92  An Excellent Ballad of the Mercers son of Midhurst, and/ the Clothiers daughter of Guilford [Euing 91 and 12]

Author: Anonymous

Bodies - health/sickness Death - grief Death - heartbreak Death - suicide Disability - physical Economy - money Emotions - anger Emotions - love Emotions - sorrow Family - children/parents Family - inheritance Family - pregnancy/childbirth Gender - marriage Places - English Society - old/young

Song History

This song was clearly successful between the 1620s and the 1690s but its popularity appears to have faded after this and there is no sign that it survived into later centuries as a folk-song.

Confusion surrounds the precise relationship between the first and second parts of the song. On numerous occasions, An Excellent Ballad of the Mercers son of Midhurst was printed on the same sheet as A Ballad, intituled the Old man’s complaint against his Wretched Son (as on our featured edition). This made sense because the two pieces were clearly the first and second parts of a single narrative. In several of the surviving ballad collections, however, the two songs are pasted separately into the collectors’ volumes, as if they were distinct publications. The reasons for such an intervention are unclear.

We know that the Ballad Partners registered the first song in 1624, and that they only acquired the rights to the second song in 1629. Before the unification of the rights, perhaps the two songs were issued separately. We cannot be sure because no such publications have survived. On this website, we have decided to display both songs together, since this seems to have been the original format. It should be noted, however, that they actually appear separately in the Euing Collection.

Taken as a pair, the popularity of these songs suggests that people of the seventeenth century experienced high levels of anxiety over various aspects of family relations. The characters described in the ballad make a series of mistakes, most of them characterised by failure to behave in accordance with long-established moral expectations and to balance potentially conflicting issues in their decision-making. The songs intersect at numerous points with commonly disseminated advice – the stuff of sermons and ‘conduct’ books – on the proper conduct of courtship and the responsibilities of the young to the old. In these ballads, the manner in which every mistake made by one of the characters leads directly to another, causing a steady accumulation of misery, is also striking.  

The son seeks a wife who is beautiful, and he ignores all other factors. His chosen woman focuses exclusively on material gain and is similarly blind to more important concerns. She will only accept him if he makes her rich, so he asks his father to hand over ‘his house and eke his Land’ immediately. The father is acutely aware that this will leave him vulnerable, and he endeavours to secure reassurances about his future welfare, but essentially he puts his son’s interests ahead of his own. By so doing, he also fails in his duty to guide and educate members of the next generation. The son promises to maintain his father and asks God to punish him if he fails in this obligation. The promise is worth nothing, however, and in the new couple’s household the old man is humiliated by his son and daughter-in-law. He too appeals to God, and the hand of the Lord can clearly be seen in the subsequent deaths of both spouses. A little surprisingly, the old man lives ‘most happily’ after this but the buoyant ending hardly cancels out the household horrors that have gone before.

It may be useful to connect the details of the ballad with certain aspects of the early-modern English social and cultural context. One of the accepted reasons for having children was the support they might offer to their parents in old age but it was nevertheless unusual for old people, even after their spouses died, to move in with their adult offspring. Most elderly people clung to their independence for as long as they possibly could, though children who were grown-up but unmarried not infrequently lived in the homes of their parents, helping to look after them as they grew old. It was also unusual for the elderly to relinquish all control of their land while they were still capable of managing it. The old man in the ballad is thus far from typical in signing everything away and agreeing to live in a household of which he is no longer the head.

When individuals felt that they had no choice but to take this step, ‘maintenance contracts’ were quite commonly drawn up in order to ensure their long-term support. Here, the old mercer in the song lets himself down badly; he first gives over his land and only then attempts to extract a verbal promise from his son. In seventeenth-century England, the dangers of empowering one’s children were already well-known, and various old tales were told about the negative consequences of doing so (see Related texts). Overall, the old man makes so many misjudgements that his retention of the ballad-makers’ sympathy is interesting. The aged were supposedly wise but often weak of will, and the unfortunate mercer is, like King Lear, a man ‘more sinned against than sinning’.

The predominance of courtship as a theme in early-modern balladry is well known, and the first song presents yet another example of a young man who is reduced to despair by the disdainful power of a desirable maiden (‘My life lies in thy hand’). Old age is tackled much more rarely by ballad-makers, however, and Alice Tobriner calculates that only 85 of 3000 surviving broadside songs from the early modern period mention it directly. Ballads approached the subject from a variety of angles, some warning the young of the need to live well in order to enjoy a comfortable old age, and others poking fun at aged men who married young maidens.

Within this context, it is striking that all three of the hit songs on this website that focus on old age concentrate in particular on the dangers of depending on one’s adult children (see also A most notable example of an ungracious Son, who in the pride of his heart denyed his own Father and A most excellent Ballad, of an old man and his wife). Perhaps not surprisingly, this was a very significant concern in a society that lacked the institutional network of support that exists today. The success of three songs on this theme suggests the instability of familial trust in the period, and each ballad makes plain the risks to the elderly of living ‘under their childrens hand’. The fact that all three titles earn a place in the chart should also motivate us to wonder about the wisdom of associating ballad-consumption too strongly with the young. The second song was aimed explicitly at ‘All you that Fathers be’.

Certain stylistic aspects of this pair of songs are also ear-catching and may have contributed to their popularity. The device of repeating the last line of several verses as the first line of the verses that follow is distinctive. The same can be said of the repeated use of ‘Alack I dye for love’ in the first song and the echoing of this phrase in the second (‘Alack and woe is me’, ‘Alack, alack, she said’). Further echoes connect the concluding lines of the two songs, notably the rhyming of ‘understand’ and ‘childrens hand’. These repetitions, along with the shared tune, have the effect of tying the two ballads together, reminding us that the poor decisions of the father, the son and his wife are all entwined.

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.

Thomas Evan, Old ballads, historical and narrative, 4 vols. (1784), vol. 3, pp. 268-74.

Barbara A. Hanawalt, The ties that bound. Peasant families in medieval England (Oxford, 1986), ch. 15.

Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English family, 1450-1700 (1984), pp. 189-92.

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. 1705 and 2006 .

Stationers’ Register online: https://stationersregister.online/entry/SRO8558

Alice Tobriner, ‘Old age in Tudor-Stuart broadside ballads’, Folklore 102.2 (1991), pp. 147-74.

Lynn Botelho (ed.), Intergenerational relations in the seventeenth century (2016), introduction and pp. 193-97 and 203-06 (vol. 3 in the series, The history of old age in England 1600-1800, ed. Lynn Botelho and Susannah R. Ottaway).

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Featured Tune History

To the tune of ‘Dainty come thou to me’ (lost melody)

The purpose of this section is to provide evidence relating to  the career of the tune under discussion, 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 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

There is no surviving tune that can be identified with any confidence as ‘Dainty come thou to me’. Ross Duffin has argued that the appropriate melody is one to which a song was set in Richard Edwards’ Damon and Pithias but the evidence is not particularly convincing. The occurrence of the phrase ‘griping grief’ in the Edwards song and in a ballad set to ‘Dainty come thou to me’ is not, for example, a strong indicator of a connection; this was a common expression found in numerous ballads and other literary sources during the period. We have been unable to locate an alternative melody to which versions of the song were sung between 1700 and the present day. Sadly, therefore, we have not provided a recording.

Echoes (an overview)

It is possible, however, to say something about the seventeenth-century associations of the melody, even if we cannot sing it. ‘Dainty come thou to me’ was used on a number of ballads and its strongest associations, particularly in the early decades of the century, were with romantic love.

Furthermore, most of the courtship ballads listed below feature an ardent man and a woman who, initially at least, seems reluctant to engage (An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst follows this pattern). The refrains of these ballads, frequently repeated in performance, reinforce the impression that the featured men had to work hard to win female hearts: ‘Dainty come thou to me’, ‘Phillida flouts me’, ‘alack I die for love’ and ‘fair lady pity me’. A PATTERN of true LOVE and An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst were probably the most successful of these courtship songs, and both elaborated on the initial battle for commitment by constructing detailed and compelling follow-up narratives.

In a bold change of tack, the author of The sinner recognised the romantic resonances of the tune and laboured to redirect them. Here, the object of devotion is not a woman but Christ himself, and the refrain is adjusted accordingly (see below). There are echoes of this act of melodic appropriation in The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith. Here, the tune’s romantic associations may have contributed additional poignancy to this outpouring of remorse by a condemned man.

The success of  The wofull lamentation generated a new name for the tune and also spawned a series of ballads about murderers (see, for example, The cryes of the Dead). This new resonance was clearly strong, though it killed neither the tune’s romance nor its piety: the last two songs on the list present us with a heroically devoted couple and a call to repentance respectively.

The ballads are connected not only by their melody but by a number of direct textual cross-references, only a selection of which can be mentioned here. Most strikingly, there is clearly a strong and deliberate resemblance between lines found in A new Northeren Jigge and The sinner respectively: ‘Let them all say what they will,/ Dainty come thou to me’ and ‘Let them saye what they will,/ Jesu, come thow to mee’. In both cases, the second line becomes the song’s refrain, thus binding the two publications together (of course, this is a feature of the second author’s strategy of creative appropriation). It is also noticeable that one verse in The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith runs, ‘Sweet Jesus comfort me’, perhaps recalling the refrain from The sinner.

Several of the ballads include at least one conspicuous deployment of the word ‘misery’, sung at the end of the tune’s second phrase: ‘leave me in misery’, ‘rich, or in misery’, ‘were you in misery’, ‘repleat with misery’, ‘in ways of miserie’, ‘look on my misery’ and ‘Opprest with misery’.  Finally, the refrain in A PATTERN of true LOVE – ‘fair Lady pity me’ – is echoed by the line, ‘Fair Phillis pity me’, in An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son. We cannot know whether all these links were forged consciously or unconsciously but it clearly makes sense to understand the songs in relation to one another.

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

Songs and Summaries

A new Northeren Jigge, called, Daintie come thou to me (?registered 1591; ‘Printed by the Assignes of Thomas Symcocke, 1628-31). Roxburghe 1.204;  EBBA 30140. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, hope; Bodies – looks/physique; Family – children/parents, siblings; Places – European, extra-European;  Society – friendship. A man declares his love for a woman, promising to be constant in his devotion and asking her to put him to the test.

A prettye sonnet of the disdainefull sheppeardesse. To the Tune of Dainty come thow to me (copied by hand, 1600-03). Shirburn ballads, LXXIII. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, frustration; Employment – agrarian; Family – children/parents, inheritance; Recreation – food; Bodies – looks/physique, clothing; Environment – animals, weather. A shepherd with a strong belief in his own eligibility loves Phillida but she ‘flouts’ him continually, preferring the attentions of other men.

The sinner, dispisinge the world and all earthly vanities, reposeth his whole confidence in his beloved Saviour, JESUS CHRIST. To the tune of Dainty come thow to me (copied by hand, 1603-16). Shirburn ballads,  XVIII. Religion – Christ/God, faith, prayer, body/soul; Emotions – love, hope; Morality – general; Society – criticism; Recreation – food; Employment – sailors/soldiers. A fervent declaration of trust in Christ, coupled with a critique of all who pursue earthly wealth and pleasure.

An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst... To the Tune of, Dainty come thou to me , issued on sheet with A Ballad Intituled, The Old Man's Complaint against his Wretched Son... To the same Tune (registered 1624; J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 1.541; EBBA 32615.  Family – children and parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Society – old and young; Emotions – sorrow, anger; Death – suicide.  A father passes on his inheritance to his son so that he can marry but is subsequently maltreated by the cruel couple, until they get their comeuppance.

A PATTERN of true LOVE to you I will recite. Between a Beautiful Lady and a Courtious Knight. To the Tune of, Dainty come thou to me, &c (registered 1624; no imprint, 1695-1711?). Roxburghe 2.579; EBBA 31198. Gender – courtship; Society – rich/poor; Family – children/parents; Morality – familial; Emotions – love, anxiety, sorrow, joy; Death – execution. A poor man and an aristocratic maiden fall in love, provoking the extreme disaproval of her father, but – after a strange test involving a decaptitated body – love triumphs in the end.

The wofull lamentation of Edward Smith, a poore penitent prisoner in the Jayle of Bedford... To the tune of, Dainty, come thou to me (C. W., 1624-38). Pepys 1.59; EBBA 20038. Crime – general, prison, punishment; Death – execution, godly end; Religion – sin/repentance, Christ/God, faith, moral rules; Emotions – sorrow, hope; Morality – general; Gender – marriage; Family – children/parents; Recreation – music. A convicted prisoner, awaiting execution, expresses remorse for his crimes, bids farewell to his family and turns towards God.

A Warning for all Wicked Livers... The Tune is, Ned Smith (F. Grove, 1624-62). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads 1.32; EBBA 36022. Crime – robbery/theft, murder, punishment; Death – execution, unlawful killing; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Gender – masculinity; Emotions – horror; Bodies – clothing; Morality – general; Places – English, travel/transport. The story of two notorious and violent robbers, recently executed for a murder in at the appropriately named ‘Shooters-Hil’ in Kent (the surviving ballad is badly damaged and several verses are missing).

The cryes of the Dead. Or the late Murther in South-warke... To the tune of Ned Smith (T. L., 1633-69). Pepys 1.116-17; EBBA 20048. Violence – interpersonal; Crime – murder, prison; Death – unlawful killing; Bodies – injury; Emotions – horror; Morality – general; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; Family – children/parents; Society – urban life, neighbours; News – domestic, sensational; Places – English; Religion – prayer. This describes the cruelties visited upon numerous children by a wicked weaver, now awaiting trial for murder.

The Reward of Murther, In the Execution of Richard Smith... To the tune of, Ned Smith (no imprint, mid-seventeenth century). Manchester Central Library Blackletter Ballads 2.20; EBBA 36085. Crime – murder, punishment; Death – execution, unlawful killing; Gender – courtship, sex; Morality – romantic/sexual, general; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; News – domestic; Places – English. A man explains how he seduced, impregnated and murdered a widow whom he had promised to marry (only the first half of the ballad seems to have survived).

Londons Glory, and Whittingtons Renown OR, A Looking-Glass for Citizens of LONDON... Tune of, Dainty come thou to me (R. Burton, 1640-76). Roxburghe 3.58-59; EBBA 30404. Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service, professions, female; Economy – hardship/prosperity; Gender – masculinity; Environment – buildings, animals; Recreation – music, food; Religion – charity; Politics – domestic, war, Royalist; Places – English; Royalty – praise. The story of Dick Whittington’s social ascent, aided by a cat and some famous bells, from poverty to power.

The FOUR WONDERS of this Land... Tune of Dear Love regard my Grief, &c. (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Roxburghe 1.118-19; EBBA 30075. Religion – divine intervention, sin/repentance, Bible, Christ/God, Family – pregnancy/childbirth; Emotions – wonder, fear; Morality – general; Environment – weather, animals; Employment – crafts/trades, female; Violence – interpersonal; Bodies – clothing, injury, health/sickness; Places – English, extra-European. An urgent call for repentance, stimulated by a recent spate of ‘monstrous births’ and miraculous showers of blood.

The Valiant Commander, with his Resolute Lady... To a New Northern Tune, called, I would give ten thousand pounds, &c. or Ned Smith (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright,  J. Clarke, W. Thackeray and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 2.208; EBBA 20819.  Gender – marriage, femininity, masculinity; Politics – controversy; Violence – civil war; Emotions – love; Bodies – clothing; Places - English.  A besieged Royalist commander and his beloved wife, disguised as a man, fight fiercely against their foes.


‘Dainty come thou to me’ was also named as a tune in several songbooks. See, for example: The Famous Historie of Fryer BACON (1627), in which a servant improvises a song about time while trying to stay awake; and Richard Johnson, A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), where it serves for ‘A Song of Sir Richard Whittington’ (later published in broadside form as Londons Glory, and Whittingtons Renown: see above).

The melody was also referred to in various other forms of literature. In Dekker’s The Shoemakers Holdiay (1600), for example, Eyre amuses a woman with the line, ‘feare nothing Rose, let them al say what they can, dainty come thou to me: laughest thou?’. The central portion of this quotation comes directly from an early version of the ballad, A new Northeren Jigge, listed above (see also Robert Armin, The History of the two Maids of More-clacke, and Richard Brome, Five new Playes).

Christopher Marsh


Robert Armin, The History of the two Maids of More-clacke, 1609, C4r.

Richard Brome, Five new Playes (1659), p. 56.

Thomas Dekker, The Shoemakers Holiday (1600), H3v.

Ross W. Duffin, Some other note. The lost songs of English Renaissance comedy (Oxford, 2018), pp. 654-55.

Richard Edwards, The excellent Comedie of two the moste faithfullest Freendes, Damon and Pithias (1571), C5r.

The Famous Historie of Fryer BACON (1627), C2r-v.

Richard Johnson, A Crowne-Garland of Golden Roses (1612), B5r-7v.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 15-16, 577-78.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Declaiming man

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 was one of the most familiar woodcuts in seventeenth-century England. Over thirty titles are set out below, seven of which are from our list of best-sellers (a fact that must have extended the image’s visibility very significantly). Ballad-printers needed the ability to place this man on their sheets, and it is clear that several distinct woodblocks were in existence. The resultant images reveal a number of differences, some subtle and some more obvious. The picture of this solid little man was deployed even when the woodblock was severely damaged, a testament to its popularity.

He appears most frequently on love-ballads, often appearing alongside the Woman with Fan. The regularity of this partnership perhaps implies an audience expectation that the two characters would appear together in a relationship that, paradoxically, was both fixed and shifting. Although the paired images scarcely change, the narratives vary considerably, most of them optimistic but some of them much darker. An Excellent Ballad of the Mercers son of Midhurst is very definitely in the latter category. Here, he appears alongside his regular partner, the Woman with fan, and viewers probably understood them to represent the couple who abuse the old man and suffer disaster as a result.

Whether he appeared with or without the Woman with fan, this individual combined an essentially positive reputation with the potential for irresponsible behaviour or unfortunate experiences. In this, he was perhaps an everyman to whom most viewers could relate.

In many ways, he was similar to other generic woodcuts of single men and women, but in one respect he was a little different: through posture and gesture – facing outwards with one arm raised - he appears to be addressing the audience directly, thus representing either the ballad-singer or one of the speaking characters from the accompanying text. Frequently, he stands immediately over the opening lines of a song and appears to be commencing a performance: ‘All company keepers come hear what I say’; ‘You loyal young Damosells’; ‘I am a poor Prisoner condemend to die’.

He can also appear to be gesturing towards the other pictures on the sheet, or even towards the text in general. On An excellent Ballad, Intituled, the unfortunate love of a Lancashire Gentleman, for example, he seems to point towards the lyrics while inviting us to enter his sad world: ‘Look you faithful lovers, on my unhappy state’. As usual, the challenge of connecting him to each specific text was tackled in the brain of every viewer.

Songs and summaries

The two Notinghamshire Lovers: or, The Maid of Standon in Notingham-shire, and the Leicestershire man (H. G., 1601-40).  Roxburghe 3.178-79; EBBA 30475.  Gender – courtship; Family – children/parents, kin; Death – suicide, heartbreak; Morality – familial;  Emotions – love, despair, guilt; Society – friendship; Violence – interpersonal, self-inflicted; Environment – birds, weather.  A woman plans to elope with her sweetheart but he fails to turn up for their meeting, initiating a chain of events that leads to the death of both parties (picture placement: he appears over the opening lines, next to a courting couple).

The New Courtier. Or one that learned the trick from his Mother, To have a little of t'one and a little of t'other (F. Coles, 1624-80).  Pepys 3.49; EBBA 21046. Gender – sex, masculinity; Humour – bawdry, verbal; Recreation – alchohol, hunting; Family – children/parents; Bodies – clothing.  A man tries to persuade a woman to have sex with him, while also arguing the case for combining love-making with a variety of other recreations (picture placement: he appears over the opening verses, alongside an aristocratic woman).

A Caveat for Cut-purses (W. Gilbertson, 1647-65).  Roxburghe 2.46-7; EBBA 30274.  Crime – robbery; Death – execution; Recreation -  general; Morality – social.  A warning about the danger posed by cutpurses, particularly in London’s most crowded areas (picture placement: he stands on the right of the sheet, next to a Woman with fan).

The Springs Glory: OR, A precious Posie for Pretty Maidens (W. Gilbertson, 1647-65).  Roxburghe 2.442-43; EBBA 30907.  Environment – seasons, flowers/trees, birds, animals; Bodies – adornment; Emotions – joy, love; Gender – courtship, sex, Cupid; Recreation – dance, walking, music.  A song that celebrates the spring, calling on maidens to make the most of the flowers, the birdsong and the atmosphere of romance (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the left of a Woman with fan).

A new Ballad of the Souldier and Peggy (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63).  Euing 243; EBBA 31792.  Gender – marriage, courtship, femininity, masculinity; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Family – children/parents; Emotions – longing, sorrow, contentment; Employment – sailors/soldiers, crafts/trades; Nature – sea; Places – travel.  Peggy, a married women, runs off with a soldier, but returns home within three months and seeks forgiveness of her husband (picture placement: he appears on both sides of the ballad, first standing apart from a Woman with fan and second combined with her in a single box to form a Couple with fan and grassy tufts).

A pleasant Song made by a Souldier + A pleasant new Song of two Valentines and their Lovers (F. Coles, T. Vere, and W. Gilbertson, 1661-63).  Roxburghe 3.190-91; EBBA 31640.  Gender – courtship; Recreation – fairs/festivals; Emotions – love; Employment – agrarian. The image appears with the second song, in which a man declares his wholesome love for a woman on Valentine’s Day (picture placement: he appears beneath the title of the second song, next to a Woman with fan).

CUPIDS CURTESIE: in the wooing of fair Sabina (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74).  Roxburghe 2.93; EBBA 31603.   Gender – courtship, Cupid; Bodies – physique/looks; Emotions – longing.  A man approaches Sabina while she sleeps and, aided by Cupid, eventually wins her heart (picture placement: he appears twice in slightly different versions, once alongside a Woman with fan and once next to a woman with an upturned palm).

The Maidens Nay, Or, I loue not you (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74).  Roxburghe 2.336-37; EBBA 30783.  Gender – courtship; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – love.  A man courts a woman, who turns him down initially before reversing her decision in the second half of the song (picture placement: he stands beneath the title, alongside a Woman with fan, and the same two individuals are presented as a single image – Couple with fan and grassy tufts – on the right side of the sheet).

A Posie of Rare Flowers (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74).  Pepys 4.39; EBBA 21705. Gender – courtship; Emotions – love; Nature – flowers and trees. A wholesome romantic ballad in which a man gathers all sorts of flowers for his sweetheart (picture placement: he appears on the right alongside a Woman with fan, while on the left the same two individuals are boxed together as a Couple with fan and grassy tufts).

The diseased maiden Lover  (F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright, 1665-74). Pepys 3.124; EBBA 21133.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – tragedy; Emotions – sorrow. Nature – flowers and trees.  A woman pines to death because of her disloyal sweetheart, and he shows himself utterly unrepentant (picture placement: he appears alongside a Woman with fan).

Corydon and Cloris OR, The Wanton Sheepherdess (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79).  Roxburghe 3.138-39; EBBA 30444.  Gender – courtship, sex, femininity, masculinity;  Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – longing, love, contentment; Employment – agrarian; Environmnet – animals, girds, flowers/trees; Society – rural life; Bodies – physique/looks.  Cloris finds the advances of Corydon irresistible, and because sex leads to a happy marriage she refuses to see her action as wrong (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, next to a Woman with fan).

A Tryal of True Love: Or, The Loyal Damosels Resolution (W. Thackeray, T. Passenger, and W. Whitwood, 1666-79).  Roxburghe 3.122-23; EBBA 30436.  Gender – courtship, femininity; Emotions – love, patriotism; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Family – children/parents, siblings; Places – travel/transport.  A young woman expresses her deep devotion to her soldier-sweetheart and resolves to travel with him when he goes away to war, even ‘To the Worlds end’ (picture placement: he appears over the opening lines, next to a Woman with patches).

A dainty new Dialogue between HENRY and ELIZABETH.  Being the good Wives Vindication, and the bad Husbands Reformation (no imprint, 1670-90?).  Roxburghe 2.100; EBBA 30566.  Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; Recreation – good fellowship, alcohol, games/sports; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, money; Emotions – anxiety, contentment; Employment – alehouses/inns, prostitution; Crime – prison; Family – children/parents; Bodies – clothing, adornment.  Bess warns Harry that his revelling behaviour is hurting the household, and Harry, after initial attempts at self-justification, assures Bess that he will mend his ways (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, next to a Woman with fan).

The Womens just Complaint: OR, Mans Deceitfulness in Love (P. Brooksby, 1670-98).  Roxburghe 2.536-37; EBBA 31039.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, sex; Morality – romantic/sexual; Emotions – anger, sorrow; Recreation – music, dance.  A complaint, on behalf of women, about the sex-driven deceitfulness that men show so regularly in romance (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, next to a Woman with fan).

Cupids Delight; Or, The Two young Lovers broyl'd in love (J. Deacon, 1671-99).  Roxburghe 4.9; EBBA 30910.  Gender – courtship, mixed sociability; Emotions – love, hope, contentment; Bodies – looks/physique; Economy – money, hardship/prosperity; Recreation – alcohol.  A man declares his love for a woman, and she agrees graciously to marry him (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, in between a courting couple and a single woman).

Two-penny-worth of Wit For a PENNY. OR, The bad Husband turn'd Thrifty (J. Deacon, 1671-99).  Roxburghe 2.482-83; EBBA 30974.  Family – children/parents; Recreation – alcohol; Gender – marriage, masculinity; Morality – familial; Economy – hardship/prosperity, household, money; Emotions – sorrow, hope; Employment – alehouses/inns; Society – friendship.  A reformed drunkard explains how he drove his family to the brink of destitution through his immoderate spending, and he warns his listeners to apply the lessons in their own lives (picture placement: he appears over the opening lines, next to a tabletop with tankards and a tavern scene with musicians playing in the background).

Love and Constancy OR The true Lovers welcome home from France (John Hose, 1672-90).  Roxburghe 4.19; EBBA 30920.  Gender – courtship; Emotions – love, joy; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Bodies – clothing; Recreation – weddings, alcohol, music, dance.  A woman is overjoyed that her sweetheart is home from the wars in France, and together they resolve to be married (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, alongside three other small figures, including a Woman with fan).

Jenny, Jenny; Or, The false-hearted Knight, and Kind-hearted Lass (no imprint, c. 1675).  Roxburghe 2.221; EBBA 30682.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity, sex; Places – Scottish; Morality – sexual.  A woman surrenders her maidenhead to a deceiving knight who immediately refuses to support her (picture placement: he stands on the right side of the sheet, next to a Woman with Fan).

The Distressed VIRGIN; Or, The false young-man, and the constant maid (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81).  Pepys 3.313; EBBA 21327.  Gender – courtship, Cupid, masculinity, femininity; Morality – romantic/sexual; Death – heartbreak; Emotions – sorrow.  A young woman, abandoned by the man to whom she was engaged, expresses her extreme sadness and declares her readiness to die (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, to the left of a Woman with fan).

The dying tears of a true Lover forsaken, Made on his Death=bed; the hour before his Death (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1680-81). Euing 64; EBBA 31742. Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Death – heartbreak, suicide; Emotions – anger, despair, shame; Morality – romantic/sexual; Religion – ghosts/spirits, church; Recreation – music; Employment – crafts/trades; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness. In the first part, a man approaches death and is in no doubt that the inconstant woman who broke his heart will suffer for her actions; in the second part, she does (picture placement: he stands immediately over the opening lines, and there are no other woodcuts).

Luke Huttons Lamentation (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1681-82).  Pepys 2.147; EBBA 20765. Crime – robbery; Death – execution, godly end; Emotions – sorrow; Family – children and parents; Religion – morality.  A convicted highway robber repents his wicked ways and prepares to be executed (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses).

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: he stands over the third column of text, alongside a woman who extends a hand towards him).

A Tryal of skill, performed by a poor decayed Gentlewoman, Who cheated a rich Graiser of Sevenscore pound, and left him a Child to keep (I. Wright, I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84).  Pepys 4.303; EBBA 21965.  Gender- sex, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – anger; Humour – deceit/disguise, bawdry; Employment – agrarian, crafts/trades; Places – English, travel; Recreation – hospitality, food.  A wealthy grazier comes to London but his plans to celebrate his profits with a night of sex are ruined by an opportunistic woman who runs off with his money while leaving her illegitimate baby behind (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses, next to a woman who extends her hand towards him).

The Woman to the Plow AND The Man to the Hen-Roost (J. Wright, J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1682-84).  Pepys 4.100; EBBA 21764.  Employment – agrarian; Gender – marriage; Humour – domestic/familial, mockery; Society – rural life.  A rural couple swap their duties with disastrous consequences (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses and next to a Woman with fan).

The Love-sick Maid of Portsmouth (J. Blare, 1682-1706).  Roxburghe 4.54; EBBA 31353.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity, Cupid; Emotions – longing, love, sorrow, contentment; Bodies – looks/physique, health/sickness; Employment – crafts/trades, apprenticeship/service; Religion – divine intervention. A young woman actively woos a man, telling him that she will die if he does not reciprocate, and after initial reluctance he is persuaded by her devotion and despair (picture placement: he appears beneath the title, in between two single maidens).

A Warning to all Lewd Livers (I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 2.225v; EBBA 20838. Family – children and parents; Emotions – sorrow; Gender – sex; Recreation – games; Religion – morality; Crime – robbery;  Death – result of immorality. The tale of a young man who wastes all his money on gaming and lewd women before dying miserably on a dung-hill (picture placement: he stands in between a Devil with erection and a woman).

An excellent Ballad Intituled the unfortunate love of a Lancashire Gentleman, and the hard fortune of a fair young Bride (I. C., W. T., and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 3.327; EBBA 21342. Gender – courtship; Crime – murder; Death – murder, suicide; Emotions – love; Family – children and parents. A tragic story of love, clandestine marriage, bigamy, murder and suicide (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses of the song).

An excellent Ballad of the Mercers Son of Midhurst , issued on sheet with A Ballad Intituled, The Old Man's Complaint against his Wretched Son (J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1684-86).  Pepys 1.541; EBBA 32615.  Family – children and parents, pregnancy/childbirth; Gender – marriage; Society – old and young; Emotions – sorrow, anger; Death – suicide.  A father passes on his inheritance to his son so that he can marry but is subsequently maltreated by the cruel couple, until they get their comeuppance (picture placement: he appears over the opening verses of the second song, alongside a Woman with fan).

The Skilfull Doctor of Glocester-shire; OR, A New way to take Physick (J. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passenger, 1684-86).  Pepys 1.531; EBBA 20253.  Gender – marriage, adultery; Humour – deceit/disguise, extreme situations, misunderstanding, bawdry; Employment – professions; Family - Pregnancy/ childbirth; Bodies – health/sickness. A man impregnates his maid-servant and then hires a doctor to help deceive his wife and escape blame (picture placement: he appears on the right side of the sheet, next to a Woman with fan and three other small generic pictures of men and women).

THE Bleeding Lovers Lamentation: OR, Fair Clorindas sorrowful Complaint for the loss of her Unconstant Strephon (P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare, and J. Back, 1688-96).  Roxburghe 2.32; EBBA 30175.  Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Emotions – despair, love, anger; Death – heartbreak; Bodies – physique/looks; Morality – romantic/sexual. Clorinda is heartbroken because her beloved Strephon appears to have fallen in love with somebody else (picture placement: he appears over the fourth of five columns of text, next to a woman who holds a fan in front of her).

The Cobler's CORRANT: OR, THE Old Shooemaker Metamorphos'd Into a Spick and Span new Translator (C Bates, 1690-1716).  Pepys 4.231; EBBA 21891.  Employment – crafts/trades; Economy – livings; Places – English, Irish, travel.  An unusual autobiographical ballad in which a shoemaker-cobbler tells his tale and advertises his business in London (picture placement: he stands over the opening verses, gesturing towards a cobbler at work).

A NOBLE RIDDLE Wisely Expounded (W. Thackeray, E. M. and A. M., 1692-93). Pepys 3.19, EBBA 21012. Gender – courtship, sex; Places – Scotland.  A young knight has sex with a young lady but only agrees to marry her if she can solve a set of riddles (picture placement: he appears over the opening verses, next to a Woman with fan).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

We have not found other early-modern texts that show a clear relationship to this ballad in terms of precise verbal content. In the medieval and early-modern periods, various stories circulated about the dangers of handing over power to one’s offspring at too early a date. One described an old man who lives with his uncaring son and is expected to keep himself warm with a horse blanket (Hanawalt). A similar story told of an old man who, in his son’s home, was required to make do in locations of ever-decreasing discomfort until he died out of sight on a couch behind a door (Houlbrooke). The ballad about the mercer and his son is reminiscent of these narratives but its connection to them seems general rather than specific.

Christopher Marsh


Barbara A. Hanawalt, The ties that bound. Peasant families in medieval England (Oxford, 1986), ch. 15.

Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English family, 1450-1700 (1984), pp. 189-92.

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An Excellent Ballad of the Mercers son of Midhurst, and /the Clothiers daughter of Guilford. The tune is, Dainty come thou to me.

[We have not made a recording because the tune is unknown]


THere was a Wealthy man,

in Sussex he did dwell,

A Mercer by his Trade,

as many yet can tell.

He had a youthfull Son,

whom fancy did so move.

He cryed night and day,

Alack I dye for Love.


Alack I dye for Love,

beauty disdaineth me,

The Clothiers Daughter dear,

works my extremiy:

She hath my heart in hold,

that did most cruell prove,

Thus cry’d he night and day,

Alack I dye for Love.


Alack I dye for Love,

fortune so sore doth frown,

The jewell of my heart,

dwelleth in Guilford Town,

There [l]ies the Lamp of life,

for whom this pain I prove,

Fair Phillis pitty m[e],

Alack I dye for Love.


Alack I dye for Love,

and can no comfort find,

The Clothiers daughter dear

beareth too high a mind.

Sweet beautious Paragone

fair Venus silve Dove,

Fair Philiis pity me,

Alack I dye for Love.


Alack I dye for Love,

while thou dost laugh and smile

Let not thy pleasure be,

true Love for to beguile,

My life lies in thy hand,

then as it doth behove,

Slay not the Mercers Son,

Alack I dye for Love.


If that my beauty bright,

doth grieve thy heart quote she

Then let the Mercers Son,

turn still his face from me.

I no man disdain,

or can I cruell prove,

My tongue must still say nay

where my heart cannot Love.


Where my heart cannot Love,

Lovers all must I shun

The Clothiers daughter thus,

answerd the Mercers Son,

I bear no lofty mind,

yet pity cannot move,

My mind to fancy him,

Where my heart cannot Love.


Where my heart cannot love,

I must his love deny,

For though I laugh and smile,

yet falshood I defie.

Thou art too fond a man,

life danger thus to prove,

Ile not wed good frind John,

where my mind cannot Love.


What good can there befall

to that new married wife,

Where goods and wealth is small

want causeth deadly strife.

But where is wealth at will,

experience oft doth prove,

Though love at first be small,

yet goods increaseth Love.


Yet goods increaseth Love,

and I will never wed,

But where a Key of gold,

opens the door to bed.

For she may merry be,

what chance so ever hap,

Where bags of mony come,

tumbling within her lap.


Tumbling within her lap,

whilst she her gold doth tell,

With such a husband sir,

I should delight to dwell.

Were he young were he old,

deform’d or fair in show,

My pleasure still should be,

where Treasure still doth flow.


Where Treasure still doth flow,

is that your mind quoth he,

My Father will bestow,

as much as comes to thee.

Hadst thou five hundred pound,

five hundred more beside,

My Father will bestow,

if thou wilt be my bride.


If thou wilt be my bride,

thus much I understand,

My Father will give me,

his house and eke his Land.

So while that he doth live,

with us he may remain,

What says my hearts delight,

is this a bargain plain.


This is a bargain plain.

quoth she I am content,

So he performe this thing,

I give the my consent.

And I will merry be,

my mind shall not remove,

Thou shalt be my sweet heart,

Ile be thine own True Love.


Ile be thine own True Love,

then make no more delay,

I greatly long to see,

our happy marriage day.

To Midhurst in all hast,

goeth the Mercers Son,

He told his Father dear.

his true Love he had won.


The old man hearing this,

conveyed out of hand,

Assurance to his Son,

of all his house and Land.

When he had done this deed,

he wept most bitterly,

Saying my own dear Son,

thou must be good to me.


Well worth two hundred pound,

this morning was I known,

But the cloaths to my back,

nothing is now mine own.

And all this have I done,

dear Son to pleasure thee,

Think on thy Fathers love,

and deal thou well with me.


Dear Father quoth the Son,

if I do not do so,

God power upon my head

hot vengeance grief and wo,

The young man wedded was,

to this fair lovely Bride

But wondrous grief and care,

thereof their did betide.


As after you shall hear,

in the old mans complaint,

A tale of greater grief,

cannot your hearts attaint

A warning by this thing,

all men may understand,

Lest they do come to live,

under their childrens hand.



A Ballad intitnled, The Old man Complaint against his/ wretched Son who to advance his marriage did undo himself.


ALl you that Fathers be,

look on my misery,

Let not affection fond,

work your extremity.

For to advance my Son,

in marriage wealthially,

I have my self undone,

without all remedy.

I that was wont to live,

uncontrould any way,

With many checks and taunts,

am grieved every day.

Alack and wo is me,

I that might late command,

Cannot have a bit of bread,

but at my childrens hand.

While I was wont to sit,

chief at the Table end,

Now like a serving slave,

must I on them attend.

I must not come in place,

where their friends merry be,

Lest I should my Son disgrace,

with my unreverency.

My coghing in the night,

offends my daughter in Law,

My deafness and ill sight,

doth much disliking draw.

Fie on this doating fool,

this crooked churl quoth she,

The chimney corner still,

must with him troubled be.

I must rise from my chair,

to give my children place,

I must speak Servants fair,

this is my wofull case.

Unto their friends they tell,

I must not say they lye

That they do keep me here,

even of meer charity.


When I am sick in bed,

they will not come me nigh,

Each day they wish me dead,

yet say Ile never dye.

O Lord ant be thy will,

look on my wofull case

No honest man before,

ever took such disgrace.

This was the old mans plaint

every night and day,

With wo he waxed faint,

but mark what I must say.

This rich and dainty pair,

the young man and his wife

Though clog’d with golden coyn,

yet led a grievous life.

Seven years they married were,

and yet in all this space,

God gave them ne’r an heir

their Riches to imbrace.

Thus did their sorrow breed,

joy was from them exil’d,

Quoth she a hundred pound,

would I give for a child.

To have a joyfull child,

of my own body born,

Full oft am I Revil’d,

of this my barrend womb.

Much Physick did she take,

to make a fruitfull soyl,

And with excess thereof,

she did her body spoyl.

Full of grief full of pain,

full of Ach grew she then,

That she cries out amain,

seek for some cunning men.

That I my health may have,

I will no mony spare,

But that which she did crave,

never fell to her share.


Alack Alack she said,

what Torments I live in,

How well are they apaid,

that truly ease can win.

So that I my health had,

and from this pain were free,

I would give all my wealth,

that blessed day to see.

O that I had my health,

though I were ne’r so poor,

I car’d not though I went,

begging from door to door.

Fie on this muck quoth she,

it cannot pleasure me,

In this my wofull case,

and great extremity.

Thus liv’d she long in pain,

all comfort from her fled,

She strangled at the last,

her self within her bed.

Her husband full of grief,

consuming wofully,

His body pind away,

suddenly he did die.

Ere thirty years were past,

dy’d he without a will,

And by this means at last,

the old man living still.

Injoy’d his Land at last,

after much misery,

Many years after that,

liv’d he most happily.

Far Richer then before,

by this means was he known.

He helpt the sick and sore,

the poor man overthrown.

But this was all his Song,

let all men understand,

Those parents are accurst,

live on their childrens hand.

Printed for F. Coles, J. 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; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Mercers Son').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1629.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 7

No. of extant copies: 12

New tune-titles generated: none.

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 7 references, with no evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. V39542).

POINTS: 0 + 20 + 5 + 14 + 12 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 51

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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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