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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

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Volume 19 (2013) No. 1

Published 2017

To the Tune of Witchcraft:
Witchcraft, Popular Song, and the Seventeenth-Century English Broadside Ballad

Sarah F. Williams*


Broadside ballads—single sheet tabloid publications that related current events, politics, and gossip for the price of a penny—combined decorative woodcuts and poetic verse sung to orally circulating melodies. During the seventeenth century in England, singing, hearing, and seeing ballads was a shared daily experience for most citizens, one that allowed for the constant metamorphosis of ballad tunes, texts, subject material, and social commentary. One subject that fascinated ballad writers during the seventeenth century was female transgression, including witchcraft. Yet the extant ballads describing witchcraft and female malfeasance are set to only six tunes—“Bragandary,” “The Ladies Fall,” and “Fortune My Foe” being the most prominent—despite the hundreds publishers had at their disposal. The article explores the musical, theatrical, and literary histories of these three tunes, examining intertextual trends across broadsides and other forms of entertainment and positing that balladry and song could both reflect and shape seventeenth-century connections between witches and other transgressive women.

1. Witchcraft, Women, and Ballad Culture

2. Music, Community, and Ballad Culture

3. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, I: “Fortune My Foe”

4. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, II: “Bragandary”

5. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, III: “The Ladies Fall”

6. Conclusions and New Directions




1. Witchcraft, Women, and Ballad Culture

1.1 In Margaret Cavendish’s play The Comical Hash (1668), the Lady Censurer offers a performance of several melodies popular in the seventeenth-century broadside ballad trade:

I was to sing them a Song for my money; so I sung them an old Song, the burden of the Song, Oh women, women, monstrous women, what do you mean for to do? but because the Song was against women, they would have had me given them their money back again… so then I sung them Doctor Faustus that gave his Soul away to the Devill; for I knew Conjurers and Devills pleased women best.[1]

1.2 Broadside ballads—single sheet tabloid publications that related current events, politics, and gossip for the price of a penny–combined decorative woodcuts and poetic verse sung to orally circulating popular tunes. The broadside ballad melodies the Lady Censurer mentions are well known to her audience; she references only the burden, or refrain, of an “old Song” and relies on her listeners to recall the subject material of another broadside sung to the tune of “Doctor Faustus.” A similar instance of collective musical memory occurs in Samuel Rowley and Thomas Dekker’s 1634 drama The Noble Souldier when the character of the Poet is asked to write a libel on the subject of the king. The consequence of this treasonous act, the Poet fears, will be ballads “sung to the hanging tune” written about his miserable end:

The King! shoo’d I be bitter ‘gainst the King,
I shall have scurvy ballads made of me,
Sung to the hanging tune. I dare not, Madam.[2]

Dekker and Rowley’s audience would have understood the Poet’s reference to “the hanging tune” as a melody popular in the ballad trade used to accompany grisly stories of murderers and hangings. The tunes mentioned in these examples—”Oh Women, Women Monstrous Women” and “Doctor Faustus,” also known as “The Hanging Tune”—were also referred to in the ballad trade by the titles “Bragandary” and “Fortune My Foe,” melodies frequently paired with titillating stories of crimes, the supernatural, wanton women, and witchcraft.

1.3 In these dramatic works, the playwrights rely on their audiences to understand the various broadside texts that the mention of a tune might evoke. Did broadside publishers also have intertextual cross-references in mind when penning their verses, perhaps employing a specific tune to heighten the popularity, or even efficacy, of their publications?

1.4 The extant ballads describing witchcraft published during the seventeenth century are set to only six tunes—“Bragandary” and “Fortune my Foe” included—despite the hundreds broadside publishers had at their disposal.[3] This study offers the heretofore unexplored musical, theatrical, and literary histories of the tunes most commonly associated with English broadside ballads describing witches and witchcraft during the seventeenth century—“Fortune My Foe,” “The Ladies Fall,” and “Bragandary”—to determine if the small number of tunes used for this subject matter was not only a strategic act by ballad authors, but also a way of signaling female transgression through popular song. Several scholars, both within and outside the discipline of musicology, have recently explored the broadside ballad’s contribution to early modern English life and its depictions of domestic and violent female crime. Bruce Smith’s groundbreaking work on reconstructing the acoustic experience of early modern English culture has argued the broadside ballad to be more than a genre or print medium but rather a complete system of communication.[4] Christopher Marsh has likewise written on the audience for ballads, representations of their sellers both commercial and theatrical, and the associations among melody, mood, and text in balladry.[5] In addition to collecting and reconstructing ballad trade tunes used in Shakespeare’s dramatic works, Ross Duffin and Tessa Watt have commented upon the broadside’s ability to educate and communicate—through popular song and intertextual trends—to a wide range of social classes in early modern England.[6] Likewise, Amanda Eubanks Winkler has written on the music used by Restoration composers to represent witchcraft and disorder on the late seventeenth-century English stage, while Frances Dolan has explored the depictions of domestic crime—specifically wifely insubordination and witchcraft—in early modern theatrical works and broadside ballads.[7] This essay goes beyond this important scholarship to examine intertextual trends in broadsides associated with witchcraft, the history of tune genres and their cultural associations, as well as past and contemporaneous theatrical and folk poetry references. I posit that popular song could build connections between witches and other transgressive characters in the minds of ballad consumers.[8]

1.5 Popular culture and literature linked witches with unruly women—specifically domestic scolds and murderesses—since the Elizabethan era.[9] The law, however, made distinctions between the various forms of female transgression. Domestic scolds, murderesses, and witches were subject to gradations of punishment in both early modern law and in the eyes of the community. Scolds, the least violent of female offenders, were subjected to various forms of public censure and humiliation. The legal term for women’s unruly tongues in these domestic situations was “scolding,” and although men could be accused of the crime as well, women were more likely to be prosecuted and branded with the pejorative moniker “scold.”[10] The term could mean, as it does today, a nagging wife; there were, however, also specific legal definitions. It connoted violent actions and speech, suggesting a “turbulent, chiding, brawling person.”[11] More dangerous than merely a loquacious woman, a “common scold” could be punished, most often by the ducking stool or with an iron muzzle or brank, for acting as a nuisance to neighbors or others in the community.[12] Scolding, termed by one scholar as the “femininization of deviant speech,” posed a threat to social hierarchies, civil discourse, and the marriage contract.[13]

1.6 The scold’s relationship with witchcraft and the devil has been well documented in contemporaneous popular literature, theater, and broadside balladry. Despite being “ruled” by the devil, the scold was actually able, on some occasions, to out-curse him.[14] Witches were often accused of scolding in addition to the more serious capital offense of witchcraft. Reginald Scot, the skeptic and author of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, includes the scold as part of his definition of a witch: “[Witches] are lean and deformed, shewing melancholy in their faces, to the horrour of all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, devillish, and not much differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits.”[15] Affinities between the witch and the scold extended beyond treatises and court records and into fictional representations. William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford’s tragicomedy The Witch of Edmonton links the two offenses:

She on whose tongue a whirlwind sits to blow
A man out of himself, from his soft pillow,
To lean his head on Rocks and fighting waves,
Is not that Scold a Witch?[16]

1.7 Several broadside ballads also describe domestic scolds whose unruly tongues eventually lead to homicide. The verbally abusive wives speak “as the devil” or speak “curst” words with an “evill” tongue.[17]

1.8 The crime of murder was also intimately connected to the crime of witchcraft in early modern England. Both were seen as a threat to the social order, and women accused of murdering their husbands were afforded especially harsh consideration under the law.[18] Occult or otherwise, punishment for the crime of murder was differentiated by gender. Men accused of murder, if convicted, were sentenced to hang. Women accused of husband-murder in particular were convicted of petty treason, a far more serious offense, and sentenced to burn at the stake. As their bodies literally turned to ash, all evidence of their disobedience erased completely. The symbolism of the female criminal being “reduced to ashes” provided a vivid spectacle for onlookers.[19] Men convicted of petty treason, on the other hand, were subjected first to public humiliation, such as being led to gallows on a hurdle, and then hanging. Women’s punishment—burning at the stake—was the consequence faced by anyone convicted of high treason.[20] Yet, as Frances Dolan explains, the first English statute that grouped the crime of killing a husband with killing a king or feudal lord as treason did not differentiate between petty or grand, low or high.[21] Husband-murder, in particular however, was seen more as an affront to social hierarchies rather than any one particular person or rank. Killing the patriarch of a household was a threat to the social order—akin to disobedience against a feudal lord or the monarch—and the delicate balance of power and gender roles that governed early modern England, as strengthened by Protestant doctrine: “if any servant kill his Master, any woman kill her husband, or any secular or religious person kill his Prelate to whom he owes Obedience, this is treason.”[22] Special legal status thus existed for husband murderers, and they were subjected to the same punishment as those convicted of high treason.[23]

1.9 The Byzantine legal statutes governing women, transgression, and disorderly speech extended to the classifications of witchcraft in England as well. Witchcraft was classified as a pact with the devil, and, in many cases on the Continent where the Protestant Reformation did not take root, women were often accused of demonic possession or crimes against the body. In England, however, most of the complaints brought against women accused of witchcraft concerned acts of malfeasance, or the witch’s capacity to do harm to others or property through occult means.[24] The process through which a witch might be singled out and accused shows that other deviant forms of social behavior were seen in the same light. Historian James Sharpe has written that we should, at the very least, consider “the sense of otherness implicit in witchcraft; the sense of danger; and the sense that somehow ‘power’ is involved.”[25] These are the same fears that led early moderns to demonize the domestic scold, categorize the killing of a husband as treason, or marginalize any woman attempting to usurp patriarchal power structures or social hegemonies.[26] Sharpe has also noted that London’s presses were producing popular literature on witchcraft and wonders of all sorts throughout the Elizabethan era, usually with a “heavy moral undertone,” which reiterated popular religious beliefs of the time, namely that “God was present everywhere, and He was all too willing to unleash correction and punishment on to a sinful mankind.”[27] These publications were capable of linking witchcraft with various other crimes, including “treasons, murthers, witchcrafts, fires, [and] flouds” as examples of the coming Judgment Day.[28] Furthermore, witch accusations were patterned in early modern England, and, as witchcraft historians Keith Thomas, James Sharpe, and Alan Macfarlane have noted, generally centered on women who were economically marginalized (poor), old (widowed), or otherwise outside patriarchal control.[29] Other types of women who upset the established social and gender hierarchies of the day were known to be suspicious and court documentation proves this cultural bias.[30] Women who committed petty theft, avoided church services, scolded their husbands, were prone to drunkenness, or were in any way a social nuisance were at risk of being identified as a witch.[31] Historians Sara Mendelson and Patricia Crawford have asserted that the scold, the whore, and the witch were three of the most dangerous women for early moderns, building on specific societal fears of the power of the woman’s tongue (scold), unbridled sexuality (whore), and an inversion of all that the patriarchy deemed proper feminine behaviors (witch).[32]

1.10 The broadsides analyzed here feature textual descriptions of witches, husband-murderers, and scolds that intertwine these fears. It is possible that broadside ballad publishers made strategic and patterned choices in the popular tunes they used to accompany their verses that were based on the interconnections between these forms of female crime. In doing so, they would draw upon the collective memories of the ballad-buying public to link musically the representations of unruly women, stigmatizing those melodies in the process. The repeated use of these tunes could in turn shape how the community conceived of witchcraft.[33]

2. Music, Community, and Ballad Culture

2.1 The complicated and interrelated histories of tunes accompanying witchcraft ballads were dependent upon the communal experience of ballad sales, performance, and consumption for transmission. Tune names metamorphosed through constant repetition and performance in public spaces and could have been spurred by the particularly successful sales record of a particular broadside. Communicating tunes, like the daily news and gossip, was centered in the local places—churchyards, taverns, alehouses, inns, fairs, and marketplaces—where citizens gathered. The author of The Arte of English Poesie wrote in 1589 about the various public and private situations in which one might hear a broadside, including

upon benches and barrels’ heads where they have none other audience than boys or country fellows that pass by them in the street, or else by blind harpers or such like tavern minstrels… [or] made purposely for recreation of the common people at Christmas dinners and bridals, and in taverns and alehouses and such other places of base resort…[and] uttered by these buffoons or vices in plays.[34]

2.2 An early seventeenth-century observer also reports on a typical scene in one of London’s markets:

Ballad-mongers on a Market-day
Taking their stand, one (with as harsh a noyce
As ever Cart-wheele made) squeakes the sad choice
Of Tom the Miller with a golden thumbe,
Who crost in love, ran mad, and deafe, and dumbe.[35]

In 1595, Nicholas Bownde confirms similar practices even earlier in the sixteenth century when he wrote about the growing tradition of public ballad performance in the streets and markets: “And indeed I know not how it commeth to passe, (but you may observe it) that the singing of ballades is very lately renewed, and commeth on a fresh againe, so that in every Faire and market almost you shall have one or two singing and selling of ballads.”[36] Bownde also comments upon the visual display and performance of ballads in communal settings so as to facilitate rote learning. He remarks on the “vain songs” that cottagers sing “though they cannot read themselves, nor any of theirs, yet will have many Ballades set up in their houses, that so they might learne them, as they shall have occasion.”[37] Perhaps most famously, the late seventeenth-century diarist and broadside collector Samuel Pepys delighted in hearing and participating in ballad culture, specifically at his favorite venue, Bartholomew Fair. He collected the penny sheets, and, on one occasion, transcribed a song he overheard in the fair, the popular tune “Mardike,” which Pepys unfortunately deemed “silly” and so “did not write it out.”[38] Broadsides had “broad social appeal” as evidenced not only by the interest of antiquarians such as Pepys and Anthony Wood, but also, in part, because of broadside culture and tunes referenced in contemporaneous theatrical productions and the appearance of libelous ballads written against various social classes performed in public spaces during and after the Civil Wars.[39]

2.3 The public performance of ballad tunes was a practice that led directly to musical metamorphosis. For instance, “London Is a Fine Town” serves as an excellent example of how a melody’s history and associations both within and outside the ballad trade can inform how listeners might conceive of witchcraft through popular song. The melody was known by many alternate names, including “Watton Town’s End,” “London Is a Brave Town,” “The Gowling,” “See the Golding”/“See the Gilding,” and “Peggy Ramsey.”[40] “Watten Town’s End” appears as the title of a ballad fairly early in the seventeenth century, and many echoes and parodies of the tune and title appear as late as 1660. The original bawdy refrain is as follows:

At Watten Towns end, at Watten Towns end
At every Door, there stands a Whore,
At Watten Towns end.[41]

A poem appearing in a Bodleian Library manuscript titled “Wattling-Streets End” connects the tune titles through the refrain “Oh London is a ffine towne, and a Gay Citty,/ Tis govern’d by the scarlett Gown give eare/ unto my ditty.”[42] In Thomas D’Urfey’s extensive repository of late seventeenth-century popular tunes Wit and Mirth; Or Pills to Purge Melancholy, the music for “London Is a Fine Town” is used to accompany ballads originally associated with an older tune, “Bonny Peggy Ramsey” or “Peg a Ramsey.”[43] “London Is a Fine Town” and “Peggy Ramsey” are not related musically, but rather textually and metrically. A song in D’Urfey’s collection begins with the line “Bonny Peggy Ramsey that any Man may see” and is set to the tune “London Is a Fine Town.”[44] Finally, “See the Golding, or Watten Townes End” is listed as the tune indication for the broadside Sure My Nurse Was a Witch, with the refrain “O take him beggar, take him.” The broadside lists various unsavory characters, such as the drunkard, the sloth, the foolish gambler, and the witch who, posing as a nurse, coos spells disguised as nursery rhymes to an innocent child.[45]

2.4 The intertwined history of “London Is a Fine Town” and “Peggy Ramsey” could have also shaped broadside publishers’ musical decisions. Several broadsides calling for the tune “Peggy Ramsey” describe the strange, the supernatural, and the wicked, suggesting publishers may have had the tune’s previous associations in mind. Perhaps the reason for these grim pairings stems from an early ballad set to “Peggy Ramsey” titled An Excellent Merye Songe of the Freier and the Boye. In this example, a rural boy wishes for three things from an old man in a pasture, one of which is ill luck to his old “dame,” or mother, who is unkind to him.[46] The old man “swore to make her rage/ in strange and wondrous case” and, when the boy returned home, the dame did look “cursedly” on the boy and “blewe such a blast/ That all the howse began to rore.” The boy then bewitches the friar who comes to his mother’s aid with “musicke strange” from his pipe. This broadside was a sensational account of actual events recorded in 1573, wherein a boy and a spinster were accused of and tried for sorcery and witchcraft for their involvement in the death of eight-year-old Mary Cowper.[47]

2.5 As Christopher Marsh and Ross Duffin have asserted, public theaters and the ballad trade worked both in concert and in competition to present popular song to an even wider range of London’s social classes.[48] Featuring ballad tunes in the theater added new levels of complexity to a melody’s history, associating its strains with diverse character types, and both reinforcing and subverting its history in the street literature trade. Early modern dramatic works are littered with references to street tunes, performances of popular song, and ballad monger characters such as Autolycus from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1623) or Nightingale from Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614). Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, for instance, hints at the social standing of the ballad seller when she expresses her contempt for “scald Rimers” who will “Ballad us out a Tune” (Act V, scene 2, line 211). Likewise, Ophelia famously spouts “Walsingham” and other bawdry as she slips into madness (Hamlet, Act IV, scene 5).[49] John Pikering’s 1567 An Enterlude of Vice Conteyninge, the Historye of Horestes contains the instruction for a song to be sung “to ye tune of have over ye water to floride or selengers round.”[50] The latter melody was still in wide circulation into the seventeenth century. Another example includes a stage direction for the Harper in George Peele’s Edward the First (1593): “[Enter the Harper, and sing to the tune of Who list to lead a Souldier’s life.]”[51] In only one of many occurrences, the infamous “hanging tune” is alluded to in Richard Brome’s Antipodes (1638) when Joylesse “Whistles Fortune my foe.”[52] Early modern playgoing audiences, from groundlings on the floor to nobility seated in the Lord’s rooms, experienced multiple layers of meaning as tunes crossed over from the ballad trade, through popular miscellanies, into the public theaters and back again. Experiencing popular song through these multiple venues—on the street, in the theater, during home performance—led to the constant metamorphosis of ballad tunes in the early modern consciousness. The burden from a popular murder ballad became the new title for the same tune used on a broadside about witches. The same melody whistled on stage by a pickpocket in Ben Jonson’s latest drama could be heard crudely sung by an itinerant seller competing for sales in London’s crowded Bartholomew Fair. As an example of this “cross-pollination” between the ballad trade and the early modern English theatrical enterprise, while the tune “Peggy Ramsey” (with its alternate title “London Is a Fine Town”) came to share associations with the supernatural through the ballad trade, theatrical and literary references also linked it with tricksters and whores. “Peggy Ramsey” is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Act II, scene 3) when Sir Toby contemptuously calls Malvolio a “Cathayan” (an inscrutable trickster) and a Peg-a-Ramsey: “My lady’s a Cataian, we are politicians,/ Malvolio’s a Peg-a-Ramsey, and [sings] ‘Three merry/ men be we.'” The crass history of “Peggy Ramsey” also appears in D’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth: “Peggy to the Mill is gone to grind a Bowl of Mault,/ The Mill it wanted Water, and was not that a fault;/ Up she pull’d her Petticoats and piss’d into the Dam,/ For six Days and seven Nights she made the Mill to gang.”[53]

2.6 The ballad tunes familiar to early modern audiences both within and outside the theater were compiled from numerous popular genres, all of which were aptly suited for rote learning and performance by an untrained musician. Culled from courtly airs, Scottish battle hymns, country dances, or fiddle tunes, the musical structures of these tunes are characterized by narrow vocal ranges and uncomplicated rhythmic structures. The common thread in these disparate genres was their malleability and adaptability to regular poetic meters and, of course, their ability to be popular with the ballad consumer. Many tunes, dance genres in particular, are structured such that they end on the dominant, rendering them well suited to the performance of multiple stanzas of simple street ballad poetry.[54] Notation was never included on ballad sheets because most tunes were in oral circulation for over a century or were popular contemporaneous theater tunes.[55] Since singers with a wide range of talent and musical literacy performed broadsides, we can gather that tunes conventionally occupied a range of less than an octave and possessed simple melodic and rhythmic structures to match the strophic common, or ballad, meter)—alternating eight- and six-syllable lines of poetry (—or pentameter ( that was most prevalent in broadside texts. Tunes such as “Fortune My Foe,” “Packington’s Pound,” and “Liliburlero” are typically only three to four phrases long. Sixteenth-century melodies were modal, though one can witness the gradual shift from modality to tonality in later seventeenth-century printed editions.[56]

2.7 The genres associated with the ballad trade’s orally circulating popular songs also carried their own histories and musical stereotypes that could impress further meaning upon a listener. For instance, our example melody “Peggy Ramsey” functioned as a circular dance tune referenced frequently in early modern literature. In fact, the anonymous tragicomedy The Partiall Law (ca.1615-30) also refers to “Peggy Ramsey” as a rustic dance, perhaps suggesting the raucous jig or the morris.[57] The song was linked with country dances and other “low” entertainments. The poem “Shepheards Tales” in Natures Embassie (1620) categorizes “Peggy Ramsey” as a tune suitable for dance and indicates some if its sister genres:

Bounce it Mall, I hope thou will,
For I know that thou hast skill;
And I am sure thou there shall find
Measures store to please thy mind.
Roundelays—Irish hayes;
Cogs and Rongs, and Peggie Ramsy.[58]

This poem links “Peggy Ramsey” to other song genres including “Irish hayes” or round dances. Learned writers disdained Scottish and Irish song and dance genres, often designated as “Northern” tunes or jigs.[59]

2.8 Thomas Nashe, in Have with You to Saffron-walden (1596), continues to link “Peggy Ramsey” and other ballad trade tunes to rustic, lower class dance genres:

Or doo as Dick Harvey did, that having preacht and beat downe three pulpits in inveighing against dauncing, one Sunday evening when his went or friskin was footing it aloft on the greene with foote out and foote in, and as busie as might be at Rogero, Basilion, Turkelony, All the flowers of the broom, Pepper is black, Green Sleeves, Peggie Ramsey.[60]

In fact, the word “jig” or “gig” itself, in its various spellings, is quite similar to the English word for a flighty girl or a wanton woman.[61] “The large number of vulgar puns on ‘jig’ in the Renaissance suggests,” as Charles Baskervill notes, “that the word had in some form a sexual connotation among the people.”[62] Amanda Eubanks Winkler has recently argued for the jig as a stage entertainment and genre frequently associated with theatrical representations of witches in the seventeenth century, especially in the music written for the Restoration revivals of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.[63] The jig was a popular theatrical entertainment that grew out of rustic dance and musical traditions. Adopted by the theater in the sixteenth century, it came to function as a farce in either solo or dialogue performance, retaining its coarse and comical associations as a lower class entertainment. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, however, it came to be viewed as a dance “fit for Fantastical and Easie-Light-Headed People” that eventually fell into “disrepute not only because of its low art but chiefly because of its obscenity, an objection that may have grown out of its action as well as its subject matter.”[64] The jig’s history made it an attractive genre for accompanying theatrical representations of witches; the implications of the genre’s coarse pagan roots would not have been lost on an audience.[65]

2.9 Broadsides indicating the use of “Peggy Ramsey,” “Watton Towns End,” or “London Is a Fine Town” draw from this twisted skein of literary, theatrical, and dance histories, all of which could be communicated publicly through street performance of ballads or theatrical usage.[66]

3. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, I: “Fortune My Foe”

3.1 Forty years before Dekker and Rowley’s The Noble Souldier premiered, a now lost broadside ballad was licensed to Richard Jones on February 28, 1589, telling “of the life and deathe of Dr. ffaustus the great Cunngerer.” Later in the seventeenth century a ballad on the same subject would appear titled The Judgment of God Shewed upon John Faustus, Doctor of Divinitye, set to “Fortune My Foe.”[67] Over the following decades, grisly crime broadsides sung to “Fortune My Foe” flooded London’s broadside trade, and literary works, theatrical entertainments, and popular poetry contributed to and drew upon these associations with crime and the supernatural.[68] The tune was repeatedly renamed, taking its new title from the first lines or titles of particularly popular ballads—for example, as “Doctor Faustus,” after widespread interest in the John Faustus ballad, or “Aim Not Too high” after the first line in a late seventeenth-century moralizing ballad.[69]

3.2 The common musical features of the simplified versions presented by Ross Duffin and Claude Simpson, culled from surviving seventeenth-century printed sources, include a closed three-phrase structure in which the first phrase is repeated (Example 1). The first phrase, beginning with repeated notes, is composed of stepwise motion with one leap of a fourth. The second and third phrases mirror this structure closely—that is, the second phrase also begins with repeated notes, and both phrases contain leaps of no more than a fifth. Set in Dorian, the tune’s range spans less than an octave. A simple, monophonic melody in stepwise motion such as this can be easily transmitted through rote learning, especially considering most broadside trade sellers were itinerants.[70] Given the communal nature of ballad performance, an uncomplicated melody such as “Fortune” was ideally suited for immediate aural identification by the passerby, as well as for group participation on subsequent verses.[71]

3.3 “Fortune My Foe” created a didactic narrative for the early modern listener. By choosing “Fortune My Foe” as the tune indication on their sheets accompanying texts describing the supernatural, criminals, witchcraft trials, and murderers, ballad writers could musically connect witchcraft, demonized domestic scolds, and, toward the end of the century, female criminals (See Table 1). As the Lady Censurer hints in her quote at the top of this essay, her audience associated the tune “Doctor Faustus” (otherwise known as “Fortune My Foe”) with “conjurers and devils.” Cavendish’s play dates from the late 1660s, so these associations were still very much at the forefront of popular consciousness. After the Restoration, in fact, there was renewed interest in literature and performative works on witches, including revivals of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After the initial witch persecutions and Jacobean fascination during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this new “witch vogue” could be one explanation for the reappearance of witchcraft broadsides in the 1680s and 1690s.[72] Witchcraft Discovered and Punished from 1682 is perhaps the finest example of a ballad describing accused witches, and it contains the tune indication “Doctor Faustus: or, Fortune My Foe.”[73] The broadside relates incidents and a trial in Exeter from the same year and draws heavily from the pamphlet account published around the same time, a common occurrence during the early modern era. Reminiscent of the allegorical, moralizing tales of stereotypical witchcraft from earlier in the century—the women lame cattle, “destroy” children, wreck “wicked rage” on mortals—the broadside concludes with a plea for godly pardon. Set to “Fortune,” this ballad exploits the common stereotypes of witch behaviors, reinforcing the knowledge early moderns would have gleaned through demon mongers’ pamphlets and trial accounts.[74]

3.4 The broadside trade could add layers of meaning to a simple melody through intertextual practices that referenced previous subject material, titles, refrains, and even memorable first lines. For example, by utilizing “Fortune’s” alternate title of “Doctor Faustus,” a ballad writer could reference a wide range of evocative subject material explored in previous broadside publications and theatrical productions. The melody “Fortune My Foe” took on yet another title later in the seventeenth century through this intertextual process. The tune is indicated on a godly broadside published around 1670 titled An Excellent Song, Wherein You Shall Find Great Consolation for a Troubled Mind, which contains the opening lines “Aim not too high in things above thy reach/ Nor be too wise within thy own conceit.”[75] The broadside urges its readers (and listeners) to maintain Christian moderation in life and avoid sin. One must abolish “vain exercise from thy sight,” and if “Satan seeks to tempt thee any way,/ Call upon God thy only strength and stay,” instructs the text. Published only a few years after this didactic ballad, Truth Brought to Light, whose four-line stanzas set in pentameter and now calling for the tune “Aim Not Too High,” relates the story of a widow and her children who rob a man, are accused of his murder (though a body was never found), and then are hanged for their transgressions. Based again on an anonymous prose pamphlet version from the same year, the “truth” revealed in the ballad is that Widow Perry was, after the trial and execution, discovered to be a witch as she is repeatedly described as a “wicked wretch” and a “cruel” and “mischievous” woman who brought “strange things to pass.”[76] Like the Exeter case, the news of Widow Perry’s fate was well known due to the popularity of pamphlets describing the same case, in which she is accused of typical malfeasance and “strange” and “wondrous” events.[77] In fact, the same publisher, Charles Tyus, produced and sold both the pamphlet and broadside outlining Widow Perry’s case at his shop on London Bridge. The broadside account chronicles Widow Perry and her son who bewitched and robbed Mr. Harrison, finally conveying him to a sea rock off the coast of Turkey, where he was later picked up by a sailing vessel. The broadside and pamphlet acknowledge the growing skepticism in England toward witchcraft at the time, yet assert that “thousands of people” can bear witness to the veracity of these strange events. Both publications also stress that is only by the “goodness of the Lord” that Mr. Harrison’s life was spared. The ballad’s text reminds the listener that only God can “restrain” the witch:

If God had let her work her utmost spight,
No doubt she would have kild the man outright,
But he is saved and she for all her malice,
Was very justly hang’d upon the Gallows.

The decidedly moralizing tone of both the pamphlet and broadside makes the tune indication of “Aim Not Too High” even more appropriate—that is, this time a century’s worth of broadsides about murderers, crime, and supernatural events will be recalled alongside a melody more recently associated with godly ballads. A new picture of the awesome power of God’s judgment wrought on witches is beginning to take shape through the constant reuse of a simple Dorian melody.

3.5 At the end of the seventeenth century, another witchcraft ballad was published set to the infamous “hanging tune,” using its alternate title “Aim Not Too High.” [78] The Distressed Gentlewoman; or, Satan’s Implacable Malice from 1691 clues the audience in to the familiar character type when it describes the ensuing narration as

A True Relation of a young Gentlewoman near Lincolns-Inn-Fields, who is
possess’d with an Evil Spirit, which Speaks within her most Blasphemous Words, to the grief of her Friends and Relations, and all good Christian People. To the tune of Aim not too High.

This text tells of a pious Christian woman who was targeted for possession by Satan who “study’d how he might her soon Possess.” He achieved his goal through several steps, the first being seizing her senses with melancholy. Doctors and ministers attempted in vain to cure the woman, even offering her the Sacrament. Even though her “Teeth were set, and clenched fast,” the devil was able to speak through her saying: “She shall not take it, no, she shan’t” and then he made her bark like a dog.

3.6 In addition to this witchcraft broadside, “Aim Not Too High” was the tune indication on several godly, moralizing ballads published during the last decades of the seventeenth century that treaded the thin line between religious satire and political libel. One broadside in particular, A Looking Glass for All True Protestants, implores God to “guide our King and Parliament… in a true and Godly way” so that “all true Protestants may forever stand.”[79] Published in 1679 during the height of the Popish Plot,  A Looking Glass for All True Protestants calls specifically for the tune “Papists Aim Not too High.” The subtitle promises that the ensuring verses are a “True Declaration of These Troublesome Times” and makes almost emblematic reference to the accompanying woodcut of a Catholic priest on the broadside as the character of “Deceipt,/ with twiring eyes,” who “Holds up a Cross,/ and seems precise;/ With Beads, and Crucifix also.” In addition to this clearly anti-Catholic broadside, “Aim Not Too High” was also the tune indication on a late seventeenth-century broadside account of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.[80] Published alongside dozens of moralizing, anti-Catholic, and religious conspiracy broadsides set to the same tune, a witchcraft broadside like The Distressed Gentlewoman takes on new relevance for its audience.[81] Witches and their strange rituals—the anti-Mass or black Sabbath and backward flight and speech—are compared to the mysterious Catholic rites of the Eucharist and foreign (Latin) tongues.[82] Through music, The Distressed Gentlewoman added to the growing literature for popular consumption that compared witchcraft with certain religious groups who experienced persecution at the end of the seventeenth century in England, including Catholics, the French, Separatists, and other fringe religious groups.

3.7 As a broadside trade melody, “Fortune My Foe” also had the capacity to associate other types of crime with witchcraft, the supernatural, and God’s judgment. Earlier in the century, broadside publishers capitalized on the persistent popularity of the original Faustus broadsides by employing “Fortune My Foe” as the accompaniment for narratives describing other types of crimes, including husband-murder. This type of act, like witchcraft, places women in the position of upsetting social and gender hierarchies. For example, Anne Wallens Lamentation describes a murderous wife driven to rage and hatred by the Devil. [83] Typical of the domestic scold, the devil is the impetus for her psychotic break:

In London neere to [S]mithfield did I dwell,
And mongst my neighbours was beloved well:
Till that the Devill wrought me this same spight,
That all their loves are turnd to hatred quight.

The mode of address used in the broadside text is remarkably similar to that employed in other crime ballads set to the same tune. Written in the voice of the condemned, otherwise known as a “good night” narrative, it relates the details of the event and concludes with a prayer and plea for salvation: “In burning flames of fire I should fry, /Receive my soule sweet Jesus now I die.”[84] Anne Wallen is burned at the stake for the crime of murdering her husband, which for women constitutes petty treason. In these instances, “Fortune My Foe” serves to musically link crime ballads with witchcraft ballads. Moving beyond the typical complaints of malfeasance such as destroying property or livestock, Anne Wallens Lamentation draws upon the corpus of ballads describing violent murders by men and set to “Fortune” to associate witchcraft and domestic scolding with homicide.

3.8 Ballad-buying consumers could learn about the characteristics of witches and witchcraft through pamphlets, trial accounts, and broadsides texts; melodies like “Fortune My Foe” and their repeated usage within the cheap print trade and its rival commercial industry the theater, however, also educated audiences about the acoustic traits and consequences of witchcraft, murder, and scolding. Like the witches described in The Distressed Gentlewoman and Witchcraft Discovered and Punished, Anne “curse[s] and sweare[s]” and does not “hold [her] tongue” or speak “discreetly.” This is the exact language used to describe the verbal utterances of witches—that is, their speech patterns are loquacious, unrestrained, blasphemous, and generally counter to the prescribed modes of discourse for proper women in the seventeenth century.[85] Whether printed atop a broadside publication or overheard in the street or a fair, music reinforced popular stereotypes promulgated by pamphlets to form a composite portrait of the dangers and consequences of witchcraft for early modern English audiences. Over the century, “Fortune My Foe” metamorphosed from a tune evoking a damned magician to the “hanging tune,” a melody stigmatized through the first-person narratives of male criminals and murderers speaking their final words from the gallows. Decades later it came to evoke female criminals, including verbally abusive witches, domestic scolds, and husband-murderers. By the end of the century, it adopted yet another title, “Aim Not Too High,” and communicated godly warnings about the consequences of social transgression that drew on a century of grisly stories.

4. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, II: “Bragandary”

4.1 Though the majority of witchcraft ballads call for “Fortune,” the second most popular tune is a melody titled “Bragandary.” Once popular for nearly one hundred years, Claude Simpson insists the tune is no longer extant; the answer to an approximate musical structure, however, may lie in the complex intertextual processes at work in the ballad trade.[86] “Bragandary” (in its various spellings “Braganderry down,” “Bragandarie,” or “Bragandarty”) was first paired with an early broadside licensed on August 15, 1597, titled The First and Second Partes of the Wydowe of Watling Streete describing a widow, secretly a harlot, who is turned out of her house by her son after her husband’s death.[87] The melody was later used to accompany stories of witches, demonic scolds, and murderous wives, including The Salisbury Assizes, or, the Reward of Witchcraft and the 1629 ballads A Warning for Wives and The Unnatural Wife.[88] Though the tune does not survive in any musical notation, scholars are able to guess its structure from the poetic meter of the ballads with which it was paired. It could be somewhat variable in meter, but most broadside texts suggest common meter for the first two couplets with the last two couplets in a different meter, perhaps for the purpose of a burden. This ballad text is quite long, and the second half of the sheet calls for a different tune, “The Wanton Wife.” Like the tune indicated for the first half of the broadside text, “Bragandary,” there is no definitive consensus on the authenticity of surviving printed notation titled “The Wanton Wife.”[89] Centuries of oral transmission make it difficult to discern if the two melodies had anything in common musically. They do, however, share a common textual link through this particular broadside ballad. “Bragandary” is a tune in ballad meter; “The Wanton Wife,” however, is in pentameter, much like the structure of “Fortune my Foe.” The tunes must, as the poetry dictates, be different metrically. The most probable explanation is that “Bragandary” was renamed toward the end of the seventeenth century through the complex intertextual processes so common within the ballad trade.[90]

4.2 Throughout the seventeenth century “Bragandary” accompanied narratives devoted to nefarious subject material: witches, abusive scolds who kill their husbands, prophecies, and supernatural wonders, such as a “strange and miraculous fish.”[91] (Table 2) The witch ballad The Salisbury Assizes from 1653, for instance, retains many of the stereotypical descriptions of witches and witchcraft that circulated widely at the beginning of the century. The broadside text reiterates the seductive powers of the devil and his ability to win over the minds of women:

The Devill lately did appeare;
And a Woman did beguile
But she did make the way before,
And in her heart did him adore

The two women accused and eventually executed according to this broadside were both “beguiled,” “perswade[d],” and “seduce[d]” by the devil. One of the women is verbally effusive and crass—that is, she “curse[s] and sware[s]”—a marker of demonic influence in the early seventeenth century and a textual trope that appears in other witchcraft ballads, as well as in other narratives about unruly women set to “Bragandary.”[92]

4.3 “Bragandary’s” reputation was shaped even earlier in the century through several broadsides detailing female crime, murder, and supernatural events, making it an excellent tune choice for The Salisbury Assizes. A Warning for Wives is the broadside version of the trial and execution of Katherine Francis who, under the control of the devil, killed her husband and was sentenced to death in 1629. The writer of this ballad, though relating the specific story of Katherine Francis, opines at the beginning of the text about the motivations of cruel women in general:

The Story which I now recite,
Expounds you meanings evill
Those women that in blood delight,
Are ruled by the Devill,
Else how can th’ wife her husband kill,
Or th’ Mother her owne childs blood spill,
Oh women,
Murderous women.
whereon are your minds?[93]

Katherine Francis is “ruled” by the devil, causing her to disobey her socially required roles of wife and mother. The broadside reflects the common association of the nagging, verbally abusive wife with demonic influence. Katherine steps beyond the lesser crime of scolding, however, and commits murder. She had “long thirsted for [her husband’s] blood” and one night, after some “strife” wherein the couple had “words of difference” and over a “trifle small,” Katherine, with the aid of “Satan, who then lent her power,” stabbed her husband in the neck with a pair of shears.

4.4 Other ballads from the first decades of the seventeenth century set to “Bragandary” continue to reiterate the tune’s associations with murderous wives cursed by the devil (The Unnatural Wife) or murderous acts inspired by Satan and his devils (Murder upon Murder).[94] The Unnatural Wife, which narrates the story of Alice Davis, who killed her husband in 1628, actually links murderous wives with witches and demonic scolds not only through the use of “Bragandary” but also through the visual art on the broadside itself. The woodcut image features a devil with his hand outstretched as if to guide the actions of a woman who has one hand raised violently against her husband, while the other holds an implement near his chest. The two figures of husband and wife seem to be locked in a physical confrontation, while the devil, positioned directly behind the figure of Alice Davis, manipulates her actions like a marionette.[95] The immediacy of the visual art on this broadside, coupled with a street performance of the tune and textual descriptions of a recently condemned husband-murdering wife, gives the semi-literate passerby ample demonstration of the affinities between an unruly female, a murderous wife, and a woman under the control of the devil.

4.5 Though there are few references to the melody name “Bragandary” beyond these examples, the tune title “O Women, Monstrous Women” is referenced in other ballads and dramatic works, such as Margaret Cavendish’s play mentioned above. Reminiscent of the burden from A Warning for Wives, Bagnall’s Ballet, first published in 1655 shortly after The Salisbury Assizes, contains the refrain “oh women, monstrous women, what do you mean to doe!”[96] Due to the intertextual process through which ballad tunes were renamed, Bagnall’s Ballet was probably set to “Bragandary,” and indeed the poetic meter fits the tune. Bagnall’s Ballet laments women’s “pride” and lack of “decency,” suggesting they visit the “devill’s shopps.” Later broadsides do specifically name a tune with the title “O Women, Monstrous Women,” and the subject material in these ballads is similar to those calling for the tune “Bragandary”—that is, featuring supernatural occurrences, cautionary tales, and crimes by women. For instance, the broadside Wonder of Wonders from 1662 describes general supernatural occurrences, this time the tale of a drum beating itself.[97] Again containing a refrain much like the other ballads set to this tune, each stanza ends with the lines “O wonders, notable wonders, ye never the like did hear.” The episode is deemed the work of Satan and his witches:

So powerful were these motions all
by Satan sure appointed,
The Chamber floor would rise and fall
and never a board disjoynted:
Then they heard a show from high
three times a witch a witch did cry.
O wonders, notable wonders,
ye never the like did hear.

4.6 A murder broadside titled The Careless Curate and the Bloudy Butcher in a Narrative of Sad News from Chelmsford in Essexfrom the same year indicates the melody “O Women, Monstrous Women.”[98] The possibility exists that the lost tune “Bragandary” can be traced through this new name in the later seventeenth century.[99]  The tune indication actually appears on a broadside as early as 1634, only a few years after the publication of A Warning for Wives was printed with a similar burden. The melody existed in various guises throughout the century and was well known to accompany stories of witches, murderers, and the supernatural. By the middle of the seventeenth century, its associations with murderous wives, monstrous women, and the supernatural made it an obvious choice to accompany a ballad about a witchcraft trial.

4.7 Margaret Cavendish mentions the stigma “Bragandary,” or its probable alternate title “O Women Monstrous Women,” carried for her audience in The Comical Hash. The Lady Censurer comments that the song is “against women,” observing that female audience members may not appreciate a performance or would perhaps take offense. Just as hearing “Doctor Faustus” would have recalled stories of “conjurers” from a century’s worth of broadside publications and theatrical references for her listeners, the Lady Censurer also implies that her audience would recollect the various broadside texts to which “O Women, Monstrous Women” was set—texts that, in this case, described female crimes of varying degrees. This fascinating passage from Cavendish’s late seventeenth-century closet drama once again demonstrates that the mere mention of tune names—this time “Bragandary” or “O Women, Monstrous Women” in particular—could become musical signifiers for feminine disorder, the supernatural, and verbally abusive, not to mention murderous, wives.

5. Tunes for Witches and Dangerous Women, III: “The Ladies Fall”

5.1 The tune “The Ladies Fall,” as the title suggests, was a melody first paired with cautionary ballads for young women and laments on unfortunate brides.[100] (Table 3) It also provides the accompaniment for broadsides describing an infamous witchcraft trial and a demon-possessed husband murderer. The tune falls into a conventional and symmetrical four-phrase structure centering on G major (Example 2). The versions presented by Ross Duffin and Claude Simpson include a G# leading tone to A at the end of the second phrase, with the third and fourth phrases outlining a stepwise descending line over the interval of a fourth. Functioning as the highest point in the melody’s tessitura, the third phrase begins with several repeated notes before its descent to the cadence. The symmetrical structure of this tune lends itself well to accompanying four-line stanzas of ballad meter texts. The tune gets its name from a popular ballad titled A Lamentable Ballad Called the Ladye’s Fall, licensed in 1603 with the indication that it was to be sung to the tune “In Peascod Time.”[101] No other ballads contain the tune direction “In Peascod Time,” whereas many sheets, perhaps reflecting the popularity of the 1603 broadside, adopted the tune title “The Ladies Fall.”[102]

5.2 The popular broadside Damnable Practises is set to “The Ladies Fall” and chronicles in great detail the witchcraft and trial of Joan Flower and her daughters in Lincolnshire. Like Witchcraft Discovered and Punished, Damnable Practises reads as a compendium of witchcraft stereotypes and crimes, chronicling the women’s reign of terror over their employers, the Earl and Countess of Rutland.[103] Mother Flower is a “swearing and blaspheming wretch,” while her daughter Phillipa is a “strumpet lewd” who seduced and bewitched many men. The three witches seek revenge on their employers by causing “sickness strange.” After being jailed and tried in “Lincolne Citty,” the “hatefull mother witch” finally falls down dead at her trial, “a judgment just and wonder of the Lords.” Like many of the aforementioned witchcraft ballads, Damnable Practises culls much of its information on the behaviors of Mother Flower and her daughters from the trial pamphlet published around the same time.[104] Descriptions of Mother Flower’s effusive verbal behaviors are also highlighted in the pamphlet:

[Her] very countenance was estranged, her eyes were fiery and hollow, her speech fell and envious, her demeanour strange and exoticke, and her conversation sequestred; so that the whole course of her life gave great suspition that she was a notorious Witch.[105]

Like the murderous wives who are identified by their injurious speech unbecoming of a proper seventeenth-century lady, these witches are described using familiar language for the broadside trade. Their actions and appearance are “strange,” they swear and curse, are outside any husbandly or fatherly control, and are employed by the nobility as laborers. The use of the tune “The Ladies Fall” only strengthens the connection between the typical descriptions of witchcraft behaviors and other broadsides narrating crimes by women or laments on female misfortune.

5.3 Other ballads set to “The Ladies Fall” informed how audiences envisioned the early modern witch stereotype, the consequences of the crime, and the types of women susceptible to the snares of dark magic. A ballad written in the first person, A Warning for All Desperate Women of 1633, is also set to the tune “The Ladies Fall” and features, like the “Braganadary” broadside The Unnatural Wife, a narration on the case of Alice Davis, who was executed on July 12, 1628, for killing her husband. The voice of Mrs. Davis repeats the refrain “oh murther,/ most inhumane,/ To spill my Husbands blood.”[106] She relates the argument that led to her husband’s death:

He askt what monies I had left,
and some he needes would have,
but I a penny would not give,
though he did seeme to crave,
But words betwixt us then did passe,
as words to harsh I gave,
And as the Divell would as then,
I did both sweare and rave.

Alice Davis, being possessed by the devil, launches into a fit of blasphemies and violent outbursts, and, in her rage, stabs her husband. Her acoustic behaviors are quite reminiscent of those reportedly practiced by Mother Flower. Both accounts describe the excessive cursing and verbal effusions, and both women ultimately suffer the same fate.

5.4 “The Ladies Fall” tune accompanies other stories of unfortunate women in broadsides recounting the terrible fates of women, supernatural events, and murderous wives, including The Ladies Fall, The Bride’s Burial, and Lady Isabellas Tragedy, or the Step Mothers Cruelty.[107] The Ladies Fall, the broadside after which the tune is named, recounts a woman who became pregnant outside of wedlock. Her lover, of a lower social class, arranges to run away with her. When he does not arrive at the appointed time, she goes into labor and dies along with the child. The ballad writer implies that the woman died of more than complications from childbirth when he writes that she expired with a “sigh that broke her heart.” The didactic conclusion instructs:

Take heed you dainty Damosels all,
of flattering words beware,
And of the honour of your name,
have you a special care:
Too true alas this story is,
as many one can tell.
By others harms learn to be wise
and thou shalt do full well

Both broadsides stress the importance of guarding one’s virtue, a trait clearly lacking in the descriptions of witches in general and Phillipa Flower, the lewd “strumpet,” of Damnable Practises in particular.

5.5 The Ladies Fall was printed at the beginning of the seventeenth century and would have been in circulation around a decade before Damnable Practises was published. The Lamenting Lady, printed around the same time as Damnable Practises, also utilizes the “The Ladies Fall” and chronicles the supernatural tale of a rich but barren woman who hurls “taunting tearmes” at a beggar woman who comes to her door with twins. The poor woman replies with a curse of sorts:

Whereat, halfe kild with woe alas,
I with my wrongs (quoth she)
That these my babes may be revenge’d
proud Lady upon thee:
And as I am both true and just
unto my marriage bed
so let Gods wondrous worke be show
on thee when I am dead.

And for these children two of mine
heaven send thee such a number
At once, as dayes be in the yeare,
to make the world to wonder.
For I as true a wife have beene,
unto my husbands love:
As any Lady on the earth,
unto her Lord can prove.

The rich woman remembers the woman’s words as her belly swells and she gives birth to 365 children. Now her “Countryes scorn,” she experiences God’s pity when all her children “in one grave were strangely buried all.” The poor woman here is not described as a witch; however, the language used to describe the events is similar to the vocabulary employed when describing witch trials. The rich woman believes the poor woman’s “words” had corporeal effect on her and she describes the ensuing events as “strange” and “wondrous.” Toward the middle of the century, other doleful ballads calling for the tune “The Ladies Fall” were published, thus heightening the extra-musical profile of this melody as it became the musical accompaniment for stories of supernatural events, murders, and the death of children. Later in the century, the tune was then paired with godly broadsides and explicitly Christian warnings aimed at young ladies.[108] Its early association with the story of tragic events that befell a young woman could explain why “The Ladies Fall” was an appropriate choice to accompany a witchcraft broadside recounting a popular and titillating witchcraft trial.

5.6 Literary references over the seventeenth century also contributed to the tune’s dismal associations. For instance, Henry Bold’s collection of Latine Songs in Their English (1685) contains a reference to it amid a general tirade against ballad tunes:

In former time ‘t hath been upbrayded thus,
That Barbers Musick was most Barbarous,
For that the Cittern was confin’d unto
The Ladies fall, or John come kiss me now,
Green sleeves and Pudding Pyes, the Punks delight,
Winning of Bolloigne, Essex‘s last good night.[109]

5.7 Early moderns would have also experienced references to the tune outside the realms of cheap print and popular literature. In Act III, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Touchstone recites the lyric “O, sweet Oliver/ O, brave Oliver/ Leave me not behind thee.” Ross Duffin links this reference to the tune “The Hunt’s Up,” which is yet another title associated with the tune “In Peascod Time” and “The Ladies Fall.”[110] One source for the tune’s musical notation, the keyboard variations by Orlando Gibbons, identifies the melody with the titles “The Hunt’s Up” and “Peascod Time.”[111] The early pastoral associations with the melody alternately titled “The Hunt’s Up,” “In Peascod Time,” and “The Ladies Fall” thus complicate its usage in the broadside ballad trade. Its seemingly pastoral beginnings belie later references to crimes against children, apocalyptic prophecies, and disgraced women. Combining these diverse histories, however, reflects how early moderns conceived of witchcraft. It was seen as a crime with agrarian or “folk” origins and rituals, perpetrated by marginalized, sexually available women who transgressed social and gender boundaries, usurped their husbands, denied their fathers, or committed infanticide.[112]

6. Conclusions and New Directions

6.1 Witchcraft, as a concept, shifted throughout the seventeenth century—from hysteria and skepticism to, later, political and religious marginalization. Exactly who was branded a witch was always a reflection of English society’s anxieties over religion, politics, gender, and class.  As England wrestled with the transition from feudalism to capitalism, uniform Catholicism to religious diversity, and occult to more scientific epistemologies, citizens at the margins of society became vulnerable targets for witchcraft accusations. The broadside ballad genre and its accompanying repertory of popular tunes became vehicles through which these anxieties could be safely expressed.

6.2 To return to the question at the top of this essay: was the use of specific tunes to accompany witchcraft narratives strategic? Furthermore, could ballad publishers characterize witches through not only the ballad texts but also the music? Certainly the passage from Cavendish’s dramatic work illustrates that audiences could recall specific ballads when hearing only the tune. Additionally, the passage indicates that her listeners associated tunes with particularly powerful and popular broadsides, even memorable refrains. The tunes profiled above shaped a portrait of, and shape contemporary attitudes about, witchcraft through music. “Fortune”—frequently associated with hangings, the supernatural, justice, and murderers—aligns witchcraft with domestic scolds. “Bragandary” links blaspheming wives with witches, wonders, and lascivious women. “The Ladies Fall” connects witchcraft to unfortunate brides and cursed women. Learned early moderns could cull this information from treatises, pamphlets, and other literature published on witchcraft during the seventeenth century, while semi-literate audiences relied more on vernacular traditions, the broadside trade, and public theaters for their information.[113] Both groups, however, drew upon street literature and popular song, forms of communication that crossed class boundaries and conveyed the shifting anxieties about unruly women operating outside patriarchal control.

6.3 Further research in this area might reveal whether these tunes could stigmatize other marginalized members of society, including religious and political fringe groups later in the seventeenth century such as the Separatists and Quakers.[114] Could various musical figures or specific modes in popular song carry more specific characterizations for semi-literate early modern listeners? In the cases examined here, the communicative properties of popular song and their genres were instrumental in creating a powerful collective memory that bridged both class distinctions and the fluid boundaries among street, home, alehouse, and theatre. Tunes like “Fortune My Foe,” “Bragandary,” and “The Ladies Fall” created a certain amount of audience expectation when it came to the subject matter of the ballad text they were to accompany. The cultural baggage attached to these melodies created a web of powerfully efficacious cultural referents for the early modern listener, an ephemeral experience in London’s marketplaces that we can only speculate about today.


Example 1. Witchcraft Discovered and Punished text set to “Fortune My Foe”

Example 2. Damnable Practises text set to “The Ladies Fall”


Table 1. A Selection of Ballads Set to the Melody “Fortune My Foe”

Table 2. A Selection of Ballads Set to the Melody “Bragandary”

Table 3. A Selection of Ballads Set to the Melody “The Ladies Fall”

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