3  The Catholick Ballad:/ OR AN/ INVITATION/ TO/ POPERY [Euing 24]

Author: Pope, Walter (1628-1714)

Recording: The Catholick Ballad

Humour - mockery Humour - satire Places - European Politics - controversy Politics - domestic Politics - parliament Politics - satire Religion - Bible Religion - Catholic/Protestant Religion - Devil(s) Religion - church Religion - clergy Religion - faith Religion - heaven/hell Religion - indulgences Religion - purgatory Religion - relics Religion - saints

Song History

The Catholick Ballad: OR AN INVITATION TO POPERY, attributed to Dr Walter Pope and published by Henry Brome, first emerged in 1674 as one of a flurry of songs debating the relationship between loyalty and faith.

Political Context

In 1674 non-conformist religious groups – Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Baptists – were all in the news at the same time.

English Catholics were heartened, while Anglicans and Dissenters were dismayed, when Charles II's brother and heir, James, duke of York, made a public avowal of his Catholic faith. In consequence, York and a raft of Catholic ministers and officials were forced to resign their government and military positions, because the 'Test Acts' made it legally impossible for non-conformists to hold public office. 

Presbyterians were deeply split over whether to accept ‘comprehension’ with the Anglican church (in other words, a compromise that would allow them to re-join the national church), or to accept their status as Dissenters outside the national church, with all the social and political disadvantages that this implied.

Meanwhile, at the furthest extreme of Protestant dissent, sectarian Quakers and Baptists staged a public debate over ‘true religion’ in London. 

Contributing to this moment of religious crisis, between October 1674 and March 1675, a series of eight ballad broadsides debated the relative threats to religious harmony of presbyter, sectarian or 'papist' (see Related Texts). Two of these eight songs - The Geneva Ballad (which attacked dissenters) and The Catholick Ballad (which attacked Catholics) - became the most successful political songs of the period. 

Henry Brome's imprint appears on most editions of both the Geneva and the Catholick ballads, which were initially sold as a pair. Clavell's 'Term Catalogue' of 1674 advertised 'Two sheets printed for H. Brome at the Gun at the West end of St Pauls Churchyard. One entituled The Catholick Ballad … to the Tune of 88. The other The Geneva Ballad to the tune of 48.' However, only The Catholick Ballad is included in the 100 Ballads website because most of its editions were printed using black-letter type (see The Ballad Business and Methodology essays).

Authorship and Content

All eight of the songs produced as part of the religious ballad debate of 1674 were authored anonymously, but it became widely known that The Catholick Ballad had been written by Dr Walter Pope, a popular clerical author and an esteemed wit in educated circles. Just as the anti-Presbyterian Geneva Ballad was set to ‘The Tune of 48’ (the old-style year of Charles I’s execution), Pope set his Catholick Ballad  ‘To the Tune of 88’, naming it specifically so as to evoke the year of the Spanish Armada (see Featured Tune History for the tune''s other names).

Pope’s intention was to satirise 'popish' rites and populist mendacity, by accusing Catholics (especially Jesuit priests) of trying to win recruits to their cause by using the lowly and irrational ballad as a vehicle for religious teaching and persuasion. This was a very old idea. Similar accusations had, for example, been made by another clerical author, John Rhodes, during James I’s reign. But the approach taken by the publisher Henry Brome to this old trope was both new and ingenious. He highlighted Pope's parody by printing it in black-letter type and in landscape orientation, like a lowly retail ballad.

The song was such an immediate hit that, the following year, Pope wrote a Latin version (equally the language of scholars and Catholics), which was published by John Leigh's scholarly press.

Publication History and Popularity

London's specialist retail ballad publishers produced most of the 100 Ballad hits, but Henry Brome’s clientele were mostly scholars and gentlemen. He was particularly renowned among old royalists and cavaliers for co-publishing (with Henry Marsh) the huge anthology of Rump Songs in celebration of the king’s Restoration in 1660, and he also became known for publishing work by the arch-royalist polemicist, and licensor of the press, Roger L'Estrange.

The novelty of Brome’s Catholick Ballad lay not just in the use of the very best black-letter typeface on very large sheets, but also in the addition of a musical score alongside the words on some editions: this was the first example of this practice on a broadside ballad sheet (although many other kinds of texts included music notation before this date). Claude Simpson pointed out that the music shown on the English version broadsides was neither the tune cited, nor a tune to which the ballad verses could be sung. He also mentions seeing a Latin edition that was printed with the music of a tune to which the ballad could be sung, though, again, it was not ‘88’. Sadly, as yet, no copy of that musical edition has been found.

The instant success of Pope’s ballad inspired ‘a continuation’ in response to the announcement of a Papal Jubilee to be held in 1675. This was published by the non-conformist printer Benjamin Harris. Entitled Room for a ballad, or, A ballad for Rome, it too parodied the classic retail black-letter ballad. Harris illustrated his ballad with an old broken woodcut of a pedlar with a sack full of popish trinkets followed by a devil at his back, but, as in Brome's Catholick Ballad, the adoption of black-letter type and his choice of an old woodcut were intended as part of the joke. In fact, Room for a Ballad was unusually expensive to make and probably to buy. The sheet was very large, while some editions were printed wholly or partly in expensive red ink, representing ‘red-letter men’ carrying papal bulls announcing the Papal Jubilee. Though the metre of Room for a Ballad was identical to The Catholick Ballad, Harris's tune was satirically named ‘the Powder plot’ so that, between them, Brome's and Harris' ballads referred to the three iconic providential moments in English Protestant history: 1588, 1605, and 1649.

In 1675, Reflections on the Catholic Ballad deplored the divisive and low-brow way in which The Catholick Ballad had debated and depicted religious matters. But the author grudgingly acknowledged the popularity of Pope’s song: ‘amongst many that read it, it gained so much credit/ it may pass for a coffee-house psalter’. It is also clear that the song had hit home: also in 1675, a Jesuit theologian described ‘people who do go about the Streets ranting at Popery, and Popish Idolatry; (For commonly Madmen harp upon those things, which made them run mad) or Singing the Catholick Ballad, or some such other, to Tom a Bedlams Tune’.

Pope’s ballad was so successful in stoking the fires of fear and distrust of Catholicism underlying seventeenth-century British politics that it was reissued at every political crisis-point. Editions appeared during the 'Popish Plot' crisis of 1679; the 'Exclusion' crisis of 1679 to 1681; and at the 'Glorious Revolution' in 1689. Comparatively huge numbers survive in print; so far forty-three printed sheets have been located, several more are rumoured, and there are almost certainly more to be found, either in print or manuscript, uncatalogued and sitting among gentry papers in archives.

Angela McShane 


Angela McShane, Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth Century England: A Critical Bibliography (2011), p. xxiii, No. 472.

A. Clerke, & A. McConnell, 'Pope, Walter (bap. 1628, d. 1714), astronomer and writer.' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008). 

John Spurr, England in the 1670s: This masquerading age (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000)

A. McShane, The Ballad Trade and its Politics in Seventeenth Century Britain. (Woodbridge, forthcoming).


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Featured Tune History

'To the tune of 88' (standard name: Eighty-eight)

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

‘Eighty-eight’ was a lively and infectious tune that derived its name from ‘An old Song on the Spanish Armado’, which opened, ‘Some years of late in eighty eight’. The text probably dates from the Elizabethan or Jacobean periods, though surviving versions are rather later. It appeared in numerous songbooks of the period, including Westminster-Drollery (1671) and Wit and Mirth (1682). Few of these included musical notation but the tune was written down in various sources. It can be found, for example, in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and in John Playford’s Dancing Master (1651 onwards). In these sources, the melody was known variously as ‘Jog on’, ‘Sir Francis Drake’ and ‘Eighty-eight’. Versions vary only slightly, and our recording is based on the melody published in Wit and Mirth (1719-20), where it provides the music for a songbook version of The Catholick Ballad.

Echoes (an overview)

This tune was not named for the singing of other black-letter ballads in the seventeenth century, and The Catholick Ballad feels almost like an interloper from the somewhat more refined and sophisticated genres of the white-letter ballad and the printed song-book (see Song history). Within this overlapping but different cultural zone, the tune of ‘88’ was clearly very well known and had been in circulation for many decades. The mocking tone and anti-Spanish associations of ‘An old Song on the Spanish Armado’, apparently the source of the tune title, clearly suited it perfectly for The Catholick Ballad. The melody must have reassured knowledgeable listeners that performers of this satirical song were not really speaking up in defence of Rome. The disjuncture between tune and text must have added to the humour of the ballad, helping to account for its immense success. There are many surviving white-letter editions, and the decision to put out a black-letter version, though satirically motivated, may also suggest an awareness on the publisher’s part of the song's wider potential.

For intertextual echoes, we have to turn to some of the white-letter ballads that are not listed below.  The cross-references are particularly direct and obvious in REFLECTIONS UPON The Catholick Ballad (E. T., 1675), and lines such as  ‘Ridiculous Niget, to scoff at St. Bridget’ demonstrate that the two songs were part of a dialogue. There were many comparable references in Room for a Ballad, OR, A Ballad for Rome. BEING A Continuation of the Catholick Ballad inviting to Popery (Benjamin Harris, 1674-75). Here the tune was called ‘The Powder plot,’ demonstrating once again its impeccable links to English Protestant history.

Songs and Summaries

The Catholick Ballad: OR AN INVITATION TO POPERY, Upon considerable Grounds and Reasons. To the Tune of 88 (Henry Brome, 1674). Euing 24; EBBA 31675. Religion – Catholic/ Protestant, Bible, church, clergy, heaven/hell, purgatory, prayer; Emotions – scorn; Humour – mockery, satire; Politics – satire, domestic, foreign affairs; Places – European. A satirical appeal on behalf of English Catholicism, the real purpose of which is to mock and denigrate the Pope and all his adherents.

Christopher Marsh

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Catholic Ballad notation

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)

The music printed on the ballad is, in Claude Simpson’s word, ‘deceptive’. It is not the specified tune of ‘88’, which is well known from other sources and fits the words perfectly. The notation, instead of being a guide for the musically literate, was actually something more like a signifier of music for everyone else. Most people could not read the notes, but we assume that they recognised what was laid out before them as music. This was a common tactic on the part of ballad-makers in the later seventeenth century, and most of the musical notation that appeared on broadsides was actually useless to musicians, who instead played or sang the melodies from memory. We have searched the Pepys and Roxburghe Collections for other examples of this notation but there are none to be found. The only ballad listed below is therefore our featured edition, from the Euing Collection.

Songs and summaries

The Catholick Ballad: OR AN INVITATION TO POPERY, Upon considerable Grounds and Reasons. To the Tune of 88 (Henry Brome, 1674). Euing 24; EBBA 31675. Religion – Catholic/ Protestant, Bible, church, clergy, heaven/hell, purgatory, prayer; Emotions – scorn; Humour – mockery, satire; Politics – satire, domestic, foreign affairs; Places – European. A satirical appeal on behalf of English Catholicism, the real purpose of which is to mock and denigrate the Pope and all his adherents (picture placement: the notation appears beneath the title, and there are no other images).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The Catholick Ballad was printed in a number of anthologies of wit such as Versatile ingenium, The Wittie companion, or Jests of all sorts. From citie and countrie, court and universitie. By Democritus Junior (Amsterdam: Printed by Stephen Swart, at the Crowned Bible, near the Exchange, Anno 1679) and Rome rhym'd to death being a collection of choice poems (London: Printed for John How at the seven stars in the North West Corner of the Royal Exchange, 1683). It was also mentioned in satirical polemics, such as John Warner, Dr. Stillingfleet still against Dr. Stillingfleet, or, The examination of Dr. Stillingfleet against Dr. Stillingfleet (1675) and Edward Pettit, The vision of purgatory, anno 1680 In which the errors and practices of the church and court of Rome are discover'd ... Written by Heraclito Democritus (1680). 

As noted in the Song History several ballads were published at the same time in response to The Catholick Ballad, includingThe Geneva Ballad (PBB 474: EBBA 37565), Room for a ballad, or, A ballad for Rome (PBB 473; EBBA 32606); Poor Robbin turn’d Seeker or, The Seekers Ballad (PBB 471; EBBA 35013) and Reflections on the Catholick Ballad (PBB 495; EBBA 33688).

Angela McShane


PBB = Angela McShane, Political Broadside Ballads in Seventeenth-Century England: A Critical Bibliography (London, 2011)


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The Catholick Ballad:/ OR AN/ INVITATION/ TO/ POPERY,/ Upon considerable Grounds and Reasons.

To the Tune of 88. 

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


SInce Pop'ry of late is so much in debate,

And great strivings have been to restore it,

I cannot forbear openly to declare,

That the Ballad=makers are for it.


We'l dispute no more [‘then’ added in other editions], these Heretical men

Have exposed our Books unto laughter,

So that many do say, 'twill be our best way,

To sing for the Cause hereafter.


O the Catholic Cause! now assist me my Muse,

How earnestly do I desire thee!

Neither will I pray to St. Bridget to Day,

But only to thee to inspire me.


Whence should purity come, but from Catholic Rome?

I wonder much at your folly:

For St. Peter was there, and left an old Chair,

Enough to make all the World holy.


For this sacred old wood is so excellent good,

If Tradition may be believed,

That whoever sits there needs never more fear

The danger of being deceived.


If the Devil himself should (God bless us) get up

Though his nature we know to be evil,

Yet whilst he sate there, as divers will swear,

He would be an infallible Devil.


Now who sits in this Seat, but our Father the Pope?

So that here’s a plain demonstration,

As clear as noon=day, we are in the right way,

And all others are doom'd to damnation.


If this will not suffice, yet to open your eyes,

Which are blinded with bad Education;

We have Arguments plenty, & Miracles twenty,

Enough to convince a whole Nation.


If you give but good heed, you shall see the Host bleed.

And if any thing can persuade ye,

An Image shall speak, or at least it shall squeak

In the honour of our Lady.


You shall see without doubt the Devil cast out,

As of old by Erra Pater;

He shall skip about and tear like a dancing Bear,

When he feels the Holy Water.


If yet doubtful you are, we have Reliques most rare,

We can shew you the sacred Manger;

Several loads of the Cross, as good as ere was,

To preserve your souls from danger.


Should I tell you of all, it would move a stone=wall,

But I spare you a little for pity,

That each one may prepare, and rub up his ear,

For the second part of my Ditty.


The Second Part to the same Tune.


Now listen again to those things that remain,

They are matters of weight, I assure you,

And the first thing I say, throw your Bibles away,

'Tis impossible else for to cure you.


O that pestilent Book! never on it more look,

I wish I could speak it out louder:

It has don more men harm, I dare boldly affirm

Than th' Invention of Guns and Powder.


As for matters of faith, believe what the Church saith,

But for Scripture, leave that to the Learned;

For these are edge tools, & you Laymen are Fools,

If you touch them y'are sure to be harmed.


But pray what is it for, that you make all this stir?

You must read, you must hear and be learned:

If you'l be on our part, we will teach you an Art,

That you need not be so much concerned.


Be the Churches good Son, and your work is half don,

After that you may do your own pleasure:

If your Beads you can tell, and say Ave Mary well,

Never doubt of the heavenly treasure.


For the Pope keeps the Keys, and can do what he please,

And without all peradventure,

If you cannot at the Fore, yet at the back=door

Of Indulgence you may enter.


But first by the way you must make a short stay

At a place called Purgatory,

Which the Learned us tell, in the buildings of Hell,

Is about the middlemost Story.


'Tis a monstrous hot place and a mark of disgrace,

In the Torment on't long to endure:

None are kept there but fools & poor pitiful souls

Who can no ready money procure.


For a handsom round sum you may quickly be gon,

For the Church has wisely ordein'd,

That they who build Crosses and pay well for Masses,

Should not there be too long detein'd.


So that 'tis a plain case, as the nose on ones face,

We are in the surest condition,

And none but poor Fools, & some niggardly owls,

Need fall into utter perdition.


What aileth you then, O ye great and rich men,

That you will not hearken to reason,

Since as long as y’have pence, ye need scruple no offence,

Be it Murther, Adultery, Treason.


And ye sweet=natur'd Women, who hold all things common,

My addresses to you are most hearty,

And to give you your due, you are to us most true

And we hope we shall gain the whole party.


If you happen to fall, your Penance shall be small,

And although you cannot forgo it,

We have for you a cure, if of this you be sure

To confess before you go to it.


There is one reason yet, which I cannot omit,

To those who affect the French Nation,

Hereby we advance the Religion of France,

The Religion that's only in fashion.


If these reasons prevail, (as how can they fail?)

To have Popery entertain'd,

You cannot conceive, and will hardly believe,

What benefits hence may be gain'd.


For the Pope shall us bless (that's no small happiness)

And again we shall see restored

The Italian Trade, which formerly made

This Land to be so much adored.


O the Pictures and Rings, the Beads and fine things,

The good words as sweet as honey,

All this and much more shall be brought to our door

For a little dull English Money.


Then shall Traffic and Love, and whatever can move

Be restored again to our Britain,

And Learning so common, that every old woman

Shall say her Prayers in Latin.


Then the Church shall bear sway, and the State shall obey,

Which is now lookt upon as a wonder,

And the proudest of Kings & all temporal things

Shall submit and truckle under.


And the Parliament too, who have tak'n us to do

And have handled us with so much terror;

May chance on that score (tis no time to say more)

They may chance to acknowledge their error.


If any man yet shall have so little wit,

As still to be refractory,

I swear by the Mass, he is a meer Ass,

And so there's an end of a Story.


LONDON: Printed for Henry Brome, at the Gun at the West-end of St. Pauls Church-yard. MDCLXXIV.

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

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

No. of extant copies: 43 

Appearances on publishers' lists: none.

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

3-yr periods that produced multiple editions: 1674-76 (4); 1678-80 (3); 1689-91 (3).

New tune titles generated: none

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: no known pictures but our featured edition has musical notation (inaccurate) with the text of the first verse interlined.

Pre-1640 bonus: no.

POINTS: 20 + 43 + 0 + 0 + 60 + 0 + 5 + 0 = 128



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