95  A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy [Roxburghe 1.370-71]

Author: Anonymous, Crimsal, Richard, attrib.

Recording: A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy

Economy - money Emotions - longing Emotions - sorrow Employment - crafts/trades Employment - female Employment - sailors/soldiers Environment - animals Environment - sea Family - children/parents Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - marriage Gender - masculinity Morality - familial Morality - romantic/sexual Places - travel/transport Religion - prayer emotions - contentment

Song History

This was clearly a popular song throughout the second half of the seventeenth century. It has often been credited to the writer, Richard Climsal, but there is little evidence to support this attribution and we are therefore treating the ballad as anonymous. Eighteenth-century editions are rare, though the ballad clearly lasted and was re-issued in shorter form around 1800 as A New SONG call’d PRETTY PEGGY (see Broadside ballads from the Bodleian Library).

It also survived as a folk-song and was collected fairly regularly in England, Scotland and America during the early twentieth century. Collectors recorded it under a variety of titles, including ‘The old soldier’, ‘The lame soldier’, ‘Peggy and the soldier’ and ‘Poor Peggie’ (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

During the seventeenth century, A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy stood out from dozens of other songs about courtship and marriage because of its unusual approach to this well-worked subject matter. Experienced ballad-consumers surely expected their cuckolds to be lampooned for their inadequate masculinity while their wives were caricatured for their infidelity, lust and domineering instincts (on cuckoldry, see Brown, McEachern, Marsh and Turner). There is a hint of this in the description of Peggy as a ‘wanton lewd woman’ but more generally A new Ballad presents us with a very different narrative. Peggy is besotted by the visiting soldier and runs away with him but she eventually sees the error of her ways and returns in contrition to her husband and baby. Remarkably, she is welcomed back and forgiven by a man who at no point is mocked as a cuckold. The proper order is restored and we are encouraged to follow the husband’s lead in showing generosity of spirit: ‘For youth it is wanton,/ and will have a fling,/ And Peggy is at home/ with her husband againe’. This humane perspective on infidelity is so striking that it must surely have played a part in the song’s success within a crowded sub-genre of balladry.

Later versions of the ballad – including both the broadside of c. 1800 and the songs found by various collectors – tended to stick quite closely to the original narrative. There were, however, some significant changes. The revised broadside, for example, tells us that Peggy quarrelled with her soldier-sweetheart and suffered a beating at his hands: ‘He kick’d and he kuff’d/ And call’d her baie Queen/ And bid her go home To her Cuckold again’ (this seems to be the first use of the term ‘cuckold’ in the song’s accessible history). Peggy’s subsequent homecoming is omitted from this version, but it survives in some of the folk-songs. In these versions, the husband’s generous forgiveness, such a feature of the original ballad, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he refuses to receive his errant wife and turns her away (‘Where you have a been/There you may go again’).

In other words, later versions of the song introduce displays of masculine power that are largely absent from the original. They also reduce significantly the colour and detail with which Peggy had been represented in the seventeenth-century ballad. It is tempting to suggest that A new Ballad, when issued in the mid-seventeenth century, was specifically designed to appeal to a female audience. Sadly, we lack the evidence to explore this possibility further.

It is, as ever, very difficult to establish the precise relationships between printed and collected versions of the ballad. The song collected by Henry Hammond from singer, George Dowden, in Dorset in 1905 reveals an interesting combination of possible influences. Certain features are shared primarily with other folk-song versions, including a reference to Peggy’s homecoming in the night because her shame cannot abide the daylight. Others are more closely related to the broadside of c. 1800: the labelling of the soldier as ‘old’ and of Peggy’s husband as a ‘cuckold, for example.

And a few details of Dowden's version are found in the original seventeenth-ballad but not, it seems, in the other surviving versions. These include the reference to the soldier’s eyes in the opening verse and the report that Peggy’s husband ‘sadled his horse’ as he prepared to look for her. Of course, we have not been able to consult all versions, and many more must have been lost, but the evidence seems to indicate the usual combination of printed and oral/aural transmission.

Christopher Marsh


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

Pamela Brown, Better a shrew than a sheep: women, drama and the culture of jest in early-modern England (Ithaca, NY, 2003), pp. 83-117.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Claire McEachern, ‘Why do cuckolds have horns?’, Huntington Library quarterly 71 (2008), pp. 607-31.

Christopher Marsh, ‘A cuckold in space: the “ballading” of Stephen Seagar, 1669’ in Trevor Dean, Glyn Parry and Edward Vallance (eds.), Faith, place and people in early modern England. Essays in honour of Margaret Spufford ( Woodbridge, 2018), pp. 175-201.

Christopher Marsh, ‘The woman to the plow; and the man to the hen-roost: wives, husbands and best-selling ballads in seventeenth-century England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 28 (December, 2018), pp. 65-88.

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. 2470 and 2471.

David M. Turner, Fashioning adultery: gender, sex and civility in England 1660-1740 (Cambridge, 2002), ch. 3.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ [search for Roud number 907]. The songs that are discussed above have the following references: HAM/2/9/4 and CJS2/10/169.

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Featured Tune History

‘To a new Northerne Tune’ (standard name: Peg and the soldier)

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

Versions and variations

This lovely, lilting tune was rarely written down and the only example that has so far been found occurs in the Scottish Skene manuscript for mandore (mid-seventeenth century). Here, it is entitled, ‘Peggie is over Ye Sie wi’ye Souldier’. Naturally enough, this is the version used on our recording. The song also survived into later vernacular tradition but the tunes to which it was sung in the early twentieth century seem unrelated to the original. On ballads of the seventeenth century, the melody was entitled ‘Peggy and the Soldier’, ‘Peggy went over the sea with a soldier’ or ‘The nightingale’s song’ (see/hear The Nightingales Song).

Echoes (an overview)

This tune was not widely used on ballads of the period but the fact that two of the three songs listed below were highly successful suggests that it was nevertheless well known. All three ballads deal with love, and their general tone is bright and positive. In A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy, a young wife abandons her husband for a soldier but she eventually comes to her senses and returns home to make amends. Constant, faire, and fine Betty is optimistic from start to finish. And The Nightingales Song, though it carries a moral warning about casual sex in its closing verses, generally feels more like a celebration of irresponsible young romance than a condemnation (the previous associations of the tune help to tip the balance in this direction).

The ballads listed below are connected chiefly by their shared tune and by the presence of lusty soldiers in both of the hits. There are occasional textual echoes - ‘Good morrow sweet honey’ (The Nightingales Song) recalls ‘Well met my sweet Hony’ (Constant, faire, and fine Betty), for example – but such points of contact are not numerous.

In fact, the strongest echo connects Constant, faire, and fine Betty with The rarest Ballad that ever was seen,/ Of the Blind beggers daughter of Bednall-green, a hit song set to a different tune. Most verses in both songs end with conspicuous and memorable references to ‘pretty Bessee’ or ‘pretty Betty’, and it seems likely that the two songs must have reminded listeners of one another. Compare the following lines, for example: ‘For none was so comely as pretty Bessee’ (The rarest Ballad); and ‘Of all maids the rarest is pretty Betty’ (Constant, faire, and fine Betty).

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

Songs and Summaries

A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy. To a new Northerne Tune (F. Coules, 1624-56).  Roxburghe 1.370-71; EBBA 30250. Gender – marriage, courtship, femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Family – children/parents; Emotions – longing, sorrow, contentment; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Nature – sea; Places – travel. Peggy, a married women, runs off with a soldier, but returns home within three months and seeks forgiveness from her husband.

Constant, faire, and fine Betty. Being The Young-mans praise, of a curious Creature... To the Tune of, Peggy went over Sea, with a Souldier (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.

The Nightingales Song; Or The Souldiers rare Musick, and Maids Recreation... The Tune of, No, no, not I; Or, Peggy and the Souldier (registered 1675; J. Wright, J. C[larke, W.] Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 4.41; EBBA 21707. Gender – sex, courtship, masculinity, femininity; Environment – birds, flowers/trees, weather, seasons; Humour – bawdry, verbal; Employment  - sailors/soldiers; Recreation – music, walking;  Bodies – looks/physique; Emotions – longing, joy; Morality – romantic/sexual. Through musical and ornithological metaphor, this tells the story of a soldier who seduces a young maiden on a spring day but then returns to the army, leaving her to rue their ‘hasty pleasure’.


This tune, named as ‘Pegg and the Souldier’, was also nominated on the white-letter ballad, THE Love-sick Blacksmith: OR, The Unkind MAID OF Ratcliff’s Cruelty (1690s?). This maintains the romantic theme established by the black-letter songs, though here the outcome is a sad one (a woman refuses to marry a blacksmith because of his lowly occupation).

Christopher Marsh


Skene manuscript (mid-seventeenth century), National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 5.2.15 (transcription in Simpson).

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 572-73.

https://www.vwml.org/ (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Woman in 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 only rarely used on surviving ballads but its career is intriguing nonetheless. A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy is apparently the first extant sheet to use the woodcut, but there is a suspicion that it may already have been well-known from another song, The Valarous Acts performed at GAUNT (registered in 1629). This describes the militaristic heroics of the female warrior, Mary Ambree, during the late sixteenth century, and it was very popular (only just missing out on inclusion in our list of hits).

The version of the image that appears on A new Ballad was perhaps used originally for an edition of The Valarous Acts that has not survived (later editions of this song include it). This might explain the presence of a sword, the hilt of which is visible close to the woman’s left hip. The woman has no sword in the version of the woodcut that appears on in the extant edition of The Valarous Acts (listed below) but the inclusion of a weapon would have made good sense, given the subject of the song.

If this suggestion is accurate, the decision to display the Woman in plumed hat on A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy perhaps encouraged knowledgeable consumers to compare the two characters. Quite what viewers made of this, we cannot say. Peggy was a disloyal wife who fled with a handsome soldier but then came to her senses; Mary Ambree was a war heroine who turned down marriage to the Duke of Parma. They were not particularly similar but through a shared image they were juxtaposed. The effect may have been to stimulate feelings of positive sympathy for Peggy, despite her wayward conduct. It may not have worked, however: the image was dropped when A new Ballad was re-issued, though it was displayed more than once on editions of the Mary Ambree ballad. Perhaps it had acquired a specificity that limited its potential for regular recyling.

Songs and summaries

A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy (F. Coules, 1624-56).  Roxburghe 1.370-71; EBBA 30250.  Gender – marriage, courtship, femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Family – children/parents; Emotions – longing, sorrow, contentment; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Nature – sea; Places – travel.  Peggy, a married women, runs off with a soldier, but returns home within three months and seeks forgiveness of her husband (picture placement: she stands alongside a soldier and directly over the line, ‘She tooke the keyes from her side’).

The Valarous Acts performed at GAUNT, [by] the brave Bonny Lass Mary Ambree (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, & T. Passenger, 1682-84).  Pepys 2.132; EBBA 20752.  Gender – cross-dressing, femininity, masculinity; Employment – female/male, sailors/soldiers; Violence – between states; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations, misunderstanding; Politics – foreign affairs; Death – warfare; Emotions – joy; Bodies – clothing, physique. This celebrates the heroic bravery of an English female soldier who fought in the Low Countries and told the Duke of Parma she couldn’t marry him because he was a foreigner (picture placement: in a reversed version of the woodcut, she stands beneath the title while being approached by a Man with purse, and there is no sign of the hilt of her sword).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

We have not found other early-modern publications that show marked textual affinities with A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy. Many other ballads feature romantically desirable maidens named Peggy, however, and it seems possible that A new Ballad helped to establish and consolidate the associations of this name.

There were also some other songs that paired Peggy specifically with a soldier, including The Loyal Soldiers Courtship; OR, Constant Peggy’s kind answer (c. 1689) and The valiant trooper and pretty Peggy (c. 1670-79). As far as we know, both titles were issued after A new Ballad and it is therefore possible that the authors and publishers were hoping to capitalise on its popularity by continuing the connection between Peggy and a trooper.

Christopher Marsh

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A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy.

To a new Northerne Tune.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IT was a brave Souldier

that long liv’d in warres,

He would into England,

to try his affaires,

A brave gallant Creature,

enchanted his eye:

It is for thy love Peggy,

I dye, I dye.


She had a good Husband

that loved Her well,

For Gold and for money,

none did her excell.

Yet Peggy would listen

to the Souldiers cry,

It is for thy love Peggy,

I dye, I dye.


O pretty Peggy,

let sorrowes remove,

And grant me a kisse

in token of love:

O take thee a thousand,

on’s but a few,

Ile leave my owne husband,

to travel with you.


O pretty Peggy,

if thou wilt be mine,

All the gold that I get,

it shall be thine:

Father and Mother,

thouse never so mere [‘see more’ in other editions],

If thou wilt goe over Sea

with a Souldier.


She tooke the keyes from her side,

to her chest she’s gone,

All the gold that she hath,

with her she’ath tane:

She left the Babe Motherlesse,

and the bed bare,

And she is gone over sea

with a Souldier.


As Peggy and the Souldier,

went over the plaine,

He twinked at her,

she smiled againe:

He courted her bravely,

as Youngmen should doe,

And ever said Peggy,

I love none but you.


As Peggy went up the street,

so did she downe,

All that did meet her

askt whither she was bound:

She answered them quickly,

she could not tell where,

For she must goe over sea

with a souldier.


Her Husband came home

so late in the night,

He asked for Peggy

his joy and delight,

They answer him quickly,

they could not tell where,

For she was gone over sea

with a Souldier.


The second part, to the same Tune.


HE sadled his horse

and rode to the shoare,

Thinking to take Peggy,

before she got ore:

He asked for Peggy,

but she was not there,

For she was gone over sea

with a Souldier.


I pray thee good nurse

be good to my child,

And thouse have thy wages,

at every months end:

Thouse nether want money,

wine nor good cheare,

Though Peggy be over sea,

with a Souldier.


He cursed the Carpenter

that made the ship,

And eke the Plummer,

for plumming so deepe:

He banned the wind

and the water so cleere,

That carried her over sea

with a souldier.


She had not beene over sea,

passing months three,

Ere she would come home againe,

if it might be,

To speake with her husband,

this matter to cleere,

Because she had been over sea

with a souldier.


This wanton lewd woman,

is come home againe,

When all her pleasure,

and coine it was spent:

She could no longer,

in Ireland stay,

For she had no gold

nor money to pay.


I pray you sweet husband,

will you forgive me,

And all that’s amisse,

amended shall be:

Ile live with my husband,

and Babie so deare,

And Ile never goe againe,

with a souldier.


Come hither sweet Peggy,

thou art welcome to me,

So all that’s amisse

amended may be.

I pray God forgive my sinnes,

and Ile forgive thee,

If thou’l live at home,

with thy Babie and me.


All you good wives,

that heare this my song,

Live at home with your husbands

and doe them no wrong:

For youth it is wanton

and will have a fling,

And Peggy is at home

with her husband againe.


And thus of my song,

I will make an end,

Praying for Gods favour,

for women and men,

Desiring them all

in their Countrey to stay,

And never to wander

so vainely away.

Printed at London for F. Coules dwelling in the Old-Baily. FINIS.

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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: Coles, Wright, Vere and Gilberston, 1656; Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Peggy & the Souldier').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 6

No. of extant copies: 5

New tune-titles generated: 'Peggy went over sea, with a soldier' (1 ballad); and 'Peg[gy] and the soldier' (2 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 47 references, with occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 907).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 0 + 12 + 5 + 6 + 0 + 5 = 48

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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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