72  A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second’s Concubine,/ Who was put to death by Queen Elinor, in Woodstock Bower near Oxford [Pepys 1.498-99]

Author: Deloney, Thomas (d. in or before 1600)

Recording: A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond

Bodies - clothing Bodies - injury Bodies - looks/physique Crime - murder Crime - punishment Death - burial/funeral Death - unlawful killing Emotions - fear Emotions - hatred Emotions - love Environment - buildings Environment - flowers/trees Gender - adultery/cuckoldry Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity History - medieval Morality - romantic/sexual Places - English Places - European Politics - court Politics - domestic Politics - foreign affairs Politics - war Recreation - dance Recreation - music Royalty - general Violence - interpersonal Violence - punitive

Song History

Surviving copies of A Lamentable Ballad in single-sheet format all date from the second half of the seventeenth century but the song can also be found in Thomas Deloney’s collection, The garland of good will. The earliest extant copy of this book was published in 1628 but it had been registered with the Stationers in 1593. It therefore seems likely that the ballad was originally composed in Deloney’s purple patch as a ballad-writer during the late 1580s and early 1590s (he was, in any case, dead by c. 1600). The ballad’s popularity is also suggested by its inclusion in the 1612 edition of Strange histories, another collection of Deloney’s songs, and in Richard Johnson’s Crowne garland of golden roses (edition of 1631).

A Lamentable Ballad may well have been in print as a broadside throughout the seventeenth century but most of our evidence relates to the decades after 1650. In this period, the ballad was re-published as a single sheet on several occasions (and it was also available in regular re-prints of Deloney’s collections). In c. 1686, John Aubrey recalled that it had been one of the songs that his nurse had sung to him in his infancy. The ballad may also have been in the mind of John Bancroft when, in 1693, he remarked that Londoners, on ‘many a Night o’er Toast and Ale,/ Have wept at reading Rosamond’s fam’d Tale’.

The ballad is also mentioned twice in William Winstanley’s Essex champion (1690), a humorous work inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote. When the father of young Billy of Billericay seeks material to develop the boy’s already impressive reading abilities, one of the ballads he purchases is ‘Fair Rosamond’ (the song’s role in encouraging literacy is also mentioned in the preface to Ambrose Philips’ Collection of old ballads in 1723). Later in the story, Billy’s squire, Ricardo, hears the song being sung and recognises it immediately, ‘for I have seen it in a Ballad glewed upon many an Ale-house wall’. The combination of vision and sound in the operation of Ricardo’s memory is worth noting. The song was clearly very well known, and its pattern of high accessibility in more than one format continued and perhaps even intensified after 1700 (see Philips and Percy).

Confusingly, the ballad appeared under various titles: A Mournful Ditty of the Lady Rosamond; A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond; and The Life and Death of Fair Rosamond. There is no evidence that it survived into the early twentieth century within oral tradition, though a spin-off piece, composed in the eighteenth century, was occasionally ‘discovered’ by folksong collectors in the twentieth century (see Related texts).

Rosamund Clifford was a famous mistress of Henry II, and the king evidently preferred her to his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Most of the available contemporary evidence dates from the mid-1170s. In 1174, for example, Henry granted a manor to Walter Clifford, ‘for the love of Rosamund his daughter’. When she died in c. 1176, the king also made generous grants to the convent of Godstow, where his beloved mistress had been laid to rest (see Archer). Henry died in 1189 but Queen Eleanor survived until 1204. There appears to be no contemporary evidence concerning Eleanor’s attitude to her husband’s relationship with Rosamund.

Over the centuries that followed, this basic factual foundation was built upon extensively. In the words of Lauren Browne, ‘layers of myth, conjecture and fabrication’ were added to the story (these notes are indebted to Browne’s recent work on this subject). Many of the details that are included in the ballad were introduced during this period (see Related texts).

The Lamentable Ballad must also have played its part in stimulating a remarkable English fascination with Rosamund’s story from the 1590s onwards. During the seventeenth century, she was mentioned in dozens of literary sources, several of which are listed below. These included chronicles, poems, plays and chapbooks, and the authors tended to focus particularly on Rosamund’s beauty, her bower, her (alleged) murder by the queen, and her burial at Godstow.

Rosamund is also referenced in numerous ballads, including two others that are featured on this website (A Courtly new ballad of the Princely wooing of the fair Maid of London by King Edward and The Woful Lamentation of Mistris Jane Shore). It is also clear that pictures of Rosamond were frequently on display, and auction catalogues of the 1690s regularly advertised images of ‘Fair Rosamond curiously painted’, ‘Fair Rosamond well done’ and ‘The History of Q. Elioner [sic] and Fair Rosamond, finely sketch’d, by a great master’. Sadly, surviving examples from the early-modern period seem impossible to find.

A Lamentable Ballad combined history, tragedy and romance in a manner that was clearly irresistible to early-modern English consumers. Particular appeal was probably generated by the love affair between a king and a commoner and by the resultant confrontation between the romantic victim-heroine and the vengeful queen. The love-triangle presents a moral labyrinth to rival the many doors and ‘turnings’ that led to Rosamund’s secret hideaway, and ballad-makers made the interesting decision to guide consumers towards sympathy for Rosamund’s plight, despite her status as a marriage-threatening ‘concubine’.

Having said this, there was of course space for singers, listeners and readers to take up a variety of alternative positions. Rosamund, though young and innocent, has fallen into a life of vice. Henry II, though entitled to the perks of power, has ‘forc’d’ a young woman to commit sin with him. And Queen Eleanor, though wronged by them both, is unacceptably vicious in her pursuit of revenge. This was all highly debateable and must have stimulated arguments in marketplaces, alehouses and homes. The same is true of Deloney’s contradictory representation of Rosamond as simultaneously the prisoner of royal lust and a young woman deeply in love with her king (Stockholm Syndrome?).

Other early-modern texts present evidence of the different interpretations that were placed upon Rosamund’s story. Some authors blamed the king for targeting Rosamund (Taylor), and at least two came very close to alleging that his initial conquest was an act of rape (see Related texts). Others, however, called her ‘wanton’ (Stevenson) and the writer of one catechism labelled her ‘The vilest harlot’ (D.R.). The success of the song may owe a great deal to this enduring tension between the conflicting urges to venerate and vilify. It also dramatized and exoticised commonplace tensions over sexual consent, marriage, love and infidelity. Better still, it provided a single-sheet summation of an already famous tale that could be folded up, carried around and put on display much more easily than could a printed chronicle or play.

The power of Rosamund’s story outlived the early modern period and is still felt today. She was the subject of several Victorian books, operas and artworks, and Dickens told her tale in his Child’s history of England (he also pointed out that many of its details were probably without basis). Although there seems to be no archaeological evidence for the existence of the Woodstock bower, there is a pool in the grounds of Blenheim Palace that is still known as ‘Rosamund’s well’. ‘Fair Rosamond’ is also a variety of clematis, with white flowers and red stamens that are presumably taken to mirror the flawless complexion of the ballad-beauty.

Finally, there have been Oxfordshire pubs named ‘The Fair Rosamond’, and the ghost of the medieval ‘concubine’ is said to haunt the Trout Inn in Godstow. With commendable attention to historical detail, she is only visible above the knee because the floor levels have been altered since the 1170s.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, A collection of paintings by the best masters (1690), no. 318.

Anon, At the west end of Exeter Change above stairs in the Strand, will be exposed to sale a curious collection of original paintings (1691), no. 87.

Anon, ‘Fair Rosamund’s ghost at the Trout inn’: https://www.darkoxfordshire.co.uk/explore/fair-rosamunds-ghost-at-the-trout-inn/

Anon, ‘“Fair Rosamund” well to be restored at Blenheim Palace’ (2014): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-28426782

T. A. Archer, rev. Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Clifford, Rosamund [called Fair Rosamund], (b. before 1140?, d. 1176/6), royal mistress’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

John Aubrey, Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme (1686-87), ed. James Britten, The Folk-lore Society (1881).

Richard Baker, A chronicle of the kings of England (1643), pp. 80-81.

John Bancroft, Henry the Second, King of England, with the death of Rosamond, a tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal by Their Majesties servants (1693).

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

Lauren Browne, ‘The Posthumous Representation of Medieval Queens-Consort and Royal Paramours in the Tudor Period’, PhD thesis, Queen’s University, Belfast (2021), especially pp. 32-44.

John Bullard, A curious collection of paintings (1690), no. 20.

William Camden, The abridgement of Camdens Britannia (1626), unpaginated.

Clematis Fair Rosamond: https://thorncroftclematis.co.uk/clematis-fair-rosamond-8135-p.asp

Thomas Deloney, The garland of good will (registered 1593; edition of 1628), A2v-A6v.

Thomas Deloney, Strange histories (1590s; edition of 1607), D6r-E2r.

Charles Dickens, A child’s history of England, vol. 1 (1852), pp. 169-70.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Andrew French, ‘These are the Oxford pubs we loved and lost’: https://www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk/news/18738955.oxford-pubs-loved-lost-bars-face-10pm-curfew/

Thomas Heywood, The first and second partes of King Edward the fourth (1600), H4v.

Richard Johnson, The crowne garland of golden roses gathered out of Englands royall garden (1612; edition of 1631), E3r-E6v.

Thomas May, The reigne of King Henry the Second written in seaven books (1633), C5r.

Henry Parker, The true portraiture of the kings of England (1650), p. 20.

Thomas Percy, Reliques of ancient English poetry, 3 vols. (1765), vol. 2, pp. 133-45.

Ambrose Philips, A collection of old ballads (1723), preface and pp. 11-18.

D. R., A practicall catechisme (1632), p. 76.

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. 1824, 1825 and 2325.

John Speed, The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine (1612), fols. 45r and 471r.

Stationers’ Register Online: https://stationersregister.online/

Matthew Stevenson, Florus Britannicus (1662), p. 11.

John Taylor, A briefe remembrance of all the English monarchs (1618), unpaginated.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ [search for Roud number 3729 – but note that references to more than one distinct song are included in the results].

William Winstanley, The Essex champion (1690), pp. 4 and 40.

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Featured Tune History

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

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

Versions and variations

This tune was most commonly known as either ‘Flying fame’ or ‘Chevy Chase’ and more occasionally as ‘Fair Rosamond’, ‘Black and yellow’ or ‘Lord Darley’. Beyond this, it presents a puzzle. ‘Chevy Chase’ was clearly one of the seventeenth century’s best-known pieces of music: many ballads called for it (eight of them appearing on our list of hits) and it was very frequently referred to in passing by a wide variety of literary commentators. It is therefore surprising that it was so rarely written down in musical notation. This may have been primarily because its perceived simplicity and tonal ambiguity rendered it unappealing to musically-sophisticated composers.

Edward Lowe, an Oxford organist, was clearly an exception, and he provides the only written version from the seventeenth century. In Lowe’s transcription, the tune’s four short lines begin as if the key is G minor but they end as if in C major. This gives the tune a curious feel - circular, unending, modal - that seems to reveal an unusually clear dividing line between the tastes of the musically educated and those of the ballad-buying public at large. This is the earliest known version of the tune and it is used on our recording of A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond.

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

Echoes (an overview)

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

Within this potent association, there were several others, forming threads that can be traced through the ballads listed below. A number of the songs described great militaristic confrontations of the past and their often bloody outcomes. These included A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and it was not alone in drawing attention to acts of manly heroism. Other songs set confrontation not on the battlefield but within the drama of human relationships, telling stories of ungrateful children, disputed inheritances and cruel employers. A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond is such a song, presenting us with the terrible tale of Queen Eleanor’s merciless revenge upon her husband’s beautiful lover.

Occasionally, the tune was deployed for comic effect: The Shepheard and the King managed the trick of appropriating the heavyweight historicism of the melody in order to amuse, and in [The Wanton W]ife of Bath the monumental clash is not between proud earls but between a scolding woman and the Biblical VIPs who refuse to allow her through the gates of heaven. There is a connection here with another group of more serious ballads, in which the larger-than-life element is supplied by divine intervention or angelic visitation (see The Worlds Wonder and THE DEAD MANS SONG).

And in the last song on the list, [The] BELGICK BOAR, many of these associations – historical, heroic and providential – are arguably in play within this passionate and seemingly contemporary attack upon William III, the invading king.

Ballads set to this melody are particularly rich in intertextual references. In A pleasant History of a Gentleman, for example, the opening lines are very similar to those at the start of A most notable example of an ungracious Son. In Of the faithful Friendship, the line, ‘Who was in beauty peerless found’, clearly echoes ‘Most Peereless was her beauty found’ in the ballad about Rosamond.  In The Royal Patient Traveller, the opening line, ‘God have preserved our Royal king’, recalls ‘God prosper long our Noble king’ in A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and the next line, ‘the second of that name’, is identical to the corresponding line in The Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond. Even more strikingly, [The] Belgick-Boar was clearly written with the famous song about the battle at Chevy Chase in mind, and there are verbal echoes throughout.

Several of the songs listed below open either with references to hunting, probably derived originally from  the potent Chevy Chase ballad, or with explicit and unusual references to a source-text for the ballad. An early and influential example, A most notable example of an ungracious Son begins, ‘In searching famous Chronicles,/ it was my chaunce to read’, and several other ballads adopted a similar opening gambit. Overall, it is clear that the songs set to this tune were tied together to a remarkable degree.

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

Songs and Summaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lamentable fall of Queen Elenor, who for her Pride and wickedness by Gods judgements sunk into the ground at Charing-Cross, and rose at Queen hive. To the tune of, Gentle and Courteous (composed before 1625; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 184; EBBA 31939. History – medieval; Royalty – criticism; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Religion – divine intervention; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique, adornment, nourishment; Crime – murder; Violence – interpersonal; Politics – domestic, controversy, power, court; Recreation – fashions, food, alcohol; Emotions – hatred, horror, wonder; Gender – femininity; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; Places – English, European, nationalities; Society – urban life. This describes the strange demise of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, who suffered at God’s hands after a lifetime spent forcing foreign fashions upon the English and victimising perfectly innocent subjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloudy news from Germany or The peoples misery by famine… Tune of, Chievy Chase (Philip Brooksby, 1670-96). Roxburghe 2.38-39; EBBA 30183. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Economy – hardship/poverty; Morality – social/economic; Religion – divine intervention; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Bodies – nourishment; Emotions – disdain; Employment – apprenticeship/service; History – recent, medieval; Environment – buildings; Places – European. This tells a historical story about a German nobleman (also an archbishop) who, in time of famine, compared the local poor to rats and burned many of them alive in a barn, but God avenged them all by plaguing the noble’s house with vermin and bringing about his painful end.

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

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


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

The melody was also nominated in many published collections of songs, where it was usually connected with one or more of the themes identified above. See, for example: ‘A Princely Song made of the Red Rose and the White’ in Richard Johnson’s Crowne garland (1612); ‘Zeale over-heated: A Relation of a lamentable fire’ in John Taylor’s Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642); and ‘A Carol for Saint Johns day’ in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642).

The melody was used sparingly for white-letter ballads in the seventeenth century, perhaps suggesting again its relative lack of credibility in sophisticated circles (but see ‘Bloody News from CHELMSFORD’, 1663, and ‘The New Catholick Ballad’, 1681). It remained a potent force within balladry, however, and was nominated on ballads of all sorts and in a number of ballad-operas during the eighteenth century.

Christopher Marsh


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Rosamund and King

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, designed specifically for A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, 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 also used on other surviving editions of the ballad from the seventeenth century, and all extant versions seem to have been produced by the same woodblock. The fact that the earliest surviving copy, from c.1660, used a block that was already riddled with woodworm suggests that several earlier editions of the ballad have been lost.

The woodcut illustrates the first part of the ballad, in which King Henry and Rosamund converse under the watchful eye of the knight appointed to protect her. Indeed, one can almost hear the fraught but loving words that bounce back and forth. Nevertheless, the image is not so detailed that it could not have served on other ballads, and the fact that it did not do so probably tells us that ballad consumers, to whom ballad publishers responded, associated it very strongly with Rosamund.

Common attachment to the image is also suggested by the decision of one ballad-maker, around 1700, to retain the familiar outlines when the two separate images from our featured edition were amalgamated into a single, re-drawn version that was seen repeatedly on eighteenth-century editions.

Songs and summaries

A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second's Concubine (W. Thackeray and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 1.498-99; EBBA 20235.Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, masculinity, femininity; History – medieval, romance, villainy; Bodies – looks/physique; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Politics – controversy, domestic, foreign affairs; Emotions – love, anger, fear, despair; Environment – buildings; Recreation – music, dance; Royalty – general; Places – English; Family – children/parents. King Henry visits his concubine in her secret bower before going to war, and evil Queen Eleanor then takes advantage of his absence to visit fair Rosamond with a supply of poison (picture placement: the scene appears beneath the title and over the opening lines).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

Lauren Browne describes the Lamentable Ballad, probably first published in c. 1593, as a high point in the steady evolution of Rosamund’s story during the previous centuries. Indeed, much of the ballad’s narrative content can be traced to the French chronicle of London and works by Gerald of Wales, Ranulf Higden and Robert Fabyan. It is impossible to know for certain whether Deloney actually consulted any of these chronicles in composing his ballad but he was clearly indebted to them, directly or indirectly, for many of the details he included: in the early fourteenth century, Queen Eleanor’s jealousy of Rosamund was implied by Higden, who also seems to have introduced the bower and the protective labyrinth at Woodstock; the murder of Rosamund by Eleanor was described in the French chronicle of London, another work of the fourteenth century, though the concubine was sucked to death by toads, rather than forced to drink poison; and in c. 1516, Fabyan included the famous ‘clew of thread’ that permitted Queen Eleanor to locate her victim. Over the medieval centuries, Rosamund evolved from a minor character into a tragic heroine, while Eleanor began as a merely unpopular queen-consort and ended as a vengeful psychopath.

Deloney is more likely to have consulted some of the recently-published texts that told Rosamund’s story. In 1569, for example, a chronicle by Richard Grafton discussed both the labyrinth and the thread, though he noted that the latter detail – along with the queen’s visit to the bower - was only found in ‘some’ of the medieval chronicles. Grafton stopped short of claiming that Eleanor actually murdered Rosamund, though he acknowledged that the concubine had died soon after the queen’s alleged incursion into the labyrinth.

Raphael Holinshed gave this aspect of the narrative a little more nourishment in 1577, noting that ‘the common report of the people’ was that Eleanor had found Rosamund by following the thread, after which she ‘dealt with her in such sharpe and cruell wise, that she lived not long after’. This presents the intriguing possibility that an important detail of the story was, as it were, bubbling up from below, despite the scepticism of educated men.

A very different source was Samuel Daniel’s poem, ‘The complaint of Rosamond’, first published in 1592 (the date makes it difficult to determine whether this work pre-dated Deloney’s ballad or not). Daniel’s Rosamund is a ghost who laments not only her sins but also her poor posthumous reputation. She presents herself as a victim of an unfortunate chain of circumstances: her beauty gave her power over the king; he responded by demonstrating his power over her; 'inclos'd from all the world' in the Woodstock bower, she felt desperate, until the queen, herself 'enrag'd with madnes' located her romantic rival and ended Rosamund's sad life. Indeed, the intricate interplay of various forms of sex-related power is a feature of Rosamund's story in all its incarnations. Daniel's poem seems to assume that the story is already well-known, and Eleanor's murder of Rosamund by poison is treated as an established fact.

These Elizabethan texts are clearly related to Deloney’s song, though precise verbal affinities are not particularly striking. The ballad clearly built on existing accounts, though it can also be considered a significant intervention in the development of Rosamund’s story. Although we cannot tell whether Deloney or Daniel put pen to paper first, there is no doubt that, considered together, they told the tale with more detail and drama than any previous author had done.

In particular, the close attention they both paid to the intense emotional life of Rosamund was a notable innovation. For the first time ever, she came to life as a breathing, feeling, sobbing presence. In some respects, Deloney’s contribution can also be distinguished from Daniel’s. The parting scene between Henry and Rosamund, and the later face-to-face confrontation between the concubine and the queen, are products of the ballad-maker’s imagination and absolutely crucial to the structure of his narrative (the same two episodes are represented in the woodcuts that appear on surviving editions).

Similarly distinctive were the details of Rosamund’s physical beauty (hair, eyes, cheeks, lips), though Deloney may have lifted the word ‘peerless’ from Holinshed. The ballad also seems to have introduced ‘Sir Thomas’, the trusty bodyguard assigned to Rosamund by the king and later immobilised by the violent queen. Furthermore, the influential description, ‘Fair Rosamond’, seems to appear for the first time in Deloney’s composition (though John Stow had called her ‘Rosamunde the Faire’ in 1580).

Deloney may also have been the first author to explain in detail the manner in which Eleanor murdered Rosamund with a cup of poison. Daniel’s reference to this mode of dispatch is much briefer, perhaps implying that it was an invention already introduced to the narrative by Deloney. The notoriety of this new detail may also help to explain a reference that appears in Thomas Heywood’s play, The first and second partes of King Edward the fourth (1600). In one scene, Edward’s queen-consort confronts Jane Shore, her husband’s mistress, and tells her a cautionary tale about Rosamund. She explains how Queen Eleanor used a ‘trick’ to locate the concubine, adding ‘And how she usde her, I am sure thou hast heard’.

Given that this play was very closely related to two recent hit ballads about Jane Shore and the Tanner of Tamworth, it seems likely that this comment represents a nod towards a third such song (see The Woful Lamentation of Mistris Jane Shore and A Pleasant new Ballad betweene King Edward the fourth, and a Tanner of Tamworth). In passing, we should also note that Jane Shore and Rosamund are very frequently discussed in relation to one another in early-modern sources.

After c. 1593 and on through the centuries that followed, dozens of chroniclers, playwrights and poets told Rosamund’s tale with varying levels of detail. There were far more publications than can be discussed here, but important contributions included the following: Michaell Drayton’s imaginary exchange of letters between a despairing Rosamund and the king who has ruined her (1597); John Speed’s summary of the story in the Oxfordshire section of his Theatre of the empire, published in 1612 (this contributed to the development of Rosamund-tourism, a phenomenon also hinted at in the last lines of the ballad); a much fuller rendition, with some new detail, in Thomas May’s The reigne of King Henry the Second (1633); John Bancroft’s play of 1693, which encapsulates the moral complexity of Rosamond’s tale in the observation, ‘And though she fell by Jealous Cruelty,/ For Venial Sin, ‘twas pity she should die’; and, in the early eighteenth century, Joseph Adison’s opera, Rosamond (this adjusts the ending so that Rosamund survives the queen’s attack and retires to a convent, leaving Henry and Eleanor to achieve an unlikely reconciliation).

The influence of the ballad can be felt in much of this work. The title, ‘Fair Rosamund’, became almost universal from the seventeenth century onwards, and her blonde hair, unfortunate bodyguard and eventual poisoning are all encountered regularly. Works in the chronicle tradition often stuck closely to the medieval sources (see, for example, Baker) but there was no such restraint in the poetical or dramatic texts. The ballad’s exploration of Rosamund’s emotional life was adopted and developed by numerous authors (see, for example, May and Adison). In particular, Rosamund’s claim in the ballad that she had been ‘forc’d’ into a relationship with the king was investigated and elaborated by Drayton in the late 1590s, Bancroft in the 1690s and the anonymous author of The unfortunate concubines in 1710. Bancroft’s Rosamund resists Henry’s advances but the king, disturbingly, reassures himself that ‘An easie Rape’ will bring her resistance to an end.

The unfortunate concubines includes a similarly upsetting passage in which the king ignores all Rosamund’s protestations and intrudes into her bed and her body uninvited. These works examined the combined operation of political and sexual power, following Deloney’s lead before entering uncharted territory. We should not assume, of course, that the male authors were attempting to articulate female anxieties in any straightforward sense, for such material also had the capacity to fuel masculine fantasies.

All such works revealed the ballad’s general influence but three texts were rather more closely related to Deloney’s song. First, a chapbook entitled The life and death of Rosamond was issued repeatedly in the 1670s and 1680s by publishers who were well known as ballad specialists. The anonymous text expanded on the ballad but echoed it at several points and was illustrated with the same woodcuts. It also included, at the end, the full text of Deloney’s song, with a conclusion in prose that warned of the fickle nature of the world. Beyond this, the short book followed the broader trends outlined above by presenting fuller information on the corrupting power of the king’s ‘unlawful and unbeseeming thoughts’.

Second, a new ballad, The unfortunate concubine or Rosamond’s overthrow, was first published around 1730  (it should not be confused with the similarly-titled book, mentioned above). This ballad, which also appeared as Fair Rosamund and The life and death of Fair Rosamond, told essentially the same story as Deloney’s ballad. A connection to The Lamentable Ballad is clearly signalled through echoic phrases such as ‘like threads of gold’ (describing Rosamund’s hair) and ‘When as the second Henry reign’d’ (recalling Deloney’s opening lines).

The authors of The unfortunate concubine were also keen, however, to distinguish their song from the earlier work, and they therefore opened by providing a fresh back-story for their unfortunate heroine. In this version, Rosamund’s troubles all started when her brother, Clifford, boasted imprudently of her extraordinary beauty and was overheard by the king. Clifford quickly realised his mistake but was powerless to resist the royal will. After this, the narrative follows the usual course.

This song was published several times during the eighteenth century, and a closely-related but much shorter descendant was apparently collected in Massachusetts during the mid-twentieth century (Linscott). Deloney’s original has no known folksong profile, but it matched the spin-off song by being printed regularly until the nineteenth century. Before 1900, The unfortunate concubine seems to have served as a supplement, rather than a substitute.

The third source was more explicit than the others in acknowledging its debt to The Lamentable Ballad. In 1774, Thomas Hull published a play, Henry the second; or the fall of Rosamund, that had recently been successfully staged in London. In his preface, Hull declared, ‘In the general execution of the Piece I have paid a particular Attention to the old Ballad, and endeavoured at a Simplicity of style’. The work does indeed share its basic narrative with Deloney’s song, though it also elaborates on the inherited story more fully than the preface implies. There are, for example, prominent roles for an evil abbot and Rosamund’s father (neither had appeared in the ballad). Most strikingly, Eleanor becomes remorseful after killing Rosamund and, though forgiven by the king, elects to retire to a ‘sad Cloister’ for the rest of her days. It is also worth remarking that Hull’s work, along with several other Rosamund-texts of the eighteenth century, passed through numerous editions, indicating strongly that the story remained highly marketable.

One further ballad should be mentioned. Queen ELEANOR’s Confession also seems to have been about the wicked queen-consort who featured in The Lamentable Ballad. This was Eleanor of Aquitaine, so it is confusing that some of the details in Queen ELEANOR’s Confession appear to refer to Eleanor of Provence, another medieval queen-consort. Apart from the identity of the central villain, there is no clear relation between Queen ELEANOR’s Confession and The Lamentable Ballad.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Ranulf Higden, Prolicionycion [normally ‘Polychronicon’] (early fourteenth century; printed by William Caxton, after 1482), ccclvii.

Anon, The French chronicle of London (mid-fourteenth century): https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-mayors-sheriffs/1188-1274/pp231-237

Robert Fabyan, Fabyans cronycle newly printed (1516; edition of 1533), 165r-v.

Richard Grafton, A chronicle at large (1569), pp. 76-77.

Raphael Holinshed, The firste [laste] volume of the chronicles of England (1577), p. 472.

Samuel Daniel, Delia. Contayning certayne sonnets: with the complaint of Rosamond (1592), H3r-M3v.

Michaell Drayton, Englands heroicall epistles (1597), fols. 1r-8v.

Thomas Heywood, The first and second partes of King Edward the fourth (1600), H4v.

John Speed, The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine (1612), fols. 45r and 471r.

Thomas May, The reigne of King Henry the Second written in seaven books (1633), C5r.

Richard Baker, A chronicle of the kings of England (1643), pp. 80-81.

Anon, The life and death of Rosamond, King Henry the Second’s concubine. And how she was poysoned to death by Queen Elenor (c. 1670).

Anon, Queen Eleanors confession… To a pleasant new tune (c. 1670).

John Bancroft, Henry the Second, King of England, with the death of Rosamond, a tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal by Their Majesties servants (1693).

Joseph Adison, Rosamond. An opera (1707).

Anon, The unfortunate concubines: the history of Rosamund, mistress to Henry the second; and Jane Shore, concubine to Edward the fourth… Extracted from eminent records (c. 1710).

Anon, The unfortunate concubine: or, Rosamond's overthrow... To the tune of, The court lady (c. 1730).

Thomas Hull, Henry the second; or the fall of Rosamund: a tragedy (1774).


Lauren Browne, ‘The Posthumous Representation of Medieval Queens-Consort and Royal Paramours in the Tudor Period’, PhD thesis, Queen’s University, Belfast (2021), especially pp. 32-44.

Eloise Hubbard Linscott, Folk songs of old New England (1962), pp. 193-95.

John Stow, The chronicles of England (1580), p. 212.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ [search for Roud number 3729 – but note that references to more than one distinct song are included in the results].

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A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second’s Concubine,/ Who was put to death by Queen Elinor, in Woodstock Bower near Oxford.

The Tune is, Flying Fame.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


WHen as King Henry rul’d this Land,

the second of that Name,

Besides the Queen he dearly lov’d,

a fair and comely dame:

Most Peerless was her beauty found,

her favour and her face,

A sweeter creature in this world,

did never Prince imbrace.


Here crisped Locks like threads of Gold,

appear’d to each mans sight,

Her comely eyes like orient Pearls,

did cast a Heavenly light:

The blood within her Cristial cheeks,

did such a colour drive,

As though the Lilly and the Rose,

for mastership did strive.


Yea Rosamond, fair Rosamond,

her name was called so,

To whome dame Elinor our Queen,

was known a deadly foe,

The King therefore for her defence,

against the furious Queen,

At Woodstock builded such a Bower,

the like was never seen.


Most curiously that Bower was built,

of Stone and Timber strong,

A hundred and fifty doors,

did to this Bower belong,

And they so cunningly contriv’d,

with turnings round about,

That none but with a clew of thread,

could enter in or out.


And for his Love and Ladies sake,

that was so fair and bright,

The keeping of this Bower he gave,

unto a valiant Knight:

But Fortune that doth often frown,

where it before did smile,

The Kings delight, the Ladies joy,

full soon she did beguile.


For why, the Kings ungracious Son,

whom he did high advance,

Against his Father raised Wars,

within the Realm of France,

But yet before our comely King

the English Land forsook,

Of Rosamond his Lady fair,

his farewell thus he took.


My Rosamond, my only Rose,

that pleasest best mine eye,

The fairest flower in all the world,

to feed my fantasie:

The flower of my affected heart,

whose sweetness doth excell,

My Royal Rose a hundred times,

I bid thee now farewell.


For I must leave my fairest flower;

my sweetest Rose a space,

And cross the Seas to famous France,

proud Rebels to abase:

But yet my Rose be sure thou shalt

my coming shortly see,

And in my heart when hence I am,

I’le bear my Rose with me.


When Rosamond, that Lady bright,

did hear the King say so,

The sorrow of her grieved heart,

her outward looks did show:

And from her clear and cristial eyes,

the tears gusht out apace,

Which like the silver pearled dew,

ran down her comely face.


Her lips like to the corral red,

did wax both wan and pale,

And for the sorrow she conceiv’d,

her vital spirits did fail:

And falling down all in a swound,

before King Henries face,

Full oft within his Princely arms,

her body did imbrace.


And twenty times with watery eyes

he kist her tender Cheek,

Until he had reviv’d again,

her senses mild and meek:

Why grieves my Rose, my sweetest Rose

the King did often say,

Because quoth she, to bloody wars,

my Lord must pass away.


But since your Grace in forraign coasts

amongst your foes unkind,

Must go to hazard life and limb,

why should I stay behind?

Nay rather let me like a Page,

thy Sword and Target bear,

That on my Breast the blow may light,

that should offend you there.


O let me in your Royal Tent,

prepare your bed at night,

And with sweet baths refresh your grace,

at your return from fight,

So I your presence may injoy,

no toyl I will refuse,

But wanting you my life is death,

which doth true Love abuse.


Content thy self my dearest Love,

thy rest at home shall be,

In Englands sweet and pleasant soil,

for travel fits not thee:

Fair Ladies brook no bloody wars,

sweet peace their pleasure breed,

The nourisher of hearts content,

which fancy first did feed.


My Rose shall rest in Woodstock Bower,

with Musick sweetly dight,

Whilst I among the piercing Pikes

against my foes do fight:

My Rose in Robes of Pearl and Gold,

with Diamonds richly dight,

Shall dance the Galliards of my love,

while I my foes do smite.


And you Sir Thomas whom I trust,

to be my Loves defence,

Be careful of my gallant rose,

when I am parted hence:

And therewithal he fetcht a sigh,

as though his heart would break,

And Rosamond for very grief,

not one plain word could speak:


And at their parting well they might,

in heart be grieved sore,

After that day fair Rosamond,

the King did see no more:

For when his Grace was past the Seas,

and into France was gon,

Queen Elinor with envious heart,

to Woodstock came anon.


And forth she calls this trusty Knight,

which kept this curious Bower,

Who with his clew of twined thread,

came from the famous Flower:

And when that they had wounded him,

the Queen his Thred did get,

And went where Lady Rosamond,

was like an Angel set.


But when the Queen with stedfast Eye

beheld her heavenly Face,

She was amazed in her mind

at her exceeding grace.

Cast off from thee these Robes (she said)

that rich and costly be

And drink thou up this deadly draught,

which I have brought to thee.


But presenntly upon her knees,

sweet Rosamond did fall,

And pardon of the Queen she crav’d,

for her offences all:

Take pitty on my youthful years

(fair Rosamond did cry)

And let me not with poison strong

enforced be to die.


I will renounce my sinful life,

and in some Cloyster bide

Or else be banished if you please,

to range the World so wide,

And for the fault that I have done,

though I was forc’d thereto,

Preserve my life and punish me,

as you think good to do.


And with these words her Lilly hands,

she wrung full often there,

And down along her comely face,

proceeded many a tear:

But nothing could this furious Queen,

therewith appeased be,

The cup of deadly poyson strong,

as she sat on her knee.


She gave this comely Dame to drink,

who took it in her hand,

And from her bended knee arose,

and on her feet did stand:

And casting up her eyes to heaven,

she did for mercy call,

And drinking up the poyson strong,

her life she lost withal.


And when that death through every lim[b]

had done her greatest spight,

Her chiefest foes did there confess,

she was a glorious wight:

Her body then they did entomb,

when life was fled away,

At Woodstock near to Oxford Town,

as may be seen this day.

Printed for 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 (2 entries: 'A mournfull ditty of the Lady Rosamond'; and 'Rosamund'); and Thackeray, 1689 ('Rosamond').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1594.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 6

No. of extant copies: 3

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Rosamund and King on featured edition (and other editions); Rosamund taking poison on featured edition (and other editions); Roasmund composite on EBBA 31786.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 93 references, with very occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 3729).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 12 + 3 + 0 + 10 + 9 = 59

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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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