17  The Merchants Daughter of Bristow [Euing 210]

Author: Anonymous

Bodies - clothing Crime - prison Death - execution Emotions - hope Emotions - joy Emotions - love Emotions - sorrow Employment - professions Employment - sailors/soldiers Family - children/parents Family - siblings Gender - courtship Gender - femininity Morality - familial Morality - romantic/sexual Places - English Places - European Places - travel/transport Recreation - music Religion - Catholic/Protestant Religion - clergy Religion - heroism

Song History

The Merchants Daughter of Bristow was popular for around two centuries, following its first publication in the late sixteenth century. It also appeared in A collections of old ballads (edition of 1738). The editor of this work remarked that he did not really like the song but included it at the request of his friends and because of ‘its title to Antiquity’. There was also a transcript of the ballad in the seventeenth-century manuscript that later passed into the hands of Bishop Thomas Percy.

This song was clearly a topic of conversation throughout the period. In Monsieur Thomas, a play written by John Fletcher in the second decade of the seventeenth century, it is one of the ballads that the Fiddler lists when asked what songs are in his current repertoire (from the titles he names, it is ‘the Merchants daughter’ that his companions ask him to perform). In 1656, the song was also mentioned in Samuel Holland’s mock-romance, Don Zara del Fogo. The author’s tongue is firmly in his cheek when he reports that ‘the Merchants daughter of Bristoll’ was one of the ‘heavenly tunes’ that his hero may possibly have sung to steady his nerves during a shipwreck. And in the early eighteenth century, several publishers and editors included a note in which they responded to criticisms recently levelled at the ballad’s representation of the Inquisition’s proceedings in Italy (see Anon and Philips).

Given this level of interest, it also seems possible that the ballad contributed to the frequency with which authors of the seventeenth century chose the name ‘Maudlin’ for attractive women or, more generally, attached the label ‘merchant’s daughter’ to female characters who combined economic and romantic desirability.

Scholars have also identified Maudlin as an important early example of the fictional young woman who dresses as a man in order to follow her sweetheart after he is sent away. Maudlin is not quite a ‘warrior woman’, to use Dianne Dugaw’s term, because she does not go to war but she clearly paved the way for many other ballad-maidens who did find themselves on the battlefield. Indeed, Dugaw identifies The Merchants Daughter (along with a ballad about the soldier, Mary Ambree) as ‘more than idiosyncratic, one-time-only moments in popular song history’.

Fraser Easton has shown that early-modern English women from society’s lower ranks dressed as men in order to seek better employment rather more frequently than we might have imagined. He also argues that they were rarely condemned for doing so. Maudlin’s behaviour may therefore have appealed to consumers as an exotic intensification of a relatively common practice rather than as something that felt utterly unfamiliar.

Beyond this, the cross-dressing dimension of the ballad probably appealed to different types of consumer for different reasons. To some women, it may have encouraged an escapist fantasy with carnivalesque overtones. Others perhaps dreamt of a world in which the resourcefulness, bravery and hard work of ordinary women was recognised. Women and men could all admire Maudlin’s cross-dressing as a sign of her extreme romantic devotion. And to some men, perhaps, it fuelled a fantasy about the dangerous but exciting power of the boundary-busting woman. In many comparable stories, the cross-dressing woman becomes a more or less conventional wife at the end, presumably to reduce the subversive potential of her earlier exploits. Maudlin herself settles down in the final lines, ‘To the joys of all good men’.

It is a characteristic of many of the successful songs featured on this website that they appealed widely because they ticked a number of  boxes at the same time. More generally, disguise and other aspects of identity-play were, of course, hugely important features of early-modern culture, and this aspect of Maudlin’s adventure fits comfortably into this context.

The cross-dressing episode forms only one part of Maudlin’s story, and other aspects of her character must also have appealed to consumers. There is no doubt whatsoever that she is the star of the show, and the expert manner in which she negotiates her relationships with a variety of male authority figures is very striking. She shows a remarkable ability to manage men, using an extensive repertoire of tactics that includes displays of feminine emotion, cunning disguises, strategic lies, instructions to others, and ‘tender kisses’. She makes skilful use of the helpful fact that the male characters all seem to fall in love with her and agree to do her bidding.

And while Maudlin is busy finding ways around all her difficulties, her unnamed sweetheart – though charming – is more often weeping in despair, languishing in prison or telling her to abandon her dreams and go home. In comparison to him, Maudlin is brilliantly resourceful and irrepressibly energetic. Clearly, her combination of constancy, bravery, intelligence and skill struck a chord with several generations of English people (see also A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk).

Christopher Marsh


Anon, Maudlin, the Merchant’s daughter of Bristol (Northampton, c. 1730).

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

Dianne Dugaw, Warrior women in popular balladry 1650-1850 (Chicago and London, 1996), particularly pp. 44 and 48.

Fraser Easton, ‘Gender’s two bodies: women warriors, female husbands and plebeian life’, Past and present 180 (August, 2003), pp. 131-74.

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

John Fletcher, Monsieur Thomas a comedy (composed 1610-16; published 1639), G4v-H1r.

Samuel Holland, Don Zara del Fogo a mock-romance (1656), K4r.

Thomas Percy, Bishop Percy’s folio manuscript: ballads and romances, ed. John W. Hales and Frederick James Furnivall, 3 vols. (1867-68), vol. 3, pp. 374-84.

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. 1692 and 1707-09.

Ambrose Philips, A collection of old ballads (1723; edition of 1738), vol. 3, pp. 201-11.

Warren E. Roberts, ‘Ballad themes in The fair maid of the west’, Journal of American folklore, vol. 68, no. 267 (Jan-Mar 1955), pp. 19-23.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud number 892).

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘the Maidens joy’ (standard name)

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 endeavored 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 not been able to find any musical notation for this melody. Ross Duffin suggests that ‘The maiden’s joy’ was ‘a gradual and inadvertent distortion’ of ‘Munday’s Joy’, a tune for which notation can be found. This seems unlikely, however; the elongated second lines of each verse do not fit the tune at all comfortably. We have not therefore provided a recording.

Echoes (an overview)

It is somewhat surprising, given the popularity of the song, that no other ballads were apparently set to the melody. This can probably be related to the unusual metrical structure of the text: the second line of each verse is unusually long and the tune that enabled it to be sung cannot have been suitable for many other texts. In the circumstances, it is impossible to present information on the mobility of this melody. As far as we can tell, it was tied to this particular text.

Songs and Summaries

The Merchants Daughter of Bristow. The tune is, the Maidens joy (registered 1595; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 210; EBBA 31670. Gender – courtship, femininity; Family – children/parents, siblings; Emotions – love, hope, sorrow, joy; Morality – romantic/sexual, familial; Religion – Catholic/Protestant, heroism, clergy; Bodies – clothing; Death – execution, prison; Employment – professions, sailors/soldiers; Places – English, European, travel/transport; Recreation – music. Maudlin’s family obstructs her marriage plans, and when her sweetheart flees to Italy in despair, she disguises herself as a man and goes after him, only to find that he is in prison awaiting death as a heretic – her efforts to rescue him fail but eventually the local authorities, so impressed by the couple’s mutual devotion, set them both free.


There is no evidence to suggest that the tune was used on any white-letter ballads or for the singing of texts that appeared in printed books.

Christopher Marsh


Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), pp. 348-9.

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Related Texts

Certain ballads of the eighteenth century seem to have been categorised as revised versions of The Merchants Daughter, despite the fact that their narratives are significantly different in numerous particulars. The Wandering Shepherdess and even the promisingly named Bristol garland, Or, The Merchant’s daughter of Bristol are in this category. They have the same Roud number (see Vaughan Williams Memorial Library) but cannot really be considered updated versions of our hit song. The relationship between The Merchants Daughter and Thomas Heywood’s play, The fair maid of the west is similarly vague.

Other ballads show a somewhat closer relationship to The Merchants Daughter. The Bristol Bridegroom; Or, The Ship-Carpenter’s Love to the Merchant’s Daughter, for example, opens in similar fashion, though its narrative subsequently diverges from that of the earlier song (the lovers end up on the same ship, and the woman, disguised as a man, nurses her unsuspecting sweetheart back to health after he sustains an injury). Overall, it seems likely that many early-modern ballads about separated sweethearts and cross-dressing women were composed under the influence of The Merchants Daughter, a very early and very successful example, but few if any subsequent songs followed its contours precisely.

More obviously relevant is a ‘droll’ (a comic piece for performance, sometimes involving puppets) that seems to have enjoyed considerable success in the first half of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, the text does not appear to have survived but several printed advertisements of the period announce imminent performances of The true and ancient history of Maudlin, the Merchants Daughter of Bristol, and her constant lover Antonio (see Ashton, Douglas-Irvine and the New York Weekly Journal, below). This composition was staged, for example, at May Fair (London) some time before 1714, during Southwark Fair in 1734 and in ‘A Large Theatrical Room’ in New York during the autumn of 1749. There must also have been other productions that have not left documentary traces.

From these advertisements, we can piece together certain details of the droll. It was clearly an expanded version of the ballad story, transformed into a much longer and more elaborate dramatic performance. In the revised narrative, Maudlin still disguises herself as a man and follows her lover, now named for the first time, to Italy, but a shipwreck off the coast of Algiers on the way home is introduced to the story, and the lovers’ trial for heresy is now at the hands of a Muslim ‘king’ in North Africa rather than the Italian Inquisition. Luckily, the king falls in love with Maudlin (who doesn’t?) and the death sentence is not carried out.

The performers of this droll clearly played it for laughs. The Southwark advertisement promises ‘the comical humours of Roger, Antonio’s man’ and the New York show was staged by ‘Punch’s Company of Comedians’, evidently a well-known group. The American production also involved an ‘admirable piece of mechanism’ that was ‘entirely of a new invention’ (this probably indicates the use of mechanical figures). At May Fair in London, there was glamour as well as comedy; just before the shipwreck that nearly killed Maudlin and Antonio, ‘Mermaids were seen floating on the Seas, and Singing on the Rock, fortelling their danger’.

Music was clearly a big part of these productions, and those attending at May Fair were also promised entertainment ‘after the manner of an Opera, with extraordinary variety of Singing and Dancing’. Those who wished to attend were advised, ‘The Place will be known by the Balcone adorn’d with Blue Pillars twisted with Flowers’. It promised to be quite a show.

It seems clear that the droll simultaneously capitalised on the popularity of the ballad and treated it with a measure of mockery. Without the text, it is difficult to know what this tells us about the status of the song over a century after its first appearance.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

The Merchants Daughter of Bristow. The tune is, the Maidens joy (first registered 1595).

Anon, The true and ancient history of Maudlin, the Merchants Daughter of Bristol, and her constant lover Antonio (lost droll, early eighteenth century).

The Bristol Bridegroom; Or, The Ship-Carpenter’s Love to the Merchant’s Daughter (Edinburgh, 1776).


John Ashton, Social life in Queen Anne’s reign, 2 vols. (1882), vol. 1, p. 261

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

Helen Douglas-Irvine, Extracts relating to mediaeval markets and fairs in England (London, 1912), pp. 54-62.

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

New York Weekly Journal (16 October 1749). Available at:  http://www.cdss.org/elibrary/PacanNew/CITATION/C0128/C0128567.htm

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud number 892).

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The Merchants Daughter of Bristow.

The tune is, the Maidens joy.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


BEhold the Touchstone of true Love,

Maudlin the Merchants daughter of Bristow Town,

Whose firm affection nothing could move,

This favor bears the lovely brown.

A gallant youth was dwelling by:

Which many years had born this maiden great good wil

She loved him so faithfully,

But all her friends withstood it still,

The young man now perceiving well,

He could not get nor win the favour of her friends,

The force of sorrow to expell,

To view strange Countryes he intends,

And now to take his last farewell,

Of his true love his fair and constant Maudlin,

With Musick sweet that did excell,

He plaid under her window then,

Farewell quoth he my own true Love,

Farewell my dear and chiefest Treasure of my heart,

Through fortunes spight that false did prove,

I am inforc’d from thee to part,

Into the Land of Italy,

There will I wail and weary out my life in wo,

Seeing my true Love is kept from me.

I hold my life a mortall foe,

Fair Bristow Town therefore adiew,

For Padua shall be my habitation now,

Although my Love doth rest in thee.

To whom alone my heart I vow,

With trickling tears thus did he sing,

With sighs and sobs discending from his heart full sore,

He said when he his hands did wring,

Farewell sweet Love for evermore,

Fair Maudlin from a window high,

Beholding her true Love with Musick where he stood.

But not a word she dirst reply,

Fearing her Parents angry mood.

In tears she spent that wofull night,

Wishing her self though naked with her faithfull Friend

She blames her friends and fortunes spight,

That wrought her love such luckless end.

And in her heart she made a vow,

Clean to forsake her country and her kindred all,

And for to follow her true love.

To abide all chance that might befall

The night is gone and the day is come.

And in the morning very early did she rise,

She gets her down into a lower Room,

Where sundry Seamen she espyes.

A gallant Master among them all,

The Master of a great and goodly ship was he,

Who there was waiting in the Hall,

To speak with her Father if it might be,

She kindly takes him by the hand,

Good sir said she and would you speak with any here,

Quoth he fair Maid therefore I do stand,

Then gentle sir I pray draw neer.

Into a pleasant parlor by,

With hand in hand she brings the Seaman all alone,

Sighing to him most piteously,

She thus to him did make her moan,

She falls upon her tender knee,

Good sir said she now pitty you a womans wo,


And prove a faithfull friend to me;

That I to you my grief may show,

Sith you repose your trust he said,

In me who am unknown and eke a stranger here,

Be you assur’d most proper maid,

Most faithfull still I will appear,

I have a brother then quoth she,

Whom as my life I love and favor tenderly.

In Padua alas is he,

Full sick God wot and like to dye,

Full fain I would my brother see,

But that my Father will not yield to let me go,

Therefore good sir be good to me,

And unto me this favour show;

Some ship boyes Garment bring to me,

That I disguis’d may go unknown,

And unto Sea Ile go with thee.

If thus much favour might be shown,

Fair maid quoth he take here my hand,

I will fulfil each thing that you desire,

And set you safe in that same Land.

And in that place that you require.

She gave him then a tender kiss,

And saith to him your servant Master will I be;

And prove your faithfull friend for this,

Sweet master then for get not me,

This done as they had both agreed,

Soon after that before the break of day,

He brings her garments then with speed,

Therein her self she did array,

And ere her Father did arise,

She meets her Master as he walked in the hall.

She did attend on him likewise,

Until her Father did him call,

But ere the Merchant made an end,

Of all his weighty matters he had then to say,

His wife came weeping in with speed,

Saying our Daughters gone away,

The Merchant then amaz’d in mind,

Yonder vile wretch intic’d away my child quoth she,

But I well wot I shall him find

At padua in Italy

With that bespake their master brave

Wo, shipfull merchant thither goes this pretty youth,

And any thing that you would crave,

he will performe and write the truth,

Sweet youth quoth he if it be so,

Bear me a leter to the English merchant ther

and gold on thee I will bestow,

My daughters welfare I do fear,

her mother took her by the hand,

Fair youth quoth she if ere thou dost my daughter see,

Let me therefore soon understand,

and there is twenty crowns for thee,

Thus through the daughters strange disguise,

The mother knew not when she spake unto her child,

and after her master straight she hyes,

Taking her leave with countenance mild,

Thus to Sea fair Maudlins gone,

With her gentle master God send them a merry wind.

Where we a while must let them alone,

Till you the second part do find,


WElcome sweet Maudlin from the Seas,

where bitter storms and tempests do arise

The pleasant banks of Italy

You may behold with mortall eyes

Thanks gentle master then said she,

A faithful friend in sorrow thou hast been,

If fortune once do smile on me.

My gentle heart shall soon be seen.

blest be the land that feeds my love

blest be the place whereas his person doth abide

No triall will I stick to prove

Whereby my true=love may be tri’d.

Now will I walk with joy full heart

To view the town whereas my darling doth remain

And seek him out in every part,

Untill his sight I do obtain.

And I quoth he wil not forsake.

Sweet Maudlin in her sorrows up and down

In wealth or wo thy part ile take,

And bring thee safe to padua town

And after many weary steps

In Padua they safe arrived at the last

For very joy her heart it leaps

She thinks not on her sorrows past

Condemn’d to die he was alas

Except he would from his Religion turn,

but rather then he would to masse

In fiery flames he vow’d to burn.

Now doth sweet Maudlin weep and wail,

Her joy is turn’d to weeping sorrow grief and care,

For nothing could her plaints prevail,

For death alone must be his share.

She walks under the prison walls

Where her true love did lie and languish in distresse

When wofully for food he calls

When hunger did his heart oppresse.

He sighs and sobs and makes great moan,

Farewell sweet love for ev[e]rmore

And all my friends that have me known,

In bristow town with wealth and store,

but most of all farewell quoth he

My own sweet Maudlin whom I left behind.

For never more thou shalt me see.

Wo to thy father most unkind,

How well were I if thou wert here

With thy fair hands to close these my wretched eies

My torments easie would appear

My soul with joy should scale the Skies.

When Maudlin heard her Lovers moan

her eies with tears her heart with sorrow filled was

To speak with him no mea[ns?] was known

Such grievous doom on him did passe.

Then she put off her lads attire

her maidens weed upon her back she seemly set

To the judges house she did inquire.

And there she did a service get

She did her duty there so well

Ant eke so prudently she did herself behave

With her in love her master fell,

his servants favour he doth crave,

Maudlin quoth he my hearts delight,

To whom my heart in affection is tied,

breed not my death through thy despight,

A faithfull friend thou shalt me find

O grant me thy love fair maid quoth he

And at my hands desire what thou canst devise

And I will grant it unto thee

Where by thy credit may arise.


I have a brother sir said she

For his Religion is now condemn’d to dye..

In loathsome prison he is cast

Opprest with grief and misery

Grant me my brother life she said

And now to you my love and liking will I give

that may not be quoth he fair maid

Except he turn he cannot live

an English Fryer there is she said

Of learning great and [p]assing pure of life

Let him to my brother be sent

and he will finish soon thr strife.

Her master granted her request

The Marriner in Friars weed she did array

And to her love that lay distrest

She did a letter soon convey,

When he had read these gentle lines

his heart was ravished with present joy

Where now she is full well he knew

The Fryar likewise was not coy

but did declare to him at large

The enterprize his love for him had taken in hand

The youngman did the Fryar charge

His love should straight depart the land

here is no place for her he said,

But wofull death and danger of her life,

Professing truth I was betraid.

And fearfull flames must end the strife.

For ere I will my faith deny

and swear my self to falow damned anti-christ

Ile yield my body for to die.

To live in heaven with the highest

O sir the gentle Frier said

A wofull match quoth he is amnde

Where Christ is left to Win a Wife.

When she had us’d all means she might

To save his life and yet all Would not be,

then of the judge she claimd her right

to die the death as well as he.

When no perswasion could prevail

Nor change her mind in any thing that she had said

She was with him condemn’d to dye

and for them both one fire was made.

Ye arm in arm most joyfully

these lovers twain unto the fire did go

The Marriner most faithfully

Was likewise partner of this wo.

but when the judges understood

The faithfull friendship did in them remain

they sav’d their lives and afterwards

to England sent them back again

Now was their sorrow turn’d to joy

and faithfull lovers have their herts desire

their paine so well they did imploy

God granted that they did desire.

and when they did to England come

and in merry bristow arrived at the last

Great joy there was to all and some

That heard the dangers they had past

Her father he was dead Got wot

and eke her mother was joyfull at her sight

Their wishes she denied not.

but wedded them to hearts delight.

Her gentle master she desired

to be her father and at church to give her then

It was fulfil’d as she requir’d

Unto the joyes of all good men.


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 'Maudline of Bristow'); Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 ('Maudlin').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1595.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 16

No. of extant copies: 14

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 41 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 892).

POINTS: 0 + 30 + 5 + 32 + 14 + 0 + 0 + 4 = 85

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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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