9  A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall [Roxburghe 3.148-49]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall

Death - burial/funeral Death - suicide Death - tragedy Emotions - anger Emotions - love Emotions - sorrow Employment - apprenticeship/service Employment - female Family - children/parents Family - pregnancy/childbirth Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Gender - sex Morality - romantic/sexual

Song History

A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall did not appeal to the modern editor of the Shirburn ballads who, in 1907, described it as a ‘lugubrious and insincere ballad-preachment’. Earlier generations of English people clearly disagreed, and the song was published on many occasions following its first appearance in c. 1603 (see Editions). It was clearly a staple of the early-modern ballad-seller's business, and it was still in print in the mid-nineteenth century.  During the eighteenth century, it also appeared regularly in the book-length collections of ‘old’ and ‘ancient’ songs that presumably appealed to readers who combined wealth and an antiquarian bent.

The ballad is mentioned occasionally in other forms of literature and art. In 1684, Charles Cotton identified ‘The Ladies fall’ in passing as one of the ballads that was commonly sung. More interestingly, the ballad-seller who is depicted in Hogarth’s engraving, ‘The enraged musician’, holds and sings a copy of ‘The Ladies Fall’. Her performance is one of the sources of noise that so disturbs the bewigged violinist who covers his ears while staring angrily out through the open window of his practice room. The ballad-singer, a symbol of London’s low-life in Hogarth’s imagination, holds one baby in her arms and seems to be carrying another in her belly. Her choice of song therefore hints at her back-story as a woman who has failed to defend her virtue and paid the price. It also suggests the on-going popularity of the ballad, for Hogarth surely wished his joke to appear both clever and comprehensible.

We might understand the popularity of the song in various ways. It told a deeply poignant story and included key moments of high drama that were designed to stick in the mind (most notably, the double-death of mother and baby). It is also arguable that the ballad may have appealed particularly to women, with its obvious sympathy for the unfortunate lady and its descriptions of pregnancy and childbirth (‘What woful pangs she felt that night/ doth each good woman know’). Of course, the dangers of broken contracts and single motherhood were well-known in this period, and the lady’s tragic fall therefore represents a highly magnified version of a commonplace female dilemma.

The fact that the lady was rich and her sweetheart ‘of mean estate’ also tapped into the theme of love-across-boundaries that was immensely marketable among ballad-consumers. And the tune, one of the period’s most successful, was not only singable and memorable but also connected this ballad with many other seventeenth-century songs about innocent women in trouble (see Featured tune history).

The Lamentable Ballad does not appear to have survived as a common folk-song in later periods, though there is one interesting example in the Glenbuchat Ballads (see Related texts).

Christopher Marsh


Anon, A collection of old ballads, 3 vols. (1723), vol. 1, pp. 244-48.

Jeremy Barlow, The enraged musician: Hogarth’s musical imagery (2005).

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

David Buchan and James Moreira (eds.), The Glenbuchat ballads (Jackson, Mississippi, 2007), pp. 182-87).

Andrew Clark (ed.), The Shirburn ballads, 1585-1616 (Oxford, 1907), pp. 208-12.

Charles Cotton, The scoffer scoffed. The second part (1684), p. 15.

Madden Collection, Garlands, vol. 2, no. 477, Cambridge University Library.

Thomas Percy, Reliques of ancient English poetry, 3 vols. (1794), vol. 3, pp. 137-43.

Joseph Ritson, A select collection of English songs, 3 vols. (1783), vol. 2, pp. 209-14.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (Roud no. 22133): https://www.vwml.org/

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Featured Tune History

To the Tune of ‘In Pescod time’ (standard name: In peascod time)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its ballad 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 enduring Elizabethan tune came to be known variously as ‘In Peascod time’, ‘The Ladies fall’, ‘The Brides buriall’, ‘Bateman’, ‘John True’ and ‘Help Lords and Commons’. Notation can be found in several sources, most of them from the early seventeenth century. A printed version appears in Anthony Holborn’s Cittharn School (1597), and surviving manuscripts include several settings for either cittern or virginals. Examples can be found, for example, in Robert Creighton’s virginal book and the cittern partbook held at Mills College in California. Some of the greatest composers of the age, including William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, wrote instrumental arrangements, and it is clear that this melody was exceptionally well known. Our recording of A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall uses the version that features in the manuscript of early seventeenth-century keyboard music known as Drexel 5612.

Echoes (an overview)

This was an immensely successful tune, easy to learn and easy to sing. Its earliest title, ‘In Pescod time’, came from the opening line of a song or poem entitled ‘The Sheepheards slumber’, published in John Bodenham’s Englands Helicon (1600). This featured a shepherd’s disturbing dream, in which a tense debate takes place about the power of Cupid, the dangers of love and the roles played by men and women.

The melody was subsequently named on ballads throughout the early modern period, and it developed a strong and consistent attachment to two particular textual themes. Most strikingly, the tune was chosen for songs about suffering women, and A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall is a good example. The women in the various narratives were not always the only ones to suffer – several men also meet their ends in these songs – but it is likely that the tune helped to concentrate the attention of listeners particularly upon female woe. Although there is nothing inherently miserable about the melody, it clearly came to express sadness through its association with tragic narratives (to early modern listeners, Ross Duffin’s recent characterisation of ‘The lady’s fall’ as a ‘rollicking tune’ would probably have seemed strange). The dominant tune title originated with A Lamentable ballad, and this song’s focus on the anguish of its main female character was constantly echoed in others.

The melody’s name seems to have carried particular force, as suggested by the fact that the impoverished female ballad-singer in Hogarth’s engraving, ‘The Enraged Musician’, is clutching a sheet entitled ‘The Ladies Fall’. Two ballad-makers even wove into their narratives episodes in which their female characters fell physically rather than morally (see A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady and A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids).

The female characters in all these ballads, though united by their melody and their suffering, cover quite a range, including a roughly equal mixture of impeccably virtuous women, good women who make mistakes, and women who are predominantly wicked (though some of them repent their sins before death). They all come to suffer but some are to blame and others are blameless. The tune must have come to suggest both possibilities, setting up some interesting relationships between the different songs. A Lamentable Ballad presents a true-hearted young woman who makes one significant mistake in love, and loses everything as a result.

Female pain was thus the tune’s primary domain but it was also used repeatedly in a second area. A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye is the first surviving example from a series of ballads that nominated the tune for texts that disseminated moral rules, urged people to prepare for death or, more occasionally, told stories from the Bible or from Christian legend. It also, therefore, came to possess religious undertones that must have interacted with and reinforced the songs about suffering women. Only two of the ballads listed below are clearly outliers with no strong connection to either theme (see The Lawyers Plea and the very peculiar Lamentation of a bad Market).

Some of these songs were connected with one another not just by their shared tune but also by inter-textual referencing, whether deliberate or unconscious. Only a small number of examples can be noted here. The appeals to potential customers that open several ballads clearly echo one another: ‘Marke well my heavy dolefull tale,/ yow loyal lovers all’ (A Lamentable ballad of the Ladies Fall); ‘Marke well thys storye strange and trew,/ yow wicked lovers all’ (A most lamentable or dolefull dittye); ‘Come mourn, come mourn with me/ you loyall lovers all’ (The Brides Buriall). There is a cummulative effect at work here, with each new appeal adding a further layer to the melody’s significance. 

In Two unfortunate Lovers, the lines, ‘Six maids in white as custome is,/ did bring her to the grave’ recalled a similar description in The Brides Buriall: ‘Sixe maidens all in white,/ did beare her to the ground’ (this moment was also the subject of a woodcut that appears regularly on these ballads). Two unfortunate Lovers also includes a verse that appears, almost verbatim, in A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall (the differences are indicated in square brackets): ‘Woe to [worth] the time I did beleeve,/ that flattering looke [tongue] of thine,/ Would God that I had never seene,/ the teares of thy false eyne’. And two ballads - A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord and  The Lady Isabella's Tragedy – present villains who declare, ‘Thy butcher I will be’.

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

Songs and Summaries

A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall... To THE TUNE OF of Peascoode time (no printed copy of the earliest editions has survived but the song was registered in 1603 and transcribed by hand around the same date). Shirburn Ballads, XLIX. Gender – courtship; Morality – sexual; Death – tragedy; Emotions – love, anger, sorrow; Family – pregnancy and childbirth; Employment – apprenticeship/service. A young lady becomes pregnant before marriage and runs away to meet her lover but he doesn’t show up and the consequences are tragic.

A most lamentable or dolefull dittye, of an Italian Gentleman and his three sonnes... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s Fall (no printed copy from this period has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads, LXXI. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, siblings, inheritance; Gender – marriage, courtship, incest, sex; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, suicide, heartbreak; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Emotions – greed, anger, horror, jealousy; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Places – European; Bodies – clothing; Religion – Christ/God. A couple have three sons before the woman dies in childbirth, at which point an evil step-mother joins the family with consequences that include incest, murder and suicide.

Two unfortunate Lovers, or, a true Relation of the lamentable end of John True, and Susan Mease... To the tune of, The Brides Buriall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.428-29; EBBA 30291.  Gender – courtship; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, sorrow; Death – heartbreak, tragedy; burial/funeral; Bodies – health/sickness; Places – English; Employment – crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits. John overcomes Susan’s initial disdain and she agrees to marry him, but he then decides to test her love with some disdain of his own, and the consequences are tragic.

The Lamenting Lady, Who for the wrongs done to her by a poore woman, for having two children at one burthen, was by the hand of God most strangely punished... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.44-45; EBBA 20210. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – femininity, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Society – rich/poor; Emotions – anger, guilt, wonder, horror; Employment – begging; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness; Religion – divine intervention; Economy – hardship/prosperity, livings. A barren lady expresses her anger at the evident fertility of a poor woman with twin babies in her arms, and after the poor woman curses her response a terrible punishment unfolds.

The Judgement of Salomon... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.30-31; EBBA 20143. Religion – Bible; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Royalty – praise; Emotions – love, longing, confusion; Death – grief, accident; Bodies – health/sickness, injury; Politics – controversy, court; Violence – interpersonal. This recounts the famous Biblical story of King Solomon’s wise judgement in the case of the two harlots and the baby.

A most strange and trew ballad of a monst[r]ous child born in Southampton upon tuesdaye being the 16. day of March last, 1602... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603). Shirburn Ballads, LXXII. Bodies – looks/physique; Disability – physical; Emotions – horror, anxiety; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Religion  - Christ/God, sin/repentance; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Places – English; Royalty – praise. This describes a baby, still-born with many physical abnormalities, and urges us to understand it as a warning from God of the need to repent our sins.

The Brides Buriall. To the tune of the Ladies fall (registered 1603; H. G.,  1624-40). Roxburghe 1.59; EBBA 30586. Death – illness, godly end, grief, tragedy, burial/funeral; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, sorrow, anger; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness, clothing; Religion – charity, prayer, heaven/hell, Christ/God; History – ancient/mythological; Environment – flowers/trees; Recreation – weddings. A sorrowful man describes the sudden death of his virtuous sweetheart on their wedding day and the sad funeral that followed.

Of a maide now dwelling at the towne of meurs in dutchland, that hath not taken any foode this 16 yeares... To THE TUNE OF Th[e] ladie’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn ballads, X. Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Recreation – food, sight-seing; Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention; Economy – money; Emotions – wonder; Environment – flowers/trees; Gender – femininity; News – international, sensational; Places – European, travel/transport. The story of a Dutch woman who, fearing the moral corruption associated with over-indulgence, has refused all food for many years and keeps herself alive by smelling a fragrant flower and trusting in the Lord.

A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye... To the tune of The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, III. Religion – sin/repentance, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – godly end; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – anxiety; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage; Society – friendship, neighbours, criticism,  Royalty – praise. A song urging us that our health and wealth will not last, and that that we must therefore repent our sins immediately and prepare to die.

The Wandring Jew, OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusam [sic], who lived when our Saviour Christ was crucified, and appoynted by him to live untill his comming again. To the Tune of, the Ladies Fall (registered 1612?; E. Wright, 1638-56). Wood 401(123); Religion – Christ/God, Judaism, prophecy, sin/repentance, charity, heathens/infidels; History – ancient/mythological, heroism, villainy; Violence – punitive; Death – execution; Emotions – anger, despair, shame, wonder; Places – travel/transport, European, extra-European; Bodies – looks/physique; Employment – crafts/trades. This recounts the legend of the Wandering Jew, who insulted Christ on the day of his crucifixion and was punished by being made to walk the earth until the end of time.

Miraculous Newes from the cittie of Holdt in Germany, where there were three dead bodyes seene to rise ouf their Graves... To THE TUNE OF The ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1616). Shirburn Ballads, XVI.  Death – general; Emotions – fear, horrow, wonder; Environment – wonders, weather; Religion – sin/repentances; ghosts/spirits, church; Christ/God; Places – European; Bodies – health/sickness; News – international, sensational; Morality – general. This describes a terrible firestorm in a German city, during which three skeletons emerged temporarily from their graves and delivered dire warnings to the local populace about the need to repent.

A Prophesie of the Judgement Day. Being lately found in Saint Denis Church in France... To the tune of the Ladyes fall (J. W., 1616-20?). Pepys 1.36-67; EBBA 20171. Religion – prophecy, Christ/God, divine intervention, clergy, heathens/infidels; Environment – wonders, weather, buildings; News – international, sensational; Places – European; Death – general; Violence – divine. This converts into metrical form a series of prophecies for the 1620s – foretelling wars, earthquakes and so on – that were recently discovered hidden in a church wall in Paris.

[The] Damnable Practises Of three Lincolne-shire Witches... To the tune of the Ladies fall (John Barnes, 1619). Pepys 1.132-33; EBBA 20058. Crime – witchcraft, murder, robbery/theft; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Religion – angels/devils, conjuration; Family – children/parents, siblings; Emotions – anger, horror; Violence – diabolical; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Bodies – clothing, health/sickness, nourishment; Environment – animals; Places- English Gender – femininity, sex; Society – rich/poor, rural life. A song about the malicious activities of three Lincolnshire witches, who tormented the Earl of Rutland and his family after one of them was dismissed from his service for stealing.

A warning for all desperate Women. By the example of Alice Davis who for killing of her husband was burned in Smithfield the 12 of July 1628... To the tune of the Ladies fall (F. Coules, 1628). Pepys 1.120-21; EBBA 20050. Crime – murder; Violence – domestic, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, execution, godly end; Gender – marriage, femininity;  Economy – money; Emotions – anger, horror, guilt, shame, sorrow; Morality – familial; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God; prayer; Employment – crafts/trades; Society – neighbours; Places – English. A woman, about to be executed by burning for the murder of her husband, describes her crime and expresses her remorse in the hope that others will avoid a similar fate.

A Warning for Maidens. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall [also published subsequently as A Godly Warning for all Maidens] (no imprint, 1630-58?). Roxburghe 1.501; EBBA 30336. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – suicide, ghostly abduction; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – ghosts/spirits, divine intervention, body/soul, sin/repentance; Emotions – greed, despair, anger, guilt, shame, fear, wonder; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Environment – buildings; Places – English. A young woman breaks her engagement to one man in favour of a second, wealthier individual, and a terrible tale of suicide and supernatural abduction unfolds.

A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids... The tune is, the Brides Buriall (Tho: Vere, 1645-82).  British Library, Book of Fortune, C.20.f.14.(24.); EBBA 36948. Gender – sexual violence, masculinity, femininity, courtship; Violence – sexual; Death – accident, tragedy, godly end; Bodies – injury; Emotions – longing, horror, shame; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Christ/God, prayer; News – sensational; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English. A miller attempts to force a maiden to kiss him and, in the struggle, they both fall into a vat of scalding liquid with fatal consequences.

A Warning for Married Women... To a west-country Tune called, The fair Maid of Bristol: Bateman, or, John True (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.502; EBBA 30338. Gender – courtship, marriage; Death – warfare, ghostly abduction, suicide; Family – children/parents; Emotions –love, longing, despair; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Morality – romantic/sexual; Environent – sea; Places – English, travel/transport. A man dies at sea after having been pressed into the navy, and when his sweetheart eventually marries another and raises a family, he returns in human form to tempt her away.

A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady... To the tune of, The Ladies fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 197; EBBA 31955. Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity, sexual violence; Crime – murder, rape; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, self-inflicted; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Emotions – horrow, hatred, fear; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals, buildings, landscape; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – European. When a nobleman goes on a hunting trip, an aggrieved servant – ‘a Heathenish Blackamoor’ – exacts terrible revenge on his wife and family.

The West-countrey Gentlemans last Will & Testament... The Tune is I am James Harris call’d by name, or Ladies Fall (imprint missing, mid-seventeenth century?). Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(154). Family – children/parents; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual, general; Religion – moral rules, charity, church, Christ/God; Society – neighbours, rural life; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – love; Places – English. An exemplary gentleman makes his will, passing on his estate and a series of moral injunctions to his son and heir.

The Lawyers Plea, In the behalf of Young TOM of LINCOLN... To the Tune of, Help Lords and Commons, &c (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). British Library, 82.l.8.(21.); EBBA 36918. Gender – sex; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Protestant nonconformity; Employment- professions, prostitution; Places – English; Politics – domestic, Royalist; Society – urban life. This is a robust defence of the sexual behaviour that occurs among the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn, arguing – in response to a previous ballad (apparently lost) – that the wenching of hypocritical nonconformists is far worse.

A friendly Caveat To all true Christians, Showing the them the true way to Heaven. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Beinecke 2000 Folio 6 237; EBBA 35987. Morality – general; Religion – Bible, moral rules, Christ/God, prayer; Family – children/parents; Gender – adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – nourishment. This urges the importance of moral conduct on all Christians, summarising the Ten Commandments for good measure.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy; OR, The Step-Mothers Cruelty... To the Tune of, The Ladies Fall (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Pepys 2.149; EBBA 20767. 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.

Loves Overthrow; OR, A full and true account of a young Maid that lived in Exeter-Exchange-Court, in the Strand... To the Tune of, Bateman (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 61; EBBA 32713. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Death – suicide, heartbreak; Violence – self-inflicted; Emotions – despair, love; Employment – apprenticeship/service;  Economy – livings; news – general; Places – English. A young woman misunderstands her sweetheart’s good reasons for delaying marriage, and after killing herself in desperation she is buried with a stake through her body.

The lamentation of a bad Market, OR, The Drownding of three Children on the Thames...Tune of, The Ladies Fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80).  Pepys 2.146; EBBA 20764.  Family – children/parents; Death – accident; News – sensational; Places – English; Humour – extreme situations. This describes a recent fire on London Bridge and a separate episode in which three children fell through the ice on the Thames and drowned.


The melody was regularly nominated in printed songbooks of the period. In ‘A most royall song of the life and death of our late renowned Princesse Queene Elizabeth’, published in Richard Johnson’s Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), the fallen heroine is the late lamented monarch. And in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), the tune is used for ‘A Caroll for Twelfe day’, bidding a sad farewell to Christmas cheer (this song has the same opening line as A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall). See also: ‘A Pastoral Song’ and ‘The story of Ill-May day’ in Cupids Garland (1674); and one of the metrical religious songs in William Slatyer’s, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631).

The tune was also named on a scurrilous white-letter ballad entitled THE FOUR-LEGG'D ELDER, OR, A true RELATION OF A DOG and an ELDER'S Maid (‘Printed in the year 1647. And Reprinted 1677’). Here, strikingly, the author’s satirical intention was to deploy the unquestionably sober associations of the tune in order to denigrate the ballad’s fallen lady, a Quaker’s maidservant who found herself in trouble for having sex with her master’s dog. The mocking tone also extended to the tune designation, which poured scorn on the simplicity and similarity of many short ballad melodies: ‘To the Tune of The Lady's Fall, or Gather your Rose-buds; and Fourty other Tunes’.

Occasionally, however, the basic nature and the ubiquity of the tune were referenced nostalgically to recall simpler times in the past. Henry Bolt’s poem, ‘On a Barber who became a great Master of Musick’, looks back to the days when barbers lacked musical pretension and their citterns were ‘confin’d unto/ The Ladies fall, or John come kiss me now’.

Christopher Marsh


John Bodenham, Englands Helicon (1600), Z3r-4v.

Henry Bolt, Latine songs, with their English (1685), pp. 148-49.

Robert Creighton, virginal book, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Conservatoire Rés. 1186, fo. 101v.

Cupids Garland (1674), A5v-6r and B3v-4r.

Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), p. 49.

Orlando Gibbons, Complete Keyboard works, ed. M. H. Glyn (1925), vol. 2, 14.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), B1r-2r.

Anthony Holborn, Cittharn School (1597), C1v.

Richard Johnson, The Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), C8v-D3v.

New York Public Library MS Drexel 5612, p. 22 (transcribed in Simpson).

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 368-71.

William Slatyer, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631), table at back.

Walsingham consort partbook for cittern, Mills College, Oakland, California, no. 32.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Bed-scene with suicidal man (and horse)

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 seems to have been designed specifically for the current song. The woman in childbed and the man committing suicide with his sword are both documented in the text. Interestingly, the two component images seem to be presented in a narrative sequence, in the style of a comic strip (in the text, the woman gives birth and dies shortly before the man arrives and kills himself in despair).

The woodcut became strongly associated with A Lamentable Ballad, and a majority of the surviving copies from the seventeenth century display it. The same woodblock was evidently used to produce most of the images, and the series of editions reveals the steady deterioration in its condition. The fact that it was used even as it decayed is testimony to the importance of the image on editions of this song. Consumers, it seems, expected to see it. The force of the association is further suggested by the infrequency with which this woodcut is encountered on other ballads. In the two largest collections, it is found in the seventeenth century only on editions of A Lamentable Ballad (but see ‘Postscript’, below, for an example from the Euing collection).

Songs and summaries

A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Roxburghe 3.148-49; EBBA 30454. Gender – courtship; Morality – sexual; Death – tragedy; Emotions – love, anger, sorrow; Family – pregnancy and childbirth; Employment – apprenticeship/service.  A young lady becomes pregnant before marriage and runs away to meet her lover but he doesn’t show up and the consequences are tragic (picture placement: the scene appears on the right side of the sheet).


The image also occurs on Dying Tears, OR Englands Joy turned to mourning for the loss of that Vertuous Prince, Henry Duke of Glocester... To the Tune of, Aim not too high (Charles Tyns, c.1660). Euing 65; ESTC R174796; EBBA 31748. This laments the death of Charles I’s third son, heaps praises upon him and reminds all listeners that they, like the dead duke, will pass away and must prepare urgently for eternity. The picture appears over the section of text in which the author broadens out the message so that it applies to all, and it apparently serves to remind viewers – already familiar with the image from A Lamentable Ballad – of a particularly poignant death.

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

This ballad does not seem to have inspired prose versions of the story, nor works for the stage. In the absence of such material, it is worth considering briefly a folk-song entitled ‘Lady Mary’ that was collected and transcribed (text only) in or near the Aberdeenshire parish of Glenbuchat in the early nineteenth century (see The Glenbuchat ballads, ed. David Buchan and James Moreira, Jackson, Mississippi, 2007, pp. 182-87). This song shares a basic narrative outline with The Lamentable Ballad and also reveals numerous textual echoes. The following lines, for example, can all be traced to the original song: ‘Long was she wooed e’re she was won’; ‘But folly, folly brought her low’’ and ‘Call not my mother for your life’.

Unfortunately, we cannot be sure of the route that led from a London broadside of 1603 to a Scottish folksong of c.1820, but it certainly must have involved the common combination of textual and oral/aural transmission.

Christopher Marsh

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A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall./ Declaring how a Gentlewoman through her too much trust came to her end, and how/ her Lover slew himself.

The Tune is, In Pescod time.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


MArk well my heavy doleful Tale,

you Loyal Lovers all,

And heedfully bear in your breast,

a gallant Ladies fall:

Long was she woo’d e’re she was won,

to lead a wedded life,

But folly wrought her overthrow,

before she was a wife.


Too soon alas she gave consent

to yield unto his will,

Though he protested to be true,

and faithful to her still:

She felt her body altred quite,

her bright hue waxed pale,

Her fair red cheeks turn’d colour white,

her strength began to fail.


So that with many a sorrowful sigh,

this beautious Maiden mild,

With grievous heart perceiv’d her self

to be conceiv’d with Child:

She kept it from her fathers sight,

as close as close might be,

And so put on her silken gown,

none might her swelling see.


Unto her Lover secretly

she did her self bewray,

And walking with him hand in hand,

these words to him did say:

Behold, said she, a Maid’s distress,

my love, brought to thy bow,

Behold I go with Child by thee,

but none thereof doth know.


The little Babe springs in my womb

to hear the Fathers voice,

Let it not be a Bastard call’d,

sith I made thee my choice:

Come, come, my love, perform thy vow

and wed me out of hand,

O leave me not in this extream,

in grief alwayes to stand.


Think on thy former promise made,

thy vows and oaths each one,

Remember with what bitter tears

to me thou mad’st thy moan:

Convey me to some secret place,

and marry me with speed,

Or with thy Rapier end my life,

ere further shame proceed.


Alas, my dearest Love, quoth he,

my greatest joy on earth,

Which way can I convey thee hence,

without a sudden Death?

Thy friends they be of high degree,

and I of mean estate,

Full hard it is to get thee forth

out of thy Father’s gate


Dread not thy self to save my fame,

and if thou taken be,

My self will step between the Swords,

and take the harm on me:

So shall I scape Dishonour quite,

if so I should be slain,

What could they say? but that true love

did work a Ladies Bane.


ANd not fear any further harm,

my self will so devise,

That I will go away with thee,

unseen of mortal eyes:

Disguised like some pretty Page,

I’le meet thee in the dark,

And all alone I’le come to thee,

hard by my Fathers Park.


And there, quoth he, I’le meet my love,

if God do lend me life,

And this day moneth without all fail,

I will make thee my wife:

Then with a sweet and loving kiss,

they parted presently,

And at their parting brinish tears,

stood in each others eye.


At length the wished day was come,

whereas this lovely Maid,

With lovely eyes and strange attire,

for her true lover staid:

When any person she espy’d,

come riding o’re the plain,

She thought it was her own true love,

but all her hopes were vain.


Then did she weep and sore bewail,

her most unhappy state,

Then did she speak these woful words,

when succourless she sat:

O false forsworn and faithless wretch,

disloyal to thy love,

Hast thou forgot thy promise made,

and wilt thou perjur’d prove?


And hast thou now forsaken me,

in this my great distress,

To end my days in open shame,

which thou might’st well redress?

Wo worth the time I did believe

that flattering tongue of thine,

Would God that I had never seen,

the tears of thy false Eyne.


And thus with many a sorrowful sigh

homewards she went again,

No rest came in her watry Eyes,

she felt such bitter pain.

In travel strong she fell that night,

with many a bitter throw,

What woful pangs she felt that night

doth each good woman know.


She called up her waiting=Maid,

that lay at her Beds=feet,

Who musing at her Mistress woe,

did strait begin to weep:

Weep not, said she, but shut the door,

and windows round about,

Let none bewail my wretched case,

but keep all persons out.


O Mistriss call your Mother dear,

of women you have need,

And of some skilful Mid-wives help,

the better you may speed:

Call not my Mother for thy life,

nor call no women here,

The Mid-wives help comes now too late,

my death I do not fear.


With that the babe sprang in her womb,

no Creature being nigh,

And with a sigh that broke her heart,

this gallant dame did dye:

This living little Infant young,

the mother being dead,

Resign’d his new received breath,

to him that had him made.


Next morning came her Lover true,

affrighted at this news,

And he for sorrow slew himself,

whom each one did accuse:

The mother with the new born Babe,

were both laid in one grave,

Their Parents overcome with woe,

no joy of them could have.


Take heed you dainty damsels all,

of flattering words beware,

And of the honour of your name

have you a special care:

Too true alas this story is,

as many one can tell,

By others harms learn to be wise,

and thou shalt do full well.

Printed for F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright and J. Clarke.

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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: no. XLIX.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Ladies fall'); and Thackeray, 1689 ('Ladys Fall').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1603.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 13

No. of extant copies:11

New tune-titles generated: 'The ladies fall' (14 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Bed-scene with suicidal man on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 35 references, with only very occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 22133).

POINTS: 2 + 20 + 5 + 26 + 11 + 28 + 5 + 4 = 101

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