10  The Norfolke Gentleman his last Will and Testament [Roxburghe 1.284-85]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: The Norfolke Gentleman his last Will and Testament

Bodies - looks/physique Bodies - nourishment Crime - murder Crime - robbery/theft Death - burial/funeral Death - execution Death - illness Death - neglect Death - result of immorality Death - unlawful killing Emotions - despair Emotions - fear Emotions - greed Emotions - love Environment - birds Environment - flowers/trees Environment - landscape Family - children/parents Family - inheritance Family - kin Family - siblings Morality - familial Places - English Places - travel/transport Religion - Christ/God Religion - divine intervention Violence - divine Violence - interpersonal Violence - punitive

Song History

This tragic story has proved immensely popular over an exceptionally long period of time, and it all seems to have started with this ballad. From the late sixteenth century until the present day, the tale has enjoyed a continuous presence within English culture. The ‘babes in the wood’ have starred not only in songs but also in chapbooks, nursery stories, operas, pantomimes and films (no other song from our list of seventeenth-century hits has received the Disney treatment).

The popularity of the tale has also given rise to various extraneous elaborations. Norfolk folklore, for example, has identified Wayland Woods, on flimsy evidence, as the place where the children died, and Griston Hall as the home of the wicked uncle. The modern sign for Griston village features a colourful representation of this malevolent man, advancing towards his niece and nephew with dagger drawn. Similarly unsubstantiated was the rumour, doing the rounds during the eighteenth century, that the story was originally about Richard III’s alleged murder of the princes in the Tower in 1483.

The ballad itself has rarely been out of print, and oral versions of the ballad were regularly collected, both in England and America, by folksong enthusiasts in the early twentieth century. The success of the song can probably be related to the simple and direct manner in which it tackles an age-old anxiety about the duty of parents to keep their children safe. There were pre-existing stories about lost children but the particular story told in our hit ballad appears to date quite precisely from the early 1590s (it was first registered in 1595, and a reference to ‘the voyage of Portugal’ surely refers to the ill-fated English military mission to the Iberian peninsula in 1589). By 1711, the song had become, in Joseph Addison’s estimation, ‘one of the darlings of the common People’. It had been ‘the Delight of most Englishmen in some Part of their Age’. In typical fashion, Addison praised the song’s capacity ‘to move the Mind of the most polite Reader with Inward Meltings of Humanity’ while simultaneously noting the ‘despicable Simplicity’ and ‘abject Phrase’ that characterised its text. When polite writers addressed polite readers, it was necessary to demonstrate an acute sensitivity to rudeness.

Several aspects of the story’s long journey through time invite comment. The favoured titles shifted from ‘The Norfolk Gentleman’ (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) to ‘The children in the wood’ (eighteenth century) and then ‘The babes in the wood’ (nineteenth and twentieth centuries). The text of the ballad has proved remarkably enduring under all these titles, but at times it has been both radically reduced and generously expanded. Folk singers, for example, know it primarily as a short song of just three verses, constituting the emotional core of the tale: the children get lost, they die, and sympathetic robins spread their wings over the bodies (in the original ballad, the birds bury the children in leaves). There is no background and no aftermath, either because lack of specificity enabled all manner of people to relate to the song or because everyone already knew the full story from other sources and could fill in the detail for themselves. Three recordings of this minimalist version are listed below.

At the other extreme, there have been many chapbook editions, written mainly in prose, that supply all sorts of precise details and contextual information that is not present in the printed ballad. The most lamentable and deplorable history of the Children in the Wood (c.1700) seems to be the earliest surviving example (see Related texts). Numerous stage versions, particularly operas and pantomimes, were performed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all of them expanding on the ballad text and some of them introducing a happy ending (Disney was not the first to adopt this ploy).

The tunes to which the song has been performed suggest a similar process of experimentation. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, published versions of the ballad often dropped the tune designation entirely, perhaps because ‘reading’ ballads without music – as implied by Addison’s language – was becoming newly fashionable. The later work of folksong collectors demonstrates, however, that many still regarded the ballad as an invitation to musical rendition. The dominant melody that is familiar to modern folksingers seems unrelated to the original tune, ‘Rogero’, and it should also be admitted that modern texts only echo the original in a fairly vague manner. On the other hand, the song collected by Cecil Sharp in May 1918 from an individual called Philander Fitzgerald in Nash, Virginia, features a tune that, in its opening two lines, seems to be related to ‘Rogero’ (the first halves of the two melodies can be sung together in harmony). Fitzgerald’s lyrics were also much more closely aligned with the original ballad than are the words of the better-known folksong version. It seems possible that we have here a reduced version of the Elizabethan ballad, preserved at the point in its evolution just before its resemblance to the original became general rather than specific.

Christopher Marsh


Joseph Addison, The Spectator, a new edition, ed. Henry Morley, 3 vols. (Glasgow, 1891), vol. 1, no. 85.

Jo Boden, ‘Babes in the wood’ on A folk song a day: December (Navigator Records, 2010).

Randolph Caldecott, The babes in the wood (c. 1880).

The children in the wood (c.1750), EBBA 33763.

The Children in the Wood, An opera (1793).

Shirley Collins, ‘Babes in the wood’ on The sweet primeroses (Topic Records, 2019).

Walt Disney, Babes in the wood (1932).

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

Vic Gammon, Desire, drink and death in English folk and vernacular song, 1600-1900 (Aldershot, 2008), p. 226.

Kate Kellaway, ‘Babes in the wood’, The Guardian (11 April 2011).

Magpie Lane, ‘Babes in the wood’ on Wassail! A country Christmas (Beautiful Jo Records, 1995).

The most lamentable and deplorable history of the Children in the Wood (c.1700).

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), no. 1962.

Cecil J. Sharp, English folk songs from the southern Appalachians, 2 vols. (1932), vol 1, p. 309.

Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins, Babes in the Wood: The 1897 Drury Lane Pantomime (2019).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ (see particularly CJS2/10/4239). The song is Roud no. 288.

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of 'Rogero' (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 almost always known as ‘Rogero’, though two of the ballads listed below name it ‘In slumbering sleep’. Its orgins lay in the sixteenth century, when one of the ground basses over which Italian singers improvised descants was known as the ‘Ruggiero’ air. Somehow, this term reached the world of the London balladeers in the crudely anglicised form, ‘Rogero’. This simple and well-known tune was actually an improvised descant that had become detached from its bass-line, and one suspects that most urban ballad-singers remained blissfully ignorant of its intriguing continental roots. Versions of the tune are found in several manuscript sources of the late sixteenth century, mainly in arrangements for lute or cittern. There is, for example, a version of ‘Rogero’ set for the first of these instruments in one of the manuscripts formed by the Elizabethan musician, Mathew Holmes. Renditions of ‘Rogero’ differ slightly but are clearly versions of the same tune. Our recording makes use of the melody as it appears in a book kept for or by a pupil of the lutenist Thomas Dallis during the 1580s.

Echoes (an overview)

‘Rogero’ was an enduring tune that came to be strongly associated in the minds of English ballad-consumers with morality and religion. Almost all of the ballads listed below sit solidly within this thematic category, and it is notable that a bright tune in a major key never made the transition to significantly lighter fare. Instead, the melody animated songs about sin and repentance, the neglect of friendship and kinship, the oppression of the poor by the rich, and the eternal battle between Christ and Satan. When The Norfolke Gentleman was sung to the tune, the moral horror experienced by listeners must have been reinforced and intensified by the potent associations that ‘Rogero’ carried. Here, the tragedy of the text is relentless, though in some ballads – perhaps even this one – it seems possible that the musical buoyancy of the tune helped to reassure listeners that, despite the parlous state of the world, all was not lost. In one ballad, the death of Christ is described but the title is A most godly and comfortable Ballad of the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

‘Rogero’ apparently fell out of fashion in the second half of the seventeenth century and was not nominated on new ballads. At some point, moreover, it was replaced as the common tune for The Norfolke Gentleman by a melody, ‘Now ponder well’, that is sometimes still used today (though a different tune is more common). There are certain similarities between 'Rogero' and 'Now ponder well', and it seems possible that the second tune evolved out of the first in performance.

There are several indications that some of these songs were connected with one another not just by their shared tune but by inter-textual referencing, whether deliberate or unconscious. In The Norfolke Gentleman, for example, the line, ‘and left two Babes behind’ may recall a similar expression, ‘and leave her younge behinde’ in A worthy Mirrour (the two songs also share a focus on the care of the young). The poore man payes for all shares its dream-theme with A comfortable new Ballad, and it shares the line ‘a twelve-month and a day’ with The Norfolke Gentleman. The moral challenges thrown down to readers/listeners at the opening of The Lamentation of Follie and A most godly and comfortable Ballad of the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus also seem to echo one another.

In addition, there are verbal echoes of ballads set to other tunes: for example, two lines in The torment of a Jealious [sic] minde - ‘To true, alas! this storye is,/ as many a man can tell’ – occur almost verbatim in A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall, set to the melody of ‘In Pescod time’ (which, again, bears a close musical resemblance to ‘Rogero’).

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

Songs and Summaries

The Lamentation of Follie: To the tune of New Rogero (Edward Allde, 1584-1627). Huntington Library - Britwell 18296; EBBA 32228. Society – criticism, rich/poor; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, charity; Morality – social/economic, general; Royalty – praise. This criticises people for their uncaring sinfulness and urges them to turn urgently to God.

A most godly and comfortable Ballad of the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ... To the tune of Rogero (originally registered 1588; Francis Coules, 1624-44). Roxburghe 1.258-59; EBBA 30184. Religion – Christ/God, heaven/hell, angels/devils, body/soul, ghosts/spirits; Death – burial/funeral, godly end, grief, ghostly abduction; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity; Emotions – wonder, confusion, anxiety, fear, love, hope, sorrow; Bodies – physique/looks, injury; History – ancient/mythological; Environment – buildings. This asserts the importance of believing literally in the resurrection of Christ, and recounts the Biblical story in order to remind listeners of the details.

A worthy Mirrour, wherein you may Marke, An excellent discourse of a breeding Larke. To the tune of new Rogero (Richard Jhones, 1589). Huntington Library - Britwell 18271; EBBA 32090. Environment – birds, crops, seasons; Society – criticism, friendship; Family – children/parents, kin, siblings; Gender – femininity; Employment – agrarian; Emotions – fear, love; Bodies – nourishment. This uses a tale of a mother lark protecting her brood at harvest time in order to draw attention to the neglect of friendship and kinship in contemporary society.

The Norfolke Gentleman his last Will and Testament... To the tune of Rogero (registered 1595; J. W., 1602-46). Roxburghe 1.284-85; EBBA 30201. Family – children/parents, inheritance, kin, siblings; Morality – familial; Crime – murder, robbery/theft; Death – illness, result of immorality, unlawful killing, neglect, burial/funeral, execution; Violence – interpersonal, divine, punitive; Environment – birds, flowers/trees, landscape; Emotions – greed, fear, love, despair; Bodies – looks/physique, nourishment; Places – English, travel/transport; Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention. Two orphans, in the care of their uncle, are treated with hateful cruelty as he tries to gain their inheritance, and the consequences are tragic on all sides.

John Spenser a Chesshire Gallant, his life and repentance, who for killing of one Randall Gam: was lately executed at Burford a mile from Nantwich. To the Tune of in Slumbring Sleepe (J. Trundle, 1597-1626). Pepys 1.114; EBBA 20047. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality, burial/funeral; Violence – interpersonal; Recreation – dance, music, good fellowship; alcohol; Emotions – anger, excitement, sorrow; Gender – masculinity, marriage, sex; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Society – friendship; News – convicts/crimes; Places – English. The first part tells the tale of John Spenser, whose manly instincts eventually led to his execution for murder, and the second part presents his own warning to others about the dangers of a dissolute lifestyle.

The torment of a Jealious [sic] minde, expressed by the Tragicall and true historye of one commonlye called the Jealous man of Marget in Kent. To the Tune of Rogero (no printed copies have survived but the song was copied out by hand, c. 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads LXIV. Emotions – jealousy, anger, fear; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, masculinity, femininity, sex; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Society – old/young; Morality – romantic/sexual; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Bodies – clothing; Places – English; Recreation – hunting, food; Environment – birds. An old man marries a young woman and, despite her virtue, is driven to distraction by jealousy, a state of mind that leads him to commit double murder followed by suicide.

The poore man payes for all. This is but a dreame which here shall insue: But the Author wishes his words were not true. To the tune of In slumbring sleepe I lay (H. G., 1601-40). Roxburghe 1.326-27; EBBA 30223. Economy – hardship/prosperity, extortion, money; Morality – social/economic; Society – criticism, rich/poor; Employment – professions, crafts/trades; Recreation – alcohol; Bodies – clothing. This describes a dream about a cruel reality – the rich live well off the hard labour of the poor.

A right Godly and Christian A.B.C. shewing the duty of every degree. To the tune of Rogero (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Roxburghe 1.492; EBBA 30328. Morality – general, social/economic; Religion – moral rules, charity, Christ/God, Bible; Economy – hardship/prosperity, prices/wages, extortion; Society – neighbours, rich/poor; Royalty – praise. A pithy guide to godly and moral living, backed by examples from the Bible.

A new Sonnet, shewing how the Goddesse Diana transformed Acteon into the shape of an Hart. To the tune of, Rogero (registered 1624 and possibly 1565-66; J. W., 1602-46). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 1.29; EBBA 36019. History – ancient/mythological; Religion – ancient gods; Environment – animals, landscape; Bodies -  looks/physique, injury; Violency – animals; Death – tragedy; Emotion – anger; Gender – masculinity, femininity; Recreation – hunting. Acteon observes Diana and her nymphs bathing and the angry goddess transforms him into a large deer, after which he is hunted down and torn apart by his own hounds.

 A comfortable new Ballad of a Dreame of a Sinner, being very sore troubled with the assaults of Sathan. To the tune of Rogero (E. Wright, 1611-56). Pepys 1.39; EBBA 20025. Religion – angels/devils, Christ/God, faith, heaven/hell, sin/repentance; Emotions – fear, joy. The singer describes a dream in which, on the ‘day of doome’, Satan and Christ argued over the destiny of his or her soul.


‘Rogero’ was also nominated for the singing of several texts that were published in song-books of the early seventeenth century. Here, the thematic range is somewhat wider than in the ballads listed above, though songs such as Thomas Deloney’s ‘The valiant courage and policie of Kentishmen’ (Strange Histories, 1602) and Richard Johnson’s ‘A lamentable song of Lady Elinor’ (Golden Garland, 1620) are serious in tone. In A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), Johnson also published ‘A pleasant new sonnet, intituled, mine owne deare lady brave’ in which a man wishes he was his mistress’ cosseted pet spaniel. Even this may have been intended and received primarily as a sober statement of romantic devotion rather than a spoof on such devotion (though both interpretative options were presumably available). 

The currency of the tune in the Elizabethan period is suggested by a reference to ‘Rogero’ as a good tune for dancing on the village green in Thomas Nashe’s Have with you to Saffron-walden. This is a little surprising in view of the tune’s mainly sober associations. Perhaps more fittingly, ‘Rogero’ was chosen for a metrical version of Psalm 128 that William Slatyer published, in Latin, during the early 1630s. Common knowledge of the tune is also echoed in the words chosen by Firke, in Dekker’s Shomaker’s holiday, to explain that he is now working for a man named Roger: ‘I sing now to the tune of Rogero’.

Christopher Marsh


Dallis Lute Book, Trinity College Dublin, MS 410/1, pp. 20-21.

Thomas Dekker, The Shomakers Holiday (1600), H2r.

Thomas Deloney, Strange Histories (1602), A2r-3v.

Mathew Holmes, lute manuscript (c. 1588-95), Cambridge University Library MS Dd.2.11, fo. 23v (transcripts in Simpson and Ward).

Richard Johnson, A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), F6r-7r.

                The Golden Garland of Princely pleasures and delicate Delights (1620), D3v-4v.

Thomas Nashe, Have with you to Saffron-walden (1596), fo. T1r.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 612-14.

William Slatyer, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631), p. 44.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Norfolk gentleman composite

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 image, clearly designed very specifically for this particular song, has not been found on any other of the seventeenth-century ballads in the two largest collections. The only title listed below is therefore our featured edition.  The woodcut was used so frequently on editions of The Norfolke Gentleman that it must have been a vital component in the song’s long-lived success. It was copied repeatedly and was sometimes reversed in the process (presumably because the carver worked from a paper copy, not realising or caring that the image on the block would come out as a mirror image when printed). The original artist presented a composite image that included several specific details from the text, and it seems possible that the decision to depict the thoughtful robins who covered the dead children in leaves helps to account for the strong survival of this particular vignette within the later vernacular song tradition.

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

Songs and summaries

The Norfolke Gentleman his last Will and Testament (I. W., 1624-46). Roxburghe 1.284-85; EBBA 30201. Family – children/parents, kin, siblings, inheritance; Crime – murder, prison; Death – illness, neglect, result of immorality, tragedy, unlawful killing, burial/funeral; Violence – inter-personal; Morality – familial; Environment – birds, flowers/trees, landscape, animals; Religion – divine intervention; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – hope, greed, fear, love, despair; Gender – masculinity; Bodies – health/sickness; Places – English, travel/transport, European. A husband and wife both die, entrusting the care of their two children to an uncle, but he turns horribly against them in an utterly ill-fated attempt to claim their inheritance (picture placement: the image appears immediately beneath the title).


An early eighteenth-century edition of Robin Hood and the Shepherd uses an illustration that is clearly modelled on the Norfolk Gentleman composite.  Several details – the fire, the hanging man and the dead animals – have no direct relation to the new narrative.  See Robin Hood and the Shepherd. Shewing how Robin Hood, Little John, and the Shepherd, fought a sore COMBAT (M. Beauchampe and S. Swan, 1680-1720?).  Roxburghe 3.284-285; EBBA 31019. 

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

One of the plots in Yarington’s play, Two lamentable tragedies (1601), bears a strong resemblance to the ballad’s narrative, though the setting is Padua, rather than Norfolk. The ballad had quite recently appeared for the first time, and it seems possible that the similarity between the texts – highlighted in the play’s full title (see below) – was a marketing ploy, designed to stimulate interest through association.

The lamentation of a bad market, a ballad published in the 1670s, describes the drowning of three children who fell through thin ice while skating on the Thames. The subject is discussed in a surprisingly mocking tone, and a crass attempt is made to connect the new ballad with the older hit: ‘A Story you have heard is call'd,/ The Children in the Wood./ Although the Subjects both are bad,/  yet this may be as good’.

The most lamentable and deplorable history of the Children in the Wood is the first surviving chapbook account of the famous story. Here, the main action of the ballad is tracked closely but expanded upon at numerous points to provide contextual detail on the main characters and their interactions. The anonymous author identifies the children as members of the prosperous Truelove family, who allegedly lived near Castle Rising in Norfolk. As far as we have been able to establish, no such family existed. The story is written in prose but includes the full text of the ballad on the final pages.

There were also several seventeenth-century texts in which the ballad was mentioned in passing, and the play by William Pinkethman is included below as an example. One character says scornfully of a performer, ‘Why, the newest Song he has is the Children in the Wood, or the London Prentice, or some such like Ditty, set to the Modish Tune of Old Simon the King’. For a singer, it was important to include the classics in one’s repertoire, but some customers wanted to hear fresher material!

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Robert Yarington, Two lamentable tragedies. The one, of the murther of Maister Beech... The other of a young child murthered in a wood by two ruffins, with the consent of his unckle (1601).

The lamentation of a bad market (1674-79), EBBA 20764.

William Pinkethman, Love without interest, or, The man too hard for the master a comedy (1699), p. 13.

The most lamentable and deplorable history of the Children in the Wood (c.1700).

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The Norfolke Gentleman his last Will and Testament:/ And how he committed the keeping of his Children to his owne brother,/ who dealt most wickedly with them: and how God/ plagued him for it.

To the tune of Rogero.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


NOw ponder well you parents deare,

the words which I shall write,

A dolefull story you shall hear,

which time hath brought to light.

A Gentleman of good account,

in Norfolke liv’d of late,

Whose wealth and riches did surmount

most men of his estate.


Sore sicke he was and like to die,

no helpe that he could have,

His wife by him as sicke did lie,

and both possest one grave:

No love betweene [t]hese two was lost,

each was to other kinde,

In love they lived, in love they dide,

and left two Babes behinde.


The one a fine and pretty Boy,

not passing three years old,

The next a Girle more young than he,

and made of beauties mold:

This Father left his little sonne,

as well it doth appeare,

When he to perfect age should come,

three hundred pounds a yeare.


And to his little daughter Jane,

three hundred pounds in Gold,

To be paid downe at marriage day

which might not be contrould;

But if these Children chance to die,

ere they to age should come,

Their Uncle should possesse this wealth,

and so the Will did runne.


Now Brother said the dying man,

looke to my Children deare,

Be good unto my Boy and Girle,

no friends I else have here.

To God and you I doe commend

my Children night and day,

A little time be sure wee have,

within this world to stay.


You must be father and mother both,

and Uncle all in one,

God knowes what will become of them,

when wee are dead and gone.

With that bespake their mother deare,

O brother mine (quoth shee)

You are the man must bring my Babes,

to wealth or misery.


If you do keepe them carefully,

then God will you reward,

If otherwise you seeme to deale,

your deede God will regard,

With lips as cold as any clay,

shee kist her Children small,

God blesse you both my little lambes,

with that the teares did fall.


These speeches then their brother spoke,

to this sick couple there,

The keeping of your Children young,

sweet sister do not feare;

God never prosper mee nor mine,

or ought else that I have,

If I do wrong your Children small,

when you are laid in grave.


Their Parents being dead and gone,

the children home he takes,

And brings them home unto his house,

and much of them he makes.

Hee had not kept these pretty Babes,

a twelvemonth and a day:

But for their wealth he did devise,

to make them both away.


He bargain’d with two Ruffians rude,

that were of furious mood,

That they should take the children young

and slay them in the Wood:

And told his Wife and all the rest,

he did the Children send,

To be brought up in faire London,

with one that was his friend.


The second part, To the same tune.


AWay then went these pretty Babes,

rejoycing of that tide,

And smiling with a merry minde,

they should on cockhorse ride.

They prate and prattle pleasantly,

as they rode on their way,

To them that should their butchers bee,

and worke their lives decay.


So that the pretty speech they had,

made murtherers hearts relent,

And that they tooke this dede to doe,

full sore they did repent:

Yet one of them more hard of heart,

did vow to doe his charge,

Because the wretch that hired them,

had paid him very large.


The other would not gree thereto,

so here they fell at strife,

With one another they did fight,

about these Childrens life.

And he that was of mildest mood,

did kill the other there,

Within an unfrequented Wood,

whiles Babes did quake for fear.


He tooke the children by the hand,

when teares stood in their eye,

And bade them come and goe with him,

and looke they did not cry.

And two long miles hee led them thus,

when they for bread complain,

Stay here (quoth he) Ile bring you bread,

when I do come againe.


Those pretty Babes with hand in hand,

went wandering up and downe,

But never more they saw the man,

approaching from the towne.

Their pretty lips with black=berries,

were all besmear’d and dy’d,

And when they saw the darksome night,

they sate them down and cry’d.


Thus wandred these two little Babes,

till Death did end their greife,

In one anothers armes they dy’d,

as Babes wanting relief.

No buriall these pretty Babes

of any man receives,

Till Robin Redbrest painefully,

did cover them with leaves,


And now the heavy wrath of God,

upon their Uncle fell:

Yea fearefull fiends did haunt his house

his conscience felt an hell.

His barns were fir’d, his goods consum’d,

his land was barren made,

His cattle dy’d within the fields,

and nothing with him staid.


And in the voyage of Portugall,

two of  his sonnes did die,

And to conclude, himselfe was brought,

to extreame misery.

He pawn’d and morgag’d all his land,

ere seaven years went about.

And now at length this wicked act,

did by this meanes come out.


The fellow which did take in hand,

the Children for to kill,

Was for a robery judg’d to death,

as was Gods blessed will,

Who did confesse the very truth,

the which is here exprest,

Their Uncle died, while he for debt,

in prison long did rest.


All you that be Executors made,

and overseers eke,

Of children that be fatherlesse,

of Infants mild and meeke.

Take you example by the same,

and yeeld to each their right,

Lest God with such like misery,

your wicked minde requite.


Printed for I. W.

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

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Ponder well you parents deare', from first line); : Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke,1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Children in the Wood').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1595.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 13

No. of extant copies: 11

New tune-titles generated: 'The children in the wood' (2 ballads)

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Norfolk gentleman composite on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 406 references, including extensive evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 288).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 26 + 11 + 4 + 5 + 15 = 96


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