80  The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith, a poore penitent/ prisoner in the Jayle of Bedford [Roxburghe 1.367]

Author: Anonymous

Crime - general Crime - prison Crime - punishment Death - execution Death - godly end Emotions - guilt Emotions - hope Emotions - sorrow Family - children/parents Gender - marriage Morality - general Recreation - music Religion - Christ/God Religion - christening Religion - faith Religion - heaven/hell Religion - moral rules Religion - prayer Religion - sin/repentance

Song History

The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith was probably a song about an actual criminal who lived during the reign of James I (1603-25). It is highly unlikely, however, that Edward Smith actually wrote the song himself, as claimed in the title. Sadly, our efforts to uncover additional information about Smith have so far been unsuccessful. A soldier named Edward Smith was imprisoned in 1604 for writing a politically controversial ballad, and the writers of The wofull lamentation include an unusual reference to the condemned man’s musicality (‘Farewell my musick sweet,/ And Cittorn  [ie cittern’s] silver sound’), but this lead is hardly a promising one. Of course, it is always difficult to trace historical characters with extremely common names.

Most of the known references to the ballad date from the 1620s, and it seems that The wofull lamentation was a significant success during this decade. It qualifies for our chart as one of the songs that achieved conspicuous but short-lived popularity. The ballad does not seem to have sustained its marketability even into the mid-century, though a new name for its tune – ‘Ned Smith’ –  sometimes appears on other songs (See Featured tune history). The shortened form of the prisoner’s name is also found in other sources (Rollins), perhaps reflecting widespread familiarity with the song.

The final confessions of condemned criminals are a well-known category of early-modern balladry, and there are several examples in our list. It is interesting that most of these highly successful songs  display characteristics that set them apart from others within the sub-genre (see, for example, The Lamentation of Master Pages wife and Save a Theefe from the Gallowes).

Songs of this sort are often termed ‘execution ballads’ or ‘last dying speeches’ but it is noticeable that neither label really fits The wofull lamentation. Although it shares several features with other songs supposedly penned by the condemned, it is also distinctive in various respects. There is, for example, a striking absence of the usual graphic detail about the actual crime committed. Edward Smith tells us that he has committed a felony but at no point does he elaborate. If he murdered somebody, we are not told whom, how or why.

The same is true of his execution. This is not a gallows speech but a personal statement in which Smith anticipates and accepts his imminent demise but does not dwell on the details. Given that we might have anticipated a bloodthirsty desire for such sensational content in the early-modern marketplace, the ballad-makers’ reticence in this and other successful songs is rather striking.

The wofull lamentation is also unusual in focussing so intensely on the criminal’s penitent and prayerful state. Repentance was, of course, a staple of the genre, but in many ballads it is comparatively under-developed. For Ned Smith, it is the essence of his lamentation. Indeed, the space freed by the omission of gory detail is filled by his heartfelt penitence. In the opening verses, Smith quickly establishes his abject misery by explaining how he wails, weeps, cries, sighs and moans. The remainder of the song shows us how this state of mind drives him towards God. Smith blames himself for his sins, his lack of faith and his failure to achieve the regeneration symbolised by his baptism. He cannot cope alone so he humbly asks God for faith, grace and mercy. His intense devotion - Smith prays with ‘hands lift up on hie’ - enables him, at the end, to anticipate a place in heaven, despite his ‘loathsome life’.

All in all, the ballad provides an example of the intense and emotional repentance that was urged upon the laity by Protestant preachers (Ryrie). In fifteen singable verses, Edward Smith –as imagined by the authors – models the process of true repentance to which Protestant preachers devoted hundreds of pages and many hours of sermon-time.  And despite Smith’s painful passion, his ultimate message is one of hope rather than despair. The success of the song suggests that there was an enthusiastic market for intense criminal repentance that portrayed the worst of sinners in one-to-one encounters with God and demonstrated that even felons could reach heaven.

Christopher Marsh


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

Calendar of the manuscripts of the Most Honourable The Marquess of Salisbury… preserved at Hatfield House, part XXIII, Addenda 1562-1605, ed. G. Dyfnallt Owen (1973), p. 153 (May 1604).

Henry Chancellor, ‘London, repentance, and early modern English literature, c. 1590-1600’, London journal 45.3 (2020), pp. 318-34.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Ian Green, Print and protestantism in early modern England (Oxford, 2000), especially pp. 325-32.

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. 1859.

Alec Ryrie, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford, 2013), especially ch. 3.

J. A. Sharpe, ‘“Last dying speeches”: religion, ideology and public execution in seventeenth-century England’, Past and present 107 (May, 1985), pp. 144-67.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of, ‘Daintie come thou to me’ (lost tune; standard name - Dainty come thou to me)

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

There is no surviving tune that can be identified with any confidence as ‘Dainty come thou to me’. Ross Duffin has argued that the appropriate melody is one to which a song was set in Richard Edwards’ Elizabethan play, Damon and Pithias, but the evidence is unconvincing. The occurrence of the phrase ‘griping grief’ in Edwards’ song and in The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith is not, for example, a strong indicator of a shared melody; this was a common expression found in numerous ballads and other literary sources during the period. We have not been able to locate a later tune from vernacular tradition that was used for singing versions of this ballad, and we have therefore not been able to provide a recording.

Echoes (an overview)

The original melody, ‘Dainty come thou to me’, was nominated on a number of seventeenth-century ballads, and it is therefore possible to discuss the resonances that it may have come to communicate. Its strongest associations, particularly in the early decades, were with romantic love, and most of the courtship ballads listed below feature an ardent man and a woman who, initially at least, seems reluctant to engage.

A PATTERN of true LOVE is a good example, although the woman in this song overcomes her initial doubts and becomes deeply devoted to her suitor. The refrains of these ballads, frequently repeated in performance, reinforce the impression that the featured men had to work hard to win female hearts: : ‘Dainty come thou to me’, ‘Phillida flouts me’, ‘alack I die for love’ and ‘fair lady pity me’. Two of these courtship songs – A PATTERN of true LOVE and  An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst  – were clearly hits, and both elaborated on the initial battle for commitment by constructing detailed and compelling follow-up narratives.

In a bold change of tack, the author of The sinner recognised the romantic resonances of the tune and laboured to redirect them. Here, the object of devotion is not a woman but Christ himself, and the refrain is adjusted accordingly (see below).

There are echoes of this act of melodic appropriation in the highly successful ballad, The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith. Here, the tune’s romantic associations may have contributed additional poignancy to this outpouring of remorse by a condemned man. The success of The wofull lamentation generated a new name for the tune and also spawned a series of ballads about murderers (see, for example, The cryes of the Dead). This new resonance was clearly strong, though it killed neither the tune’s romance nor its piety: the last two songs on the list present us with a heroically devoted couple and a call to repentance respectively.

The ballads are connected not only by their melody but by a number of direct textual cross-references, only a selection of which can be mentioned here. Most strikingly, there is clearly a strong and deliberate resemblance between lines found in A new Northeren Jigge and The sinner respectively: ‘Let them all say what they will,/ Dainty come thou to me’ and ‘Let them saye what they will,/ Jesu, come thow to mee’. In both cases, the second line becomes the song’s refrain, thus binding the two publications together (of course, this is a feature of the second author’s strategy of creative appropriation). It is also noticeable that one verse in The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith runs, ‘Sweet Jesus comfort me’, perhaps recalling the refrain from The sinner.

Several of the ballads include at least one conspicuous deployment of the word ‘misery’, sung at the end of the tune’s second phrase: ‘leave me in misery’, ‘rich, or in misery’, ‘were you in misery’, ‘repleat with misery’, ‘in ways of miserie’, ‘look on my misery’ and ‘Opprest with misery’. 

Finally, the refrain in A PATTERN of true LOVE – ‘fair Lady pity me’ – is echoed by the line, ‘Fair Phillis pity me’, in An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son. We cannot know whether all these links were forged consciously or unconsciously but it clearly makes sense to understand the songs in relation to one another.

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

Songs and Summaries

A new Northeren Jigge, called, Daintie come thou to me (?registered 1591; ‘Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.204;  EBBA 30140. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, hope; Bodies – looks/physique; Family – children/parents, siblings; Places – European, extra-European;  Society – friendship. A man declares his love for a woman, promising to be constant in his devotion and asking her to put him to the test.

A prettye sonnet of the disdainefull sheppeardesse. To the Tune of Dainty come thow to me (copied by hand, 1600-03). Shirburn ballads, LXXIII. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, frustration; Employment – agrarian; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Recreation – food; Bodies – looks/physique, clothing; Environment – animals, weather. A shepherd with a strong belief in his own eligibility loves Phillida but she ‘flouts’ him continually, preferring the attentions of other men.

The sinner, dispisinge the world and all earthly vanities, reposeth his whole confidence in his beloved Saviour, JESUS CHRIST. To the tune of Dainty come thow to me (copied by hand, 1603-16). Shirburn ballads,  XVIII. Religion – Christ/God, faith, prayer, body/soul; Emotions – love, hope; Morality – general; Society – criticism; Recreation – food; Employment – sailors/soldiers. A fervent declaration of trust in Christ, coupled with a critique of all who pursue earthly wealth and pleasure.

An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst... To the Tune of, Dainty come thou to me , issued on sheet with A Ballad Intituled, The Old Man's Complaint against his Wretched Son... To the same Tune (registered 1624; J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 1.541; EBBA 32615.  Family – children and parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Society – old and young; Emotions – sorrow, anger; Death – suicide.  A father passes on his inheritance to his son so that he can marry but is subsequently maltreated by the cruel couple, until they get their comeuppance.

A PATTERN of true LOVE to you I will recite. Between a Beautiful Lady and a Courtious Knight. To the Tune of, Dainty come thou to me, &c (registered 1624; no imprint, 1695-1711?). Roxburghe 2.579; EBBA 31198. Gender – courtship; Society – rich/poor; Family – children/parents; Morality – familial; Emotions – love, anxiety, sorrow, joy; Death – execution. A poor man and an aristocratic maiden fall in love, provoking the extreme disaproval of her father, but – after a strange test involving a decaptitated body – love triumphs in the end.

The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith, a poore penitent prisoner in the Jayle of Bedford... To the tune of, Dainty, come thou to me (C. W., 1624-38). Pepys 1.59; EBBA 20038. Crime – general, prison, punishment; Death – execution, godly end; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, faith, moral rules; Emotions – sorrow, hope; Morality – general; Gender – marriage; Family – children/parents; Recreation – music. A convicted prisoner, awaiting execution, expresses remorse for his crimes, bids farewell to his family and turns towards God.

A Warning for all Wicked Livers... The Tune is, Ned Smith (F. Grove, 1624-62). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads 1.32; EBBA 36022. Crime – robbery/theft, murder, punishment; Death – execution, unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Gender – masculinity; Emotions – horror; Bodies – clothing; Morality – general; Places – English, travel/transport. The story of two notorious and violent robbers, recently executed for a murder in at the appropriately named ‘Shooters-Hil’ in Kent (the surviving ballad is badly damaged and several verses are missing).

The cryes of the Dead. Or the late Murther in South-warke... To the tune of Ned Smith (T. L., 1633-69). Pepys 1.116-17; EBBA 20048. Violence – interpersonal; Crime – murder, prison; Death – unlawful killing; Bodies – injury; Emotions – horror; Morality – general; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; Family – children/parents; Society – urban life, neighbours; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English; Religion – prayer. This describes the cruelties visited upon numerous children by a wicked weaver, now awaiting trial for murder.

The Reward of Murther, In the Execution of Richard Smith... To the tune of, Ned Smith (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads 2.20; EBBA 36085. Crime – murder, punishment; Death – execution, unlawful killing; Gender – courtship, sex; Morality – romantic/sexual, general; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; News – domestic; Places – English. A man explains how he seduced, impregnated and murdered a widow whom he had promised to marry (only the first half of the ballad seems to have survived).

Londons Glory, and Whittingtons Renown OR, A Looking-Glass for Citizens of LONDON... Tune of, Dainty come thou to me (R. Burton, 1640-76). Roxburghe 3.58-59; EBBA 30404. Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service, professions, female; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Gender – masculinity; Environment – buildings, animals; Recreation – music, food; Religion – charity; Politics – domestic, war, Royalist; Places – English; Royalty – praise. The story of Dick Whittington’s social ascent, aided by a cat and some famous bells, from poverty to power.

The FOUR WONDERS of this Land... Tune of Dear Love regard my Grief, &c. (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Roxburghe 1.118-19; EBBA 30075. Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance, Bible, Christ/God, Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Emotions – wonder, fear; Morality – general; Environment – weather, animals; Employment – crafts/trades, female; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, injury, health/sickness; Places – English, extra-European. An urgent call for repentance, stimulated by a recent spate of ‘monstrous births’ and miraculous showers of blood.

The Valiant Commander, with his Resolute Lady... To a New Northern Tune, called, I would give ten thousand pounds, &c. or Ned Smith (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright,  J. Clarke, W. Thackeray and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 2.208; EBBA 20819.  Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity; Politics – controversy; Violence – civil war; Emotions – love; Bodies – clothing; Places - English.  A besieged Royalist commander and his beloved wife, disguised as a man, fight fiercely against their foes.


‘Dainty come thou to me’ was also named as a tune in several songbooks. See, for example: The Famous Historie of Fryer BACON (1627), in which a servant improvises a song about time while trying to stay awake; and Richard Johnson, A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), where it serves for ‘A Song of Sir Richard Whittington’ (later published in broadside form as Londons Glory, and Whittingtons Renown: see above).

The melody was also referred to in various other forms of literature. In Dekker’s The Shoemakers Holdiay (1600), for example, Eyre amuses a woman with the line, ‘feare nothing Rose, let them al say what they can, dainty come thou to me: laughest thou?’ The central portion of this quotation comes directly from an early version of the ballad, A new Northeren Jigge, listed above (see also the works by Robert Armin and Richard Brome, listed below).

Christopher Marsh


Robert Armin, The History of the two Maids of More-clacke, 1609, C4r.

Richard Brome, Five new Playes (1659), p. 56.

Thomas Dekker, The Shoemakers Holiday (1600), H3v.

Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), pp. 654-55.

Richard Edwards, The excellent Comedie of two the moste faithfullest Freendes, Damon and Pithias (1571), C5r.

The Famous Historie of Fryer BACON (1627), C2r-v.

Richard Johnson, A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), B5r-7v.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 15-16, 577-78.

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Related Texts

We have not found other seventeenth-century publications that tell Edward Smith’s story or that share significant material with his Wofull lamentation (but see Featured tune history for other ballads that used the same melody).

Christopher Marsh

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The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith, a poore penitent/ prisoner in the Jayle of Bedford, which he wrote a/ short time before his death.

To the tune of, Daintie come thou to me.

[We have not made a recording because the tune is unknown]


I Am a Prisoner poore

Opprest with miserie:

O Lord do thou restore,

that faith which wants in me.

In woe I waile and weep,

In griping grief I cry,

In dungeon darke and deep,

In fetters fast I lie.

Sighing I sit and moane

My foule offences all,

My loathsome life is knowne,

which makes me live in thrall

Ned [S]mith I am, the wight

In prison that remaines,

Tormented day and night,

with bands and iron chaines.

My joyes are turnd to nought,

My hopes are worne away,

My wickednesse hath wrought

my downe=fall and decay.

Those gifts that God gave me,

My wants for to supply,

Abused much I have.

to please my fantasie.

My name I did deny,

In Baptisme given me,

That Sacrament whereby

regenerate I should be.

No wit nor strength may serve

The Law to satisfie:

For death I do deserve,

in right and equity.

For I offended have

Nobles of hie degree,

What favour can I crave

for life or liberty.

But hope of life is past,

My acts so hainous be.

And liberty is lost,

till death do set me free.

All men both old and young

Which are at liberty,

And heare my dolefull song.

example take by me.

Be true and trust in God,

Fly theft and vice eschew,

Lest Gods most heavie rod,

correct your deeds untrue.

Would I had nere bin borne

To do such wicked deeds,

Which makes me live in scorne

and shame that sore exceeds.

But that which passed is,

I cannot now recall:

My sinnes and my amisse,

O Lord forgive them all.

Woe worth ill company,

Fie on that filthy crue:

Accurst the day may be

that ever I them knew.


If life and death were set

Before me for to chose,

Though I might pardon get,

my life first would I lose,

Then runne that wicked race,

And doe as I have done,

Sweet Jesus give me grace,

that life so lewd to shun.

Farewell my loving wife

Who sought to turn my minde,

And make me mend my life,

thy words full true I finde,

Farewell my children all,

My tender Babes adue:

Let this your Fathers fall,

be warning good for you.

Deare wife and infants three,

Serve God remember this,

That you true subjects be,

though I have done amisse.

Farewell my musick sweet,

And Cittorn silver sound,

Mourning for me is meet

my sinnes do so abound.

O Lord on bended knees

And hands lift up on hie,

Cast on me gracious eies

with grace my wants supply

Lay not unto my charge,

The thinges that I have done,

Though I have runne at large,

and plaid the unthrift sonne.

Yet now I do repent,

And humbly come to thee

My sinnes I do lament,

sweet Jesus comfort me.

O Lord I do Lament,

And onely joy in thee,

To praise thee day and night,

for thou redeemedst me.

Lord save our royall King

Whose prisoner poore am I,

Prolong his daies on earth,

with fame and victory.

Against his Majestie,

I have offended sore,

Committing Felony,

and now I die therefore.

A dolefull death God knowes,

Which once I did defie:

Thus must I end my woes

which I take patiently,

By thee O Saviour sweet,

In heaven I hope to rest,

In joy where I shal meet,

those soules whom thou hast blest

Where we shall sing thy praise,

O God, with voyce high,

When I shall end my dayes,

and live eternally.

Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcock.   FINIS.

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This ballad is included according to the criteria for List B (see Methodology). The evidence presented here is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, as of 1st January 2024.

No. of known editions c. 1560-1711: 3

No. of extant copies: 2

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Ned Smith').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

3-yr periods that produced multiple editions: none firmly established. 10-year periods that produced multiple editions: 1624-33 (3).

New tune titles generated: 'Ned Smith' (3 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Pre-1640 bonus: yes.

POINTS: 6 + 2 + 10 + 0 + 12 + 6 + 0 + 20 = 56

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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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