109  Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM;/ OR,/ [A] Caveat for England to call to God for mercy [Pepys 2.6]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM

Bodies - health/sickness Bodies - injury Bodies - nourishment Crime - immorality Death - execution Death - godly end Emotions - hope Emotions - sorrow Environment - buildings Environment - wonders History - ancient/mythological History - recent Morality - general Places - extra-European Religion - Bible Religion - Christ/God Religion - divine intervention Religion - sin/repentance Society - urban life Violence - divine Violence - punitive

Song History

Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM calls upon English people to learn from the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In this year, a Roman army commanded by Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian, encircled the city and steadily strangled it into submission. The various Jewish factions that had previously controlled Jerusalem were heavily defeated and the city’s great temple was destroyed. Christians believe that the entire episode was foretold by Jesus (see Related texts).

The ballad was probably written during the 1590s when the Spanish Armada (mentioned in the sixteenth verse) was fresh in the memory and Philip II’s threat to England remained very much alive. When Thomas Nash mentioned a ballad called ‘Repent England repent’ in 1596, attributing it to Thomas Deloney, he may well have had this song in mind. There were other possibilities, however, and Deloney’s authorship is therefore hard to prove. There is no clear record of registration with the Stationers’ Company until 1624, and the earliest extant copy dates from the 1670s.

The song appears to have survived into the nineteenth century and was included – as ‘When Christ our Lord drew nigh’ – on William Hone’s 1823 list of ‘Christmas carols now annually printed’.

Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM is a fairly rare example of an Elizabethan religious ballad that remained highly popular during the seventeenth century. For Tessa Watt, its authors’ zeal for the godly transformation of society through balladry was characteristic of Elizabethan puritanism and was only infrequently encountered in religious songs written after c. 1600. She attributes the  ballad’s long-term success to the satisfying unity of its ‘narrative and dramatic structure’ which combines concise sections on Christ’s warning to Jerusalem, his crucifixion, the fall of Jerusalem, and England’s current need to take heed. She also suggests, however, that in ballads such as this one the message about repentance was less appealing to audiences than the vivid details of the sufferings of Jerusalem’s residents during the siege. Ian Green also notes the success of the song, though he argues that its primary appeal probably lay in ‘the application of Christ’s warning to England, the reference to the recent Armada and plagues, and the warnings of future punishments’.

As Green implies, we should probably not assume that the ballad’s call to repentance was of secondary significance for contemporary listeners/readers. This was a core component of the text, highlighted in the sub-title and reiterated in the refrain that rounds off every verse. During the 1590s in particular, England was troubled by harvest failure, hunger, poverty, inflation, social unrest and political uncertainty, not to mention the on-going threat of invasion. In a providential age, these were all plausible signs of God’s displeasure at the moral state of the nation, and thus an urgent call to ‘rise from the sleep of sin’ is likely to have attracted attention. Moreover, the gory details of the siege are actually handled rather more succinctly here than in comparable songs and other sources.

The potency of the call to repentance was further reinforced by the connection drawn between ancient Jerusalem and contemporary England. In the minds of early-modern English Protestants, both locations were already firmly established as places chosen by God for special favour but also, if necessary, special punishment. The ballad-makers merely set this notion into musical motion.

To modern listeners, Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM may seem long and relentlessly gloomy, particularly if considered as a ‘pop song’. Our recording is nineteen minutes long and the word ‘repent’ is heard on thirty-nine occasions! It was an early-modern favourite, however, and – along with other religious songs in our list - its success can tell us much about the sobriety and anxiety that were clearly significant features of commonplace religion in this period.

Christopher Marsh


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

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

Elisabetta Cecconi, ‘“Old England of thy sins repent[...]”: Religious lexis and discourse in 17th century broadside ballads’, Rhesis: Linguistics and Philology  1.1 (2010), pp. 5-22.

English Short Title Catalogue.

Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in early modern England (Oxford, 2000), pp. 452 and 454-55.

William Hone, Ancient mysteries described (1823), p. 99.

Thomas Nash, Have with you to Saffron-walden (1596), N3r.

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. 293 and 294.

Tessa Watt, Cheap print and popular piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 98-99.

Back to contents

Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘The Merchant Man’ (standard name: The rich merchant man)

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 usually known as ‘The Rich Merchant [Man]’ or ‘The Merchant [of Emden]’ and more rarely as ‘The Kentish Miracle’ and ‘George Barnwel’. It was clearly very well known and was cited on many ballads, but it was rarely if ever written down during the seventeenth century. The same was true of ‘Chevy Chase’, another immensely successful tune, and it is intriguing that the two melodies also share a tendency towards tonal indeterminacy and a feeling of circularity that was created by avoidance of the apparent key note in the final cadence. Simpson read these signals as evidence that the ‘The Rich Merchant Man’ was ‘of popular cast’, and perhaps for this reason it does not seem to have appealed to the period’s most sophisticated composers.

In fact, the earliest written versions of the tune date from the early eighteenth century, and our recording is based on the music provided in Wit and Mirth (1707). Here, it appears with a text entitled ‘The Merchant and the Fiddler’s Wife’, a song that had been published in broadside form in c.1680, set ‘To a Pleasant Northen [sic] Tune’. The song opened with lines that directly referenced those at the beginning of A most sweet Song of an English Merchant:

‘A Rich Merchant man [‘there was’ added in some editions]/ That was both grave and wise’ [A most sweet Song]

‘It was a Rich Merchant man,/ That had both ship and all’[The Merchant-man and the Fidlers wife]

Despite the significant thematic differences between the two unfolding narratives (see below), it seems certain that they were intended for the same tune.

Echoes (an overview)

There is a curious paradox here. The name of the tune derived from A most sweet Song of an English Merchant, an exceptionally popular Elizabethan ballad, but most of the songs that subsequently named the melody abandoned the tense but ultimately buoyant romance of the original ballad and tied its music instead to texts that were heavily moral and religious. Some of these featured repentant criminals who faced execution and urged the rest of us to learn from their dismal examples (see, for instance, THE Unfaithful Servant; AND The Cruel Husband).

This theme had close links with another series of ballads that warned more generally of the sins of society and urged immediate repentance. Englands Warning-Piece launched a direct appeal to the contemporary population, while Christs Tears over JERUSALEM focused instead on the manner in which the Biblical city had suffered for failing to heed a warning from Jesus himself.

Other songs used the same tune to describe providential wonders – miraculous showers of wheat, extraordinary tales of large families surviving for weeks on single loaves of bread, and so on – and these may have suggested that, despite the doom and gloom of the calls for repentance, the tune still allowed for light at the end of the tunnel, as in the original and frequently republished song.

Perhaps, therefore, this melody came to convey a potent combination of hope and despair as it sounded and re-sounded across the decades. There is one very striking outlier, entitled The Merchant-man and the Fidlers wife, published around 1680. This is a coarse and supposedly humorous ballad about two men who gamble on the chastity of a woman, and it is so far out of line with the subject matter of the other listed songs that the composer’s choice must be considered part of his comic strategy.

Some of these songs were connected with one another not just by their shared tune but by inter-textual referencing, though the links do not appear to have been as frequent as those found among the songs set, for example, to ‘Chevy Chase’. A most sweet song deploys the distinctive device of repeating the fourth line as the fifth line in its opening verses, and the same tactic is used in The wofull Lamentation of William Purcas.

The long refrains that call for repentance in Christs tears over Jerusalem, Englands Warning-Piece and A Warning-Piece for all Wicked Livers are also strongly reminscent of one another:

‘Repent fair England, now repent,/ repent while you have space,/ And do not like Jerusalem,/ despise Gods proffered Grace’ (Christs tears).

‘Then lets with speed repent/ before our times be past/ For every man, woman & child/ must yield to death at last’ (Englands Warning-Piece).

‘Then fear God and Repent,/ spend not your time in waste,/ For old and young, both rich and poor,/ must yield to Death at last’ (A Warning-Piece for all Wicked Livers).

And the textual links between A new Ballad, shewing the great misery sustained by a poore man in Essex and A true sence of Sorrow: OR THE Poor York-shire-Man protected by Providence are so extensive that the latter has to be considered a re-vamping of the former. Interestingly, references to the Devil are removed, meaning that the tall man in black who appears in both ballads is Satan himself in the first song but a benevolent gentleman in the second. The tune, because of the curious route it had travelled through the seventeenth century, could handle both possibilities.

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

Songs and Summaries

A most sweet Song of an English Merchant, borne at Chichester... To an excellent new Tune (registered 1594; Francis Coules, 1624-56). Roxburghe 1.104-05; EBBA 30069. Crime – murder; Death – execution, unlawful killing; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, sexual violence; Emotions – love, hope, anxiety, excitement, joy; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique; Violence – interpersonal; Religion – charity, sin/repentance; Places – English, European, travel/transport; Recreation – weddings. An English merchant is condemned to death in Emden after killing a man in a fight, but the local women – universally besotted – intervene to save him.

A new Ballad, shewing the great misery sustained by a poore man in Essex, his Wife and Children... To the tune of, The rich Merchant man (H. Gosson, 1601-40). Roxburghe 1.286-87; EBBA 30202. Religion – angels/devils, Christ/God, charity, Bible; Family – pregnancy/childbirth, children/parents; Gender – marriage; Morality – social/economic; Economy – hardship/prosperity, money, household; Society – rich/poor, neighbours; Emotions – despair, hope; Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Environment – flowers/trees; Places – English. A poor man, desperate to find food for his children and pregnant wife, is approached by the Devil in human form, but somehow goodness eventually prevails.

The fearefull Judgement of almighty god, shewed upon two sonnes who most unnaturallye murthered their naturall father. TO THE TUNE OF The Marchant of Emden or Crimson Velvet (no printed copy but it was copied out by hand, c. 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, XXXIX. Family – children/parents, siblings, inheritance; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Morality – familial; Recreation – games/sports; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance; ,News – international, sensational; Places – European; Emotions – hatred, despair, greed; Employment – professions. The terrible tale of two sons from Amsterdam, who brutally murder their father but are quickly brought to justice through a combination of divine intervention, remorse and legal process.

The Cucking of a Scould. To the tune of, The Merchant of Emden (G. P., 1609-32?).  Pepys 1.454; EBBA 20029.  Crime – antisocial, punishment; Gender – femininity; Morality – social/economic; Violence – punitive; Emotions – anger.  A detailed description of the behaviour and punishment of a seventeen-year old scold.

The Arrainement condemnation and execution of the gran[d cutpurse] John Selman... To the tune of a rich Marchant man [issued with The Captaine Cut-purse] (imprint missing, 1612?).  Pepys, Loose Ballads; EBBA 20057.  Crime – robbery, punishment; Death – execution, result of immorality; Morality – social/economic; Religion – church, sin/repentance; Recreation – alcohol, games, good fellowship.  Two songs - one autobiographical and one in a narrator’s voice – that both describe the wicked thieving ways of John Selman, whose worst crime was to cut a purse during a church service in the King’s Chapel on Christmas Day.

The wofull Lamentation of William Purcas... To the tune of, The rich Merchant (Francis Coules, 1624-80). Roxburghe 1.444-45; EBBA 30299. Family – children/parents; Recreation – alcohol; Morality – familial; Crime – murder; Violence interpersonal, domestic; Death – execution, result of immorality; Religion – angels/devils, body/soul, heaven/hell; Emotions – anger, anxiety, guilt, horror, shame; Bodies – injury; Gender – masculinity; Places – English. This presents the repentant words of a young man who faces execution for murdering his mother because she warned him of the dangers of drunkenness.

Englands Warning-Piece; OR, A Caviet for Wicked Sinners to remember their latter end. To the Tune of the Rich Merchant Man (R. Burton, 1640-79). Wood E 25(127); Religion – body/soul, Christ/God, sin/repentance, charity; Morality – general; Recreation – alchohol; Death – godly end; Emotions – anxiety, frustration; Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – sex. This condemns the multiple sins that afflict contemporary society, and urges repentance upon all.

Strange Newes from Brotherton in Yorke-shire... To the Tune of The rich Merchant-man (John Hammond, 1642-51). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.39; EBBA 36213. News - sensational, domestic; Religion - divine intervention, faith, sin/repentance; Environment - crops, weather, wonders; Morality - general; Emotions - wonder; Places - English, European; Economy - hardship/prosperity; Politics - civil war, domestic. This reports on wheat falling from the sky in Yorkshire, connecting it with other recent 'wonders of the LORD'.

A Warning to all Priests and jesuites... To the Tune of, A Rich Merchant Man (Fr. Grove, 1643?). Ashm. H 23(47). Crime – treason; Death – execution; Violence – punitive; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, clergy, church, heaven/hell,  Emotions – hatred; News – convicts/crimes; Politics – domestic. A viciously anti-Catholic ballad that describes the recent execution of two ‘seducing’ priests and warns others to flee England before they meet the same fate.

An excellent Ballad of George Barnwel an Apprentice of London, who was undone by a strumpet... The tune is, The Merchant (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 81; EBBA 31764. Bodies – looks/physique, clothing, nourishment; Crime – murder, robbery/theft, outlaws, immorality; Death – execution, result of immorality; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Employment – apprenticeship/service, prostitution; Gender – masculinity, femininity, sex; Economy – money, trade; Recreation – alcohol, food; Emotions – longing, excitement, despair, greed; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual, general; Places – English, European, travel/transport. The long story of an apprentice who is seduced by a ‘harlot’ and tempted into an ultimately destructive life of lasciviousness and crime.

A godly ballad of the just man Job.. The Tune is, The Merchant [issued with The doleful dance] (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(203); Religion – Bible, Christ/God, faith, heroism, sin/repentance; Emotions – sorrow; Family – children/parents, History – ancient/mythological, heroism. A man overhears Job describing his manifold sufferings but refusing resolutely to turn from God.

A true sence of Sorrow: OR THE Poor York-shire-Man protected by Providence... To the Tune of, Rich Merchant-Man (J. Deacon, 1671-99).  Pepys 2.53; EBBA 20677.   Economy – hardship, household; Emotions – despair, joy; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Morality –social/economic; Society – neighbours, rich and poor.  A poor man, whose wife is in child-bed, begs for relief and, after some disappoinments, is generously helped by a slightly mysterious gentleman dressed all in black.

THE Unfaithful Servant; AND The Cruel Husband... To the Tune of, The Rich Merchant-man: Or, George Barnwel (J. Deacon, 1671-99). Pepys 2.151; EBBA 20769. Crime – murder, punishment; Death –execution, result of immorality, unlawful killing; Employment – apprenticeship/service; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Religion – Christ/God, sin/repentance, prayer; Emotions – anxiety, guilt fear. A maidservant who conspired with her master to poison the pregnant woman of the house regrets her foul deed and prepares for her execution by fire.

Christs tears over Jerusalem... To the Tune of, The Merchant (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(190). Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention, sin/repentance, Bible; History – ancient/mythological; Places – extra-European; Violence – divine; Environment – buildings; Morality – general; Emotions – sorrow, hope; Bodies – injury; Death – execution, godly end. This recounts the Biblical tale of Christ’s warnings to sinful Jerusalem and the horrors that God unleashed upon the city, urging England to learn the lesson and avoid a similar fate.

TREASON Justly Punished... Tune of, The Rich Merchant-Man, &c (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1678). Houghton Library, EBB65; EBBA 35048. Crime – treason, prison; Politics – plots, domestic, treason; Religion – Catholic/ProtestantDeath – execution; Violence – punitive; Employment – crafts/trades; News – convicts/crimes; Royalty – general. The sorry tale of William Staley, a Catholic who was excecuted for treason after threatening to kill the king.

Friendly Advice to / EXTRAVAGANTS... Tune of, The rich Merchant man (F. Cole, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Carlk [sic], W. Thackery, and T. Passenger, 1678-80?). Beinecke Library, Broadsides By6 1; EBBA 35694. Death – godly end; Emotions – anxiety; Recreation – alchohol; Religion – Christ/God, sin/repentance. This laments the sins of society, urging everyone to remember that death can strike at any instant and that urgent spiritual preparation is therefore necessary.

The Unnatural Mother... The Tune is, There was a Rich Merchant Man (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T Passinger, 1680?).  Pepys 2.191; EBBA 20806.  Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity; Family – children and parents; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Crime – infanticide; Violence – interpersonal; Morality – familial; Emotions – anger; News – convicts/crimes. A troubled wife kills herself and her two babies after an argument with her husband.

The Merchant-man and the Fidlers wife... To a Pleasant Northen [sic] Tune (Fr. Coles, Thos. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81). Pepys 4.163; EBBA 21825. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, marriage, femininity, masculinity, sex, sexual violence; Employment – crafts/trades, professions; Recreation – music, games/sports; Humour – bawdry; Violence – sexual.  A fiddler and his wife take a journey in a merchant’s ship, and the two men make a bet over the chastity of the woman.

A Warning-Piece for all Wicked Livers... To the Tune of, The Rich Merchant Man (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1681-84). Crawford 1199; EBBA 34083. Death – godly end; Morality – social/economic, general; Religion – Christ/God, sin/repentance, Bible, charity; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Emotions – anxiety; Recreation – alcohol; Family – children/parents. This offers extensive moral advice after warning that Judgement Day and/or death may well be imminent.

Dirty Dolls Farewel ... Tune of, The Rich Merchant-man (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684).  Pepys, Loose Ballads; EBBA 21247.  Death – result of immorality; Religion – angels/devils; Employment – female/male; Gender – femininity; Morality – social/economic; News – sensational; Places – English; Violence -  diabolical.  A warning to all by the example of Dirty Doll, a disreputable practitioner of extortion, who was beaten during a visitation from the Devil and died of her injuries.

The Kentish MIRACLE... To the Tune of, A Rich Merchant Man (J. Deacon, 1684). Pepys 2.54; EBBA 20678. 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 Ungrateful Son; OR, An Example of God’s Justice... To the Tune of Kentish miracle (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, J. Back; 1688-96). Crawford 953; EBBA 33528. Family – children/parents, inheritance; Morality – familial; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, Protestant nonconformity, divine intervention; Death – illness, result of immorality; Emotions – anger, sorrow; Society – old/young; Violence – interpersonal; History – recent. A man, imprisoned for his religious beliefs, passes his estate to his son for safe-keeping, and when the son subsequently refuses to return it he is promptly struck down by a fatal illness.

THE GOLDEN Farmer’s Last FAREWEEL... To the Tune of The Rich Merchant-man (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1690?). Pepys 2.187; EBBA 20802. Crime – robbery/theft; Death – execution; Economy – money; Emotions – fear, guilt; Gender – masculinity; Morality – social/economic; News – convicts/crimes; Recreation – good fellowship; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God. A convicted burglar, formerly the head of a gang, repents his life of crime as he prepares for his execution.


This tune was hardly ever named on white-letter ballads and was also used very sparingly in songbooks, facts that reinforce the impression that it appealed less strongly to richer and more sophisticated individuals than it did to the consumers of black-letter balladry in general.

When the tune was named in more substantial publications, these were typically works that seemed to aim at a broad audience. In The famous historie of Fryer Bacon (1629), for example, the servant Miles sings a mocking song to the tune, and William Slatyer set one of his controversial metrical psalms to ‘The Rich Merchant Man’ in 1621, identifying it as one of ‘the most noted and common, but solemne tunes, every where in this Land familiarly used and knowne’ (Psalms, or songs of Sion, 1621).

Christopher Marsh


The famous historie of Fryer Bacon (1629), C2v-3r.

Una McIlvenna, ‘The Rich Merchant Man, or, What the Punishment of Greed Sounded like in Early Modern English Ballads’, Huntington Library Quarterly 79.2 (2016), pp. 279-99.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 602-04.

William Slatyer, Psalms, or songs of Sion (1621).

Wit and Mirth (1707), vol. 3, p. 153.

Back to contents

Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: City on hill

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 was deployed on ballads only very rarely, and all versions seem to have been produced from the same woodblock. The absence of variant versions reinforces the suggestion that this was not one of the period’s most versatile pictures. The fact that the single woodblock clearly suffered some damage across the years may indicate heavier use than we can document, though it is more likely that this occurred through repeat printings of Christ’s Tears than that the image was widely used on other ballads.

The woodcut appears to depict a flaming city on a hill and, given the song's concentration on the fall of Jerusalem to Roman forces in 70 CE, it probably had a particular association with the current song. It was used on more than one surviving edition (though not the first one).

This association would help to explain why the woodblock was used to produce the picture on our featured edition despite being damaged, and also why the label ‘Jerusalem’, clearly visible on the previous edition, was not included on this occasion. It was perhaps not needed by the 1680s, or perhaps this section of the woodblock had been damaged beyond repair.

If a measure of specificity had indeed been established, it helps us to understand why the woodcut was not used more widely. It could, in theory, have served to represent any town or city, as demonstrated by the other ballad listed below. Here, viewers are encouraged to put Jerusalem from their minds and think only of brave Bristol, helpfully labelled on the sheet. It may not have worked, and the experiment does not seem to have been commonly repeated by other ballad-makers.

Songs and summaries

Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM; OR, A Caveat for England to call to God for mercy, lest we be plagued for our contempt and Wickedness (W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88, but the image had also appeared on an edition issued in 1674-79). Pepys 2.6; EBBA 21664. Religion – Christ/God, divine intervention, sin/repentance, Bible; History – ancient/mythological; Places – extra-European; Violence – divine; Environment – buildings; Morality – general; Emotions – sorrow, hope; Bodies – injury; Death – execution, godly end. This recounts the Biblical tale of Christ’s warnings to sinful Jerusalem and the horrors that God unleashed upon the city, urging England to learn the lesson and avoid a similar fate (picture placement: it appears beneath the title, just to the right of a man who faces the city as he kneels and prays).

The Honour of Bristol. Shewing how the Angel Gabriel of Bristol, fought with three-Ships (I. Wright, I. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84).  Pepys 4.203; EBBA 21865.  Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; News – international; Politics – foreign affairs; Violence – at sea, between states; Bodies- health/sickness; Death – warfare; Emotions – joy, patriotism; Nature – sea.  This describes and celebrates the immense fortitude of a Bristol ship and its men in repulsing an attack by three Spanish vessels (picture placement: it appears alongside a picture of three ships at sea, and the town is labelled ‘Bristol).

Christopher Marsh

Back to contents

Related Texts

The composers of Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM seem to have drawn skilfully on several sources. The first nine verses paraphrase various well-known passages in the Bible. The ballad’s account of Christ’s warning to Jerusalem draws on the gospels of Matthew and Luke (see, for example, the references to the stones of the city’s building, the killing of the prophets, Christ’s tears and the hen protecting her chicks). The description of Christ’s crucifixion is a composite of references in at least three of the four gospels (the ballad mentions details that are unique to either Matthew, Luke or John).

Verses 10-13 describe the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE (see Song history). This section was based ultimately on the ancient writings of Flavius Josephus, a native of Jerusalem who had previously defected to the Roman side and who accompanied Titus during the siege. There was no full, printed English translation of Josephus’ account until 1602, but a successful book by the Protestant theologian, Peter Morwen, provided a detailed summary that was available from 1558 onwards. This account was mediated through various medieval sources, notably the tenth-century work of Joseph ben Gorion (see Neelakanta). Morwen’s description of Jerusalem’s fall may well have been known to the ballad-makers. Having said this, the song rarely echoes this narrative in the same way that it echoes the Christian gospels.

The final verses (14-19) call to mind more recent events, interpreting them as warnings to England that echo Christ’s warnings to Jerusalem. Although this section is freely invented, care is taken to achieve a suitably prophetic style that must have reminded listeners of the Bible (see Cecconi). It also reinforced the already powerful association of Jerusalem and England (‘And therefore now O England,/ at last for mercy cry,/ And grieve the Lord thy God no more,/ through thy iniquity’).

Most strikingly, the ballad is closely related to a controversial book by Thomas Nash, also entitled Christ’s tears over Jerusalem. This peculiar work was evidently written during the terrible plague that struck London in the summer of 1593, and its apocalyptic anxiety marked a significant departure from Nash’s usual style. He applied Jerusalem’s lesson to contemporary London with such bitter and relentless force that he was imprisoned for a time and forced to re-write a particularly venomous section before a revised edition could be issued. In some ways, the work is even more striking for the manner in which Nash appropriates Christ’s voice in its early sections but this conspicuous act of ventriloquism does not seem to have contributed significantly to the controversy.

The similarities between the book and the ballad are clear, and scholars seem agreed that the song appeared after Nash’s work. The ballad-makers follow the book’s broad scheme and purpose, though they steer clear of the arguably playful and humorous sections that Nash included. The song-writers may also follow the more famous author in their selections from Scripture, though this triangle of sources is difficult to draw with accuracy. Nash mentions Jerusalem’s sin in killing God’s prophets on numerous occasions, for example, and he is obsessed with Luke’s suggestion that Christ tried to protect the city as a hen protects it chicks (he refers to this image at least seven times). Both elements also appear in the ballad, which further mirrors Nash in interpreting recent signs and wonders in England as evidence of imminent judgement.

The ballad is not, however, a mere summary of Nash’s book (it is the sort of book that cannot be summarised easily). There are few passages in the ballad that seem to have been directly inspired by Nash’s writing, and the song-writers’ section on the crucifixion of Christ is arguably more coherent and purposeful than Nash’s treatment of this subject. Nash dwelt at length on Josephus’ revelation that one of Jerusalem’s citizens had cooked and eaten her own son during the siege, but the ballad-makers devote only two lines to this episode (‘For want of food, their infants young,/ unto the Pot they bring’). 

Furthermore, the song’s clear references to the Spanish Armada of 1588 have no precedent in Nash’s work, and the ballad-makers apply the lessons of Jerusalem’s demise to England as a whole, rather than particularly to London. This made commercial sense but it may also have been a reaction to the trouble that Nash had stirred for himself by targeting the capital.

There were many other books and ballads that also interpreted the fall of Jerusalem as a warning to contemporary England but precise verbal affinities between these sources and Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM are only occasionally encountered. In fact, the clearest example is a verse that appears in Canaans Calamitie, Jerusalems Misery which, like the ballad, was probably by Thomas Deloney. This verse runs,

‘The time shall come and neere it is at hand,/ When furious foes shall trench thee round about,/ And batter downe thy Towers that stately stand,/ All thy strong holds within thee and without:/ Thy golden buildings shall they quite confound,/ And make thee equall with the lowly ground.’

The similarities to the fourth verse of the ballad are obvious and may strengthen the case for a common author, though both sources also echo the Bible.

In other texts, precise verbal reminders of the ballad are much less conspicuous but we have nevertheless included a small selection of additional titles in the list below. Of particular interest are the songs entitled ‘the horable and wofull dystrustion of Jerusalem’ (1568-69) and ‘A new ballad of the destruction of Jerusalem’ (1586). Neither appears to be extant and the references come from the Stationers’ Register, but we should note that these lost songs apparently pre-dated Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM by several years (see Rollins).

Songs about the destruction of Jerusalem were clearly abundant in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the years 1603-04 saw the registration of both ‘A warning or Lamentacon to London for the Dolefull Destruction of fayre Jerusalem’ and ‘A warning to all England by the Dolefull Destruction of Jerusalem’. The former survives, and the latter may refer to the same song or, possibly, to Christ’s Tears.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Peter Morwen, A compendious and most marveilous historie of the latter times of the Jewes common weale (1558). After 1650, the work was given a new title: The wonderful, and most deplorable history of the latter times of the Jews with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem… By Josephus Ben Gorion.

The Bible and Holy Scriptures (Geneva, 1561): Matthew 24-25 and 27; Mark 13 and 15; Luke 13, 19, 21 and 23; and John 19.

‘The horable and wofull dystrustion of Jerusalem’ (ballad registered with Stationers’ Company, 1568-69).

‘A new ballad of the destruction of Jerusalem’ (ballad registered with Stationers’ Company, 1586).

Thomas Nash, Christs teares over Jerusalem. Whereunto is annexed, a comparative admonition to London (1593).

Thomas Deloney[?],  Christ's Tears over JERUSALEM… To the Tune of, The Merchant Man (probably written 1593-96).

Thomas Deloney [sometimes attributed to Thomas Dekker], Canaans calamitie, Jerusalems misery (registered 1597-98; surviving edition of 1618). The quoted verse is on A4v.

Flavius Josephus, The famous and memorable works of Josephus (translated by Thomas Lodge, 1602).

A warning or Lanthorne to London. A dolefull destruction of faire Jerusalem, whose miserye and unspeakable plague doth most justlye deserve God’s heavye wrath and judgment for the sinnes and wickednes of the people, except by repentaunce we call to God for mercye. To the Tune of Bragandarye (registered 1603; transcribed by hand in the Shirburn ballads, 1603-16).

John Taylor, The several sieges, assaults, sackings, and final Destruction of the famous, auncient, and memorable Citie of Jerusalem (1616).

John Brinsley, Tears for Jerusalem, Or The compassionate lamentation of a tender hearted saviour over a rebellious and obdurate people (1656).

Theophilus Gale, Christ's tears for Jerusalems unbelief and ruine. Now humbly recommended to England's consideration in this day of tryal and danger (1679).

Anon, Great Britain’s warning-piece: or, Christ’s tears over Jerusalem (1689).


Elisabetta Cecconi, ‘“Old England of thy sins repent[...]”: Religious lexis and discourse in 17th century broadside ballads’, Rhesis: Linguistics and Philology  1.1 (2010), pp. 5-22.

Beatrice Groves, ‘Laughter in the time of plague: a context for the unstable style of Nashe’s Christ’s tears over Jerusalem’, Studies in philology 108.2 (Spring 2011), pp. 238-60.

Francis Oscar Mann, The works of Thomas Deloney (Oxford, 1912), pp. 417-56 and 593-95

Mauricio Martinez, ‘Terrors of conscience: Thomas Nashe and the interiorisation of presence’, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et réforme 36.2 (Spring, 2013), pp. 45-74.

Vanita Neelakanta, Retelling the siege of Jerusalem in early modern England (Newark, Delaware, 2019).

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. 293, 294, 496, 564, 1147, 2877 and 2916.

The Shirburn ballads, 1585-1616, ed. Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1907), pp. 31-35.

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

Back to contents

[C]hrists Tears over JERUSALEM;/ OR,/ [A] Caveat for England to call to God for mercy, lest we be plagued for our/ [c]ontempt and Wickedness.

To the tune of The Merchant Man.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


WHen Christ our Lord drew nigh

unto Jerusalem,

Fore=seeing all the miseries,

the which should fall on them:

And casting of his looks

upon that beautious town,

For very grief the bitter tears

from his fair eyes fell downe.

Repent faire England, now repent,

repent while you have space;

And do not like Jerusalem,

despise Gods proffered Grace.


Alas Jerusalem,

Jerusalem (said he)

Which kill’d the P[r]ophets of the lord

when they were sent to thee:

How oftentimes would I,

have kept thee from all ill?

Even as the Hen her Chickens keep,

but thou art stubborn still.


O that thou hadst but known,

at least in that thy day,

The things which did concern thy peace,

but now ‘tis hid away:

Yea from thy eyes ‘tis hid,

thou shalt not see the same,

And for thy sorrows coming on,

thy self do only blame.


Therefore the days shall come,

thy enemies shall rise,

And trench thee on every side,

regarding not thy crys,

The strong and stately Towers,

in wrath they shall confound,

And make thy sumptuous buildings all

lie equal with the ground.


ANd such shall be their rage,

they shall not leave in thee

One stone upon another stone,

which shall not spoiled be:

Because thou knewest not,

the seasonable day,

Wherein the Lord did visit thee,

to wash thy sins away.


Thus Christ without the Town,

did weep for their distress:

While they within, triumph in sin,

and use all wickedness.

No whit they would believe,

the words which he did say,

But enviously did practice still,

to take his life away.


He mourned and he wept full sore,

to think upon the smart,

While they full stout did go about,

to pierce his tender heart,

And for his pains they stript him,

and whipt him through the town,

And with a wreath of prickling thorns,

his holy head did crowne.


They scofft and laught at him,

they dasht him in the face,

They call’d him gracious Lord and King,

in flouting and disgrace,

And throw his hands and feet,

they nail him to the cross,

Between two lewd and wicked thieves,

but few lament his loss.


They gave him for to drink,

sharp Vinegar and gall,

And with a Spear they pierc’d his side,

till his heart blood did fall:

Yet patiently and mild,

he suffered every thing,

And prayed his father not to charge

them with that grevious sin.


When they had dispatch,

the living Lord of might,

Full safely then they thought themselves

from sorrow, care and strife:

But within few years space,

as Christ before had told,

The mighty Emperor of Rome,

came thither with courage bold,


And with a mighty Host,

he did besiege them round,

By Sword and Famine e’re he went,

he did them quite confound,

Yea, Dogs and Cats they eat,

Mice, Rats and every thing,

For want of food, their infants young,

unto the Pot they bring.


No pitty could they find,

at this their enemies hand,

But Fire, Sword and cruel death,

before them still did stand.

Their famous City fair,

he set upon a flame,

He burnt their Temple unto dust,

that stood within the same.


And those that scap’d the Sword,

and fury of his hand,

He made them slaves and bond=slaves all,

within a forreign Land:

Thus fair Jerusalem,

was cast unto the ground,

For their great sin and wickedness,

the Lord did it confound.


Awake England I say,

rise from the sleep of sin,

Cast off thy great security,

which thou hast lived in:

Thy God hath often call’d,

and offered thee his grace,

His Messengers have shown his will,

to thee in every place,


Great wonders he hath shown,

to thee by Sea and Land,

And sent strange tokens in the air,

to make thee understand:

He is offended sore,

at thy great wickedness,

And that except thou doest repent,

thy plagues shall be exprest.


Remember how of late,

the Spaniard he assail’d,

And how by Gods especial power

they ne’re a wit prevail’d:

And all was for to try,

if thou wouldst sinne forsake,

And to an upright holy life,

thy self at last betake,


But soon thou didst forget

his favour in the same,

Which afterwards most grievously,

his wrath did so inflame:

That then he plagued thee,

with Pestilence and death,

Whereby in Countrey and in town,

a number lost their breath.


Yet wilt thou not forsake,

thy wickedness and ill,

But in thy pride and Covetousness,

thou hast continued still:

Provoke not God to wrath,

with thy most loathsome sin,

But speedily to amend thy life,

with Prayers now begin,


And therefo[r]e now  O England,

at last for mercy cry,

And grieve the Lord thy God no mor[e,]

through thy iniquity,

Lest he forsake thee quite,

and turn away his face,

Because like to Jerusalem,

thou didst dispise his Grace:


Printed for W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger.

Back to contents

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

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624; Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 4

No. of extant copies: 2

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 2 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V30773).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 0 + 8 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 40

Back to contents

This box will be used to highlight any new information on this song that might come to light after the launch of the website.

Back to contents