4  A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of/ Robert Lord Devereux late Earle of Essex, who was beheaded in the/ Tower of London, upon Ashwednesday in the morning [Huntington Britwell 18290]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of Robert Lord Devereux

Crime - prison Crime - punishment Crime - treason Death - execution Death - godly end Emotions - love Emotions - patriotism Emotions - sorrow Employment - crafts/trades Environment - buildings Gender - masculinity History - medieval Places - European Places - Irish Politics - celebration Politics - controversy Politics - domestic Politics - foreign affairs Politics - obedience Politics - power Politics - treason Recreation - games/sports Religion - Catholic/Protestant Religion - Christ/God Religion - charity Religion - prayer Royalty - criticism Royalty - praise Violence - punitive

Song History

This ballad was almost certainly composed in the febrile atmosphere that surrounded the trial and execution of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, in the early part of 1601. Essex was a popular hero because of his military exploits and his hostile attitude to Spain but in the late 1590s he was losing ground to his rivals at court, particularly Robert Cecil. A combination of high political ambition and low political intelligence led eventually to an ill-conceived ‘rebellion’ during which he and 300 armed supporters marched through London before retreating to Essex House, where the Earl was arrested. His trial on 19 February was followed by his execution less than a week later ‘upon Ashwednesday in the morning’.

There followed an intriguing cultural battle for control of the Earl’s posthumous image. Elizabeth I’s government was deeply troubled by reports that ballads, ‘libels’ and rumours about Essex were circulating in London and beyond. The Mayor of London sent Cecil two copies of a written libel containing ‘very odious and seditious matter’ that had been found in the City. Another piece of writing landed on Cecil’s desk, having been ‘found in the Stairs of the Royal Exchange’. On 27 February, just two days after the Earl’s execution, the Bishop of London informed Cecil that a ballad-singer was on the streets, selling printed copies of a song about the Earl and luring customers with a claim that it had been composed by his grieving widow. The Bishop sent several people onto the streets to hunt for this opportunistic ‘knave’ and also summoned the Warden of the Stationers’ Company. His letter ended with the observation, ‘These villainous printers do trouble me more than I will write of’. On 5 April, a royal proclamation was issued to combat the dissemination of ‘traitorous and slanderous libels’, and a very significant reward of £100 was promised to any person who could identify their ‘authors, writers, or dispersers’.

Seventeen months later, a German tourist visited the Tower of London, saw the spot upon which Essex had lost his life, and later noted that ‘his song, in which he takes leave of the Queen and the whole country, and in which also he shows the reason of his unlucky fate, is sung and played on musical instruments all over the country, even in our presence at the royal court, though his memory is condemned as that of a man having committed high treason’.

The two songs mentioned in these reports are difficult to disentangle and may have been the same ballad. A lamentable Dittie was very probably in play here, though it is difficult to be certain. Another song, entitled A lamentable new Ballad upon the Earle of Essex his death, may also have been circulating shortly after the execution, though the surviving copies are all from later decades. From c. 1620 onwards the two Essex ballads were often printed together on the same sheet (see, for example, EBBA 32616). They were sung to different tunes but both presented the Earl in a heroic and tragic light. In A lamentable Dittie, for example, he is brave, charitable, popular, virtuous, gracious, and patriotic, and he manages to die a very good death. Criticism of the case against him, and by implication of Elizabeth I herself, is carefully veiled but unmistakable nonetheless: the Earl was condemned for treason, ‘But God that sits on hie/ Knoweth all things’.

In 1601-03, the government responded to all this creative activity not only by scooping up as many sheets as it could find but also by actively promoting a very different portrayal of the late Earl. A sermon was preached at Paul’s Cross on 1 March and subsequently published. In this work, William Barlowe emphasised the Earl’s unquestionable guilt and his acknowledgement of the heinous nature of his sins. And Francis Bacon’s Declaration (1601), written to counter ‘divers most wicked and seditious Libels throwen abroad’, described Essex as corrupt, vain, dangerously ambitious and tragically misled by his ‘popular reputation’. Bacon also mentioned repeatedly that the traitor had agreed at the last that he was being ‘justly and worthily spewed out… of the Realme’. Essex, according to Bacon, had died penitent but in ‘great conflict’, even forgetting to take leave of his wife, children and friends when he spoke from the scaffold (see also Related texts).

The situation changed dramatically following the death of the Queen on 24 March 1603. Her successor, James I, had previously enjoyed good relations with Essex and now saw the political value in emphasising his positive attitude to the late Earl and his supporters. The remaining prisoners were released, Essex’s son was warmly received, and it consequently became possible for authors to publish material that would have been considered extremely dangerous a year earlier.

In these altered circumstances, our ballad was officially registered for the first time on 18 May 1603. The publication of repeat editions suggests on-going popularity (see Publication history), and it is tempting - though perhaps fanciful - to interpret the clear fold-marks on our featured edition as evidence that this particular copy was carried around in somebody's pocket as a treasured possession. Other works followed, and Alzada Tipton has argued that this ballad and other verses composed in Elizabeth’s final years ‘drastically shifted the contemporary understanding of Essex’. Before his death, the Earl had been seen overwhelmingly as a military figure; afterwards, under the influence of the ballads, this aspect of his life was counter-balanced by an emphasis on his romantic love for the Queen, his concern for others, his piety and the readiness with which he faced death. During the rest of the seventeenth century, he was usually treated very positively in literary accounts, being credited with a combination of heroism in life and humility in death that must have had Robert Cecil turning in his grave (see The secret history and the works by Pricket, Williams, Crompton and Banks in ‘References’, below).

It is also interesting to note the manner in which later editions of A lamentable Dittie connected with the turbulent politics of the period. It is often difficult to date editions precisely but Maureen King is probably right to note that the 1620s witnessed ‘strategic republication of earlier ballads celebrating Essex’s efforts against Spain’. As the Stuarts worked towards a Spanish alliance and a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles, criticisms could be expressed indirectly through the publication of ballads about Essex, and copies of our song were certainly circulating during this decade. Other publications were far more explicit, and in 1624 Thomas Scott published Robert Earle of Essex his ghost (‘Printed in Paradise’), a work in which the dead Earl spoke out vehemently against what he saw as the disastrously pro-Spanish, peace-loving policies of James I.

A lamentable Dittie was also reprinted in certain ballad collections of the eighteenth century but there is no evidence to suggest its survival into the English folksong repertoire. The ballad retained its relevance for a century following its original composition, but then it faded out.

Christopher Marsh

References

Anon, A collection of old ballads (1725), vol. 3, pp. 107-17.

Anon, The secret history of the most renown’d Q. Elizabeth and the E. of Essex (Cologne, 1680).

Francis Bacon, A declaration of the practices and treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earle of Essex and his Complices (1601).

               Sir Francis Bacon his apologie, in certaine imputations concerning the late Earle of Essex (1604).

John Banks, The unhappy favourite (1682).

William Barlowe, A sermon preached at Paules Crosse, on the first Sunday in Lent (1601).

Calendar of the manuscripts of the Most Hon. The Marquis of Salisbury… Preserved at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire Part XI (Dublin, 1906), pp. 88-89, 132 and 156.

Calendar of State Papers, domestic series, Elizabeth, 1601-1603 (1870), p. 88.

Richard Crompton, A most exact and new inventorie of all the goods, excellencies, and memorable actions… Together with A discourse upon the Portugale action, the Cales action, and all other actions undertaken by the late Earle of Essex (1608).

Paul E. J. Hammer, ‘Devereux, Robert, second earl of Essex’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin (eds.), Tudor royal proclamations, 3 vols. (New Haven and London, 1969), vol. 3, pp. 230-32 and 233-34.

Philip Julius, ‘The diary of the journey of Philip Julius, duke of Stettin Pomerania, through England in the year 1602’, ed. Gottfried von Bülow, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 2nd series 6 (1892), p. 15.

Maurice King, ‘The Essex myth in Jacobean England’ in Glenn Burgess, Rowland Wymer and Jason Lawrence (eds.), The accession of James I (Basingstoke, 2006), pp. 177-86.

Robert Pricket, Honors fame in triumph riding. Or, the life and death of the late honourable Earle of Essex (1604).

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (1924; Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1967), no. 1401.

Thomas Scott, Robert Earle of Essex his ghost, sent from Elizian to the nobility, gentry, and communaltie of England (1624).

Alzada Tipton, ‘The transformation of the Earl of Essex: post-execution ballads and “The phoenix and the turtle”’, Studies in Philology 99.1 (Winter, 2002), pp. 57-80.

Richard Williams, ‘A lamentable Motion or mour[n]full remembrance for the Death of Robert Lorde Deverox, Late Earle of Essex’ in F. J. Furnivall and W. R. Morfill (eds.), Ballads from manuscripts, 2 vols. (Hertford, 1873).

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Featured Tune History

To the Tune of 'Welladay' (standard name)

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 usually called ‘Welladay’, though one ballad adopted the alternative title, ‘Englands pride is gone’ (from the opening line of A lamentable Dittie). Two different tunes, both named ‘Welladay’, appear in the virginal book compiled in c.1635-38 by Robert Creighton. Of these, the second (on fo. 118) is a much better fit for the ballads that were set to the tune during the seventeenth century (though Claude Simpson and John Ward disagreed with one another on the matter), and we have therefore used it for our recording. The melody does not appear to have been written down in other early-modern sources.

Echoes (an overview)

‘Welladay’ was nominated on several ballads that, when considered as a group, reveal a strong thematic coherence. The backbone of the series was provided by four ballads dealing with sensational state executions in the first half of the seventeenth century. The orginal was  A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of Robert Lord Devereux late Earle of Essex (1603), though it should be noted that the tune was already in existence. There followed ballads on the executions of Walter Raleigh (1618), Thomas Wentworth (1641) and Charles I (1649). The narratives of these four songs were closely interelated, and many features – dramatic falls from favour, references to the Tower of London, and interactions between the convict and the ‘headsman’ (executioner) – are encountered more than once.

This series of songs, all set to a tune strongly associated with lament (hence ‘Welladay’), also combined to set up complex counter-currents relating to issues of sympathy, culpability and deserving. Do we blame the royal favourites for their fates or do we think critically of the monarchs who sent them to the block? And how should we feel when a monarch is executed by the representatives of his people?

The melodically mediated interconnections must have been particularly acute in relation to the ballads about the executions of the Earl of Essex and Walter Raleigh, for the two men had been enemies and the latter was regularly attacked for having gloated over the downfall of the former. To give the two men the same tune was surely a calculated act of ironic comparison, rendered particularly interesting because there is no explicit mention of Essex in the text of the Raleigh ballad. At the other end of the social scale, comparable issues are raised in No naturall Mother, but a Monster. This presents the sorrowful words of a woman who has been hanged for infanticide, and we, as listeners, are challenged to choose between condemnation and sympathy.

Other songs that were set to the tune must often have been interpreted in relation to one or more of these execution ballads. Murther unmasked and A Lookinge glasse for Corne-hoorders concentrated on the wicked deeds of two men; neither was executed, but the melody seems to add the possibility of capital punishment to the debate.

A new song is the only obvious outlier, and it presents an interesting case. Here, the accession of James I in 1603 was celebrated to a tune that was currently famous because of its association with the final moments of the Earl of Essex, a popular hero who had been executed for treason by Queen Elizabeth in 1601. It may seem a curious choice of melody, but perhaps the balladeering allies of the new king hoped to tap into the criticism of the old queen that lay just a little beneath the surface in the slightly earlier song (other sources also suggest that the king hoped to garner popularity by attaching himself to the memory of the much-lamented Earl). If so, it was a comparison mediated primarily by the shared melody.

Ballads set to this tune are rich in intertextual references, and only a few of these can be mentioned. The ballad about James I echoes the song about Essex (see above) by opening with reference to ‘Sweet England’ and by including the line, ‘Queene Elizabeth she is gone’ (compare with ‘Sweet Englands pride is gone’ at the start of A lamentable Dittie). There is also a striking similarity between the first song’s reference to ‘The leiftenant of the Tower/ Who kept him in his power’ and the second song’s statement that ‘The Lieutenant of the tower/ Kept me fast in his power’.

In many of the songs listed below, there is also a very distinctive use of repetition in the second line of most verses. This device began with ‘welladay welladay’ near the opening of A lamentable Dittie, and later verses of the song either used the same word or replaced it with repeated adverbs: ‘gallantly gallantly’, ‘mournefully, mournefully’ and so on. Other songs followed suit, either using further adverbs or introducing phrases such as ‘woe is me, woe is me’ or ‘pitie me, pitie me’. Musically, the effect is ear-catching, and there is a sense in which all the words echo one another – sometimes agreeably and sometimes disconcertingly – so that the repeated musical phrase becomes a multi-layered generator of complex meanings.

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

Songs and Summaries

A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of Robert Lord Devereux late Earle of Essex, who was beheaded in the Tower of London, upon Ashwednesday in the morning. 1601. To the tune of Welladay  (Margaret Allde, 1603). Britwell 18290; EBBA 32221. Politics – celebration, controversy, domestic, foreign affairs, power, treason, obedience; Death – execution, godly end; Gender – masculinity; Emotions – sorrow, love, patriotism; Religion – charity, prayer, Christ/God, Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – praise, criticism; Violence – punitive; Employment – crafts/trades; Crime – treason, prison, punishment; Environment – buildings; Places – European, Irish; Recreation – games/sports. This describes the last speech and beheading of the Earl of Essex in 1601, drawing attention to his fame, honour, bravery, charity and popularity (picture placement: the garden appears over the opening lines and immediately to the right of a later verse telling us that ‘a Scaffold was set up, within the Tower’).

A new song to the great comfort and rejoycing of all true English harts, at our most Gracious King JAMES his Proclamation, upon the 24 of March last past... To the tune of Englands pride is gone (‘Printed by Robert Walde-grave’, 1603-04). Houghton Library, Miscellaneous STC 14426.7; EBBA 34448. Royalty – praise, authority; Politics – celebration, domestic, Royalist; Emotions – joy, love, patriotism; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, Bible; Recreation – public festivity, music. This welcomes the accession of King James I, praising him to the skies and asserting the loyalty of all English people.

Sir Walter Rauleigh his lamentation... To the tune of Welladay (Philip Birch, 1618?). Pepys 1.110-111; EBBA 20046. Death – execution, godly end; Politics – domestic, foreign affairs, treason; Emotions – sorrow; Crime – treason, punishment, prison; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, atheism, sin/repentance, prayer; Royalty – praise; Violence –punitive; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage; History – recent; Places – English, travel/transport. Sir Walter faces execution, accepting his fate and reflecting on a  painful fall from grace since the ‘golden dayes’ he enjoyed under Queen Elizabeth.

Murther unmasked, OR BARNEVILES base Conspiracie against his owne Country discovered... To the tune of Welladay (‘Printed by W. I., 1619?) Pepys 1.108-09; EBBA 20045. Politics – foreign affairs, plots, controversy; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, divine intervention; Emotions – anger, horror; Places – European; News – international; History – recent. This describes the treacherous behaviour of an Englishman in the Low Countries, who planned to hand over several strategic towns to the Spanish and plotted against the life of the Protestant hero, Prince Maurice.

A Lookinge glasse for Corne-hoorders... To the tune of Welladay (H. Gosson, 1631?). Pepys 1.148-49; EBBA 20065. Economy – extortion, hardship/prosperity, prices/wages, money; Employment – agrarian; Morality – social/economic; Environment – crops, wonders, animals; Religion – divine intervention; Society – rich/poor, rural life; Emotions – greed; Bodies – nourishment; Violence – divine; Places – English. A greedy grain-hoarding farmer in Buckinghamshire raises his price after making an agreement with a poor man, so God punishes him by swallowing some of his horses into the earth.

No naturall Mother, but a Monster... To the tune of, Welladay (F. Coules, 1634). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.2; EBBA 36049. Crime – infanticide, prison, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Emotions – shame, sorrow; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – femininity; Religion – sin/repentance; Violence – interpersonal, domestic; Morality – romantic/sexual, familial, general; Environment – animals; Places – English. The woeful lament of a maidservant, recently executed for the murder of her illegitimate baby.

The true manner of the life and Death of Sir Thomas Wentworth... The tune is Welladay Welladae (Richard Burton, c. 1641). British Library [reference not found]. Politics – domestic, foreign affairs, controversy, power, Royalist, treason; Crime – treason, prison, punishment; Death – execution; Violence – punitive; Emotions – anger, sorrow; Places – English, Irish. A critical analysis of Wentworth’s career, focusing upon his self-inflicted fall from grace, his tyrannical disposition and his execution.

King CHARLES His Speech, and last Farewell to the World... To the Tune of, Weladay (Registered Grove 1649?; imprint lost). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.54; EBBA 36104. Royalty – praise, authority; Crime – treason; Death – execution, godly end, unlawful killing; Politics – controversy, domestic, Royalist, plots/rebellion, parliament,war; Violence – punitive, civil war; Emotions – sorrow; Morality – political. This expresses sorrow at the execution of Charles I and recounts the gracious speech that this ‘Sweet Prince of love’ delivered on the scaffold (the second half of the ballad appears to be missing).

Postscript

The tune was also occasionally named in song-books of the period. In Richard Johnson’s The Crown Garland of Golden Roses (1659), for example, it provides the setting for ‘The Princely Song of the six Queens that were married to Henry the eighth’. Given the tune’s strong associations with death and execution, this seems appropriate. The tune’s capacity to indicate a sad goodbye was also called upon in a song beginning ‘Christmas hath made an end’, published in New Christmas Carrols (1661). This song was revived in the nineteenth century, set to a version of ‘Welladay’ that was devised by the scholar William Chappell (this was actually a composite built from various sections of the first version in Creighton’s virginal book and parts of another seventeenth-century tune called ‘Essex’ Last Goodnight’).

‘Welladay’ was named only very rarely on white-letter ballads of the seventeenth century, perhaps because its popularlity as a tune for new ballads seems to have faded after 1650. It was nominated, however, for THE ARRAIGNMENT Of the DIVEL, for stealing away PRESIDENT BRADSHAW (1659). This describes the trial and execution of Satan for ending the life of the regicide John Bradshaw before England’s resurgent Royalists had had a chance to execute him (Bradshaw’s recently buried corpse was exhumed and publicly displayed in 1660).

There are also some passing references to the tune in other forms of early-modern literature. In 1626, Henry Parrot’s archetypal ‘Ballad-maker’ was always short of cash to pay for his ale, ‘unlesse some Ballad chance to be compos’d upon some dismall or dolefull accident as may be sung to the tune of welladay’ (Cures for the Itch, 1626).  And Humphry Mills was similarly disparaging in describing a fiddler who, ‘For want of custome... alone did play/ The lamentable tune of Welladay’ (A nights search, 1640).

Christopher Marsh

References

William Chappell, Popular music of the olden time (1859), vol. 1, pp. 174-76.

Robert Creighton, Virginal book, c. 1635-38. Bibliothèque Conservatoire de Musique, Paris, Rés. 1186, fos. 25 and 118 (the tunes are transcribed in the works by Simpson and Ward).

Richard Johnson, The Crown Garland of Golden Roses (1659), H1r-3v.

Hugh Ketye and Andrew Parrott (eds.), The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), pp. 530-33.

Humphry Mill, A nights search (1640), p. 216.

New Christmas Carrols (1661).

Henry Parrot, Cures for the Itch (1626), A2v.

Claude M. Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 747-48.

John M. Ward, ‘Apropos The British broadside ballad and its music’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 20.1 (Spring 1967), pp. 83-84.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Courtly garden

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 of a formal garden seems to be a signifier of aristocratic privilege and order, both of which are tragically disrupted by the events described in the song. It might also or alternatively have been intended to represent the grounds of the Tower of London, where the Earl’s execution took place. The picture was not used on later editions of the song, and a search of the two largest ballad collections has also been fruitless. The only ballad listed below is therefore our featured edition, taken from the Britwell collection.  

Songs and summaries:

A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of Robert Lord Devereux late Earle of Essex, who was beheaded in the Tower of London, upon Ashwednesday in the morning. 1601  (Margaret Allde, 1603). Britwell 18290; EBBA 32221. Politics – celebration, controversy, domestic, foreign affairs, power, treason, obedience; Death – execution, godly end; Gender – masculinity; Emotions – sorrow, love, patriotism; Religion – charity, prayer, Christ/God, Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – praise, criticism; Violence – punitive; Employment – crafts/trades; Crime – treason; Environment – buildings; Places – European, Irish; Recreation – games/sports. This describes the last speech and beheading of the Earl of Essex in 1601, drawing attention to his fame, honour, bravery, charity and popularity (picture placement: the garden appears over the opening lines and immediately to the right of a later verse telling us that ‘a Scaffold was set up, within the Tower’).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The chronological list presented below includes printed texts, written before 1700, that cover Essex’s execution and that might therefore be related in some way to A lamentable Dittie. Of particular note are the books by Barlowe and Bacon, both published in 1601, that may have been partly designed as contributions to a conversation with the hit ballad.

Both Barlowe and Bacon pushed the official government line – deeply critical of Essex – in an effort to counter the potentially dangerous circulation of more hagiographical publications, presumably including A lamentable Dittie. There are several points of textual contact between the ballad and the books but it is impossible to determine precisely how these influences worked. If the song about the Earl that was reportedly being distributed two days after his execution was our hit song (see Song history), then clearly the ballad came first; Barlowe’s sermon was not delivered until 1st March and publication must have come after this.

We cannot be certain but it is certainly intriguing that in some passages the vocabulary deployed in the sermon and the song are quite similar. Barlowe, for example, speaks of the execution ‘within the Tower of London, where a scaffold being set up in the court…’, and the ballad includes the expression, ‘Where a Scaffold was set up within the Tower’. Bacon’s Declaration has fewer verbal affinities with the ballad but his assertion that Essex neglected to take leave of his family and friends on the scaffold looks like a direct denial of the fond final goodbyes that are described in A lamentable Dittie and A lamentable new Ballad upon the Earle of Essex his death, another well-known song on the subject.

On the other side of the debate, Robert Pricket praised Essex to the skies in 1604, and his statement, ‘The Flower of a Kingdomes pride is gone’ sounds like a direct echo of the hit ballad’s opening line, ‘Sweet England pride is gone’.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

William Barlowe, A sermon preached at Paules Crosse, on the first Sunday in Lent (1601).

Francis Bacon, A declaration of the practices and treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earle of Essex and his Complices (1601).

Sir Francis Bacon his apologie, in certaine imputations concerning the late Earle of Essex (1604).

Robert Pricket, Honors fame in triumph riding. Or, the life and death of the late honourable Earle of Essex (1604).

Richard Crompton, A most exact and new inventorie of all the goods, excellencies, and memorable actions… Together with A discourse upon the Portugale action, the Cales action, and all other actions undertaken by the late Earle of Essex (1608).

Thomas Scott, Robert Earle of Essex his ghost, sent from Elizian to the nobility, gentry, and communaltie of England (1624).

Anon, The secret history of the most renown’d Q. Elizabeth and the E. of Essex (Cologne, 1680).

John Banks, The unhappy favourite (1682).

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A lamentable Dittie composed upon the death of/ Robert Lord Devereux late Earle of Essex, who was beheaded in the/ Tower of London, upon Ashwednesday in the morning. 1601.

To the tune of Welladay.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]

 

SWeet Englands pride is gone

welladay welladay,

Which makes her sigh and grone

evermore still:

He did her fame advance,

In Ireland Spaine and France,

And now by dismall chaunce,

is from her tane.

 

He was a vertuous Peere,

welladay welladay,

And was esteemed deere

evermore still:

He alwaies helpt the poore,

Which makes them sigh full sore

his death they doe deplore,

In every place.

 

Brave honor grac’d him still

gallantly gallantly,

He nere did deede of ill,

well is it knowne:

But envie that foule fiend

Whose mallice ne’re hath end,

hath brought true vertues friend

Unto his thrall.

 

At Tilt he did surpasse

gallantly gallantly:

all men that is and was

evermore still:

One day as it was seene,

In honour of his Queene,

Such deeds hath ne’re been seen,

As he did doe.

 

Abroade and eke at home,

gallantly, gallantly,

For vallour there was none,

like him before:

In Ireland France and Spaine,

(They feared great Essex name,

And England lov’d the same,

In every place.

 

But all would not prevaile

welladay welladay:

His deedes did nought availe,

more was the pittie:

He was condemn’d to die,

For treason certainely,

But God that sits on hie

Knoweth all things.

 

That Sunday in the morne,

welladay welladay:

That he to the Cittie came,

with all his troupe:

That first began the strife,

And caused him loose his life,

And others did the like,

As well as hee.

 

Yet her Princely Majestie

gratiously, gratiously,

Hath pardon given free

to many of them:

She hath released them quite,

And given them their right,

they may pray both day & night

God to defend her.

 

Shrovetewesday in the night

welladay, welladay,

With a heavy harted spright

as it is sayd:

The leiftenant of the Tower

Who kept him in his power,

At ten a clocke that hour,

To him did come.

 

And sayd unto him there,

Mournefully, mournfully,

My Lord you must prepare,

to die tomorrow:

Gods will be done quoth he,

Yet shall you strangely see,

God strong in me to be,

Though I am weake.

 

I pray you pray for me

welladay, welladay,

That God may strengthen me,

against that houre:

Then straightway did he call,

The Guard under the wall,

And did intreate them all

For him to pray.

 

For tomorrow is the day

welladay welladay,

That I the debt must pay,

which I doe owe:

It is my life I meane,

Which I must pay my Queene,

Even soe hath justice given,

That I must doe.

 

In the morning was he brought,

welladay welladay:

Where a Scaffold was set up,

within the Tower:

Many Lords were present then,

With other Gentlemen,

Which were appointed then

To see him dye.

 

You noble Lords quoth he

welladay welladay,

That must the witnesse be,

of this my death:

Know I never loved Papistrye,

But did it still defye,

And Essex thus did dye,

Heere in this place.

 

I have a sinner been

welladay welladay:

Yet never wrong’d my Queene

in all my life,

My God I did offend,

Which grieves me at my end,

May all the rest amend,

I doe forgive them.

 

To the state I ne’re ment ill

welladay, welladay,

Neither wisht the commons ill

in all my life:

But loved all with my heart,

And alwaies tooke their part,

Whereas there was desert,

In any place.

 

Then mildely did he crave

mournefully mournefully,

He might that favour have

private to pray:

He then prayed heartely,

And with great fervency,

To God that sits on hie,

For to receive him.

 

And then he prayed againe

mournefully mournefully,

God to preserve his Queene

from all her foes:

And send her long to raigne,

True Justice to maintaine,

And not to let proude Spaine,

Once to offend her.

 

His gowne he slipt off then

welladay welladay,

And put off his hat and band

and hung it by,

Praying still continually,

To God that sits on hie,

That he might paciently,

There suffer death.

 

My headesman that must be,

then said he cheerefullie,

Let him come heere to me,

That I may him see:

Who kneeled to him then,

Art thou (quoth he) the man,

Which art appointed now,

my life to free.

 

Yes my Lord did he say

welladay, welladay,

Forgive me I you pray

for this your death:

I heare doe thee forg[ive]

And may true justice live,

No foule crime to forgive,

Within their place.

 

Then he kneeled downe againe,

mournefully mournefully:

And was required by some

there standing by:

To forgive his enemies,

Before death closde his eyes,

Which he did in heartie wise,

Thanking them for it:

 

That they would remember him

welladay, welladay:

That he might forgive all them,

that had him wrong’d:

Now my Lords I take my leave

Sweet Christ my soule receive,

Now when you wil I prepare,

For I am readie.

 

He laide his head on the blocke,

welladay welladay:

But his doublet did let the stroke

some there did say:

What must be done (quoth he)

Shall be done presently,

Then his doublet off put hee,

and laye downe againe.

 

Then his headesman did his part

cruelly, cruelly,

He was never seene to start,

For all the blowes:

His soule it is at rest,

in heaven among the blest,

Where God send us to rest,

When it shall please him.

God save the King.

FINIS.

Imprinted at London for Margret/ Allde, and are to be solde at the/ long shop under Saint Mil-/dreds Church in the Poul-/try. 1603.

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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: 12

No. of extant copies: 14

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Coles, Wright, Vere and Gilbertson, 1656; Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Earl of Essex').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1603.

3-yr periods that produced multiple editions:1603-05 (2); 1655-56 (2).

New tune titles generated: 'Englands pride is gone' (1 ballad).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Pre-1640 bonus: yes.

POINTS: 24 + 14 + 30 + 5 + 24 + 2 + 0 + 20 = 119.

 

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