21  A True Relation of the Life and Death of/ Sir Andrew Barton, a Pyrate and Rover on the Seas [Pepys 1.484-85]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton

Bodies - injury Bodies - looks/physique Crime - piracy Death - warfare Emotions - anger Emotions - excitement Emotions - patriotism Employment - sailors/soldiers Environment - sea Gender - masculinity History - medieval Places - English Places - travel/transport Politics - controversy Politics - foreign affairs Royalty - authority Violence - at sea

Song History

Andrew Barton was a famous Scottish seaman who, in the early sixteenth century, operated in the grey area between royal service and piracy. Along with his two sea-faring brothers, he obtained from James IV of Scotland letters of marque that permitted him to attack Portuguese ships in order to right a wrong done to his father in the 1470s. By extending his aggression to the ships of other nations, Barton attracted negative attention and he was killed in 1511 after being confronted by an armed English vessel under the command of Lord Thomas Howard. Numerous chronicles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tell Barton’s story (see Related texts).

Our ballad was first registered in 1629, and Claire Jowitt has argued that its publication at this date was intended to contrast England’s glorious maritime past with the ‘sorry state of English seamanship’ in the opening years of Charles I’s reign. Implicitly, the historical action of King Henry and his agent in identifying and eradicating the threat from Barton is set alongside England’s recent failures in France. In the ballad, ‘Thomas Howard’ becomes ‘Charles Howard’, and Jowitt suggests that the switch was made in order to call to mind the Admiral who had repulsed the Spanish Armada in 1588. The controversial topicality of the ballad may help to account for its huge success in its first phase of publication.

Over the coming decades, the song brought to Andrew Barton a degree of celebrity that was never accorded to his equally active brothers. Another factor in its success was the timeless appeal of the bold pirate archetype. When the fictional Essex champion, ‘Sir Billy of Billerecay’, recalled that in his boyhood one of his favourite ballads had been ‘the Song of that Arch Pyrate Sir Andrew Barton’, it is not entirely clear whether his hero was the Scottish outlaw or his English destroyer. Either way, young Billy felt motivated ‘to undertake such high Adventures’ for himself. The ambivalence of the ballad's attitude to Barton is notable.

A later ballad, published regularly in the nineteenth century under the title ‘Henry Martin’, bears some comparison to our hit song. Martin is, like Barton, one of three Scottish brothers and, operating as a pirate, he confronts and defeats a rich English merchant ship in a fierce fight. Beyond these basic narrative affinities, the two texts are entirely different.

Within the vernacular singing tradition, however, the songs appear to have undergone a fascinating process of merger, though the precise lines of influence are difficult to track with any certainty. The frequently collected folksong, known either as ‘Andrew Barton’ or as ‘Henry Martin’ (with variants in both cases), is related more strongly to the later broadside than to our seventeenth-century hit, but there are clear signs that the original Barton ballad exerted some influence nonetheless. In most versions of the folksong, the Scottish pirate triumphs over his English adversaries but on occasion he is defeated, as in the earlier ballad. Several examples of the folksong have a verse that runs (with variations), 'Fire on, fire on, says Andrew Bardeen,/ I fear you not a pin./ If you have good brass all on the outside,/ Its I have good steel within.' This seems to draw on two different verses from the original song, one beginning ‘He is brass within, and steel without’ and the other ‘Fight on, fight on’.

The second of these verses also presents lines in which an injured Barton tells his men, with heroically misplaced optimism, ‘Ile but lie down and bleed a while,/ and come and fight with you again’. Intriguingly, these words of defiance have found a place in modern culture and have regularly been used to inspire American football teams that seem to be heading for defeat (it is not customary to mention that Barton died). Barton’s words were even recited by President Ronald Reagan in 1981  when he was asked, on the White House lawn, how he would react if a crucial vote were to be lost: ‘I lie me down and bleed awhile and then get up and fight again’.

Christopher Marsh


Broadside ballads online from the Bodleian Libraries, http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ (search titles for ‘Henry Martin’).

Bertrand Harris Bronson, The traditional tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols. (1959-72), vol. 3, pp. 133-39, and vol. 4 , pp. 24-46.

Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular ballads, 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1882-94), vol. 3, pp. 334-50 (Child 167: Sir Andrew Barton) and vol. 4, pp. 393-96 (Child 250: Henry Martyn).

Claire Jowitt, Pirates? The politics of plunder 1550-1650 (Abingdon, 2016), pp. 4-13.

Norman Macdougall, ‘Barton, Andrew’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Public papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan 1981. January 20 to Dec 31, 1981 (Washington, 1982), p. 991.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ (see particularly CJS2/10/4239). The songs are Roud nos. 192 and 288.

William Winstanley, The Essex champion, or, the famous history of Sir Billy of Billerecay (1690), p. 4.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of 'Come follow my Love' (lost tune with standard name, Bleeding heart)

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 melody, ‘Come follow my love’, almost certainly derives from the refrain of a ballad that, in later centuries, was entitled ‘The Fair Flower of Northumberland’ (a late Elizabethan text can be found in Thomas Deloney’s Pleasant Historie of John Whinchcomb, In his younguer yeares called Jack of Newbery). The tune was also known as ‘Andrew Barton’ and, most frequently, as ‘[My/The] Bleeding heart’. Unfortunately, it  has not survived in a version from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, and our recording of the ballad about Andrew Barton therefore uses a melody that was attached to the text of ‘The Fair Flower of Northumberland’ in Scotland during the nineteenth century (the fit between tune and words is not perfect but it is the best that we have). The tune was written down in 1827 and can be found in Bronson’s The Traditional Tunes of the Child ballads. We cannot say what relation, if any, it bore to the original music.

Echoes (an overview)

We might begin by noting that ‘The Fair Flower of Northumberland’, the song that generated the tune title, was about a duplicitous Scottish knight who escaped from imprisonment in northern England by tricking a nobleman’s daughter into believing that he was in love with her. Thus the tune already had ‘form’ as the carrier of tales about Scots who robbed the English. Andrew Barton, the pirate, was just another example, though his song proved even more popular than the one from which it borrowed its tune. The ballad’s text seems to present Barton as a kind of heroic villain, and the instability of his status may have been one of the factors that generated audience enthusiasm.

As the the seventeenth century progressed, however, other songs that used the tune for songs about criminals tended to be more unequivocal than the Barton ballad in criticising their leading characters. The largest number of ballads that nominated the tune were about vile murders and the justice visited upon the perpetrators (see, for example, The wicked Midwife and Inhumane, & Cruel Bloody News from Leeds). The tune seems to have become associated particularly with heavy moral warnings about the consequences of heinous sin, and the murder ballads were consumed alongside a number of cautionary tales about wrong-doing that often ended in death or mysterious illness (The YOUTHS Guide and Strange News from Stafford-shire).

To these moralising stories, we might add several ballads about monstrous births, massacres of continental Protestants, the urgent need for repentance, the responsibility of preparing for death, and Quakers who died on hunger strike (the closest we come to light relief is a Christmas song entitled The Sinners Redemption). This all raises the interesting possibility that the contribution of the tune to A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton may have shifted somewhat between the 1620s and the 1690s. By the end of the century, it had perhaps become a little harder to hear the hero who lay behind the outlaw.

The songs are connected not only by their tune but also by some textual cross-references or affinities. The opening lines of the influential Warning to all lewd Livers run ‘My bleeding heart with griefe and care,/ doth wish all young men to beware’, and they are echoed at the start of A Dreadful Relation: ‘With bleeding heart & mournful tear/ I am enforced to declare’ (a further ballad, the title of which is missing, begins ‘All hearts that ever yet did bleed’). The potency of the ‘bleeding heart’ motif is also reflected in the fact that this became a new title for the tune. Other ballads also presented couplets that bear more than a passing resemblance to one another:

'The thing unto her then they told,/And the whole Truth they did unfold' [The Chamberlain’s Tragedy]

'No tongue such cruelty e’re told,/ As I to you shall here unfold' [Title missing... Being a sad and true Relation]

'O then let me extort both young and old/ To pray to God e’re his wrath unfold' [The YOUTHS Guide]

In addition, two of the ballads share material with songs that were set to other tunes. The Old Gentlewoman last Legacy, for example, is strongly related to the hit song An Hundred Godly Lessons, and two lines in The Sinners Redemption (‘But yet for all these wonders wrought/ The Jews his dire destruction wrought’) recall similar phraseology in A new Ditty, shewing the wonderfull Miracles of our Lord and Sauiour Jesus Christ (‘But yet for all these wonders great,/ The Jewes were in a raging heat’).

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

Songs and Summaries

An excellent Ballad, Intituled, the unfortunate love of a Lancashire Gentleman, and the hard fortune of a fair young Bride. The tune is, Come follow my Love  (registered 1624; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 80; EBBA 31763. Gender – courtship, marriage; Family – children/parents; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Emotions – love, anger, despair; Morality – romantic/sexual, familial; Society – rich/poor; Recreation – weddings, food, walking. A wealthy young man marries his poor sweetheart in secret, but is then pressured by his father into wedding a richer woman whom he then murders in desperation (this song has a different metre from all of those listed below and it is difficult to believe that it can actually have been sung to the same tune).

A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton, a Pyrate and Rover on the Seas. Tune is, Come follow my Love (registered 1629; J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 1.484-85; EBBA 20227. Crime – piracy; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; History – medieval; Environment – sea; Violence – at sea; Death – warfare; Emotions – excitement, anger, patriotism; Politics – foreign affairs, controversy; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – English, travel/transport; Royalty – authority. The Scottish pirate, Andrew Barton, has been disrupting England’s mercantile sea traffic, so King Henry despatches Lord Howard and more than a hundred brave men to sort him out.

A Warning to all lewd Livers... To the Tune of, Sir Andrew Barton (registered, 1633; Fra. Grove, 1656-62). Roxburghe 3.262-3; EBBA 30976. Family – children and parents; Emotions – sorrow; Gender – sex; Recreation – games; Religion – morality; Crime – robbery;  Death – result of immorality.  The tale of a young man who wastes all his money on gaming and lewd women before dying miserably on a dung-hill.

A Marvellous Murther, Committed upon the Body of one George Drawnefield of Brempton... To the tune of My bleeding heart (Francis Coules, 1633-80). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.1; EBBA 36048. Crime – murder, robbery/theft, punishment, prison; Violence – interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing; Morality – general, social/economic; Economy – livings, money; Religion – angels/devils, divine intervention; Society – neighbours; Emotions – horror; Family – siblings, inheritance; Bodies – health/sickness, injury; Gender – singles; Environment – flowers/trees; News – domestic; Places – English.  This describes a brutal and cunning murder, the forensic examinations that eventually established cause of death, and the process by which all the perpretrators are now facing justice.

The Sinners Redemption, Wherein is described the blessed Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with his life on earth, and his precious death on the Cross for Mankind. To the tune of, The bleeding heart, or, In Creet, &c. (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century).  Roxburghe 1.374-75; EBBA 30252.  Religion – Christ/God, Bible, Judaism, heroism; Death – execution, godly end; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Violence – punitive. This tells the story of the nativity and connects it with other passages in Christ’s life, particularly his miracles and his death.

The wicked Midwife, the cruell Mother, and the harmelesse Daughter... To the tune of, The bleeding Heart (imprint missing,  mid seventeenth-century). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 1.41; EBBA 36032. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Crime – infanticide, punishment, false witness; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Employment – professions, female; Economy – prices/wages; Emotions – despair, shame; Gender – femininity, courtship; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Places – English; News – convicts/crimes, domestic, sensational. A young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock and turns to her mother for aid, but the older woman has the baby killed by the midwife and then blames her own daughter for the crime.

The Great Turks terrible Challenge, this yeare 1640... To the tune of My bleeding heart, or Lets to the wars againe (Richard Harper, 1640?). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 1.2; EBBA 36010. Politics – foreign affairs, war; Religion –Muslims, heathens/infidels, prayer; Violence – between states; Death – warfare; Emotions – fear; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; News – international; Places – European, extra-European. The Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Poland are in grave danger from the huge and aggressive forces of the Turkish sultan, and this song raises the alarm and prays for the deliverance of all Christians.

Colonell Rainsborowes Ghost: OR, A true Relation of the manner of his Death... To the tune of, My bleeding heart with griefe and care (‘Printed at LONDON 1648’). British Library 669.f.13. EBBA 36658.. Crime – murder; Death – warfare; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Politics – domestic, war; Violence – civil war, interpersonal, punitive; Morality – political; Emotions – sorrow, guilt; Places – English; News – convicts/crimes. The ghost of a troubled parliamentary soldier regrets his role in the death of two worthy men in Colchester and describes his own murder at the hands of those seeking revenge.

A Dreadful Relation, of the Cruel, Bloudy, and most Inhumane Massacre and Butchery, committed on the poor Protestans, in the Dominions of the Duke of Savoy... To the Tune of, The Bleeding Heart (John Andrews, 1655?). British Library C.20.f.14.(20.); EBBA 36810. Violence – interpersonal, political; Religion – Catholic/Protestant; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, warfare; Bodies – injury; Disability – physical; Emotions – horror, anger; Politics – foreign affairs, war; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – children/parents; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; News – international, political, sensational; Places – European; Society – old/young.  A graphic description of the massacre of many Protestants in the realms of the Duke of Savoy, all of them refusing to renounce their faith.

THE QUAKERS FEAR. OR, Wonderful strange and true News from the famous Town of Colchester... The tune is, Summertime. Or bleeding Heart (F. Coles, J. Wright, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1656-58). Wood 401(165). Religion – prophecy, Protestant nonconformity, saints, blasphemy; angels/devils, Bible, Christ/God; Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Crime – heresy, prison; Death – suicide; Emotions – hope, suspicion, wonder; News – domestic, convicts/crimes; Places – English. This describes the death in Colchester gaol of the Quaker leader, James Parnell, who perished after a twelve-day hunger strike and failed to fulfil the prophecies with which he had allegedly duped his followers.

The Examination, Confession, and Execution of Ursula Corbet... To the Tune of, The bleeding Heart (John Andrews, 1660?). Crawford 462(1); EBBA 32887. Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution, godly end; Gender – marriage; Morality – familial, general; Emotions – guilt; Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Family – children/parents; Places – English; Religion – sin/repentance, prayer; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; News – convicts/crimes. The story of a woman, born of ‘honest’ parents, who was excecuted by fire for poisoning her husband because she did not love him.

The Bloody Butcher, And the two wicked and cruel Bawds... The tune, The bleeding heart (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1667?). Euing 20; EBBA 31663. Crime – murder, rape, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, domestic; Emotions – horror, anxiety, anger, longing; Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity, sexual violence; Employment – crafts/trades, prostitution, alehouses/inns; Morality – general, familial, romantic/sexual; News – convicts/crimes; Religion – angels/devils; Society – neighbours, urban life; Recreation – alcohol; Places – English. Two London murder cases are here described: first, an account of a butcher who stabbed his pregnant wife in the back during a dispute over money; and second, the tale of a brothel-keeper who offered an innocent ten-year-old girl to a client and suffocated her while trying to stifle her cries.

The Old Gentlewoman last Legacy... Tune of My bleeding Heart (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 849; EBBA 33488. Death – godly end; Family – children/parents; Religion – moral rules, Bible, Christ/God, charity, heaven/hell, church, blasphemy; Morality – general; Recreation – alcohol. A dying woman delivers moral and religious advice to her children, urging them to ‘Think on my words when I am dead’.

The YOUTHS Guide... Tune of, A Lesson for all true Christians; Or, My bleeding heart (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 1014; EBBA 33629. Death – illness, godly end, providential; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, Catholic/Protestant, heaven/hell, Bible; Society – old/young; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Family – children/parents; Gender – sex; Morality – general; Places – English; Politics – plots; Recreation – alcohol. A young man on his deathbed exhorts us all, particularly those who are youthful, to heed the signs that God has recently sent, fly from sin and prepare for Judgement Day.

Death’s Uncontrollable Summons; OR, The Mortality of MANKIND... To the Tune of, My Bleeding Heart (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Roxburghe 2.103; EBBA 30571. Death – general; Religion – body/soul; Society –old/young; Emotions – fear; Bodies – looks/physique. A young man is approached by Death, and his pleas for additional time on earth are rejected out of hand.

The Chamberlain’s Tragedy: OR, The Cook-Maid’s Cruelty... Tune, Bleeding Heart (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Pepys 2.178; EBBA 20795. Crime – murder, prison; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – anger, guilt, sorrow; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Morality – general; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God; News – convicts/crimes, domestic; Places – English. This first describes the angry murder of a male servant (chamberlain) by a female servant (cook-maid) in a household in Andover, and then outlines the repentant spirit in which the murderer is facing death.

The wonder of wonders, or, the strange Birth in Hampshire... Tune of, My bleeding heart (J. Hose and E. Oliver, 1672-90). Wood E 25(104). Death – childbirth; Emotions – wonder, horror, anxiety; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Environment – animals; Morality – general; Employment – female; Religion – divine intervention, Christ/God; Society – neighbours; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English. A woman in Hampshire has reportedly died in childbed while giving birth to a toad, a winged serpent and a dead child.

[Title missing]. Being a sad and true Relation of the Apprehension, Tryal, Confession, Condemnation, and Execution of the two barbarous and bloody Murtherers... Tune is, Bleeding Heart (John Hose, 1675?). Pepys 2.144; EBBA 20762. Crime – murder, prison, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Employment – alehouses/inns; Gender – marriage; Morality – general; News – convicts/crimes; Religion – angels/devils, sin/repentance, moral rules; Society – friends, urban life; Places – English, travel/transport; Recreation – alcohol. A northern gentleman, on a visit to London, is cruelly murdered by two men following a dispute in a tavern, but fortunately the perpretrators have been been brought to justice and duly executed.

Inhumane, & Cruel Bloody News from Leeds in York-shire... The Tune is, The Bleeding Heart, &c. (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E 25(102). Crime – murder, prison; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal, domestic; Gender – adultery/cuckoldry; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Emotions – horror; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Religion – prayer, Christ/God, angels/devils; News – convicts/crimes; Places – English, travel/transport. In this song, a wicked man seduces the wife of a Londoner and persuades her to travel to Leeds with him, but when she becomes pregnant he kills and mutilates her.

Strange News from Stafford-shire; OR, A Dreadful Example of Divine Justice... Tune of, My Bleeding heart (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clark, 1675-80). Wood E 25(125). Religion – divine intervention,angels/devils, prayer, Christ/God, clergy, sin/repentance; Crime – robbery/theft, punishment, false witness; Bodies – health/sickness; Disability – physical; Emotions – guilt; Morality – social/economic, general; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English. A young man steals a Bible, then denies the crime, asking God to cause his flesh to rot if he is lying – so God does exactly this, thereby stimulating a burst of late repentance.

The Worlds Wonder. Giving an Account of Two Old Men... Tune of, My Bleeding Heart (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Roxburghe 2.526-7; EBBA 31031.  News – international, sensational; Places – European; Religion – sin and repentance, prophecy, general; Morality – general; Society – criticism.  A report on two aged prophets who have appeared in Tolouse, urging repentance and prognosticating strange events.

The Suffolk Miracle... To the Tune of, My bleeding heart, &c. (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray and T. Passenger, 1680-81). Douce 2(207b). Death – heartbreak, grief; Emotions – love, despair; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Family – children/parents, courtship, kin; Morality – romantic/sexual, familial; Society - old/young; Environment – animals; Bodies – clothing; Places – English, travel/transport. A young man dies of grief after being separated from his sweetheart by her angry father, but he visits her as a ghost and temporarily reclaims her before she too dies.

A Looking-Glass for all Impenitent Sinners... To the Tune of, My bleeding heart (R. Kell, 1684-94). Pepys 2.71; EBBA 20695. Religion – sin/repentance, heaven/hell, blasphemy, charity, prayer, Christ/God, clergy, angels/devils; Morality – general; Crime – general; Recreation – alcohol; Emotions – anxiety. An urgent call to repentance, motivated by the sinful state in which England currently exists.


The tune was also used occasionally on white-letter ballads. See, for example: Britains sorrowful Lamentation, For the Loss of their Gracious QUEEN MARY (1695) and Great NEWS from SOUTHWARK (1695). The second of these was the first humorous song known to have been written to the melody, telling the story of an old miserable woman who reputedly left all her wealth to her cat. This might be understood as evidence of white-letter composers and consumers choosing to mock the supposedly unsophisticated but deeply serious content of the black-letter ballads listed above.

Christopher Marsh


Bertrand Harris Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, vol. 1 (1959), pp. 138-42.

Thomas Deloney, The pleasant Historie of John Whinchcomb, In his younguer yeares called Jack of Newbery (composed 1590s; 1626), F3r-G1v.

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).

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Ship in full sail

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 appeared quite regularly from the 1620s through to the 1680s, and it features on more than one surviving edition of A True Relation. At one level, this was simply a picture that was added to ballads that featured ships. It may, however, have carried additional associations in the minds of knowledgeable consumers as a result of its particular attachment to songs about romantic parting and adventure at sea. It is, as usual, difficult to be precise about the chronology, but there are hints that loving relationships endangered by the departure of sailors were the strongest current until the 1680s, with manly songs of battles at sea taking over after this. The taste of the publishers may also have been involved here, for most of the late seventeenth-century adventure ballads – including our featured edition of A True Relation - were published by the powerful alliance of Wright, Clark, Thackeray and Passinger.

Throughout the period, the woodcut was also found more occasionally on ballads featuring women who dressed as men in order to accompany their sweethearts overseas and ballads about individuals who escaped to sea in the hope of avoiding difficult tasks or the consequences of wrong-doing. It seems that there may have been more than one woodblock in existence, though the smudged quality of many of the versions makes it difficult to be certain.

Songs and summaries

The historie of the Prophet Ionas. The repentance of Niniuie that great Citie (E. A., 1584-1627).   Pepys 1.28-29; EBBA 20132.  Religion – Bible, divine intervention, sin/repentance, Christ/God, Employment – sailors/soldiers; Morality – general; Places – extra-European; Emotions – anger, fear, love; Society – criticism.  This tells the Biblical story of Jonah, the whale and the city of Nineveh (picture placement: the ship appears over the first column of text).

The Seamans Adieu to his Dear (F. Coles, 1624-80).  Roxburghe 3.106-07; EBBA 30428.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Emotions – sorrow, love, patriotism; Politics – foreign affairs, obedience, power.  A young woman begs a captain to release her sweetheart from military service but all to no avail (picture placement: it appears beneath the title).

The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born + The Seamans Song of Dansekar the Dutchman, his robberies done at Sea (F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 327; EBBA 31994.  Crime – piracy; Gender – masculinity; Morality – general;  Violence – at sea, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, warfare; Politics – controversy, foreign affairs, power; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – excitement, fear, horror; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – sea; Places – European, extra-European, travel/transport; Religion – heathens/infidels. In the first song, Captain Ward’s piratical prowess is trumpeted but his life of violence, immorality and lechery is soundly criticised; in the second,  the deeds of Dansekar, Ward’s former partner in piracy, are added to the mix, and again the text seems caught between adulation and condemnation (picture placement: the woodcut appears beneath the first song's title, alongside a gallant who seems to be gesturing toward the ship).

The Downfal of William Grismond: Or, A Lamentable Murther by him committed at Lainterdine, in the County of Hereford (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74).  Roxburghe 3.33-34; EBBA 30387.  Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Gender – courtship, masculinity, sex; Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Morality – romantic/sexual, general; Nature – flowers/trees; Places – English.  Grismond murders the young woman who is pregnant by him and tries to run away to sea, but ultimately he is captured and faces the consequences of his crime (picture placement: it appears on the right side of the sheet, alongside a man hanging from the gallows).

Love and Gallantry: OR, A Noble Seaman's last adieu to his Mistris (Philip Brooksby, 1670-98).  Roxburghe 3.236; EBBA 30877.  Gender – courtship; Death – warfare, heartbreak; Emotions – sorrow; Nature – sea; Politics – foreign affairs, Royalist; Royalty – praise, authority; Violence – at sea.  A seaman bids farewell to his mistress when he is drowned in combat, and she responds with tears and a desire to join him beyond the grave (picture placement: it appears on the right side of the sheet, alongside a Woman with patches).

The Merchant of Scotland, AND The Unfortunate Damosel (E. Oliver, 1672-85).  Roxburghe 3.162-63; EBBA 30465.  Gender – courtship, femininity; Emotions – sorrow; Employment – professions; Places – Scottish.  A young woman, abandoned by one sweetheart, agrees to marry a wealthy merchant but is saddened when, shortly after the wedding, he is called away to sea (picture placement: the ship appears beneath the title and alongside a couple who hold hands).

The Seamans Constancy, Or, True-Lovers Fidelity (C. Dennisson, 1680-95).  Pepys 4.190; EBBA 21852.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, sorrow; Employment – sailors/soldiers. A dialogue ballad in which a man and a woman say goodbye to one another as he prepares to go to sea (picture placement: the ship is watched by a well-dressed man on the right side of the sheet).

The Benjamin's Lamentation for their sad loss at Sea, by Storms and Tempests (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1681-84).  Roxburghe 4.33; EBBA 30997.  Employment – sailors/soldiers; Nature – sea; Death – accident; Emotions – sorrow; Places – European, English.  A sailors’ account of the severe damage done to one of the king’s ships during a storm at sea (picture placement: the ship appears on the right side of the sheet).

The Noble Fisher-Man. Or, Robin Hood's preferment (I. Wright, I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84).  Pepys 2.123; EBBA 20744.  Employment – crafts/trades, sailors/soldiers; Gender – general, masculinity; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations; Violence – at sea.  Robin Hood goes to sea as a fisherman but ends up taking a French vessel in combat and then distributing the spoils with great generosity (picture placement: the ship appears over the text on the right side of the sheet).

The Praise of Saylors is here set forth (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray and T. Passenger, 1682-84).  Pepys 4.197; EBBA 21859.  Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; Violence – at sea.  This describes the hardships that sailors endure and commends them for their honesty and industry (picture placement: the ship appears alongside a man in a hat on the left side of the sheet).

A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton, a Pyrate and Rover on the Seas (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 1.484-85; EBBA 20227. Crime – piracy; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; History – medieval; Environment – sea; Violence – at sea; Death – warfare; Emotions – excitement, anger, patriotism; Politics – foreign affairs, controversy; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – English, travel/transport; Royalty – authority. The Scottish pirate, Andrew Barton, has been disrupting England’s mercantile sea traffic, so King Henry despatches Lord Howard and more than a hundred brave men to sort him out (picture placement: the ship appears over the opening lines, and there are no other woodcuts).

An Admirable New Northern Story.  Of two constant Lovers (J. Clark, W. Thackeray and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 1.534-35; EBBA 20255.  Bodies – clothing; Employment – female, sailors/soldiers; Gender – courtship, femininity; Places – English, European.  This tells of a young woman who disguises herself as a man so that she can accompany her lover overseas (picture placement: the ship appears over the text on the right side of the sheet).

A Famous Sea-Fight between Captain Ward and the RAINBOW (J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 4.202; EBBA 21864.  Crime – piracy; Violence – at sea; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; Royalty – authority.  The king sends a powerful ship to do battle with the pirate Captain Ward, but the mission fails (picture placement: the ship appears over the text on the right side of the sheet).

An Admirable New Northern Story Of two constant Lovers as I understand, Were born near Appleby in Westmoreland (William Thackeray and A. M., 1690-92).  Roxburghe 1.6-7; EBBA 30012.  Gender – courtship, cross-dressing, femininity, masculinity; Employment – sailors/soldiers, female/male; Emotions – love, sorrow, joy; Nature – sea; Places – English, European; Body – clothing.  This tells the traumatic though ultimately happy tale of a maiden who dressed as a man in order to accompany her sweetheart when he went to sea (picture placement: the ship appears on the right side of the sheet).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

Barton’s story is told in many chronicles of the period, listed below, and the authors of these texts clearly drew heavily upon one another’s work (we are told repeatedly, for example, that Barton’s piracy ‘stopped the [English] kinges streames’).

An influential example was written by Edward Hall in 1548. In this account, Henry VIII learns that Barton is terrorising English merchant vessels, falsely claiming a right to do so as part of his legitimate campaign, supported by James IV’s letters of marque, against the Portuguese. Henry, not surprisingly, is ‘moved greately with this craftie pirate’. He therefore dispatches Lord Thomas Howard and his brother in two ships to do battle with Barton. The English ships become separated due to bad weather and Lord Howard confronts the pirate alone. ‘A sore battaill’ is fought, during which Barton blows his whistle constantly to encourage his men, and manful bravery is displayed on both sides. Ultimately, the English prevail and Barton dies of his injuries. The surviving Scots, along with their ship, are transported to London and presented to Henry VIII. The king shows mercy and sends all the prisoners home but this does not prevent James IV from complaining to Henry at the affront done to his honour by the ‘slaughter of Andrew Barton by your owne commaund’. His request for redress is rejected, and the incident plays a crucial part in the background to the Battle of Flodden Field, at which the Scottish king loses his life. In some chronicles the account is much shorter (see Speed), and in a few others it is longer (see Holinshed), but the essential story remains largely unchanged.

The ballad adds plentiful narrative detail that is not present in the chronicles. Indeed, evidence for mutual influence between the song and the histories is slim, though the emphasis on Barton’s whistle in both genres may imply that the anonymous ballad-maker was familiar with at least one of the more scholarly publications. The suggestion that Howard, when approaching Barton on the sea, first feigned friendly intent is also found both in the ballad and in a few of the chronicles (Holinshed, for example). Much of the ballad’s detail, however, has no parallel in the more expensive works: Howard, now called Charles rather than Thomas, is guided to Barton’s location on the North Sea by a merchant from Newcastle (recently robbed); the names of several English soldiers, under Howard’s command, are given; Barton is upgraded to the status of ‘knight’; there is plenty of direct speech; and details of the actual combat are rendered far more graphic. Clearly, the aim was to inject colour and emotion into the account and, to judge by the song’s success, the technique worked well.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Edward Hall, The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre [and] Yorke (1548), section entitled ‘The triumphant reigne of King Henry the VIII’, pp. xv-xvi, xxx and xxxix.

Thomas Lanquet, An epitome of chronicles (1569), fo. 273r.

Richard Grafton, A chronicle at large and neere history of the affayres of Englande (1569), pp. 960 and 996.

Raphael Holinshed, The firste volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Ireland (1577), vol. iv, pp. 1471-72.

John Leslie, De origine, moribus & rebus gestis Scotorum libri decem (Rome, 1578 and 1677).

George Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum Historia (Edinburgh, 1582)

Raphael Holinshed, The second volume of Chronicles (1586), pp. 292-94.

Edward Ayscu, A historie contayning the warres, treaties, marriages, and other occurents between England and Scotland (1607), pp. 254-55.

John Speed, The history of Great Britaine… (1611), pp. 754-55.

Francis Godwin, Annales of England (1630), pp. 8-9 and 11-12..

Anon, A pleasant history of the life and death of Will Summers (1637), E2r-3r.

Thomas Heywood, A true relation, of the lives and deaths of two famous English pyrats, Pursar and Clinton… (1639), A7r.

Richard Baker, A chronicle of the Kings of England (1642), p. 5.

Anon, Flodden Field in nine fits (1664), pp. 6 and 52.

William Dugdale, The baronage of England (1675), p. 272.

J. S., Ecclesiastical history (1682), p. 149.

William Drummond, The history of Scotland (1696), p. 210.

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A True Relation of the Life and Death of/ Sir Andrew Barton, a Pyrate and Rover on the Seas. Tune is, Come follow my Love.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


WHen Flora with her fragrant flowers

bedeckt the earth so trim and gay:

And Neptune with his dainty showers,

came to present the Month of May,

King Henry would a Progress ride,

over the River of Thames past he,

Unto a Mountain top also,

did walk some pleasure for to see.


Where forty Merchans he espy’d,

with fifty Sail come towards him,

Who then no sooner were arriv’d,

but on their knees did thus complain,

An’t please your Grace we cannot sail,

to France no voyage to be sure,

But Sir Andrew Barton makes us quail

and Robs us of our Merchant Ware,


Vext was the King, and turned him,

said to his Lords of High degree,

Have I ne’r a Lord within my Realm,

dare fetch that Traytor unto me?

To him reply’d Lord Charles Howard,

I will my Liege with heart and hand

If it please you grant me leave, he said

I will perform what you command.


To him then spake King Henry,

I fear my Lord you are too young;

No whit at all my Liege, quoth he,

I hope to prove in valour strong;

The Scotish Knight I vow to seek,

in what place soever he be,

And bring a shore with all his might,

or unto Scotland he shall carry me.


A hundred men the King then said,

out of my Realm shall chosen be,

Besides Saylors and Ship=boys

to guide a great Ship on the Sea:

Bow=men and Gunners of good skill,

shall for this service chosen be,

And they at thy command and will,

in all affairs shall wait on thee.


Lord Howard call’d a Gunner then,

who was the best in all the Realm,

His age was threescore years and ten,

and Peter Simon was his name:

My Lord call’d then a Bow man rare,

whose active hands had gained fame,

A Gentleman born in Yorkshire,

and William Horsely was his name:


Horsly (quoth he) I must to Sea,

to seek a Traytor with good speed,

Of a hundred Bow=men brave, quoth he,

I have chosen thee to be [‘the’ added in later editions] head,

If you my Lord have chosen me,

of a hundred men to be the head,

Upon the Main Mast i’le hanged be,

of [‘if’ in other versions] twelvescore miss one shilings bredth


Lord Howard then, of courage bold,

went to the Sea with pleasant chear,

Not curb’d with Winters piercing cold,

though it was stormy time of the year.

Not long he had been on the Sea,

no more in days then number three,

But one Henry Hunt there he spy’d,

a Merchant of New=castle was he.


To him Lord Howard call’d out amain,

and strictly charged him to stand,

Demanding then from whence he came,

or Where he did intend to land:

The Merchant then made answer soon,

with heavy heart and carefull mind.

My Lord, my Ship it doth belong,

unto Newcastle upon Tine.


Canst thou shew me the Lord did say,

as thou didst sail by day and night,

A Scotish Rover on the Sea,

his name is Andrew Barton Knight.

Then to him the Merchant sigh’d and said

with grieved mind and well away,

But overwell I know that wight,

I was his Prisoner yesterday:


As I (my Lord) did sail from France,

a Burdeaux Voyage to take so far,

I met with Sir Andrew Barton thence,

who rob’d me of my Merchant ware.

And mickle depts Gods knows I owe

and every man did crave his own:

And I am bound to London now,

of our gracious King to beg a boon.


Shew me him, said [‘Lord’ added in later editions] Howard then,

let me but once the Villain see,

And one Penny he hath from thee tane,

i’le double the same with shillings three.

Now God forbid the Merchant said,

I fear your aim that you will miss,

God bless you from his Tiranny,

for little you know what Man he is.


He is brass within, and steel without,

his ship most huge and mighty strong

With Eighteen pieces of Ordnance,

he carrieth on each side along:

With beams for his Top=Castle,

as also being huge and high,

That neither English nor Portugale,

can sir Andrew Barton pass by.


Hard news thou shew’st, then said the Lord

to welcome strangers to the Sea,

But as I said, i’le bring him aboard,

or into Scotland he shall carry me.

The Merchant said, if you will do so,

take counsel then I pray withal:

Let no Man to his Top=castle go,

nor strive to let his Beams down fall.


Lend me seven pieces of Ordnance then,

of each side of my ship, quoth he:

And tomorrow my Lord, ‘twixt six & seven

again I will your honour see.

A Glass I’le set that may be seen,

whether you sail by day or night,

And tomorrow be sure before seven,

you shall see sir Andrew Barton Knight.


The Merchant set my Lord a Glass,

so well apparent in his sight:

That on the morrow as his promise was,

he saw sir Andrew Barton Knight.

The Lord then swore a mighty Oath,

now by the Heavens that be of might,

By Faith believe me, and by Troth,

I think he is a Worthy Knight.


Sir Andrew Barton seeing him,

thus scornfully to pass by:

As though he cared not a pin,

for him and all his Company.

Then called he his Men amain,

fetch back you Pedler, now quoth he,

And again this way he comes again,

i’le teach him well his courtesie.


Fetch me my Lyon out of hand,

saith the Lord, with rose & streamer high

Set up withal a Willow Wand,

that Merchant like I [‘may’ added in later editions] pass by:

Thus bravely did Lord Howard pass,

and did on Anchor rise so high:

No Top=sail at all he cast,

but as his foe he did him defie.


A piece of Ordnance soon was shot

by this proud Pyrate fiercely then,

Into Lord Howards middle Deck,

which cruel shot kill’d fourteen men.

He call’d then Peter Simon he,

look now thy Word to stand in stead,

For thou shalt be hanged on Main-mast,

if thou miss 12 score one penny breadth.


Then Peter Simon gave a shot,

which did sir Andrew mickle scare:

In at his deck it came so hot,

kill’d fifteen of his Men of War:

Alas then said the Pyrate stout,

I am in danger now I see,

This is some Lord I greatly doubt,

that is set on to conquer me.


Then Henry Hunt with rigour hot,

came bravely on the other side,

Who likewise shot in at his Deck,

and kill’d fifty of his men beside:

Then out alas sir Andrew cry’d,

what may a Man now think or say?

Yon Merchant=thief that pierceth me,

he was my Prisoner yesterday.


Then did he on Gordion call,

unto Top=castle for to go,

And bid his beames he should set sail,

for I greatly fear an overthrow.

The Lord call’d Horsly now in haste,

look that thy word stand now in stead,

For thou shalt be hanged on Main=mast,

if thou miss 12 score a shilling breadth.


Then up Mast=Tree swarved he,

this stout and mighty Gordion:

But Horsly he most happily,

shot him under the Collar-bone:

Then call’d he on his Nephew then,

said, Sisters Sons I have no mo:

Three hundred pound I will give thee,

if thou wilt to Top=Castle go.


Then stoutly he began to climb,

from off the Mast scorn’d to depart:

But Horsly soon prevented him,

and deadly pierc’d him to the heart.

His Men being slain, then up amain,

did this proud Pyrate climb with speed:

For Armour of proof he had put on,

and did not dint of Arrow dread.


Come hither Horsly, said the Lord,

see [‘thou’ added in later editions] thine Arrow aim aright:

Great means to thee I will afford,

and if thou speed, i’le make you a Knight.

Sir Andrew did climb up the Tree,

with right good will and all his main;

Then upon the Breast hit Horsly he,

till the Arrow did return again.


Then Horsly spyed a private place,

with a perfect eye in a secret part:

his Arrow swiftly flew apace,

and smote Sir Andrew to the heart:

Fight on, fight on, my merry Men all,

a little I am hurt, yet not slain,

I’le but lie down and bleed a while,

and come and fight with you again.


And do not, said he, fear English Rogues,

and of your foes stand not in awe,

But stand fast by Sir Andrews Cross,

until you hear my Whistle blow.

They never heard his Whistle blow,

which made them [‘all’ added in later editions] sore afraid

Then Horsly said, my Lord aboard,

for now Sir Andrew Barton’s dead.


Thus boarded they this gallant Ship,

with right good will and all their main:

Eighteen=score Scots alive in it,

besides as many more were slain.

The Lord went where Sir Andrew lay,

and quickly thence cut off his Head:

I should forsake England many a day,

if thou wert alive as thou art dead.


Thus from the Wars Lord Howard came,

with mickle joy and triumphing:

The Pyrates Head he brought along,

for to present unto the King.

Who briefly then to him did say,

before he knew well what was done:

Where is the Knight and Pyrate gay?

that I my self may give the doom:


You may thank God, then said the Lord,

and four Men in the ship, quoth he,

That we are safely come ashore,

sith you had never such an enemy:

That is Henry Hunt, and Peter Simon,

William Horsly and Peters Son:

Wherefore reward them for their pains,

for they did service at their turn.


To the Merchant then the King did say,

in lieu of what he hath from thee tane,

I give to thee a Noble a Day,

Sir Andrews Whistle, and his Chain:

To Peter Simon a Crown a day,

and half a Crown a day to Peters Son:

And that was for a shot so gay,

which bravely brought sir Andrew down


Horsly I will make thee a Knight,

and in Yorkshire thou shalt dwell:

Lord Howard shall Earl Bury hight,

for this title he deserveth well:

Seven Shillings to our English men,

who in this fight did stoutly stand,

And 12 pence a day to the Scots, till they

come to my Brother Kings high Land.


Printed for J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger.

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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, Vere, Wright and Gilbertson, 1656; Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke,1675; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Andrew Barton').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1629.

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

No. of extant copies: 13

New tune-titles generated: 'Sir Andrew Barton' (2 ballads). 

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 421 references, including extensive evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 104).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 26 + 13 + 4 +0 + 15 = 83

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