106  A Strange Banquet;/ OR,/ The Devils Entertainment by Cook Laurel [Pepys 4.284]

Author: Jonson, Ben (1573-1637)

Recording: A Strange Banquet

Bodies - bodily functions Bodies - nourishment Employment - crafts/trades Employment - professions Environment - landscape Humour - extreme situations/surprises Humour - verbal Morality - general Places - English Recreation - food Religion - Devil(s)

Song History

This song originated in Ben Jonson’s celebrated courtly masque, The gypsies metamorphos’d (performed 1621), though it is notable that none of the broadsheet editions of the ballad credited the author (and all surviving copies are of later date). We do not know how quickly the ballad followed the masque but it is clear that A Strange Banquet subsequently became a major hit that lasted throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century. The song was also printed in several song-collections, and the compilers of these works, unlike the ballad-publishers, attributed the piece to Jonson. Another curiosity of the single-sheet song is that it does not appear to have been registered with the Stationers at any point (see Related texts for brief discussion of the relationship between the masque song and the ballad).

Though we cannot be sure, it seems likely that the song’s beginnings in one of the most refined genres of high culture – the masque – help to explain its popularity. ‘Ordinary’ people, if they purchased a copy, could pin up in their homes a song that was originally written for the ears of the king and his most favoured courtiers, most notably George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham (subsequently Duke of Buckingham), who commissioned the masque.

The fact that the masque itself featured gypsies and common villagers, some of whom were played by the attending aristocrats, suggests that A Strange Banquet might be thought of as a case study in high-low cultural circulation and/or appropriation. During the masque’s original performances in 1621, the frisson was presumably delivered partly by the willingness of the courtiers to become gypsies and yokels, just for an evening; when the ballad reached the streets, a proportion of the excitement perhaps lay in its satire of a gluttonous, courtly ‘banquet’ of the sort that few commoners would ever experience (in the seventeenth century, ‘banquet’ denoted an elaborate and extensive display of expensive sweetmeats).

There were other possible reasons for the song’s success, of course. The dark exoticism of the cannibalistic foodstuffs must have caught the imagination of people whose culture featured carnivalesque excess and inversion so prominently. Memorably, Barbara Ravelhofer has described the song as a ‘jocular scene of culinary overkill’. The long musical list of dishes also connects with other ballads that delivered pithy criticisms of a broad range of social types (see for example Come buy this new Ballad, before you doe goe: If you raile at the Author, I know what I know, c. 1619, EBBA 30030). Indeed, the notion of the Devil munching his way through usurers, lawyers, cuckolds and lechers before farting them out in gaseous form represented an intriguing new twist on this established sub-genre.

The ballad also connected with consumers’ existing knowledge of ‘Cook Laurel’ (or ‘Cock Laurel’), an archetypal rogue said to have reigned supreme among criminals and tricksters during the early sixteenth century. Similarly, it invited listeners to call up prior knowledge of ‘The Devils Arse in the Peak’, the opening of a cave-system in Derbyshire, which reputedly served as the headquarters of the dubious anti-society to which England’s rogues were imagined to belong. There was, of course, an extensive contemporary literature on this parallel world, complete with its officers, statutes and own ‘canting’ language. It seems that England’s criminals, though incorrigibly subversive, were considered incapable of thinking beyond the terms of conventional hierarchy.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which the ballad was also politically charged for some consumers. Although it originated in a court masque, it is easy to imagine how the song might also have been heard as a critical commentary on courtly gluttony and corruption. To listeners who knew of its connections to the Stuart monarchy (in the form of James I) and the Duke of Buckingham, the song had the credentials to take on additional and edgy significance. It is striking, for example, that the first woodcut on our featured edition, probably recycled from another publication, apparently presents Cook Laurel, the king of rogues, as a very conventional crowned monarch (versions of the same picture appeared on most editions).

Conversely, ‘The Devils Arse a peake’ was sometimes referred to in literature of the 1660s as the birthplace of the rebels who had caused such unrest in the previous two decades. In this context, A Strange Banquet may have appealed more to Royalists than to their enemies. As usual, we are hampered by inadequate information on the ballad’s publishing history and on consumer responses to it. Perhaps it was popular partly because it could set feet tapping in very different settings.

Two other points are worth mentioning. First, the individuals who set up our featured edition for publication specified ‘Devonshire’ rather than the more appropriate ‘Derbyshire’ in the subtitle. This was presumably no more than a careless mistake, though it is one that also occurs in some of the other surviving editions.

Second, it seems that the fame of the cave known as the Devil’s Arse may have escalated dramatically in the wake of the masque and the ballad. The location was already known by this name in medieval England, but a search for the ‘Devil’s Arse’ on the database, Early English Books Online (EEBO), brings up very few reference before 1621 but many mentions after this date. It is clear that the Devil’s Arse, ‘one of the wonders of England’, was a major tourist attraction in the second half of the seventeenth century. Incidentally, the cave’s earthy name was changed to ‘Peak Cavern’ by the Victorians but ‘Devil’s Arse’ made a welcome comeback in 2001 during successful attempts to revitalise the cave system’s appeal to visitors.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, Cocke Lorells Bote. A satirical poem. From a unique copy printed by Wynkyn de Worde (Aberdeen, 1884).

Anon, The life and death of Mris Rump. And the fatal end of her base-born brat of destruction, with her own first hatching and bringing forth from the Devils arse a peake (1660).

Anon, The new academy of complements (1669), song 135, pp. 246-48.

Anon, The second part of Merry drollery (1661), pp. 26-29 (‘The feasting of the Devil by Ben Jonson’).

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

William Camden, Camden’s Britannia newly translated (1695), pp. 495-96.

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

Thomas Hobbes, De mirabilibus pecci being the wonders of the peak in Derby-shire, commonly called the Devil’s Arse (1678).

Ben Jonson, The workes of Benjamin Jonson (1641), pp. 50-76.

Ben Jonson, Jonson’s Masque of Gipsies in the Burley, Belvoir and Windsor versions, ed. W. W. Gregg (1952).

Arthur F. Kinney (ed.), Rogues, vagabonds & sturdy beggars. A new gallery of Tudor and early Stuart rogue literature (Amherst, Massachusetts, 1990).

Edward Leigh, England described (1659), p. 60.

Mark Netzloff, ‘“Counterfeit Egyptians” and imagined borders: Jonson’s The gypsies metamorphosed’, English literary history 68.4 (Winter, 2001), pp. 763-93.

Martin Parker, A bill of fare... To the tune of Cooke Laurell (registered 1637; edition of 1624-63).

Helen Pierce, ‘Unseemly pictures: political graphic satire in England c. 1600- c. 1650’ (PhD thesis, University of York, Sept 2004), pp. 77-81.

Dale B. J. Randall, Jonson’s gypsies unmasked: background and theme of ‘The Gypsies Metamorphosed’ (Durham, North Carolina, 1975).

Barbara Ravelhofer, ‘Burlesque ballet, a ballad and a banquet in Ben Jonson’s “The Gypsies Metamorphos’d” (1621)’, Dance research 25.2 (2007), pp. 144-55.

Samuel Rid, Martin Mark-all, Beadle of Bridewell; His defence and answere to the Belman of London (1610), G3v-G5v.

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

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Cook Laurel’ (standard name)

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

Versions and variations

This simple, lively and repetitive melody apparently originated in the 1620s but the earliest known notation appears in the first edition of Playford’s Dancing Master (1651). Here, and in all subsequent editions, it had the excellent title, ‘An old man is a bed full of bones’.

On our recording we have used Playford’s earliest version of the tune, but it is interesting to note how the general contours and details of the music shifted as the publisher’s classic manual went from edition to edition. The seventh note of the scale, known as the ‘leading note’, was sharpened, reducing the modal feel of the tune from 1670 onwards. Then, in the 1690s, the final phrase was adjusted to produce a more decisive return to the key note. This meant that the tune no longer felt circular and never-ending, as it had done before. Other piecemeal alterations rendered the tune less repetitive.

Notably, the same shift occurs in other written renditions of the tune. Compare, for example, the versions that appear in the following works: Nathaniel Thompson, A Choice Collection of 180 Loyal Songs (1685); A new song made by a person of quality (1683); and Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20). The changes presumably reflect the experimental approach of musicians but they also reveal the progressive modernisation of an old, familiar melody.

Throughout this process, the melody was also named for the singing of ballads, and three titles, apart from ‘Cook Laurel’, were in play: ‘The Plowman’s Prophesie’; ‘The Protestant’s Prophesie’; and ‘[When] Covetousness out of England will run’.

Echoes (an overview)

The tune was called for quite regularly on seventeenth-century ballads. It was first nominated for the singing of A Strange Banquet, the lyrics of which came from Ben Jonson’s celebrated Masque of the Metamorphos’d Gypsies (1621). This song, in broadside form, remained popular throughout the period, serving as a constant yardstick against which other ballads to the tune must have been measured. ‘Cook Laurel’ or ‘Cock Laurel’ was the name of a notorious historical criminal, and the fact that in Jonson’s song he dishes up numerous human body parts at a banquet staged in honour of the Devil generates an atmosphere that might be characterised as barbaric, darkly humorous and surreal (in the masque, the song is strongly associated with the mad and mischievous gypsies who dominate the action). The themes of food and excess were soon taken up by Martin Parker in his ballad, A Bill of Fare: For, A Saturday nights Supper (see also Related texts).

After this, however, the melody seems to have developed two different thematic associations, though both of these were connected in some way to the extreme mood of the original song. There are a number of songs about sex, for example, and several of these retain from A Strange Banquet some combination of the bizarre and the comic. In The Dutch-Miller, a visiting man offers to ‘grind’ old women until they are young again, while the bawdy Painters Pastime compares the parts of the female body to types of food, thus calling to mind some of the crazy cannibalism of Jonson’s earlier song.

Other songs took a different tack, tying the tune to texts in which the narrator makes optimistic moral and social predictions but declares that these will only come true when some other – and profoundly unlikely – change has occurred (see, for example, Good News for England and A New Ballad, called, The Protestants Prophesie). These songs deploy the surreal tone of the original song for satirical and moralising purpose: ‘When Coventry steeple cracks Nutts with its Thumb,/ Then covetousness out of England will run’ (The Plow-mans Prophesie). They also target some of the same social types – lawyers, cuckolds, harlots, and so on – who featured on the menu served up in A Strange Banquet. Overall, this was apparently a melody that, in one way or another, warped the world and recast reality.

The ballads listed below were connected not only by their themes and their shared melody but also by a number of close textual affinities and cross-references. The terms ‘belly’ and ‘jelly’ are rhymed, perhaps not surprisingly, in A Strange Banquet and A Bill of Fare. The various ‘prophecy’ ballads are connected in several ways.  A line in The Plow-mans Prophesie - ‘When Lawyers are willing to plead without Fees’ – is echoed by another – ‘Then Lawyers shall plead without Fees at the last’ – in Good News for England. The refrain in A New Ballad, called, The Protestants Prophesie - ‘When Popery out of this Nation will run’ - is based squarely on a corresponding expression in The Plow-mans Prophesie: ‘The covetousness out of England will run’.

Several of these prognosticating ballads also open with the words ‘Come listen...’ or ‘Come hearken...’  and more than one make outlandish predictions about what will happen to ‘the Monument’ (presumably Christopher Wren’s column, erected during the 1670s to commemorate the Fire of London). There are also links between the sexual ballads: The Dutch-Miller, for example, says of one woman ‘That she shall be young and a bit for a Lord’, while The Painters Pastime reports of another, ‘I tell you in bed she’s a bit for a Lord’. Such similarities between the songs suggest that they may often have been experienced not simply as discrete free-standing compositions but also as part of a rich network of shifting possibilities.

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

Songs and Summaries

A Strange Banquet: OR, The Devils Entertainment by Cook Laurel, at the Peak in Devonshire... Tune is, Cook Laurel (originally 1620s; J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 4.284; EBBA 21945. Religion –angels/devils; Recreation – food; Bodies – nourishment, bodily functions;  Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, verbal; Environment – landscape; Places – English; Morality – general. The Devil visits Cook Laurel and is served an astonishing array of dishes made from the body parts of puritans, tailors, sherriffs, usurers, mayors, churchwardens and other prominent social types.

A Bill of Fare: For, A Saturday nights Supper, A Sunday morning Breakfast, and A Munday Dinner...  To the tune of Cooke Laurell, or, Michaelmas Terme (Fr: Grove,1623-62). Roxburghe 1.18.19; EBBA 30021. Recreation – food, hospitality; Humour – extreme situations/surprises;  Environment – animals; Bodies – nourishment; Gender – marriage. A man describes a Saturday night feast at which all manner of exotic animals (and one or two humans) were consumed, before going on to the relate the marital difficulties he faced at home as a consequence of his extreme indulgence.

Good News for England, Or, The Worst is past... The Tune of the Woody Queristers, Or Covetuousness out of England shall run (J. Coniers, 1661-92). Pepys 4.296; EBBA 21958. Humour – verbal; Morality – general; Employment – crafts/trades, professions, begging, sailors/soldiers, agrarian, alehouses/inns; Crime – robbery/theft, punishment, immorality, treason; Economy – money, hardship/prosperity, credit/debt, shopping; Environment – animals, birds, crops, flowers/trees, weather; Bodies – clothing; Religion – atheism, Muslims; Disability – physical; Gender – femininity, masculinity, courtship; Society – criticism, rich/poor; Recreation – alcohol; Places – English; Violence – punitive. This assures listeners that the worst will be past when a whole series of highly unlikely inversions of normality have come to pass.

I Father a Child that’s none of my own, BEING The SEAMANS Complaint, Who took a Whore instead of a Saint... To the Tune of, Cook Laurel: Or, Give me the Lass, &c (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 627; EBBA 33187. Emotions – anger; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, sex, femininity; Morality – romantic/sexual; Family – children/parents; Society – urban life, rural life; Environment – sea; Economy – trade; Crime – prison. A seaman explains that he has survived perils at sea, only to find that he has been ‘Ship-wrack’d on Land’ by his wife’s unfaithfulness and subsequent pregnancy.

The Painters Pastime: OR, A Woman Defin’d after a New Fashion... To the Tune of, Cook Laurel, or, Sing Tidue Too, &c. (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Douce Ballads 2(173a). Bodies – physique/looks, nourishment; Recreation – food; Gender – sex, masculinity; Emotions – longing; Humour – bawdry. This song compares the various parts of a woman’s anatomy to types of food and barely disguises its sexual significance (the refrain runs, ‘You know well enough where I aim for to be’).

Wavering NAT and kind SUSAN... To the Tune of, The Protestants Prophesie (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Roxburghe 4.84; EBBA 31510. Gender – courtship, sex, masculinity, femininity; Bodies – clothing, adornment; Humour -  verbal, bawdry; Employment – crafts/trades; Family – pregnancy/childbirth, children/parents; Morality – romantic/sexual. A warning to maidens, based on the sorry experience of Susan, who was abandoned by her supposed sweetheart Nat when he had obtained the object he sought (‘a new Lac'd Cravat’).

The Dutch-Miller, and New Invented Wind-Miller... Tune of Cook Laurel, &c. (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E 25(53). Gender – marriage, sex, femininity; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, verbal; Bodies – physique/looks; Employment – crafts/trades. A visiting miller calls for customers, promising that he can take the oldest, ugliest and most ill-tempered woman and grind her so that she comes out young, beautiful and sweet-natured.

The Merry Wives of Wapping. OR, The Seaman’s Wives Clubb... To the Tune of, The Countrey Miss: Or, The Plowmans Prophesie (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clark, 1675-80). Wood E 25(126). Gender – marriage, sex, femininity, adultery/cuckoldry; Recreation – alcohol, food, hospitality; Society – friendship, neighbours; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Emotions – longing, frustration; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial; Environment – sea; Bodies – clothing. This ballad imagines a weekly gathering in which the wives of seamen drink brandy and complain to one another, mainly about feeling starved of sex during their husbands’ frequent absences (they feel ravenous, like beasts ‘ty’d up from their meat’).

A New Ballad, called, The Protestants Prophesie... To the Tune of, When Covetousness out of England will run (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E 25(117). Religion – Catholic/Protestant, clergy, Judaism; Economy – money, hardship/prosperity; Morality – general; Society – criticism; Environment – animals, flowers/trees, buildings, skies; Crime – robbery/theft; Recreation – alcohol, food, reading/writing; Disability – physical; Gender – sex; Humour – verbal. The singer predicts that England will be free of ‘Popery’ only when a long series of exceptionally unlikely changes come to pass.

The Ingenious Braggadocia... To the Tune of, Cook Laurel (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, & T. Passenger, 1680-81). Crawford 576; EBBA 33009. Gender – courtship, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, sex; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial; Society – old/young; Economy – money, hardship/prosperity; Environment – animals. A somewhat confused old man regrets his marriage to a young, unfaithful wife and the loss of his wealth, but he remains surprisingly upbeat.

The Plow-mans Prophesie: OR, The Country-mans Calculation... To the tune of, Cook Laurel, or, The Country Miss, &c (J. Blare, 1682-1706). Pepys 4.297; EBBA 21959. Humour – satire, extreme situations; Society – criticism, general; Employment – general; Economy – extortion; Religion – prophecy; Morality – general. The singer predicts that covetousness will leave England when a variety of (impossible) happenings come to pass.

The Countryman’s Prophecy, Plainly setting forth when Popery will return to England again. The Tune of, Covetousness out of England will run (G. J., c. 1688). Pepys 2.280; EBBA 20894. Religion – Catholics/Protestants; prophecy, charity, clergy; Bible; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery; Emotions – scorn, suspicion; Politics – domestic, foreign affairs. It is predicted that ‘Popery’ll return into England again’ only when monks and nuns are chaste, English people love the pope and Christmas falls in June (and so on).

A Pleasant new Dittie: ENTITULED, Jone Clenlies New Ordnary for three Pence a Meal... To the Tune of Cook Lauret [sic.] (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Douce Ballads 2(273a). This ballad is badly damaged and almost all of the text is missing; it is therefore impossible to provide a summary.


This tune was called for on numerous political white-letter ballads and was clearly a Royalist melody of some importance around the time of the Restoration. St. George for England (c. 1660) was one of several songs critical of the Rump Parliament, and the politics of the piece were even asserted in the imprint: ‘Printed in the Year of our Redemption’. Somewhat later, the refrain composed for the satirical Quakers Prophesie (1684?) had a very familiar ring: ‘Then Presbyter Jack out of England will run’ (see above for similar phrases). Its opening lines – ‘Come all my kind Neighbours and listen a while,/ I’le sing you a song that will make you to smile’ – was similarly reminiscent of the black-letter ‘prophecy’ ballads, demonstrating that though the two ballad formats appealed to somewhat different audiences, they were nevertheless in dialogue with one another.

Several songs to the tune were printed in Royalist song-books such as Ratts Rhimed to Death (1659) and The Rump (1660). The titles were colourful, and one composer echoed the geographical references in the subtitle of the original hit song by calling his creation, ‘A Proper New BALLAD of the Devill’s Arse a Peak, or Satan’s Beastly place. Or, in plain tearms, of the Posteriors and Fag-end of a LONG-PARLIAMENT’. The tune was also associated with dancing, as indicated by its continual presence in editions of Playford’s Dancing Master.

Christopher Marsh


Jeremy Barlow (ed.), The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1985), no. 72.

A new song made by a person of quality (1683).

Ratts Rhimed to Death (1659), pp. 30 and 36.

The Rump (1660), pp. 18, 21 and D5r, E6v and H6r.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 129-133.

Nathaniel Thompson, A Choice Collection of 180 Loyal Songs (1685), p. 103.

Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), vol. 2, p. 98, and vol. IV, pp. 101 and 110.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Scholar with scroll

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 figure seems to have been used quite sparingly but usually with purpose. He was perhaps associated particularly with ballads that delivered social criticism and moral or religious advice. Presumably, his air of maturity and wisdom was responsible for this, though it also seems possible that the picture scheme on Come buy this new Ballad was actually designed to create the impression that he was intent on selling a printed song – the item in his hand – to the woman whom he pursued (a very similar arrangement of two pictures was also used on the other side of the sheet).

The Scholar with scroll was used on more than one edition of A Strange Banquet, and he is invariably positioned close to the verse in which one of the dishes on offer 'made the Devil almost so sick/ That the Dr. did think he had need of a glister' (ie an enema). The positioning of the picture suggests, amusingly, that the scholar/doctor is hurrying away to prepare the treatment for his diabolic companion. Interestingly, this was also the only verse in the whole ballad that was written afresh, having no parallel in the version of the song that appears in Jonson's masque. It therefore seems possible that the words were written specifically to fit the pictures, a suggestion that is strengthened by the fact that the Scholar with scroll is positioned next to what appears to be a vomiting devil.

Most surviving images seem to have been produced from the same block, and the relentless work of woodworm, visible in the little white circles, can be charted through the series of songs listed below.

It is notable that the Scholar with scroll seems to have been dropped from editions of the ballad issued in the 1690s. Perhaps the woodworm had finally got the better of him.

Songs and summaries

Come buy this new Ballad, before you doe goe: If you raile at the Author, I know what I know (Assigns of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31).  Roxburghe 1.36-37; EBBA 30030. Society – criticism; Morality – romantic/sexual, social/economic; Religion – church, Catholic/Protestant; Recreation – alcohol; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Politics – court; Economy – money; Gender – courtship, singles; Employment – sailors/soldiers. This criticises a range of social types for an assortment of faults, including vanity, greed, deceit and hypocrisy (picture placement: he appears on the right, approaching a woman with a fan who stands with her back to him).

A Friends advice: In an excellent Ditty, concerning the variable changes in this World (Assigns of Thomas Symcock, 1628-31).  Roxburghe 1.116-17; EBBA 30074.  Society – friendship; Morality – general; Religion - general.  A meditation, delivered by one friend to another, on the mutability of fortune and the transience of life (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, approaching a stocky soldier standing in a field).

The lamentable fall of Queen Elenor, who for her Pride and wickedness by Gods judgements sunk into the ground at Charing-Cross, and rose at Queen hive (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 184; EBBA 31939. History – medieval; Royalty – criticism; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Religion – divine intervention; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique, adornment, nourishment; Crime – murder; Violence – interpersonal; Politics – domestic, controversy, power, court; Recreation – fashions, food, alcoholEmotions – hatred, horror, wonder; Gender – femininity; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; Places – English, European, nationalities; Soceiety – urban life. This describes the strange demise of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, who suffered at God’s hands after a lifetime spent forcing foreign fashions upon the English and victimising perfectly innocent subjects (picture placement: he appears on the right, facing away from the specially-drawn Queen Eleanor composite on the left).

Robin Hood's Golden Prize (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80).  Roxburghe 3.12-13; EBBA 30373. History – medieval; Humour – deceit/disguise, mockery; Religion – clergy, Catholic/Protestant, moral rules, charity; Crime – robbery/theft; Morality – general, social/economic, romantic/sexual; Economy – money; Bodies – clothing, adornment. Robin Hood, disguised as a friar, comprehensively outwits two priests, stealing their money and teaching them a lesson without even resorting to violence (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, walking towards a scene featuring ecclesiastics, archers and a crowned maiden).

The Wicked-mans Warning-peice, or, A looking-Glass for a lewd liver (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80).  Pepys 2.23; EBBA 20647. Religion – body/soul, Christ/God, divine intervention, heaven/hell, moral rules, sin/repentance, charity; Society – criticism, rich/poor; Death – general; Emotions – fear; Morality – general; Recreation - alcohol. A hard-hitting call to repentance, drawing attention to the many sins that prevail and the likelihood of divine vengeance (picture placement: he appears over the first column of text, walking towards a Man with purse).

A Strange Banquet; OR, The Devils Entertainment by Cook Laurel, at the Peak in Devonshire; with a true Relation of the several Dishes (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 4.284; EBBA 21945. Religion –angels/devils; Recreation – food; Bodies – nourishment, bodily functions;  Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, verbal; Environment – landscape; Places – English; Morality – general. The Devil visits Cook Laurel and is served an astonishing array of dishes made from the body parts of puritans, tailors, sherriffs, usurers, mayors, churchwardens and other prominent social types (picture placement: he appears on the right, walking away from an excitable devil who appears to be blowing or perhaps breathing fire).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The most important source here is clearly Ben Jonson’s masque of 1621, The gypsies metamorpos’d. This courtly entertainment was commissioned by James I’s favourite, George Villiers, the Marquess of Buckingham, and staged successively at three aristocratic mansions (Burleigh-on-the-hill, Belvoir Castle and Windsor Castle) in August and September, 1621. There are different manuscript texts associated with these performances, and the published libretto of 1641 seems to have drawn on more than one of them.

Jonson’s masque was innovative in focusing on England’s lower orders – particularly the criminal gypsies – and in its assignment of speaking roles to the aristocratic performers. Normally, such performers dressed up and danced in masques but did not speak, and Buckingham’s appearance as the leader of the gypsies was therefore not only eye-catching but ear-catching too.

The crucial point in the rather basic plot arrives when the gypsies, made up to appear ‘tawny’ in complexion, leave the stage temporarily, re-emerging a few minutes later as white courtiers who have abandoned their criminal ways under the benevolent influence of James I, a member of the audience. While the actors were removing their make-up behind the scenes in order to effect this ‘metamorphosis’, the audience was treated to a rendition of a song that opened, ‘Cook Laurel would needs have the Devil his Guest’. In due course, this composition for courtiers became music for the many in the form of our ballad (see also Song history).

Surviving copies of the ballad are all from the later seventeenth century but there had very probably been editions much closer to the date of the masque. The broadside version is highly faithful to the original and the changes are comparatively minor. In the second half of the song, for example, the verse order is adjusted and one completely new verse is added (it begins ‘Then boiled and stuck upon a prick’: see also Featured woodcut history). Three verses that appear at the end of the Windsor script and the published version of the masque are omitted from the ballad (perhaps suggesting that the ballad was based more squarely on the Burley-Belvoir version, which also omits these verses). Beyond this, there are minor adjustments of wording but it is clear that the masque song and the ballad are very closely related.

Of course, the ballad lacks the context provided by the fuller text of the masque and by its performance setting in three aristocratic mansions. It is difficult to determine, however, whether we should hear the ballad as a free-standing song with its own life or as a cultural product that remained tied to its original courtly setting in the minds of listeners. Prior knowledge was a crucial variable and we cannon know what listeners knew.

One other source deserves mention. Martin Parker’s ballad, A bill of fare (registered in 1637) describes three enormous meals allegedly consumed by one man during an extravagant weekend. It was set to the tune of ‘Cook Laurel’ and followed our ballad in forging a song from a list of outlandish foods. These included ‘A leg of an Eagle carbonadoed (in Snow)’ and 'Twelve Maids... stewd in the shell of a Shrimp'. Parker’s ballad lacks the diabolism of the A Strange Banquet but the masque-song-turned-broadside was clearly an important source of inspiration.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Ben Jonson, ‘The gypsies metamorphosed’ (performed at Burleigh-on-the-hill, 3 August, 1621). See Jonson’s Masque of Gipsies in the Burley, Belvoir and Windsor versions, ed. W. W. Gregg (1952).

Ben Jonson, ‘The gypsies metamorphosed’ (performed at Belvoir Castle, 5 August, 1621). See Jonson’s Masque of Gipsies in the Burley, Belvoir and Windsor versions, ed. W. W. Gregg (1952).

Ben Jonson, ‘The gypsies metamorphosed’ (performed at Windsor Castle, September, 1621). See Jonson’s Masque of Gipsies in the Burley, Belvoir and Windsor versions, ed. W. W. Gregg (1952).

A Strange Banquet... Tune is, Cook Laurel (probably first published in the 1620s; numerous later editions).

Martin Parker, A bill of fare... To the tune of Cooke Laurell (registered 1637; edition of 1624-63).

Ben Jonson, The workes of Benjamin Jonson (1641), pp. 50-76.


Mark Netzloff, ‘ “Counterfeit Egyptians” and imagined borders: Jonson’s The gypsies metamorphosed’, English literary history 68.4 (Winter, 2001), pp. 763-93.

Barbara Ravelhofer, ‘Burlesque ballet, a ballad and a banquet in Ben Jonson’s “The Gypsies Metamorphos’d” (1621)’, Dance research 25.2 (2007), pp. 144-55.

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A Strange Banquet;/ OR,/ The Devils Entertainment by Cook Laurel, at the/ Peak in Devonshire [corrected to ‘Derbyshire’ in other editions]; with a true Relation of the several Dishes.  Tune is, Cook Laurel.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


Cook Laurel would have the Devil his guest

And bid him home to Peak to Dinner,

Where Fiend had never such a feast

Prepared at the charge of a Sinner.

With a hey down, down an a down.


His stomach was quesie, he came thither coacht

The joggings had caused his cruets to rise,

To help which, he call’d for a Puritan poacht

That used to turn up the white of his eyes.

with a hey, &c.


And so he recovered unto his wish,

He sat him down and began to eat:

A Promooter in plum=broth was the first dish

His own Privy=Kitchin had no such meat.

with a hey, &c.


Yet though with this he was much taken,

Upon a sudden he shifted his Trencher,

Assoon as he spied the Bawd and the Bacon,

By that it is plain the Devils a wencher.

with a hey, &c.


Six pickled Taylors sliced and cut,

With semsters & tire=women fit for his pallet

With Feathermen and Perfumers put

Some 12 in a charger to make a grand sallet.

with a hey, &c.


A rich fat Usurer stew’d in his marrow,

With him a Lawyers head and green sawce;

All which his belly took like a barrel,

As though till then he had never seen sawce.

with a hey, &c.


Then carbonado’d and cookt with pains,

Was brought up a Cloven Serjeants face,

The sawce was made of a Yeomans brains

That had been beaten out with his Mace.

with a hey, &c.


2 roasted Sheriffs came whole to the board,

The feast had nothing been without ’em,

Both living and dead were foxed and fur’d,

& their chains like sassages hung about ‘em.

with a hey, &c.


The next dish was the Mayor of the town,

With a pudding of maintenance put in’s belly,

Like a Goose in her feathers in his gown,

With a couple of hinch=boys boild to a jelly

with a hey, &c.


Next came the over=worn Justice of Peace,

With Clerks like gizards stuck under each arm

& warrants like sipits lay in his own grease

Set over a Chaffing=dish to be kept warm.

with a hey, &c.


A London Cuckold came hot from the spit,

And when the Carver had broken him open,

The Devil chopt his head off at a bit,

But the horns had almost like to choak him.

with a hey, &c.


A fair large Pasty of a Midwife hot,

And for cold bak’d meat in this story,

A reverend painted Lady was brought,

Long Coffin’d in crust till now she’s grown hoary.

with a hey, &c.


The loins of a Letcher then was roasted,

With a plump Harlots head and Garlick,

With a Panders Peti=toes that had boasted,

Himself for a Capt. that never was warlick.

with a hey, &c.


Then boiled and stuck upon a prick,

The Gizzard was brought of a holy sister,

That bit made the Devil almost so sick,

That the Dr. did think he had need of a glister

with a hey, &c.


The Jowl of a Jaylor served for a Fish,

A Constable sowc’d, pist Vinegar by,

Two Aldermen=Lobsters laid in a dish,

A Deputy=Tart, and a Church=warden Pye.

with a hey, &c.


All which devoured, then for a close,

He did for a draught of Derby call;

He heaved the vessel up to his nose,

And never left till he had drank up all.

with a hey, &c.


Then from the Table he gave a start,

Where banquet and wine was not to seek,

All which he blew away with a fart,

& so ‘tis call’d the Devils arse in the Peak.

with a hey down, down a down down.


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 C (see Methodology). The evidence presented here is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, as of 1st January 2024.

New tune titles deriving from the ballad: 'Cook Laurel' (13 ballads).

Appearances on publishers' lists: none.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 5

No. of extant copies: 8

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 7 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V4812).

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 26 + 0 + 0 + 10 + 8 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 44

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