2  A Memorable Song on the unhappy hunting in Chevy-Chase, between Earl/ Piercy of England, and Earl Dowglas of Scotland [Roxburghe 3.66-67]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Memorable Song on the unhappy hunting in Chevy-Chase

Bodies - injury Death - warfare Emotions - excitement Emotions - pride Employment - sailors/soldiers Environment - animals Gender - masculinity History - medieval Places - English Places - Scottish Places - travel/transport Politics - domestic Politics - power Recreation - hunting Royalty - general Violence - between states Violence - chivalric

Song History

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this ballad was surely as well-known as any other English song. It seems to be an embellished and distorted account of the Battle of Otterburn, which pitted a Percy against a Douglas in the Scottish borders in 1388. By the sixteenth century, at least two different songs about this encounter existed, and our hit broadside is related most closely to the version transcribed by the Staffordshire minstrel, Richard Sheale, during the 1550s. In fact, the printed ballad is a heavily revised version of the song that was known to Sheale (see also Related texts). When Sir Philip Sidney explained, around 1580, that the old song of Chevy Chase stirred his heart like nothing else, even when performed by an untrained singer on the streets, he was probably referring to something closer to Sheale’s version, though it possible that the printed broadside was already in existence.

Sidney’s high praise began a long tradition of literary commentary on the ballad, and the Memorable Song is mentioned in many more printed sources than can be discussed here. Fictional ballad-sellers list it as one of their most marketable numbers; the walls of literary alehouses are decorated with copies; and imaginary wives are considered particularly desirable if they can sing it.

Where the commentary is more detailed, Sidney’s positive lead is sometimes followed, as when Addison, writing in 1711, lauded the song’s ‘majestick simplicity’ and compared it to the great classical works of Homer and Virgil. At other times, however, the song’s exceptional popularity was mocked. In 1625, for example, John Davies scorned the residents of ‘North-Villages’ who pinned copies of ‘Chevy-Chase’ over their chimneys and then revered them as if they were sacred texts. It was a song so popular with the ‘common people’ (their out-and-out favourite, said Addison) that sometimes the educated felt the need to distance themselves from it. Alternatively they might refashion the song in some way, as when a seventeenth-century Bishop of London commissioned a Latin translation of its text – singable to the tune named on the broadside - from the poet Henry Bold.

The sources make it clear that the song’s popularity was closely related to its encapsulation of a romanticised notion of medieval male honour - violent and virile - that was felt to be under threat by the late sixteenth century and therefore worth preserving in song. The ballad is very frequently referred to as ‘old’, ‘antiquated’ and even ‘out of date’; the sense of history that it conveyed was obviously vital to its immense appeal (here, ‘out of date’ was a kind of compliment). Sidney felt the pull of the past when he encountered the song, and so too did the fictional Essex champion, ‘Sir Billy of Billerecay’ (an English Don Quixote for the 1690s), who learned to read by poring over the ballad and then embarked on a quest to perform comparably heroic feats of his own. The story’s location in the exotic Anglo-Scottish borders was also important, and the song blended the alleged wildness of the region with a more nationalistic confrontation between England (Percy) and Scotland (Douglas).

With some or all of this in mind, the Scottish highway robber, Sawny Douglas, is said to have 'carry'd the Ballad of Chevy-Chace in his Hand all the Way to Tyburn' when he was executed in 1664. This was reportedly part of a pattern of 'profane and indecent' conduct that characterised Douglas' final days (see Johnson). It was presumably no coincidence that he shared his surname and geographical origins with one of the ballad's two heroic noblemen. We can be fairly sure that the highwayman, in carrying the ballad, was asserting his masculinity. More speculatively, we might ask whether he was also claiming to be a man of honour and a proud Scot.

One sure sign of the ballad's popularity was the appearance of a longer chapbook version of  its story, written in prose and published in 1690 with the ballad printed at the back (The Famous and Renowned HISTORY). The song also survived into the vernacular tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (it is Child Ballad 162) but its almost universal popularity appears to have been a particular phenomenon of the early-modern period. Nowadays, the expression ‘Chevy Chase’ is more likely to be encountered as the name of an American actor than in the ancient song that originally made it famous.

Christopher Marsh


Joseph Addison, The Spectator, a new edition, ed. Henry Morley, 3 vols. (Glasgow, 1891), vol. 1, nos. 70 and 74.

Anon, A collection of old ballads (1723), pp. 108-119.

Anon, The famous and renowned history of the memorable, but unhappy hunting on Chevy-Chase (1690).

Anon, The London chauticleres. A witty comoedy (1659), p. 7.

Anon, The woman turn’d bully a comedy (1675), p. 47.

Henry Bold, Latine songs with their English, and poems by Henry Bold (1685), A4v, A7v-8r and pp. 80-101.

Bertrand Harris Bronson, The traditional tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols. (1959-72), vol. 3, pp. 113-16.

William Chappell, Popular music of the olden time (1859), vol. 1, p. 198, and vol. 2, p. 773.

Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular ballads, 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1882-94), vol. 3, pp. 303-16.

John Davies, A scourge for paper-persecutors (1625), p. 4.

Adam Fox, Oral and literate culture in England 1500-1700 (2000), pp. 1-5.

Captain Charles Johnson, A general and true history of the lives and actions of the most famous Highwaymen (Birmingham, 1742), p. 310.

Christopher Marsh, Music and society in early-modern England (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 140-3

Ruth Perry, ‘War and the media in border minstrelsy: the ballad of Chevy Chase’ in Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini (eds.), Ballads and broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Farnham, 2010), pp. 251-70.

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the registers of the Company of Stationers of London (Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1924), nos. 285 and 1700.

Thomas Shadwell, The sullen lovers (1653), p. 16.

Richard Sheale, Songbook (mid-sixteenth century), Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Ashmole 48.

Philip Sidney, The defence of poesie (1595), F1r.

Andrew Taylor, The songs and travels of a Tudor minstrel (York, 2012), chs. 4 and 5.

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

Izaak Walton, The compleat angler (1653), p. 203.

William Winstanley, The Essex champion (1690), p. 4.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of 'Flying Fame' (standard name: Chevy Chase)

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 tune was most commonly known as either ‘Flying fame’ or ‘Chevy Chase’ and more occasionally as ‘Fair Rosamond’, ‘Black and yellow’ or ‘Lord Darley’. Beyond this, it presents a puzzle. ‘Chevy Chase’ was clearly one of the seventeenth century’s best-known pieces of music: many ballads called for it (eight of them appearing on our list of hits) and it was very frequently referred to in passing by a wide variety of literary commentators. It is therefore surprising that it was so rarely written down in musical notation. This may have been primarily because its perceived simplicity and tonal ambiguity rendered it unappealing to musically-sophisticated composers. Edward Lowe, an Oxford organist, was clearly an exception, and he provides the only written version from the seventeenth century. In Lowe’s transcription, the tune’s four short lines begin as if the key is G minor but they end as if in C major. This gives the tune a curious feel - circular, unending, modal - that seems to reveal an unusually clear dividing line between the tastes of the musically educated and those of the ballad-buying public at large. This is the earliest known version of the tune and it is used on our recording of A Memorable song.

It is interesting that the melody was notated much more frequently in the eighteenth century, by which time it had been re-shaped by unknown hands so that it was more clearly and consistently in a single key (usually G). Some of these later versions have six beats in a bar, like the seventeenth-century example, but others smooth the tune out into quadruple time. Compare, for example, the versions in Wit and Mirth (1719-20) and John Kelly’s ballad-opera, The Plot (1735).

Echoes (an overview)

This was a remarkably popular tune, nominated on many ballads. It was associated, above all, with narratives that were set in the distant past. As the decades passed and the melody’s success mounted, it also came to be heard as a tune that was historical in its own right (one edition of [The] BELGICK BOAR was advertised as ‘a New SONG, to the Old Tune of Chevy-Chase’). Of the ballads listed below, well over half have historical settings. Put simply, this was a tune that carried listeners back, not only to their own childhoods but to times long before they were born.

Within this potent association, there were several others, forming threads that can be traced through the ballads listed below. A number of the songs described great militaristic confrontations of the past and their often bloody outcomes. These included A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and it was not alone in drawing attention to acts of manly heroism. Other songs set confrontation not on the battlefield but within the drama of human relationships, telling stories of ungrateful children, disputed inheritances and cruel employers. In some of these songs, the heroic vibe is carried over from the battle-ballads. In A worthy example of a vertuous wife, for example, the bravery is not manly but womanly, an interesting and thought-provoking transposition.

Occasionally, the tune was deployed for comic effect: The Shepheard and the King managed the trick of appropriating the heavyweight historicism of the melody in order to amuse, and in [The Wanton W]ife of Bath the monumental clash is not between proud earls but between a scolding woman and the Biblical VIPs who refuse to allow her through the gates of heaven.

There is a connection here with another group of more serious ballads, in which the larger-than-life element is supplied by divine intervention or angelic visitation (see The Worlds Wonder and THE DEAD MANS SONG). And in the last song on the list, [The] BELGICK BOAR, many of these associations – historical, heroic and providential – are arguably in play within this passionate and clearly contemporary attack upon William III, the invading king.

Ballads set to this melody are particularly rich in intertextual references. In A pleasant History of a Gentleman, for example, the opening lines are very similar to those at the start of A most notable example of an ungracious Son. The line ‘shee must resigne her breath’ appears both in A pleasant History of a Gentleman and, as ‘he must resigne his breath,’ in A worthy example of a vertuous wife. In The Royal Patient Traveller, the opening line, ‘God have preserved our Royal king’, recalls ‘God prosper long our Noble king’ in A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and the next line, ‘the second of that name’, is identical to the corresponding line in The Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond.

Even more strikingly, [The] BELGICK BOAR was clearly written with the famous song about the battle at Chevy Chase in mind, and there are verbal echoes throughout. Several of the songs listed below open either with references to hunting, probably derived originally from the potent Chevy Chase ballad, or with explicit and unusual references to a source-text for the ballad. An early and influential example, A most notable example of an ungracious Son, begins ‘In searching famous Chronicles,/ it was my chaunce to read’, and several other ballads adopted a similar opening gambit. Overall, it is clear that the songs set to this tune were tied together to a remarkable degree.

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

Songs and Summaries

The Shepheard and the King, and of Gillian the Shepheards Wife, with Her Churlish answers: being full of mirth and merry pastime. To the Tune of flying fame (first registered 1578; no imprint, 1624-56?). Pepys 1.76-77; EBBA 20272. Employment – agrarian, female/male, apprenticeship/service; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; History – medieval; Humour – deceit/disguise, domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises, misunderstanding, mockery; Royalty – praise; Society – rural life, rich/poor; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, nourishment; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, prices/wages; Environment – buildings; Politics – court, obedience, Royalist; Recreation – food, music; Places – travel/transport; Emotions – anger, confusion, anxiety, joy. King Alfred, in disguise, takes up employment and residence with a shepherd, and is roundly criticised by the woman of the house for burning a cake.

A Dolefull Ditty, or sorrowfull Sonet of the Lord Darly, sometime King of Scots... to be song to the tune of blacke and yellowe (registered ?1579 and 1586; Thomas Gosson, late sixteenth century?). Society of Antiquaries, London, Broadsides Cab Lib g, 1.58; EBBA 36304. Politics – court, controversy, domestic, plots; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – sorrow; Gender – marraiage; Recreation – food, alcohol; Royalty – general. This tells the story of Lord Darnley, the English nobleman who married Mary, Queen of Scots, but was subsequently murdered after becoming embroiled in Scottish court politics.

A most notable example of an ungracious Son… To the Tune of, Lord Darley (registered 1586; no imprint, 1586-1624?). Britwell 18341; EBBA 32521. History – ancient/mythological; Family – children/parents; Economy – credit/debt, hardship/prosperity, money; Employment – professions; Crime – prison; Places – European, travel/transport; Recreation – reading/writing, games/sports, alcohol; Environment – animals, crops, buildings; Religion – sin/repentance, charity; Emotions – sorrow, despair, pride; Bodies – clothes, nourishment.  A dissolute son falls on hard times and is bailed out by his father, but when his father, later in life, comes to him for aid, he proves heartless and is consequently punished by God with a pie full of toads.

A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second's Concubine... The Tune is, flying fame (originally composed in the 1590s; W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 1.498-99; EBBA 20235. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – medieval; Politics – court, domestic; Royalty – general; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, hatred; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing; Places – English, European; Recreation – music, dance. Henry II does all that he can to protect his beloved concubine, Rosamond, from the jealous Queen Eleanor, but in the end there is no escape.

A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk... To the tune of Flying Fame (registered 1596; E. W., 1611-56). Roxburghe 3.48-49; EBBA 30398. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Crime – prison; Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Emotions – despair, love, joy; Places – European; Politics – court. In ancient Rome, an old man is imprisoned and starved by the angry emperor, but one of his daughters finds an ingenious method of keeping him alive.

A new Ballad of the most wonderfull and strange fall of Christ’s Church pinnacle in Norwitch, the which was shaken downe by a thunder-clap on the 29 April 1601... To THE TUNE of Flyinge fame (no printed copies have survived but the song was copied out by hand, c. 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads, XLVIII. Violence – divine; Emotions – fear, wonder; Environment – buildings, weather, wonders; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance, church; News – sensational; Places – English. This tells the dramatic story of a church steeple’s collapse following a lightning strike, and we are all warned to repent our sins with urgency.

The Noble Acts newly found, Of Arthur of the Table Round To the Tune of, Flying fame (first registered 1603; F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.25; EBBA 30381. Gender – masculinity; History – ancient/mythological,medieval; Violence – chivalric, interpersonal; Politics – domestic, court; Royalty – praise; Bodies – injury; Death – warfare; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – siblings. This tells the tale of Lancelot’s fierce fight with Tarquin and of his success in freeing sixty-four fellow knights.

A most excellent ballad of S. George for England and the kings daughter of AEgipt, whom he delivered from death; and how he slew a mighty dragon. The tune is flying fame (printed copies are later, but the song was copied out by hand, 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, XXIII. History – ancient/mythological, romance, villainy; Death – warfare; Violence – chivalric; Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – excitement; Nature – animals; Places – extra-European, English; Politics – court, foreign affairs; Religion – heathens/infidels; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – children/parents. This opens with a reference to Homer and the sack of Troy before presenting a narrative of St. George’s heroics and his romantic relationship with Sabrine, a princess from Egypt.

A new Song, shewing the crueltie of Gernutus a Jew... To the tune of, Blacke and Yellow (T. P., 1603-25). Pepys 1.144-45; EBBA 20063. Economy – credit/debt, money, trade; Emotions – greed, horror; Religion – Judaism, charity; Employment – professions; Bodies – injury; History – recent; Morality – social/economic, general; Places – European; Society – friends; Violence – interpersonal. This tells the famous story of the Jewish usurer in Venice who demanded a pound of flesh when a merchant failed to repay a loan but was outwitted in the nick of time by a cunning judge.

A new Ballad, intituled, The Battell of Agen-Court, in France, betweene the English-men and Frenchmen. To the tune of, When flying Fame (S. W., 1615-35). Pepys 1.90-91; EBBA 20278. Death – warfare; Politics – foreign affairs; Royalty – praise; Violence – between states; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; History – medieval; Emotions – disdain, excitement; Bodies – physique, looks; Places – European, nationalities. This tells the story of the king’s famous victory at Agincourt against numerically superior French opposition.

The Worlds Wonder. Or, A strange and miraculous work of Gods providence… To the Tune of, Chevy Chase ([Francis] Grove, 1623-62). Euing 401; EBBA 32038. Religion – prayer, divine intervention, Bible, Christ/God, faith; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity; Bodies – nourishment; Society – criticism; Economy – hardship, household; Morality – social/economic; Crime – robbery/theft; Places – English.  A poor widow prays to God and is miraculously enabled to keep her seven children alive for seven weeks on a single loaf of (burnt) bread.

THE DEAD MANS SONG, Who[se] dwelling was near Basing-hall in London. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624 and possibly 1561-62; no imprint, 1624-56?). Euing 73; EBBA 31756. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, body/soul, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – illness; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – wonder; Nature – animals, flowers/trees, wonders; Recreation – music, sight-seeing; Society – neighbours; Violence – diabolical, punitive; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage.  A seriously sick man is shown a vision of heaven and hell before regaining consciousness and telling his family and neighbours of the wonders he has witnessed.  

A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase between the Earle Pea[rcy] of England and the Earle Douglas of Scotland to the tune of Flying fame (registered 1624 but probably composed much earlier; no imprint, 1624-56?). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads BR f 821.04 B49; EBBA 36060. History – medieval; Politics – domestic, power; Gender – masculinity; Bodies – injury; Violence – between states, chivalric; Death – warfare; Recreation – hunting; Emotions – excitement, pride; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – animals; Places – English, Scottish, travel/transport; Royalty – general. An exceptionally famous song in which two great earls come to savage blows in Chevy Chase, each backed by their entourages.  

An excellent Song, called, The Shooe-makers travell. To the tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624; Edward Wright, 1624-56?).  Wood 401 (69). Society – criticism, friendship, rich/poor; Places – English, travel/transport; Morality – social/economic, general; Religion – sin/repentance, charity, church, clergy, Christ/God, prayer; Recreation – fashions, general; Emotions – despair, hope; Employment – professions; Crime – general; Bodies – clothing. A shoemaker travels the country, drawing attention to the sins of the English and the urgent need for repentance.

[The Wanton W]ife of Bath. [To the Tune of, Flying Fame (Francis Coles, 1624-80). Euing 374; EBBA 31985. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, faith, prayer, Bible, body/soul, Christ/God, Humour – extreme situation/surprises; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger; Gender – femininity, marriage; Death – old age. The Wife of Bath approaches the gates of heaven and lambasts a series of Biblical superstars until, finally, Christ appears and recognises her repentance as genuine, despite all the scolding.  

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. To the tune of, Gentle and Courteous (composed before 1625; 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, alcohol; Emotions – hatred, horror, wonder; Gender – femininity; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; Places – English, European, nationalities; Society – 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.

The life and death of M. Geo: Sands... To the tune of Flying Fame (F. Couls, 1626?). Pepys 1.128-29; EBBA 20055. Crime – murder, robbery/theft, rape; Death – execution, unlawful killing, result of immorality; Gender – masculinity, sexual violence; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Family – children/parents; Bodies – injury; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual; News – convicts/crimes; Places – English; Society - old/young; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, prayer. This tells the terrible tale of criminal, executed in 1626 following a life of robbery, murder and rape.

A new ballad, intituled, A warning to Youth, shewing the lewd life of a Marchants Sonne of London… To the tune of Lord Darley (Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.447; EBBA 30301. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, inheritance; Gender – masculinity, sex, sexual violence, cross-dressing; Crime – rape; Death – suicide, result of immorality, tragedy, providential; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Recreation – alcohol, fashions; Bodies – physique/looks, clothing, health/sickness, adornment; Emotions – despair, longing, horror; Religion – angels/devils, Christ/God, divine intervention, sin/repentance; Morality – romantic/sexual, social/economic; Employment – apprenticeship/service, professions; Economy – money; Places – European, travel/transport; History – medieval, villainy; Royalty – general. A wealthy merchant’s son comes into his inheritance and embarks on a life of lechery, during which he rapes a young woman and is punished by God for his many sins.

A pleasant History of a Gentleman in Thracia, which had foure Sonnes, and three of them none of his own… To the tune of, Chevy Chace (registered 1633; H. G., 1633-40?). Roxburghe 1.300-01; EBBA 30209. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Bodies – health/sickness; Death – illness, old age; Emotions – sorrow, confusion; Places – European; Religion – divine intervention.  The wife of a wealthy man dies, after confessing to her husband that only one of their four sons is biologically his own, and, after he follows her to the grave, sage counsellors devise a sophisticated test that identifies the true heir.

Strange and true Newes of an Ocean of Flies dropping out of a Cloud, upon the Towne of Bodnam in Cornwall. To the tune of Cheevy Chase (‘Printed in the Yeare of Miracles. 1647’). Thomason Tracts 669.f.11[52]. Emotions – wonder, fear; Environment – animals, wonders, weather, flowers/trees; Politics – domestic, controversy, Royalist, plots, war; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance; Royalty – praise; Society – criticism; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English. This describes a strange plague of flies in Cornwall, interpreting the wonder as evidence of God’s anger at the people of England for rebelling against their lawful king.

The Spanish Virgin; Or, The Effects of Jealousie… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase; Or, Aim not too high (W. Thackeray, 1664-92). Pepys 2.143; EBBA 20761. Gender – marriage, femininity, adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – health/sickness; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger, hatred, sorrow; Employment – apprenticeship/service, female/male; Places – European, nationalities. A jealous mistress, believing wrongly that her waiting woman is having sex with her husband, imprisons the young virgin in a dungeon until the adders and toads that live there have killed her.

Of the faithful Friendship that lasted between two faithful Friends. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.503; EBBA 30339. Society – friendship; History – ancient/mythological; Bodies – looks/physique; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – love; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Places – European, travel/transport. A story from the classical age in which Gancelo allows Alphonso to marry the woman they both love, and Alphonso returns the favour by protecting his dear friend from a murder charge.

The Royal Patient Traveller, OR, The wonderful Escapes of His Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second from Worcester-fight… To the tune of, Chivy Chase, Or, God prosper long our Noble King (‘Printed for the Author’, 1660). Wood  401 (171). Politics – Royalist, domestic, obedience, controversy; Royalty – incognito, praise, authority; Employment – apprenticeship/ service; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Emotions – anxiety, excitement, joy; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations/surprises; Places – English, travel/transport. This describes the king’s efforts, aided by trusted individuals, to escape from his enemies following the Battle of Worcester.

Here is a true and perfect Relation from the Faulcon at the Banke-side; of the strange and wonderful aperition of one Mr. Powel a Baker lately deceased… The tune of, Chevy Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (183). Religion – ghosts/spirits, Bible; conjuration; Death – general; Emotions – fear; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; News – sensational. The ghost of a dead man returns to haunt his former house and is only pacified by the intervention of ‘Learned men of Art’ (also called ‘Conjurers’).

Terrible news from BRAINFORD: or, A perfect and true Relation of one Thompson a Waterman… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase (F. Coles, M. Wright, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (181). Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship, hospitality; Violence – diabolical; Religion – angels/devils, prayer, body/soul; Death – result of immorality;  Gender – masculinity; Morality – general; Emotions – fear, confusion; Employment – alehouses/inns, crafts/trades; News – sensational; Places – English. An inebriated waterman slumps dead on the table after drinking an ill-advised health to the Devil, and the shock experienced by witnesses intensifies further when Satan appears in person.

The KING and the BISHOP. OR, Unlearned Men, hard matters out can find, When Learned Bishops, Princes eyes do blind. To the Tune of, Chevy-Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.170-71; EBBA 30471. History – medieval; Politics – court, power, obedience; Religion – clergy, Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – authority; Humour – deceit/disguise, verbal, extreme situations/surprises; Family – siblings; Employment – agrarian, professions; Bodies – clothing; Emotions – fear, joy; Places – travel/transport. A playful king tells a terrified bishop he must answer three riddles to avoid execution, and the bishop gives up hope until his brother, a mere shepherd, comes skilfully to his rescue.

[Saint BERNARD'S Vision. (A brief Discourse Dialogue-wise) between the Soul and body of a Damned Man newly Deceased... To the Tune of, Flying Fame (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Euing 317; EBBA 31966. NB This song was usually set to the tune of ‘Fortune my Foe’, and its metre makes it unsuitable for the ‘Flying Fame’ melody].

The Unfortunate Forrester, Or, Fair Elener's Tragedy… Tune is, Chevy Chase (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Pepys 4.48; EBBA 21714. Gender  - courtship; Emotions – love, despair; Family – children/parents; Death – suicide, heartbreak; History – medieval; Violence – self-inflicted; Morality – familial; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals. Young Lord Thomas loves Lady Eleanor, but when his mother insists that he marry another a tragic ending is guaranteed.  

The Patient Wife betrayed; OR, The Lady Elizabeths Tragedy... To the Tune of, Chevy Chase, or The Lady Izabells Tragedy (J. Clark, 1666-86). Euing 289; EBBA 31903.  Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – romantic/sexual; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution, ghostly abduction; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Violence – interpersonal, domestic, punitive; Emotions – love, hatred; Environment – flowers/trees, landscape; Places – extra-European. A Turkish knight and his harlot plot to kill his loving wife, but she returns as a ghost and, finally, justice is done.

Bloudy news from Germany or The peoples misery by famine… Tune of, Chievy Chase (Philip Brooksby, 1670-77). Roxburghe 2.38-39; EBBA 30183. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Economy – hardship/poverty; Morality – social/economic; Religion – divine intervention; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Bodies – nourishment; Emotions – disdain; Employment – apprenticeship/service; History – recent, medieval; Environment – buildings; Places – European. This tells a historical story about a German nobleman (also an archbishop) who, in time of famine, compared the local poor to rats and burned many of them alive in a barn, but God avenged them all by plaguing the noble’s house with vermin and bringing about his painful end.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy, or, the Step mothers cruelty… To the Tune of, Fair Rosamond, Or, Chivy Chase (‘Printed for E. A. and are to be sold by F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E25 (54). Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial; Emotions – hatred, anger, sorrow; Recreation – food; Employment – crafts/trades. A beautiful young lady is cruelly murdered by her jealous step-mother and the household’s master-cook, but an honest scullion boy reveals the truth and both killers are executed – the woman is burnt at the stake and the man is boiled in oil.

[The] BELGICK BOAR, To the TUNE of Chivy-Chase (no publisher named [Printer: James Dovder], 1695). Crawford 429; EBBA 32786. Politics – controversy, domestic, foreign affairs, Royalist, obedience; Emotions – anger; Royalty – criticism, praise; Family – children/parents, kin; Economy – hardship/ prosperity, taxation; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English, European. A fierce critique of William’s invasion of England, declaring loyalty to the true king, James, and castigating all those who contributed to his downfall and the disastrous consequences that have followed.


Regular literary references to the tune demonstrate its ubiquity during the seventeenth century, though it is often clear that the melody’s popularity was being gently mocked rather than merely noted. A letter published in Charles Gildon’s The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692) argues that the best way to spread news across the nation is to set a ballad to ‘the celebrated Tune of Chevy Chase’. In The Married mens feast (1671), a sumptuous meal for strong husbands is carried in to the sound of ‘six Trumpeters playing the tune of Chevy Chase, a very martial tune’. And a prognostication of 1683 entitled Poor Robin notes that English plough-boys frequently ‘whistle Chevy-chase’ to their working animals.

The melody was also nominated in many published collections of songs, where it was usually connected with one or more of the themes identified above. See, for example: ‘A Princely Song made of the Red Rose and the White’ in Richard Johnson’s Crowne garland (1612); ‘Zeale over-heated: A Relation of a lamentable fire’ in John Taylor’s Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642); and ‘A Carol for Saint Johns day’ in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642). The melody was used sparingly for white-letter ballads in the seventeenth century, perhaps suggesting again its relative lack of credibility in sophisticated circles (see, for example, ‘Bloody News from CHELMSFORD’, 1663, and ‘The New Catholick Ballad’, 1681). It remained a potent force within balladry, however, and was nominated on ballads of all sorts and in a number of ballad-operas during the eighteenth century.

Christopher Marsh


Charles Gildon, The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692), p. 142.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), A5v-6v.

Richard Johnson, Crowne garland (1612), A2r-6r.

John Kelly, The Plot (1735), p. 12.

Edward Lowe, music manuscript, Edinburgh University Library, MS Dc.1.69, fo. 113 (transcription in Simpson, p. 97).

The Married mens feast (1671), p. 4.

Poor Robin, 1683 A Prognostication (1683), C3r.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 96-101.

John Taylor, Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642), A4r-v.

Wit and Mirth: OR Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), vol. 4, pp 1 and 289.

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Related Texts

The work of the late fourteenth-century chronicler, Jean Froissart, provides the most thorough and detailed account of the confrontation at Otterburn between the Earls of Percy and Douglas in 1388. Our ballad is related, at least in part, to this bloody skirmish, and it is conceivable that the chronicle and the earliest versions of the song (now lost) came into existence around the same time, during the closing years of the fourteenth century. They are different in important particulars, however: Froissart presents the Scots as the initial aggressors but the ballad speaks of a deliberate provocation by the English; Froissart is clear that Percy’s forces heavily outnumbered those of Douglas but the ballad evens things up; and in Froissart’s account, Douglas dies in battle and Percy is taken prisoner, whereas the ballad features the poetic deaths of both men during the fighting.

Later chronicles generally followed Froissart’s account, though David Hume included an interesting section about the ballad in his book of 1648. He noted that its success was based not on the music, nor on ‘the grosse rime’, but on the inspiring and manly ‘matter’ that it communicated. Hume also remarked that the English incursion into Scottish territory with which the ballad opened was ‘Poeticall, and a meer fiction’ but no less inspiring for that.

The version of the song that was transcribed, mainly in a northern dialect, by the Staffordshire minstrel Richard Sheale during the 1550s is an important precursor of the broadside ballad. Sheale’s song is not written in clear and singable metre, and it might perhaps be related to an earlier performance style in which narratives were chanted to an instrumental accompaniment. At some point, an inspired but anonymous ballad-maker spotted the opportunity for a printed broadside to a catchy tune, and the old song was updated, re-shaped and published for the burgeoning market (it was first registered in 1624 but the song may already have existed in its new form for some decades).

The two songs share a great deal of textual material and the broad narrative is identical but the revised version uses standard southern English and a much more regular metre. The earlier ballad, for example, has the lines, ‘At last the Duglas and the Perse met, lyk to captayns of myght and of mayne’; in the broadside version, we hear instead, ‘At last these 2 stout Earls did meet,/ like Captains of great might’.

Finally, the chapbook account of the battle on Chevy-Chase (The famous and renowned history) was fairly clearly a spin-off from the printed ballad and an attempt to cash in on its undeniable success. It tells the same story, filling it out with additional detail in order achieve the required length (and the ballad itself is printed at the end).

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Jean Froissart, Here begynneth the thirde and fourthe boke of sir John Froissart of the cronycles of England, Fraunce, Spaygne… (originally late fourteenth century; 1525), unpaginated.

Hector Boece, Heir beginnis the hystory and croniklis of Scotland (1540), ccxxxv-ccxxxvi.

Richard Sheale, Songbook (mid-sixteenth century), Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Ashmole 48.

David Hume, A general history of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1648), A4v and pp. 99-104

Edward Chamberlayne, The present state of England (1683), p. 200.

William Alexander, Medulla historiae Scoticae being a comprehensive history of the lives and reigns of the kings of Scotland (1685), pp. 78-9.

Anon, The famous and renowned history of the memorable, but unhappy hunting on Chevy-Chase (1690).

William Camden, Camden’s Britannia newly translated (1695), pp. 849, 870.


Ruth Perry, 'War and the media in border minstrelsy: The ballad of Chevy Chase', in Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini (eds.), Ballads and broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Farnham, 2010), pp.251-70.

Andrew Taylor, The songs and travels of a Tudor minstrel (York, 2010), chs. 4 and 5.

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A Memorable Song on the unhappy hunting in Chevy-Chase, between Earl/ Piercy of England, and Earl Dowglas of Scotland. Tune of, Flying Fame.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


GOd prosper long our Noble King,

our lives and safties all,

A woful hunting once there did

in Chevy Chase befall:

To drive the Deer with hound & horn

Earl Piercy took his way,

The child may rue that is unborn,

the hunting of that day.


The stout Earl of Nurthumberland

a vow to God did make

His pleasure in the Scottish Woods

three summers days to take.

The chiefest hearts in Chevy Chase

to kill and bear away,

These tydings to Earl Dowglas came,

in Scotland where he lay.


Who sent Earl Piercy present word,

he would prevent his sport,

The English Earl not fearing this,

did to the woods resort,

With fifteen hundred Bowmen bold,

all chosen men of might,

Who knew full well in time of need,

to aim their shafts aright.


The gallant gray-hounds swiftly ran

to chase the Fallow Deer.

On Munday they began to hunt,

when day light did appear,

And long before high noon they had

an hundred fat bucks slain,

Then having din’d the Drovers went

to rouze them up again.


The Bow-men mustred on the hills

well able to endure,

Their backsides all with special care

that day were guarded sure,

The hounds ran swiftly through the woods

the nimble Deer to take,

And with their cries the hills & dails,

an Eccho shrill did make.


Lord Piercy to the Quarry went,

to view the tender Deer,

Quoth he, Earl Dowglas promised

this day to meet me here,

But if I thought he would not come,

no longer would I stay,

With that a brave young Gentleman

thus to the Earl did say.


Lo yonder doth Earl Dowglas come,

his men in armour bright,

Full twenty hundred Scottish spears

all marching in our sight,

All men of pleasant Tividale

fast by the River Tweed.

Then cease your sport E. Piercy said,

and take your bows with speed.


And now with me my Countrymen,

your courage forth advance,

For never was their Champion yet,

in Scotland or in France,

That ever did on horse=back come

but if my hap it were,

I durst encounter man for man,

with him to break a spear.


Earl Dowglas on a milk=white steed

most like a Baron bold,

Rode foremost of the company,

whose armour shone like gold,

Shew me (he said) whose men you be

that hunt so boldly here,

That without my consent do chase

and kill my fallow Deer.


The man that first did answer make

was noble Piercy he,

Who said we list not to declare,

nor shew whose men we be:

Yet will we spend our dearest blood,

thy chiefest Harts to slay,

Then Dowglas swore a solemn oath

and thus in rage did say.


E’re thus I will outbraved be,

one of us two shall dye,

I know the well, an Earl thou art,

Lord Piercy, so am I:

But trust me Piercy pitty it were,

and great offence to kill,

Any of these our harmless men,

for they have done no ill.


Let thou and I the battel try,

and set our men aside,

Accurst be he Lord Piercy said,

by whom this is deny’d.

Then stept a gallant Squire forth,

Witherington was his name,

Who said he would not have it told

to Henry our King for shame


That e’re my Captain fought on foot

and I stood looking on

you be two Earls, said Witherington

and I a Squire alone.

I’le do the best that do I may,

while I have power to stand,

While I have power to weil’d my sword

i’le fight with heart & hand.


The Second Part, to the same Tune.


Our english archers bent their bows

their hearts were good & true,

At the first flight of Arrows sent,

full threescore Scots they slew.

To drive the Deer with hound & horn

Earl Dowglas had the bent

A Captain mov’d with mickle pride

the Spears to shivers went.


They clos’d full fast on every side

no slackness there was found,

And many a gallant Gentleman

lay gasping on the ground.

O Christ it was great grief to see,

and likewise for to hear

The cries of men lying in their gore

and scattered here and there.


At last these 2 stout Earls did meet,

like Captains of great might,

Like Lions mov’d they laid on load,

and made a cruel sight.

They fought until they both did sweat

with swords of tempered steel,

Until the blood like drops of rain,

they trickling down did feel.


Yeild the Lord Piercy, Dowglas said

in faith I will thee bring,

Where thou shalt high advanced be

by James our Scottish King,

Thy ransome I will freely give,

and thus report of thee,

Thou art the most couragious Kt.

that ever I did see.


No Dowglas, qd Earl Piercy then,

thy proffer I do scorn,

I will not yield to any Scot

that ever yet was born.

With that there came an arrow keen

out of an English Bow.

Which struck E Dowglas to the heart

a deep and deadly blow,


Who never spoke more words then these,

fight on my merry men all,

For why my life is at an end,

Lord Piercy sees my fall.

Then leaving life, Earl Piercy took

the dead man by the hand,

And said, Earl Dowglas for thy life,

would I had lost my Land.


O Christ my very heart doth bleed,

with sorrow for thy sake

For sure a more renowned Knight,

mischance did never take.

A Kt. amongst the Scots there was

which saw Earl Dowglas dye,

Who straight in wrath did vow revenge,

upon the Earl Piercy.


Sir Hugh Montgomery was he cal’d

who with a Spear most bright,

Well mounted on a gallant Steed,

ran fiercely through the fight,

And past the English archers all

without all dread or fear,

And through Earl Piercies body then

he thrust his hateful Spear.


With such a vehement force & might

he did his body gore,

The spear went through the other side,

a large cloth yard and more.

So thus did both these nobles dye,

whose courage none could stain,

An English archer then perceiv’d

the Noble Earl was slain.


He had a Bow bent in his hand,

made of a trusty tree,

An arrow of a cloath yard long,

unto the head drew he,

Against Sir Hugh Montgomerie,

so right his Shaft he set,

the grey=-goose wing that was thereon

in his heart blood was wet.


This fight did last from break of day

till setting of the Sun,

For when they rang the evening bell,

the battle scarce was done.

With the Earl Piercy there was slain

Sir John of Ogerton

Sir Robert Ratcliff, and Sir John,

Sir James that bold Baron.


And with sir George & good sir James

both Knights of good account,

Good sir Ralph Rabby there was slain

whose prowess did surmount.

For Witherington needs must I wail,

as one in doleful dumps,

For when his legs were smitten off

he fought upon his stumps.


And with E. Dowglas there was slain

Sir Hugh Montgomery,

Sir Charles Currel that from the field

one foot would never flye.

Sir Charles Murrel of Ratcliff too,

his sisters Son was he,

Sir David Lamb so well esteem’d,

yet saved could not be.


And the Lord Markwel in likewise,

did with Earl Dowglas dye,

Of twenty hundred Scottish spears

scarce fifty five did flye.

Of fifteen hundred English men

went home but fifty three,

The rest were slain in Chevy=Chase

under the Green=Wood tree.


Next day did many Widdows come

their Husbands to bewail,

They washt their wounds in brinish teares

but all would not prevail.

Their bodies bath’d in purple blood,

they bore with them away,

They kist them dead a thousand times

when they were clad in clay.


This news was brought to Edenburg

where Scotlands King did reign,

That brave Earl Dowglas suddenly

was with an arrow slain,

O heavy news King James did say,

Scotland can witness be,

I have not any Captain more,

of such account as he.


Like tydings to King Henry came,

within as short a space,

That Piercy of Northumberland

was slain in Chevy=Chase.

Now God be with him, said our King

sith ‘twill no better be,

I trust I have within my Realm,

five hundred as good as he.


Yet shall not Scot nor Scotland say

but I will vengeance take,

And be revenged on them all,

for brave Earl Piercies sake.

This vow full well the K. perform’d,

after on Humble Down,

In one day fifty Knights were slain,

with Lords of great renown.


And of the rest of small account

did many hundreds dye,

Thus ended the hunting of Chevy=Chase

made by the Earl piercie.

God save the King and bless the land

in plenty, joy, and peace,

And grant henceforth that foul debate

‘twixt Noble men may cease.


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

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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: no reference.

Appearances on Ballad Partner's lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Chevie chase'); Coles Vere Wright and Clarke, 1675; Thackeray, 1689 ('Chevy-Chase).

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 19

No. of extant copies: 18

New tune-titles generated: ‘Chevy chase' (13 ballads); and 'God prosper long our noble king' (2 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 295 references, including occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 223).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 0 + 38 + 18 + 30 + 0 + 15 = 131

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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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