99  A Monstrous shape./ OR/ A shapelesse Monster [Bodleian Wood 401 (135v-136r)]

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

Recording: A Monstrous Shape

Bodies - looks/physique Bodies - nourishment Disability - physical Environment - animals Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Humour - extreme situations/surprises Humour - mockery Humour - satire News - sensational Places - English Places - European Recreation - dance Recreation - food

Song History

A Monstrous shape was authored by Laurence Price and published in December 1639, by the speculative retail ballad specialist, Thomas Lambert. 

A Monstrous shape did not itself become a multi-edition hit in the manner of the other songs included in our List B (see the Methodology essay) but it was one of several 'fast-selling' ballads, all of which were published at the same time on the subject of an accursed, Dutch, ‘hog-faced’ woman named Miss Tannikin Skinker, who was in London looking for a spouse.

The story became a sensation and inspired a sudden flurry of publications: one pamphlet and at least four ballad titles were registered between 5 and 11 December 1639. Francis Grove registered ‘The Woman Monster’; Francis Coles registered ‘A maiden monster’; Richard Harper registered ‘A strange relacion of a female monster’; and Thomas Lambert registered ‘A new ballad of the swinesfaced gentlewoman’ which probably referred to Laurence Price’s A Monstrous Shape. Though Lambert's title was entered a week later than the others on the same topic, as was noted in the registers, he was occasionally rather lax about registering ballad titles after he had acquired licences for them.

The sudden craze of interest in the story was perhaps prompted by its status as a fairy tale at the centre of which was the moral of marrying for love not money. But, just as importantly, it offered a perfect vehicle for exploiting popular xenophobia against the Dutch.  

A Monstrous shape was written by the master balladeer, Laurence Price, who authored several of the hits featured on the100 Ballads website. His song is featured because it is the only surviving representative of all the fast-selling ballads on the same topic that rose and fell in popularity with equal rapidity at the end of 1639. Our featured edition is also the only known copy of the song: it was bought by, or for, a small boy in Oxford called Anthony Wood who, clearly entranced by the story, added his own doodle to the sheet (see also Featured woodcut history). 

The two surviving texts on the topic give a clear sense that the public's interest in this topic was being deliberately stoked and manipulated by the press. For example, the only surviving pamphlet on the topic complained about the publication of multiple ballads that had twisted the proper tale, yet it was published in 1640 by Francis Grove (a close colleague to Lambert and Price), who had himself published at least one ballad on the topic. Grove's anonymous pamphlet sold itself on the basis that it was setting the record straight. Naming the girl concerned as 'Tannikin' (a Dutch version of Ann or Hannah) and 'Skinker' (the Dutch word for a drawer of ale), the pamphleteer explained that the maid was cursed and needed to find a man willing to marry her, which alone would restore her to her former shape.

Price perhaps used an earlier source for his ballad, as he does not mention the specifics of the curse, nor does he name the woman, though his verses do include a few Dutch words such as ‘Frau’ and ‘Frokin’ (woman), and ‘Boors’ (Dutch farmers). But then, he was capable of authoring Grove's pamphlet too. Price's ballad takes a very different approach from the pamphlet. His song was supremely unsympathetic. It ascribes the girl’s white pig-like face to the Dutch preference for pork fat and bacon. Although she is said to be immensely rich, her manners are far from appealing. Her silver bowl cannot make up for the fact that she has to slurp her food like a pig, which disgusts all her English suitors. In conclusion, Price remarks that far from being a potential wife, the Dutch hog-woman was unfit even to be a nurse in England, and (like the pamphlet) he dissuades his listeners from trying to find her (see also Related texts).

Angela McShane


Anon., A certaine relation of the hog-faced gentlewoman called Mistris Tannakin Skinker (1640)

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of The Spanish Pavin (standard name: The Spanish pavan)

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 continental dance tune was usually known in England as ‘The Spanish Pavan/Pavin’, though Simpson notes that its origins actually lay in Italy. It was clearly well-known and well-liked in England by 1600, perhaps particularly among professional musicians and their patrons. There are numerous written versions, both in print and in manuscript, most of which were settings for either lute, cittern or virginals. It can be found, for example, in William Ballet’s lute book, Robert Creighton’s virginal book and in Anthony’s Holborne’s Cittharn Schoole (1596). An interesting and much later variant appears in the notebook kept by the eighteenth-century Welsh fiddler, John Thomas. This has the title, ‘Spanish Pavan’ and, though it differs from earlier versions in several details, there are also clear points of contact in the contour and specifics of the tunes. Our recording uses the version that appears in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

On broadside ballads of the period, alternative titles for the tune included ‘Tarlton’s Medley’, ‘Martin Parker’s Medley’ and, perhaps, ‘The Lover’s Dream’.

Echoes (an overview)

The tune was nominated in the late sixteenth century for the singing of a serious ballad about the life of Sampson but at some point, and for reasons unknown, the melody veered off sharply into the world of comedy. ‘The Spanish pavin’ (or pavane) was not called for regularly by seventeenth-century ballad-makers but when it was brought into play it was almost always with the intention of making mirth.

Three ‘medleys’ used the tune, and it must have become quite closely associated with the catalogues of disjointed observations that characterised these songs. A merry Discourse betweene Norfolke Thomas, and Sisly Standtoo't his Wife, though more conventional in its narrative structure, preserves something of the medley mood by presenting the comments made by a rural couple as they witness a succession of strange London sights. The hit ballad, A Monstrous shape, also fits comfortably into the comic mode by presenting a hog-headed Dutch woman as a courtship prospect for the young men of England. The feeling that things are not quite as they seem also marks one of the medleys, in which ‘euery line speakes a contrary sence’. It is difficult to know whether the courtly vibe that had characterised the tune in the Elizabethan era was still at work, but if it was then this too may have added to the humour.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, very few new songs called for the tune, though The Daughters Complaint, to her mother, for a Husband not only named it but seemed to hold on to its earlier, comedic associations (the courtship theme also provides a link with A Monstrous shape).

The shared tune and the thematic and structural similiarites between some of the songs suggest the value of interpreting them in relation to one another, though there are fewer precise verbal echoes across this small body of songs than is the case with certain other recycled tunes. Instead, the medleys present us with numerous links to other well-known songs that were set to different melodies. There are passing references, for example, to ‘Diana and her darlings deere’, ‘The wandring Prince of stately Troy’ and Jane Shore, all of whom were the subjects of hit ballads featured on this website (see/hear: A new Sonnet, shewing how the Goddesse Diana transformed Acteon into the/ shape of an HartA proper new Ballad, intituled, The wandring Prince of Troy; and The Woful Lamentation of Mistris Jane Shore). A new Medley quotes directly the opening line of A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond (‘When as King Henry ruld this Land’) and An excellent new Medly recalls The Wanton WIFE of BATH in exactly the same way (‘In Bath a wanton wife did dwell’). Listeners and readers were presumably being challenged to pick up the references and derive amusement from the connections.

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

Songs and Summaries

A most excellent and famous Ditty of Sampson Judge of Israel... To the tune of the Spanish pavin (registered 1586; ‘Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.366; EBBA 30247. Religion – Bible, divine intervention, Christ/God;  Gender – courtship, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Family – children/parents; Environment – animals, crops, landscape, buildings; Crime – murder, prison; Violence – interpersonal; Death – general; History – ancient/mythological, heroism; Places – travel/transport, extra-European; Recreation – weddings, riddles. This tells the Biblical story of Sampson, complete with his love-life, his betrayal by others and his remarkable feats of strength.

A new Medley, OR, A Messe of All-together. To the tune of Tarltons Medley (H. Gosson, 1601-40). Roxburghe 1.292-93; EBBA 30205. History – medieval, ancient/mythological, nostalgia; Society – urban life, rural life, rich/poor; Politics – court; Bodies – clothing; Crime – robbery/theft, punishment; Recreation – alcohol, food, games/sports; Employment – crafts/trades, female, sailors/soldiers; Places – English, nationalities; Gender – sex, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Environment – animals, crops;  Religion – charity; Politics – treason; Society – race relations. A disjointed set of pithy observations and remarks about current topics of conversation, aimed particularly at young men and women, ‘To make them mirth’.

An excellent new Medley, Which you may admire at (without offence) For euery line speakes a contrary sences [sic]... To the tune of, Tarletons Medley (H. G., 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.13 and 1.112; EBBA 30589.  Society – criticism, friendship, rich/poor; Humour – misunderstanding; Employment - trades/crafts, professions; Morality – general; History – recent, medieval; Religion – charity, Protestant nonconformity. A string of pithy and somewhat perplexing observations, united perhaps by a general tone of social criticism.

A merry Discourse betweene Norfolke Thomas, and Sisly Standtoo't his Wife.. To the tune of the Spanish Pavin (M. P. for F. C., ?1624-1639). Roxburghe 1.270-71; EBBA 30192. Society – urban life, rural life, criticism; Family – siblings, kin; Gender – marriage; Environment – buildings, animals; Places – English; Employment – crafts/trades, begging; Bodies – health/sickness, clothing; Recreation – food, sight-seeing, alcohol; Religion – church. A married couple journey from Norfolk to London in order to visit relatives but they are perplexed by the strange sights of the city and the cold welcome they receive, so they return home.

An excellent new Medly. To to tune of the Spanish Pavin (‘Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcocke’, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.14; EBBA 30018. Environment – flowers/trees, birds, landscape, animals; Economy – trade; Employment – crafts/trades, sailors/soldiers; Crime – robbery/theft, punishment; Religion – Catholic/Protestant; Recreation – alcohol, food; Gender – femininity; Places – English; History – ancient/mythological. In the medley style, this cobbles together dozens of disconnected observations on contemporary London life.

A Monstrous shape, OR A shapelesse Monster... To the tune of the Spanish Pavin (MF for Thomas Lambert, 1639-40). Wood 401 (135). Bodies – looks/physique, nourishment; Gender – courtship; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery, satire; News – sensational; Places – European, English; Recreation – food, dance. This advertises the attributes of a young Dutch woman who is currently visiting London, desirable in all aspects except perhaps in her resemblance to a pig .

The Daughters Complaint, to her mother, for a Husband... Tune of, The Spanish paving, or the Lovers Dream; or Martin Parkers Medly (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Douce 1(52a). Family – children/parents; Society – old/young, rural life; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, sex; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique; Emotions – longing, contentment; Recreation – food, alcohol; Employment – agrarian, female. A daughter, aged sixteen, asks her mother for guidance on how to get a husband, and the older woman advises her to tempt men by looking her best and providing tasty refreshments (but she is also told to protect her maidenhead until she is married).


‘The Spanish Pavan’ was sometimes recommended in printed collections of songs. Anthony Munday, for example, set a song about deceit between two friends to the tune, as did the composer of 'A merry Caroll’ in the chapbook, Good and True, Fresh and New Christmas Carols (1642). Neither of these is humorous, perhaps implying that in some contexts the melody retained its earlier and more sober associations.

The tune was referred to fleetingly in other forms of literature too, and here the intention was often to raise a laugh. In George Chapman’s Eastward Hoe, for example, the character Quicksilver sings a short song beginning with the first line of A most excellent and famous Ditty of Sampson (‘When Samson was a tall young man’) but it turns out to be a parody. In 1639, John Ford’s The ladies triall presented ‘The Spanish Pavin’ as a funny tune, and the idiotic Fulgoso merely whistles it in response to a question about his relationship with a woman (the melody’s connections with comic courtship are presumably relevant here).

Christopher Marsh


William Ballet’s lute book, Trinity College Dublin, MS 408, p. 112.

George Chapman, Eastward Hoe (1605), C1r.

Robert Creighton, virginal book, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Conservatoire Rés. 1186, fo. 117.

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, ed. J. A. Fuller Maitland and W. Barclay Squire, 2 vols (Leipzig, 1894-99), vol. 2, p. 131.

John Ford, The Ladies Triall (1639), D2v.

Good and True, Fresh and New Christmas Carols (1642), A7r-8r.

Anthony’s Holborne, The Cittharn Schoole (1596), C2r.

Anthony Munday, A Banquet of Daintie Conceits (1588), E1v-2v.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 678-81.

John Thomas, Alawon John Thomas. A Fiddler’s Tune Book from Eighteenth-Century Wales, ed. Cass Meurig (Aberystwyth, 2004), no. 304.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Pig-woman

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 image appears to have been produced specifically for this ballad and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Pig-Woman was not destined to become one of the period’s best-known transferrable woodcuts. In fact, our search of the two largest collections has revealed no further examples of her deployment (the only song listed below is therefore our featured edition, from the Wood collection). There is a nodding reference to other, more regularly-encountered female images in her sideways stance and her holding of a fan. Comparable pictures – minus the pig’s head – were used on many courtship ballads in the seventeenth century. Since courtship is the satirical focus of this song, the Pig-Woman’s posture may well have been calculated to amuse. Certainly, she caught the imagination of a young Anthony Wood, who sketched her head and shoulders on the sheet, to the left of the woodcut (see featured edition).

Songs and summaries

A Monstrous shape, OR A shapelesse Monster (M.F. for Thomas Lambert, 1639-40). Wood 401 (135). Bodies – looks/physique, nourishment; Gender – courtship; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery, satire; News – sensational; Places – European, English; Recreation – food, dance. This advertises the attrbitues of a young Dutch woman who is currently visiting London, desirable in all aspects except perhaps in her resemblance to a pig (picture placement: she appears beneath the title).


A re-drawn version of this woodcut appeared on The Long-Nos’d LASS (P. Brooksby, 1685-88). Crawford 915; ESTC R228331; EBBA 33398. This was another courtship tale featuring a woman with a pig’s head. It may have been loosely inspired by A Monstrous shape (see also Related texts).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The story of the Dutch hog-faced woman appeared in a pamphlet entitled, A certaine relation of the hog-faced gentlewoman called Mistris Tannakin Skinker, who was borne at Wirkham a neuter towne betweene the Emperour and the Hollander, scituate on the river Rhyne Who was bewitched in her mothers wombe in the yeare 1618. and hath lived ever since unknowne in this kind to any, but her parents and a few other neighbours. And can never recover her true shape, tell she be married, &c. Also relating the cause, as it is since conceived, how her mother came so bewitched (London, 1640). The work was printed by John Okes and sold by Francis Grove. Grove also registered a ballad version of the story - entitled 'The Woman Monster' but it is no longer extant.

The essence of the story - greedy men trying to catch a fortune through forging loveless marriages - seems to have survived for more than forty years, because at some point between 1685 and 1689, Philip Brooksby produced a much simpler updated version that dropped any references to the Dutch (after all, James II's daughter was married to a Dutchman). Illustrated with a similar woodcut, Brooksby's version was entitled: The Long-Nos'd LASS: / OR, / The Taylors, Millers, Tinkers, Tanners, and Glovers; / with a great number of / other Trades-Men, dash't out of Countenance by a Sow=ships Beauty, to their great Discon-/ tent, and her perpetual trouble (see also Featured woodcut history).

Angela McShane

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A Monstrous shape./  OR/ A shapelesse Monster.

A Description of a female creature borne in Holland, compleat in every part,/ save only a head like a swine, who hath travailed into many parts,/ and is now to be seene in LONDON,

Shees loving, courteous, and effeminate,/And nere as yet could find a loving mate.

To the tune of the Spanish Pavin.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


OF horned Vulcan I have heard,

His teeth were longer the[n] his beard,

Whose monstrous looke made all afeard

which did that night behold him:

And of transformed Acteon,

Which like a Hart in Forest ran,

And how faire Lidia like a Swan



Of Robin Goodfellow also,

Which was a servant long agoe,

The Queen of Fairies doth it know,

and hindered him in fashion:

She knew not what she did her selfe,

She chang’d him like a Fairie elfe,

For all his money, goods and pelfe,

she gull’d him.


But yet be brisk you Yonkers bold,

And list to what I shall unfold,

Such newes afore was never told,

as I will now relate:

My subject is of such a Girle,

That hath both silver, gold, and pearle,

Yet never will be for an Earle

right fitted.


This Frokin as I understand,

Is now arrived from Dutchland,

And hath as much gold at command

that she would wish or crave:

Her portion threescore thousand pound,

Both corn and cattell on her ground,

As good as any may be found

in Holland.


Besides, a dainty Lasse is she,

A Boores daughter in the Low-country,

Her mother is in her degree

A very proper Fro,

And all the Tribe from whence she came

Call her faire Pigs nye by her name,

You’l say they have reason for the same



To describe her from top to toe,

I purpose now for to doe so,

And show how neatly she doth goe

when young men come a wooing:

She shews her pretty heele and foot,

A dainty leg adjoyning to’t,

Her stocking silk, if that will do’t

she cares not.


The second part, to the same tune.


HEr person it is straight and tall,

A lilly white hand, her fingers small

Makes her the handsomest wench of all

that ever her father got:

In handsomnesse she doth excell

Both bouncing Kate, and bonny Nell,

In dancing she doth beare the bell

of many.


So choice of face she is indeed,

As oft as she doth stand in need,

A silver trough she hath to feed,

when ever she wants victuall:

The silver trough is straight brought out

Wherein she puts her dainty snout,

And sweetly sucks till all is out

of action.


And to speak further for her grace,

She hath a dainty white swines face,

Which shews that she came of a race

that loved fat porke and bacon:

Yet would I not her kindred wrong,

Her nose I think is two foot long,

Also her breath is very strong

and fulsome.


Yet let no party her despise,

She is furnished with two pigs nies,                         

Though something of the largest size,

they doe become her neatly,

Her ears hang lolling toward the ground

More fairer then a mastie hound,

Thus are her fortunes still renown’d

by hearesay.


Great store of suters every day,

Resort unto her as they say,

But who shall get this girle away,

as yet I doe not know:

But thus much I dare undertake,

If any doe a wife her make,

It is onely for her moneyes sake

he loves her.


If any young man long to see

This creature wheresoere she be,

I would have him be rul’d by me,

and not to be too forward,

Lest he at last should fare the worse,

Although she have a golden purse,

She is not fit to be a nurse

in England.

L. P.


Printed by M. F. for Tho: Lambert, and/ are to be sold at the signe of the/ Horse shooe in Smithfield.

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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: 2 (A Monstrous shape was one of four ballads about this woman that were were registered with the Stationers in 1639. We have included it because it is the only surviving example of this highly topical group of songs).

No. of extant copies: 1.

Appearances on publishers' lists: none.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1639.

3-year periods that produced multiple editions: 1638-40 (2).

New tune titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: ?Pig-woman on featured edition.

Pre-1640 bonus: yes.

POINTS: 4 + 1 + 0 + 5 + 12 + 0 + 5 + 20 = 47

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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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