employment – agrarian; Family – children/parents; Emotions – confusion; Places – English; Crime – robbery/theft; Religion - church. A young man from the country visits London and is roundly mocked and abused by all and sundry for his ignorance and awkwardness (picture placement: they appear on the right, close to a verse in which the Boobee meets ‘many Gallants’).

The Merry Mans Resolution: OR, His last farewel to his former acquaintance (Francis Grove, 1656?).  Roxburghe 3.242-43; EBBA 30892.  Places – English; Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity, singles; Humour – bawdry; Society – urban life.  A man prepares to settle down with his chosen women and bids a fond farewell to all his former haunts and particularly their female inhabitants (picture placement: they appear beneath the title).

A pleasant Dialogue between the Country-man and Citizen, presented to my Lord Generall and Councell of State, at their last Dinner at Drapers Hall (no imprint, 1660?).  Roxburghe 2.259; EBBA 30716.  Politics – celebration, domestic, Royalist; Recreation – good fellowship; Emotions – hope; Gender – masculinity; History – recent; Economy – hardship.  A dialogue ballad in which a countryman and a citizen welcome General George Monck to London and anticipate his role in restoring order to England after the extreme turbulences of the 1640s and 1650s (picture placement: they stand beneath the title and there are no other woodcuts).

Win at first, lose at last; or, a New Game at Cards (Fran. Grove, 1660). Wood 401 (149); Politics – controversy, domestic, Royalist, celebration; Recreation – games/sports;  History – recent; Royalty – praise;  Emotions – anxiety, anger, joy. This celebrates the Restoration of Charles II, portraying the horrors of the previous two decades through the extended metaphor of a game of cards, managed by cheats but now reclaimed by the forces of order (picture placement: they stand on the far right, next to a portrait of the king himself).


This image was also used on surviving editions of A New game at Cards (registered in 1656), to which Win at first  was a sequel. The difficulties involved in dating surviving copies of A New game make it impossible to be certain which of the two songs deployed the image first.

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

As explained in the Song history, Laurence Price's ballad Win at First, Lose at Last, first published by Francis Grove, was the third instalment of a trilogy of allegorical publications telling the story of the civil wars and interregnum from 1639 to 1660, including A New game at Cards (c. 1647) and The Bloody Game at Cards (1643).

Literary treatments of the game of cards allegory that perhaps inspired the author of these three texts were produced in the 1640s by poets John Denham and Edmund Gayton. Both Denham and Gayton are known to have written political songs, but it is highly unlikely that either of them would willingly have published for the black-letter retail market. Nevertheless, there are striking conceptual and even textual similarities between the texts. Denham was a notorious card-player and used the analogy often: for example, his poem entitled ‘To the King’ (later printed in Poems on Affairs of State, 1699) concluded:

Let justice only awe and Battle cease;

Kings are but Cards in War; They’re Gods in Peace.

Edward Gayton’s Chartae scriptae: or A new game at cards, call’d play by the booke (Oxford, 1645), also provided closely related material. A line from one of the work’s supporting poems runs, 'Some men doe make no otherwise of play, but only this, to passe the time away’. Though perhaps this last was a commonplace expression, ideas in the main body of the text were more suggestive. One verse describes ‘The King of Clubs’ as

… the worse of Kings, beware of him,

No King indeed, but a mere popular Pim,

Voyc’d and cry’d up by Impudence and noyse,

Guarded with store of Apron men and Boyes

Another describes the Knave of Clubs:

… he vents,

Now against kings, and will gainst Parliaments,

For this same knave likes nothing that has power,

Not learning … [nor] poor lawn sleeves. 

In 1650 The Diggers Christmas Carroll also adopted the political cards analogy, though in this case, England is said to need a quite different hand: 

But freedom is not won,

Neither by sword nor Gunn:

Though we have eight years stay’d,

And have our Money’s pay’d:

Then Clubs and Diamonds cast away,

For harts and Spades must win the day.

Though its content was unconnected to Win at first, lose at last, an anonymous pamphlet published a few months before the ballad in May 1659 suggests that political card-playing analogies were just as current in the late 1650s as they had been in the 1640s. Entitled Shufling, Cutting, and Dealing, in A Game at Picket: Being Acted from the year 1653 to 1658 by O.P. and others, and consisting of a strangely disconnected dialogue, the Latin mottos at the beginning and the end of the text presciently implied that fortunes in the game were about to turn:

‘Tempora mutantur et nos’ [Both the Times and we ourselves are changed]

‘Sic transit Gloria Mundi’ [So passes the glory of the world].

Angela McShane

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Win at first, lose at last; or, a New Game at Cards;/ Wherein the King recovered his Crown and Traitors lost their heads.

To the Tune of, Yee Gallants that delight to play.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


YEe merry hearts that love to play

At Cards, see who hath wone the day.

You that once did sadly sing,

The Knave oth’ Clubs hath wone the King,

Now more happy times yee have,

The King hath overcome the Knave,

The King hath overcome the Knave.


Not long ago a Game was playd,

When three Crowns at the stake was layd,

England had no cause to boast,

Knaves wone that which Kings had lost,

Coaches gave the way to Carts,

And Clubs were better Cards than Hearts;

And clubs, &c.


Old Noll was the Knave oth’ Clubs,

And Dad of such as Preach in Tubs:

Bradshaw, Ireton, and Pride,

Were three other Knaves beside,

And they playd with half the Pack,

Throwing out all Cards but Black;

Throwing out, &c.


But the just Fates threw these four out,

Which made the Loyall party shout,

The Pope would fain have had the Stock,

And with these Cards have whip’d his Dock,

But soon the Devill these Cards snatches,

To dip in brimstone and make matches,

To dip in, &c.


But still the sport for to maintain,

Lambert, Hasleridge, and Vane,

And one=ey’d Hewson, took their places,

Knaves were better Cards than Aces,

But Fleetwood hee himself did save,

Because hee was more Fool than Knave.

Because, &c.


Cromwell, though hee so much had wone,

Yet hee had an unlucky Son:

Hee sits still and not regards

Whilst cunning Gamesters set the Cards,

And thus alasse, poor silly Dick,

He playd a while, but lost the trick,

He playd, &c.


The Rumpers that had wone whole Towns,

The spoyls of Mytres, and of Crowns:

Were not contented but grew rough,

As though they had not wone enough,

They kept the Cards still in their hands,

To play for Tythes, and Colledge Lands,

To play, &c,


The Presbyters began to fret,

That they were like to lose the set,

Unto the Rump they did appeal,

And said it was their turns to deal,

Then dealt the Presbyterians, but

The Army sware, that they would cut

The Army sware that they would cut.


The Forrain Lands began to wonder,

To see what Gallants wee liv’d under

That they which Christmasse did forswear

Should follow Gameing all the year,

Nay more, which was the strangest thing,

To play so long without a King,

To play, &c.


The bold Phanaticks present were,

Like Butlers, with their boxes there,

Not doubting, but that every Game

Some profit would redownd to them,

Because they were the Gamesters Minions,

And every day broacht new Opinions;

And every, &c.


But Cheshire Men (as Stories say)

Began to shew them Gamesters play.

Brave Booth, and all his Army strives

To save the stakes, or lose their lives.

But Oh sad fate! they were undone,

By playing of their Cards too soon:

By playing, &c.


Thus all the while a Club was Trump,

There’s none could ever beat the Rump,

Until a Noble General came

And gave the Cheaters a clear slamm,

His finger did out=wit their noddy,

And screw’d up poor Jack Lamberts body,

And screw’d, &c.


Then Hasilrig began to scowl.

And said the General plaid foul,

Look to him Partners, for I tell yee,

This Monk hath got a King in’s belly.

Not so, quoth Monk, but I beleeve,

Sir Arthur has a Knave in’s sleeve,

Sir Arthur, &c.


Then General Monk did understand

The Rump were peeping into’s hand,

Hee wisely kept his Cards from sight,

Which put the Rump into a fright,

Hee saw how many were betray’d.

That shewd their Cards before they play’d,

That shew’d, &c.


At length, quoth hee, some Cards we lack,

I will not play with half a pack,

What you cast out, I will bring in,

And a new game we will begin;

With that the Standers by did say,

They never yet saw fairer play,

They never, &c.


But presently this game was past,

And for a second Knaves were cast,

All new Cards, not stain’d with spots,

As was the Rumpers and the Scots,

Here good Gamesters play’d their parts

They turn’d up the King oth’ Hearts,

They turn’d, &c.


After this Game was done, I think

The Standers by had cause to drink,

And the Loyal Subjects sing,

Farewel Knaves, and welcome King.

For till we saw the King return’d,

Wee wish’d the Cards had all been burn’d,

Wee wish’d the Cards had all been burn’d.

London, Printed for Fran. Grove on Snow-hill. Entred according to Order.  FINIS.


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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: 10

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Thackeray, 1689 ('New Game at Cards').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

3-yr periods that produced multiple editions: 1680-82 (2)

New tune titles generated: ‘[A new] game at cards’ (6 ballads). 

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 12 + 10 + 10 + 0 + 12 + 12 + 0 + 0 = 56

[On this ballad, see also Angela McShane, Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth-Century England, no. 282X]

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