25  A most notable example of an ungracious Son, who/ in the pride of his heart denyed his own Father [Roxburghe 1.226-27]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A most notable example of an ungracious Son

Bodies - clothing Bodies - nourishment Crime - prison Economy - credit/debt Economy - hardship/poverty Economy - money Emotions - despair Emotions - pride Emotions - sorrow Employment - professions Environment - animals Environment - buildings Environment - crops Family - children/parents History - ancient/mythological Places - European Places - travel/transport Recreation - alcohol Recreation - games/sports Recreation - reading/writing Religion - charity Religion - sin/repentance

Song History

A most notable example was newly created in c.1600 but the story about the ungrateful son punished by divinely-directed toads was already several centuries old (see Related texts). For another hit song that also tackles the complex issue of intergenerational support, see A most excellent Ballad, of an old man and his wife.

A most notable example's claim to popularity rests primarily on the multiple editions that were printed during the seventeenth century and the numerous copies that have survived to this day (see Editions). After 1700, the ballad was rarely printed, though it does appear in Thomas Evans’ book, Old ballads, historical and narrative (1784). It also seems possible that A most notable example helped to establish the description, ‘loathsome toads’, in the English language. There had been occasional examples before its publication (see The castell of courtesie), but there were many more afterwards. And ‘loathsome’ is an adjective that is regularly connected with toads, even today. Despite the ballad’s early-modern success, there is no evidence to suggest that it survived as a later folk song.

This is also one of the broadsides that suggests a core audience for balladry rather more settled, middle-aged and prosperous than we sometimes assume. It is easier to imagine A most notable example being purchased for the young than by them, though of course there is no accounting for taste. Other aspects of its appeal probably included the established potency of dramatic providential tales, particularly those featuring imaginative divine punishments inflicted on the immoral and/or unrepentant (other hits songs on this theme include The Judgement of God shewed upon one John Faustus, The wonderfull example of God shewed upon Jasper Coningham and Pride’s Fall).

The symbolism of toads was equally potent, having been established layer by layer over several centuries of European cultural history. Medieval scholars note, in particular, the association of toads with evil, Satan, witchcraft, revenge and punishment (they made regular appearances as instruments of divine justice, deployed against the greedy and immoral). When Milton’s Satan turned into a toad in Book IV of Paradise lost, nobody can have been particularly surprised!

Christopher Marsh


Gillian Bennett, Bodies: sex, violence and death in contemporary legend (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2009), p. 13.

Jacques Berlioz, ‘L’homme au crapaud: Genèse d’un exemplum medieval’ in Tradition et histoire dans la culture populaire (Centre Alpin et Rhodanian d’ethnologie, Grenoble, 1990), pp. 170-203.

‘Le crapaud, animal diabolique: une exemplaire construction médiévale’ in Berlioz and Marie Anne Polo de Beaulieu (eds.), L’animal exemplaire au Moyen Age (Penne, 1999), pp. 267-88.

Véronique Campion-Vincent, ‘Rumor and urban legend: The French approach’, in Sabine Wienker-Piepho et. al. (eds.), Erzählen zwishen den kulturen (Münster, 2004), pp. 65-66.

Dennis Danielson, ‘On toads and the justice of God’, Milton Quarterly 13.1 (March, 1979), pp. 12-14.

Thomas Evans, Old ballads, historical and narrative, 4 vols. (1784), vol. 3, pp. 275-82.

James Yates, The castell of courtesie (1582), N1r.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Lord Darley’ (standard name: Chevy Chase)

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 most commonly known as either ‘Flying fame’ or ‘Chevy Chase’ and more occasionally as ‘Fair Rosamond’, ‘Black and yellow’ or ‘Lord Darley’. Beyond this, it presents a puzzle. ‘Chevy Chase’ was clearly one of the seventeenth century’s best-known pieces of music: many ballads called for it (eight of them appearing on our list of hits) and it was very frequently referred to in passing by a wide variety of literary commentators. It is therefore surprising that it was so rarely written down in musical notation. This may have been primarily because its perceived simplicity and tonal ambiguity rendered it unappealing to musically-sophisticated composers.

Edward Lowe, an Oxford organist, was clearly an exception, and he provides the only written version from the seventeenth century. In Lowe’s transcription, the tune’s four short lines begin as if the key is G minor but they end as if in C major. This gives the tune a curious feel - circular, unending, modal - that seems to reveal an unusually clear dividing line between the tastes of the musically educated and those of the ballad-buying public at large. This is the earliest known version of the tune and it is used on our recording of A most notable example.

It is interesting that the melody was notated much more frequently in the eighteenth century, by which time it had been re-shaped by unknown hands so that it was more clearly and consistently in a single key (usually G). Some of these later versions have six beats in a bar, like the seventeenth-century example, but others smooth the tune out into quadruple time. Compare, for example, the versions in Wit and Mirth (1719-20) and John Kelly’s ballad-opera, The Plot (1735).

Echoes (an overview)

This was a remarkably popular tune, nominated on many ballads. It was associated, above all, with narratives that were set in the distant past. As the decades passed and the melody’s success mounted, it also came to be heard as a tune that was historical in its own right (one edition of [The] BELGICK BOAR was advertised as ‘a New SONG, to the Old Tune of Chevy-Chase’). Of the ballads listed below, well over half have historical settings, including A most notable example of an ungracious Son. Put simply, this was a tune that carried listeners back, not only to their own childhoods but to times long before they were born.

Within this potent association, there were several others, forming threads that can be traced through the ballads listed below. A number of the songs described great militaristic confrontations of the past and their often bloody outcomes. Other songs set confrontation not on the battlefield but within the drama of human relationships, telling stories of ungrateful children (as in A most notable example), disputed inheritances and cruel employers. In some of these songs, the heroic vibe is carried over from the battle-ballads. In A worthy example of a vertuous wife, the bravery is not manly but womanly, an interesting and thought-provoking inversion.

Occasionally, the tune was deployed for comic effect: The Shepheard and the King managed the trick of appropriating the heavyweight historicism of the melody in order to amuse, and in [The Wanton W]ife of Bath the monumental clash is not between proud earls but between a scolding woman and the Biblical VIPs who refuse to allow her through the gates of heaven. There is a connection here with another group of more serious ballads, in which the larger-than-life element is supplied by divine intervention or angelic visitation. In A most notable example, for example, the toad-filled pie that dominates the climax is cooked up by God himself (see also The Worlds Wonder and THE DEAD MANS SONG). And in the last ballad on the list, [The] BELGICK BOAR, many of these associations – historical, heroic and providential – are arguably in play within this passionate and seemingly contemporary attack upon William III, the invading king.

Ballads set to this melody are particularly rich in intertextual references. In A pleasant History of a Gentleman, for example, the opening lines are very similar to those at the start of A most notable example of an ungracious Son (see ‘Postscript’, below). A pleasant History also contains the line ‘shee must resigne her breath’ and this becomes ‘he must resigne his breath’ in A worthy example of a vertuous wife. In The Royal Patient Traveller, the opening line, ‘God have preserved our Royal king’, recalls ‘God prosper long our Noble king’ in A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and the next line, ‘the second of that name’, is identical to the corresponding line in The Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond.

Even more strikingly, [The] Belgick-Boar was clearly written with the famous song about the battle at Chevy Chase in mind, and there are verbal echoes throughout. Several of the songs listed below open either with references to hunting, probably derived originally from  the potent Chevy Chase ballad, or with explicit and unusual references to a source-text for the ballad. A most notable example of an ungracious Son was an early example, and several other ballads adopted a similar opening gambit. Overall, it is clear that the songs set to this tune were tied together to a remarkable degree.

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

Songs and Summaries

The Shepheard and the King, and of Gillian the Shepheards Wife, with Her Churlish answers: being full of mirth and merry pastime. To the Tune of flying fame (registered 1578; no imprint, 1624-56?). Pepys 1.76-77; EBBA 20272. Employment – agrarian, female/male, apprenticeship/service; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; History – medieval; Humour – deceit/disguise, domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises, misunderstanding, mockery; Royalty – praise; Society – rural life, rich/poor; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, nourishment; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, prices/wages; Environment – buildings; Politics – court, obedience, Royalist; Recreation – food, music; Places – travel/transport; Emotions – anger, confusion, anxiety, joy. King Alfred, in disguise, takes up employment and residence with a shepherd, and is roundly criticised by the woman of the house for burning a cake.

A Dolefull Ditty, or sorrowfull Sonet of the Lord Darly, sometime King of Scots... to be song to the tune of blacke and yellowe (registered ?1579 and 1586; Thomas Gosson, late sixteenth century?). Society of Antiquaries, London, Broadsides Cab Lib g, 1.58; EBBA 36304. Politics – court, controversy, domestic, plots; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – sorrow; Gender – marraiage; Recreation – food, alcohol; Royalty – general. This tells the story of Lord Darnley, the English nobleman who married Mary, Queen of Scots, but was subsequently murdered after becoming embroiled in Scottish court politics.

A most notable example of an ungracious Son… To the Tune of, Lord Darley (registered 1586; no imprint, 1586-1624?). Britwell 18341; EBBA 32521. History – ancient/mythological; Family – children/parents; Economy – credit/debt, hardship/prosperity, money; Employment – professions; Crime – prison; Places – European, travel/transport; Recreation – reading/writing, games/sports, alcohol; Environment – animals, crops, buildings; Religion – sin/repentance, charity; Emotions – sorrow, despair, pride; Bodies – clothes, nourishment.  A dissolute son falls on hard times and is bailed out by his father, but when his father, later in life, comes to him for aid, he proves heartless and is consequently punished by God with a pie full of toads.

A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second's Concubine... The Tune is, flying fame (originally composed in the 1590s; W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 1.498-99; EBBA 20235. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – medieval; Politics – court, domestic; Royalty – general; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, hatred; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing; Places – English, European; Recreation – music, dance. Henry II does all that he can to protect his beloved concubine, Rosamond, from the jealous Queen Eleanor, but in the end there is no escape.

A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk... To the tune of Flying Fame (registered 1596; E. W., 1611-56). Roxburghe 3.48-49; EBBA 30398. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Crime – prison; Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Emotions – despair, love, joy; Places – European; Politics – court. In ancient Rome, an old man is imprisoned and starved by the angry emperor, but one of his daughters finds an ingenious method of keeping him alive.

A new Ballad of the most wonderfull and strange fall of Christ’s Church pinnacle in Norwitch, the which was shaken downe by a thunder-clap on the 29 April 1601... To THE TUNE of Flyinge fame (no printed copies have survived but the song was copied out by hand, c. 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads, XLVIII. Violence – divine; Emotions – fear, wonder; Environment – buildings, weather, wonders; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance, church; News – sensational; Places – English. This tells the dramatic story of a church steeple’s collapse following a lightning strike, and we are all warned to repent our sins with urgency.

The Noble Acts newly found, Of Arthur of the Table Round To the Tune of, Flying fame (registered 1603; F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.25; EBBA 30381. Gender – masculinity; History – ancient/mythological,medieval; Violence – chivalric, interpersonal; Politics – domestic, court; Royalty – praise; Bodies – injury; Death – warfare; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – siblings. This tells the tale of Lancelot’s fierce fight with Tarquin and of his success in freeing sixty-four fellow knights.

A most excellent ballad of S. George for England and the kings daughter of AEgipt, whom he delivered from death; and how he slew a mighty dragon. The tune is flying fame (printed copies are later, but the song was copied out by hand, 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, XXIII. History – ancient/mythological, romance, villainy; Death – warfare; Violence – chivalric; Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – excitement; Nature – animals; Places – extra-European, English; Politics – court, foreign affairs; Religion – heathens/infidels; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – children/parents. This opens with a reference to Homer and the sack of Troy before presenting a narrative of St. George’s heroics and his romantic relationship with Sabrine, a princess from Egypt.

A new Song, shewing the crueltie of Gernutus a Jew... To the tune of, Blacke and Yellow (T. P., 1603-25). Pepys 1.144-45; EBBA 20063. Economy – credit/debt, money, trade; Emotions – greed, horror; Religion – Judaism, charity; Employment – professions; Bodies – injury; History – recent; Morality – social/economic, general; Places – European; Society – friends; Violence – interpersonal. This tells the famous story of the Jewish usurer in Venice who demanded a pound of flesh when a merchant failed to repay a loan but was outwitted in the nick of time by a cunning judge.

A new Ballad, intituled, The Battell of Agen-Court, in France, betweene the English-men and Frenchmen. To the tune of, When flying Fame (S. W., 1615-35). Pepys 1.90-91; EBBA 20278. Death – warfare; Politics – foreign affairs; Royalty – praise; Violence – between states; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; History – medieval; Emotions – disdain, excitement; Bodies – physique, looks; Places – European, nationalities. This tells the story of the king’s famous victory at Agincourt against numerically superior French opposition.

The Worlds Wonder. Or, A strange and miraculous work of Gods providence… To the Tune of, Chevy Chase ([Francis] Grove, 1623-62). Euing 401; EBBA 32038. Religion – prayer, divine intervention, Bible, Christ/God, faith; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity; Bodies – nourishment; Society – criticism; Economy – hardship, household; Morality – social/economic; Crime – robbery/theft; Places – English.  A poor widow prays to God and is miraculously enabled to keep her seven children alive for seven weeks on a single loaf of (burnt) bread.

THE DEAD MANS SONG, Who[se] dwelling was near Basing-hall in London. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624 and possibly 1561-62; no imprint, 1624-56?). Euing 73; EBBA 31756. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, body/soul, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – illness; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – wonder; Nature – animals, flowers/trees, wonders; Recreation – music, sight-seeing; Society – neighbours; Violence – diabolical, punitive; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage.  A seriously sick man is shown a vision of heaven and hell before regaining consciousness and telling his family and neighbours of the wonders he has witnessed.  

A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase between the Earle Pea[rcy] of England and the Earle Douglas of Scotland to the tune of Flying fame (registered 1624 but probably  composed much earlier; no imprint, 1624-56?). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads BR f 821.04 B49; EBBA 36060. History – medieval; Politics – domestic, power; Gender – masculinity; Bodies – injury; Violence – between states, chivalric; Death – warfare; Recreation – hunting; Emotions – excitement, pride; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – animals; Places – English, Scottish, travel/transport; Royalty – general. An exceptionally famous song in which two great earls come to savage blows in Chevy Chase, each backed by their entourages.  

An excellent Song, called, The Shooe-makers travell. To the tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624; Edward Wright, 1624-56?).  Wood 401 (69). Society – criticism, friendship, rich/poor; Places – English, travel/transport; Morality – social/economic, general; Religion – sin/repentance, charity, church, clergy, Christ/God, prayer; Recreation – fashions, general; Emotions – despair, hope; Employment – professions; Crime – general; Bodies – clothing. A shoemaker travels the country, drawing attention to the sins of the English and the urgent need for repentance.

[The Wanton W]ife of Bath. [To the Tune of, Flying Fame (Francis Coles, 1624-80). Euing 374; EBBA 31985. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, faith, prayer, Bible, body/soul, Christ/God, Humour – extreme situation/surprises; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger; Gender – femininity, marriage; Death – old age. The Wife of Bath approaches the gates of heaven and lambasts a series of Biblical superstars until, finally, Christ appears and recognises her repentance as genuine, despite all the scolding.  

The lamentable fall of Queen Elenor, who for her Pride and wickedness by Gods judgements sunk into the ground at Charing-Cross, and rose at Queen hive. To the tune of, Gentle and Courteous (composed before 1625; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 184; EBBA 31939. History – medieval; Royalty – criticism; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Religion – divine intervention; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique, adornment, nourishment; Crime – murder; Violence – interpersonal; Politics – domestic, controversy, power, court; Recreation – fashions, food, alcohol; Emotions – hatred, horror, wonder; Gender – femininity; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; Places – English, European, nationalities; Society – urban life. This describes the strange demise of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, who suffered at God’s hands after a lifetime spent forcing foreign fashions upon the English and victimising perfectly innocent subjects.

The life and death of M. Geo: Sands... To the tune of Flying Fame (F. Couls, 1626?). Pepys 1.128-29; EBBA 20055. Crime – murder, robbery/theft, rape; Death – execution, unlawful killing, result of immorality; Gender – masculinity, sexual violence; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Family – children/parents; Bodies – injury; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual; News – convicts/crimes; Places – English; Society - old/young; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, prayer. This tells the terrible tale of criminal, executed in 1626 following a life of robbery, murder and rape.

A new ballad, intituled, A warning to Youth, shewing the lewd life of a Marchants Sonne of London… To the tune of Lord Darley (Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.447; EBBA 30301. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, inheritance; Gender – masculinity, sex, sexual violence, cross-dressing; Crime – rape; Death – suicide, result of immorality, tragedy, providential; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Recreation – alcohol, fashions; Bodies – physique/looks, clothing, health/sickness, adornment; Emotions – despair, longing, horror; Religion – angels/devils, Christ/God, divine intervention, sin/repentance; Morality – romantic/sexual, social/economic; Employment – apprenticeship/service, professions; Economy – money; Places – European, travel/transport; History – medieval, villainy; Royalty – general. A wealthy merchant’s son comes into his inheritance and embarks on a life of lechery, during which he rapes a young woman and is punished by God for his many sins.

A pleasant History of a Gentleman in Thracia, which had foure Sonnes, and three of them none of his own… To the tune of, Chevy Chace (registered 1633; H. G., 1633-40?). Roxburghe 1.300-01; EBBA 30209. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Bodies – health/sickness; Death – illness, old age; Emotions – sorrow, confusion; Places – European; Religion – divine intervention.  The wife of a wealthy man dies, after confessing to her husband that only one of their four sons is biologically his own, and, after he follows her to the grave, sage counsellors devise a sophisticated test that identifies the true heir.

Strange and true Newes of an Ocean of Flies dropping out of a Cloud, upon the Towne of Bodnam in Cornwall. To the tune of Cheevy Chase (‘Printed in the Yeare of Miracles. 1647’). Thomason Tracts 669.f.11[52]. Emotions – wonder, fear; Environment – animals, wonders, weather, flowers/trees; Politics – domestic, controversy, Royalist, plots, war; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance; Royalty – praise; Society – criticism; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English. This describes a strange plague of flies in Cornwall, interpreting the wonder as evidence of God’s anger at the people of England for rebelling against their lawful king.

The Spanish Virgin; Or, The Effects of Jealousie… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase; Or, Aim not too high (W. Thackeray, 1664-92). Pepys 2.143; EBBA 20761. Gender – marriage, femininity, adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – health/sickness; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger, hatred, sorrow; Employment – apprenticeship/service, female/male; Places – European, nationalities. A jealous mistress, believing wrongly that her waiting woman is having sex with her husband, imprisons the young virgin in a dungeon until the adders and toads that live there have killed her.

Of the faithful Friendship that lasted between two faithful Friends. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.503; EBBA 30339. Society – friendship; History – ancient/mythological; Bodies – looks/physique; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – love; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Places – European, travel/transport. A story from the classical age in which Gancelo allows Alphonso to marry the woman they both love, and Alphonso returns the favour by protecting his dear friend from a murder charge.

The Royal Patient Traveller, OR, The wonderful Escapes of His Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second from Worcester-fight… To the tune of, Chivy Chase, Or, God prosper long our Noble King (‘Printed for the Author’, 1660). Wood  401 (171). Politics – Royalist, domestic, obedience, controversy; Royalty – incognito, praise, authority; Employment – apprenticeship/ service; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Emotions – anxiety, excitement, joy; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations/surprises; Places – English, travel/transport. This describes the king’s efforts, aided by trusted individuals, to escape from his enemies following the Battle of Worcester.

Here is a true and perfect Relation from the Faulcon at the Banke-side; of the strange and wonderful aperition of one Mr. Powel a Baker lately deceased… The tune of, Chevy Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (183). Religion – ghosts/spirits, Bible; conjuration; Death – general; Emotions – fear; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; News – sensational. The ghost of a dead man returns to haunt his former house and is only pacified by the intervention of ‘Learned men of Art’ (also called ‘Conjurers’).

Terrible news from BRAINFORD: or, A perfect and true Relation of one Thompson a Waterman… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase (F. Coles, M. Wright, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (181). Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship, hospitality; Violence – diabolical; Religion – angels/devils, prayer, body/soul; Death – result of immorality;  Gender – masculinity; Morality – general; Emotions – fear, confusion; Employment – alehouses/inns, crafts/trades; News – sensational; Places – English. An inebriated waterman slumps dead on the table after drinking an ill-advised health to the Devil, and the shock experienced by witnesses intensifies further when Satan appears in person.

The KING and the BISHOP. OR, Unlearned Men, hard matters out can find, When Learned Bishops, Princes eyes do blind. To the Tune of, Chevy-Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.170-71; EBBA 30471. History – medieval; Politics – court, power, obedience; Religion – clergy, Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – authority; Humour – deceit/disguise, verbal, extreme situations/surprises; Family – siblings; Employment – agrarian, professions; Bodies – clothing; Emotions – fear, joy; Places – travel/transport. A playful king tells a terrified bishop he must answer three riddles to avoid execution, and the bishop gives up hope until his brother, a mere shepherd, comes skilfully to his rescue.

[Saint BERNARD'S Vision. (A brief Discourse Dialogue-wise) between the Soul and body of a Damned Man newly Deceased... To the Tune of, Flying Fame (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Euing 317; EBBA 31966. NB This song was usually set to the tune of ‘Fortune my Foe’, and its metre makes it unsuitable for the ‘Flying Fame’ melody].

The Unfortunate Forrester, Or, Fair Elener's Tragedy… Tune is, Chevy Chase (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Pepys 4.48; EBBA 21714. Gender  - courtship; Emotions – love, despair; Family – children/parents; Death – suicide, heartbreak; History – medieval; Violence – self-inflicted; Morality – familial; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals. Young Lord Thomas loves Lady Eleanor, but when his mother insists that he marry another a tragic ending is guaranteed.  

The Patient Wife betrayed; OR, The Lady Elizabeths Tragedy... To the Tune of, Chevy Chase, or The Lady Izabells Tragedy (J. Clark, 1666-86). Euing 289; EBBA 31903.  Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – romantic/sexual; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution, ghostly abduction; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Violence – interpersonal, domestic, punitive; Emotions – love, hatred; Environment – flowers/trees, landscape; Places – extra-European. A Turkish knight and his harlot plot to kill his loving wife, but she returns as a ghost and, finally, justice is done.

Bloudy news from Germany or The peoples misery by famine… Tune of, Chievy Chase (Philip Brooksby, 1670-96). Roxburghe 2.38-39; EBBA 30183. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Economy – hardship/poverty; Morality – social/economic; Religion – divine intervention; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Bodies – nourishment; Emotions – disdain; Employment – apprenticeship/service; History – recent, medieval; Environment – buildings; Places – European. This tells a historical story about a German nobleman (also an archbishop) who, in time of famine, compared the local poor to rats and burned many of them alive in a barn, but God avenged them all by plaguing the noble’s house with vermin and bringing about his painful end.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy, or, the Step mothers cruelty… To the Tune of, Fair Rosamond, Or, Chivy Chase (‘Printed for E. A. and are to be sold by F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E25 (54). Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial; Emotions – hatred, anger, sorrow; Recreation – food; Employment – crafts/trades. A beautiful young lady is cruelly murdered by her jealous step-mother and the household’s master-cook, but an honest scullion boy reveals the truth and both killers are executed – the woman is burnt at the stake and the man is boiled in oil.

[The] BELGICK BOAR, To the TUNE of Chivy-Chase (no publisher named, 1695). Crawford 429; EBBA 32786. Politics – controversy, domestic, foreign affairs, Royalist, obedience; Emotions – anger; Royalty – criticism, praise; Family – children/parents, kin; Economy – hardship/ prosperity, taxation; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English, European. A fierce critique of William’s invasion of England, declaring loyalty to the true king, James, and castigating all those who contributed to his downfall and the disastrous consequences that have followed.


A most notable example of an ungracious Son is set to the tune of ‘Lord Darley’, a previously unidentified melody. Only one other broadside (A new Ballad, intituled, A Warning to Youth: see above) used this tune-title. The original ballad from which the name derives was probably the Dittie of the lord Darley somtyme Kinge of Scottes that was registered with the Stationers’ Company in 1586 (Rollins, Analytical Index, p. 134). This, in turn, is probably the surviving ballad, A Dolefull Ditty, or sorrowfull Sonet of the Lord Darly, sometime King of Scots (EBBA 36304), sung to the tune of ‘blacke and yellowe’. The song tells the story of the murder of Lord Darnley, king consort of Scotland, in 1567.

There are several reasons for supposing that ‘Lord Darley’ was another name for the melody more commonly known as ‘Flying Fame’ or ‘Chevy Chase’. Most tellingly, there are striking verbal connections between A most notable example of an ungracious Son and other ballads that were explicitly intended for singing to tunes bearing these names. Compare, for example, the following lines: ‘In searching famous Chronicles/ it was my chance to reade’ (A most notable example) and ‘In searching ancient Chronicles,/ it was my chance fo finde’ (A Pleasant history of a Gentleman in Thracia); ‘In direful dungeon here I lye/ my feet in fetters fast’ (A most notable example) and ‘Into a dungeon darke and deepe/ with irons fettered fast’ (A worthy example of a vertuous wife). The ballad about Lord Darnley also connects with other songs to ‘Chevy Chase’ or ‘Flying fame’ at several points, and thus it seems almost certain that both ‘Lord Darley’ and ‘Black and yellow’ were additional names for this exceptionally successful melody.

Regular literary references to the tune demonstrate its ubiquity during the seventeenth century, though it is often clear that melody’s popularity was being gently mocked rather than merely noted. A letter published in Charles Gildon’s The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692) argues that the best way to spread news across the nation is to set a ballad to ‘the celebrated Tune of Chevy Chase’. In The Married mens feast (1671), a meal to honour strong husbands is carried in to the sound of ‘six Trumpeters playing the tune of Chevy Chase, a very martial tune’. And a prognostication of 1683 entitled Poor Robin notes that English plough-boys frequently ‘whistle Chevy-chase’ to their working animals.

The melody was also nominated in many published collections of songs, where it was usually connected with one or more of the themes identified above. See, for example: ‘A Princely Song made of the Red Rose and the White’ in Richard Johnson’s Crowne garland (1612); ‘Zeale over-heated: A Relation of a lamentable fire’ in John Taylor’s Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642); and ‘A Carol for Saint Johns day’ in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642).

The melody was used sparingly for white-letter ballads in the seventeenth century, perhaps suggesting again its relative lack of credibility in sophisticated circles (but see ‘Bloody News from CHELMSFORD’, 1663, and ‘The New Catholick Ballad’, 1681). It remained a potent force within balladry, however, and was nominated on ballads of all sorts and in a number of ballad-operas during the eighteenth century.

Christopher Marsh


Charles Gildon, The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692), p. 142.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), A5v-6v. 

Richard Johnson, Crowne garland (1612), A2r-6r.

John Kelly, The Plot (1735), p. 12.

Edward Lowe, music manuscript, Edinburgh University Library, MS Dc.1.69, fo. 113 (transcription in Simpson, p. 97).

The Married mens feast (1671), p. 4.

Poor Robin, 1683 A Prognostication (1683), C3r.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 96-101.

John Taylor, Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642), A4r-v.

Wit and Mirth: OR Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), vol. 4, pp 1 and 289.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Ungracious son composite

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, clearly designed very specifically for this particular song, has not been found on any other seventeenth-century ballad in the two largest collections (the only sheet listed below is therefore our featured edition). The level of detail – an old man driven away by a porter, and his son reacting in horror as the contents of his pie become clear – rendered transfers difficult. The earliest known edition of the song (1586-1624) had no image at all, and it seems probable that, in a fairly common pattern, the decision to commission a special picture was driven by an awareness that the ballad had already established itself as a hit. The woodblock that produced the image on A most notable example was clearly in good condition and perhaps relatively new.

The surprise here is that the picture was not re-used on surviving editions from the later seventeenth century, which instead deployed images recycled from other ballads. This was abnormal; specially-designed woodcuts more often became essential components of their ballads and were used until the blocks were riddled with woodworm holes. Quite what happened to the block that was used to illustrate our featured edition, it is currently impossible to say.

Songs and summaries

A most notable example of an ungracious Son (Henry Gosson, 1624-38). Roxburghe 1.226-27; EBBA 30161. History – ancient/mythological; Family – children/parents; Economy – credit/debt, hardship/prosperity, money; Employment – professions; Crime – prison; Places – European, travel/transport; Recreation – reading/writing, games/sports, alcohol; Environment – animals, crops, buildings; Religion – sin/repentance, charity; Emotions – sorrow, despair, pride; Bodies – clothes, nourishment. A dissolute son falls on hard times and is bailed out by his father, but when his father, later in life, comes to him for aid, he is proves heartless and is rewarded with a pie full of toads (picture placement: the scene appears on the right, over the relevant portion of the text).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The short list that appears below includes texts written between 1500 and 1700 that share material with A most notable example and that may therefore be related to it in some way. In 1510, Wynkyn de Worde published Ihesus. The flour of the commaundementes, and used his European connections to disseminate in England a series of stories from the works of an author he cited only as ‘The dyscyple’. This was the well-known German Dominican friar, Johann Herolt, one of the most famous preachers in fifteenth-century Europe. Herolt’s sermons and sermon-writing aids were regularly published on the continent and, to a much lesser extent, in England. One of Herolt’s stories told of an ungrateful son afflicted by toads.

De Worde’s version differs from the later ballad in several particulars. The meal served by the son is a roast chicken rather than a pie and, more notably, the medieval toad attaches itself to the face of its victim and remains there for three years. During this period, the son repents and is ordered by the archbishop to tour the towns of France, urging the nation’s children to honour their parents. Perhaps this important phase of the story was omitted from the English ballad because of its obvious link with the Roman Catholic system of penance, though it should be noted that Protestant scruple did not prevent those involved from disseminating a non-Scriptural story that savoured strongly of medieval Christianity. Or perhaps the ballad-makers simply ran out of space on the page (the ballad’s conclusion feels rather hurried). In any case, the differences cannot conceal the fact that these are obviously two different versions of the same story.

In 1622, the continental Jesuit, Philippe de Outreman, included a much shorter version of the tale in the English translation of his most famous work. The true Christian catholique was published in the Spanish Netherlands but presumably intended for circulation in England, and it retained from the medieval sources a brief reference to the ungrateful son’s tour of shame.

The English versions of the tale published in 1510 and 1622 also indicate the richness of medieval sources for this story. Herolt is not the only author cited, for there are also attributions to St. Boniface (c. 675-754), Caeserius of Heisterbach (c. 1180-1240) and Thomas of Cantimpré (1201-72). Some of the trails and interconnections have been helpfully explored by Jacque Berlioz, Véronique Campion-Vincent and Gillian Bennett (see ‘References’, below). Berlioz, in particular, has shown that ‘l’homme au crapaud’ (the toad-man) occurred in numerous French sources of the medieval period, including morality plays, folk tales and songs.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Anon, Jhesus. The floure of the commaundementes of God with many examples and auctorytees (1510), cxliii-cxliv

Philippe de Outreman, The true Christian catholique (St. Omer, 1622), p. 107.


Gillian Bennett, Bodies: sex, violence and death in contemporary legend (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2009), p. 13.

Jacques Berlioz, ‘L’homme au crapaud: Genèse d’un exemplum medieval’ in Tradition et histoire dans la culture populaire (Centre Alpin et Rhodanian d’ethnologie, Grenoble, 1990), pp. 170-203.

‘Le crapaud, animal diabolique: une exemplaire construction médiévale’ in Berlioz and Marie Anne Polo de Beaulieu (eds.), L’animal exemplaire au Moyen Age (Penne, 1999), pp. 267-88.

Véronique Campion-Vincent, ‘Rumor and urban legend: The French approach’, in Sabine Wienker-Piepho et. al. (eds.), Erzählen zwishen den kulturen (Münster, 2004), pp. 65-66.

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A most notable example of an ungracious Son, who/ in the pride of his heart denyed his owne Father, and how/ God for his offence, turned his meat into loathsome/ Toades.  To the Tune of Lord Darley.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IN searching famous Chronicles,

it was my chance to reade

A worthy Story strange and true,

whereto I tooke good heed:

Betwixt a Farmer and his Son,

this rare example stands,

Which wel may move the hardest hearts

to weepe and wring their hands.


The Farmer in the Countrey liv’d,

whose substance did excell;

He sent therefore his eldest Sonne,

in Paris for to dwell,

Where he became a Marchant man,

and Trafficke great he used,

So that he was exceeding rich,

till he himselfe abused.


For having now the World at will,

his mind was wholly bent

To gaming, wine, and wantonnesse,

till all his goods were spent.

Yea, such excessive Riotousnesse

by him was shewed forth,

That he was three times more in debt

then all his wealth was worth.


At length his credit cleane was crackt,

and he in Prison cast,

And every man against him then

did set his action fast.

There lay he lockt in Irons strong,

for ever and for aye,

Unable while his life did last,

his grievous debt to pay.


And living in this wofull case,

his eyes with teares he spent:

The lewdnesse of his former life,

too late he did repent:

And being void of all reliefe,

of helpe and comfort quite;

Unto his father at the last,

he thus began to write.


Bow downe a while your heedfull eares,

my loving Father deare;

And grant I pray in gracious sort,

my piteous plaint to heare.

Forgive the foule offences all

of your unthrifty Son;

Which through the lewdnesse of his life,

hath now himselfe undone.


O my good Father, take remorse

on this my extreme need,

And succour his distressed state,

whose heart for woe doth bleed.

In direfull dungeon here I lye,

my feet in fetters fast:

Whom my most cruell Creditors

in Prison so have cast.


Let pity therefore pierce your brest,

and mercie move your mind:

And to release my miserie,

some shift, sweet Father find.

My chiefest cheere is bread full browne,

the boords my softest bed:

And flinty stones my pillowes serve

to rest my troubled head.


The second Part, to the same Tune.


MY garments all are worne to rags,

my body starves with cold:

And crawling Vermine eats my flesh,

most grievous to behold.

Deare Father come, therefore with speed,

and rid me out of thrall,

And let me not in Prison dye,

sith for your helpe I call.


The good old man no sooner had

perus’d this written scrowle,

But trickling teares along his cheekes

most plenteously did rowle.

Alas, my Sonne, my Sonne, quoth he,

in whom I joyed most,

Thou shalt not long in Prison be,

whatever it me cost.


Two hundred heads of welfead Beasts,

he changed into gold:

Foure hundred quarters of good Corne,

for silver eke he sold.

But all the same could not suffice,

this hainous fact to pay,

Till at the last constrain’d he was

to sell his Land away.


Then was his Sonne released quite,

his debt discharged cleane,

And he likewise as well to live,

as he before had beene.

Then went his loving Father home,

who for to helpe his Sonne

Had sold his Living quite away,

and eke himselfe undone.


So that he lived poore and bare

and in such extreame need,

That many times he wanted food,

his hungry Corps to feed.

His Son mean time in wealth did swim

whose substance now was such,

That sure within the Citie then,

few men were found so rich.


But as his goods did still increase,

and riches in did slide:

So more and more his hardened heart

did swell in hatefull pride:

But it fell out upon a time,

when ten yeares woe was past,

Unto his Sonne he did repaire

for some reliefe at last.


And being come unto his house

in very poore array:

It chanced so that with his Sonne,

great States should dine that day.

The poore old man with hat in hand

did then the Porter pray,

To shew his Sonne that at the gate

his Father there did stay.


Whereat this proud disdainefull wretch,

with taunting speeches said,

That long agoe his Fathers bones

within the Grave were laid:

What rascall then is that quoth he,

that staineth so my state?

I charge thee Porter presently

to drive him from my gate.


Which answer, when the old man heard

he was in minde dismaid:

He wept, he waild, he wrung his hands,

and thus at length he said:

O cursed wretch, and most unkind,

and worker of my woe,

Thou monster of humanitie,

and eke thy Fathers Foe:


Have I beene carefull of thy case,

maintaining still thy state,

And dost thou now so doggedly,

inforce me from thy gate:

And have I wrongd thy brethren all

from thrall to sett thee free:

And brought my selfe to beggers state

and all to succour thee?


Woe worth the time when first of all

thy body I espy’d,

Which hath in hardnesse of thy heart

thy Fathers face deny’d.

But now behold how God that time,

did shew a wonder great;

Even where his Son with all his friends

were setled down to meat.


For when the fayrest Pye was cut,

a strange and dreadfull case,

Most ugly Toades came crawling out

and leaped at his face.

Then did this wretch his fault confesse

and for his father sent,

And for his great ingratitude,

full sore he did repent.


All vertuous Chidren learne by this

obedient hearts to show

And honour still your Parents deare,

for God commanded so:

And thinke how he did turne his meat

to poysoned Toads indeed,

Which did his Fathers face deny,

because he stood in need.


London Printed by M. P. for Hen[ry]/ Gosson, on London Bridge.

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

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'In searching famous Cronicles' from first line); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Ungracious Son').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1586.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 11

No. of extant copies: 10

New tune-titles generated: none known.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Man bringing money to gaol on featured edition; and Ungracious son composite on featured edition.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 6 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V30784).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 22 + 10 + 0 + 10 + 0 = 77

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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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