97  A Turn-Coat of the Times [Pepys 2.210]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Turn-Coat of the Times

Bodies - clothing History - recent Places - English Politics - Civil War/Interregnum Politics - Restoration Politics - controversy Politics - domestic Politics - satire Religion - protestant nonconformity Religion: Protestant/Puritan

Song History

The first known edition of A Turn-Coat of the Times was published by the Ballad Partners between 1665 and 1674. Given that the Partners' economic model was to buy up rights to songs that were already successful (see The Ballad Business essay), it is likely that there was an earlier publication, now lost. Indeed, this is also suggested by the fact that songs set to the tune 'The Turn Coat' were already in circulation by the early 1660s.

Historical Context

Despite all the excitement of the Restoration in 1660, the newly restored king's 'honeymoon period' was over almost as soon as it began. Old 'cavaliers' who had fought for the king's father and whose estates had been sequestered during the interregnum were angry that 'turn-coat' Presbyterians, who had supported interregnum governments, remained in power and exerted influence over the king. Parliamentary 'cavaliers' and newly restored bishops were equally determined to control non-conformists. They acted swiftly to pass harsh new penal laws, such as the Corporation Act (1661) and Act of Uniformity (1662), which aimed to re-establish the Church of England as the national church and to exclude all nonconformists from public office and livings in the Church of England. 


A Turn-Coat of the Times was one of the most successful of a number of songs that expressed discontent at the king's poor treatment of his father's faithful old cavalier supporters in the early 1660s. The singer claims his song was overheard coming from a 'powdered thing' - a courtier - who revels in his success at changing sides throughout the war. He claims to have been involved in every event of the civil wars and interregnum: he influenced the apprentices to protest against the bishops in the 1640s; he signed the Covenant but then discarded his oath to support sectarians when they seemed to have the upper hand; he sat as an MP in the purged Long Parliament but, after it was turned out (in 1653), he supported Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate; and after Cromwell's death, he changed again to support Monk and the Restoration.

As well as having a hand in all the changes inflicted on the church and state, the courtier boasted he had benefited from the sequestration and plundering of royalists. Finally, he brags of being at court where he has access to 'the eyes and ears,/ Of many brave Noble Peers'. He contrasts his success with that of the slighted 'Cavaleers,/ Poor knaves, they know not how,/ To flatter, cringe and bow, /for he that is wise and means to rise,/ He must be a Turn-coat too.'

Publication History and Popularity

While the song's earlier editions are lost, we know that the ballad was reprinted at least seven times from about 1664 until the early eighteenth century. The Ballad Partners reissued it at least three times and it was also anonymously published four times, probably in the early eighteenth century. The woodcuts on these later editions depicted the tools of a wood-turner in order to emphasise the ballad's central political point - see, for example, A TURN-COAT of the TIMES (EBBA 37184).

Angela McShane

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘The Kings delight’ (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 variation

Notation for this tune appears in numerous printed sources from 1660 onwards, though it seems likely that the melody was actually somewhat older. It can be found, for example, in several of John Playford’s publications: Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick (edition of 1664); Musicks Hand-maid (1678); and The Dancing Master (editions from 1665 onwards). Other arrangements for cittern, viol and flageolet are documented in Simpson’s guide to ballad tunes, listed below. Ward also notes a Scottish example of the tune in the early eighteenth-century manuscript owned by Agnes Hume.

There are slight melodic variations between these different versions but all examples are clearly the same tune. It is a curious and mystifying fact, however, that surviving versions of the tune do not fit the songs that nominated it, with the exception of The Batchelors Delight, the first ballad listed below. The texts suit sections of the melody precisely but the unusual eleven-line verses simply cannot be matched to the tune in a satisfying manner. It seems likely that there was a singer's version of the melody that has not survived, closely related to the instrumental examples but not identical to them.

Our recording is based upon the tune that appears in the Dancing Master but we have taken the unusual step of reconfiguring its component parts in order to render our hit ballad singable (the new version is the work of Andy Watts). Listeners should bear this in mind!

The tune was also known as ‘The turn-coat [of the times]’, ‘The knight and the beggar-wench’ and ‘I met with a jovial beggar’. The first of these titles was generated by the song under discussion here.

Echoes (an overview)

The tune was nominated quite regularly for the singing of black-letter ballads in the years between 1660 and 1690. Its selection for A Turn-Coat of the Times (probably composed originally in 1660-61) gave it a particular association with politics, and The Ungrateful Rebel (1689) followed the original in featuring a man whose political allegiances shifted with the times in an altogether self-serving and self-preserving manner. In addition, the melody was also named on several ballads about courtship and sex, most of which took a negative view of love. There were bachelors determined to stay single, married knights who had exploitative sex with beggar-women, and maidens deserted by their sweethearts.

The two main groups of songs – political and (un)romantic – were perhaps connected by a cynicism about the bonds that connected humans. There was, however, one exception to this general negativity in each category: The COUNTRY Lawyers Maid JOAN eventually found a man to satisfy her longings; and An Excellent New SONG Fitted for the Times welcomed the arrival of William of Orange, apparently without qualms. Having said this, it seems possible that, for some listeners, the inherited cynicism of the tune – here named ‘I met with a Jovial Beggar’ - may have raised one or two subconscious doubts.

The songs listed below do not appear to be particularly rich in textual cross-references, compared to those sung to many other tunes on our list of hits. The most suggestive example that we have noticed is a similarlity between rhyming triplets in two different ballads: ‘I must confess the Rump,/ Did put mee into a dump/ I knew not what would be trump’ (A Turn-Coat of the Times), and ‘She struck mee into a dump/ The jade was both young and plump,/ with a round, and a ranting Rump’ (The Knight and the Beggar-Wench).

It is also worth noting that three lines in A Turn-Coat of the Times - ‘We sequestred mens Estates,/ And made ‘em pay monthly rates/ To trumpeters and their mates’ – seem to recall a portion of The Ballad of the CLOAK, set to a different tune: ‘Men brought in their Plate,/ For reasons of State,/ And gave it to Tom Trumpeter and his Mate’. Both ballads concentrated on the difficulties England had experienced during the 1640s and 1650s.

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

Songs and Summaries

The Batchelors Delight, Being a pleasant new Song, shewing the happiness of a single life, and the miseries that do commonly attend Matrimony. To the Tune of the Kings delight, or, The young mans advice to his fellow Batchelors (Francis Grove, 1660-62). Roxburghe 2.22; EBBA 30142. Gender – courtship, marriage, femininity, masculinity; Family – children/parents; Bodies – clothing; Crime – execution, robbery/theft; Economy – household; Emotions – suspicion, hatred; History – ancient/mythological; Humour – domestic/familial, verbal. A bachelor advises other men to avoid marriage completely, drawing on examples from classical scholarship, the Bible and his own store of more recent anecdotes.

A Turn-Coat of the Times, Who doth by experience profess and protest, That of all his professions, a Turn-Coat's the best. Tune is, The Kings delight, Or, True-love is a gift for a Queen (probably written 1660-61; F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Pepys 2.210; EBBA 20821. Politics – domestic, controversy, satire; History – recent; Bodies – clothing.  A man describes the immensely flexible approach to political identity that has helped him survive and thrive during the turbulence of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration.

The Knight and the Beggar-Wench... The Tune is, The Kings delight, or Turn-Coat (F. Coles, M. Wright, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661). Euing 155; EBBA 31863. Gender – sex, sexual violence, adultery/cuckoldry,  masculinity; Humour – bawdry; Society – rich/poor; Violence – sexual; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique; Emotions – longing, anxiety, anger, shame; Places – English. A rich, married man has casual sex with a beggar-woman and ends up having to explain his conduct to his mocking and angry wife.

The forsaken Maids Frollick OR, A Farewell to fond Love... The Tune is, The Knight and begger-wench (W. Whitwood, 1666-84). Crawford 1394; EBBA 33920. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Bodies – looks/physique; Emotions – anger, love; Morality – romantic/sexual; Recreation – dance, music; Religion – Judaism. A young woman, abandoned by the man who had made a vow to her, plans to adopt a more wily strategy in her next romantic endeavour.

The COUNTRY Lawyers Maid JOAN, Containing her Languishing Lamentation for want of a Man... Tune of Turn Coat of the Times (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96). Pepys 3.268; EBBA 21282. Gender – courtship, femininity, sex; Emotions – longing; Bodies – physique/looks, adornment; Employment – crafts/trades; Recreation – fairs/festivals; Society – rural life.  A young woman expresses her desperation ‘for want of a Man’ but finds happiness in the final verse when lusty Mark tickles her in the dark.

An Excellent New SONG Fitted for the Times. Tune of, I met with a Jovial Beggar (T. R., 1689). Pepys 2.283; EBBA 20898. Politics – celebration, domestic, foreign affairs, plots, elections, parliament; Religion – Catholic/Protestant; Emotions – joy, relief, hope; Death – execution, murder; Royalty – praise; Crime – unlawful killing; Places – Irish. This celebrates the defeat of Catholicism in England following the arrival of William of Orange and looks forward to similar triumph in Ireland.

The Ungrateful Rebel; OR, Gracious Clemency Rewarded with Villany. Tune of, The Turn-Coat of the Times (N. Sliggen, 1689). Pepys 2.367r; EBBA 20986. Politics – domestic, plots/rebellion; Emotions – greed; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Morality – political; Religion – Catholic/Protestant. A man explains that, in the recent conflicts, he has been prepared to fight for any side that promises him ‘a good Booty’, and he adds that he would even fight for ‘the great Turk’ on this basis.


A character in Thomas D’Urfey’s comedy, The fool turn’d critic (1678), complains about the current state of music in England: ‘we have such Tunes, such lowsy lamentable Tunes, that ‘twould make one forswear all Musick’. He goes on to compare such poor fare with some of the fine melodies of earlier times: ‘Maiden Fair, or the Kings Delight, are incomparable to some of those we have now.’ Despite the tune’s popularity and its political resonances, it does not appear to have been named regularly on white-letter ballads, nor in song-books of the period. Finally, nothing is known about the other tune, ‘True love is a gift for the Queen’, that was recommended on A Turn-Coat of the Times as an alternative.

Christopher Marsh


Jeremy Barlow (ed.), The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1985), no. 180.

Thomas D’Urfey, The fool turn’d critic a comedy (1678), pp. 34-35.

Agnes Hume, music book (c. 1704), National Library of Scotland, Adv. Ms. 5.2.17, fo. 3v.

John Playford, Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick (edition of 1664), p. 108.

                Musicks Hand-maid (1678), p. 24.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp.414-15.

John M. Ward, ‘Apropos The British broadside ballad and its music’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 20.1 (Spring 1967), p. 56.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Turning man with staff in hand

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, presumably chosen for A Turn-Coat of the Times because he wears a coat while turning, seems to have carried a reputation for fickle and unreliable conduct into his later ballad career. His appearances are relatively few, but he can be found on several songs dealing with worldliness and romantic insensitivity.

On Parthenia’s Complaint , he lets a woman down, while in No Money, no Friend, he is skilfully depicted turning towards a table covered in all the items necessary for a good/bad night out (ale tankards and jug, pipe, playing card and candle). The surviving examples appear to come from the same, deteriorating wood block, and all date from the second half of the seventeenth century – though it is clear that the frame of the block was already damaged in 1665 (and the woodworm had already begun their work). He was not used on other surviving editions of this ballad but the figures chosen to replace him were often comparable in dress and stance.

Songs and summaries

A Turn-Coat of the Times, Who doth by experience profess and protest, That of all his professions, a Turn-Coat's the best (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Pepys 2.210; EBBA 20821. Politics – domestic, controversy, satire; History – recent; Bodies – clothing.  A man describes the immensely flexible approach to political identity that has helped him survive and thrive during the turbulence of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, turning towards another man in similar attire).

Parthenia's Complaint. OR, The forsaken Sheperdess (imprint missing, 1670-1700?).  Roxburghe 2.251; EBBA 30709.  Gender – courtship, masculinity; Emotions – anger, despair; Environment – animals, birds; Morality – romantic/sexual; Employment – agrarian; Bodies – physique/looks.  Parthenia sits by a river and complains about the deceit and inconstancy of the man who vowed loyalty but then abandoned her, and she warns other maidens to beware of men in general (picture placement: he appears over the final column of text, turning towards a woman with dark hair and clothing).

An Antidote of Rare Physick (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Roxburghe 4.1; EBBA 30587. Emotions – contentment; Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention; moral rules; Society – criticism, rich/poor; Morality – general.  People are advised to seek spiritual contentment through acceptance of misfortune as the will of God (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, in between a man who holds out a hand and a Welcoming woman).

The Good Christians Admonition to all Young-Men, Not to Forget their State of Mortality (J. Deacon, 1671-99).  Pepys 2.35; EBBA 20659.  Morality – general; Religion – moral rules, body and soul; Society – old and young, rich and poor; Death – general. A forceful reminder, aimed at young men, that it is irresponsible and short-sighted to love the things of this world (picture placement: he stands on the far right of the sheet, alongside Two men talking).

No Money, no Friend. The Spend-thrift he, when 'tis too late, Laments his sad and Wretched state (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 4.255; EBBA 21915.  Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship; Society – friendship; Emotions – sorrow; Family – kin; Economy – hardship. A man laments that fact that he spent all his money in disreputable pastimes, and he warns others that one’s money and one’s friends tend to run out together (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the right of an alehouse table and a man smoking a pipe).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The trend for 'discontented cavalier songs' such as those produced by Robert Crofts - The Cavaleers Complaint (1661) PBB No: 386, and The Cavaleers Letany (1661) PBB No: 388 - was overtaken by songs that focused on religious turncoats. Examples include: Poor ROBBIN turn'd SEEKER (1674); The Religious Turncoat (1693); and the notorious ‘Vicar of Bray’ (orginally printed in an anthology rather than as a broadside), which became proverbial.

Angela McShane

PBB = Angela McShane, Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth-Century England. A Critical Bibliography (2011)


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A Turn-Coat of the Times,/ Who doth by experience profess and protest,/ That of all professions, a Turn-Coat’s the best.

Tune is, The Kings delight, Or, True-love is a gift for a Queen.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


AS I was walking through

Hide-park, as I us’d to do,

some two or three months ago

I laid mee all along,

Without any fear of wrong,

And listen’d unto a Song;

It came from a powdered thing

As fine as a Lord or King,

he knew not that I

was got so nigh,

And thus he began to sing


I am a turn=coat Knave,

Although I do bear it brave,

and do not shew all I have,

I can with tongue and pen

Court every sort of men,

And kill ‘em as fast agen.

With Zealots I can pray,

With Cavalliers I can play;

with shop=keepers I

can cogg and lye,

And Couzen as fast as they.


When first the Warre began,

And Prentises lead the Van,

‘twas I that did set them on,

When they cryed Bishops down

In Country, Court and Town,

Quoth I, and have at the Crown,

The Covenant I did take,

For form and fashions sake;

but when it would not

support my plot,

‘Twas like an old Almanack.


When Indepenency,

Had superiority

I was of the same degree;

When Keepers did command,

I then had a holy hand

In Deans and in Chapters lands

But when I began to spye,

Protector=ship drew nigh,

and Keepers were

thrown o’re the Barr,

Old Oliver then cry’d I


WHen Sectarists got the day

I used my yea, and nay;

to flatter and then betray,

In Parliament I gat,

And there a Member sat,

To tumble down Church & State,

For I was a trusty trout

In all that I went about,

and there we did vow

to sit till now,

But Oliver turn’d us out.


We put down the house of Peers

We killed the Cavalliers,

and tippl’d the widows tears

We sequestred mens Estates,

And made ‘em pay monthly rates

To trumpeters and their mates

Rebellion we did Print,

And altered all the Mint;

no knavery then

was done by men,

But I had a finger in’t,


When Charles was put to flight,

Then I was at Wor’ster fight,

and got a good booty by’t;

At that most fatal fall

I killed and plundered all,

The weakest went to the wall,

Whilst my merry mates fell on

To pillaging I was gone,

there is many (thought I)

will come by and by,

And why should not I be one.


We triumphed like the Turk,

We cripled the Scottish Kirk

that set us at first to work,

When Cromwel did but frown

They yeilded every Town,

St! Andrew’s Cross went down

But when old Noll did dye,

And Richard his Son put by,

I knew not how

to guide my plow,

Where now shall I be thought I.


I must confess the Rump,

Did put mee in a dump

I knew not what would be trump

When Dick had lost the day

My gaming was at a stay,

I could not tell what to play;

When Monck was upon that score

I thought I would play no more

I did not think what

he would be at,

I ne’re was so mumpt before.


But now I am at Court,

With men of the better sort

and purchase a good report;

I have the eyes and ears,

Of many brave Noble Peers,

And slight the poor-Cavalliers,

Poor knaves they know not how

To flatter, to cringe and bow,

for he that is wise

and means to rise,

He must be a turn=Coat too.

London, Printed for F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright.

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

No. of known editions c. 1560-1711: 7

No. of extant copies: 14

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Thackeray, 1689.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

3-yr periods that produced multiple editions: none known. 10-year periods that produced multiple editions: 1700-09 (2).

New tune titles generated: 'The turn-coat of the times' (1 ballad).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 14 + 14 + 10 + 0 + 8 + 2 + 0 + 0 = 48

[On this ballad, see also Angela McShane, Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth-Century England, no. 401X].

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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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