67  A new Ditty, shewing the wonderfull Miracles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Pepys 1.58]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A New Ditty, shewing the wonderful Miracles of our Lord and Saviour

Bodies - health/sickness Bodies - nourishment Death - execution Death - godly end Disability - physical Emotions - wonder History - ancient/mythological Religion - Bible Religion - Christ/God Religion - Judaism Religion - body/soul Religion - divine intervention Violence - punitive

Song History

Based solidly on Scriptural sources, this was one of the most successful religious songs of the early-modern age (see Related texts and Editions). It was first registered with the Company of Stationers in 1578 as ‘a ballat of many miracles donne by our saviour Jhesus Christ while he remained on the earthe perfect man sume only excepted’ (the first part of this record identifies the song quite precisely but it has to be admitted that the last five words are mystifying). Further editions were issued through to c. 1700, though there seems to be no surviving evidence of broadside publication during the eighteenth century.

The song re-surfaced, however, with the publication of Christmas carol collections by Davies Gilbert in 1823 and William Sandys a decade later. Gilbert’s carols were, he said, ‘formerly sung in the West of England’, in cosy homes on Christmas Eve and in church on Christmas Day. He offered no tune but, in 1833, Sandys supplied one, and the subtitle of his book implied that all his melodies were those to which the carols had traditionally been sung. Several folksong collectors of the early twentieth century transcribed the text and tune into their notebooks, though it seems clear that they were drawing primarily on printed collections of carols rather than on oral custom. Anne Gilchrist nevertheless believed that the song about Christ’s miracles had, ‘according to tradition, been known for three hundred years back’.

As usual, it is very difficult to disentangle the printed record and oral tradition. We cannot even be sure that Gilbert and Sandys were justified in claiming to be transcribing songs from local custom. The texts they provided for this ballad are suspiciously close to the seventeenth-century printed original and it seems possible that copies of the broadside – perhaps from lost editions in the 1700s – shaped their versions of a carol that had also passed into oral tradition. Sandys’ version omits several verses and presents numerous minor textual adjustments but it is very clearly the same song. Gilbert and Sandys, whatever their working practice, established the ballad as an important carol in the nineteenth century, and it still appears in anthologies to this day.

We might think about the song’s success during the seventeenth century in a variety of ways. It provided a concise catalogue of Christ’s most remarkable interventions in human life, neatly squeezing over fifteen miracles into two columns of text. The broadside presented a wonder-rich life of Christ in twelve verses and, with its woodcut, may have served as a post-Reformation devotional object for display in private homes (See Featured woodcut history). The song also had educational potential, offering parents the opportunity to enthral their children with tales of Christ’s ‘glorious power and might’. A new Ditty, with its rousing refrain, was also ideally suited to group singing during Christian festivals, a possibility that emerges clearly in its later role as a carol.

All in all, the song perhaps provided early-modern Christians with an uplifting encouragement to enhanced religiosity. Less comfortably for most modern ears, its repetitive anti-Semitism – the Jews are presented conventionally as ‘hard-hearted’, ‘raging’ and ‘cruel’ in their dealings with Jesus – probably appealed to many as a reassuring reminder of Christian superiority.

Christopher Marsh


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

Davies Gilbert, Some ancient Christmas carols with the tunes to which they were formerly sung in the west of England (1823), pp. 39-42.

The Oxford books of carols, ed.  Pearcy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw (1928; Oxford, 1964), no. 72.

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (1924; Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1967), nos. 1663, 1766 and 2917.

William Sandys, Christmas carols, ancient and modern. Including the most popular in the west of England, and the airs to which they are sung (1833), pp. 130-33 and carol no. 11 at the back of the volume.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Anne Geddes Gilchrist collection (AGG/1/4/59) and Janet Blunt collection (JHB/18/11): https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud number 8327).

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Triumph and Joy’ (lost 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

We have not found any seventeenth-century notation for the tune ‘Triumph and joy’ but fortunately this carol about the miracles of Christ remained popular two hundred years later and was often recorded with music. On our recording, we have therefore used the nineteenth-century melody as it was presented in William Sandys’ Christmas carols ancient and modern (1833). It is quite possible that this was closely related to the original tune but of course we cannot be sure.

The song and tune can also be found in manuscript records compiled by some of the folksong collectors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anne Geddes Gilchrist copied her version from a printed source (probably Sandys), remarking that ‘according to tradition’ the song had been known ‘for three hundred years back’.

Echoes (an overview)

The lost tune ‘Triumph and joy’ was used on a number of ballads during the years between 1578 and 1640. A new Ditty apparently led the way, both chronologically and in terms of its popularity. Its religious theme may have influenced its nomination for subsequent songs about the execution of an alleged Catholic conspirator (The shamefull downefall of the Popes Kingdome) and the need for urgent repentance (A passing Bell towling to call us to mind).

More speculatively, the mood of praise that was struck in A new Ditty seems to bear some relation to the political devotion displayed in A Joyful Song of the Royall receiving of the Queen’s most excellent Majestie (1588) and An Exact Description Of the manner how his Majestie and his Nobles went to the Parliament (c. 1640).

It is also interesting that the tune was used not only for a song praising Elizabeth I but also for a slightly later ballad describing the festivities staged in Dublin on St. George’s Day, 1599, by her controversal favourite, the Earl of Essex (A new ballade of the tryumpes kept in Ireland). The Earl’s devotion to the Queen is noted, but so too is his love of ‘famous England’ and his habit of keeping ‘a gallant court’ when away from home! The one obvious outlier in the list below is A new Ballad for you to looke on, a riddling number about the incapacitating capacity of ale. Of course, the early date of the tune’s success means that many other relevant ballads have been lost, along with the melody itself.

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

Songs and Summaries

A new Ditty, shewing the wonderfull Miracles of our Lord and Sauiour Jesus Christ... To the tune of Triumph and Joy (registered 1578; H. G., 1624-40). Pepys 1.58; EBBA 20037. Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention, Judaism, body/soul; Bodies – health/sickness, nourishment; Disability – physical; Emotions – wonder; Death – execution, godly end; Violence – punitive; History – ancient/mythological. This surveys the miracles performed by Christ, concentrating on his role as a healer and concluding with his ascension to heaven.

A Joyful Song of the Royall receiving of the Queen’s most excellent Majestie into her highnesse Campe at Tillburie in Essex... To the Tune of Triumph and Joy (Richard Jones, 1588). Britwell 18309; EBBA 32348. Royalty – praise; Politics – domestic, foreign affairs, Royalist, court; Emotions – love, joy, anxiety, patriotism, pride; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Places – English; Recreation – music, food. A detailed description of the camp at Tilbury, visited by England’s gracious and glorious Queen as the nation came together under threat of a Spanish invasion.

A new ballade of the tryumpes kept in Ireland uppon Saint Georg’s day last, by the noble Earle of Essex... To the tune of Tryumphe and Joy (Copied out by hand, 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads, LXXVIII. Politics – celebration, domestic, foreign affairs, power, Royalist; Emotions – joy, patriotism, pride; Gender – masculinity; Religion – saints; Recreation – music; Bodies – clothing; News – political, international, domestic. A detailed description of the militaristic festivities staged in Ireland by the Earl of Essex in honour of England and the Queen.

A new Ballad for you to looke on, How Mault doth deale with every one. To the tune of, Triumph and Joy (John Wright, 1602-46; issued with A pleasant new Ballad to sing both Even and Morne). Roxburghe 1.342; EBBA 30232. Recreation – alcohol; Employment – crafts/trades; Environment – crops; Humour – verbal; Gender – masculinity; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – injury. A song describing the capacity of ‘Master Mault’ to incapacitate men of all occupations, with the possible exception of ‘The Miller with his grinding stones’.

The shamefull downefall of the Popes Kingdome[.] Contayning the life and death of Steeven Garnet (imprint missing, c. 1606). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 1.54; EBBA 36046. Religion – Catholic/Protestant, clergy; Death – execution; Violence – punitive; Politics – plots; Emotions – relief; Bodies – clothing; Environment – animals; News – convicts/crimes. This describes the vile plotting of the arch ‘Papist’, Steven Garnet, and notes with satisfaction that he has been hanged, quartered and placed on public display.

A passing Bell towling to call us to mind,/ Our time evill spending, a plague now we fin[d]... To the tune of Triumph and Joy  (imprint missing, early seventeenth century?). Wood 276b(103). Religion – sin/repentance. The surviving copy is severely damaged and almost illegible but this is a song that laments the sins of society and calls upon everyone to repent.

An Exact Description Of the manner how his Majestie and his Nobles went to the Parliament, on Munday, the thirteenth day of Aprill, 1640... To the tune of Triumph and Joy, &c. (M.P, c. 1640). Wood 401(139). This describes the elaborate procession of aristocrats, judges and royal guards that accompanied Charles I to the opening of parliament, and the loyal author, Martin Parker, expresses profound satisfaction at this development.


It is clear that ‘triumph and joy’ was a commonly-used verbal pairing and that the associations, as in the ballads listed above, were usually religious and/or political. This melody does not appear to have been nominated in songbooks of the period, despite its strong connection to a hit song.


William Sandys, Christmas carols ancient and modern (1833), no. 11.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), p. 270.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Anne Geddes Gilchrist Collection, AGG/1/4/59 (viewable on the Library’s ‘Full English’ database).

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Jesus with kneeling woman

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)

The text of the ballad describes ‘the wonderfull Miracles’ of Jesus but the woodcut actually depicts a different episode in his life (see ‘Postscript’, below). It is therefore of general rather than specific relevance, though the details are indistinct and it would clearly have been possible for consumers to see in the little image one of the moments of healing that are described in the ballad’s text. The woodcut has not been found on any other ballads in the two largest collections (roughly 3300 songs in total). The only ballad listed below is therefore our featured edition. The image was not used on surviving editions of A new Ditty from later in the seventeenth century.

Songs and summaries

A new Ditty, shewing the wonderfull Miracles of our Lord and Sauiour Jesus Christ (H. G., 1624-40). Pepys 1.58; EBBA 20037. Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention, Judaism, body/soul; Bodies – health/sickness, nourishment; Disability – physical; Emotions – wonder; Death – execution, godly end; Violence – punitive; History – ancient/mythological. This surveys the miracles performed by Christ, concentrating on his role as a healer and concluding with his ascension to heaven (picture placement: the scene appears over the opening verse, and there are no other woodcuts).


We are grateful to Eamon Duffy for corresponding with us on the subject of this woodcut. He points out that it actually represents a scene from Luke’s Gospel (chapter 7, verses 36-50) in which a weeping and repentant woman anoints Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Professor Duffy also notes that the woodcut probably originated as a devotional image in the early sixteenth century (we have so far failed to identify the precise source). The pre-Reformation woodblock must have been passed down from printer to printer before receiving a new lease of life in association with A new Ditty.


Eamon Duffy, personal communication (13 July, 2020).

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Related Texts

The song’s strongest relationship is, of course, with the four gospels of the New Testament (though the reference to the blood-red moon at the crucifixion comes, I think, from Acts 2:20). The anonymous ballad-makers clearly knew the Bible extremely well and they re-worked the miracle stories for a broad audience with considerable skill. The raising of Lazarus (brother of Mary and Martha) covers nearly 50 Biblical verses (John 11:1-46) but is reduced in the ballad to four pithy lines. In these lines, there is one surprising omission – Lazarus’ name – and one surprising addition – he emerges from his grave ‘running’ – but in most respects the balladeers convey the Bible story accurately and concisely.

The same is true of the other miracles, though the ballad seems to take a liberty in raising the size of one of the crowds that Jesus feeds from 4000 in Matthew 15:38 and 5000 in Matthew 14:21 to an even more impressive 7000. This looks like a later copying error, however, rather than an exaggeration introduced by the original authors; the early seventeenth-century hand-written transcript of the song that appears in the Shirburn Ballads mentions a mere 5000 diners. The same pattern of subsequent error can be seen in a line that appears in the Shirburn version as ‘When Christ our Saviour did come nye’ but in our featured edition, nonsensically, as ‘When Christ our Saviour came not nye’.

The ballad’s reduction of Biblical passages is often so significant that is difficult to tie the song to particular versions of the Bible but there is no doubting that the key source was close at hand when the ballad was composed. Occasionally, phraseology is reproduced almost exactly. In Matthew 27:54, for example, witnesses of the crucifixion declare ‘Truely this was the Son of God’ and in the ballad they say ‘This was the son of God truly’ (‘truly’ is needed at the end of the line to rhyme loosely with ‘therby’ and ‘to cry’).

Historians have noted that the ballad focuses on the miraculous at the expense of theological discussion and advice on moral living (Watt and Green). This cannot be denied, though the ballad-makers’ decisions are not in any way surprising. Scouring single-sheet songs for detailed doctrinal discussion is almost inevitably futile because of the ballad-writers’ necessary focus on brevity and broad engagement. If the song aimed to stop punters in their tracks as they crossed a busy marketplace, then miracles were clearly a much better bet than solifidianism (though the ballad could easily have been heard as an invitation to solifidianism).

And if the song says little about moral conduct, this is because moral conduct is not what the song is about. There were plenty of other ballads that offered consumers detailed advice on how to live well (see, for example, An Hundred Godly Lessons and An excellent song, wherein you shall find, Great consolation for a troubled mind).

Rather than reflecting on the alleged failings of the ballad-makers, it might be more fruitful to note their success in turning Scriptural snippets into one of the hits of the era. And the fact that the ballad did so well also tells us much about the on-going importance of religion as a central component of commonplace culture, throughout the seventeenth century.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

The Bible in Englishe, according to the translation of the great Booke (1553), New Testament: Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Bible and Holy Scripture (Geneva, 1560), New Testament: Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

A new Ditty, shewing the Wonderful Miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ (registered 1578).


Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in early modern England (Oxford, 2000), p. 454.

The Shirburn Ballads 1585-1616, ed. Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1907), no. 24, pp. 103-06.

Tessa Watt, Cheap print and popular piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 122 and 126.

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A new Ditty, shewing the wonderfull Miracles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which/ he did while he remained upon earth.

To the tune of Triumph and Joy.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


WHen Jesus Christ was twlve yeeres old,

As holy Scriptures plainly told,

He then disputed brave and bold

among the learned Doctors:

Who wondred greatly at his wit,

As in the Temple he did sit:

For no man could compare with it,

his wisdome was so heavenly.

Then praise the Lord both high and low,

Which all these wondrous works doth show.

That we to heaven at length may goe,

where he in glory raigneth.


At thirty yeeres he then began

To rreach the Gospell unto man,

And all Judea wondred then,

to heare his heavenly Doctrine:

Such workes he did as made them muse,

Among the proud hard-hearted Jewes,

Yet evermore they did refuse

to take him for their Saviour.

Then praise, &c.


For first of all by power divine,

He changed water into wine,

When at a marriage he did dine,

which made the people wonder:

Moreover with seven loaves of bread,

Seven thousand men he fully fed,

Whereby his glory far was spred,

throughout the Land of Jury.

Then praise, &c.


And by his glorious power and might,

Unto the blind he gave their sight,

For which the Jewes bore him a spight,

who sought for to destroy him.

The man which was both deafe and dumb,

Which never heard nor spake with tongue,

By Christ was healed when he did come:

whose praise he then pronounced.

Then praise, &c.


The woman that was grieved sore,

With an issue of blood twelve yeeres & more,

Unto her health he did restore,

in a minute of an houre:

The Captaines man that sicke did lie,

Our Saviour healed presently,

Although he never came him nye,

his words alone did helpe him.

Then praise, &c.


Likewise he healed the Lepers ten,

Whose Bodies were most filthy then,

Yet none but one did come agen,

him humble thankes to render:

And he that sicke of the Palsie lay,

With shaking joynts full many a day,

The Lord to heale him did not stay,

but straight his will fulfilled.

Then praise, &c.


The halt and lame that could not goe,

But still remained in great woe,

Our Saviour Christ did pitty show,

and make them whole and lusty:

The man that was with Devils possest,

And never lived in peace and rest,

By Christ his Word at length was blest,

and they were cleane cast from him.

Then praise, &c.


The widdowes sonne that dead did lye,

When Christ our Saviour came not [‘him’ in other editions] nye,

He raysed to life immediately,

unto her joy and comfort.

Then Mary and Martha made great moane,

Because their Brother was dead and gone,

Our Lord put life in him alone,

and he from grave came running.

Then praise, &c.


And more his heavenly might to show,

Upon the Sea himselfe did goe,

And never none could yet doe so,

but onely Christ our Saviour.

And when the Souldiers with great might

Did seeke to take him in the night,

They were not able to stand in his sight,

till he the same permitted.

Then praise, &c.


But yet for all these wonders great,

The Jewes were in a raging heat,

Whom no persawsion could intreat,

but cruelly they did kill him:

And when he left his life so good,

The Moone was turned into blood,

The Earth and Temple shaking stood,

and graves full wide did open.

Then praise, &c.


Then some of them that stood thereby,

With voices loud began to cry,

This was the Sonne of God truely,

without all kind of doubting:

And as they said, it proved plaine:

For in three dayes he rose againe,

Although he suffered bitter paine

both heaven and hell he conquerd.

Then praise, &c.


And after that ascended he,

To heaven in glorious Majesty,

With whom God send us all to be,

for evermore rejoycing.

Then praise, &c.


Printed at London for H. G.

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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. XXIV.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'When Jesus Christ was 12' from first line); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('When Jesus Christ was 12 years old').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1578 and 1586.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 8

No. of extant copies: 3

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 7 references, with only very occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 8327).

POINTS: 2 + 30 + 10 + 16 + 3 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 61

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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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