66  Advice to the Ladies of/ LONDON, In the Choice of their Husbands [Pepys 4.85]

Author: D'Urfey, Thomas (1653?–1723)

Recording: Advice to the Ladies of LONDON

Economy - money Employment - crafts/trades Employment - professions Employment - prostitution Gender - adultery/cuckoldry Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Gender - sex Humour - bawdry Humour - domestic/familial Morality - romantic/sexual Places - English Society - criticism

Song History

This ballad owes its place in the chart to the enormous popularity of its melody, newly composed by Thomas D’Urfey in or shortly before 1687 for a song that appeared in his Compleat collection (see Featured tune history). The ballad, an expanded version of the original, seems to have had a comparatively short lifespan – it was an explosive hit in the late 1680s – and there is no indication that it survived as a folk-song in later centuries. D’Urfey’s song did, however, appear in the celebrated song-collection, Wit and mirth. It should be noted that D’Urfey probably did not write the three concluding verses that were added to the broadside ballad (see Related texts), and we will therefore refer only to ‘the author’ when discussing them.

The song’s success can probably be attributed to a number of factors, apart from its melody. Its cynical and knowing attitude to courtship clearly caught the mood in 1685-88, perhaps providing a welcome distraction from the political and religious tensions of James II’s short reign. There is no mention of romantic love, and D’Urfey, who never married, warns us at the outset that ‘the greatest deceit lies in Wooing’.

Indeed, Advice to the Ladies of LONDON might be understood as an antidote to other common forms of ballad, including love-songs about genuinely devoted couples and serious pieces that offered ‘advice’ to maidens, bachelors and sinners of all sorts. The author subverts conventional morality by urging that the best marital partner for a young woman is ‘a doting old Sinner’ who will willingly allow her to have extra-marital sex with ‘lusty Gallants’, provided that she charges them for the pleasure and passes the money on to her husband. In c.1687, one had to laugh.

The ballad’s popularity might also have rested on the blanket coverage of the social order that it offered. Although it was addressed to ‘Ladies’ and set to ‘an Excellent new Court Tune’, it surveyed all English men, ‘From the first rank of the bonny brisk sparks... Down to the basest mechanick Degree’. The list of those found wanting is long, including courtiers, citizens, countrymen, soldiers, lawyers, sailors and doctors. When the song was performed, we might imagine men of all sorts listening out for mention of their own rank or occupation. And because the coverage is comprehensive, the singer can pose simultaneously as an insider who knows contemporary society from top to bottom and an outsider who offers dispassionate and trustworthy advice.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, Wit and mirth, 6 vols. (1719-20), vol. 2, pp. 8-10.

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

Thomas D’Urfey, A compleat collection of Mr. D’Urfey’s songs and odes (1687), pp. 3-5.

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

Jessica C. Murphy, Virtuous necessity: conduct literature and the making of the virtuous woman in early modern England (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2015), ch. 5.

Jonathan Pritchard, ‘D’Urfey, Thomas (1653?-1723)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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Featured Tune History

'To an Excellent new Court Tune' (standard name: Ladies of London)

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

Notation for the tune can be found in a number of sources from the late seventeenth century. Our recording uses the version presented as ‘London Ladies’ in the 1687 edition of Apollo’s Banquet. Other examples occur on or in the following printed works: a ballad of 1687-88 entitled The Sorrowful Assembly; editions of Playford’s Dancing master from 1688 onwards; and in Wit and mirth, published during the early eighteenth century (the tune can also be found in a number of ballad operas).

These versions are all very similar, though few are precisely the same as any of the others, suggesting the manner in which different musicians remembered the same tune with subtle variations. The melody seems to have been known invariably as 'Ladies of London' (or occasionally 'London ladies').

Echoes (an overview)

This tune enjoyed exceptional popularity in 1685-88, following the success of Advice to the Ladies of London as a broadside (it also appeared in Thomas D'Urfey's Compleat Collection in 1687). An astonishing twenty-five black-letter ballads naming the tune have survived, almost all of them published during this short period. 

The vast majority of these followed D’Urfey’s lead by emphasising the ever-fascinating compatibility problems between men and women. The catchy tune seems designed to stimulate ballad-banter and there is little doubt that it had the desired result.

Several songs continued the debate about how spouses should be chosen, often drawing attention to the difficulties and dangers of courtship (see ADVICE To Young Gentlemen and The Country MAIDENS Lamentation For the Loss of her TAYLOR). Others extended the debate by presenting tales of marriage, often with cuckoldry very much to the fore (A New Western BALLAD, Of a Butcher that Cuckolded the Farmer and A Job for a Journey man Joyner). Some songs were frank in their discussion of the sorts of sexual pressure and negotiation that might go on within and beyond marriage (A New delightful Ballad, Called, Debauchery Scared and THE Witty Maid of the West). Only occasionally did songs stress romantic happiness, and the tune in such cases must have complicated the positive narrative (The Wealthy Grasiers Joyes COMPLETED).

A rather different series of ballads presented both sides of a tense debate over the female fashion for top-knots, with supposedly male authors criticising the vanity and extravagance of this form of adornment while supposedly female authors defended it (Advice to the Maidens of LONDON To Forsake Their Fantastical TOP-KNOTS and The Maidens Resolution; OR, An ANSWER to the ADVICE against TOP-KNOTS). An interesting feature of these songs is the manner in which they clearly tapped into the tune’s strong associations with sexual conflict; the argument may appear to be about fashion but, by melodic implication, it is also about a whole lot more.

These, then, were the tune’s main themes, though its immense popularity ensured that it was also chosen for occasional outlying ballads about shipwrecks, money and the immense cultural value of straw. As the tune echoed through the streets in 1685-88, it must have been immensely difficult to hear such songs without also thinking, just for a moment, of gender tension.

The songs were connected not only by their melody but by a web of textual cross-references, only a few of which can be mentioned here. Recycling of rhymes, often at exactly the same points in the melody, is particularly noticeable. Several songs, for example, rhymed ‘London’ and ‘undone’ in the sixth and eighth lines of a verse (see, for example: An ANSWER to the Advice to the Ladies of London and The Sorrowful Wife). Similarly, ‘nation’ was repeatedly rhymed with ‘relation’, ‘oration’ and ‘disputation’.

In The Wealthy Grasiers Joyes, for example, the second half of the opening verse runs, ‘If that thou wilt but give thy consent,/ there needeth no more disputation;/ I shall have comfort and perfect content/ in thee, the sweet Girl of the Nation’. Then, in The Hasty Virgin, the corresponding lines declare, ‘[I] undergo a sad misery/ dear Mother, without disputation;/ [H]ad I a husband, O then I should be/ the happiest Girl in the Nation.’ Similar repetitiveness occurs in relation to the rhyming of ‘pleasure’, ‘treasure’, ‘measure’ and ‘leisure’.

Numerous opening lines end with the words ‘of late’ and many of the songs adopt the device of including ‘Sir’ at the ends of lines. The songs that are specifically designed to answer one another frequently deploy similar expressions. Advice to the Maidens of LONDON To Forsake Their Fantastical TOP-KNOTS is, for example, connected to The Maidens Resolution by references to ‘the Billings-gate Crew’, ‘Kate the Cook Maid’ and maidens who are described as ‘Dragel-tayl’d’. All in all, many of the songs set to the tune of ‘Ladies of London’ must have reminded listeners of others, and each ballad formed one part of a shifting whole.

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

Songs and Summaries

Advice to the Ladies of LONDON, In the Choice of their Husbands. To an Excellent new Court Tune (J. Back, 1685-88). Pepys 4.85; EBBA 21749.  Gender – courtship, adultery/cuckoldry, masculinity, femininity, sex; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial; Morality – romantic/sexual; Employment – crafts/trades, professions, prostitution; Economy – money; Society – criticism; Places – English. This surveys the available men in London, finding all types and conditions inadequate and undesirable, with the exception of the ‘doting old Sinner’ who will allow his wife to have as many sexual partners as she wishes, provided that she generates income from her activities.

The Golden Voyage; OR, The Prosperous Arrival of James and Mary... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Pepys 4.199; EBBA 21861. Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; Environment – sea; News – domestic, sensational; Economy – money; Emotions – joy; Religion – divine intervention. Brave seaman, sailing in ships called the James and the Mary, recover great treasure from a wreck that has been lost for forty-three years and bring it home to London in triumph (this may refer to the shipwreck discussed in Peter Earle’s book, listed below).

Advice to the Maidens of LONDON To Forsake Their Fantastical TOP-KNOTS... To the Tune of, Ye Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Pepys 4.365; EBBA 22029. Bodies – clothing, adornment; Recreation – fashions; Society – rich/poor, urban life; Employment – female, crafts/trades; Gender – femininity; Places – English. Women are here warned to abandon the vain fashion for top-knots which is undermining the social-sartorial hierarchy and making it difficult to distinguish ‘Joan from my Lady’.

ADVICE To Young Gentlemen; OR, An Answer to the LADIES of LONDON, To the Tune of, The Ladies of London (J. Back, 1685-88). Pepys 4.87; EBBA 21751. Gender – courtship, femininity, marriage, sex; Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Emotions – suspicion; Society – rural life, urban life; Recreation – alcohol, food. A direct response to the original ‘Ladies of London’ ballad, advising men to avoid marriage with all types of women if they wish to live at ease.

An ANSWER to the Advice to the Ladies of London, Wherein is set forth a Glance of their Craft and Subtilty... To the Tune of, The Ladies of London, &c. (J. Deacon, 1685-88). Pepys 4.86; EBBA 21750. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity, marriage, sex, adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – clothing, adornment, looks/physique; Emotions – longing, fear, jealousy; Violence – interpersonal; Employment – prostitution; Places – English. A man takes a fancy to a painted lady and goes with her to her lodgings, but her husband finds them and extorts £100 from the unfortunate gallant.

The Wealthy Grasiers Joyes COMPLETED. Or, The Shepheard’s beautiful Daughter obtained... Tune of, Ladies of London, &c. (J. Deacon, 1685-88). Crawford 1020; EBBA 33697. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; Employment – agrarian; Society – rural life; Family – children/parents, kin; Environment – animals, crops; Recreation – weddings. A rich man declares his love for a beautiful maiden, promising her wealth and happiness, and she agrees to marry him.

An ANSWER to the Wealthy GRASIER OR, An Account of the pleasant Passges on the WEDDING-DAY... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Deacon, 1685-88).  Pepys 3.172; EBBA 21184. Recreation – weddings, alcohol, music, public festivity, hospitality; Family – kin; Gender – courtship, marriage; Emotions – love; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Economy – money, hardship/prosperity; Emotions – joy; Employment – agrarian; Society – friendship. This describes the joyous wedding of the couple featured in the ballad above: the groom’s rich and unmarried uncle steps in to compensate for the relative poverty of the bride by giving 200 guineas to the match and declaring that any subsequent children will be his heirs.

A New delightful Ballad, Called, Debauchery Scared; OR, THE Beggar-w[e]nch trund [sic] into a Devil... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Bissel, 1685-88). Crawford 290; EBBA 33566. Gender – sex, masculinity; Humour – bawdry, extreme situations/surprises; Employment – apprenticeship/service, prostitution; Emotions – longing, horror; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Religion – angels/devils; Society – urban life, rich/poor. A country gent comes to town and sends his servant out with money to find ‘a bit for his Cat’; the servant pockets most of the money and sends a beggar-woman into his master’s bedchamber, with predictably farcical results.

A New Western BALLAD, Of a Butcher that Cuckolded the Farmer... Tune of, Ladies of London (R. Kell, 1685-88). Pepys 3.22; EBBA 21017. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, sex, femininity, masculinity; Humor – bawdry; Bodies – looks/physique; Emotions – longing; Employment – agrarian, crafts/trades; Environment – crops; Society – rural life. A farmer neglects his wife’s sexual needs, so she cuckolds him vigorously with a local butcher and another neighbour.

The Contented CUCKOLD: OR, The Fortunate FUMBLER... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Back, 1685-88). Crawford 1120; EBBA 33782.  Gender – marriage, masculinity, sex, adultery/cuckoldry; Humour – bawdry, deceit/disguise; Family – children/parents, pregnancy/ childbirth; Society – neighbours; Emotions – longing. A man is promised great riches by the father of his bride if he can produce an heir, but he proves inadequate and so decides to hire a lusty neighbour to help him earn the money.

The Country MAIDENS Lamentation For the Loss of her TAYLOR... Tune of, Ladies of London (R. Kell, 1685-88). Pepys 3.343; EBBA 21358. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, sex; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Bodies – clothing; Society – urban life; Crime – robbery; Employment – crafts/trades; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual; Places – English.  An innocent country maiden moves to London where she is seduced by a deceiving tailor who impregnates her, steals her clothes and then runs away.

The Doctor and Beggar-Wench OR The Barkshire FROLLICK... To the Tune of, The Ladies of London (J. Back, 1685-88). Pepys 3.280; EBBA 21294. Gender – sex, adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, masculinity; Society – rich/poor; Humour – extreme situations/surprises, mockery; Emotions – longing, anger, sorrow; Morality – romantic/sexual; Employment – professions; Family – children/parents; Places – English.  A doctor’s attempt to pay a beggar-woman for sex comes unstuck when the two of them are spotted by passers-by, and the man’s parents and wife are understandably furious when they find out what he has been doing.

The Farmers Reformation: OR, a Pattern for all Bad Husbands to Amend their Lives... Tune of, the Ladyes of London (R. Kell, 1685-88). Crawford 581; EBBA 33015.  Gender – marriage, masculinity; Morality – familial; Recreation – games/sports, alcohol; Economy – credit/debt; Emotions – shame; Employment – agrarian. A man has recently reformed his conduct after years of gaming and drinking, and he advises other bad husbands to do the same.

The Hasty VIRGIN: OR, The Daughters desire for a Husband... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Deacon, 1685-88). Pepys 3.175; EBBA 21188. Family – children/parents; Gender – courtship, femininity; Emotions – longing, frustration. A woman tries to persuade her sixteen-year-old daughter that there is no rush to find a husband but the maiden is so insistent that eventually her mother allows her to start wooing.

A Job for a Journey man Joyner... Tune of Ladies of London (J. Deacon, 1685-88). Bodleian Douce Ballad 1(106a. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, femininity, masculinity, sex; Employment – crafts/trades; Bodies – clothing; Economy – money; Emotions – longing, anxiety, guilt; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual. The wanton wife of a bricklayer has an affair with a joiner but her cuckolded husband is eventually able to bring her under his control.

The KENTSIH [sic] Frolick. OR, The TANNER Betray’d... To the Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Bodleian Douce 1(107a). Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Humour – deceit/disguise; Recreation – food, hospitality; Society – neighbours; Environment – animals; Employment – crafts/trades; Crime – robbery/theft; Economy – prices/wages, money; Emotions – longing; Places – English. The pregnant wife of a tanner craves ‘a sweet Meal of a lusty fat Pig’ so her husband steals one from the local butcher and is only found out once the feast is over.

The Sorrowful Wife: OR, LOVE in a TUB. Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Pepys 4.116; EBBA 21780. Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; Emotions – frustration, anger. A cooper is prone to philandering, so his neglected wife plans to cuckold him with their apprentice – but the master of the house comes home before the affair gets off the ground.

THE Wanton Virgins Frighted, With the Spies Downfal From the Tree top, to the Pond bottom... Tune of, Ladies of London (R. Kell, 1685-88). Crawford 1425; EBBA 34092. Bodies – clothing, looks/physique; Family – children/parents, siblings; Emotions – excitement, fear; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Humour – bawdry, extreme situations/surprises; Environment – garden; Society – neighbours; Violence – interpersonal. The three lovely daughters of an old man bathe secretly in the garden pond but they are watched by a male servant from an overhanging tree; he then falls into the water, setting in motion a wave of farcical happenings.

The Weavers Request... To the Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Pepys 4.355; EBBA 22019. Employment – trades and crafts; Gender – femininity; Bodies – clothing; Economy – livings; Society – rich and poor. A complaint by weavers that popular hostility to the elite fashion for top-knots is damaging their business.

THE Witty Maid of the West: OR, The Miller well thrash'd by Robin the Plowman... Tune of, Ladies of London (J. Back, 1685-88).  Pepys 4.16; EBBA 21683.  Gender – sex, courtship, masculinity, femininity, sexual violence; Employment – crafts/trades, agrarian, male/female; Humour – bawdry, deceit/disguise; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – longing, anger, sorrow; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, punitive; Nature – crops; Economy - money.  A lustful miller attempts to buy sex from a maiden but ends up being beaten by her true sweet-heart and made to pay (twice) for the pleasure he never received.

The Women and Maidens Vindication OF TOP-KNOTS: At a Parliament Holden by them near Pimlico... To a Pleasant New Tune; Or, The Ladies of London (J. Gilbertson, 1685-88).  Pepys 4.367; EBBA 22031.  Bodies – clothing; Recreation – fashions; Gender – femininity; Humour – satire, mockery; Politics – parliament, domestic; Emotions – anger; Employment – crafts/trades, female/male;  Economy – livings; Places – English.  This describes the proceedings in a recent parliament of women, where a law was passed that forbade men from criticising the female fashion for top-knots.

THE Wonderful Praise of Money: Or; An Account of the many Evils that attend the ill Use thereof... Tune of, Ye Ladies of London (P. Brooksby, 1685-88).  Pepys 4.256; EBBA 21916.  Economy – money; Morality – social/economic; Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship; Society – old/young; Violence – interpersonal. This surveys the good and the bad that money can do in society, beginning with a critique of ‘Old Mizers’.

The Maidens Resolution; OR, An ANSWER to the ADVICE against TOP-KNOTS... Tune of, Ye Ladies of London (J. Blare, 1685-88). Pepys 4.366; EBBA 22030. Bodies – clothing, adornment; Gender – femininity; Economy – credit/debt; Emotions – anger; History – recent; Morality – social/economic; Society – urban life, rural life. The women of London mount a robust defence of their right to wear top-knots, arguing that they do not pay for them on credit and that they are no more vain than the ruff-obsessed women of old.

A New Ballad, CALLED The Husbandmans Delight: OR, A SONG in the praise of STRAW. Tune of, Ladies of London, &c. (R. Kell, 1685-88). Pepys 4.317; EBBA 21979. Bodies – bodily functions; Environment – crops, animals; Recreation – alcohol, tobacco; Bodies – clothing. A celebration of straw, noting its role in brewing ale, feeding oxen, rubbing down horses, lighting pipes and wiping bottoms.

The St. Giles’s Broker. Shewing how he was cheated in buying a Green Goose... To the Tune of, Ladies of London (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96). Euing 319; EBBA 31968. Gender – marriage; Humour – deceit/disguise, domestic/familial, misunderstanding, mockery; Employment – apprenticeship/service, crafts/trades; Recreation – food, hospitality; Society – friendship; Bodies – looks/physique, nourishment; Crime – infanticide; Economy – prices/wages, money, shopping; Emotions – anger; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual; Places - English. A wife is angered by the attention her husband pays to the maid and refuses to go out to buy a ‘green goose’ for his birthday party; when he goes himself, he is conned by the seller and a strange series of events unfolds.


‘Ladies of London’ was also nominated as the melody for a number of white-letter ballads, many of which were similar to the songs listed above in their subject matter. The Sorrowful Assembly: OR, The Maidens Humble Petition (c. 1687), in which young women ask the bachelors of London to treat them with kindness, is interesting in that it includes musical notation for the melody. Comical News from BLOOMSBURY (1690s) is a gender jest in which a woman disguises herself as a man, marries an heiress and manages to have sex using ‘a strange Instrument for Generation’ (also referred to as ‘the Politick Play-Thing’). White-letter ballads tended to be more sophisticated than their black-letter cousins, but this was not always the case! There are also a number of white-letter ballads on the theme of cuckoldry (see, for example, A General SUMMONS for those belonging to the Hen-Peckt-FRIGAT, To appear at Cuckolds-Point, c. 1687).

As already noted, the melody was also nominated for the performance of numerous songs in ballad-operas from the late 1720s onwards.

Christopher Marsh


Apollo’s banquet (1687), pt. 3, no. 13.

Jeremy Barlow (ed.), The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1985), no. 297.

Thomas D’Urfey, Compleat Collection (1687), pp. 3-5.

Peter Earle, The treasure of the Conception (New York, 1980).

Angela McShane, ‘Top knots and lower sorts: print and promiscuous consumption in the 1690s’ in Michael Hunter (ed.), Printed images in early modern Britain (Farnham, 2010), pp. 337-57.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 421-23.

Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), vol. 2, p. 8.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Couple on triangular tiles

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 woodcut can be seen on a few surviving ballads dating from the late seventeenth century, and all versions appear to have been produced from the same block. The picture was connected, not surprisingly, with courtship. The ballads listed below all present gender relations rather negatively: two are marked by cynicism, and one features a maiden who refuses a good offer of marriage on the grounds that she cannot see what is to be gained by surrendering her freedoms. The picture, in combination with the texts, may therefore encourage us to consider the complications that lie hidden behind the facade of fashionable courtship. On Advice to the Ladies of London, it may reinforce the textual message that things are not what they seem: men, in particular, are unreliable, and women who understand what is really going on have the best chance of success in life.

The woman is shown with her breasts exposed in the décolleté style of dress that was fashionable during the seventeenth century. It was depicted in ballad woodcuts with great regularity from the 1670s onwards. Intriguingly, the baring of the breasts in ballad woodcuts (and other forms of art) had contrasting and contradictory resonances. According to Clare Backhouse, it was 'associated with a wide variety of themes, from sober spirituality, virginity and queenship to court whores, low-born characters and female sexual agency in general'.  Given the cynicism of Advice to the Ladies of London, we can assume that it was primarily the second set of connotations that the image called into play here.

Songs and summaries

Advice to the Ladies of LONDON, In the Choice of their Husbands (J. Back, 1685-88). Pepys 4.85; EBBA 21749.  Gender – courtship, adultery/cuckoldry, masculinity, femininity, sex; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial; Morality – romantic/sexual; Employment – crafts/trades, professions, prostitution; Economy – money; Society – criticism; Places – English. This surveys the available men in London, finding all types and conditions inadequate and undesirable, with the exception of the ‘doting old Sinner’ who will allow his wife to have as many sexual partners as she wishes, provided that she generates income from her activities (picture placement: they appear beneath the title).

TOBIAS Observation (P. Brooksby, 1685-88).  Pepys 3.155; EBBA 21167.  Gender – courtship, singles; Employment – female/male; Recreation – fairs/festivals; Emotions – love, sorrow.  A young man declares his love for a damsel at a fair, but she turns him down on the grounds that she is too poor for him and much prefers the freedom of her single life (picture placement: they appear beneath the title).

The Taylor's Wanton Wife of Wapping: OR, A Hue-and-Cry after a Lac'd Petticoat, flowr'd Gown, and rich Cornet; with other Apparel, which was lost in the Chamber of Love (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96).  Roxburghe 2.493; EBBA 31002.  Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, masculinity, femininity, sex; Humour – bawdry, deceit/disguise, extreme situations/surprises; Bodies – clothing; Crime – robbery/theft; Employment – crafts/trades, sailors/soldiers; Recreation – alcohol, hospitality; Economy – money.  The wayward wife of a tailor goes to a tavern with a sailor but her plans to combine sex with robbery go horribly wrong when he turns the tables on her (picture placement: they appear beneath the title).

Christopher Marsh


Clare Backhouse, Fashion and popular print in early modern England (2017), pp. 158-79.

Angela McShane [Jones], 'Revealing Mary', History today 54 (March, 2004), pp. 40-46.

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Related Texts

The key text for comparison is obviously the version of the song, entitled ‘Advice to the Ladies’, that appeared in A compleat collection of Mr D’Urfey’s songs and odes (1687), pp. 3-5. This was very probably the original form of the song, though it may have been composed at a slightly earlier date. It was quickly followed by the broadside edition, which has three extra verses, added at the end in order to fill the sheet (this was common practice when a broadside drew on a shorter original). These extra verses are skilfully composed in order to fit the tone and style of the existing text.

The ballad-maker has also altered D’Urfey’s original words in several places, but the interventions are all relatively minor. For example, the term ‘Beauc Esprits’ (a misprint of ‘Beaux Esprits’ in D’Urfey’s collection) becomes ‘bonny brisk sparks’ in the ballad’s opening verse. Similarly, ‘the rough Tarpawling Boys’ become ‘the huffing brave Boys’ in verse five. In both adjustments, an expression that was familiar to ballad consumers replaces a more unusual one. Presumably, the intention was to allow the broadest possible accessibility by avoiding potentially obscure terminology.

D’Urfey was not named as the author on any surviving copies of the ballad and we cannot know if he had any involvement in the preparation of the original text for broadside publication (probably not). The version of the song that appeared in the famous song collection, Wit and mirth (edition of 1719-20, vol. 2, pp. 8-10) adds one new verse to D’Urfey’s original text but otherwise follows it precisely, paying no attention to the changes that had been made for the broadside. Other ballads, however, responded directly to the single-sheet version of the song. In 1685-88, several hopeful ballad-makers attached new songs to the bandwagon by deliberately answering Advice to the Ladies of LONDON (see Featured tune history for details).

Christopher Marsh

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Advice to the Ladies of/ LONDON, In the Choice of their Husbands.

To an Excellent new Court Tune. This may be Printed, R. P.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


LAdies of London both wealthy and fair,

whom every Town Fop is pursuing,

Still of your Persons and Purses take care

the greatest deceit lies in Wooing:

From the first rank of the bonny brisk sparks

their Vices I here will discover

Down to the basest mechanick Degree

that so you may chuse out your Lover.


First for the Courtier look to his Estate

before he to far be proceeding,

He of Court Favours and Places will prate,

and settlements make of his Breeding:

Nor wear the yoak of dull Country Clown,

although they are fat in their Purses;

Brush you with Brissles and toping full Fowls

make Love to their Dogs and their Horses.


But above all, the rank Citizen hate;

the Court or the Country chuse rather;

Would you have a Blockhead that gets an Estate

by the Sins of the Cuckold his Father?

The sneaking Clown intreaguing does mar,

the Prentices huffing and ranting,

Cit. puts on his Sword, when without Temple-Bar

and goes to Whitehall a Gallanting.


Let no spruce Officer keep you in awe,

the Sword is a thing Transitory;

Nor be blown up by the Lungs of the Law,

a World has been cheated before you:

Soon you will find your Captain grow bold

and then ‘twill be hard to get from him,

But if the Lawyer touch your Copy=hold

the Devil can ne’r bring you from him.


Fly like the Plague from the huffing brave Boys

that Court you with many Bravadoes,

Tyr’ing your sences with Bumbast and Noise

and Stories brought from the Barbadoes:

And besides, ever the Doctor, that Fool,

who seeking to mend your Condition,

Tickles your Pulse, peeps in your Close=stool,

then sets up a famous Physician.


Chuse not a spark that has known the Town,

who makes it his Practice to Bully,

You’d better take up with a Country Clown

he’l make an officious Cully;

You with a word may his Passion appease

and make him a Cuckold at leasure;

Give him but money to live at his ease,

you may follow Intregues at your Pleasure.


Neither admire much a Man that is wise,

if e’re you intend to deceive him,

He cunning Plots and Intreagues will devise

and trap you, e’re you shall perceive him.

Therefore beware that he never disclose

your Tricks, if he do’s he will slight you;

He’l keep a gay Mistriss under your nose,

if it be but on purpose to spight you.


But if you’d thrive, and grow wealthy apace,

then marry a doting old Sinner;

What if you view there Old Time in his face,

you wil by that bargain be winner;

You may have lusty Gallants good store,

if you can produce but th’ Guinea,

And those young Coxcombs your Face will adore

if this don’t please, Old Nick is in you.


Printed for J. Back, at the Black Boy, near the/ Draw-Bridge on London-Bridge.

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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: 'Ladies of London' (28 ballads).

Appearances on publishers' lists: none.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 1

No. of extant copies: 4

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 3 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V21414).

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 56 + 0 + 0 + 2 + 4 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 62

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