14  A Godly Warning for all Maidens, by the exam/ple of Gods Judgement shewed on one Jermans Wife of Clifton [Pepys 1.504-05]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Godly Warning for all Maidens

Death - ghostly abduction Death - suicide Emotions - anger Emotions - despair Emotions - fear Emotions - greed Emotions - guilt Emotions - shame Emotions - wonder Environment - buildings Family - pregnancy/childbirth Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Morality - romantic/sexual Places - English Religion - body/soul Religion - divine intervention Religion - ghosts/spirits Religion - sin/repentance

Song History

Romantic betrayal was a potent theme within early modern balladry, and A Godly warning for all Maidens is the highest-ranking song on our list that addresses this topic. It was also a remarkably enduring composition with a history in print that stretches from the early-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The song also spawned a stage play in the 1630s, said to have been ‘divers times Acted by severall Companies with great applause’, and a chapbook version, written in prose and published around 1701 (see Related texts). Despite this wealth of documentation, it has proved impossible to establish any sound factual basis for the events described in the ballad, though the story clearly rang true in many early-modern ears.

The earliest surviving edition of this song was published under the title A warning for maidens in 1630-58 (see Editions). This version, without woodcut pictures, also presented the text of a second, shorter song, set to the same tune and entitled A godly ballad. It urges readers/listeners to contemplate their own mortality and learn to live virtuously. A godly ballad is not directly related to the main song, though its moralising tone reinforces the messages contained in the better-known text, and the final verse contains the interesting observation that, ‘The weakness of a womans wit,/ is not through natures fault,/ But lack of education fit,/ makes nature oft to halt’. This faintly progressive remark sounds like an attempt to connect the two songs, but it does not seem to have been particularly successful; all subsequent surviving editions of A godly warning (under several variant titles) dropped the second song, thus making space on the sheet for the specially-commissioned woodcuts.

The song’s impressive popularity can probably be attributed to a number of factors. It used a strong, simple, singable tune that, in association with other ballads, came to carry powerful resonances of its own (see Featured tune history). It animated the commonplace and thoroughly relatable themes of betrothal and betrayal through several key moments of high drama: the woman’s initial vow, presaging her own doom; Bateman’s curse, quickly followed by his suicide at the door of his beloved; the appearance of his ‘pale and ghastly’ spirit, a description that eventually generated a new title, ‘Young Bateman’s ghost’, for the song; the woman’s acknowledgement that ‘Alive or dead I am his right’; and her supernatural abduction from a childbirth gathering that was a charged and poignant version of a scene familiar to the vast majority of women. The two most commonly-encountered pictures on seventeenth-century editions identified the symbolic suicide and the vengeful abduction as the high points of a drama-packed ballad (see Featured woodcut history). The fact that there are four supernatural abductions in our top forty ballads tells us something about the appeal of this narrative device. Sasha Handley has discussed the prominence of ghosts in A Godly Warning and other ballads, emphasising their role as 'relaters of wrongdoing', particularly where true love has been obstructed.

There is little evidence to suggest that the song survived into the era of the folksong collectors in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though a version does appear in the ‘Glenbuchat ballads’, transcribed in Aberdeenshire around 1818. In this source, the song is entitled ‘Young Baithman’ and seems squarely based on one or other of the broadside versions that were still being printed in England at this date. More persuasively, a closely related ballad from c. 1650, A warning for married women, generated a vernacular song that was frequently found by modern collectors (see Related texts).

Christopher Marsh


David Buchan and James Moreira (eds.), The Glenbuchat ballads, compiled by Robert Scott, ed. David Buchan and James Moreira (Oxford, Mississippi, 2007), introduction, pp. 128-32 and 343-44.

Sasha Handley, Visions of an unseen world: ghost beliefs and ghost stories in eighteenth-century England (2016), pp. 50-54.

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

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Featured Tune History

To the Tune of ‘The Ladies Fall’ (standard name: In peascod time)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its ballad 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 enduring Elizabethan tune came to be known variously as ‘In Pescod time’, ‘The Ladies fall’, ‘The Brides buriall’, ‘Bateman’, ‘John True’ and ‘Help Lords and Commons’. Notation can be found in several sources, most of them from the early seventeenth century. A printed version appears in Anthony Holborn’s Cittharn School (1597), and surviving manuscripts include several settings for either cittern or virginals. Examples can be found, for example, in Robert Creighton’s virginal book and the cittern partbook held at Mills College in California. Some of the greatest composers of the age, including William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, wrote instrumental arrangements, and it is clear that this melody was exceptionally well known. Our recording of A Godly Warning for all Maidens uses the version that features in the manuscript of early seventeenth-century keyboard music known as Drexel 5612.

Echoes (an overview)

This was an immensely successful tune, easy to learn and easy to sing. Its earliest title, ‘In Pescod time’, came from the opening line of a song or poem entitled ‘The Sheepheards slumber’, published in John Bodenham’s Englands Helicon (1600). This featured a shepherd’s disturbing dream, in which a tense debate takes place about the power of Cupid, the dangers of love and the roles played by men and women.

The melody was subsequently named on ballads throughout the early modern period, and it developed a strong and consistent attachment to two particular textual themes. Most strikingly, the tune was chosen for songs about suffering women, and A Godly Warning for all Maidens is a good example. The women in the various narratives were not always the only ones to suffer – several men also meet their ends in these songs – but it is likely that the tune helped to concentrate the attention of listeners particularly upon female woe. Although there is nothing inherently miserable about the melody, it clearly came to express sadness through its association with tragic narratives (to early modern listeners, Ross Duffin’s recent characterisation of ‘The lady’s fall’ as a ‘rollicking tune’ would probably have seemed strange).

The dominant tune title originated with A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall and this song’s focus on the anguish of its main female character was constantly echoed in others. The melody’s name seems to have carried particular force, as suggested by the fact that the impoverished female ballad-singer in Hogarth’s engraving, ‘The Enraged Musician’, is clutching a ballad entitled ‘The Ladies Fall’. Two ballad-makers even wove into their narratives episodes in which their female characters fell physically rather than morally (see A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady and A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids).

The female characters in all these ballads, though united by melody and misery, cover quite a range, including a roughly equal mixture of impeccably virtuous women, good women who make mistakes, and women who are predominantly wicked (though some of them repent their sins before death). They all come to suffer but some are to blame and others are blameless. The tune must have come to suggest both possibilities, setting up some interesting relationships between the different songs. A Godly Warning for all Maidens sits somewhere in the middle, featuring a young woman who is certainly not evil but who brings suffering upon others and upon herself through a single, selfish misjudgement.

Female pain was thus the tune’s primary domain but it was also used repeatedly in a second area. A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye is the first surviving example from a series of ballads that nominated the tune for texts that disseminated moral rules, urged people to prepare for death or, more occasionally, told stories from the Bible or from Christian legend. It also, therefore, came to possess religious undertones that must have interacted with and reinforced the songs about suffering women. Only two of the ballads listed below are clearly outliers with no strong connection to either theme (see The Lawyers Plea and the very peculiar Lamentation of a bad Market).

Some of these songs were connected with one another not just by their shared tune but also by inter-textual referencing, whether deliberate or unconscious. Only a small number of examples can be noted here. The appeals to potential customers that open several ballads clearly echo one another: ‘Marke well my heavy dolefull tale,/ yow loyal lovers all’ (A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall); ‘Marke well thys storye strange and trew,/ yow wicked lovers all’ (A most lamentable or dolefull dittye); ‘Come mourn, come mourn with me/ you loyall lovers all’ (The Brides Buriall). There is a cummulative effect at work here, with each new appeal adding a further layer to the melody’s significance. 

In Two unfortunate Lovers, the lines, ‘Six maids in white as custome is,/ did bring her to the grave’ recalled a similar description in The Brides Buriall: ‘Sixe maidens all in white,/ did beare her to the ground’ (this moment was also the subject of a woodcut that appears regularly on these ballads). Two unfortunate Lovers also includes a verse that appears, almost verbatim, in A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall (the differences are indicated in square brackets): ‘Woe to [worth] the time I did beleeve,/ that flattering looke [tongue] of thine/, Would God that I had never seene,/ the teares of thy false eyne’.  And two ballads - A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord and  The Lady Isabella's Tragedy – present villains who declare, ‘Thy butcher I will be’.

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

Songs and Summaries

A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall... To THE TUNE OF of Peascoode time (no printed copy of the earliest editions has survived but the song was registered in 1603 and transcribed by hand around the same date). Shirburn ballads, XLIX. Gender – courtship; Morality – sexual; Death – tragedy; Emotions – love, anger, sorrow; Family – pregnancy and childbirth; Employment – apprenticeship/service. A young lady becomes pregnant before marriage and runs away to meet her lover but he doesn’t show up and the consequences are tragic.

A most lamentable or dolefull dittye, of an Italian Gentleman and his three sonnes... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s Fall (no printed copy from this period has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1600-03). Shirburn ballads, LXXI. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, siblings, inheritance; Gender – marriage, courtship, incest, sex; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, suicide, heartbreak; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Emotions – greed, anger, horror, jealousy; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Places – European; Bodies – clothing; Religion – Christ/God. A couple have three sons before the woman dies in childbirth, at which point an evil step-mother joins the family with consequences that include incest, murder and suicide.

Two unfortunate Lovers, or, a true Relation of the lamentable end of John True, and Susan Mease... To the tune of, The Brides Buriall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.428-29; EBBA 30291.  Gender – courtship; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, sorrow; Death – heartbreak, tragedy; burial/funeral; Bodies – health/sickness; Places – English; Employment – crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits. John overcomes Susan’s initial disdain and she agrees to marry him, but he then decides to test her love with some disdain of his own, and the consequences are tragic.

The Lamenting Lady, Who for the wrongs done to her by a poore woman, for having two children at one burthen, was by the hand of God most strangely punished... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.44-45; EBBA 20210. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – femininity, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Society – rich/poor; Emotions – anger, guilt, wonder, horror; Employment – begging; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness; Religion – divine intervention; Economy – hardship/prosperity, livings. A barren lady expresses her anger at the evident fertility of a poor woman with twin babies in her arms, and after the poor woman curses her response a terrible punishment unfolds.

The Judgement of Salomon... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.30-31; EBBA 20143. Religion – Bible; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Royalty – praise; Emotions – love, longing, confusion; Death – grief, accident; Bodies – health/sickness, injury; Politics – controversy, court; Violence – interpersonal. This recounts the famous Biblical story of King Solomon’s wise judgement in the case of the two harlots and the baby.

A most strange and trew ballad of a monst[r]ous child born in Southampton upon tuesdaye being the 16. day of March last, 1602... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603). Shirburn Ballads, LXXII. Bodies – looks/physique; Disability – physical; Emotions – horror, anxiety; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Religion  - Christ/God, sin/repentance; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Places – English; Royalty – praise. This describes a baby, still-born with many physical abnormalities, and urges us to understand it as a warning from God of the need to repent our sins.

The Brides Buriall. To the tune of the Ladies fall (registered 1603; H. G.,  1624-40). Roxburghe 1.59; EBBA 30586. Death – illness, godly end, grief, tragedy, burial/funeral; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, sorrow, anger; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness, clothing; Religion – charity, prayer, heaven/hell, Christ/God; History – ancient/mythological; Environment – flowers/trees; Recreation – weddings. A sorrowful man describes the sudden death of his virtuous sweetheart on their wedding day and the sad funeral that followed.

Of a maide now dwelling at the towne of meurs in dutchland, that hath not taken any foode this 16 yeares... To THE TUNE OF Th[e] ladie’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, X. Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Recreation – food, sight-seing; Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention; Economy – money; Emotions – wonder; Environment – flowers/trees; Gender – femininity; News – international, sensational; Places – European, travel/transport. The story of a Dutch woman who, fearing the moral corruption associated with over-indulgence, has refused all food for many years and keeps herself alive by smelling a fragrant flower and trusting in the Lord.

A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye... To the tune of The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, III. Religion – sin/repentance, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – godly end; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – anxiety; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage; Society – friendship, neighbours, criticism,  Royalty – praise. A song urging us that our health and wealth will not last, and that that we must therefore repent our sins immediately and prepare to die.

The Wandring Jew, OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusam [sic], who lived when our Saviour Christ was crucified, and appoynted by him to live untill his comming again. To the Tune of, the Ladies Fall (registered  1612?; E. Wright, 1638-56). Wood 401(123); Religion – Christ/God, Judaism, prophecy, sin/repentance, charity, heathens/infidels; History – ancient/mythological, heroism, villainy; Violence – punitive; Death – execution; Emotions – anger, despair, shame, wonder; Places – travel/transport, European, extra-European; Bodies – looks/physique; Employment – crafts/trades. This recounts the legend of the Wandering Jew, who insulted Christ on the day of his crucifixion and was punished by being made to walk the earth until the end of time.

Miraculous Newes from the cittie of Holdt in Germany, where there were three dead bodyes seene to rise ouf their Graves... To THE TUNE OF The ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1616). Shirburn Ballads, XVI.  Death – general; Emotions – fear, horrow, wonder; Environment – wonders, weather; Religion – sin/repentances; ghosts/spirits, church; Christ/God; Places – European; Bodies – health/sickness; News – international, sensational; Morality – general. This describes a terrible firestorm in a German city, during which three skeletons emerged temporarily from their graves and delivered dire warnings to the local populace about the need to repent.

A Prophesie of the Judgement Day. Being lately found in Saint Denis Church in France... To the tune of the Ladyes fall (J. W., 1616-20?). Pepys 1.36-67; EBBA 20171. Religion – prophecy, Christ/God, divine intervention, clergy, heathens/infidels; Environment – wonders, weather, buildings; News – international, sensational; Places – European; Death – general; Violence – divine. This converts into metrical form a series of prophecies for the 1620s – wars, earthquakes and so on – that were recently discovered hidden in a church wall in Paris.

[The] Damnable Practises Of three Lincolne-shire Witches... To the tune of the Ladies fall (John Barnes, 1619). Pepys 1.132-33; EBBA 20058. Crime – witchcraft, murder, robbery/theft; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Religion – angels/devils, conjuration; Family – children/parents, siblings; Emotions – anger, horror; Violence – diabolical; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Bodies – clothing, health/sickness, nourishment; Environment – animals; Places- English Gender – femininity, sex; Society – rich/poor, rural life. A song about the malicious activities of three Lincolnshire witches, who tormented the Earl of Rutland and his family after one of them was dismissed from his service for stealing.

A warning for all desperate Women. By the example of Alice Davis who for killing of her husband was burned in Smithfield the 12 of July 1628... To the tune of the Ladies fall (F. Coules, 1628). Pepys 1.120-21; EBBA 20050. Crime – murder; Violence – domestic, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, execution, godly end; Gender – marriage, femininity;  Economy – money; Emotions – anger, horror, guilt, shame, sorrow; Morality – familial; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God; prayer; Employment – crafts/trades; Society – neighbours; Places – English. A woman, about to be executed by burning for the murder of her husband, describes her crime and expresses her remorse in the hope that others will avoid a similar fate.

A Warning for Maidens. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall [also published subsequently as A Godly Warning for all Maidens] (no imprint, 1630-58?). Roxburghe 1.501; EBBA 30336. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – suicide, ghostly abduction; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – ghosts/spirits, divine intervention, body/soul, sin/repentance; Emotions – greed, despair, anger, guilt, shame, fear, wonder; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Environment – buildings; Places – English. A young woman breaks her engagement to one man in favour of a second, wealthier individual, and a terrible tale of suicide and supernatural abduction unfolds.

A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids... The tune is, the Brides Buriall (Tho: Vere, 1645-82).  British Library, Book of Fortune, C.20.f.14.(24.); EBBA 36948. Gender – sexual violence, masculinity, femininity, courtship; Violence – sexual; Death – accident, tragedy, godly end; Bodies – injury; Emotions – longing, horror, shame; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Christ/God, prayer; News – sensational; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English. A miller attempts to force a maiden to kiss him and, in the struggle, they both fall into a vat of scalding liquid with fatal consequences.

A Warning for Married Women... To a west-country Tune called, The fair Maid of Bristol: Bateman, or, John True (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.502; EBBA 30338. Gender – courtship, marriage; Death – warfare, ghostly abduction, suicide; Family – children/parents; Emotions –love, longing, despair; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Morality – romantic/sexual; Environent – sea; Places – English, travel/transport. A man dies at sea after having been pressed into the navy, and when his sweetheart eventually marries another and raises a family, he returns in human form to tempt her away.

A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady... To the tune of, The Ladies fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 197; EBBA 31955. Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity, sexual violence; Crime – murder, rape; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, self-inflicted; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Emotions – horrow, hatred, fear; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals, buildings, landscape; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – European. When a nobleman goes on a hunting trip, an aggrieved servant – ‘a Heathenish Blackamoor’ – exacts terrible revenge on his wife and family.

The West-countrey Gentlemans last Will & Testament... The Tune is I am James Harris call’d by name, or Ladies Fall (imprint missing, mid-seventeenth century?). Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(154). Family – children/parents; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual, general; Religion – moral rules, charity, church, Christ/God; Society – neighbours, rural life; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – love; Places – English. An exemplary gentleman makes his will, passing on his estate and a series of moral injunctions to his son and heir.

The Lawyers Plea, In the behalf of Young TOM of LINCOLN... To the Tune of, Help Lords and Commons, &c (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). British Library, 82.l.8.(21.); EBBA 36918. Gender – sex; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Protestant nonconformity; Employment- professions, prostitution; Places – English; Politics – domestic, Royalist; Society – urban life. This is a robust defence of the sexual behaviour that occurs among the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn, arguing – in response to a previous ballad (apparently lost) – that the wenching of hypocritical nonconformists is far worse.

A friendly Caveat To all true Christians, Showing the them the true way to Heaven. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Beinecke 2000 Folio 6 237; EBBA 35987. Morality – general; Religion – Bible, moral rules, Christ/God, prayer; Family – children/parents; Gender – adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – nourishment. This urges the importance of moral conduct on all Christians, summarising the Ten Commandments for good measure.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy; OR, The Step-Mothers Cruelty... To the Tune of, The Ladies Fall (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Pepys 2.149; EBBA 20767. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial; Emotions – hatred, anger, sorrow; Recreation – food; Employment – crafts/trades. A beautiful young lady is cruelly murdered by her jealous step-mother and the household’s master-cook, but an honest scullion boy reveals the truth and both killers are executed – the woman is burnt at the stake and the man is boiled in oil.

Loves Overthrow; OR, A full and true account of a young Maid that lived in Exeter-Exchange-Court, in the Strand... To the Tune of, Bateman (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 61; EBBA 32713. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Death – suicide, heartbreak; Violence – self-inflicted; Emotions – despair, love; Employment – apprenticeship/service;  Economy – livings; news – general; Places – English. A young woman misunderstands her sweetheart’s good reasons for delaying marriage, and after killing herself in desperation she is buried with a stake through her body.

The lamentation of a bad Market, OR, The Drownding of three Children on the Thames...Tune of, The Ladies Fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80).  Pepys 2.146; EBBA 20764.  Family – children/parents; Death – accident; News – sensational; Places – English; Humour – extreme situations. This describes a recent fire on London Bridge and a separate episode in which three children fell through the ice on the Thames and drowned.


The melody was regularly nominated in printed songbooks of the period. In ‘A most royall song of the life and death of our late renowned Princesse Queene Elizabeth’, published in Richard Johnson’s Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), the fallen heroine is the late lamented monarch. And in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), the tune is used for ‘A Caroll for Twelfe day’, bidding a sad farewell to Christmas cheer (this song has the same opening line as A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall). See also: ‘A Pastoral Song’ and ‘The story of Ill-May day’ in Cupids Garland (1674); and one of the metrical religious songs in William Slatyer’s, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631).

The tune was also named on a scurrilous white-letter ballad entitled THE FOUR-LEGG'D ELDER, OR, A true RELATION OF A DOG and an ELDER'S Maid (‘Printed in the year 1647. And Reprinted 1677’). Here, strikingly, the author’s satirical intention was to deploy the unquestionably sober associations of the tune in order to denigrate the ballad’s fallen lady, a Quaker’s maidservant who found herself in trouble for having sex with her master’s dog. The mocking tone also extended to the tune designation, which poured scorn on the simplicity and similarity of many short ballad melodies: ‘To the Tune of The Lady's Fall, or Gather your Rose-buds; and Fourty other Tunes’.

Occasionally, however, the simplicity and ubiquity of the tune were referenced nostalgically to recall more straightforward times in the past. Henry Bolt’s poem, ‘On a Barber who became a great Master of Musick’, looks back to the days when barbers lacked musical pretension and their citterns were ‘confin’d unto/ The Ladies fall, or John come kiss me now’.

Christopher Marsh


John Bodenham, Englands Helicon (1600), Z3r-4v.

Henry Bolt, Latine songs, with their English (1685), pp. 148-49.

Robert Creighton, virginal book, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Conservatoire Rés. 1186, fo. 101v.

Cupids Garland (1674), A5v-6r and B3v-4r.

Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), p. 49.

Orlando Gibbons, Complete Keyboard works, ed. M. H. Glyn (1925), vol. 2, 14.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), B1r-2r.

Anthony Holborn, Cittharn School (1597), C1v.

Richard Johnson, The Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), C8v-D3v.

New York Public Library MS Drexel 5612, p. 22 (transcribed in Simpson).

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 368-71.

William Slatyer, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631), table at back.

Walsingham consort partbook for cittern, Mills College, Oakland, California, no. 32.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Devil abducting woman

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 clearly designed specifically for A Godly Warning, and it went a little further than the text in actually visualising the means by which supernatural abduction occurred (the demon, for example, is depicted but not described). This specificity limited the potential for using the woodcut on other ballads and, within the two largest collections, it only appears with this song. As in other comparable cases, the woodcut appeared on all surviving editions from the seventeenth century and also exists in slightly variant versions. Such was the popularity of the song and its images that different printers evidently commissioned their own woodblocks, based closely on those that already existed.

Songs and summaries

A Godly Warning for all Maidens, by the example of Gods Judgement shewed on one Jermans Wife of Clifton (W. Thackery and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 1.504-05; EBBA 20238. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – suicide, ghostly abduction; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – ghosts/spirits, divine intervention, body/soul, sin/repentance; Emotions – greed, despair, anger, guilt, shame, fear, wonder; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Environment – buildings; Places – English. A young woman breaks her engagement to one man in favour of a second, wealthier individual, and a terrible tale of suicide and supernatural abduction unfolds (picture placement: it appears over the second half of the text, where the relevant events are described).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The purpose of the short list that appears below is to identify other works of the period that covered the same narrative as A Godly Warning for all Maidens and that might therefore have been related to it in some way (see the list of texts, below). Sampson’s play and the chapbook, Bateman’s tragedy, can be considered together because both picked up the ballad narrative and expanded significantly upon it. Sampson names the woman Anne Boot (she is not identified in the ballad) and claims that the real drama upon which the narrative is based took place in the 1540s – though a reference to ‘Queen Bess’ rather seems to undermine this claim. He also introduces a military subplot and several new characters, particularly the fathers of Bateman and his beloved. The anonymous chapbook is similarly inventive, naming the woman Isabella Gifford and introducing two episodes in which the main characters appear in disguise.

Despite these moments of elaboration, both publications tie themselves directly to the original ballad in several interesting ways. Key moments of high drama in the song are carefully retained (the suicide and the abduction, for example) and both of the prose sources make repeated use of the chilling ‘alive or dead’ motif. This expression, used sparingly in the ballad, is deployed repeatedly in the subsequent sources, perhaps because it had proved particularly memorable.

Towards the close of The vow breaker, it is also notable that Anne’s virtuous cousin, Ursula, warns her about the dangers of breaking her word, saying ‘’t’wood greive thee to have Ballads made on thee, to the tune of the inconstant Lover, and have thy perjuries pind on every post’. Towards the end of the play, a male character actually sings several verses from A Godly Warning, describing it as ‘a very merry lamentable dolefull new Ditty of young Bateman, and his Nan’. He expresses regret ‘that ever poore young gentleman should die like a bird on a Tree, for the love to a woman – for here it is in the third staff’ (here, ‘staff’ probably refers to a column of text, and the comment implies that the singer is reading from a printed sheet).

The chapbook includes the full text of the ballad at its conclusion, and an earlier observation made about Bateman’s story – ‘that all England has not only heard it with Admiration, but stood astonished at it’ – is surely a reference to the success of A Godly Warning. It seems clear that a tactic of tying the new publication to the old was considered likely to attract potential purchasers and help readers get their bearings.

The third source listed here, A warning for married women, is a ballad that seems to have been first published in the mid-seventeenth century. It bears a strong resemblance to A Godly Warning, and it named ‘Bateman’ (a new name for ‘The lady’s fall’) as one of three possible tunes. The two ballads are tied together not only by their melody but by several close, verbal echoes: compare, for example, ‘At last a proper handsom youth,/ young Bateman call’d by name’ and ‘A comely proper youth he was,/ James Harass call’d by Name’. The two songs also present very similar narratives. In the second case, however, the woman’s first love dies at sea, and she only abandons her vow to him when it becomes obvious that he will not be returning home. She goes on to marry a local carpenter but is subsequently haunted and then spirited away by the ghost of her former sweetheart. David Atkinson has described the process by which this song was further adjusted and significantly shortened in printed versions of the eighteenth century, eventually becoming the very well-known folk song entitled ‘The demon lover’ or ‘The house carpenter’ (Child Ballad 243).

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

William Sampson, The Vow Breaker. Or, The Faire Maide of Clifton (1636).

A warning for married women (c. 1650).

Anon, Bateman’s tragedy; Or, The Perjur’d Bride justly Rewarded: Being the history of the unfortunate love of German’s wife and young Bateman (1701).


David Atkinson, ‘The popular ballad and the book trade: “Bateman’s tragedy” versus “The demon lover’, in David Atkinson and Steve Roud (eds.), Street ballads in nineteenth-century Britain, Ireland and North America: the interface between print and oral traditions (Farnham, 2014), pp. 195-218.

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A Godly Warning for all Maidens, by the exam/ple of Gods Judgement shewed on one Jermans Wife of Clifton, in the/ County of Nottingham, who lying in Child-bed, was born awa[y],/ and never heard of after.

To the Tune of, The Ladis Fall.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


YOu dainty Dames so finely fram’d,

of beauties chiefest mold,

And you that trip it up and down,

Like Lambs in Cupid’s fold:

Here is a Lesson to be learn’d,

a lesson in my mind,

For such as will prove false in love,

and bear a faithless mind.


Not far from Nottingham of late,

in Clifton as I hear,

There dwelt a fair and comely Dame,

for beauty without peer:

Her cheeks were like the crimson Rose,

yet as you may perceive,

The fairest face the falsest heart,

and soonest will deceive.


This gallant dame she was belov’d,

of many in that place,

And many sought in marriage bed,

her body to imbrace:

A[t] last a proper handsom youth,

young Bateman cal’d by name,

In hope to make a married wife,

unto this maiden came.


Such love and liking there was found,

that he from all the rest,

Had stoln away the Maidens heart,

and she did love him best;

Then plighted promise secretly

did pass between them two,

That nothing could but death it self,

this true love’s knot undo.


He brake a piece of Gold in twain,

one half to her he gave,

The other as a pledge, quoth he,

dear heart my self will have.

If I do break my Vow, quoth she

while I remain alive,

May never thing I take in hand

be seen at all to thrive.


This passed on for two months space,

and then this Maid began,

To settle love and liking too

upon another man:

One Jerman who a Widower was,

her Husband needs must be,

Because he was of greater wealth,

and better in degree.


Her vows and Promise lately made,

to Bateman she deny’d;

And in despight of him and his

she utterly defi’d:

Well then, quoth he, if it be so

that you will me forsake,

And like a false and forsworn wretch

another husband take.


Thou shalt not Live one quiet hour

for surely I will have

Thee either now alive or dead,

when I am laid in grave;

Thy faithless mind thou shalt repent,

therefore be well assur’d,

When for thy sake thou hear’st report,

what torments I endur’d.


But mark how Bateman dy’d for love,

and finisht up his life,

This very day she married was,

and made old Jermans wife:

For with a strangling Cord God wot,

great moan was made therefore,

He hang’d himself in desperate sort,

before the Brides own door.


Whereat such sorrow pierc’t her heart,

and troubled sore her mind,

That she could never after that,

one day of comfort find;

And wheresoever she did go,

her fancy did surmise,

Young Bateman’s pale and ghastly Ghost

appear’d before her eyes.


When she in bed at night did lye

betwixt her Husbands arms,

In hope thereby to sleep and rest

in safety without harms:

Great cries & grievous groans she heard,

a voice that sometimes said,

O thou art she that I must have;

and will not be denay’d.


But she then being big with child,

was for the Infants sake,

Preserved from the spirit’s power,

no vengeance could it take,

The Babe unborn did safely keep,

as God appointed so,

His Mother’s body from the Fiend

that sought her overthrow.


But being of her burden eas’d,

and safely brought to Bed,

Her care and grief began a new,

and further sorrow bred.

And of her Friends she did intreat,

desiring them to stay,

Out of the bed, quoth she this night,

I shall be born away.


Here comes the spirit of my love,

with pale and gastly face,

Who till he bear me hence away,

will not depart this place:

Alive or dead I am his right

and he will surely have,

In spight of me and all the world,

what I by promise gave.


O watch with me this night I pray,

and see you do not sleep,

No longer then you be awake,

my body can you keep.

All promised to do their best,

yet nothing could suffice,

In middle of the night to keep,

sad slumber from their eyes.


So being all full fast asleep,

to them unknown which way,

The Child-bed woman that woful night

from thence was born away:

And to what place no creature knew,

nor to this day can tell,

As strange a thing as ever yet,

in any age befel.


You Maidens that desire to love,

and would good Husbands chuse,

To him that you do vow to love

by no means do refuse.

For God that hears all secret Oaths,

will dreadful vengeance take,

On such that of a wilful vow

do slender reckoning make.


Printed for W. Thackery, 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: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Bateman'); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Bateman').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1603.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 12

No. of extant copies: 9

New tune-titles generated: 'Bateman' (2 ballads). 

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: suicide scene on featured edition (and other editions); and Devil abducting woman on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 70 references but no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 22132).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 24 + 9 + 4 + 10 + 7 = 89

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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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