29  A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord,/ and a Vertuous Lady [Euing 197]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord

Bodies - injury Bodies - looks/physique Crime - murder Crime - rape Death - suicide Death - unlawful killing Emotions - fear Emotions - hatred Emotions - horror Environment - animals Environment - buildings Environment - landscape Family - children/parents Gender - femininity Gender - marriage Gender - masculinity Gender - sexual violence Places - European Recreation - hunting Violence - interpersonal Violence - self-inflicted Violence - sexual

Song History

Remarkably, this song appears to have held a prominent place in English culture from its first registration in 1569-70 until its final appearances in the early nineteenth century. It was published in broadside form, first in London and then in other British cities, but it also appeared in song collections and as a short booklet entitled The Blackamoor in the Wood. Many hit songs of the seventeenth century faded in the subsequent period but A Lamentable ballad bucked this trend. In fact, a higher number of surviving broadside editions date from the eighteenth century than from the seventeenth.

Presumably, the development of the slave trade and the consequent increase in the number of black ‘servants’ in Britain across the early-modern period meant that the song’s topicality escalated rather than diminished. In the 1560s, there were few slaves in wealthy English households and the ballad was therefore an exotic horror story, set reassuringly ‘In Rome’. By 1750, slave-servants were highly fashionable, and the song about the black man in the white family who turned viciously on his owners probably appealed not for its remoteness but for its negatively-imagined immediacy.

This ballad might also be considered in relation to the development of racial prejudices and stereotypes in England between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Although there is evidence of ‘Black Tudors’ who appear to have been relatively well integrated within English society, the ballad is clearly connected with the historically dominant counter-narrative in which black skin was associated with wickedness and danger. In the ballad, the ‘Blackamoore’ is described in terms that are almost entirely negative. He is called, for example, ‘filthy’, ‘vile’, ‘cruel’, ‘wicked’, ‘egregious’ ‘heathenish’ and ‘savage’ while also being labelled ‘wretch’, ‘villain’ and ‘rogue’. He is powerfully contrasted with the perfect European nobleman whose wife and children are all described as ‘fair’ in the opening verse. The only positive characteristic attributed to the ‘blackamoore’ in the ballad is his ‘swiftness’, useful to the master during hunting trips. It is striking that an association between black skin and athletic ability had already registered in the minds of the Elizabethan ballad-makers. A Lamentable ballad, popular through such a crucial period in the history of race relations, thus played its part in stimulating and consolidating a negative stereotype.


Anon, The Blackamoor in the Wood (Glasgow, 1802).

Anon, A collection of old ballads, 2 vols. (1723), vol. 2, pp. 151-57.

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

Kathleen Chater, Untold histories. Black people in England and Wales during the period of the British slave trade, c. 1660-1807 (Manchester, 2009).

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Thomas Evans, Old ballads, historical and narrative, 4 vols. (1784), vol. 4, pp. 250-58.

Peter Fryer, Staying power. The history of black people in Britain (1984; 2018).

Patricia Fumerton, The broadside ballad in early modern England. Moving media, tactical publics (Philadelphia, 2020), ch. 8.

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

Justyna Giernatowska, ‘De las chronique à la politique. L’histoire du maure cruel entre le moyen âge et le XVII siècle’, Folia litteraria Romanica, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Lodzkiego, 2015, Pluralité de cultures: chances ou menaces? 1.9, pp. 17-30: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01186077

Miranda Kaufmann, Black Tudors. The untold story (2017).

Donatella Pallotti, ‘“A most detestable crime”. Representations of rape in the popular press of early modern England’, Lingue e letterature d’Oriente e d’Occidente 1.1 (2012), pp. 287-302

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.1234, 2542 and 2677.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud number V791).

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Featured Tune History

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

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

Versions and variations

This enduring Elizabethan tune came to be known variously as ‘In Peascod time’, ‘The Ladies fall’, ‘The Brides buriall’, ‘Bateman’, ‘John True’ and ‘Help Lords and Commons’. Notation can be found in several sources, most of them from the early seventeenth century. A printed version appears in Anthony Holborn’s Cittharn School (1597), and surviving manuscripts include several settings for either cittern or virginals. Examples can be found, for example, in Robert Creighton’s virginal book and the cittern partbook held at Mills College in California. Some of the greatest composers of the age, including William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, wrote instrumental arrangements, and it is clear that this melody was exceptionally well known. Our recording of A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady uses the tune as it appears in Gibbons’ arrangement for virginals.

Echoes (an overview)

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

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

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

The female characters in all these ballads, though united by their melody and their suffering, cover quite a range, including a roughly equal mixture of impeccably virtuous women, good women who make mistakes, and women who are predominantly wicked (though some of them repent their sins before death). They all come to suffer but some are to blame and others are blameless. The tune must have come to suggest both possibilities, setting up some interesting relationships between the different songs. A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord features a woman of impeccable virtue who, along with her family, suffers horrific abuse.

Female pain was thus the tune’s primary domain but it was also used repeatedly in a second area. A Warninge to Worldlings to learne them to dye is the first surviving example from a series of ballads that nominated the tune for texts that disseminated moral rules, urged people to prepare for death or, more occasionally, told stories from the Bible or from Christian legend. It also, therefore, came to possess religious undertones that must have interacted with and reinforced the songs about suffering women. Only two of the ballads listed below are clearly outliers with no strong connection to either theme (see The Lawyers Plea and the very peculiar Lamentation of a bad Market).

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

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

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

Songs and Summaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy; OR, The Step-Mothers Cruelty... To the Tune of, The Ladies Fall (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Pepys 2.149; EBBA 20767. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, execution; Violence – interpersonal; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Gender – femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial; Emotions – hatred, anger, sorrow; Recreation – food; Employment – crafts/trades. A beautiful young lady is cruelly murdered by her jealous step-mother and the household’s master-cook, but an honest scullion boy reveals the truth and both killers are executed – the woman is burnt at the stake and the man is boiled in oil.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Orlando Gibbons, Complete Keyboard works, ed. M. H. Glyn, 5 vols. (1925), vol. 2, p. 14.

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

Anthony Holborn, Cittharn School (1597), C1v.

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

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

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

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

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

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Tragical end composite

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, clearly designed very specifically for this particular song, has not been found on any other ballad in the two largest collections. The only song listed below is therefore our featured edition, taken from the Euing collection.

The woodcut was used so frequently on editions of A Lamentable ballad  in the second half of the seventeenth century that it must have been an important component in the song’s long-lived success. There were several subtly different woodblocks in existence, and copycat-carvers were still at work during the eighteenth century. Several printers clearly perceived the value in holding their own versions of the block in stock. The original and anonymous artist concentrated on the ballad’s bloodiest moments while also alluding to the hunting trip that led to such cruelty (and the ducks in the moat are a nice touch). The female figure dropping from the battlements connects with a crucial moment in the narrative and with the tune title, ‘The Ladies fall’.

Songs and summaries

A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 197; EBBA 31955. Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity, sexual violence; Crime – murder, rape; Violence – interpersonal, sexual, self-inflicted; Death – unlawful killing, suicide; Emotions – horrow, hatred, fear; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals, buildings, landscape; Bodies – looks/physique, injury; Places – European. When a nobleman goes on a hunting trip, an aggrieved servant – ‘a Heathenish Blackamoor’ – exacts terrible revenge on his wife and family (picture placement: the scene appears beneath the title, and there is no other woodcut).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

It has not previously been pointed out that A Lamentable ballad was clearly based on one of the many ‘novelle’ (stories) published in Italy by the Dominican friar, Matteo Bandello, in 1554. Our song, apparently written in the 1560s, thus deserves attention as an early English example of the successful transposition of a Bandello text into a new format for a broad market in England. Of course, later transpositions are more famous, including Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing, Twelfth night and Romeo and Juliet.

Intriguingly, no contemporary English translation of the relevant Bandello story has so far been found, raising the possibility that the ballad-makers who composed our song could either read Italian or knew somebody else with the necessary skill. Alternatively, there were texts that are now lost, either printed or in manuscript. Bandello’s story and the ballad narrative are so similar that there is little doubting the close relationship between them (shared details include the tower, the drawbridge, the hunting trip, the rape and the ‘dashing’ of the children’s heads ‘against the wall’). The use of the term ‘novell’ in the Stationers’ record of registration in 1569-70 may also be significant.

There are some differences, however. Bandello’s tale is set in Majorca but the ballad-makers move it to Rome, perhaps because of the appeal that Italian culture held for many Elizabethans (this was not the only ballad that opened, ‘In Rome...’). Bandello makes it clear that the blackamore’s quest for revenge was stimulated by a very severe beating but the ballad-makers seem to imply instead that the master’s attempt to ‘correct’ his servant was conventional and justifiable, though bitterly resented by its target. Perhaps this change was intended to silence any suggestion that the blackamore may have had a valid grievance. Three sons in Bandello’s account become two children in the ballad, and the blackamore’s rape of his mistress is less explicit in the song than in the prose text.

Moreover, Bandello identifies the gentleman at the centre of the narrative as Rinieri Ervizzano but the ballad includes no names. In Bandello's story, the gentleman lives on in torment at the end but the ballad’s ‘gallant lord’ dies of grief. It is also notable that the term ‘slave’ is not used by the ballad-makers, perhaps because it was not normally applied to household employees in England. Lastly, Bandello draws out the lessons from his story more fully than do the slightly later song-writers. He advises readers to avoid slaves ‘of this sort’ because of ‘the inexorable ferocity which reigneth in them’. Presumably, the relative rarity of black slaves in mid-Elizabethan England may have rendered this advice superfluous in the ballad.

Most of the other changes made by the ballad-makers are reductions of the original text, necessitated by shortage of space on a single page. Given the pressure to abbreviate, it is interesting that the ballad opens with a detailed introduction to the nobleman’s family that is not found in Bandello’s version. The perfect family – fair, sensitive and devoted – is skilfully set up at the outset so that the subsequent downfall of the entire unit is all the more shocking. This may tell us something about the taste of English consumers for household tragedy.

Bandello claimed to have heard the story from ‘certain Catalans’ but he also noted that Giovanni Pontano (1426-1503) had published an earlier version in Latin. Pontano was an Italian humanist, and his rendition of the Majorcan narrative appears in his treatise, De obedientia (c. 1470). Strikingly, Pontano frames his version as a warning to wealthy men about the dangers of punishing miscreant slaves with excessive violence, a moral that is downplayed by Bandello and dropped completely by the English ballad-makers. Within the context that Pontano establishes, one of the moor’s acts of vengeance – forcing the  master to cut his own nose off – might be seen as purposefully symbolic. The amputation of noses was available to magistrates as a judicial punishment in ancient and medieval Europe, so the angry moor is making a point about the operation of justice. And Pontano had his sources too; Justyna Giernatowska has tracked examples of the story about the ‘cruel moor’ in various countries from the tenth century onwards.

Much later, short versions of the tale also appeared in early seventeenth-century English texts entitled A world of wonders (1607) and The treasurie of auncient and moderne times (1613). The first of these, translated from a French publication, cites Pontano as its source. The second identifies no source but seems to show traces of Bandello’s account. The author follows Bandello, for example, in warning about the dangers of relying on black slaves. It does not seem possible to discern any direct relationship between the Jacobean summaries and the contemporary ballad, beyond the fact that they tell the same story.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Giovanni Pontano, Joviani Pontani de obedientia, ad Robertum, principem Salernitanum (1470), fos. 43r-44r. Quoted in full by Justyna Giernatowska (see below for reference).

Matteo Bandello, La terza parte de le novelle del Bandello (Luca, 1554), story 21. An English translation can be read in The novels of Matteo Bandello, tr. John Payne, 6 vols. (1890), vol. 5, pp. 272-78.

A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady... To the tune of The Ladies fall (first registered, 1569-70).

Henri Estienne, A world of wonders (1607), p. 164.

Anon, The treasurie of auncient and moderne times (1613), pp. 134-35.


Steven A. Epstein, Speaking of slavery: color, ethnicity and human bondage in Italy (Ithaca, 2018), pp. 44-45.

Patricia Fumerton, The broadside ballad in early modern England. Moving media, tactical publics (Philadelphia, 2020), ch. 8.

Justyna Giernatowska, ‘De las chronique à la politique. L’histoire du maure cruel entre le moyen âge et le XVII siècle’, Folia litteraria Romanica, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Lodzkiego, 2015, Pluralité de cultures: chances ou menaces? 1.9, pp. 17-30: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01186077

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.1234, 2542 and 2677.

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A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a/ Vertuous Lady, with the untimely end of their two children, wickedly performed by a Heathenish Blacka-/moor their servant, the like never heard of before. 

To the tune of, The Ladies fall.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IN Rome a Noble man did wed

a Virgin of great Fame,

A fairer Creature never did

Dame nature ever frame,

By whom he had two children fair,

whose beauty did excell,

They were their Parents only joy

they lov’d them both so well.


The Lord he lov’d to hunt the Buck

the Tyger and the Bear,

And still for swiftness alwayes took

with him a Blackamore.

Which Blackamoor within the wood

his Lord he did offend,

For which he did him then correct,

in hope he would amend.


The day it grew unto an end,

then homeward he did haste

Where with his Lady he did rest

until the night was past,

Then in the morning he did rise,

and did his servants call,

A hunting he provides to go

streight they were ready all.


Cause of the toyl his Lady did

intreat him not to go,

Alas good Lady then quoth he,

why art thou grieved so?

Content thy self I will return

with speed to thee again,

Good Father quoth the little Babes,

with us here still remain.


Farewell dear Children, I will go

a fine thing you to buy.

But they therewith nothing content

aloud began to cry.

The Mother takes them by the hand,

saying, come go with me,

Unto the highest tower where

your Father you shall see.


The Blackamoor perceiving now

who then did stay behind,

His Lord to be a hunting gone

began to call to mind;

My Master he did me correct,

my fault not being great;

Now of his wife Ile be reveng’d

she shall not me intreat.


The place was moted round about,

the Bridge he up did draw:

The Gates he bolted very fast

of none he stood in awe

He up into the tower went

the Lady being there,

Who when she saw his countenance grim

she straight began to fear.


But now my trembling heart it quakes

to think what I must write;

My sences all begin to faile

my soul it doth affright.

Yet must I make an end of this

which here I have begun:

Which will make sad the hardest heart

before that I have done.


This wretch unto the Lady went

and her with speed did will,

His lust forthwith to satisfie

his mind for to fulfill.

The Lady she amazed was

to hear the Villain speak,

Alas quoth she what shall I do

with grief my heart will break?


With that he took her in his arms

she straight for help did cry,

Content your self Lady he said

your Husband is not nigh.

The bridge is drawn, the gates are shut

therefore come lye with me,

Or else I do protest and vow

thy Butcher I will be.


The Christal tears ran down her face

her children cryd amain:

And sought to help their Mother dear

but all it was in vain.

For that Egregious filthy Rogue,

her hands behind her bound,

And then perforce with all his might,

he threw her on the ground.


The second part to the same tune.


WIth that she shrikt, her children cryd

and such a noise did make,

The towns=folks, hearing her laments,

did seek their parts to take.

But all in vain no way they found,

to help the Ladies need.

Who cry’d to them most pitiously

O help, O help with speed.


Some ran into the Forest wide,

her Lord home for to call,

And they that stood still did lament

this gallant Ladies fall.

With speed her Lord came posting home

he could not enter in,

His Lady’s cryes did pierce his heart,

to call he did begin.


O hold thy hand, thou Savage Moor,

to hurt her do forbear,

Or else be sure if I do live

wild horses shall thee tear:

With that the Rogue ran to the wall,

he having had his will.

And brought one child under his arm

his dearest blood to spill.


The child seeing his Father there

to him for help did call,

O Father help my Mother dear

we shall be killed all:

Then fell the Lord upon his knee,

and did the Moor intreat,

To save the life of his poor child,

whose fear as then was great,


But this vile wretch, the little child,

by both the heels did take,

And dash the brains against the wall,

whilst Parents heart did ake.

That being done straightway he ran

the other child to fetch.

And pluckt it from the Mothers brest,

most like a cruel wretch.


Within one hand a knife he brought

the child within another,

And holding it over the wall,

saying, thus dye shall thy Mother:

With that he cut the throat of it,

then to the Father did call,

To look how he the head had cut,

then down the head did fall.


This done, he threw it down the wall,

into the Mote so deep,

Which made his Father wring his hands

and grievously to weep.

Then to the Lady went this Rogue,

who was near dead with fear,

Yet this vile wretch most cruelly

did drag her by the hair.


And drew her to the very wall

which when her Lord did see

Then presently he cryed out,

and fell upon his knee.

Quoth he if thou wilt save her life

whom I do love so dear,

I will forgive thee all is past,

though they concern me near,


O save her life I thee beseech,

O save her I thee pray!

And I will give thee what thou wilt

demand of me this day.

Well quoth the Moor I do regard

the moan that thou dost make,

If thou wilt grant me what I ask

Ile save her for thy sake.


O save her Life and then demand

of me what thing thou wilt,

Cut off thy Nose, and not one drop

of her blood shall be spilt.

With that the Lord presently took

a knife within his hand,

And then his nose he quite cut off

in place where he did stand,


Now have I bought my Ladies life,

then to the Moor did call,

Then take her quoth this wicked rogue

and down he let her fall.

Which when her gallant Lord did see,

his sences all did fail

Yet many sought to save her  [‘his’ in later editions] life

yet nothing would prevail.


When as the Moor did see him dead,

then did he laugh amain,

At them who for their gallant Lord

and Lady did complain.

Quoth he I know you’l torture me

if that you can me get,

But all your threats I do not fear

nor yet regard one whit.


Wild horses shall my body tear,

I know it to be true,

But Ile prevent you of that pain

and down himself he threw,

Too good a death for such a wretch

a Villain void of fear,

And thus doth end as sad a tale

as ever man did hear.


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 'In Rome a noble man did wed' from first line); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Blackamore & the Lady').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1569-70.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 11

No. of extant copies: 9

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Tragical end composite on featured edition (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 40 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V791).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 22 + 9 + 0 + 5 + 4 = 75

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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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