57  The Shepherd and the King, and of Gillian the Shepherds Wife, with her churlish Answer [Euing 332]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: The Shepherd and the King

Bodies - clothing Bodies - nourishment Economy - hardship/poverty Economy - household Economy - prices/wages Emotions - anger Emotions - anxiety Emotions - confusion Emotions - joy Employment - agrarian Employment - apprenticeship/service Employment - female Environment - animals Environment - buildings Gender - femininity Gender - marriage Gender - masculinity History - medieval Humour - deceit/disguise Humour - domestic/familial Humour - extreme situations/surprises Humour - misunderstanding Humour - mockery Places - English Places - travel/transport Politics - Royalist Politics - court Politics - obedience Recreation - food Recreation - music Royalty - incognito Royalty - praise Society - rich/poor Society - rural life Violence - interpersonal

Song History

The Shepherd and the King was issued regularly for roughly two hundred years, apparently beginning in the 1570s (Rollins). It also appeared more occasionally in published song-collections (see A collection of old ballads). The song was clearly much-loved, and the theme of the incognito medieval king mixing with rustic commoners is also explored in two of the other titles on this website (see A pleasant new Ballad of the Miller of Mansfield and A pleasant new Ballad betweene King Edward the fourth, and a Tanner of Tamworth).

Why was this such a successful story-line? Early-modern people were reminded frequently by clergymen and others that the social hierarchy was divinely ordained and that everyone had a responsibility to accept their assigned station without complaint. Most English men and women never encountered any of the monarchs who topped the earthly hierarchy but they were nonetheless expected to recognise that kings and queens ruled by divine right. We cannot be sure how the majority of people responded to such expectations but the emphasis placed on extreme and divinely-validated inequality clearly fed an interest in songs and other sources that opened up a space for thinking about this pulpit platitude in playful and creative ways. The device of setting the scene in a vague and distant fantasy-past may also have helped to free the imagination.

Within this context, The Shepherd and the King was probably successful because it inverted or at least flattened normal social relations, thus giving the man at the top a taste of life towards the bottom and perhaps encouraging a fleetingly sceptical attitude to the claim that social rank was fixed and natural. The ballad, by bringing the king and the commoner face to face, emphasised their different manners and habits while also suggesting the possibility of some sort of underlying equality. Moreover, it licensed the lowly – admittedly under special circumstances - to ruffle the feathers of the super-rich, and many must have enjoyed the barrage of pejorative terms that the shepherd fired at the king (‘thief’, ‘Roister’, ‘prodigal’, ‘beggar basely born’, ‘knave’).

Furthermore, the ballad, by depicting a tumbling king and a rising shepherd, explored the kind of radical social and material transformation that was not supposed to happen. There was, of course, a fantastical element to all this, and fittingly the song is set in Robin Hood country. Consumers could choose between one dream of social subversion and another of extraordinary paternalistic reward. In keeping with the latter possibility, the ballad also humanised the monarch, presenting him as patient, good-humoured and generous. The conservative implications of this last point are obvious, reminding us again that there were many ways in which a ballad might be sung, heard and processed.

For most people, this may well have been an escapist song that reinforced the social hierarchy by inverting it temporarily and then restoring it to its proper position, but there were always other possibilities. As in so many ballads, the issues are up for debate and we are all encouraged to adopt a position.

Nowadays, scholars are not often impressed by the literary quality of early-modern ballad-writing. This is an attitude that they share with the period’s more refined authors, most of whom were much more likely to mock or ignore balladry than to praise it. During the eighteenth century, however, songs that had stood the test of time were often cherished by the learned, and the editor of A collection of old ballads described The Shepherd and the King as ‘one of the best Pastorals that ever was written in the English Tongue’ (an interesting point because Rochelle Smith characterises king-commoner ballads written before 1600 as a kind of anti-pastoral).

In the light of such high praise for a low form, perhaps we should note the skill with which a well-worn narrative was delivered by the anonymous ballad-makers. The lyrics fit the tune with admirable precision, and some of the writing can still raise a smile. Take, for example, the shepherd’s commendation of his wife: ‘For she’s as good a toothless dame/ as mumbleth on brown bread’. The song connects at numerous points with other ballads about kings-and-commoners, providing listeners with points of reference, but it is also a distinctive contribution to the genre. And several episodes in the story – the wife’s haranguing of the king for burning the bread, for example – were well-designed to stick in the mind.

Indeed, the ballad can probably be credited with helping to establish and popularise the story about King Alfred and the burnt cakes (see Related texts). Today, this is perhaps the only ‘fact’ about King Alfred that most English people can recall, and my own father told me the story when I was aged ten, for reasons that escape me now (he wasn't teaching me to cook). An internet search throws up thousands of results, and there is even a species of fungus (Daldinia concentrica) that is commonly known as ‘King Alfred’s cakes’ because of its dark and rounded appearance. Recipes for the kind of Anglo-Saxon bread that the king famously neglected are also readily available online (if you feel moved to try these, please play close attention to the cooking time).

Christopher Marsh


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

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

English Short Title Catalogue.

Linda Hutjens, ‘The disguised king in early English ballads’ in Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield, Literature and popular culture in England (Farnham, 2009), pp. 75-90.

Ambrose Philips. A collection of old ballads (1723), pp. 43-52.

Harriet Phillips, Nostalgia in print and performance 1510-1613 (Cambridge, 2019), pp. 45-58. 

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. 1354 and 1358.

Rochelle Smith, ‘King-commoner encounters in the popular ballad, Elizabethan drama and Shakespeare’, Studies in English literature 1500-1900, 50.2 (Spring 2010), pp. 301-35.

Mark Truesdale, The king and the commoner tradition: carnivalesque politics in medieval and early modern literature (2018).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/  [search for Roud 3985 and Roud V13888].

Back to contents

Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Flying Fame’ (standard name: Chevy Chase)

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

Versions and variations

This tune was most commonly known as either ‘Flying fame’ or ‘Chevy Chase’ and more occasionally as ‘Fair Rosamond’, ‘Black and yellow’ or ‘Lord Darley’. Beyond this, it presents a puzzle. ‘Chevy Chase’ was clearly one of the seventeenth century’s best-known pieces of music: many ballads called for it (eight of them appearing on our list of hits) and it was very frequently referred to in passing by a wide variety of literary commentators. It is therefore surprising that it was so rarely written down in musical notation. This may have been primarily because its perceived simplicity and tonal ambiguity rendered it unappealing to musically-sophisticated composers.

Edward Lowe, an Oxford organist, was clearly an exception, and he provides the only written version from the seventeenth century. In Lowe’s transcription, the tune’s four short lines begin as if the key is G minor but they end as if in C major. This gives the tune a curious feel - circular, unending, modal - that seems to reveal an unusually clear dividing line between the tastes of the musically educated and those of the ballad-buying public at large.

It is interesting that the melody was notated much more frequently in the eighteenth century, by which time it had been re-shaped by unknown hands so that it was more clearly and consistently in a single key (usually G). Some of these later versions have six beats in a bar, like the seventeenth-century example, but others smooth the tune out into quadruple time. Compare, for example, the versions in Wit and Mirth (1719-20) and John Kelly’s ballad-opera, The Plot (1735).

Our recording of The Shepheard and the King uses Lowe’s seventeenth-century tune, though the singer – Victoria Couper – also draws some inspiration from later renditions of the tune in performing the second half of each block of eight lines.

Echoes (an overview)

This was a remarkably popular tune, nominated on many ballads. It was associated, above all, with narratives that were set in the distant past. As the decades passed and the melody’s success mounted, it also came to be heard as a tune that was historical in its own right (one edition of [The] BELGICK BOAR was advertised as ‘a New SONG, to the Old Tune of Chevy-Chase’). Of the ballads listed below, well over half have historical settings. Put simply, this was a tune that carried listeners back, not only to their own childhoods but to times long before they were born.

Within this potent association, there were several others, forming threads that can be traced through the ballads listed below. A number of the songs described great militaristic confrontations of the past and their often bloody outcomes. These included A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and it was not alone in drawing attention to acts of manly heroism. Other songs set confrontation not on the battlefield but within the drama of human relationships, telling stories of ungrateful children, disputed inheritances and cruel employers. In some of these songs, the heroic vibe is carried over from the battle-ballads.

The Shepheard and the King is one of the rare songs that deployed the tune for comic effect, tapping into its historical and confrontational vibe to tell the story of Alfred’s clash with a ‘churlish’ shepherd’s wife concerning the appropriate cooking time for a very famous cake.

In another group of more serious ballads, the larger-than-life element is supplied by divine intervention or angelic visitation (see The Worlds Wonder and THE DEAD MANS SONG). And in the last song on the list, [The] BELGICK BOAR, many of these associations – historical, heroic and providential – are arguably in play within this passionate and seemingly contemporary attack upon William III, the invading king.

Ballads set to this melody are particularly rich in intertextual references. In A pleasant History of a Gentleman, for example, the opening lines are very similar to those at the start of A most notable example of an ungracious Son. The line ‘shee must resigne her breath’ appears both in A pleasant History of a Gentleman and, as ‘he must resigne his breath,’ in A worthy example of a vertuous wife. In The Royal Patient Traveller, the opening line, ‘God have preserved our Royal king’, recalls ‘God prosper long our Noble king’ in A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase, and the next line, ‘the second of that name’, is identical to the corresponding line in The Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond.

Domestic incompetence on the part of a disguised monarch is a feature both of The Shepherd and the King and of The Royal Patient Traveller, and the second of these songs includes within its description of Charles II an explicit reference to King Alfred. Even more strikingly, [The] Belgick-Boar was clearly written with the famous song about the battle at Chevy Chase in mind, and there are verbal echoes throughout.

Several of the songs listed below open either with references to hunting, probably derived originally from the potent Chevy Chase ballad, or with explicit and unusual references to a source-text for the ballad. An early and influential example, A most notable example of an ungracious Son, begins, ‘In searching famous Chronicles,/ it was my chaunce to read’, and several other ballads adopted a similar opening gambit. Overall, it is clear that the songs set to this tune were tied together to a remarkable degree.

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

Songs and Summaries

The Shepheard and the King, and of Gillian the Shepheards Wife, with Her Churlish answers: being full of mirth and merry pastime. To the Tune of flying fame (registered 1578; no imprint, 1624-56?). Pepys 1.76-77; EBBA 20272. Employment – agrarian, female/male, apprenticeship/service; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; History – medieval; Humour – deceit/disguise, domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises, misunderstanding, mockery; Royalty – praise; Society – rural life, rich/poor; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, nourishment; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, prices/wages; Environment – buildings; Politics – court, obedience, Royalist; Recreation – food, music; Places – travel/transport; Emotions – anger, confusion, anxiety, joy. King Alfred, in disguise, takes up employment and residence with a shepherd, and is roundly criticised by the woman of the house for burning a cake.

A Dolefull Ditty, or sorrowfull Sonet of the Lord Darly, sometime King of Scots... to be song to the tune of blacke and yellowe (registered ?1579 and 1586; Thomas Gosson, late sixteenth century?). Society of Antiquaries, London, Broadsides Cab Lib g, 1.58; EBBA 36304. Politics – court, controversy, domestic, plots; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – sorrow; Gender – marraiage; Recreation – food, alcohol; Royalty – general. This tells the story of Lord Darnley, the English nobleman who married Mary, Queen of Scots, but was subsequently murdered after becoming embroiled in Scottish court politics.

A most notable example of an ungracious Son… To the Tune of, Lord Darley (registered 1586; no imprint, 1586-1624?). Britwell 18341; EBBA 32521. History – ancient/mythological; Family – children/parents; Economy – credit/debt, hardship/prosperity, money; Employment – professions; Crime – prison; Places – European, travel/transport; Recreation – reading/writing, games/sports, alcohol; Environment – animals, crops, buildings; Religion – sin/repentance, charity; Emotions – sorrow, despair, pride; Bodies – clothes, nourishment.  A dissolute son falls on hard times and is bailed out by his father, but when his father, later in life, comes to him for aid, he proves heartless and is consequently punished by God with a pie full of toads.

A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, King Henry the Second's Concubine... The Tune is, flying fame (originally composed in the 1590s; W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 1.498-99; EBBA 20235. Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – medieval; Politics – court, domestic; Royalty – general; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love, hatred; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing; Places – English, European; Recreation – music, dance. Henry II does all that he can to protect his beloved concubine, Rosamond, from the jealous Queen Eleanor, but in the end there is no escape.

A worthy example of a vertuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk... To the tune of Flying Fame (regeistered 1596; E. W., 1611-56). Roxburghe 3.48-49; EBBA 30398. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Crime – prison; Bodies – nourishment, health/sickness; Emotions – despair, love, joy; Places – European; Politics – court. In ancient Rome, an old man is imprisoned and starved by the angry emperor, but one of his daughters finds an ingenious method of keeping him alive.

A new Ballad of the most wonderfull and strange fall of Christ’s Church pinnacle in Norwitch, the which was shaken downe by a thunder-clap on the 29 April 1601... To THE TUNE of Flyinge fame (no printed copies have survived but the song was copied out by hand, c. 1600-03). Shirburn Ballads, XLVIII. Violence – divine; Emotions – fear, wonder; Environment – buildings, weather, wonders; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance, church; News – sensational; Places – English. This tells the dramatic story of a church steeple’s collapse following a lightning strike, and we are all warned to repent our sins with urgency.

The Noble Acts newly found, Of Arthur of the Table Round To the Tune of, Flying fame (registered 1603; F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.25; EBBA 30381. Gender – masculinity; History – ancient/mythological,medieval; Violence – chivalric, interpersonal; Politics – domestic, court; Royalty – praise; Bodies – injury; Death – warfare; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – siblings. This tells the tale of Lancelot’s fierce fight with Tarquin and of his success in freeing sixty-four fellow knights.

A most excellent ballad of S. George for England and the kings daughter of AEgipt, whom he delivered from death; and how he slew a mighty dragon. The tune is flying fame (printed copies are later, but the song was copied out by hand, 1603-16). Shirburn Ballads, XXIII. History – ancient/mythological, romance, villainy; Death – warfare; Violence – chivalric; Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – excitement; Nature – animals; Places – extra-European, English; Politics – court, foreign affairs; Religion – heathens/infidels; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – children/parents. This opens with a reference to Homer and the sack of Troy before presenting a narrative of St. George’s heroics and his romantic relationship with Sabrine, a princess from Egypt.

A new Song, shewing the crueltie of Gernutus a Jew... To the tune of, Blacke and Yellow (T. P., 1603-25). Pepys 1.144-45; EBBA 20063. Economy – credit/debt, money, trade; Emotions – greed, horror; Religion – Judaism, charity; Employment – professions; Bodies – injury; History – recent; Morality – social/economic, general; Places – European; Society – friends; Violence – interpersonal. This tells the famous story of the Jewish usurer in Venice who demanded a pound of flesh when a merchant failed to repay a loan but was outwitted in the nick of time by a cunning judge.

A new Ballad, intituled, The Battell of Agen-Court, in France, betweene the English-men and Frenchmen. To the tune of, When flying Fame (S. W., 1615-35). Pepys 1.90-91; EBBA 20278. Death – warfare; Politics – foreign affairs; Royalty – praise; Violence – between states; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Gender – masculinity; History – medieval; Emotions – disdain, excitement; Bodies – physique, looks; Places – European, nationalities. This tells the story of the king’s famous victory at Agincourt against numerically superior French opposition.

The Worlds Wonder. Or, A strange and miraculous work of Gods providence… To the Tune of, Chevy Chase ([Francis] Grove, 1623-62). Euing 401; EBBA 32038. Religion – prayer, divine intervention, Bible, Christ/God, faith; Family – children/parents; Gender – femininity; Bodies – nourishment; Society – criticism; Economy – hardship, household; Morality – social/economic; Crime – robbery/theft; Places – English.  A poor widow prays to God and is miraculously enabled to keep her seven children alive for seven weeks on a single loaf of (burnt) bread.

THE DEAD MANS SONG, Who[se] dwelling was near Basing-hall in London. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624 and possibly 1561-62; no imprint, 1624-56?). Euing 73; EBBA 31756. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, body/soul, angels/devils, Christ/God, Death – illness; Bodies – health/sickness; Emotions – wonder; Nature – animals, flowers/trees, wonders; Recreation – music, sight-seeing; Society – neighbours; Violence – diabolical, punitive; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage.  A seriously sick man is shown a vision of heaven and hell before regaining consciousness and telling his family and neighbours of the wonders he has witnessed.  

A Memorable song made vpon the vnhappy hunting in Chevy Chase between the Earle Pea[rcy] of England and the Earle Douglas of Scotland to the tune of Flying fame (registered 1624 but probably  composed much earlier; no imprint, 1624-56?). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads BR f 821.04 B49; EBBA 36060. History – medieval; Politics – domestic, power; Gender – masculinity; Bodies – injury; Violence – between states, chivalric; Death – warfare; Recreation – hunting; Emotions – excitement, pride; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Environment – animals; Places – English, Scottish, travel/transport; Royalty – general. An exceptionally famous song in which two great earls come to savage blows in Chevy Chase, each backed by their entourages.  

An excellent Song, called, The Shooe-makers travell. To the tune of, Flying Fame (registered 1624; Edward Wright, 1624-56?).  Wood 401 (69). Society – criticism, friendship, rich/poor; Places – English, travel/transport; Morality – social/economic, general; Religion – sin/repentance, charity, church, clergy, Christ/God, prayer; Recreation – fashions, general; Emotions – despair, hope; Employment – professions; Crime – general; Bodies – clothing. A shoemaker travels the country, drawing attention to the sins of the English and the urgent need for repentance.

[The Wanton W]ife of Bath. [To the Tune of, Flying Fame (Francis Coles, 1624-80). Euing 374; EBBA 31985. Religion – heaven/hell, sin/repentance, faith, prayer, Bible, body/soul, Christ/God, Humour – extreme situation/surprises; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger; Gender – femininity, marriage; Death – old age. The Wife of Bath approaches the gates of heaven and lambasts a series of Biblical superstars until, finally, Christ appears and recognises her repentance as genuine, despite all the scolding.  

The lamentable fall of Queen Elenor, who for her Pride and wickedness by Gods judgements sunk into the ground at Charing-Cross, and rose at Queen hive. To the tune of, Gentle and Courteous (composed before 1625; F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63). Euing 184; EBBA 31939. History – medieval; Royalty – criticism; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Religion – divine intervention; Bodies – clothing, looks/physique, adornment, nourishment; Crime – murder; Violence – interpersonal; Politics – domestic, controversy, power, court; Recreation – fashions, food, alcohol; Emotions – hatred, horror, wonder; Gender – femininity; Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Morality – general; Environment – landscape; Places – English, European, nationalities; Society – urban life. This describes the strange demise of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, who suffered at God’s hands after a lifetime spent forcing foreign fashions upon the English and victimising perfectly innocent subjects.

The life and death of M. Geo: Sands... To the tune of Flying Fame (F. Couls, 1626?). Pepys 1.128-29; EBBA 20055. Crime – murder, robbery/theft, rape; Death – execution, unlawful killing, result of immorality; Gender – masculinity, sexual violence; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Family – children/parents; Bodies – injury; Morality – social/economic, romantic/sexual; News – convicts/crimes; Places – English; Society - old/young; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, prayer. This tells the terrible tale of criminal, executed in 1626 following a life of robbery, murder and rape.

A new ballad, intituled, A warning to Youth, shewing the lewd life of a Marchants Sonne of London… To the tune of Lord Darley (Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.447; EBBA 30301. Family – children/parents, pregnancy/childbirth, inheritance; Gender – masculinity, sex, sexual violence, cross-dressing; Crime – rape; Death – suicide, result of immorality, tragedy, providential; Violence – interpersonal, sexual; Recreation – alcohol, fashions; Bodies – physique/looks, clothing, health/sickness, adornment; Emotions – despair, longing, horror; Religion – angels/devils, Christ/God, divine intervention, sin/repentance; Morality – romantic/sexual, social/economic; Employment – apprenticeship/service, professions; Economy – money; Places – European, travel/transport; History – medieval, villainy; Royalty – general. A wealthy merchant’s son comes into his inheritance and embarks on a life of lechery, during which he rapes a young woman and is punished by God for his many sins.

A pleasant History of a Gentleman in Thracia, which had foure Sonnes, and three of them none of his own… To the tune of, Chevy Chace (registered 1633; H. G., 1633-40?). Roxburghe 1.300-01; EBBA 30209. Family – children/parents, siblings; Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – familial; Bodies – health/sickness; Death – illness, old age; Emotions – sorrow, confusion; Places – European; Religion – divine intervention.  The wife of a wealthy man dies, after confessing to her husband that only one of their four sons is biologically his own, and, after he follows her to the grave, sage counsellors devise a sophisticated test that identifies the true heir.

Strange and true Newes of an Ocean of Flies dropping out of a Cloud, upon the Towne of Bodnam in Cornwall. To the tune of Cheevy Chase (‘Printed in the Yeare of Miracles. 1647’). Thomason Tracts 669.f.11[52]. Emotions – wonder, fear; Environment – animals, wonders, weather, flowers/trees; Politics – domestic, controversy, Royalist, plots, war; Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance; Royalty – praise; Society – criticism; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English. This describes a strange plague of flies in Cornwall, interpreting the wonder as evidence of God’s anger at the people of England for rebelling against their lawful king.

The Spanish Virgin; Or, The Effects of Jealousie… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase; Or, Aim not too high (W. Thackeray, 1664-92). Pepys 2.143; EBBA 20761. Gender – marriage, femininity, adultery/cuckoldry; Bodies – health/sickness; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger, hatred, sorrow; Employment – apprenticeship/service, female/male; Places – European, nationalities. A jealous mistress, believing wrongly that her waiting woman is having sex with her husband, imprisons the young virgin in a dungeon until the adders and toads that live there have killed her.

Of the faithful Friendship that lasted between two faithful Friends. To the Tune of, Flying Fame (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century?). Roxburghe 1.503; EBBA 30339. Society – friendship; History – ancient/mythological; Bodies – looks/physique; Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal; Emotions – love; Family – children/parents; Gender – marriage, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Places – European, travel/transport. A story from the classical age in which Gancelo allows Alphonso to marry the woman they both love, and Alphonso returns the favour by protecting his dear friend from a murder charge.

The Royal Patient Traveller, OR, The wonderful Escapes of His Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second from Worcester-fight… To the tune of, Chivy Chase, Or, God prosper long our Noble King (‘Printed for the Author’, 1660). Wood  401 (171). Politics – Royalist, domestic, obedience, controversy; Royalty – incognito, praise, authority; Employment – apprenticeship/ service; Bodies – clothing, physique/looks; Emotions – anxiety, excitement, joy; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations/surprises; Places – English, travel/transport. This describes the king’s efforts, aided by trusted individuals, to escape from his enemies following the Battle of Worcester.

Here is a true and perfect Relation from the Faulcon at the Banke-side; of the strange and wonderful aperition of one Mr. Powel a Baker lately deceased… The tune of, Chevy Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and William Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (183). Religion – ghosts/spirits, Bible; conjuration; Death – general; Emotions – fear; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; News – sensational. The ghost of a dead man returns to haunt his former house and is only pacified by the intervention of ‘Learned men of Art’ (also called ‘Conjurers’).

Terrible news from BRAINFORD: or, A perfect and true Relation of one Thompson a Waterman… To the Tune of, Chievy Chase (F. Coles, M. Wright, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661). Wood 401 (181). Recreation – alcohol, good fellowship, hospitality; Violence – diabolical; Religion – angels/devils, prayer, body/soul; Death – result of immorality;  Gender – masculinity; Morality – general; Emotions – fear, confusion; Employment – alehouses/inns, crafts/trades; News – sensational; Places – English. An inebriated waterman slumps dead on the table after drinking an ill-advised health to the Devil, and the shock experienced by witnesses intensifies further when Satan appears in person.

The KING and the BISHOP. OR, Unlearned Men, hard matters out can find, When Learned Bishops, Princes eyes do blind. To the Tune of, Chevy-Chase (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Roxburghe 3.170-71; EBBA 30471. History – medieval; Politics – court, power, obedience; Religion – clergy, Catholic/Protestant; Royalty – authority; Humour – deceit/disguise, verbal, extreme situations/surprises; Family – siblings; Employment – agrarian, professions; Bodies – clothing; Emotions – fear, joy; Places – travel/transport. A playful king tells a terrified bishop he must answer three riddles to avoid execution, and the bishop gives up hope until his brother, a mere shepherd, comes skilfully to his rescue.

[Saint BERNARD'S Vision. (A brief Discourse Dialogue-wise) between the Soul and body of a Damned Man newly Deceased... To the Tune of, Flying Fame (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Euing 317; EBBA 31966. NB This song was usually set to the tune of ‘Fortune my Foe’, and its metre makes it unsuitable for the ‘Flying Fame’ melody].

The Unfortunate Forrester, Or, Fair Elener's Tragedy… Tune is, Chevy Chase (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79). Pepys 4.48; EBBA 21714. Gender  - courtship; Emotions – love, despair; Family – children/parents; Death – suicide, heartbreak; History – medieval; Violence – self-inflicted; Morality – familial; Recreation – hunting; Environment – animals. Young Lord Thomas loves Lady Eleanor, but when his mother insists that he marry another a tragic ending is guaranteed.  

The Patient Wife betrayed; OR, The Lady Elizabeths Tragedy... To the Tune of, Chevy Chase, or The Lady Izabells Tragedy (J. Clark, 1666-86). Euing 289; EBBA 31903.  Gender – marriage, adultery/cuckoldry, femininity, masculinity; History – ancient/mythological; Morality – romantic/sexual; Crime – murder, punishment; Death – unlawful killing, execution, ghostly abduction; Religion – ghosts/spirits; Violence – interpersonal, domestic, punitive; Emotions – love, hatred; Environment – flowers/trees, landscape; Places – extra-European. A Turkish knight and his harlot plot to kill his loving wife, but she returns as a ghost and, finally, justice is done.

Bloudy news from Germany or The peoples misery by famine… Tune of, Chievy Chase (Philip Brooksby, 1670-96). Roxburghe 2.38-39; EBBA 30183. Crime – murder; Death – unlawful killing, result of immorality; Economy – hardship/poverty; Morality – social/economic; Religion – divine intervention; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Bodies – nourishment; Emotions – disdain; Employment – apprenticeship/service; History – recent, medieval; Environment – buildings; Places – European. This tells a historical story about a German nobleman (also an archbishop) who, in time of famine, compared the local poor to rats and burned many of them alive in a barn, but God avenged them all by plaguing the noble’s house with vermin and bringing about his painful end.

The Lady Isabella's Tragedy, or, the Step mothers cruelty… To the Tune of, Fair Rosamond, Or, Chivy Chase (‘Printed for E. A. and are to be sold by F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1675-80). Wood E25 (54). 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.

[The] BELGICK BOAR, To the TUNE of Chivy-Chase (no publisher named, 1695). Crawford 429; EBBA 32786. Politics – controversy, domestic, foreign affairs, Royalist, obedience; Emotions – anger; Royalty – criticism, praise; Family – children/parents, kin; Economy – hardship/ prosperity, taxation; Employment – crafts/trades; Places – English, European. A fierce critique of William’s invasion of England, declaring loyalty to the true king, James, and castigating all those who contributed to his downfall and the disastrous consequences that have followed.


Regular literary references to the tune demonstrate its ubiquity during the seventeenth century, though it is often clear that the melody’s popularity was being gently mocked rather than merely noted. A letter published in Charles Gildon’s The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692) argues that the best way to spread news across the nation is to set a ballad to ‘the celebrated Tune of Chevy Chase’. In The Married mens feast (1671), a celebratory meal for strong husbands is carried in to the sound of ‘six Trumpeters playing the tune of Chevy Chase, a very martial tune’. And a prognostication of 1683 entitled Poor Robin notes that English plough-boys frequently ‘whistle Chevy-chase’ to their working animals.

The melody was also nominated in many published collections of songs, where it was usually connected with one or more of the themes identified above. See, for example: ‘A Princely Song made of the Red Rose and the White’ in Richard Johnson’s Crowne garland (1612); ‘Zeale over-heated: A Relation of a lamentable fire’ in John Taylor’s Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642); and ‘A Carol for Saint Johns day’ in Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642).

The melody was used sparingly for white-letter ballads in the seventeenth century, perhaps suggesting again its relative lack of credibility in sophisticated circles (but see ‘Bloody News from CHELMSFORD’, 1663, and ‘The New Catholick Ballad’, 1681). It remained a potent force within balladry, however, and was nominated on ballads of all sorts and in a number of ballad-operas during the eighteenth century.

Christopher Marsh


Charles Gildon, The post-boy rob’d of his mail (1692), p. 142.

Good and true, fresh and new Christmas carols (1642), A5v-6v.

Richard Johnson, Crowne garland (1612), A2r-6r.

John Kelly, The Plot (1735), p. 12.

Edward Lowe, music manuscript, Edinburgh University Library, MS Dc.1.69, fo. 113 (transcription in Simpson, p. 97).

The Married mens feast (1671), p. 4.

Poor Robin, 1683 A Prognostication (1683), C3r.

Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 96-101.

John Taylor, Three-fold discourse betweene three neighbours (1642), A4r-v.

Wit and Mirth: OR Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), vol. 4, pp 1 and 289.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Piper with dog

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)

Other editions of The Shepherd and the King did not include this woodcut, often displaying instead a short series of three pictures that were specifically drawn for the ballad. The publisher of our featured edition, Alexander Milbourn, apparently did not have access to the usual woodblocks during this phase of his career, an unexplained circumstance that affected many of the ballads that he issued.

The picture was, however, fairly well-known on other ballads, and at least two woodblocks seem to have been in existence. Most of these songs deal with shepherds and their sweethearts, and several of them mention music-making. Although there are no sheep to be seen in the woodcut, the presence of a crook, a dog and a set of bagpipes was enough to establish the man’s occupation. The only ballad listed below that does not specifically feature a shepherd is the first, and here the pipes are the magical property of a conjuror who uses them to establish that the local parish clerk is cuckolding one of his neighbours.

Although it has often been said that ballad-makers picked their pictures without care, it is noticeable that narratives in which music played a role were often illustrated by woodcuts featuring musicians. There is, for example, a reference to bagpipes at the end of The Shepherd and the King, and it is also clear that the three recycled pictures have been placed so that they track the textual story, albeit in a rudimentary fashion: the king sets forth, encounters a shepherd and is taken home to meet his wife.

 Songs and summaries:

The Lamenting Shepherdess: OR, The Unkind Shepherd (J. Wright, I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, T. Passinger, and M. Coles, 1682).  Pepys 3.368; EBBA 21384.  Gender – courtship, femininity; Emotions – sorrow, love; Morality – sexual/romantic; Employment – agrarian. Cloris is in despair because her shepherd-sweetheart has rejected her, but she vows to remain constant to him nonetheless (picture placement: they perform beneath the title, along with two woodcuts of couples in pastoral settings).

THE Distasted Lovers Downfall, Or, the shepherds dying Complaint, concerning the ingratitude of his Love (J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84). Pepys 4.45; EBBA 21711. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – sorrow, love; Employment – agrarian; Nature – birds, animals; Bodies – health/sickness; Death – heartbreak. The shepherd, Corydon, expresses his despair at the harsh treatment he has received from Daphnis, the object of all his affections (picture placement: they appear beneath the title, next to small woodcuts of a man and a woman).

The musical Shepeherdess, or, Dorinda's lamentation for the loss of Amintas (J. W., J. C., W. T., and T. P., 1682-84).  Roxburghe 4.64; EBBA 31363.  Death – heartbreak, suicide; Gender – courtship; Emotions – despair, love; Employment – agrarian; Environment – animals, flowers/trees, seasons; Recreation – music, dance; Bodies – looks/physique; Religion – ancient gods.  Amintas is dead, and his sweetheart, Dorinda, sings his praises, laments her loss, and commits suicide (picture placement: this is the third of four woodcuts that appear in a line along the top of the sheet, the others being a bush, a maiden with ringlets and another woman who washes in a brook).

The Lancashire Cuckold: OR, THE Country Parish-Clark betray'd by a Conjurer's Inchanted Chamber-pot (J. Blare, 1682-1706).  Pepys 4.145; EBBA 21809.  Gender – adultery/cuckoldry, sex, marriage, masculinity, femininity; Humour – bawdry, domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger, anxiety; Family – children/parents; Bodies – physique; Nature – flowers/trees; Places – English; Recreation – music, alcohol.  A farmer watches from a hollow tree while a hired conjuror with magical bagpipes establishes that his wife has committed adultery with the parish clerk (picture placement: they appear beneath the title, in between a couple and a tree labelled ‘The Royal Oake’).

The Shepherd and the King, and of Gillian the Shepherds Wife, with her churlish Answers. Being full of Mirth and Pastime (A. M., 1695-1708). Euing 332; EBBA 32009. Employment – agrarian, female/male, apprenticeship/service; Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; History – medieval; Humour – deceit/disguise, domestic/familial, extreme situations/surprises, misunderstanding, mockery; Royalty – praise; Society – rural life, rich/poor; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, nourishment; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, prices/wages; Environment – buildings; Politics – court, obedience, Royalist; Recreation – food, music; Places – travel/transport; Emotions – anger, confusion, anxiety, joy. King Alfred, in disguise, takes up employment and residence with a shepherd, and is roundly criticised by the woman of the house for burning a cake (picture placement: the piper appears beneath the title, in between a king and a woman with a stick).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

This ballad bears a general resemblance to a number of other songs from the late-medieval and early-modern periods that tell stories of incognito kings engaging with commoners (several examples are listed below). None of these, however, is closely related to The Shepherd and the King in terms of precise verbal content. Child noted certain affinities between the ballad and another song, ‘Robin Hood and the Shepherd’ (Child 135), and the two titles are sometimes treated as versions of the same piece. In fact, the similarities are mostly general rather than specific and the two songs should be considered as distinct compositions.

A story about King Alfred living incognito in Somerset first occurs in Asser’s Latin account of King Alfred’s life, written in 893. This explains that the king, in 878, had found himself at a very low ebb. In retreat from his Danish enemies, he went into hiding in a suitably remote location and looked for an opportunity to re-group.

Asser, however, gives very little detail and includes nothing about specific commoners or their loaves/cakes. The first mention of the cakes, the herdsman and his angry wife is perhaps found in a homily about St. Neot, written in Old English, probably in the early eleventh century (see Godden for this argument). This reference is a brief one, but fuller information was included in the Latin ‘Annals of St. Neots’, probably dating from the early twelfth century. Here, the familiar story can be recognised: Alfred stays with a cowherd and, while sitting by the fire tending to his weapons, he fails to turn the loaves that are baking by the fire, and is soundly scolded by the woman of the house. ‘Look man,’ she says, ‘you see the loaves burning but you are not turning them, though I’m sure you’d be charmed to eat them warm!’

Some of the subsequent medieval chronicles retained this detailed story (Wallingford) but others followed Asser in including only very basic information about the king’s spell in hiding (Hyde). It is clear that the cakes/loaves had not yet become a staple of the story, and they were not mentioned in the versions by Harding and Foxe, both of which were published in the sixteenth century (though Harding’s work dates from the previous century). Both these accounts name the swineherd Denwolfe or Dunwolfus, a detail that seems to come from the much earlier chronicle by William of Malmesbury.  Harding tells us that Denwolfe was good to the king but his wife forced the house-guest to work hard at baking and other chores. Foxe, in contrast, credits both the man and his wife with supporting the unrecognised king to the best of their abilities. Neither author tells the specific story about the cakes or loaves.

A key moment for the cakes came in 1574, when Archbishop Matthew Parker published Asser’s account of Alfred’s life, silently inserting the story about the cowherd, his wife and her loaves, probably from the ‘Annals of St. Neots’. This seems to have been the first printed publication of the tale in England, though the fact that it was still in Latin must have limited its circulation.

The Shepherd and the King, incorporating the incident with the loaves, was printed within a few years of Parker’s publication, and may well have been in some mysterious sense a response to it. Clearly, the ballad elaborated extensively on the brief Latin story and changed numerous details: the king travels to Somerset for his own amusement rather than out of necessity; the cowherd becomes a shepherd and his wife acquires the name, Gillian; and a four-hour fight between the shepherd and the king is introduced. The baking episode is, however, fairly similar in Parker’s publication and the ballad, and it seems likely that the song – which printed the story in English for the first time – played a role in turning the unturned loaves into the highly familiar historical objects that they are today. The story is mentioned in numerous English chronicles of the seventeenth century, a few of which are listed below.

In later published references to the story, there are occasional signs that may indicate the unacknowledged influence of the ballad, alongside that of the medieval sources. Francis Godwin, for example, tells us in 1601 that Alfred formally put himself into the ‘service’ of the commoner-couple, a detail that may have been picked up from the song. Similarly, John Seller identified Alfred’s host as a shepherd, rather than a cowherd, and one of the lines delivered by his angry wife in rebuking the incognito king for neglecting the bread appears to come from the ballad. In Seller’s version, she says, ‘I warrant you would be ready to Eate it ere it is half Baked’. In the ballad, she says, ‘Thou art more quick to take it out,/ and eat it up half dow [dough]’. This curious comment does not appear to derive from the medieval chronicles (though we are open to correction on this point).

Finally, it should perhaps be noted that the sources available to us for tracking this famous tale are only a fraction of those that must once have existed, and our reliance on written materials overlooks the certainty that stories of Alfred also circulated by word of mouth during the medieval and early-modern periods. All historians are prisoners of their sources!

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in chronological order)

Asser, ‘Annals of the exploits of Alfred’ (893) in The church histories of England, ed. Joseph Stephenson (1854), pp. 457-58.

Homily on St. Neot (eleventh or twelfth century), in Early English homilies from the twelfth century MS Vesp. D. xix, ed. R. D. N. Warner (London, 1917), pp. 129-34.

William of Malmesbury’s chronicle (twelfth century) in William of Malmesbury’s chronicle of the kings of England, ed. J. A. Giles (1847), p. 113.

‘Annals of St Neots’ (twelfth century) in Asser’s Life of King Alfred Together with the Annals of Saint Neots, ed. William Henry Stevenson (Oxford, 1904). An English translation of the section featuring the cakes is provided by Davis (see below).

‘The chronicles of John Wallingford’ (thirteenth century) in The church histories of England, ed. Joseph Stephenson (1854), pp. 541-42.

‘The Book of Hyde’ (thirteenth century) in The church histories of England, ed. Joseph Stephenson (1854), pp. 509-11.

Anon, ‘John the reeve’ (1377-1461), University of Rochester, Middle English Text Series: https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/furrow-ten-bourdes-john-the-reeve

Anon, ‘The king and the hermit’ (c. 1377-1483), University of Rochester, Middle English Text Series: https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/furrow-ten-bourdes-king-and-the-hermit

Anon, ‘King Edward and the shepherd’ (mid-fourteenth century), University of Rochester, Middle English Text Series: https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/furrow-ten-bourdes-king-edward-and-the-shepherd

Anon, ‘The king and the barker’ (mid-fifteenth century), printed in Anon, Pieces of ancient popular poetry (1791), pp. 58-65.

John Harding [1379-1465?], The chronicle of Jhon Hardying in metre (1543), O6v.

John Foxe, Acts and monuments (1570), bk. 3, p. 201:  https://www.dhi.ac.uk/foxe/index.php

Asser, AElfredi regis res gestae, ed. Matthew Parker  (1574), p. 15. I am very grateful to John Curran for translating the relevant section for me.

The Shepherd and the King... To the Tune of Flying Fame (probably registered in 1578 as ‘A merry songe of a kinge and a shepherd’).

A pleasant new Ballad betweene King Edward the fourth, and a Tanner of Tamworth (registered, 1586).

A pleasant new Ballad of the Miller of Mansfield... To the Tune of, The French Lavolta (originally composed 1585-1616).

Francis Godwin, A catalogue of the bishops of England (1601), p. 164.

Edward Leigh, Choice observations of all the kings of England (1661), p. 21.

Anon, The Royal Frolick... To the Tune of, Let Caesar Live long (1692).

Anon, The KING and the FORRESTER (late seventeenth century).

John Seller, The history of England (1696), p. 123.

James Tyrrell, The general history of England (1696), p. 280.


Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular ballads, 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1882-94), vol. 3, pp. 165-67.

R. H. C. Davis, ‘Alfred the Great: propaganda and truth’, History, 56.187 (June 1971), pp. 169-82.

Malcolm Godden, ‘The Old English Life of St. Neot and the legends of King Alfred’, Anglo-Saxon England, 39 (2011), pp. 193-225.

Linda Hutjens, ‘The disguised king in early English ballads’ in Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield, Literature and popular culture in England (Farnham, 2009), pp. 75-90.

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The Shepherd and the King, and of Gillian the Shepherds Wife, with her churlish Answer./ Being full of Mirth and Pastime. To the Tune of Flying Fame.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IN Elder time there as of Yore,

when guides of churlish glee,

Were us’d among our Country Carls,

though no such thing now be;

The which King Alfred liking well,

forsook his stately Court,

And in disguise unknown went forth,

to see that jovial sport,


How Dick and Tom in clouted shoon,

and Coats of Russet gray,

Esteem’d themselves more brave than them

that went in Golden Ray;

In garments fit for such a life,

the good King Alfred went,

All raggd and torn as from his back

the beggar his Cloaths had wrent.


A Sword and Buckler good and strong,

to give Jack Sauce a wrap,

And on his head instead of a Crown,

he wore a Monmouth Cap.

Thus coasting thorow Somersetshire,

near Newton Court he met,

A Shepherd Swain of lusty limb,

that up and down did jet:


He wore a Bonnet of good gray,

close button’d to his chin,

And at his back a leather Scrip,

with much good Meat therein.

God speed good Shepherd, quoth the King

I come to be thy Guest,

To taste of thy good Victuals here,

and drink that’s of the best:


Thy Scrip I know hath cheer good store.

What then the Shepherd said?

Thou seemest to be some sturdy thief,

and mak’st me sore afraid.

Yet if thou wilt thy Dinner win

the Sword and Buckler take

And if thou canst into my Scrip

therewith an entrance make,


I tell thee Roister it hath store

of Beef and Bacon fat,

With shieves of barly bread to make

thy Chaps to water at:

Here stands my bottle, here my bag,

if thou canst win them Roister,

Against the Sword and Buckler here

my Sheephook is thy master.


Benedicite now quoth our good King,

it never shall be said

That Alfred of the Shepherds hook

will stand a whit afraid:

So soundly thus they both fell to’t,

and giving bang for bang,

At every blow the Shepherd gave

King Alfreds Sword cry’d twang.


His Buckler prov’d his chiefest fence

for still the Shepherds hook,

Was that the which King Alfred could

in no good manner brook:

At last when they had fought four hours,

and it grew just midday,

And wearied, both with right good will

desired each others stay.


King, truce I cry, quoth Alfred then,

good Shepherd hold thy hand,

A sturdier fellow than thy self

lives not within the land.

Nor a lustier Roister than thou art,

the churlish Shepherd said,

To tell thee plain thy thievish looks,

now makes my heart afraid,


Else sure thou art some Prodigal

which hast consum’d thy store,

And now comest wandring to this place

to Rob and Steal for more:

Deem not of me then quoth our King

good Shepherd in this sort,

A Gentleman well known I am

in good King Alfreds Court.


The Devil thou art, the Shepherd said,

thou goest in Rags all torn,

Thou rather seemst I think to be

some beggar basely born;

But if thou wilt mend thy estate,

and here a Shepherd be,

At night to Gillian my sweet wife

thou shalt go home with me.


For she’s as good a toothless dame

as mumbleth on brown bread,

Where thou shalt lie in hurden sheets,

upon a fresh straw bed.

Of whig and whey we have good store

and keep good Pease=straw fires,

And now and then good Barly Cakes

as better Days requires.


But for my master which is chief,

and Lord of Newton Court,

He keeps I say, his Shepherd Swains

in far more braver sort;

We there have curds & clouted cream

of red Cows morning milk,

And now and then fine butterd cakes

as soft as any Silk.


Of Beef and reised Bacon store

that is most fat and greasie,

We have likewise to feed our chaps,

and make them glib and easie.

Thus if thou wilt my man become,

this usage thou shalt have,

If not adieu go hang thy self,

and so farewell Sir Knave.


King Alfred hearing of this glee,

the churlish Shepherd said,

Was well content to be his man,

so they a bargain made.

A Penny round the shepherd gave,

in earnest of this match,

To keep his Sheep in field and fold

as Shepherds use to watch.


His wages shall be full ten groats

for service of a Year,

yet was it not his use old Lad

to hire a man so dear.

For did the King himself, quoth he,

unto my Cottage come,

He should not for a 12 months pay

receive a greater sum.


Hereat the bonny King grew blith

to hear the Clownish jest,

How silly Sots, as Custom is,

do discant at the best.

but not to spoil the foolish sport

he was content good King,

To fit the Shepherds humour right

in every kind of thing,


A Sheep=hook then, with Patch his dog,

and Tar=box by his side,

HE with his Master jig by jowl,

unto old Gillian hy’d,

into whose sight no sooner came

whom have you here, quoth she,

A fellow I doubt will cut our throats,

so like a Knave looks he.


Not so, old dame, qd Alfred straight,

of me you need not fear,

My Master hired me for ten groats

to serve you one whole Year:

So good dame Gillian grant me leave

within your house to stay,

For by St. Anne do what you can,

I will not yet away.


Her churlish usage pleas’d him still,

put him to such proof,

That he at night was almost choakt,

within that smoaky Roof:

But as he sat with smiling cheer,

the event of all to see,

His Dame brought forth a piece of dow

which in the Fire throws she;


Where lying on the Harth to bake

by chance the Cake did burn,

What canst thou not, thou lout, (qd she)

take pains the same to turn:

Thou art more quick to take it out,

and eat it up half dow,

Than thus to stay till’t be enough,

and so thy manners show.


But serve me such another trick,

i’ll thwack thee on the snout,

Which made the patient King, good man

of her to stand in doubt.

But to be brief to bed they went,

the good man and his wife,

But never such a Lodging had

King Alfred in his life:


For he was laid in white Sheeps wool,

new pull’d from tanned fells,

And o’re his head hang’d spiders webs

as if they had been bells,

Is this the Country guise, thought he,

then here I will not stay,

But hence be gone, as soon as breaks

the peeping of next day.


The cackling Hens & Geese kept roost,

and pearched at his side,

where at the last the watchful Cock,

made known the morning tide;

Then up got Alfred with his horn,

and blew so long a blast,

That made Gillian and her Groom

in bed full sore aghast.


Arise, qd. she, we are undone,

this night we lodged have;

At unawares within our house,

a false dissembling Knave,

Rise Husband, rise, he’ll cut our throats

he calleth for his Mates,

I’d give, old will, our good Cade Lamb,

he would depart our gates.


but still King Alfred blew his horn

before t[h]em more and more,

Till that a hundred Lords and Knights,

all lighted at the door:

who cry’d, all hail, all hail, good King,

long have we sought your Grace.

And here you find (my merry men all)

your Soveraign in this place.


We surely must be hang’d up both,

old Gillian I much fear,

The Shepherd said for using thus

our good King Alfred here:

O pardon, my Liege, qd. Gillian then,

for my Husband and for me,

by these ten bones I never thought

the same that now I see;


And by my hook, the Shepherd said,

an Oath both good and true,

before this time, O noble King,

I never your Highness knew.

Then pardon me, and my old wife,

that we may after say,

when first you came into our house,

it was a happy day.


it shall be done, said Alfred straight.

and Gillian my Old Dame,

For this thy churlish using me,

deserveth not much blame;

For this thy Country guise I see

to be thus bluntish still,

And where the plainest meaning is,

remains the smallest ill.


And Master loe I tell thee now,

for thy low manhood shown,

A thousand wethers ile bestow

upon thee for thy own.

And pasture ground as much as will

suffice to feed them all,

And this thy Cottage I will change

into a stately Hall.


As for the same as duty binds,

the Shepherd said, good King,

A milk=white Lambonce every year

ile to your Highness bring:

And Gillian my wife likewise,

of wool to make you Coats,

will give you as much at New-years-tide,

as shall be worth ten groats.


And in your praise my bagpipes shall

sound sweetly once a year,

How Alfred our renowned King

most kindly hath been here.

Thanks Shepherd, thanks, qd. he again,

the next time I come hither,

My Lords with me here in this house

will all be merry together.


Printed by and for A. M. and sold by the/ Booksellers of London.

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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 'King and sheppard'); and Thackeray, 1689 ('King & the Shepheard').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1578.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 8

No. of extant copies: 9

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: Shepherd meeting king on EBBA 32007 (and other editions); King tending sheep on EBBA 32007 (and other editions); and Woman scolding king on EBBA 32007 (and other editions).

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases:  5 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V13888; but see also  some of the songs listed as examples of Roud no. 3985).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 16 + 9 + 0 + 15 + 0 = 65

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