13  The rarest Ballad that ever was seen,/ Of the Blind beggers daughter of Bednall-green [Euing 293]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: The rarest Ballad that ever was seen (version 1)

Recording: The rarest Ballad that ever was seen (version 2)

Bodies - clothing Bodies - injury Bodies - looks/physique Bodies - nourishment Disability - physical Economy - hardship/poverty Economy - money Emotions - disdain Emotions - frustration Emotions - joy Emotions - love Employment - alehouses/inns Employment - begging Family - children/parents Family - inheritance Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Gender - masculinity Places - English Places - travel/transport Recreation - alcohol Recreation - food Recreation - music Recreation - weddings Society - old/young Society - rich/poor

Song History

The story of the blind beggar and his beautiful daughter appears to have originated in The rarest Ballad, a song that was probably first issued in the later sixteenth century (though all extant copies are from later dates). It was a narrative built to last. The song itself – in shifting but related versions – has held a prominent place in English culture from the seventeenth century to the present day. It has been in print throughout this period, whether as an early modern ballad, a Victorian slip song or an item within printed anthologies of verse or song. In Thomas Percy’s eighteenth-century version, the song’s conclusion is changed in order to reduce its ‘absurdities’ and ensure that the narrative is ‘reconciled to probability and true history’ (antiquarians were keen to establish which of the various medieval De Montforts was represented by ‘Monford’ in the ballad).

The ballad was also regularly found by folksong collectors in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not only in England but also in America, Canada and Ireland. It is always difficult to distentangle the lines of influence between printed and oral versions but we can be certain that the two categories were very extensively intertwined.

The seventeenth century ballad led the way and it was published regularly in the next century too. During the early nineteenth century, a much shorter version, issued as a slip song, came to dominate the print history of the ballad and was published in several cities. This version was a greatly reduced rendition of the original but the close relationship between the two songs is evident in much of the vocabulary. The folksongs that were collected a little later are generally closer to this shorter printed version than to the original but there are also instances in which vernacular singers included lines that had appeared in the seventeenth-century ballad but not in the nineteenth-century slip song (Thomas Moran’s rendition is an example of this).

Virtually all versions that were sung or printed from 1850 onwards were based ultimately on the first part of the original song, rather than the second. This is interesting because it was only in the second half of the original that the blind beggar finally revealed his aristocratic origins. For some reason, this element of the story fascinated early modern minds but was less interesting to later audiences.

The high popularity of the song in the seventeenth century can be related partly to the blind beggar’s turbulent ride on the wheel of fortune (riches-to-rags-to-riches) and also, of course, to the love story featuring his gorgeous and well-mannered daughter. Beyond these obvious factors, we might wonder about the somewhat ambiguous status that this particular blind beggar is likely to have held within early modern minds. His essential nobility, and his justifiable claims to charity, may not entirely have displaced certain negative assumptions about beggary. The blind beggar of Bethnal Green had, after all, spent a lifetime growing immensely rich from the proceeds of his mendicancy, and early modern culture was awash with tales of good-for-nothing spongers who enjoyed carefree lives by hoodwinking their honest contemporaries. This possible line of interpretation is not made explicit in the song, though it does feature prominently in a prose rendition of the same story (see Related texts).

For whatever reason, this was a song that people talked about. There are numerous references to the blind beggar in a wide range of literary works from the seventeenth century. Indeed, the earliest clear reference that we have found is a passing comment in Tourneur’s Laugh and lie downe (1605), predating all the extant copies of the ballad. And on 25 June 1663 Samuel Pepys enjoyed a meal at Sir William Rider’s home in Bethnal Green, noting in his diary, ‘This very house was built by the blind Beggar of Bednall Green, so much talked of and sang in ballads; but they say it was only some outhouses of it’.

The blind beggar has also been referenced in numerous non-textual forms. In the 1690s, the beadle of Bethnal Green already carried a staff that bore a representation of this local hero on its head (one wonders whether he drew attention to this highly topical decoration when interacting with poor people on the streets). From the seventeenth century onwards, prints and paintings of the blind beggar and his daughter were produced. One appears in an auction catalogue of 1691, and a later version – still extant - is known to have hung on the wall of a Derbyshire cottage until the late 1880s. There have also been chapbooks and stage-plays based on the story (see Related texts).

An image of the beggar, his daughter and his dog appears today on the common seal of Bethnal Green, and a sculpture of the same scene (minus the daughter) was created by Elizabeth Frink in 1957 and now stands on an estate in the borough. Finally, a pub in Whitechapel has been known as ‘The Blind Beggar’ since 1894 and features the man and his daughter on its sign. This was also the site of an infamous gangland murder in 1966 and the institution’s website describes it, with admirable self-confidence, as ‘The most famous pub in Great Britain’.

Christopher Marsh


Anon, A collection of old ballads, 2 vols. (1723), pp. 203-11.

Anon, A curious collection of paintings and limnings (1691), p. 5, no. 213.

Artuk: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/blind-beggar-of-bethnal-green-133387 (other artistic representations can be found in the Ashmolean Museum, the British Museum and the Wellcome Collection).

The Blind Beggar (pub): http://www.theblindbeggar.com/index.html

Broadside Ballads Online from the Bodleian Libraries, http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ (several printed versions of the song from 1600-1900 can be found here).

English Broadside Ballad Archive, https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ (numerous versions of the ballad from the seventeenth and eighteenth century can be studied here).

Joseph Harris, Love’s a lottery and a woman the prize (1699), p. 31.

Richard Head, The canting academy (1623), pp. 66-67.

Edmund Hickeringill, The ceremony-monger his character in five chapters (1689), p. 75.

A history of the County of Middlesex: volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green (Victoria County History, 1998).

Thomas Percy, Reliques of ancient English poetry, 3 vols. (Dublin, 1766), pp. 120-32.

Samuel Pepys, The diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. R. C. Latham and W. Mathews, 11 vols. (London, 1995), vol. ???, pp. ???.

Steve Roud and Julia Bishop (eds.), The new Penguin book of English folk songs (2012), no. 60.

Cyril Tourneur, Laugh and lie downe (1605), C2r.

Traditional British and Irish Ballads (CD), vol. 3 (2013), track 7 (Thomas Moran).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ (the song is Roud 132 and many references to it can be found here).

William Winstanley, The Essex champion (1690), p. 4.

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Featured Tune History

No tune specified (standard name: The blind beggar)

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

We have recorded this ballad twice, using two different tunes. The first melody (recorded as version 1) was collected in Surrey by Lucy Broadwood in 1898 from an agricultural labourer who used it when singing his version of the song about the blind beggar’s daughter (text and music have recently been published in Steve Roud and Julia Bishop, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs). The second (version 2) was probably the original seventeenth-century tune, though it has proved impossible to find a fully reliable source. The Victorian musicologist and antiquarian, Edward Francis Rimbault, reportedly found the tune, entitled ‘The Cripple’, in a lute manuscript from the Restoration period, held at Etwall Hall, Derbyshire (see A new ballad intituled, The stout Criple of Cornwall for the source of this tune-name). William Chappell then published the melody, but the original manuscript has since gone missing. Reassuringly, the melody bears quite a close resemblance to an alternative version, also printed by Chappell, that was still ‘sung about the country’ during the nineteenth century. Our second recording of The rarest Ballad that ever was seen uses Rimbault’s tune, as notated by Chappell. Early-modern balladeers usually called it ‘Blind Beggar’, though it was also known as ‘Pretty Bessie’.

Echoes (an overview)

The first of our recordings (version 1) is not directly relevant here because it uses a melody from later vernacular tradition. The second recording, however, uses what we hope is the original seventeenth-century tune, and the songs that named it, though few in number, are interesting in their connections and disconnections.

At one level, A new ballad intituled, The stout Criple of Cornwall is very different from the others on the list; it describes a violent, thieving man while The rarest Ballad and The valarous Acts both feature thoroughly admirable women. And the two women – ‘pretty Bessee’ and Mary Ambree - seem different from one another as well, the first modestly conventional and the second boldly defiant. Yet there are important points of contact too, and the shared melody is crucial in pointing these out. Physical disability connects Bessee, whose father is blind, with the stout cripple, who has no legs below the knee. The two men are also linked by the possession of a large sum of money, though the stout Cripple’s gains are sensationally ill-gotten. The rarest Ballad and The valarous Acts both draw attention to the resourcefulness of their young heroines, even if their particular styles are very different. And the warrior Mary Ambree is linked to the stout Cripple through a taste for violence, though she takes up arms for honourable causes and his only objective is to extract money from others. Thus, there is no one theme that unites these songs but there are many points of comparison.

The other ballad on this list, Good Counsell for young Wooers, can be linked to The rarest Ballad through its courtship theme, but it is rather different in tone and design  from the songs with which it shared a tune. Indeed, the words with which the tune is nominated (see below) make the reference to ‘Pretty Bessee’ look almost like an afterthought, and each verse contains rather too many lines for the tune.

There are also a number of clear and specific textual connections between the songs, suggesting that they were composed and probably consumed in relation to one another (whether consciously or unconsciously). Several verses in The rarest Ballad conclude with variations on the line, ‘For none was so comely as pretty Bessee’. In The valarous Acts, this is echoed in the line, ‘But none so much won it as Mary Ambree’. A corresponding line in A new ballad – ‘The Cripple of Cornwal sir named was he’ – is not quite so close, though we should also note that the distinctive device of concluding several lines with the words ‘was he’ had also featured, in feminine form, in The rarest Ballad. In The valarous Acts, we are told of Mary Ambree, ‘To wait on her person there came thousands three’, and this too echoes a line in The rarest Ballad: ‘and yet for her marriage he gave thousands three’. Such examples could be multiplied, but it is already apparent that these songs were intertwined in curious and interesting ways.

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

Songs and Summaries

The rarest Ballad that ever was seen,/ Of the Blind beggers daughter of Bednall-green (registered 1624, though probably Elizabethan in origin; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 293; EBBA 31907. Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Disability – physical; Employment – begging, alehouses/inns; Bodies – looks/physique, clothing, injury, nourishment; Recreation – weddings, music, food, alcoholEconomy – hardship/poverty, money; Emotions – disdain, frustration, love, joy;  Places – English, travel/transport; Society – old/young, rich/poor.  A beautiful young woman is abandoned by most suitors when they realise that her father is a blind beggar, but one man remains devoted and he gets his rewards when, at a sumptuous wedding, her true aristocratic ancestry is revealed.

A new ballad intituled, The stout Criple of Cornwall, wherein is shewed, his dissolute Life, and deserved death... To the tune of the Blinde Begger (registered 1624; Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcock, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.446; EBBA 30300. Disability – physical; Employment –begging, crafts/trades, professions; Crime – robbery/theft, murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution, result of immorality; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Society – rich/poor; Bodies – health/sickness,clothing; Economy – livings, hardship/prosperity, money; Gender – masculinity; Emotions – anger, greed; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations/surprises; Morality – social/economic; Places – English, travel/transport. This tells the story of a disabled beggar who manages to double as a highway robber by working with a gang of fellow spongers before receiving his comeuppance in the end.

Good Counsell for young Wooers... To a dainty new tune, or else it may be Sung to the tune of Pretty Bessee (F. G., 1633?). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 2.3; EBBA 36050. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Recreation – weddings, fairs/festivals, theatre; Bodies – looks/physique; Emotions – longing, love. Advice is here offered to young men in search of sweethearts, particularly those who wish to ‘wooe a wench with a blacke brow’.

The valorous Acts performed at Gaunt, By the brave bonny Lasse Mary Ambre... To the tune of, the Blind beggar (William Gibertson, 1647-65). Manchester Central Library, Blackletter Ballads 1.14; EBBA 36066. Gender – cross-dressing, femininity, masculinity; Employment – female/male, sailors/soldiers; Violence – between states; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations, misunderstanding; Politics – foreign affairs; Death – warfare; Emotions – joy; Bodies – clothing, physique. This celebrates the heroic bravery of an English female soldier who fought in the Low Countries and told the Duke of Parma she couldn’t marry him because he was a foreigner.


The tune was also nominated for the singing of several white-letter ballads on political themes. A HYMNE To the GENTLE-CRAFT, OR Hewsons Lamentation (1657-60?) is, for example, an attack upon the regicide and former cobbler, Sir John Hewson, and it opens with a nod to the more famous ballad about the stout cripple of Cornwall.  See also ARSY VERSY: OR, The Second Martyrdom of the RUMP (1660) and A New Satyricall BALLAD OF THE Licentiousness of the Times (1679). Several of these songs also appeared in political songbooks of the period (see, for example, Ratts Rhimed to Death, 1660, and An Exact Collection of the Choicest Poems & Songs Relating to the late times, 1661).

Christopher Marsh


Lucy Broadwood, ‘Songs from the Collection of Lucy E. Broadwood’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, 1.4 (1902), pp. 202-03.

William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859), vol. 1, pp. 158-60.

An Exact Collection of the Choicest Poems & Songs Relating to the late times (1661).

Ratts Rhimed to Death (1660).

Steve Roud and Julia Bishop, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2012), no. 60.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Blind beggar with dog and bell

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, though simple in design, was not one of the woodcuts that passed easily from sheet to sheet. We have searched the two largest ballad collections for other titles that make use of the image but there are none to be found. The only ballad listed below is therefore our featured edition, taken from the Euing Ballads. In fact, the woodcut seems to have been associated strongly with this particular song, and it can be seen in slightly variant versions on most surviving copies and editions. The fact that more than one woodblock existed is an indication of the popularity of the ballad. We can assume that the detail, though basic, was felt to rule out use of the image on songs that did not feature blind beggars. The constraining component was probably the dog’s bell. In the ballad, the beggar’s daughter says of him, ‘His marks and his tokens are known full well,/ He alwayes is led with a dog and a bel’, and it seems that others agreed about the specificity of these symbols.

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

Songs and summaries

The rarest Ballad that ever was seen,/ Of the Blind beggers daughter of Bednall-green (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 293; EBBA 31907. Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Disability – physical; Employment – begging, alehouses/inns; Bodies – looks/physique, clothing, injury, nourishment; Recreation – weddings, music, food, alcohol; Economy – hardship/poverty, money; Emotions – disdain, frustration, love, joy;  Places – English, travel/transport; Society – old/young, rich/poor. A beautiful young woman is abandoned by most suitors when they realise that her father is a blind beggar, but one man remains devoted and he gets his rewards when, at a sumptuous wedding, her true aristocratic ancestry is revealed (picture placement: he appears over the third column of text, and there are no other woodcuts).


An edition of The Beggers CHORUS IN The Jovial Crew (no imprint, late seventeenth century?) uses a woodcut that appears to be modelled upon the Blind Beggar.  See Roxburghe 3.841; EBBA 31394.

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

The works that are referenced below were published before 1700 and cover the same story as The rarest ballad. They might, therefore, have had some relationship to our song. The play by John Day takes its title from the ballad, perhaps in an attempt to cash in on the song’s success, but the narrative that unfolds is linked only very loosely to the original song. In this version, ‘Momford’ is exiled in disgrace and disguises himself as a blind beggar in order to return from France to England. His daughter also features, and there are occasional points of contact with the ballad, but this is essentially a different story.

Much more closely related is the anonymous chapbook of 1686. This tells the well-known story of the beggar and his daughter, and its text echoes the ballad at numerous points. Several key expressions from the song are referenced, and we hear of ‘the Beggar that is lead with a Dog and a Bell’, the money set aside for Betsy ‘to buy her a Gown’ and the competitive ‘dropping of angels’ (coins).

In the chapbook, however, there are twenty-four folios to fill, and the author therefore includes a wealth of additional detail. Most notably, the blind beggar, upon his return to England, falls in with a character called ‘Snap’ who introduces him to the world of begging and helps him to become a ‘Master of the Trade’. This world is populated not by genuine down-and-outs but by ‘a rout of jovial Dancers’ who party at the expense of their hard-working and generous contemporaries. The beggar of Bethnal Green joins in happily and comes back from his trips into society ‘with his Pockets well lined with Chink’. This opens up the possibility that some may have seen him, in the ballad as well as in the book, as a character who had questions to answer rather than as a straightforward hero. Another interesting addition is the hostility that Betty faces from other young women in Bethnal Green in the years before her departure. They confront her in the street and call her ‘Beggars Brat’, an insult that also appears in An Excellent Ballad of Patient Grissel, another of our hits.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

John Day, The blind-beggar of Bednal-green with the merry humour of Tom Stroud the Norfolk yeoman (1659).

Anon, The History of the Blind Beggar of Bednal-Green (1686).

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The rarest Ballad that ever was seen,/ Of the Blind beggers daughter of Bednall-green

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IT was a blind beggar that long lost his sight,

He had a fair daughter most pleasant and bright

And many a galant brave Suitor had she,

For none was so comely as pretty Bessee.


And though she was of favour most fair,

Yet seeing she was but a begger his heir,

Of ancient house keepers dispised was she,

Whose Sons came as a Suitors to pretty Bessee.


Wherefore in great sorrow fair Bessee did say,

Good Father and mother let me go away,

To seek out my fortune where ever it be:

This suit then they granted to pretty Bessee.


Then Bessee that was of beauty most bright

They clad in gray Russet, and late in the night,

From Father and mother alone parted shee,

Who sighed and sobbed for pretty Bessee.


She went till she came to Stratford at Bow,

Then knew she not whether nor which way to go,

With tears she lamented her hard Destiny,

So sad and so heavy was pretty Bessee;


She kept on her journey until it was day,

and went into Rumford along the high way,

And at the Queens arms entertained was she,

So fair and well favour’d was pretty Bessee.


She had not been there one month to an end,

But Master and Mistris and all was her friend,

And every brave Gallant that once did her see,

Was straight way in love with pretty Bessee.


Great gifts they did send her of silver and gold,

And in their songs daily her Love they extold,

Her beauty was blazed in every degree,

So fair and so comely was pretty Bessee.


The young men of Rumford in her had their joy,

She shew’d her self courteous and never too coy,

And at their commandment still would she be,

So fair and so comely was prett Bessee.


Four Suitors at once unto her did go,

They craved her favour but still she said no.

I would not wish Gentlemen to marry with me,

Yet ever they honoured pretty Bessee.


The one of them was a gallant young Knight,

And he came to her disguised in the night.

The second a Gentleman of good degree.

Who wood and sued for pretty Bessee.


A merchant of Lon. whose wealth was not small

Was then the third Suitor and proper withall

Her Masters own Son the fourth man must be,

Who swore he would dye for pretty Bessee


And if thou wilt marry with me qd. the Knight,

Ile make thee a Lady with joy and delight

My heart is inthralled by thy beauty,

Then grant me thy favour my pretty Bessee.


The Gentleman said come marry with me,

In silk and in velvet my Bessee shall be

My heart lives distressed O hear me quoth he

And grant me thy love my pretty Bessee.


Let me be thy husband the Merchant did say

thou shalt live in London most gallant and gay

My ship shall bring home rich Jewels for thee

And I will for ever love pretty Bessee


Then Bessee she sighed, and thus she did say

My Father and Mother I mean to obey

First get their good will and be faithfull to me

And you shall enjoy your pretty Bessee.


To every one this answer she made

Wherefore unto her they joyfully said,

this thing to fulfill we all do agree,

But where dwells thy father my pretty Bessee.


My Father quoth she is soon to be seen,

The silly blind begger of Bednal-green,

That daily sits begging for charity,

He is the good Father of pretty Bessee.


His marks and his tokens are known full well,

He alwayes is led with a dog and a bel:

A silly old man God knoweth is he,

Yet he is the Father of pretty Bessee.


Nay then quoth the merchant thou art not for me

Nor quoth the Inholder my wife shalt thou be,

I loath quoth the Gentleman a beggers degree,

Therefore fare you well my pretty Bessee.


Why then quoth the Knight hap better or worse,

I weigh not true love by the weight of thy purse,

and beauty is beauty in every degree,

Then welcome to me my pretty Bessee.


With thee to thy Father forthwith will I go,

Nay soft quoth his Kinsman it must not be so:

A beggers daughter no Lady shall be,

Then take thy adieu of pretty Bessee.


But soon after this by break of the day,

The knight had from Rumford stole Bessee away

The young men of Rumford so sick as maybe,

Rode after to fetch again pretty Bessee


As swift as the wind to ride they were seen,

Untill they came near unto Bednal-green.

And as the Knight lighted most courteously,

They fought against him for pretty Bessee.


But Rescue came presently over the plain,

Or else the Knight for his Love there had bin slain

The fray being ended then straight he did see,

His Kinsman came railing for pretty Bessee


Then speak the blind begger although I be poor,

Raile not against my child at mine own doore,

Though she be not deckt with Velvet and Pearle

Yet will I drop angels with thee for my Girle


and then if my Gold wilt better her birth,

And equal the gold you lay on the earth,

Then neither raile nor grudge you to see

The blind beggers daughter a Lady to be;


But first I will hear and have it well known,

The gold that you drop shall all be your own,

With that they replyed contented we be

Then heres quoth the begger for pretty Bessee


With that an angel he cast on the ground,

and dropped in angels full three thousand pound

and oftentimes it proved most plain,

For the Gentlemans one the begger dropt twain


So as the place whereas they did sit,

With gold was covered every whit,

the Gentleman having dropt all his store,

Said Begger hold for I have no more:


thou hast fulfilled thy promise arright,

then marry my Girle quoth he to this Knight:

and here quoth he Ile throw you down,

A hundred pound more to buy her a Gown:


the gentleman all that this treasure had seen,

Admired the begger of Bednall green

And those that were her suitors before

their flesh for very anger they tore:


thus was their bessee matcht to the nkight:

and made a Lady in others despight,

A fairer Lady was never seen

then the beggers daughter of Bednal green


But of her sumptuous marriage and feast

and what brave Lords & Knights thither was prest

the Second part shall set forth to your sight

With marvellous pleasure and wicked delight:


OF a blind beggers daughter most fair & bright

That late was betrothed unto a young knight

All the discourses thereof you may see,

But now comes the wedding of pretty Bessee.


Within a gallant Palace most brave,

Adorned with all the cost they could have,

This wedding was kept most sumptuously.

And all for the love of pretty Bessee.


All kind of dainties and delicates sweet,

Was brought to their banquet as was thought meet,

Partridge, Plover and Venison most free,

Against the brave wedding of pretty Bessee.


This weding through England was spread by report

So that a great number thereto did resort,

Of Nobles and Gentles of every degree,

And all for the fame of pretty Bessee.


To Church then went this gallant young Knight,

His bride followed after like a Lady most bright,

With Troops of Ladies the like was nere seen,

As went with sweet Bessee of Bednal-green.


This wedding being solemnized then,

With musick perform’d by skilfull men,

The Nobles and Gentiles sate down at that Tide,

Each one beholding the beautifull bride.


But after this sumptuous dinner was done,

To talk and to reason a number begun,

Of the blind beggers daughter most bright,

and what with his daughter he gave to the Knight.


Then speak the Nobles much marvell have we,

The jolly blind begger we cannot here see.

My Lords quoth the bride my fathers so base,

He’s loath with his presence these states to disgrace.


The praise of a woman in question to brin[g]

Before her own face here were a flattering thing.

We think thy fathers basenesse quoth they,

Might by thy beauty be clean put away.


They had no sooner those pleasant words spoke,

But in come the begger in a silken Cloke,

A Velvet cap and a feather had he,

and now a musitian for sooth he would be.


and being led in from catching of harm,

He had a dainty Lute under his arm,

Said please you hear any musick of me,

a song I will sing you of pretty Bessee.


With that his Lute he twanged straightway,

and thereon began most sweetly to play,

and after a Lesson was plaid two to three,

he strain’d out this song most delicately.


A Beggers daughter did dwell on a green

Who for her beauty may well be a Queen

A blyth boony lass and dainty was she,

And many a one called her pretty Bessee,


Her Father had no goods nor no lands,

But beg’d for a penny all day with his hands

and yet for her marriage he gave thousand three

Yet still hath some what for pretty Bessee.


And if any one her birth do disdain

Her Father is ready with might and with main

To prove she is come of a noble degre

Therefore let none flout at my prety Bessee.


With that the Lords and company round

With hearty laughter was ready to soun,

At last said the Lords full well we may see

The bride and the beggers beholding to thee.


With that the bride all blushing did rise,

With the salt water within her fair eyes

Pardon my Father grave Noble quoth she,

That through blind affection thus doteth on me.


If this be thy Father the Nobles did say,

Well may he be proud of this happy day,

Yet by his countenance well we may see,

His birth with his fortune did never agree.


And therefore blind begger we pray thee bewray

And look that the truth to us thou do say,

Thy birth and thy parentage what it might be

Even for the love thou bearest to pretty Bessee.


Then give me leave you Gentiles each one,

A Song more to sing and then Ile be gone,

And if that I do not win good report,

then do not give me a groat for my sport


When first our King his fame did advance,

& fought for his title in delicate France

In many places great perils past he,

But then was not born my pretty bessee


And in those wars went over to fight,

Many a brave Duke a Lord and a Knight,

& with them yong Monford of courage so free,

but then was not born by pretty bessee,


& there did yong Monford by a blow o’th face

Loose both his eyes in a very short space,

His life had also been gone with his sight,

Had not a yong woman come forth in the night


Among the slain men her fancy did move,

to search and to seek for her own true love

Who seeing yong Montford there gasping to ly

she saved his life through her charity.


And then all our victuals in beggers attire,

At hands of good people we then did require,

At last into England as now it is seen,

We came and remained at bednal green.


And thus we have lived in fortunes despight

Though poor yet contented with humble delite

And in my old years a comfort to be

God sent me a daughter cal’d pretty bessee,


And thus you nobles my song I do end,

Hoping the same no man doth offend,

Full forty long winters thus have I been,

A silly blind begger of bednal green


Now when the company every one

Did hear the strange tale in song he had shown

They were all amazed as well they migh[t] be,

Both at the blind begger and pretty Bessee.


With that the fair bride they then did imbrace,

saying, you are come of an honourable Race,

Thy Father likewise of a high degree,

And thou as worthy a Lady to be,


Thus was the feast ended with joy and delight

A happy Bridegroon was made the young Knight

Who lived in joy and felicity,

With his fair Lady pretty Bessee.

Printed for F. Coles, T Vere,/ and W. Gilbertson.

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

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Pavier and partners, 1624 (as 'Blind beggar'); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke,1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Blind Beggar').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: none.

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

No. of extant copies: 10

New tune-titles generated: 'Blind beggar [of Bednal Green]' (5 ballads).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Blind beggar composite on EBBA 37256.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 328 references, including regular evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 132).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 0 + 20 + 10 + 10 + 5 + 15 = 90

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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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