74  Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind [Pepys 2.24-25]

Author: Anonymous

Bodies - health/sickness Bodies - nourishment Death - execution Death - godly end Emotions - anger Emotions - guilt Emotions - hope Environment - garden Gender - femininity History - recent Politics - domestic Politics - obedience Religion - Bible Religion - Catholic/Protestant Religion - Christ/God Religion - body/soul Religion - church Religion - clergy Religion - faith Religion - prayer Religion - protestant nonconformity Religion - sin/repentance Violence - punitive

Song History

This ballad was clearly popular from c.1590 until c.1700 (see Editions) but there is not much evidence of its survival into later periods. It is written in the imagined voice of the celebrated Protestant martyr, Anne Askew, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1546. Her story became very well-known as a result of a sequence of texts that connect Askew’s own writings with the work of her posthumous editors, particularly John Bale and John Foxe (see Related texts). These publications presented Askew as a Protestant saint who, under intense questioning, remained steadfast in her faith, displaying a degree of theological knowledge and argumentative dexterity that bamboozled her cruel oppressors.

Askew was a gentleman’s daughter from Lincolnshire. She was pressured into marrying a man named Thomas Kyme but subsequently converted to Protestantism, left her husband and reverted to her maiden name. She travelled to London, where she had influential friends in and around the royal court. This brought her to the attention of the authorities in the capital and she was questioned at length by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, in 1545.

On this occasion, Askew was released after signing a confession but the situation worsened dramatically in 1546, partly because she became caught up in the tense politics of Henry VIII’s final years. Askew was examined before the Privy Council (which included Bishop Stephen Gardiner) and condemned for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation. Unusually, she was then tortured on the rack in the Tower of London as members of the Council attempted to force from her the names of her contacts at court. Askew refused to comply and her already broken body was burned alive before a large crowd at Smithfield on 16th July.

Scholars have written a great deal about Anne Askew, focussing particularly on the relationship between the various available texts (especially those written or assembled by Bale and Foxe). Askew’s defiance of authority while under examination has also attracted considerable attention, as has her subsequent status as Protestant heroine. Her sex was a key concern in the sixteenth century too. Askew clearly fashioned her own identity as an indomitable female Protestant but her life and death were also extremely valuable to male propagandists. They could use her own writings to emphasise the cruelty of the Catholic bishops and councillors in torturing a ‘tender’ woman. The weakness of the prosecutors' case was also apparent in their abject failure to defeat her in argument.

Moreover, Askew’s defiance shamed male Protestants who had abjured rather than face the flames, and it was noted that Askew, unlike them, had managed to ‘stand... manfully to the truth’ (Crowley) while displaying ‘Such a masculine faith’ (Trapp). Through the inspiration of God, she transcended the alleged limitations of her sex. As Bale put it, ‘Whan she seemed most feble, than [then] was she most stronge’.

Comparatively little has been written about our ballad, however. It was not registered with the Stationers until 1624, and numerous commentators have taken it to be a composition of this decade. In fact, the ballad was already well-known by 1596, when Thomas Nashe alleged that a line in a book by Gabriel Harvey had actually been ‘stolne out of the Ballet of Anne Askew’ (Nashe had spotted Harvey’s use of the expression ’a woman poore and blinde’). The ballad may even have been in circulation rather earlier than this; the verse in which Askew says she cannot pray for Bishop Gardiner because of what he has done ‘since that time’ may conceivably hint at a date of composition in the 1550s or 1560s.

The song is not to be confused with ‘The Balade whych Anne Askewe made and sange whan she was in Newgate’, included in Bale’s Lattre examinacyon (1547). This is unrelated to our title, except perhaps in the sense that it established Askew’s reputation as a rather unlikely singer-songwriter, paving the way for our ballad.

Historians have noted the success of Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind but it is safe to say that they have not been much impressed by the song. Tessa Watt, for example, argues that the martyr, as portrayed in the ballad, is ‘a generic victim of popery, bearing little resemblance to the strong, intelligent woman revealed in her “examination”.’ Askew, it is claimed, becomes a mere victim, stripped of ‘stubbornness and strength’ and reduced to lamenting her woes ‘in a tone of feminine weakness and supplication to her oppressors’. Ian Green agrees, calling the ballad ‘a travesty of the original story which... reduces the central figure to a cardboard cut-out’. And John King sees the ballad’s version of Askew as a ‘scarcely humanised embodiment of faith’.

The evident disappointment of recent commentators leaves us with the usual challenge of understanding the song’s success in its own day. It seems possible that the ballad-makers, far from reducing Askew virtually to nothing, were instinctively capitalising on the fact that the story of her heroic martyrdom was already so well known that it could be assumed. Is it possible that they sensed the need to tell an old story in a new way if they wanted to achieve commercial success?

For this reason, arguably, widely known aspects of Askew’s story – her subjection to ‘prison, fire, fagot’ and her eventual burning, for instance – are touched upon but not treated expansively. The same is true of Askew’s famous defiance. Her resistant spirit is not highlighted, though it can nevertheless be detected. In the ballad, Askew accuses her persecutors of doing ‘the Devils work’ and of being ‘bloody Butchers’. They are purveyors of ‘stinking meat’, determined to keep ordinary people ‘in blindness still’. It is not entirely clear how such terms can be interpreted as ‘supplication to her oppressors’.

The suggestion that the ballad-makers were supplementing existing knowledge rather than replacing a potent martyr with a pathetic victim can be amplified by considering briefly the companion piece that appears alongside the Askew ballad on our featured edition (and on most other surviving editions of the late seventeenth century). A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris introduces us to a highly confrontational French Protestant whose burning for heresy is described in some detail. The two songs were clearly designed to complement rather than contradict one another, and their appearance together seems to undermine the argument that the song about Askew was intended to render a once dangerous heroine harmless.

Instead, it presented a fresh impression of her, while simultaneously calling up in the minds of readers and listeners a body of knowledge that they already possessed. The authors may even have been playing with consumer expectations when they placed in Ann’s mouth the faintly apologetic acknowledgement ‘that now I have no space,/ the cause of my death truly to show’. She hopes that ‘all faithful men’ will hear the full story elsewhere, ‘by Gods holy grace’. In reality, the ballad-makers probably knew that this was a sure thing, given her appearance in Foxe’s exceptionally successful Acts and martyrs.

Under this interpretation, other aspects of the song emerge as possible contributors to its popularity. It allows us, for example, to encounter Askew while she is in unusually reflective or summative mood. She looks back over her life in a manner that had no precedent in the other texts with which she is associated.

The apparent conflation of Gardiner and another priest, approached by  Askew as she searches for truth, is also interesting. In effect, it turns the song into a conversion narrative, almost a prequel to the tale of persecution and death that was already widely disseminated. We are taken through the phases of Askew’s journey: her initial misery and confusion; her consultation of priests and the wickedness of their responses; her turning to Christ and the Bible; her new-found strength as a true believer; her good death and her place in heaven. Like all conversion narratives, it set an example to others. And perhaps the garden/body metaphor, with its pun on the name of Bishop Gardiner, helped to endear this example to a society in which virtually everyone knew well the challenges of horticulture.

Furthermore, Askew’s ready acknowledgement of her sufferings (‘My spirit within me is vexed sore’) may actually have served to humanise the heroine, rather than the opposite. Her chosen coping mechanism – trust in God – was also readily comprehensible. Building on this, the ballad plays down some of Protestantism’s highest demands – detailed theological knowledge and readiness to die a martyr – in a manner that perhaps allowed consumers to feel its appeal more keenly than was sometimes the case. In the ballad, Askew models the believer who is humble of spirit, willing to learn, keen to please God, ready to trust in Christ, hostile to corrupt Catholic practice, and eager to repent. She does not conceal completely the theological knowledge for which she was famous, but here she wears it more lightly than usual. And the ballad makes extensive use of the first person and associated terms, facilitating a close identification between the singer or reader and the martyr (‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ are used twenty-nine times).

Finally, it is interesting to note that only two heroes of mid-sixteenth century English Protestantism appear in our collection of hits, and both of them were female. Ann Askew is joined by Katherine Bertie, the subject of The most Rare and Excellent History Of the Dutchess of Suffolks Callamity. Furthermore, the two women knew each other. During Askew’s final interrogations in 1546, one of the courtiers about whom she was urged to spill the beans was the Duchess of Suffolk. Askew, as always, refused to cooperate.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris (late seventeenth century, regularly printed with Ann Askew, intituled, I am a woman poor and blind).

John Bale, The first examinacyon of Anne Askewe, lately martyred in Smythfield, by the Romysh popes upholders, with the Elucydacyon of Johan Bale (Wesel, 1546).

John Bale, The lattre examinacyon of Anne Askewe lately martyred in Smythfelde, by the wycked Synagoge of Antichrist, with the elucydacyon of Johan Bale (Wesel, 1547).

Elaine V. Beilin, ‘Anne Askew’s self-portrait in the Examinations’ in Margaret Patterson Hannay (ed.), Silent but for the word. Tudor women as patrons, translators, and writers of religious works (Kent, Ohio, 1985), pp. 77-91.

Elaine V. Beilin (ed.), The examinations of Anne Askew (New York and Oxford, 1996).

Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford, 1989), pp. 370-76.

Robert Crowley, The confutation of the xiii articles, wherunto Nicolas Shaxton, late byshop of Salilburye [sic] subscribed (1548), K5r-v.

John Foxe, Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes (1563), pp. 725-34.

Thomas S. Freeman and Sarah Elizabeth Wall, ‘Racking the body, shaping the text: the account of Anne Askew in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”’, Renaissance quarterly 54.4, pt. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 1165-96.

Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in early modern England (Oxford, 2000), pp. 452, 458.

Megan Hickerson, ‘Negotiating heresy in Tudor England: Anne Askew and the Bishop of London’, Journal of British Studies 46.4 (2007), pp. 774-95.

John N. King, English Reformation literature (Princeton, 1982), pp. 443-44.

Nicholas Jonathan Moone, ‘ “A people’s history of England”: print, authority and the past in early modern English ballads’, (PhD in English, University of York, 2013), pp. 64, 206-10.

Thomas Nashe, Have with you to Saffron Walden (1596), R4r.

Christine Peters, Patterns of piety. Women, gender and religion in late medieval and Reformation England (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 274-79 and 284-86.

Jennifer Richards, 'The voice of Anne Askew', Journal of the northern Renaissance, 9 (2017).

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1967), nos. 74 and 1184.

John Trapp, A clavis to the Bible (1649), p. 59.

Diane Watt, Secretaries of God. Women prophets in late medieval and early modern England (Cambridge, 1997), ch. 4.

Diane Watt, ‘Askew [married name Kyme], Anne (c. 1521-1546)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Tessa Watt, Cheap print and popular piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 93-96.

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Featured Tune History

To an unspecified tune

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

No tune was named on this ballad and our efforts to identify the melody to which it was sung have been unsuccessful.

Echoes (an overview)

Without a named tune, it is not possible to provide information on other ballads that used the same music.

Songs and Summaries

Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind (late sixteenth century; J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passenger, 1684-86). Pepys 2.24; EBBA 20648. Religion – Catholic/Protestant, Christ/God, Bible, body/soul, Protestant nonconformity, sin/repentance, clergy, church, faith, prayer; History – recent; Death – execution, godly end; Environment – garden; Politics – obedience, domestic; Gender – femininity; Emotions – anger, hope, guilt; Bodies – health/sickness, nourishment; Violence – punitive. Ann Askew, the famous Protestant martyr, prepares for her execution, defying her conservative accusers, repenting her sins and preparing to meet God.

Christopher Marsh


Thomas Nashe, Have with you to Saffron-Walden (1596), R4r.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Woman with vase

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 is only very rarely encountered on other ballads of the period. The two examples listed below are separated by several decades, but both appear to have been prepared from the same wood-block. The fact that it had not deteriorated more significantly in the intervening years reinforces the impression that this was not a frequently-deployed image.

The Woman with vase also signifies rather different things on the two ballads – wholesome rural recreation in the first case, and godly attention to nurturing the ‘garden’ of body and soul in the second – and the chronological gap between them perhaps makes it unlikely that there was any significant interplay of associations. The image was used on at least one other edition of Ann Askew, but others substituted a different image or made do without pictures entirely.

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

Songs and summaries

The praise of our Country Barly-Brake: OR, Cupids advisement for Young-men to take Up this loving old sport (H. Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.344-45; EBBA 30235.  Recreation – games/sports; Gender – courtship; Society – rural life, urban life. Young people of both sexes are advised to revive the old rural game of barley-break in order to stimulate love, thus benefitting society (picture placement: she appears on the right, alongside an image in which two men approach a seated king).

Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind (late sixteenth century; J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passenger, 1684-86). Pepys 2.24; EBBA 20648. Religion – Catholic/Protestant, Christ/God, Bible, body/soul, Protestant nonconformity, sin/repentance, clergy, church, faith, prayer; History – recent; Death – execution, godly end; Environment – garden; Politics – obedience, domestic; Gender – femininity; Emotions – anger, hope, guilt; Bodies – health/sickness, nourishment; Violence – punitive. Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr, describes her conversion to Protestantism, defies her conservative enemies and offers prayers to God at the time of her execution (picture placement: she stands beneath the title and over the opening lines).


The woodcut also bears a vague but noticeable resemblance to the image that appeared on the frontispieces of John Bale's two accounts of the examinations of Anne Askew, first published in 1546 and 1547 respectively. In Bale's woodcuts, Askew is holding a Bible and a palm (a symbol of the martyr), while a dragon in a tiara (representing the papacy) languishes at her feet. The ballad woodcut lacks these potent accessories, and it is difficult to know whether the general similarity of stance is anything more than a coincidence.

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The ballad can be compared to any number of early-modern texts about Ann Askew but the most important are Bale’s two Examinacyons and John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (commonly known as the ‘Book of martyrs’). The accounts by Bale and Foxe were intimately connected with one another: Bale assured readers that his version was an edited transcript of Askew’s own hand-written text (an unverifiable claim); and Foxe clearly based his story on Bale’s.

The ballad, however, is clearly not part of the same family of texts and there are very few echoes or cross-references. In Bale’s frequently reprinted account, the ballad-makers might easily have found inspiration in a ready-made song, said to have been composed by Askew herself, that was included at the end of the Lattre examinacyon. The published broadside, however, bears no relation to it. As suggested in the Song history, the marked lack of overlap between the ballad and other sources may have been the result of a deliberate decision on the part of the song-writers to take Askew’s story in a new direction.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order):

John Bale, The first examinacyon of Anne Askewe, lately martyred in Smythfield, by the Romysh popes upholders, with the Elucydacyon of Johan Bale (Wesel, 1546; frequently republished).

John Bale, The lattre examinacyon of Anne Askewe lately martyred in Smythfelde, by the wycked Synagoge of Antichrist, with the elucydacyon of Johan Bale (Wesel, 1547; frequently republished).

John Foxe, Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes (1563; frequently republished), pp. 725-34.

Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind (mid-late sixteenth century; frequently republished).

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Ann Askew, intituled, I am a Woman Poor and Blind.

[We have not made a recording because the tune is unknown]


I am a woman poor and blind,

and little knowledge remains in me,

Long have I sought but fain would find,

what Herb in my Garden were best to be


A Garden I have which is unknown,

which God of his goodness gave to me,

I mean my body, where I should have sown,

the seed of Christs true verity.


My spirit within me is vexed sore,

my spirit striveth against the same,

My sorrow do increase more and more,

my conscience suffereth most bitter pain.


I wish my self being thus at strife,

would fain have been at rest:

Musing and studying in mortal life,

what things I might do to please God best.


With whole intent and one accord

unto a Gardiner that I did know,

I went and desired him for the love of the Lord,

true seed in my Garden for to sow.


Then this proud Gardiner seeing me so blind,

he thought on me to work his will:

And flattered me with words so kind,

to have me continue in blindness still.


He fed me then with lies and mocks,

for Venial sins he bid me go:

To give my money to stones and stocks,

which was stark lies and nothing so.


With stinking meat then was I fed,

for to keep me from my Salvation,

I had Trentals of Mass, and balls of Lead

not one word spoke of Christs passion.


In me was sown all kind of feigned seeds,

with Popish Ceremonies many a one,

Masses of Requiem, with other juggling deeds,

still Gods spirit out of my garden was gone.


Then was I commanded most strictly,

if of my Salvation I would be sure,

To build some Chappel or Chauntry

to be pray’d for while the world doth indure.


Beware of a new learning (quoth he) it lies,

which is the thing I most abhor,

Meddle not with it in any manner of wise,

but do as your fathers have done before.


My trust I did put in the Devils works,

thinking sufficient my soul to save,

Being worse then either Jews or Turks,

thus Christ of his merits I did deprave.


I might liken my self with a woful heart,

unto the Dumb=man in Luke the Eleven,

From whence Christ caused the Devil to depart,

but shortly after he took the other seven.


My time thus good Lord so quickly I spent,

alas I shall dye the sooner therefore;

O Lord I find it written in thy Testament,

that thou hast mercy enough in store.


For such sinners as the Scripture saith,

that will gladly repent and follow thy word,

Which I will not deny whilst I have breath,

for prison, fire, fagot or fierce sword.


Strengthen me good Lord in thy truth to stand

for the bloody Butchers have me at their will,

With their slaughter knives ready drawn in their hands,

my simple Carcass to devour & kill.


O Lord forgive me my offence,

for I have offended thee very sore,

Take therefore my sinful body from hence,

then shall I vile Creature offend thee no more.


I would with all creatures and faithful friends

for to keep from this Gardners hands,

For he will bring them soon unto their ends,

with cruel torments of fierce fire=brands.


I dare not presume for him to pray,

because the truth of him it was well known,

But since that time he hath gone astray,

and much pestilent seed abroad he hath sown.


Because that now I have no space,

the cause of my death truly to show:

I trust hereafter that by Gods holy grace,

that all faithful men shall plainly know.


To thee, O Lord, I bequeath my spirit,

that art the work master of the same,

It is thine Lord, therefore take it of right,

my carcass on earth I leave from whence it came.


Although to Ashes it be now burned,

I know thou canst raise it again:

In the same likeness that thou it formed,

in Heaven with thee evermore to remain.



A rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris./ Who was by her own Mother procured to b[e] put in Prison, thinking/ thereby to compel her to Popery, but she continued to/ the end, and finished her Life in the Fire.

Tune is, O Man in desparation.


IT was a Ladies Daughter,

of Paris properly,

Her Mother her commanded,

to Mass that she should hie:

O pardon me dear mother,

her Daughter dear did say,

Unto that filthy Idol,

I never can obey.


With weeping and wailing,

her Mother then did go,

To assemble her kinsfolks,

that they the truth may know,

Who being then assembled,

they did this maiden call,

And put her into Prison,

to fear her therewithal.


But where they thought to fear her,

she did most strong endure,

Although her years was tender,

her faith was firm and sure:

She weigh'd not their allurements,

she fear'd no fiery flame,

She hop'd through Christ her Saviour,

to have immortal fame.


Before the Judge they brought her,

thinking that she would turn,

And there she was condemned,

in fire for to burn,

Instead of Golden Bracelets,

with Cords they bound her fast,

My God grant me with patience,

(quoth she) to dye at last,


And on the morrow after,

which was her dying day,

They stript this silly Damosel,

out of her rich array,

Her Chain of Gold so costly,

away from her they take,

And she again most joyfully,

did all the world forsake.


Unto the place of Torment,

they brought her speedily,

With heart and mind most constant,

she willing was to dye:

But seeing many Ladies

assembled in that place,

These words she then pronounced,

lamenting of their case.


You Ladies of this City,

mark well my words (quoth she)

Although I shall be burned,

yet do not pitty me,

Your selves I rather pitty,

I weep for your decay,

Amend your time fair Ladies,

and do no time delay.


Then came her mother weeping,

her Daughter to behold,

And in her hand she brought her,

a book covered with Gold:

Throw hence quoth she that Idol,

convey it from my sight,

And bring me hither my Bible,

wherein I take delight.


But my distressed mother,

why weep you? be content,

You have to death delivered me,

most like an innocent:

Tormenter to thine Office,

on me when thou think'st best,

But God my heavenly Father,

will bring my soul at rest.


But O my aged Father

wherever thou doest lye,

Thou knowest not thy poor Daughter,

is ready for to dye,

But yet amongst the Angels,

in Heaven I hope do dwell,

Therefore my loving Father,

I bid thee now farewel.


Farewel likewise my Mother,

adieu my Friends also,

God grant that you by others,

may never feal such woe,

Forsake your Superstition,

the cause of mortal strife,

Imbrace Gods true Religion,

for which I loose my life.


When all these words were ended,

then came the man of Death,

Who kindled soon a fire,

which stopt this Virgins breath:

To Christ her only saviour,

she did her Soul commend,

Farewel (quoth she) good People,

and thus she made an end.

Printed for J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passenger.

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

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'I am a poore woman and blinde'); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675 ('Anne Askew intituled, I am poore lame and blind'); and Thackeray, 1689 ('Woman poor & Blind').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 9

No. of extant copies: 10

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 4 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V5717).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 0  +18 + 10 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 58

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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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