107  A good Wife, or none [Roxburghe 1.140-41]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A good Wife, or none

Bodies - looks/physique Emotions - anger Environment - animals Environment - birds Environment - flowers/trees Environment - skies/stars Gender - Cupid Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Morality - romantic/sexual Religion - ancient gods

Song History

A good Wife, or none appears to have been popular between the 1620s and the 1680s, after which its success evidently faded. A shortened version was also published in the well-known song collection, Wit and drollery (1661).

Many courtship ballads were issued in this period. A good Wife, or none perhaps stood out principally because of the complexities and contradictions of the central character. As a jilted lover, he is pulled in different directions by his disturbingly possessive jealousy, the memory of his love for his former sweetheart, his defiant urge to espouse celibacy, and his counter-instinct to find a more loving lover for the future.

He is drawn to the sort of natural imagery that is often deployed positively in ballads but unfortunately his glow-worm, moon, flower and turtle-dove (usually shortened confusingly to ‘turtle’) are all found wanting as symbols of love. The ‘willow-garland’ is more conventionally called upon to signify romantic dejection (see Westmacott), though the man’s determination to avoid wearing one is more optimistic. With comparable ambiguity, he mentions the classical character, Cressida, as a potential source of inspiration in his recovery but many readers and listeners already knew that she was especially famous for her romantic inconstancy (Cressida was a Trojan woman who promised herself to Troilus but later proved receptive to the Greek soldier, Diomedes).

Several of the ballads featured on this website represent male lovers as almost irredeemably insecure and morose. They are held in the thrall of the young women whom they adore, and each maiden has the power either to reassure or reject her suitor (see A sweet Sonnet, The wofull complaint, and lamentable death of a forsaken Lover and The dying tears of a true Lover forsaken). In the current song, the man who declares ‘A good wife, or none’ is made of somewhat sterner stuff. He is troubled and bruised but he is determined to respond to his dilemma in a manner that improves his lot. The likelihood that the ballad-makers were purposefully distancing themselves from other songs is suggested by the lines, ‘Ile not consume nor pine away,/ as other lovers doe’.

In this sense, the individual in the song is a rather more positive role-model than many other male lovers, a characteristic that may have endeared him to a substantial portion of the potential audience. He also dramatizes an emotional process – love, loss and recovery – that was thoroughly familiar to most men and women during their romantic careers (the diary of Roger Lowe is a fine example of the turmoil experienced by one apprentice during the 1660s). The character in the ballad may therefore have appealed because he somehow expressed confusion and confidence simultaneously, hereby forging a connection with all who hoped to move on following romantic rejection (see also Performance).

He may have appealed particularly to men, though of course we cannot be sure of this. Hit ballads about troubled male love often presented two songs, side by side, the second of which allowed the woman a right of reply (see, for example, A sweet Sonnet and Love and Honour). It is striking that there is no such device here, meaning that the male singer – and behind him the presumably male author – are solely responsible for representing the woman (see also Related texts). She does not benefit from this arrangement.

The distinctiveness of the man’s perspective was balanced by his use of expressions and examples that were already well-known. The ballad thus presented potential buyers with exactly the mixture of the familiar and the surprising that they seem to have found appealing. The expression, ‘to lie alone’ was very commonly used in the period, and it carried both positive and negative potential (see The Maids Chastity and The merry mans resolution). ‘A good Wife, or none’ is less frequently encountered in the surviving sources, though there is at least one hint that its use preceded the ballad. In a model ‘letter of advice to a friend that was to be married’, published in a collection by M. R. in 1615, the author signs off by ‘wishing thee either a good wife or none’ (of course, it is also possible that the writer was quoting the ballad from an early edition that is now lost).

Christopher Marsh


Anon, The Maids Chastity (1650).

Anon, The merry mans resolution (1655)

Anon, Wit and drollery, jovial poems (1661), pp. 24-25.

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

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Roger Lowe, The diary of Roger Lowe of Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire 1663-74, ed. William L. Sachse (1938).

M. R., A president for young pen-men (1615), G3r-v.

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. 207 and 964.

Union first line index of English verse: https://firstlines.folger.edu/

William Westmacott, Historia vegetabilium sacra, or, A Scripture herbal (1695), p. 223.

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Featured Tune History

‘To a pleasant new tune’ (standard name: The blazing torch)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its career, paying particular attention to the ‘echoes’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was nominated for the singing of more than one ballad. In the list presented in the ‘Songs and Summaries’ section below, we have endeavoured to include as many of the black-letter ballads that used the tune as possible, under any of its variant names. Titles from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type (these are also in colour when there is a link to the relevant ballad page on the website). It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).  In most cases, we list the earliest surviving edition of a ballad, though in many instances there may have been earlier versions, now lost.

Versions and variations

The tune to which this ballad was sung has not previously been identified, and Simpson’s mightily impressive book makes no reference to either the song or the melody. The tune title, however, clearly derives from the first line of A good Wife, or none – ‘The blazing Torch is soone burnt out’ – and a melody entitled ‘The Blazing Torch’ can be found in Anne Cromwell’s virginal book (1638). This version includes one or two moments of instrumental elaboration but the core melody is readily identifiable and we have therefore based our recording upon it. Other written versions of the tune have not so far been found, nor is it known to have travelled under alternative names.

Echoes (an overview)

This tune appears to have originated with this hit song in the 1620s. A good Wife, or none was a ballad in the ‘troubled courtship’ category, a theme that was picked up by the composers of The two Welsh Lovers and A Batchelers Resolution, both issued within the next few years. All three songs deal with the difficulties of forming successful and fulfilling romantic relationships, and particular attention is paid to the alleged inconstancy of women (though spineless men were also under scrutiny).

The most interesting deployment of the melody came, however, with the slightly later ballad, The Angel Gabriell, his Salutation to the blessed Virgin MARY. This is a carol about the nativity but it surely makes playful use of the tune’s associations with female inconstancy by highlighting the Angel’s Gabriel visit to Mary and also Joseph’s suspicions about his wife’s unexpected pregnancy. This suggests that the song should be understood within the medieval tradition of mystery plays and Christmas carols which habitually mixed the sacred and the profane to create educational entertainment.

The ballads are also connected by several textual cross-references, though these are not particularly numerous. The refrain from A good Wife, or none – ‘I had rather lie alone’ – is, for example, inverted in A Batchelers Resolution to become ‘Ile lye alone no longer’. This juxaposes a young man who has almost given up on love with another who is keen to marry but frightened of wedding an unreliable woman. A relationship between these two songs is also suggested by the following lines: ‘This single life breeds golden ease,/ no jealous thoughts offend’ (A good Wife) and ‘So many sinnes are incident/ unto a single life’ (A Batchelers Resolution). The second of these ballads also shares with The two Welsh Lovers references to male foreheads that ‘ake’ because the horns of the cuckold are beginning to sprout. ‘Ake’ is rhymed with ‘take’ in both cases, and elsewhere the two ballads also rhyme ‘wed’ and ‘sped’. Intriguingly, the first verse of A good Wife was actually lifted, almost word for work, from a slightly earlier ballad, The Faythfull Lovers, which was set to a different tune (see Related texts).

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

Songs and Summaries

A good Wife, or none. To a pleasant new Tune (registered 1624; Francis Coules, 1626-44).  Roxburghe 1.140-41; EBBA 30086.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, Cupid; Emotions – anger; Morality – sexual; Environment – animals, birds, flowers/trees.  A man, let down by an inconstant sweetheart, resolves to make do without women in the future unless he can find a more reliable one.

The two Welsh Lovers... To the tune of the Blazing Torch (imprint cropped: Joh[n ???], 1624-47). Pepys 1.270-71; EBBA 20125. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, adultery/cuckoldry, marriage; Environment – landscape, rivers, flowers/trees; Places – Welsh, nationalities; Recreation - music. A Welsh woman regrets her marriage and resolves to resume her relationship with a former sweetheart.

A Batchelers Resolution... To the tune of, The Blazing Torch (imprint missing, c 1629). Pepys 1.232-33; EBBA 20105. Gender – courtship, marriage, femininity, masculinity; Humour – domestic/familial; Economy – money; Bodies – looks/physique; Society – old/young.  A man resolves to be a bachelor no longer but hopes that the woman he chooses will not be a slut, a scold or a drunken sot.

The Angel Gabriell, his Salutation to the blessed Virgin MARY... To the tune of, The Blazing Torch (registered 1639; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63; published with A godly new Ballad, Intituled, A dozen of Points). Euing 126; EBBA 32613. Religion – angels/devils, Bible, Christ/God, divine intervention; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Emotions – confusion, joy; Places – travel/transport;  This tells the story of Christ’s nativity, concentrating on the manner in which Mary and Joseph absorb the ‘wondrous strange’ news that she is pregnant by the holy spirit.


‘The blazing torch’ was also chosen for a misogynistic song that appears in the manuscript records of a Star Chamber case from 1624. A wealthy widow, Anne Ellesden, had allegedly been drugged and forced to participate in a marriage ceremony. Her tormentors also wrote a ballad, ‘Keep the widdow wakeing’, which they sung beneath her window in order to humiliate her, and they drew cruelly on the associations of the tune in the process.

The melody’s courtship resonances worked more benevolently when it was nominated, several decades later, for a celebratory song about the historical union of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth Plantagenet at the end of the Wars of the Roses (see Cupids garland set round with gilded roses, 1674). Much later again, it is also worth noting that the carol, The Angel Gabriell (see above) was still sung in the nineteenth century to a tune that is recognisably a version of the Jacobean original (see Sandys and Marsh, below).

Christopher Marsh


Anne Cromwell’s virginal book 1638, ed. Howard Ferguson (Oxford, 1974), no. 38.

Cupids garland set round with gilded roses (1674), A3v-A4r.

Christopher Marsh, ‘ “The blazing torch”: New light on English balladry as a multi-media matrix’, The Seventeenth Century 30.1 (2015), pp. 95-116.

National Archives, STAC 8/31/16 (plaintiff Anne Ellesden). See also C. J. Sisson, Lost plays of Shakespeare’s age (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 124-27.

William Sandys, Christmas carols ancient and modern (1833), no. 4.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Akimbo man with plumed hat

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 was used very frequently on ballads, particularly in the first half of the seventeenth century. Several different woodblocks were in existence, producing subtle variations in the printed pictures. Printers clearly understood the value of having their own copies of the block in stock. The image fell out of use by the later decades of the century, and editions of A good wife no longer carried it. On our featured edition, the picture is used in skilful alliance with others to illustrate the romantic break-up that is described in the text: on the left, the lovers are boxed together in loving union, but, on the right, they appear separately and, within the context of the song, both look disgruntled.

Indeed, the man’s body-language, with his feet widely spaced and his hand on his hip, had associations that were both manly and combative for seventeenth-century viewers, and many of his other appearances drew upon this essential characteristic. Most frequently, he is a self-confident and admirable lover, well-equipped to overcome the reluctance or resistance of any woman who does not see his charms immediately (see, for example, The Northampton-shire Lover). In some cases, he must fight hard against resistant relatives in order to win the hand of the woman he loves (see Hockley in the hole). More occasionally, his confidence is misused or misplaced, and he either breaks hearts or finds that he has been tricked by lewd women (see A Caueat or Warning).

Where he is a victim, his appearance seems to speak of a forthright resilience that connects with other ballads in which he represents men who advise others to avoid marriage at all costs. The bold physical stance also allows him to appear from time to time on ballads about heroic voyagers or hard-drinking ‘good fellows’.

In short, his ballad career seems to involve a continuous interplay between various sorts of manly defiance. In A Wench for a Weaver, for example, he plays the part of a man who stands up for his trade against its critics, and he seems set to overcome the romantic resistance of the woman he loves in the process. In contrast, one ballad presents him as a husband whose wife complains that he is not the man she thought he was; here, the woodcut enables us to share with this disappointed woman an awareness of the unreliability of superficial appearances (see A Penny-worth of good Counsell).

Songs and summaries

The Lovers Guift, Or a Fairing for Maides (John Trundle, 1597-1626).  Pepys 1.250-1; EBBA 20115.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love.  A wholesome courtship dialogue between Edmund and Prisilly (picture placement: he appears over the opening verses, next to Queen Elizabeth).

The Constant Lover.  Who his affection will not move, Though he live not where he love (Henry Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.68-69; EBBA 30047.  Gender – courtship, masculinity; Emotions – love, frustration; History – ancient/mythological, romance; Religion – ancient gods.  A man declares his undying devotion for a woman who lives some distance away (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, next to Queen Elizabeth).

The Maidens complaint of her Loves inconstancie (H. G., 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.248-49; EBBA 30172.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity, Cupid; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, anger, despair; Bodies – health/sickness, physique/looks; Recreation – music.  A woman, deserted by a manipulative lover, laments her sad state and criticises the ways of ‘false men’ (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the left of Queen Elizabeth).

A pleasant Ditty, of a Maydens Vow, That faine would Marry, and yet knew not how (H. G., 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.280-81; EBBA 30198.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Bodies – physique/looks; Emotions – longing, sorrow.  A maiden delays too long in agreeing to marry a man, and by the time she makes up her mind, he has changed his (picture placement: he stands over the final column of text, next to a woman with a fan).

The praise of Nothing (H. Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.328-29; EBBA 30224.  Gender – courtship; Morality – general; Death – general; Religion – Christ/God, sin/repentance; Society – criticism, rich/poor.  A wide-ranging meditation on nothing, emphasising in particular the intransigence of all that is worldly (picture placement: he stands beneath the title, alongside a Woman in charge).

A Caueat or Warning.  For all sortes of Men both young and olde, to auoid the Company of lewd and wicked Woemen (H. G., 1601-40).  Pepys 1.46-47; EBBA 20217.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, sex; Emotions – anger; Morality – romantic/sexual; Recreation – fairs/festivals, alcohol; Crime – prison;  Places – English. A man describes his economic downfall at the hands of a woman whose love for him lasted no longer than the money that he spent on her, and he warns others to take heed (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses, to the left of an aristocratic woman).

A merry Ballad of a rich Maid that had 18. seuerall Suitors of severall Countries (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.248-249; EBBA 20114. Gender – courtship, masculinity; Humour – mockery; Places – English, Scottish, European. A woman lists a string of suitors from many countries, describing their faults and asking listeners to help her choose between them (picture placement: he and a Turning man in hat stand with a soldier alongside an aristocratic lady).

A very pleasant new Ditty (H. Gosson, 1601-40).  Pepys 1.282-3; EBBA 20131.  Recreation – alchohol, good fellowship; Society – criticism; Employment – general; Gender – masculinity; Humour – general.  A ballad commending the honest drunkard over hypocrites of all sorts (picture placement: he stands alone over the second half of the ballad).

The Northampton-shire Lover (H. Gosson, 1601-40).  Pepys 1.324-5; EBBA 20155. Gender – courtship; Family – children and parents; Places - English.  A man woos a woman who is initially suspicious and hostile but eventually agrees to marry (picture placement: he stands over the opening lines, next to an aristocratic woman).

The Cheating Age (E. A. for John Wright, 1602-40).  Pepys 1.158-9; EBBA 20069. Recreation – alcohol, games; Society – urban life; Gender – masculinity; Places – English.  A man from Lincoln journeys to London and is tricked out of all his wealth by disreputable and deceitful company (picture placement: he stands on the right of the sheet, next to a Carousing man with goblet and jug).

An Excellent Sonnet: OR, The Swaines complaint, whose cruell doome, It was to love hee knew not whom (J. Wright, 1602-46).  Roxburghe 1.110-11; EBBA 30072.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, singles; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery, satire; Emotions – confusion. A young man is deeply in love but cannot identify the object of his affections, and he asks us not to laugh at him in his predicament (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, next to a Couple with leafty fan).

Frauncis new Iigge, betweene Frauncis a Gentleman, and Richard a Farmer (I. W., 1602-46).  Pepys 1.226-227; EBBA 20102.  Gender – adultery, marriage, sex; Humour – deceit/disguise; Society – neighbours.  A married gentleman attempts to seduce a farmer’s wife but is tricked into a humiliating apology (picture placement: he stands alongside a woman holding a bouquet)

Pitties Lamentation for the cruelty of this age (I. W., 1602-46).  Pepys 1.162-163; EBBA 20071. Society – criticism; Crime – general; Emotions – sorrow; History – nostalgia; Employment – general; Religion - morality.  A general lament concerning the ills of the age (picture placement: he stands next to a woman holding a bouquet).

Roome for Companie, heere comes Good Fellowes (E. W., 1611-14?). Pepys 1.168-169; EBBA 20074.  Society – general, urban life; Employment – general; Places – English; Recreation – fairs/festivals. A song celebrating the great gathering of humanity at London’s Bartholomew Fair (picture placement: he appears alongside a city-scape and two versions of a Turning man in hat).

The Lovers Lamentation to his love Nanny (E. W., 1611-56).  Pepys 1.332-3; EBBA 20159.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; Recreation – music.  Three songs on one sheet, all concerning love and the sad partings between a maiden called Nanny and her lover (picture placement: he stands over the second song, in between a Turning man in hat and a woman holding a leafy fan).

A pleasant new Court Song, Betweene a young Courtier, and a Countrey Lasse (Edward Wright, 1611-56).  Pepys 1.300-1; EBBA 20141.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; Nature – flowers and trees, birdsong.  A young man overhears and falls in love with one or possibly two maidens (picture placement: he stands alongside a woman holding a bouquet).

Hockley in the hole (T. L., 1614-46).  Pepys 1.294-5; EBBA 20138.  Emotions – love; Family – children and parents; Gender – courtship; Places – English; Society – old and young; Death – suicide.  A worthy scholar from Essex has to work hard to rescue his sweetheart from her her nasty money-lending father (picture placement: he stands next to a woman holding a bouquet).

A merry new Song of a rich Widdowes wooing (T. Langley, 1614-46).  Pepys 1.284-5; EBBA 20133. Gender – courtship, sex; Humour – bawdry; Society – old and young.  A lusty man woos and weds an old widow but the excitement kills her within two months (picture placement: he stands over part 1, and a woman illustrates part 2).

A Quip for a scornfull Lasse. Or, Three slips for a Tester (F. Grove, 1623-62).  Pepys 1.234-235; EBBA 20107.  Gender – courtship; Family – children and parents; Emotions – anger.  A man explains his annoyance at a disdainful woman and plans to stop wooing her (picture placement: he stands on the left of the sheet, next to a woman holding a bouquet, and a very similar arrangement, with slightly different woodcuts, is presented on the right).

An excellent new Medley, Which you may admire at (without offence) For euery line speakes a contrary sences [sic] (H. G., 1624-40).  Roxburghe 1.13 and 1.112; EBBA 30589. Society – criticism, friendship, rich/poor; Humour – misunderstanding; Employment - trades/crafts, professions; Morality – general; History – recent, medieval; Religion – charity, Protestant nonconformity.  A string of pithy and somewhat perplexing observations, united perhaps by a general tone of social criticism (picture placement: he appears over the opening verse, next to a man in black clothing).

The Married-womans Case (H. G., 1624-40).  Pepys 1.410-11; EBBA 20193.  Gender – marriage, masculinity.  A married woman warns maids to avoid hasty marriage because there are a lot of bad men out there (picture placement: he appears alongside a woman holding a bouquet).

The Cooper of Norfolke (no imprint, 1624-47?).  PB 1.400-1; EBBA 20188. Gender – adultery, marriage, maculinity, sex; Humour – bawdry, deceit/disguise, domestic/familial; Employment – crafts/trades; Emotions – anger; Places – English. One man cuckolds another and then agrees to pay him compensation (picture placement: he stands in between another man with hand on hip and a well-dressed woman).

Choice of Inuentions, Or Seuerall sorts of the figure of three (F. Coles, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.32-33; EBBA 30028.  Gender – courtship, marriage, sex; Humour – bawdry, verbal, domestic/familial; Recreation – music, alcohol, dance Employment – crafts/trades, professions, sailor/soldiers; Environment – animals, birds. A set of jests and short tales, all featuring the number three (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, alongside a woman holding a leafy fan).

John Hadlands advice: Or a warning for all young men that have meanes, advising them to for-sake lewd company Cards, Dice, and Queanes (Francis Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.522-23; EBBA 30349. Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship, fashions, games/sport, hospitality; Economy – money; Emotions – sorrow; Society – friendship; Bodies – clothing; Employment – female; Morality – general.  A once wealthy man regrets having wasted all his money on alcohol, games and women, and he advises others to avoid the same fate (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the right of a Carousing man with goblet and jug).

The Lovers delight: OR, A pleasant Pastorall Sonnet (Francis Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.198-99; EBBA 30137. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Environment – flowers/trees; Bodies – physique/looks; Recreation – music, games/sports; Emotions – longing; Employment – agrarian; History – ancient/mythological, romance; Religion – ancient gods.  An assortment of shepherds and nymphs gather in the idyllic countryside so that Phillis can choose her favourite young man under the guidance of ‘the faire Queene of chastity’ (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the left of Queen Elizabeth).

The paire of Northerne Turtles: Whose love was firme till cruell Death, Depriv'd them both of life and breath (F. Coules, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 1.318-19; EBBA 30219.  Death – illness, heartbreak; Emotions – love, sorrow, grief; Nature – birds; Bodies – health/sickness; Gender – marriage. In the first part, a dying woman bids a sad farewell to the man she loves, and, in the second, her grieving partner pours out his heart and expresses his wish to join her beyond the grave (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the right of Queen Elizabeth).

Every Mans condition.  Or euery Man has his seuerall opinion, Which they doe affect as the Welchman his Onion (Fr. Coules, 1624-80).  Pepys 1.220-21; EBBA 20100.  Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Places – nationalities; Recreation – alcohol, music; Religion – Catholic/Protestant; Crime – robbery.  A survey of the material preferences of all manner of men (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses, next to another well-dressed man).

A Wench for a Weauer (F. Coules, 1624-80).  Pepys 1.252-3; EBBA 20116.  Gender – courtship; Employment – crafts/trades; History – nostalgia.  A courtship dialogue in which a weaver defends his craft against criticism and, in the process, earns the love of a maid (picture placement: he stands on the right of the sheet, next to a woman holding a bouquet, and a very similar arrangement, with slightly different woodcuts, is presented on the left).

The loving Virgins Complaint (Fr. Coules, 1624-80).  Pepys 1.328-9; EBBA 20157. Gender – courtship, masculinity; Emotions – love, sorrow.  A young woman is deeply depressed because the man she loves is painfully shy (picture placement: he stands next to a woman with a bouquet).

A good Wife, or none (Francis Coules, 1626-44).  Roxburghe 1.140-41; EBBA 30086.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, Cupid; Emotions – anger; Morality – sexual; Environment – animals, birds, flowers/trees. A man, let down by an inconstant sweetheart, resolves to make do without women in the future unless he can find a more reliable one (picture placement: he appears in between Queen Elizabeth and a Couple with leafy fan).

Loves up to the elbowes (H. G., 1629-40). Pepys 1.306-307; EBBA 20145. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; Society – rural life.  A man explains that he is trying not to fall too deeply in love with a beautiful woman (picture placement: he appears on the right of the sheet, next to a woman with a bouquet, and similar poses are struck by the couple who appear on the left).

The Essex man coozened by a Whore (H. Gosson, c. 1631).  Pepys 1.290-1; EBBA 20136.  Gender – courtship, marriage; Places – English; Society – rural life, urban life.  An honest man travels to London and is tricked into marriage by a disreputable woman (picture placement: he stands over the opening lines and next to Queen Elizabeth).

The witty Westerne Lasse (F Coles, c. 1631). Pepys 1.304-5; EBBA 20144.  Gender – courtship.  A pregnant woman is deserted by her sweetheart and resolves to trick another man into marriage (picture placement: he stands with an aristocratic woman over the second part of the song, in which the witty lass is looking for a man to dupe).

The Honest Wooer, His minde expressing in plaine and few termes, By which to his Mistresse his love he confirmes (F. C.,  c. 1632).  Roxburghe 1.156-57; EBBA 30098.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; History – ancient/mythological, romance. A plain-talking man declares his love for a woman, and she reciprocates (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, next to Queen Elizabeth). 

A wonder beyond mans expectation (H. Gosson, c. 1632).  Pepys 1.74-5; EBBA 20271. Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; Nature – animals; Bodies – nourishment, clothing; Religion – divine intervention; News – sensational; Emotions – fear, wonder; Places – beyond Europe, travel; Gender – marriage. The tale of eight men who survived being stranded in Greenland and successfully found their way back to England (he stands in between a stormy seascape and a single ship).

A peerelesse Paragon, OR, Few so chast, so beautious or so faire, for with my love I think none can compare (Thomas Lambert, c. 1633).  Roxburghe 1.314-15; EBBA 30216.  Bodies – looks/physique; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, satire, mockery; Gender – courtship; History – ancient/mythological; Emotions – love.  A man declares that his sweetheart is the most beautiful woman who ever lived, but when he begins to describe her in detail we realise that all is not as it seems (picture placement: he stands over the opening lines, next to a woman in an farthingale skirt who holds a leafy fan).

Robin and Kate: or, A bad husband converted by a good wife, in a dialogue betweene Robin and Kate (Thomas Lambert, c. 1634). Roxburghe 1.354-55; EBBA 30241. Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity; Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – frustration, love; Morality – familial. Kate works hard to persuade her husband Robin that he should spend less time at the alehouse, and he only sees sense when she insists that she has no wish to take command within the marriage (picture placement: he stands on the right side of the sheet, next to a woman with a leafy fan)

Constant, faire, and fine Betty. Being The Young-mans praise, of a curious Creature (John Wright the younger, 1634-58). Roxburghe 1.66-67; EBBA 30046.  Gender – courtship, femininity; Bodies – physique/looks; Emotions – love; History – ancient/mythological; Religion – ancient gods. A man sings the praises of his beautiful and loyal sweetheart, and she responds by declaring her wish to marry him (picture placement: he stands beneath the title and alongside an aristocratic woman).

Cupids wanton wiles: OR, The young mans friendly advice, beware lest Cupid you entice (John Wright the yonger, 1634-58). Roxburghe 3.172-73; EBBA 30472.  Gender – Cupid, courtship; History – ancient/mythological. The narrator describes Cupid’s immense power over the human heart and expresses his own determination to avoid marriage at all costs (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, alongside a Woman in charge).

The fetching home of May: OR, A pretty new Ditty wherein is made knowne, How each Lasse doth strive for to have a greene Gowne (J. Wright junior, 1634-58).  Roxburghe 1.538-39; EBBA 30357.  Recreation – fairs/festivals, games/sports; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, sex, Cupid; Nature – flowers/trees; History – ancient/mythological; Emotions – longing. An exuberant courtship ballad in which the fetching home of May is strongly associated with youthful love-making (picture placement: he stands on the left side of the sheet, alongside Queen Elizabeth).

A pleasant new Ditty: intituled, Though rich golden Booties your luck was to catch, Your last was the best, 'cause you met with your match (J. Wright junior, 1634-58).  Roxburghe 1.508-09; EBBA 30342.  Gender – courtship, marriage, masculinity; Humour – domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises, bawdry; Bodies – physique/looks, health/sickness; Death – old age, illness; Disability – physical; Society – old/young; Economy – money; Recreation – food. A greedy bachelor marries three old widows in succession, inheriting all their wealth, but is then undone by his fourth wife, a teenager, who ends up inheriting everything (picture placement: he stands beneath the title, to the left of Queen Elizabeth and a woman with a fan).

The Lovers Joy and Griefe: OR A young mans relation In a pitifull fashion, Being from his Love hindred By Locks, Bolts, and Kindred (Tho: Lambert, c. 1636).  Roxburghe 1.194-95; EBBA 30135.  Gender – courtship, Cupid, masculinity; Emotions – love, anger, longing, hope; Family – kin; History – ancient/mythological, romance; Morality – familial; Bodies – looks/physique; Religion – ancient Gods.  A man voices his devotion to a wealthier woman who has been locked up by her kinsfolk in order to prevent them from being together (picture placement: he stands on the right side of the sheet, next to a woman with a leafy fan).

The Batchelor's feast, OR, The difference betwixt, a single life and a double (I. W. the younger, c. 1636).  Roxburghe 1.12-17; EBBA 30015.  Gender – singles, masculinity, femininity, marriage; Emotions – contentment; Family – pregnancy/childbirth, children/parents; Bodies – clothing; Recreation – alcohol, fashions, good fellowship. A bachelor explains why a single life is preferable in all ways to marriage (picture placement: he stands beneath the title and alongside a Woman in charge).

A Penny-worth of good Counsell. To Widdowes, and to Maides (no imprint, c. 1638).  Roxburghe 1.312-13; EBBA 30215. Gender – courtship, marriage, masculinity; Emotions – frustration; Bodies – clothing, nourishment, physique/looks; Recreation – walking, music, games/sports, dance, food, alcohol, theatre;  Environment – birds, seasons. A woman complains that the handsome, vibrant man she thought she was marrying has turned into a thoroughly unpleasant and useless husband who ‘hath no fore-cast in him’ (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the right of Queen Elizabeth).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

This song clearly drew inspiration from a slightly earlier ballad entitled The faythfull Lovers resolution (c. 1618). In the first part, a man sings sadly of romantic betrayal and resolves upon celibacy in the future. In the second part, headed ‘The coy Maydens answere’, his former sweetheart rejects all his accusations and urges him to get on with his life, just as she intends to do. Throughout the two songs, the one-line refrain runs, ‘Ile rather lye alone’ (with variations). It seems that this feature was appropriated by the authors of A good Wife, or none.

Closer attention reveals that the first verse of our hit ballad was also lifted, almost word for word, from The faithfull Lovers resolution, in which it actually forms the fourth verse. There are other points of contact too – Cupid, burning tapers, diamonds and turtle doves – and overall it is clear that the authors of A good Wife, or none mined the existing ballad for its strongest features while building a ‘new’ song that appears to have been rather more successful than its precursor. Key changes included the introduction of ‘a pleasant new Tune’ and the replacement of the female response by six additional verses from the man’s perspective. It is difficult to say which of these was more effective in delivering the commercial lift that the song subsequently enjoyed.

The faythfull Lovers resolution does not appear to have been reissued and there is no evidence to suggest that it was ever registered with the Stationers’ Company. Select verses were, however, transcribed in two private commonplace books and a short version of the song, re-named ‘A woman once found out’, also appeared in the influential song-collection, Wit and mirth, in editions from 1707 onwards.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Anon, The faythfull Lovers resolution... To the tune of, My deere and only Love take heed (c. 1618).

‘Song’ in British Library MS Add. 30982, fo. 150v (c. 1618-30?)

Anon, A good Wife, or none... To a pleasant new Tune (registered 1624).

‘Song’ in Folger Library MS V.a.345, fo. 162 (c. 1630).

Wit and mirth, 2nd edition, 4 vols. (1707), vol. 2, pp. 59-61.

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A good Wife, or none,

To a pleasant new Tune.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


THe blazing Torch is soone burnt out,

the Diamonds light abides:

The one in glory shines about,

the other it’s vertue hides:

That sparke (if any) shall be mine,

that else gives light to none;

For if to every one shee shine,

I had rather lie alone.


The Glow=worm in the dark gives light,

unto the view of many;

The Moone she shewes her selfe by night,

and yeelds her selfe to any:

But if my Love should seeme to be,

of every one so knowne:

She never more should shine on me,

I had rather lie alone.


Ile not consume nor pine away,

as other lovers doe;

For such as wandring walke astray,

and never will prove true:

Ile set as light by any shee,

as shee by me hath done:

And fixe my love on constancie;

or else will lye alone.


A willow Garland for my head,

I never meane to weare;

I need no pillow for my bed,

I yet am void of care:

A single life, is without strife,

and freed from sigh and grone;

For such contentments of my life,

Ile choose to lie alone.


Once did I love the fairest Love,

that ever eye did see;

But she did most inconstant prove,

and set no love by me:

And ever since my mind is such,

to lend my love to none:

Because I have been crost so much,

Ile ever lie alone.


The beautie of the fairest Flowre,

so pleasing to the eye,

Doth fade and wither in an houre,

and no man sets thereby;

So deales my fairest faire with me,

her joyes in Love are gone;

Wherefore the wanton world shall see,

Ile choose to lye alone.


The second Part.   To the same tune.


WEll may we picture Cupid blinde,

which roving shot his dart,

And made my lover most unkinde,

to steale away my heart:

Which cannot be restord againe,

it is so love sicke growne;

For she hath kil’d it with disdaine,

therefore Ile lie alone.


Within that face I once did see

two diamond eyes, whose bright

And glistring beames so dazled me,

that I was ravisht quite,

And struck so blind, I could not see

the way that I had gone:

But from fond love I’m now set free,

and choose to lye alone.


This single life breeds golden ease,

no jealous thoughts offend;

Unwedded wights goe where they please,

and feare no changing friend;

While married mates with musing mind,

doe sob, and sigh, and grone,

Because their Turtles prove unkind:

therefore, Ile lye alone.


What if the Willow Garland be

appointed for my lot;

Yet this content shall comfort me,

false love is soone forgot:

A second Love may make amends,

now that the first is gone;

For Cresid kind had choyce of friends,

else still had lien alone.


For if I could but cull my Choyce,

out of Diana’s traine,

Who will not heare the tempters voice;

then might I love againe:

And choose some yet more constant light,

then that which lately shone,

My equall fancie to requite:

or still Ile lye alone.


For time and opportunitie,

will win the coyest Dame,

And overcome the chastest she,

that beares the bravest name:

Yea, Man was made for Womans good,

not like the idle drone:

But for to heat and stirre the blood;

and not to lye alone.


FINIS.   Imprinted at London for Francis Coules.

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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 'Blasing torch bothe partes' from first line); and Thackeray, 1689 ('Glaseing Torch').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1594.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 4

No. of extant copies: 3

New tune-titles generated: 'Blazing torch' (3 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 3 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V20938).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 8 + 3 + 6 + 0 + 0 = 42

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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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