38  A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk [Roxburghe 3.48-49]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A worthy example of a vertuous wife

Bodies - health/sickness Bodies - nourishment Crime - prison Emotions - despair Emotions - joy Emotions - love Family - children/parents Family - siblings Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity History - ancient/mythological Morality - familial Places - European Politics - court

Song History

This song was highly successful for around two hundred years following its first appearance in the late sixteenth century. In 1723, the editor of A collection of old ballads described it as ‘very popular’, and during the eighteenth century it was also known in America. A highly unusual notebook, kept by a young man on a whaling ship in 1795, contains transcripts of fourteen songs that were presumably sung or recited by the all-male crew, and ‘A virtuous wife’ is one of them. It is hard to imagine how a rugged group of American whalemen, thousands of miles from home and living in cramped conditions, might have interacted with the song about the young woman who breast-fed her father during his own period of distress (see Songs of the Polly).

Although the ballad does not name the key players, this is clearly the ancient Roman tale of Cimon and his daughter Pero, and from the seventeenth onwards it was usually known as ‘Roman charity’. Indeed, most eighteenth-century editions added this description at the front of the ballad’s title. Through the song and other sources (see Related texts), the story was clearly very well known, and it was mentioned briefly but regularly in other forms of early-modern literature (see Lee, Goslicki, Heywood and Caussin). Despite this, A worthy example of a vertuous wife does not seem to have survived strongly into the nineteenth century, nor does it exist as a modern folk song.

The key moment in the story can be quite disturbing to those who are new to it today. One website recently discussed A worthy example, adding ‘a.k.a. Renaissance, you’re so gross!’ The ballad’s unsettling quality can also stimulate heated discussion about the manner in which it represents early-modern patriarchy, something I have often experienced with my own students. Typically, we argue over whether this is a positive representation of a woman who skilfully works the system in order to achieve her goals or, alternatively, the ultimate example of patriarchal oppression.

In favour of the first proposition, we might consider her vigorous energy, her ability to dupe the emperor and his guards, and her previous record in defying her father’s wishes when she married a man of whom he did not approve. And in support of proposition two, we should note that she performs an extreme act of subservience by suckling her own father, implicitly accepting that her duty to an old man trumps all other considerations. In these discussions, perhaps there is some clue to the song’s power to provoke discussion – and sales – in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Arguably, the sexual undertones of the story are still more unsettling. These have been discussed by scholars in relation to the many artworks that depicted the scene during the Renaissance (see Featured woodcut history). Almost universally, the breast-feeding moment was chosen by artists to encapsulate the story, and when the leading ballad-publisher, William Thackeray, listed the songs he held in stock in 1689, he called this one simply, ‘Fed her father’. Understandably, this was the detail that stuck in the mind.

Before we conclude, however, that the salacious nature of this critical moment was the crucial factor in the song’s success, we should perhaps reflect on the possibility that seventeenth-century breasts were not as comprehensively sexualised as their modern counterparts. Breast-milk, for example, was used medicinally in the treatment of sick adults, sometimes merely as an ingredient in mixtures but sometimes taken directly from the breast. The fact that babies could not reliably be fed in any other way presumably meant that nursing mothers were a very common sight (babies were also breast-fed for much longer than is typically the case today). And Marylynn Salmon mentions the example of a cherished clergyman who was said to have died ‘with his breasts full of milk’, a usage that strikes us as highly peculiar. Clearly, the ballad was sufficiently unsettling to stimulate immense interest, but we should perhaps refrain from assuming that modern and early-modern sensations of disturbance overlap precisely.

It is also worth noting that there are some clear differences between the ballad and the related artworks of the period. The many surviving paintings render the woman’s breast clearly visible and centrally significant in a manner that is not fully replicated in either the ballad’s woodcut or its text. Furthermore, the ballad – unlike the art – tells the full story and makes it abundantly plain that the daughter’s response to the crisis is born out of desperation at her father’s emaciated condition. To some extent, this surely reduces the sexual charge that the story carried.

Beyond its capacity to unsettle and incite, the song may also have been successful for other reasons. The words are very well suited to the tune, and there is some spirited writing (‘No I will venture life and limb,/ to doe my father good,/ The worst that is, I can but die,/ to fit a tyrants mood’). Some may have found it invigorating that the song, for all the supposed conservatism of its central message, nevertheless celebrates a woman ‘of mean estate’ who outwits an emperor and persuades her father to accept her choice of husband. The historical setting clearly exerted considerable appeal as well, and purchasers of the sheet could pin on their walls an attractive picture that cost much less than a painting by Rubens.


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

Nicholas Caussin, The holy court in five tomes (1650), p. 113.

English Broadside Ballad Archive: https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/

English Short Title Catalogue.

Wawrzyniec Goslicki, The sage senator delineated (1660), p. 82.

Thomas Heywood, Gynaikeion, or Nine bookes of various history. Concernynge women inscribed by the names of the nine muses (1624), p. 324.

Nathaniel Lee, Caesar Borgia; son of Pope Alexander the sixth: a tragedy (1680), pp. 16-17.

LOL manuscripts: https://lolmanuscripts.blogspot.com/2011/06/worthy-example-of-vertuous-wife-who-fed.html?m=1

Ambrose Philips, A collection of old ballads 2 vols. (1723), vol. 2, pp. 137-44.

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), nos. 779, 1235, 1803 and 3042.

Marylynn Salmon, ‘The cultural significance of breastfeeding and infant care in early-modern England and America’, Journal of social history 28.2 (Winter, 1994), pp. 247-69.

Songs of the Polly, 1795. A garland of songs, ballads and ditties from Stephen Cahoon’s journal aboard the whaleship Polly of Gloucester, Massachusetts, ed. Stuart M. Frank (Sharon, Massachusetts, 2001), pp. 10-13.

Jutta Gisela Sperling, Roman charity. Queer lactations in early-modern visual culture (Bielefeld, Germany, 2016).

William Thackeray, ‘The schedule or catalogue of the books, ballads, &c; being the stock of the antient ballad ware-house’ (1689). Facsimile published in Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, ed. W. G. Day, 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1987), vol. 5, pp. 445-54.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Flying Fame’ (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 endeavored 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 worthy example of a vertuous wife.

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 (A worthy example of a vertuous wife is a prominent example). 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. 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. These included A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and it was not alone in drawing attention to acts of manly heroism. Other songs set confrontation not on the battlefield but within the drama of human relationships, telling stories of ungrateful children, 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, for example, 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 are echoes of A worthy example here). In another group of more serious ballads, the larger-than-life element is supplied by divine intervention or angelic visitation (see The Worlds Wonder and THE DEAD MANS SONG).

And in the last song 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. The line ‘shee must resigne her breath’ appears both in A pleasant History of a Gentleman and, as ‘he must resigne his breath,’ in A worthy example of a vertuous wife. The latter song is exceptionally well-connected, sharing verbal material with A most notable example, The Worlds Wonder, [The Wanton W]ife of Bath and at least three other ballads to the tune. 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. An early and influential example, A most notable example of an ungracious Son begins, ‘In searching famous Chronicles,/ it was my chaunce to read’, and several other ballads adopted a similar opening gambit. A worthy example of a vertuous wife nods towards these examples with its opening lines, 'In Rome I read a Noble Man,/ the Emperor did offend'. 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.


Regular literary references to the tune demonstrate its ubiquity during the seventeenth century, though it is often clear that the 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 celebratory meal for 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.


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: Woman breast-feeding man

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 of the seventeenth-century ballads in the two largest collections.The only title listed below is therefore our featured edition. The woodcut was used so frequently on editions of A worthy example that it must have been a vital component in the song’s long-lived success. More than one woodblock existed, and printers clearly perceived the need to hold their own copies in stock. The deterioration in the quality of the images from individual blocks over the decades suggests the intensity with which these objects were put to work. The fact that it was clearly better to include a badly damaged version of the picture than something different or nothing at all tells us much about audience expectation.

The original and anonymous artist chose to focus on the song’s key revelation that a devoted daughter in ancient Rome had saved the life of her old imprisoned father by breast-feeding him. Clearly, the image was a winner, and it was still being re-issued and re-copied in the eighteenth century, sometimes in back-to-front versions.

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

Songs and summaries

A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk (E. W., 1624-56). 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 (picture placement: the scene appears beneath the title, and there are no other woodcuts).


The woodcut makes an interesting contribution to this musical version of an ancient story (see Song history and Related texts). It shows clearly that the heroic woman has duped the Emperor’s guards and it suggests that her breastmilk has proved exceptionally nutritious. Indeed, the aged prisoner looks so well fed that it is difficult to see how his head can be manoeuvred back through the bars of his cell! The inclusion of a child – not mentioned in the text – is also an intriguing detail, presumably designed to explain to viewers why it is that Pero is able to produce milk for her desperate father.

The image is also notable as a cheap version of the great artworks by Rubens and many others that depicted the same story. Most of these paintings showed the daughter feeding her chained father within his cell but some artists, including Caravaggio and his followers, presented the interaction as occurring through the bars in his window. From c. 1640, children were sometimes added to the scene, as in our woodcut. Mysterious channels of influence evidently motivated the anonymous carvers who devised the ballad’s picture to include both the child and the bars. Taken together, these features can perhaps be taken to reduce somewhat the potential eroticism of the scene.

One of the channels of influence may have left its traces in the auction catalogues that were published in London during the later seventeenth century. These reveal that there was a a market for paintings of the scene normally known as 'Roman charity'. Many of these appear to have been modelled on works by European masters, and they presumably went on display primarily in the homes of wealthy Londoners. By 1738, images of 'Roman charity' were so well known that Ephraim Chambers defined the term as 'a picture of a woman suckling an old man'.

Pictures of this scene go right back to the first century, when Valerius Maximus also recorded the earliest surviving written version of the story (see Related texts). Interestingly, he noted that 'Mens eyes are fix'd, and in an amaze, when they behold this piece of Piety represented in painting'. A mural depicting the daughter's extraordinary act of devotion was also found during excavations at Pompeii, and again it dates from the first century.


Anon, A curious collection of paintings and other curiosities (auction catalogue, 1691), no. 104, p. 2.

Anon, A collection of curious pictures... by the best masters (1690), no. 401, p. 8

Anonymous follower of Caravaggio, Cimon and Pero (seventeenth century), https://www.ruzhnikov.com/russian-european-paintings/follower-caravaggio-cimon-pero-025/

Caravaggio, The seven works of mercy (1607).

Ephraim Chambers, Cyclopaedia (1738), see 'Roman charity' (unpaginated).

Jutta Gisela Sperling, Roman charity. Queer lactations in early-modern visual culture (Bielefeld, Germany, 2016).

Valerius Maximus, Q Valerius Maximus his collections of the memorable acts and sayings of orators (1684), pp. 228-32.

For images of numerous artistic representations of Cimon and Pero, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Charity

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Related Texts

Valerius Maximus, writing in the first century, provides the earliest known version of the story. In fact, he tells two similar tales, both intended as examples of ‘piety towards parents’. In the first, an unnamed noblewoman, starving in prison, is secretly breast-fed by her own daughter every time she visits. When the gaoler realises what has been going on, he informs the authorities. They are so moved by the daughter’s selfless devotion that her mother is pardoned and released. The second story is dealt with far more briefly because of its similarity to the first one but it features Cimon and Pero, father and daughter. She is praised for ‘nourishing him like an Infant, in his decrepit Age, with the Milk of her Breasts’.

A few decades later, Pliny the Elder picked up on the theme but told only the first of Valerius’ stories. Pliny makes certain changes. The imprisoned woman, for example, is no longer noble but ‘poor’, ‘base’ and ‘common’. In order to explain the availability of milk, we are also told that her daughter has recently given birth. And, at the conclusion of the story, both women are awarded pensions during their lifetimes. We are also told that a temple, ‘consecrated to Pietie’, has since been established on the site of the former prison.

The story was apparently well-known in medieval Europe but two examples will have to suffice. The fourteenth-century Bishop of Rochester, Thomas Brinton, drew on Valerius’ first story when seeking an illustration of daughterly devotion (see Shahar). In the same century, Boccaccio included the tale, still in the mother-daughter version, in his De mulieribus claris (‘Of famous women’). The heroic daughter is the only one of Boccaccio’s featured women to go unnamed, despite being restored to the noble status described by Valerius. Boccaccio also drops the rewards given to both women in Pliny’s account, again following Valerius more closely. He does, however, retain Pliny’s remark about the recent birth of a baby to the younger woman.

In the late-medieval period, the single-sex version of the story was preferred but during the early modern centuries attention shifted decisively towards the father and daughter in Valerius’ second story (see Sperling). In 1584, a ballad registered with the London Stationers under the title ‘An example of a vertuous daughter who preserved the lief of hir mother’ was probably a mother-daughter version of the tale but it has not survived and does not appear to have been reprinted. Twelve years later, however, our hit song was registered and the shift to a father-daughter narrative may help to account for its remarkable success.

More broadly, interest in the tale was escalating in the period, especially among artists and their patrons. Sperling argues that this all reflects a crisis in early-modern patriarchy and particularly in father-daughter relations. She also asserts that the story’s ‘queer’ sexual charge indicates a widespread instinct for investigating and challenging conventional boundaries.

It is interesting to compare our ballad with the existing written sources, though it is also very difficult to establish which of these sources the song-writers might have known. At one level, the ballad seems to amalgamate the two stories recorded by Valerius, transferring information from the mother-daughter version into the father-daughter account. Beyond this, certain details that feature in the ballad can be found in Valerius and Boccaccio but not in Pliny (the noble status of the parties, for example). Other details are in Boccaccio and Pliny but not in Valerius (including the reference to the recent birth of a child). Others again are only in Pliny (the official rewards given at the end, for instance). And of course there may well have been other sources – including manuscripts and conversational exchanges - that have not so far been traced.

We can say with some confidence, however, that the ballad-makers had somehow acquired a good knowledge of their chosen subject matter and that their version of the story was the fullest that was available in early-modern England.

They did not, however, restrict themselves to the fairly meagre details that were included in the earlier sources. In general, ballad-makers were used to reducing lengthy prose narratives to single-sheet songs (see, for example, A Pleasant Ballad of Tobias) but here they were in the business of expansion. In some instances, the composers of A worthy example filled out scenes that were implicit but hardly developed in previous accounts. The abject misery of the starving father occupies numerous verses in the ballad, for example, and his helplessness seems to heighten our awareness of his daughter’s spirited and resourceful response to the situation. The daughter’s cunning and knowing attitude to her situation is also greatly enhanced in the ballad. She has the skills to manipulate the men whom she encounters and, in characterising the emperor, she switches effortlessly between ‘tyrant’ and ‘mighty prince’, as occasion dictates.

Most strikingly, the daughter’s status as a wife is considered in an innovative and unprecedented manner. The ballad-makers direct our attention in the title and final verse to her role as a ‘vertuous wife’ rather than an exemplary daughter. A new back-story is developed by occasional references in the intervening verses. She married against her father’s will and, presumably as a consequence, now lives in ‘meane estate’. Upset by these circumstances, she now seeks reconciliation with her father. Through her selfless conduct in feeding him, this is achieved at the conclusion of the song: finally, he accepts her marriage and celebrates ‘the time that she was made,/ a loving wedded wife’. This sub-plot skilfully introduces a tried and tested ballad theme – the capacity of young love to overcome parental objections – into an ancient tale about a father and a daughter, thus maximising the song’s appeal.

One further source deserves mention. In 1772, Arthur Murphy took his inspiration directly from Valerius when he wrote a successful play, The Grecian daughter. He did not mention the ballad as one of his sources, nor does his text suggest that he drew upon it, but one wonders whether his choice of subject matter reflected an awareness of the song’s long-lasting success.

Texts (in chronological order)

Valerius Maximus, Memorable doings and sayings (14-37 CE). See Q Valerius Maximus his collections of the memorable acts and sayings of orators (1684), pp. 228-32.

Pliny the Elder, Natural history (77 CE). See Pliny the Elder, A summarie of the antiquities, and wonders of the worlde (1566), C3v-4r, The secrets and wonders of the worlde (1585), C4r-v, and  The history of the world: commonly called the naturall historie (1634), p. 174.

Giovanni Boccaccio, De mulieribus claris (1361-62). See Boccaccio, Famous women, translated by Virginia Brown (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2003), no. 65, pp. 133-34.

‘An example of a vertuous daughter who preserved the lief of hir mother’ (lost ballad, registered in 1584: see Rollins, below).

A worthy example of a vertuous wife... To the tune of Flying Fame (registered, 1596).

Arthur Murphy, The Grecian daughter: a tragedy (1772).


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. 779.

Shulamith Shahar, Growing old in the Middle Ages (Abingdon, 1997), p. 91.

Jutta Gisela Sperling, Roman charity. Queer lactations in early-modern visual culture (Bielefeld, Germany, 2016).

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A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk,/ being condemned to be famished to death, and after was pardoned by the Emperor.

To the tune of Flying Fame.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IN Rome I read a Noble Man,

the Emperor did offend,

And for that fact he was adjudg’d

unto a cruel end:

That he should be in prison cast,

with irons many a one,

And there be famisht unto death,

and brought to skin and bone.


And more, if any one were knowne,

by night or yet by day,

To bring him any kind of food,

his hunger to allay:

The Emperour swore a mighty Oath,

without remorse( quoth he)

Thou shalt sustaine the cruellest death

that may devised be.


This cruel sentence once pronounc’d,

the Noble man was cast,

Into a dungeon darke and deepe,

with irons fettered fast:

Where when he had with hunger great,

remained ten daies space,

And neither tasted bread nor drink,

in this most wofull case.


The teares along his aged face,

most plentiously did fall,

And grievously he did begin

for to complain withal:

O Lord, quoth he, what shall I doe,

so hungry Lord am I,

For want of bread, one bit of bread,

I famish starve and dye.


How precious were one corne of wheat,

unto my hungry soule,

One crust, one crum, one little peece,

my hunger to controle:

Had I this dungeon heap’d with Gold,

I would forgoe it all,

To buy and purchase one browne loafe,

yea were it nere so small.


O that I had but every day,

one bit of bread to eate,

Though nere so mouldy black or browne,

my comfort would be great:

Yea, albeit I tooke it up,

trod down in dirt and mire,

It would be pleasing to my taste,

and sweet to my desire.


Good Lord how happy is the Hinde,

that labours all the day,

The drudging slave, the peasant poor,

which at commandement stay:

These have their ordinary meales,

they take no heed at all

Of those sweet crums and crusts, that they

so carelessly let fall.


How happy is the little chick,

that without feare may goe,

And pick up those most precious crums,

which they away doe throw.

O that some pretty little mouse,

so much my friend would be,

To bring some old forsaken crust,

into this place to me.


But oh my heart I wish in vaine,

no succour I can have,

No meat, no drink, no water eke,

my loathed life to save.

O bring some bread for Christ his sake,

some bread, some bread to me,

I die , I die, for lack of bread,

nought but stone walls I see.


Thus day and night he cryed out,

in most outragious sort,

That all the country farre and neere,

were griev’d at his report.

And though that many friends he had,

and daughters in the towne,

Yet none durst come to succour him,

fearing the Emperours frowne.


The second part, To the same tune.


YEt now behold one daughter deare,

he had as I doe find,

Which liv’d in his displeasure great,

for matching ‘gainst his mind:

Although she liv’d in meane estate,

she was a vertuous wife,

And for to helpe her father deare

shee ventured thus her life.


She quickly to her sisters ran,

and did of them intreat,

That by some secret meanes they would

convey their Father meat.

Our father deare doth starve, she said,

the Emperours wrath is such,

He dies alas for want of food,

whereof we have too much.


Sweet sisters therefore use some meanes,

his life for to preserve,

And suffer not your father deare,

in prison for to starve:

Alas quoth they, what shall we doe,

his hunger to sustaine?

You know tis death to any one,

that would his life maintaine.


And though we wish him well, quoth they

we never will agree,

To spoile our selves, we had as leefe

that he should die, as wee.

And sister, if you love your selfe,

let this attempt alone,

Though you do nere so secret worke,

at length it will be knowne.


O hath our Father brought us up,

and nourisht us, quoth she,

And shall we now forsake him quite,

in his extremity?

No, I will venture life and limb,

to doe my father good,

The worst that is I can but die

to fit a tyrants mood.


With that away she hies in haste,

and to the Jayle she goes,

But with her wofull Father deare,

she might not speak God knowes,

Except the Emperor would grant

his favour in that case:

The Keeper would admit no wight

to enter in that place.


Then she unto the Emperor hyes,

and falling on her knee,

With wringing hands and bitter teares,

these words pronounced she:

My hopelesse Father, gratious Lord,

offending of your Grace,

Is judg’d unto a pining death,

within a wofull place.


Which I confesse he hath deserv’d,

yet mighty Prince, quoth she,

Vouchsafe in gracious sort, to grant

one simple boone to me:

It chanced so, I matcht my selfe,

against my fathers mind,

Whereby I did procure his wrath,

as fortune false assignd.


And seeing now the time is come,

he must resigne his breath,

Vouchsafe that I may speake with him,

before his houre of death:

And reconcile my selfe to him,

his favour to attaine,

That when he dies I may not then,

under his curse remaine.


The Emperor granted her request,

conditionally that she,

Each time she to her father came,

should throughly searched be.

No bread no meat with her she brought

to helpe him there distrest,

But every day she nourisht him,

with her most tender brest.


Thus by her milke he was preserv’d,

a twelve month and a day,

And was most faire and fat to see,

yet no man knew which way:

The Emperor musing much thereat,

at length did understand,

How he was fed, and yet his law

not broke at any hand.


And much admiring at the same,

and her great vertue showne,

He pardon’d him, and honor’d her,

with great preferments knowne.

Her Father ever after that,

did love her as his life,

And blest the time that she was made,

a loving wedded wife.


London Printed for E. W.

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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 Rome I read a nobleman' from first line); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Fed her Father').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1596.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 10

No. of extant copies: 8

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Woman breast-feeding man on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 33 references, with very occasional evidence of later use as a folk-song (Roud no. 27535).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 20 + 8 + 0 + 5 + 3 = 71

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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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