49  A constant Wife, a kinde Wife,/ A loving Wife, and a fine Wife [Pepys 1.390-91]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Constant Wife

Bodies - looks/physique Emotions - anger Emotions - joy Emotions - love Family - kin Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Morality - familial Society - old/young Society - rich/poor Violence - interpersonal

Song History

This song has an interesting and unusual history, particularly after its initial period of success as a broadside in the seventeenth century. There seems to be little if any evidence of its publication in any form during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but it reappears – in various shortened forms set to various tunes – in the work of folksong collectors during the early twentieth century (recordings of the song by Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, among others, are readily accessible). In fact, ‘reappears’ is perhaps a misleading term, for it seems unlikely that the song had ever gone away. Although there is very little evidence of its existence between 1700 and 1900, a comparison of the seventeenth-century editions and the twentieth century versions suggests that A constant Wife may actually have been playing along in the background throughout this period.

There are many different versions of the ballad in the papers and publications of modern folksong collectors, and a search on the remarkably helpful database hosted by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library currently generates over two hundred references. The song, under numerous different titles, was collected many times in England, America and Scotland. Arguably, the most striking feature of these versions is the clear sense that they convey of a close relationship with the original seventeenth-century ballad (first registered in 1631). Although the later folksong versions often diverge from one another in matters of detail, a high proportion of them carry clear echoes of our ballad, both in the main lines of their narratives and in the vocabulary that is deployed.

The most common title, ‘Locks and bolts’, derives from the original broadside (see the last line of verse 5), and the folksong in many different versions includes numerous lines that seem to share this provenance (in the list that follows, the original ballad versions are added in brackets for comparison): ‘and treat me most unkindly’ (‘and usde me most unkindly’); ‘I would be with you soon, my love/ But locks and bolts doth hinder’ (‘O I would come to thee my choise/ but doores and lockes doe hinder’); ‘Come all young men that love like me/ Fight on and take another’ (‘Young men to win yourselves such Brides/ fight for to overcome them’); ‘’Twas out of spite and malice’ (‘onely through spight and malice’); ‘Over hills and dales and mountains high’ (‘ore mountaine, hills, and valleys’); ‘There he stood amazed there awhile’ (‘Where at amazed I did stand’); ‘Or in your own blood wallow’ (‘but in my blood should wallow’); ‘and quickly I got to her’ (‘and quickly I came at her’).

Some of the related lines suggest the process by which particular verses may have been altered as they passed around orally and aurally, either because they were mis-remembered or because singers felt the need to bring them into line with contemporary parlance. Thus, the original ballad’s opening line, ‘Young men and maids lend me your aids’ became, in versions found by collectors 150 years later, ‘Young men and maids, pray tell your age’ and ‘Come Anna May, and tell me your name’ (the similar pattern of vowel sounds in ‘Young men and maids’ and ‘Come Anna May’ is intriguing).

The similarities are indeed so striking that the apparent absence of editions of the broadside after 1700 is very surprising. Either we have simply failed to find them or the history of A constant Wife is a case study in long-term oral/aural transmission following early but unrepeated publication. Presumably, there can have been few copies of the original ballad in circulation by c. 1800, meaning that the song’s subsequent development was almost entirely through oral transmission. In the circumstances, it seems remarkable that so much of the original text was preserved (though the various tunes to which the song was sung in the early twentieth century seem unrelated to the original).

The folksong versions are, as in other cases, much shorter than the original ballad but they faithfully preserve the key moments in the narrative (the search, the fight, and the triumph). It is striking that the second part of the original ballad, in which the man gushes sentimentally in praise of his beloved, is almost completely absent from the folksongs. One of very few traces is found in the line, ‘Her golden hair, like glittering gold’ (based on ‘Her golden lockes like threeds of gold’ in the broadside). 

Apart from this, the folksong held on to the violence and adventure while dispensing with the romantic hymn of praise. Perhaps the seventeenth century lover’s description of his sweetheart’s breasts and utterly subservient nature (‘Her Lilly hand is at command’) had come to seem inappropriate by the 1900s, for one reason or another. Indeed, the passivity of the woman in all versions of this song is another of its striking features. She is more a trophy, to be competed over by men, than an active player. Admittedly, she delivers the most famous line – ‘doores and lockes doe hinder’ – but it is the man who smashes all such obstacles to pieces.

The song’s popularity in the seventeenth century was presumably related in part to its memorable language and its simple but powerful narrative of a challenge identified and surmounted. We should also note the robust manner in which the song rejects the conventions of courtship, as articulated by the period’s moralists. In the world of the romantic ballad, true love reigned supreme, and the rights of fathers, uncles and ‘friends’ to prevent rich young women from marrying ‘meanly’ men were vigorously repudiated. A constant Wife is a notable example of this youthful, alternative understanding of the courtship process.


Martin Carthy, ‘Locks and bolts’ on Crown of horn (1976; 1995), track 2.

Shirley Collins, ‘Locks and bolts’ on The sweet primroses (1966; 1995), track 10.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, ‘Locks and bolts’ on Strands of gold (2006), track 4.

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. 386-88.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud number 406).

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Lie lulling beyond thee’ (standard name)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its career, paying particular attention to the ‘echoes’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was nominated for the singing of more than one ballad. In the list presented in the ‘Songs and Summaries’ section below, we have endeavoured to include as many of the black-letter ballads that used the tune as possible, under any of its variant names. Titles from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type (these are also in colour when there is a link to the relevant ballad page on the website). It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).  In most cases, we list the earliest surviving edition of a ballad, though in many instances there may have been earlier versions, now lost.

Versions and variations

This tune was known variously as ‘[Lie] lulling beyond thee’, ‘Lulling beyond her’, ‘Lull me beyond thee’, ‘Shall I lie beyond thee’, ‘Locks and bolts do hinder’, ‘Yongmen and maids’ and ‘[Old] Sir John Barley-corn’. It did not often attract the attention of sophisticated composers and, as a consequence, there are few if any instrumental settings for lute, viol or virginals. The melody was, however, included by John Playford in his famous collection, The English Dancing-Master (1651). It appeared in the first eight editions, without any of the successive alterations that Playford made to so many of his melodies. This seems to imply that the melody existed in a relatively stable form and, more obviously, that it was strongly associated with dancing in the second half of the seventeenth century. Our recording makes use of Playford’s version.

For remarks on certain similarities between ‘Lie lulling beyond thee’ and later tunes that were used for the singing of another hit song, see the sections on A Pleasant new Ballad to sing Even and Morne, Of the bloody murther of Sir John Barley-corne (this shared its melody with A constant Wife).

Echoes (an overview)

This melody enjoyed significant popularity between the 1620s and the 1650s but does not seem to have been named on many new ballads in the later years of the century. When A pleasant new Ballad to sing Even and Morne, Of the bloody murther of Sir John Barley-corne was originally written in c. 1600, with its elaborate and extended metaphor for the ale-brewing process, the associations of the tune may not have been particularly strong. In the next few years, however, it established itself as a melody that spoke primarily of romance. Most of the songs listed below follow this theme, and it is interesting that several of them combine courtship with suggestions of trouble and violence. Sometimes difficulties arise from the death of a devoted lover (The Northerne Turtle), while in other songs the pain is provided by military service (The two fervent Lovers). In A constant Wife, obstructive relatives are the problem (see also The Lovers Joy and Griefe).

The songs listed below are connected not only by their melody but also by a number of direct textual echoes, only a few of which can be outlined here. On three occasions, the rhyming words in the second and fourth lines of a song seem to echo those found at the same points in other ballads: sweeting/meeting in A constant Wife; weeping/sweeting in The Honest Wooer; and greeting/meeting in A pleasant new Ballad. One verse in A constant Wife ends with the line, ‘but doores and lockes doe hinder’, and this surely influenced the expression, ‘but locks and bolts doe hinder’ which became the refrain in The Lovers Joy and Griefe (the expression also provided a new title for the tune). In The two fervent Lovers, the line ‘and blesse the time of meeting’ recalls ‘blest be the time of meeting’ in A constant Wife (the words are sung to the fourth line of the melody in both cases). And the refrains in The two fervent Lovers and The Honest Wooer are notably similar: ‘how dearely I do love thee’ and ‘for it is I that love you’.

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

Songs and Summaries

The Northerne Turtle: Wayling his unhappy fate... To a new Northerne tune, or A health to betty (I. H.,?1602-12). Pepys 1.372; EBBA 20021. Death – general, tragedy; Emotions – sorrow, despair; Gender – courtship; Environment – birds, flowers/trees, weather. A sad man expresses his devotion to his dead sweetheart and wishes fervently to join her beyond the grave.

A Pleasant new Ballad to sing Even and Morne, Of the bloody murther of Sir John Barley-corne. To the tune of, Shall I lie beyond thee (registered 1624; H. G., 1629-40). Pepys 1.426-7; EBBA 20199.  Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Employment – trades and crafts; Gender – masculinity; Humour – satire; Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship; Violence – interpersonal.  A murder ballad that doubles up as an account of the ale-making process.

The Honest Wooer, His minde expressing in plaine and few termes, By which to his Mistresse his love he confirmes. To the tune of, Lulling beyond her (F. Coules., 1624-80). Roxburghe 1.156-57; EBBA 30098.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; History – ancient/mythological, romance.  A plain-talking man declares his love for a woman, and she reciprocates. 

The two fervent Lovers. OR A warlike kind of wooing... To the tune of the two loving Sisters, or lulling beyond thee (Fr. Coules, 1624-80). Roxburghe 1.416-17; EBBA 30285. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, longing, contentment; History – ancient/mythological medieval; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – birds, weather, landscape; Recreation – music; Violence – between states. A young man expresses his devotion to a woman, explaining that he has endured the dangers of warfare for her sake; suitably impressed, she agrees to marry him.

A constant Wife, a kinde Wife, A loving Wife, and a fine Wife... To the tune of, Lie lulling beyond thee (F. C., 1631-56). Pepys 1.390-91; EBBA 20181. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – anger, love, joy; Morality – familial; Family – kin; Bodies – looks/physique; Violence – interpersonal; Society – old and young, rich/poor.  A young man fights hard to free his sweetheart from the confinement imposed by her disapproving ‘friends’, and then finds time to praise her person in considerable detail.

The Lovers Joy and Griefe: OR A young mans relation In a pitifull fashion, Being from his Love hindred By Locks, Bolts, and Kindred. To the tune of, Yongmen and Maids (Tho: Lambert, 1633-69).  Roxburghe 1.194-95; EBBA 30135.  Gender – courtship, Cupid, masculinity; Emotions – love, anger, longing, hope; Family – kin; History – ancient/mythological, romance; Morality – familial; Bodies – looks/physique; Religion – ancient Gods.  A man voices his devotion to a wealthier woman who has been locked up by her kinsfolk in order to prevent them from being together.

Tis a wise Child that knows his own Father... To the Tune of, the Locks and Bolts doe hinder (R Oulson for John Wright the younger, 1634-58). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.33; EBBA 36207. Family – pregnancy/childbirth, children/parents; Gender – sex, masculinity, femininity; Employment – crafts/trades, sailors/soldiers; Places – nationalities; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anxiety, hope. A maiden laments the fact that she is pregnant by an unknown man and she devises a strategy to identify the father of her child.


The melody does not appear to have been used for white-letter ballads, nor was it nominated regularly in song-books of the period. The only example we have found is Thomas Robins’ chapbook, The Arraigning and Indicting of Sir John Barley-corn (1675). This is an account, mainly written in dialogue, of Sir John’s trial and eventual acquittal. The story expands upon A Pleasant new Ballad to sing Even and Morne, Of the bloody murther of Sir John Barley-corne (another hit song that nominated the same tune). Robins’ book includes two new songs that allude to the ballad, not least in that they are both set to the tune of ‘[Old] Sir John Barley-corn’.


Jeremy Barlow (ed.), The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1985), no. 56.

John Playford, The English Dancing-Master (1651), p. 93. Subsequent editions were entitled The dancing-master.

Thomas Robins, The Arraigning and Indicting of Sir John Barley-corn (1675), pp. 5-6 and 14-15.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 445-46.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Akimbo man with clouds

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 had an interesting history in a fierce literary controversy of the 1590s (see ‘Postscript', below), but it seems to have been used only rarely on later ballads. Any man who stood with hand on hip was signifying belligerence within seventeenth-century culture, and in this woodcut the front-facing pose, with feet set apart, adds to the impression of aggression. The body language suits a text in which the central character must fight for the hand of his beloved. The picture was not, however, deployed on later editions of the song. In the image’s only other appearance within the Pepys and Roxburghe collections, the warlike body language becomes ironic because the married man in the text is actually warning that men should accept provocation without reacting angrily.

Songs and summaries:

A constant Wife, a kinde Wife, A loving Wife, and a fine Wife (F. C., 1631-56). Pepys 1.390-91; EBBA 20181. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – anger, love, joy; Morality – familial; Family – kin; Bodies – looks/physique; Violence – interpersonal; Society – old and young, rich/poor.  A young man fights hard to free his sweetheart from the confinement imposed by her disapproving ‘friends’, and then finds time to praise her person in considerable detail (picture placement: he stands beneath the title, next to a woman with a flowery fan – on the right side of the sheet, a man and a woman appear in a box together, signifying the eventual success of their courtship).

The marryed mans lesson or A disswasion from jealousie (John Wright the younger, 1634-58).  Roxburghe 1.510-11; EBBA 30343. Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity; Humour – domestic/familial.  The narrator warns men to accept all sorts of wives and avoid jealousy because it only leads to further problems (picture placement: he stands next to a woodcut of Queen Elizabeth).


The earliest known appearance of this woodcut was in the anonymous book, The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman, by the High-Tituled Patron Don Richardo de Medico Campo, Barber Chirurgeon to Trinitie Colledge in Cambridge (1597). This work has been attributed both to Gabriel Harvey and to the Cambridge barber, Richard Lichfield. The woodcut played its part in the fierce controversy between Harvey and Nashe that had raged during the 1590s.  It was used to represent and mock Nashe, alongside a written commentary that drew attention to the ridiculous round haircut and beardless face of the figure depicted (these were the result of the literary ‘trimming’ that the book attempted). In this earlier appearance of the woodcut, the man’s feet are represented in shackles to reinforce the textual point that Nashe is an arrogant, blustering man who moves in and out of prison. 

It seems that the old woodblock found its way from the Elizabethan printer of this pamphlet, Edward Allde, to his Caroline successor, possibly his widow Elizabeth, and was then brought back to life for a new generation. In the meantime, it may have gathered dust following the ban imposed upon works related to the Nashe–Harvey controversy in 1599. The image on our ballad reveals that the later printer also modified the woodblock, apparently in order to render it more suitable for its new home. In the text of A constant Wife, for example, the courageous husband-to-be is neither imprisoned nor mocked, and it seems that Nashe’s original chain has therefore been carefully filed away.


Anon, The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman, by the High-Tituled Patron Don Richardo de Medico Campo, Barber Chirurgeon to Trinitie Colledge in Cambridge (London, 1597), E2r.

Christopher Marsh, ‘Best-Selling Ballads and their Pictures in Seventeenth-Century England,’ Past and Present 233 (Nov. 2016), 69-70.

Maria Teresa Micaela Prendergast, ‘Promiscuous Textualities: The Nashe–Harvey Controversy and the Unnatural Productions of Print’, in Douglas Brooks (ed.), Printing and Parenting in Early Modern England (Aldershot, 2005), 173-196.

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Related Texts

We have not, so far, found any other early-modern texts that bear a direct relationship to this ballad.

Christopher Marsh

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A constant Wife, a kinde Wife,/ A loving Wife, and a fine Wife,/ Which gives content unto mans life.

To the tune of, Lie lulling beyond thee.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


YOung men and maids lend me your aids,

to sing of my deare Sweeting:

It showes how Fortune hath betray’ds

and often spoild our meeting.

She likely was for to be rich,

and I a man but meanely,

Wherefore her friends at me did grutch

and usde me most unkindly.


Her constancy I will declare,

wherein she proved loyall:

But few with her that will compare

when they are put to tryall.

Her friends against her did contend,

because she lent me favour,

They said, I quickly all would spend,

if that I might but have her.


They did convey her from my sight

because she should exempt me:

I could not find my hearts delight,

which sore did discontent me.

I traveld over craggy rockes,

ore mountaine, hills, and valleys,

But she was kept from me with lockes,

onely through spight and malice.


But Love that conquers Kings and Queens,

herein did shew us favour,

It brought to passe, and wrought the meanes,

in what place I should have her.

She had an Uncle did detaine,

and keepe her presence from me:

Whom I was very like t’have slaine,

because he so did wrong me.


I boldly came where he did dwell,

and asked for my Sweeting:

They said of her they could not tell,

which was to me sad greeting.

But presently shee heard my voice,

and call me at her windor.

O I would come to thee my choise,

but doores and lockes doe hinder.


Where at amazed I did stand,

to heare her make that answer:

I drew my sword into my hand,

and straight the house did enter,

And then I made the lockes to flie,

and doores in pieces shatter:

I vow’d to have her company,

and quickly I came at her.


Her Uncle and some of his men,

did after present follow:

Who said I should ne’r out againe,

but in my blood should wallow:

But with some hurt done on both sides,

I brought my Sweet-heart from them,

Young men to win your selves such Brides,

fight for to overcome them.


Then joyn’d we hands in Hymens bands

to love and live together,

She lov’d me not for house nor lands,

for I had none of either.

Her love was pure, and doth endure,

and so shall mine for ever:

Till death doth us so much iniure,

as part us from each other.


The second part, to the same tune.


WIth hand and heart I will impart,

the praises of my Sweeting,

Now welcome joyes, and farewell smart,

blest be the time of meeting

With my Sweet-heart and onely Deare,

in whom is all my pleasure.

The like of her doth not appeare,

she is so blest a treasure.


O happy be the time and houre,

that ere I saw her feature:

Sure heavens blisse on me did showre,

to send me such a creature.

She is so pleasing to my minde,

the like was never any,

Shee’s vertuous, wise, and very kinde,

she farre surpasseth many.


Her comely feature may compare

with any in Towne or Citie,

For courtesie she is most rare,

likewise she is full of pitie.

No vertue that can give content

to any earthly creature,

But God to her the same hath sent,

to please the will of Nature.


Her golden lockes like threeds of gold,

her eyes like stars doe glister,

Her cheekes like Rose and Lillies fould,

she may be Venus sister.

Shee hath a handsome dimpled chin,

her necke shines like the chrystal:

Her like hath seldome times beene seene,

she seemeth so celestiall.


Her armes and shoulderes are compleat

her brests like Alabaster;

Her waist and body is as neat,

there’s none that ere surpast her,

Her eloquence gives such content

to all that heare her phrases,

That freely they’ll give their consents

to yeeld her earthly praises.


Her Lilly hand is at command,

to doe me any service:

And quickly she will understand

a matter whatsoere it is.

If I bid goe shee will not stay,

to worke any displeasure,

But presently she goes her way,

And is not this a treasure?


Her parts below Ile not descry,

but they are very neat ones,

A dainty foot and leg, and thigh,

as can be made of flesh and bones.

Shee is so perfect in her parts,

that many were inflamed,

On her they wholly set their hearts,

and at her fully aimed.


Thus to conclude and end my song,

I wish well to the Female,

Or else I sure shold doe them wrong

and prove my self a tell-tale.

Young men adue, be kind [?and true],

unto your onely Sweet[ing,]

Observe your time, you [need not rue,]

nor curse the houre of [meeting].


London Printed for F. C.

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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: Coles, Wright, Vere and Gilberston, 1656; Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 (2 possible entries: either 'Locks and bolts do hinder' from an influential verse; or 'Young-men & Maids' from first line).

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1631.

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

No. of extant copies: 7

New tune-titles generated: 'Locks and bolts do hinder' (1 ballad); and 'Young men and maids' (1 ballad).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 223 references, with extensive evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 406).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 16 + 7 + 4 + 0 + 15 = 67

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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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