61  The Wandring Jew,/ OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusalem [Pepys 1.524-25]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: The Wandering Jew

Bodies - looks/physique Death - execution Emotions - anger Emotions - despair Emotions - shame Emotions - wonder Employment - crafts/trades History - ancient/mythological History - heroism History - villainy Places - European Places - extra-European Places - travel/transport Religion - Christ/God Religion - Judaism Religion - charity Religion - heathens/infidels Religion - prophecy Religion - sin/repentance Violence - punitive

Song History

The ‘Wandering Jew’ - who insulted Christ and was condemned to roam the earth without prospect of death - was an extremely well-known legendary figure in early-modern Europe. His story began to develop in the medieval period, mainly in scholarly manuscripts, but it really took off following the publication of a German pamphlet in 1602 (see Related texts). This source called him Ahasuerus, but he also had other names, including Cartaphilus, Orlotto, Johannes Buttadens and Joseph-Ben-Israel. He is the star of not one but two of the ballads on this website (the other being The Wandring Jews Chronicle).

The reasons for the Wandering Jew’s appeal in this period were probably numerous and varied. In a period marked by religious turbulence and the division of Christianity, he perhaps provided a direct and belief-bolstering link to the crucifixion of Christ while also reminding Protestants and Catholics that they had enemies in common. The anti-Semitism of the story is obvious, though it also demonstrated to Christians that the alleged ‘obstinacy of the Jews’ might be overcome if they were presented with evidence sufficiently compelling to induce conversion (some versions of the story explicitly prophesied the mass conversion of Jews before the second coming of Christ). In an age of nascent globalisation, there may also have been something particularly compelling about a mysterious wanderer who visited all lands of the earth, speaking every language and carrying news from place to place.

Furthermore, the Wandering Jew may have tapped into a widespread fascination with immortality in an age that knew death as an unpredictable and often brutal visitor. He was also an intriguing example of an ‘ordinary’ person – a mere shoemaker in most accounts – who became an influential celebrity, albeit for unfortunate reasons. As literacy spread downwards through early-modern society, this may have been particularly appealing to readers, singers and listeners in the middling and lower ranks.

And the Wandering Jew’s story challenged all who contemplated it to engage, respond and form an opinion. Was he to be hated for his treatment of Christ? Or pitied because of his unimaginable punishment? Or admired for seeing the error of his ways? And was it possible that such a man actually existed?

Of course, Jews who encountered the song must have asked rather different questions. It is difficult to know what these might have been, and we cannot say whether the notion that the Wandering Jew symbolised the suffering of an entire people – important in later periods – was considered in relation to the ballad during the seventeenth century. The idea had certainly occurred to Christian writers, though their perspective was generally unsympathetic. As one mocking text put it, ‘For a Jew to wander is no wonder, because they are a scattered Nation’ (Anon, The wandering Jew, telling fortunes to English men).

This ballad clearly played an important role in disseminating the story in England. It was first published during the reign of James I (1603-25), though surviving copies all seem to be from later dates. There is good evidence of a peak in popularity around 1620, perhaps the orginal publication date. In this year, the Yorkshireman, Richard Shann, noted in his commonplace book that ‘all the cuntrie was full of Ballads’ about the Wandering Jew. And in 1649, Peter Lightfoot – who lived in Uttoxeter (Staffordshire) – remarked, ‘There was an old wandring Jew talkt and ballated of, twixt twenty and thirty years ago’. The song continued to circulate until the second half of the eighteenth century, and consumers presumably did not share Anderson’s more recent opinion that is was ‘sententious’ and ‘unfortunately rather pedestrian’ (Anderson pp. 61-63).

The text of the ballad remained largely unchanged from edition to edition, though Laura Sangha has noticed a couple of significant verbal adjustments. Until c. 1700, for example, listeners were told that the Wandering Jew ‘had seen the blood,/ of Jesus Christ thus shed’. Most later versions reported instead that he ‘had the precious blood/ Of Jesus Christ thus shed’, intensifying the sense of individual responsibility. Also around 1700, publishers began including a refrain or chorus to be sung at the end of each verse. The earliest known version runs, ‘Repent therefore, O England!/ Repent whilst you have space,/ And do not (like this wicked Jew)/ despise God’s proffered Grace’. Subsequent versions generally retained the refrain but replaced ‘like this wicked Jew’ with ‘like the wicked Jews’.

Thus, two small alterations - one personalising responsibility and the other generalising it – had the effect of rendering the song even more clearly anti-Semitic. Incidentally, the new refrain was lifted almost word for word from Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM (though here it is ‘Jerusalem’ that stands accused of despising ‘Gods proffered Grace’).

No other source matched the ballad in terms of accessibility and frequency of publication, and it therefore seems reasonable to suggest that it must have played a role in shaping and reflecting English attitudes to Jewish people during a century that witnessed important developments (see also The Wandring Jews Chronicle).  

In 1656, Oliver Cromwell famously re-admitted Jews to England, relaxing a ban that had lasted, officially at least, since 1290. There was a small number of Jews in England long before 1656, many of them concentrated around the port in London. After 1656, some English people feared that there would soon be many more, and in 1660 London’s Lord Mayor and Aldermen petitioned the newly returned king, Charles II, asking that all Jews be expelled from the nation. Jewish representatives sent counter-petitions in the 1660s and the king decided that the current situation should be allowed to remain. Against the backdrop provided by such tensions, The Wandring Jew continued to circulate, probably fuelling anti-Semitic attitudes as the song, likes its eponymous anti-hero, travelled from place to place.

The probable influence of the ballad does not mean, of course, that readers and listeners accepted fully the authenticity of the story it told. The extent of such acceptance is impossible to judge, though much of the literary evidence suggests that an interest in the story often went hand in hand with a wish to express scepticism, at least among the highly educated. To the Marquess of Argyll it was ‘a pleasant fiction’ and to James Brome it was ‘foolish and incredible’. Thomas Browne agreed, describing the tale as something that was ‘very strange, and will hardly obtaine beliefe’.

The early modern period also witnessed regular pop-up appearances by individuals claiming to be the Wandering Jew. Sightings were reported, for example, in Hamburg (1542), Madrid (1575), Danzig (1599), Prague (1602), Challans in France (1614), Antwerp (1619), Naumburg in Germany (1630), and Astracan in Muscovy (1699). The taste for tales of the Wandering Jew may also have tempted writers to fabricate evidence of his visits. In the 1690s, for example, German texts reported that he was currently staying in London but English observers appear to have missed him (Anderson, pp. 109-10)! The strongest English claim to a visit from the Wandering Jew came in the eighteenth century, when he apparently spent some time in the Yorkshire city of Hull (see Related texts).

The tale of the Wandering Jew continued to resound after the early modern period (see Anderson). It attracted the attentions of Romantic poets and became newly significant with the rise of Zionism in the late nineteenth century. The title ‘Wandering Jew’ has also been attached to a card game and to various resilient and/or creeping plants.

And in nineteenth century Yorkshire, an old man told a writer that the dotterel – a bird of high ground  – was known locally as ‘The Wandering Jew’. Dotterels, he explained, were the souls of Jews who had participated in the execution of Christ (Anderson, p.93). Perhaps the association had been prompted at some point in the past by a combination of the dotterel’s plaintive, peeping call and the fact that it was a migratory bird, only present in Yorkshire during the summer. Like the Wandering Jew himself, it appeared to be a restless traveller.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, The wandering Jew, telling fortunes to English men (1640), preface.

George K. Anderson, The legend of the Wandering Jew (Providence, Rhode Island, 1965).

Broadside ballads from the Bodleian Libraries: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ 

James Brome, The famine of the word threatened to Israel (1679), p. 12.

Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia epidemica (1646), p. 379.

Archibald Campbell (Marquess of Argyll), Instructions to a son (1661), p. 71.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Alison Games, ‘The English and others in England and beyond’ in Keith Wrightson (ed.), A social history of England 1500-1750 (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 352-72.

Galit Hasan-Rokem and Alan Dundes (eds.), The Wandering Jew. Essays in the interpretation of a Christian legend (Bloomington, Indiana, 1986).

Peter Lightfoot, A battel with a waspes nest (1649), p. 20.

Madden Collection, Garlands, vol. 3, nos. 805-08, Cambridge University Library.

Thomas Percy, Reliques of ancient English poetry, 3 vols. (1765), vol. 2, pp. 282-88.

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. 2833-35 and 3026.

Laura Sangha, ‘A Wandering Story of the Wandering Jew’: https://manyheadedmonster.com/2020/04/01/a-wandering-story-of-the-wandering-jew/

Jacob Selwood, ‘Jewish immigration, anti-Semitism and the diversity of early-modern London’, Jewish culture and history 10.1 (Summer, 2008), pp. 1-22.

Shann family commonplace book, British Library, Add MS 38599. A transcription of the relevant section is provided in Anderson, The legend of the Wandering Jew, pp. 63-65.

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Featured Tune History

To the Tune of ‘The Ladies Fall’ (standard name: In peascod time)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its ballad 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 enduring Elizabethan tune came to be known variously as ‘In Peascod time’, ‘The Ladies fall’, ‘The Brides buriall’, ‘Bateman’, ‘John True’ and ‘Help Lords and Commons’. Notation can be found in several sources, most of them from the early seventeenth century. A printed version appears in Anthony Holborn’s Cittharn School (1597), and our recording of The Wandring Jew is based upon this source.

Surviving manuscripts include several settings for either cittern or virginals. Examples can be found, for example, in Robert Creighton’s virginal book and the cittern partbook held at Mills College in California (the tune also appears in the manuscript of keyboard music known as Drexel 5612). Some of the greatest composers of the age, including William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, wrote instrumental arrangements, and it is clear that this melody was exceptionally well known.

Echoes (an overview)

This was an immensely successful tune, easy to learn and easy to sing. Its earliest title, ‘In Pescod time’, came from the opening line of a song or poem entitled ‘The Sheepheards slumber’, published in John Bodenham’s Englands Helicon (1600). This featured a shepherd’s disturbing dream, in which a tense debate takes place about the power of Cupid, the dangers of love and the roles played by men and women.

The melody was subsequently named on ballads throughout the early modern period, and it developed a strong and consistent attachment to two particular textual themes. Most strikingly, the tune was chosen for songs about suffering women (see, for example, A Godly Warning for all Maidens). The women in the various narratives were not always the only ones to suffer – several men also meet their ends in these songs – but it is likely that the tune helped to concentrate the attention of listeners particularly upon female woe. Although there is nothing inherently miserable about the melody, it clearly came to express sadness through its association with tragic narratives (to early modern listeners, Ross Duffin’s recent characterisation of ‘The lady’s fall’ as a ‘rollicking tune’ would probably have seemed strange).

The dominant tune title originated with A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall and this song’s focus on the anguish of its main female character was constantly echoed in others. The melody’s name seems to have carried particular force, as suggested by the fact that the impoverished female ballad-singer in Hogarth’s engraving, ‘The Enraged Musician’, is clutching a sheet entitled ‘The Ladies Fall’. Two ballad-makers even wove into their narratives episodes in which their female characters fell physically rather than morally (see A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady and A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids).

The women in all these ballads, though united by their melody and their suffering, cover quite a range, including a roughly equal mixture of impeccably virtuous women, good women who make mistakes, and women who are predominantly wicked (though some of them repent their sins before death). They all come to suffer but some are to blame and others are blameless. The tune must have come to suggest both possibilities, setting up some interesting relationships between the different songs.

Female pain was thus the tune’s primary domain but it was also used repeatedly in a second area. A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye is the first surviving example from a series of ballads that nominated the tune for texts that disseminated moral rules, urged people to prepare for death or, more occasionally, told stories from the Bible or from Christian legend. These songs must have interacted with the broadly sympathetic stories of female woe; in The Wandring Jew, for example, an all-male tale about the punishment inflicted on a shoemaker who insulted Christ is softened somewhat by the associations. Only two of the ballads listed below are clearly outliers with no strong connection to either theme (see The Lawyers Plea and the very peculiar Lamentation of a bad Market).

Some of these songs were connected with one another not just by their shared tune but also by inter-textual referencing, whether deliberate or unconscious. Only a small number of examples can be noted here. The appeals to potential customers that open several ballads clearly echo one another: ‘Marke well my heavy dolefull tale,/ yow loyal lovers all’ (A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall); ‘Marke well thys storye strange and trew,/ yow wicked lovers all’ (A most lamentable or dolefull dittye); ‘Come mourn, come mourn with me/ you loyall lovers all’ (The Brides Buriall). There is a cummulative effect at work here, with each new appeal adding a further layer to the melody’s significance. 

In Two unfortunate Lovers, the lines, ‘Six maids in white as custome is,/ did bring her to the grave’ recalled a similar description in The Brides Buriall: ‘Sixe maidens all in white,/ did beare her to the ground’ (this moment was also the subject of a woodcut that appears regularly on these ballads). Two unfortunate Lovers also includes a verse that appears, almost verbatim, in A Lamentable Ballad of the Ladies Fall (the differences are indicated in square brackets): ‘Woe to [worth] the time I did beleeve,/ that flattering looke [tongue] of thine,/ Would God that I had never seene,/ the teares of thy false eyne’.  And two ballads - A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord and  The Lady Isabella's Tragedy – present villains who declare, ‘Thy butcher I will be’.

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

Songs and Summaries

A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall... To THE TUNE OF of Peascoode time (no printed copy of the earliest editions has survived but the song was registered in 1603 and transcribed by hand around the same date). Shirburn ballads, XLIX. Gender – courtship; Morality – sexual; Death – tragedy; Emotions – love, anger, sorrow; Family – pregnancy and childbirth; Employment – apprenticeship/service. A young lady becomes pregnant before marriage and runs away to meet her lover but he doesn’t show up and the consequences are tragic.

A most lamentable or dolefull dittye, of an Italian Gentleman and his three sonnes... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s Fall (no printed copy from this period has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1600-03). Shirburn ballads, LXXI. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, siblings, inheritance; Gender – marriage, courtship, incest, sex; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, suicide, heartbreak; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Emotions – greed, anger, horror, jealousy; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Places – European; Bodies – clothing; Religion – Christ/God. A couple have three sons before the woman dies in childbirth, at which point an evil step-mother joins the family with consequences that include incest, murder and suicide.

Two unfortunate Lovers, or, a true Relation of the lamentable end of John True, and Susan Mease... To the tune of, The Brides Buriall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40).  Roxburghe 1.428-29; EBBA 30291.  Gender – courtship; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, sorrow; Death – heartbreak, tragedy; burial/funeral; Bodies – health/sickness; Places – English; Employment – crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits. John overcomes Susan’s initial disdain and she agrees to marry him, but he then decides to test her love with some disdain of his own, and the consequences are tragic.

The Lamenting Lady, Who for the wrongs done to her by a poore woman, for having two children at one burthen, was by the hand of God most strangely punished... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.44-45; EBBA 20210. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – femininity, marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Society – rich/poor; Emotions – anger, guilt, wonder, horror; Employment – begging; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness; Religion – divine intervention; Economy – hardship/prosperity, livings. A barren lady expresses her anger at the evident fertility of a poor woman with twin babies in her arms, and after the poor woman curses her response a terrible punishment unfolds.

The Judgement of Salomon... To the tune of the Ladies fall (Henry Gosson, 1601-40). Pepys 1.30-31; EBBA 20143. Religion – Bible; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Royalty – praise; Emotions – love, longing, confusion; Death – grief, accident; Bodies – health/sickness, injury; Politics – controversy, court; Violence – interpersonal. This recounts the famous Biblical story of King Solomon’s wise judgement in the case of the two harlots and the baby.

A most strange and trew ballad of a monst[r]ous child born in Southampton upon tuesdaye being the 16. day of March last, 1602... To THE TUNE OF The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603). Shirburn Ballads, LXXII. Bodies – looks/physique; Disability – physical; Emotions – horror, anxiety; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Religion  - Christ/God, sin/repentance; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Places – English; Royalty – praise. This describes a baby, still-born with many physical abnormalities, and urges us to understand it as a warning from God of the need to repent our sins.

The Brides Buriall. To the tune of the Ladies fall (registered 1603; H. G.,  1624-40). Roxburghe 1.59; EBBA 30586. Death – illness, godly end, grief, tragedy, burial/funeral; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – love, sorrow, anger; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness, clothing; Religion – charity, prayer, heaven/hell, Christ/God; History – ancient/mythological; Environment – flowers/trees; Recreation – weddings. A sorrowful man describes the sudden death of his virtuous sweetheart on their wedding day and the sad funeral that followed.

Of a maide now dwelling at the towne of meurs in dutchland, that hath not taken any foode this 16 yeares... To THE TUNE OF Th[e] ladie’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, X. Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Recreation – food, sight-seing; Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention; Economy – money; Emotions – wonder; Environment – flowers/trees; Gender – femininity; News – international, sensational; Places – European, travel/transport. The story of a Dutch woman who, fearing the moral corruption associated with over-indulgence, has refused all food for many years and keeps herself alive by smelling a fragrant flower and trusting in the Lord.

A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye... To the tune of The Ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, III. Religion – sin/repentance, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – godly end; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – anxiety; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage; Society – friendship, neighbours, criticism,  Royalty – praise. A song urging us that our health and wealth will not last, and that that we must therefore repent our sins immediately and prepare to die.

The Wandring Jew, OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusam [sic], who lived when our Saviour Christ was crucified, and appoynted by him to live untill his comming again. To the Tune of, the Ladies Fall (registered 1612?; E. Wright, 1638-56). Wood 401(123); Religion – Christ/God, Judaism, prophecy, sin/repentance, charity, heathens/infidels; History – ancient/mythological, heroism, villainy; Violence – punitive; Death – execution; Emotions – anger, despair, shame, wonder; Places – travel/transport, European, extra-European; Bodies – looks/physique; Employment – crafts/trades. This recounts the legend of the Wandering Jew, who insulted Christ on the day of his crucifixion and was punished by being made to walk the earth until the end of time.

Miraculous Newes from the cittie of Holdt in Germany, where there were three dead dobyes seene to rise ouf their Graves... To THE TUNE OF The ladye’s fall (no printed copy has survived but the song was transcribed by hand in c. 1616). Shirburn Ballads, XVI.  Death – general; Emotions – fear, horrow, wonder; Environment – wonders, weather; Religion – sin/repentances; ghosts/spirits, church; Christ/God; Places – European; Bodies – health/sickness; News – international, sensational; Morality – general. This describes a terrible firestorm in a German city, during which three skeletons emerged temporarily from their graves and delivered dire warnings to the local populace about the need to repent.

A Prophesie of the Judgement Day. Being lately found in Saint Denis Church in France... To the tune of the Ladyes fall (J. W., 1616-20?). Pepys 1.36-67; EBBA 20171. Religion – prophecy, Christ/God, divine intervention, clergy, heathens/infidels; Environment – wonders, weather, buildings; News – international, sensational; Places – European; Death – general; Violence – divine. This converts into metrical form a series of prophecies for the 1620s – wars, earthquakes and so on – that were recently discovered hidden in a church wall in Paris.

[The] Damnable Practises Of three Lincolne-shire Witches... To the tune of the Ladies fall (John Barnes, 1619). Pepys 1.132-33; EBBA 20058. Crime – witchcraft, murder, robbery/theft; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Religion – angels/devils, conjuration; Family – children/parents, siblings; Emotions – anger, horror; Violence – diabolical; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Bodies – clothing, health/sickness, nourishment; Environment – animals; Places- English Gender – femininity, sex; Society – rich/poor, rural life. A song about the malicious activities of three Lincolnshire witches, who tormented the Earl of Rutland and his family after one of them was dismissed from his service for stealing.

A warning for all desperate Women. By the example of Alice Davis who for killing of her husband was burned in Smithfield the 12 of July 1628... To the tune of the Ladies fall (F. Coules, 1628). Pepys 1.120-21; EBBA 20050. Crime – murder; Violence – domestic, interpersonal; Death – unlawful killing, execution, godly end; Gender – marriage, femininity;  Economy – money; Emotions – anger, horror, guilt, shame, sorrow; Morality – familial; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God; prayer; Employment – crafts/trades; Society – neighbours; Places – English. A woman, about to be executed by burning for the murder of her husband, describes her crime and expresses her remorse in the hope that others will avoid a similar fate.

A Warning for Maidens. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall [also published subsequently as A Godly Warning for all Maidens] (no imprint, 1630-58?). Roxburghe 1.501; EBBA 30336. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – suicide, ghostly abduction; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – ghosts/spirits, divine intervention, body/soul, sin/repentance; Emotions – greed, despair, anger, guilt, shame, fear, wonder; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Environment – buildings; Places – English. A young woman breaks her engagement to one man in favour of a second, wealthier individual, and a terrible tale of suicide and supernatural abduction unfolds.

A Looking-glasse for Young-men and Maids... The tune is, the Brides Buriall (Tho: Vere, 1645-82).  British Library, Book of Fortune, C.20.f.14.(24.); EBBA 36948. Gender – sexual violence, masculinity, femininity, courtship; Violence – sexual; Death – accident, tragedy, godly end; Bodies – injury; Emotions – longing, horror, shame; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Christ/God, prayer; News – sensational; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English. A miller attempts to force a maiden to kiss him and, in the struggle, they both fall into a vat of scalding liquid with fatal consequences.

A Warning for Married Women... To a west-country Tune called, The fair Maid of Bristol: Bateman, or, John True (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.502; EBBA 30338. Gender – courtship, marriage; Death – warfare, ghostly abduction, suicide; Family – children/parents; Emotions –love, longing, despair; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Morality – romantic/sexual; Environent – sea; Places – English, travel/transport. A man dies at sea after having been pressed into the navy, and when his sweetheart eventually marries another and raises a family, he returns in human form to tempt her away.

A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady... To the tune of, The Ladies fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 197; EBBA 31955. Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity, sexual violence; Crime – murder, rape; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, self-inflicted; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Emotions – horrow, hatred, fear; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals, buildings, landscape; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – European. When a nobleman goes on a hunting trip, an aggrieved servant – ‘a Heathenish Blackamoor’ – exacts terrible revenge on his wife and family.

The West-countrey Gentlemans last Will & Testament... The Tune is I am James Harris call’d by name, or Ladies Fall (imprint missing, mid-seventeenth century?). Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(154). Family – children/parents; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual, general; Religion – moral rules, charity, church, Christ/God; Society – neighbours, rural life; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – love; Places – English. An exemplary gentleman makes his will, passing on his estate and a series of moral injunctions to his son and heir.

The Lawyers Plea, In the behalf of Young TOM of LINCOLN... To the Tune of, Help Lords and Commons, &c (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). British Library, 82.l.8.(21.); EBBA 36918. Gender – sex; Humour – bawdry; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – Protestant nonconformity; Employment- professions, prostitution; Places – English; Politics – domestic, Royalist; Society – urban life. This is a robust defence of the sexual behaviour that occurs among the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn, arguing – in response to a previous ballad (apparently lost) – that the wenching of hypocritical nonconformists is far worse.

A friendly Caveat To all true Christians, Showing the them the true way to Heaven. To the Tune of, The Ladies fall (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Beinecke 2000 Folio 6 237; EBBA 35987. Morality – general; Religion – Bible, moral rules, Christ/God, prayer; Family – children/parents; Gender – adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – nourishment. This urges the importance of moral conduct on all Christians, summarising the Ten Commandments for good measure.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy; OR, The Step-Mothers Cruelty... To the Tune of, The Ladies Fall (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Pepys 2.149; EBBA 20767. 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.

Loves Overthrow; OR, A full and true account of a young Maid that lived in Exeter-Exchange-Court, in the Strand... To the Tune of, Bateman (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Crawford 61; EBBA 32713. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Death – suicide, heartbreak; Violence – self-inflicted; Emotions – despair, love; Employment – apprenticeship/service;  Economy – livings; news – general; Places – English. A young woman misunderstands her sweetheart’s good reasons for delaying marriage, and after killing herself in desperation she is buried with a stake through her body.

The lamentation of a bad Market, OR, The Drownding of three Children on the Thames...Tune of, The Ladies Fall (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80).  Pepys 2.146; EBBA 20764.  Family – children/parents; Death – accident; News – sensational; Places – English; Humour – extreme situations. This describes a recent fire on London Bridge and a separate episode in which three children fell through the ice on the Thames and drowned.


The melody was regularly nominated in printed songbooks of the period. In ‘A most royall song of the life and death of our late renowned Princesse Queene Elizabeth’, published in Richard Johnson’s Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), the fallen heroine is the late lamented monarch. And in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), the tune is used for ‘A Caroll for Twelfe day’, bidding a sad farewell to Christmas cheer (this song has the same opening line as A Lamentable ballad called the Ladye’s fall). See also: ‘A Pastoral Song’ and ‘The story of Ill-May day’ in Cupids Garland (1674); and one of the metrical religious songs in William Slatyer’s, Psalmes, or songs of Sion turned into the language, and set to the tunes of a strange land (1631).

The tune was also named on a scurrilous white-letter ballad entitled THE FOUR-LEGG'D ELDER, OR, A true RELATION OF A DOG and an ELDER'S Maid (‘Printed in the year 1647. And Reprinted 1677’). Here, strikingly, the author’s satirical intention was to deploy the unquestionably sober associations of the tune in order to denigrate the ballad’s fallen lady, a Quaker’s maidservant who found herself in trouble for having sex with her master’s dog. The mocking tone also extended to the tune designation, which poured scorn on the simplicity and similarity of many short ballad melodies: ‘To the Tune of The Lady's Fall, or Gather your Rose-buds; and Fourty other Tunes’.

Occasionally, however, the basic nature and the ubiquity of the tune were referenced nostalgically to recall simpler times in the past. Henry Bolt’s poem, ‘On a Barber who became a great Master of Musick’, looks back to the days when barbers lacked musical pretension and their citterns were ‘confin’d unto/ The Ladies fall, or John come kiss me now’.

Christopher Marsh


John Bodenham, Englands Helicon (1600), Z3r-4v.

Henry Bolt, Latine songs, with their English (1685), pp. 148-49.

Robert Creighton, virginal book, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Conservatoire Rés. 1186, fo. 101v.

Cupids Garland (1674), A5v-6r and B3v-4r.

Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), p. 49.

Orlando Gibbons, Complete Keyboard works, ed. M. H. Glyn (1925), vol. 2, 14.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), B1r-2r.

Anthony Holborn, The Cittharn School (1597), C1v.

Richard Johnson, The Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), C8v-D3v.

New York Public Library MS Drexel 5612, p. 22 (transcribed in Simpson).

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 368-71.

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

Walsingham consort partbook for cittern, Mills College, Oakland, California, no. 32.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Barefoot giant

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)

Although the first item listed below is not our hit song, it seems certain that this image was specially drawn to illustrate an earlier, now lost, edition of The Wandring Jew. It was included on most surviving editions of this ballad from the seventeenth century, and it was still in common use in the next century. Most editions from before 1700 appear to have been produced from the same woodblock, though new copies were clearly made in the hundred years that followed. Thus, the image was an essential feature of the ballad and must have contributed substantially to its popularity.

The larger-than-life character, dwarfing the houses behind him as he walks restlessly across the page, was clearly eye-catching, and the picture fitted the narrative simply and effectively. Moreover, several aspects of the Wandering Jew's appearance - the bare feet, the cloak and the mantle, for example - are consistent with textual descriptions of him found in other sources (see Song history and Related texts). The shoeless feet may be related to the fact that the Wandering Jew was a shoemaker condemned by Christ to wander the earth endlessly. A lifetime of itinerant poverty will wear out most shoes, even those of a shoemaker.

Given the specificity of the image, it is interesting to note that one ballad-maker chose to deploy it on a different song. Times Alteration also describes an improbably old man with things to say about the passage of time, and it seems that this helped to encourage use of the image. The song’s first line, ‘When this old Cap was new’, may also have been a factor.

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

Songs and summaries:

Times Alteration: Or The Old Mans rehearsall (no imprint, 1630-60?).  Pepys 1.160-1; EBBA 20070.  Bodies – clothing; History – nostalgia; Recreation –alcohol, good fellowship, hospitality; Society – old /young, criticism; Humour – extreme situations, satire.  A 200-year-old man regrets the decline in social and ethical standards that has occurred during his lifetime (picture placement: he appears prominently under the title).

The Wandring Jew, OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusalem, who lived when our Saviour Christ was Crucified, an[d ap]pointed by him to live until his coming again (earliest known edition to use the woodcut, E. Wright, 1638-56; this edition by J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86). Pepys 1.525; EBBA 20249. Religion – Christ/God, Judaism, prophecy, sin/repentance, charity, heathens/infidels; History – ancient/mythological, heroism, villainy; Violence – punitive; Death – execution; Emotions – anger, despair, shame, wonder; Places – travel/transport, European, extra-European; Bodies – looks/physique; Employment – crafts/trades. This recounts the legend of the Wandering Jew, who insulted Christ on the day of his crucifixion and was punished by being made to walk the earth until the end of time (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, and there are no other woodcuts).


An anonymous work of 1640, The wandering Jew, telling fortunes to English-men, includes a woodcut of a fortune-teller who is modelled very closely on the man in the ballad picture. The fortune-teller is doing something different - reading a palm rather than walking - but his clothes and his features are very similar to those of the Barefoot giant.

For an eighteenth-century copy of the image, see The Wandering Jew (London, 1728?).  Roxburghe 3.718-19; EBBA 31438.

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

An important thirteenth-century version of this story, recorded in England by Matthew Paris, was available in manuscript and print in Elizabethan England but only in Latin. Not surprisingly, there are few signs that it exerted a direct influence over our ballad. The dissemination of the story in the cheaper forms of early-modern print owed much more to the publication in Germany and the Low Countries of a chapbook entitled Kurtze Beschreibung von einem Judem mit Namen Ahasuerus [A Brief description of a Jew named Ahasuerus] (1602). This was an instant success and was translated into several other European languages.

In England, there is no extant published translation, though it is hard to believe that one was not issued. The surprising absence of a reference means that the earliest known evidence of a printed version of the story in English is A ballad called Wonderful strange newes out of Germanye of a Jewe that lyved wandringe ever since the passion of our Saviour Christ , registered with the Stationers’ Company in 1612. This may well have been an early version of The Wandring Jew, though we cannot be sure (see Editions).

It is certainly clear that The Wandring Jew drew heavily upon the Kurtze Beschreibung, either in its original form or through a version translated into English or French. Many details are common to both sources. The woodcut that appears on the broadside, for example, looks like an attempt to render in pictorial form the physical appearance of the Wandering Jew as described in the chapbook. The eponymous character is a shoemaker in both accounts – his bare feet are therefore ironic - and the words chosen by Christ to inform him of his fate are strikingly similar. In book and ballad, he also adopts the same attitude to monetary gifts from charitable onlookers during his global tour of shame. His attempt to return to Jerusalem – unsuccessful because the city has fallen into ruins – is also noted in both texts.

There are some differences too, though most of these are related to the fact that the German author had several pages to play with and could therefore include more detail than the ballad-makers. Information about the exceptionally thick soles of the Wandering Jew’s feet and his ability to speak all necessary languages appear in the chapbook but not the ballad. Notably, the book is full of names and locations – clearly part of an attempt to establish authenticity – but the ballad names nobody other than Christ – clearly part of an attempt to establish general and enduring appeal. So, a story about a man named Ahasuerus that was rooted in the memories of a named individual who attended a church service in Hamburg in 1542 becomes instead a free-floating attempt at universality (though the ballad does list the countries visited by the Wandering Jew).

In the book, Ahasuerus’ encounter with Christ occurs because the latter attempts to lean against the wall of the former’s house on the way to his crucifixion; in the ballad, Christ instead seeks to rest against a ‘stone’ that the Wandering Jew controls. The ballad also modifies the warning that the Wandering Jew delivers to those who take the name of the Lord in vain. In the German chapbook, he argues that all cursers would avoid cursing if they had witnessed the suffering of Jesus. In the shorter English work, the Wandering Jew instead tells them that, in cursing, ‘they crucifie,/ their Saviour again’.

One particular aspect of the song involves a more significant adjustment. The ballad-makers seem to argue more forcefully than the German pamphleteer and other authors that the Wandering Jew was not merely doing time (and plenty of it) for an offence committed against Christ but also actively promoting the Christian cause in his global travels. If the song can be said to encourage any sympathy for him, then the fact that the Wandering Jew recognises his sin and works to atone for it is surely a crucial factor. He aims to ‘verifie and show’ Christ’s words, and his efforts are successful in persuading distant peoples to abandon ‘their Idol Gods’ for a better one. We are not told that he has formally converted to Christianity but we are certainly encouraged to make this assumption. The Wandering Jew’s evangelising role is implied in many versions of his story but it is unusually explicit in this ballad. It is almost as if he works as an extra disciple.

A section of handwritten text that appears in Richard’s Shann’s commonplace book (1620) was apparently transcribed from a now lost printed work. Shann tells us that his notes are ‘drawne out of the printed storie worde for worde’ but sadly he does not identify this source. In addition, Shann cites the German chapbook and re-tells the Hamburg story that forms the centrepiece of this work, but he also includes one or two details that may reflect knowledge of the English ballad. The reference to a ‘groat’ and the device of listing the places in which the Wandering Jew has been seen are perhaps the clearest examples.

The source of Shann’s notes, whatever it was, also included interesting reflections on the relationship between the Wandering Jew and various Scriptural references to immortality. Perhaps the unknown author was attempting to reconcile the popularity of the story with its predominantly non-Biblical origins.

If there were English pamphlets based on the German text, they clearly were not published with sufficient regularity to ensure survival. The ballad, in contrast, exists in numerous editions and copies. It seems clear that the song was, for most people, easily the most important printed source of information about the long life of the Wandering Jew.

Several other texts can be mentioned more briefly. 1640 saw the publication of a satirical work entitled The wandering Jew, telling fortunes to English men. The aim of making merry with the legend was clear from the start, and the author’s name was given as ‘Gad ben-Arod, ben-Balaam, ben-Ahimoth, ben-Baal, ben-God, ben-Magog’. In the eighteenth century, a chapbook with the same title as our ballad was published. Not surprisingly, it echoed the ballad at numerous points, and its chief novelty was a discussion of the Wandering Jew’s recent visit to Hull in Yorkshire. According to the authors, he had been interrogated by a panel of local divines who all agreed that he was authentic (within twenty-four hours of his arrival in Hull, the clergymen tried to imprison and restrain him but the chains burst and the door miraculously unlocked itself). In The history of Israel Jobson, the Wandering Jew travelled not only through the ‘lower world’ but also through the ‘starry regions’. The title page claimed that a certain M. W. had translated the work from its original Chinese.

Finally, audiences at the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane were treated to Andrew Franklin’s comedy, The wandering Jew: or, Love’s Masquerade, in the 1790s. In this work, a male character disguises himself as the undying traveller in an effort to woo a woman. Few of these sources show any direct relationship to the ballad, though it was clearly ever-present in the cultural background.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Matthew Paris, Matthaei Paris, monachi Albanensis, Angli, historia major a Guilielmo Conquaestore, ad ultimum annum Henrici tertii (1571).

Kurtze Beschreibung von einem Judem mit Namen Ahasuerus (Leiden, 1602). Translated and transcribed in Anderson, Legend of the Wandering Jew, pp. 45-47.

Anon, Wonderful strange newes out of Germanye of a Jewe that lyved wandringe ever since the passion of our Saviour Christ (registered 1612; no extant copy).

Anon, The Wandering Jew, OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusalem... To the Tune of the Ladies Fall (registered 1620; edition of 1684-86).

Richard Shann, ‘The historie of a Wandringe Jewe, much spoken of this yeere’ (1620), British Library, Shann family commonplace book, Add MS 38599. A transcription of the relevant section is provided in Anderson, The legend of the Wandering Jew, pp. 63-65.

Anon, The wandering Jew, telling fortunes to English men (1640).

Anon, The Wandering Jew. Or the Shoemaker of Jerusalem (chapbook published c. 1765)

Anon, The history of Israel Jobson, the wandering Jew (1757).

Andrew Franklin, The wandering Jew: or, Love’s Masquerade. A comedy (1797).


George K. Anderson, The legend of the Wandering Jew (Providence, Rhode Island, 1965).

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. 3026.

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The Wandring Jew,/ OR, The Shoo-maker of Jerusalem, who lived when our Saviour Christ was Crucified an[d]/ pointed by him to live until his coming again.  To the Tune of, the Ladies Fall.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


WHen as in fair Jerusalem,

our Saviour Christ did live,

And for the sins of all the world,

his own dear life did give:

The wicked Jews with Scoffs and Scorns,

did daily him molest,

That never till he left his life,

our Saviour could not rest.


when they had crown’d his head with thorns

and scourg’d him to disgrace,

In scornful sort they led him forth

unto his dying place,

Where thousand thousands in the street,

beheld him pass along,

Yet not one gentle heart was there,

that pittied this his wrong.


Both Old and Young reviled him

as in the street he went,

And nothing found but churlish Taunts

by every ones consent:

His own dear Cross he bore himself;

a burthen far too great,

Which made him in the street to faint,

with blood and water sweat.


Being weary thus, he sought for rest,

and ease his burthened soul,

Upon a stone the which a wretch,

did churlishly controul:

And said away thou King of Jews,

thou shalt not rest thee here,

Pass on, thy Execution place,

thou see’st now draweth near.


And thereupon he thrust him thence,

at which our Saviour said,

I sure will rest, but thou shalt walk,

and have no journey staid,

With that this cursed Shooe=Maker,

for offering Christ this wrong,

Left Wife and Children, house and all,

and went from thence along.


Where after he had seen the blood,

of Jesus Christ thus shed,

And to the Cross his body nail’d,

away with speed he fled,

Without returning back again,

unto his dwelling place,

And wandring up and down the world,

A Runnagate most base.


NO resting could he find at all,

no ease of heart content,

No house, no home, no biding place,

but wandring forth he went,

From town to town, in foreign Land,

with grieved conscience still,

Repenting for the hanious Guilt,

of his forepassed ill.


Thus after some few ages past,

in wandring up and down,

He much again desir’d to see,

Jerusalem’s renown:

But finding it all quite destroy’d,

he wandred thence with woe,

Our Saviours words which he had spoke,

to verifie and show.


I’le rest said he, but thou shalt walk,

so doth this wandring Jew,

From place to place but cannot rest,

for seeing Countries new,

Declaring still the power of him

whereas he comes or goes,

And of all things done in the East,

since Christ his death he shows.


The world he hath still compast round,

and seen those Nations strange,

That hearing of the name of Christ,

their Idol Gods do change:

To whom he hath told wondrous things,

of times forepast and gone,

And to the Princes of the World,

declares his cause of moan.


Desiring still to be dissolv’d

and yield his mortal breath,

But if the Lord hath thus decreed,

he shall not yet see Death:

For neither looks he old or young,

but as he did those times,

When Christ did suffer on the Cross,

for mortal sinners crimes,


He passed many a foreign place,

Arabia, AEgyp, Africa,

Grec[ia], Syria, and great Thrace,

and through all Hungaria,

Where Paul and Peter Preached Christ,

those blest Apostles dear,

Where he had told our saviours words,

in Countries far and near.


And lately in Bohemia,

with many a German Town

And now in Flander, as ‘tis thought,

he wandreth up and down;

Where learned men with him confer,

of those his lingering days,

And wondring much to hear him tell,

his Journeys and his ways.


If people gives this Jew an alms,

the most that he will take

Is not above a Groat a time,

which he for Jesus sake,

Will kindly give unto the poor,

and thereof make no spare,

Affirming still that Jesus Christ,

of him hath daily care.


He ne’r was seen to laugh or smile,

but weep and make great moan,

Lamenting still his miseries,

and days forepast and gone:

If he hear any one Blaspheme,

or take Gods name in vain,

He tells them that they crucifie,

their Saviour Christ again.


If thou had’st seen grim death, says he,

as these mine eyes have done,

Ten thousand thousand times would ye,

his torments think upon:

And suffer for his sake all pain,

of torments and all woes,

These are his words and eke his life,

whereas he comes or goes.

Printed for J. Clarke, W: Thackeray, and T. Passinger.

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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.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1612; and 1620.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 10

No. of extant copies: 6

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: ?Barefoot giant on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 15 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V18232).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 10 + 20 + 6 + 0 + 5 + 2 = 63

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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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