A PEPYSIAN GARLAND - online book

Black-letter Broadside Ballads Of The years 1595-1639

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Whipping cheer
Pepys, i, 208, B.L., two woodcuts, four columns.
Bridewell stood near Fleet Ditch. Originally a handsome house built by Henry VIII, it was turned over to the city of London in 1553, by Edward VI, to be used as a house of correction for rogues and loose women. " Bridezcel," says Antony Munday, in his Briefe Chronicle of the Successe of Times (1611, p. 522), was "appointed for the Vagabond, ydle strumpet, and vnthrift." It was formally opened in 1555 and was destroyed, more than a century later, in the Great Fire.
The author of the ballad had—what is so rare among ballad-writers— a real sense of humour. In the first part he represents three files de joie —three "fatal sisters"—as moaning and complaining for departed pleasures while they are beating hemp with beetles or spinning flax at Bridewell under the vigilant eye and ever-ready lash of Matron and Beadle. In the second part, the roaring boys,—the gulls, coney-catchers, and panders of London,—are seen sending a comforting letter to the Sis­ters: "comfort" is supposed to come from the news that the roaring boys themselves are soon to be sent to Bridewell, and as misery loves company, the Sisters should cease their laments. That neither the roaring boys nor the fatal sisters exaggerated their punishment is evident from the sentence passed on one Henry Skyte (July 10, 1609), whom the court ordered "forthwith sent to Bridewell and there soundlye whipped for speakinge contemptuous wordes against Sir Robert Leighe, sittinge upon the Benche, and to be kepte to beatinge of hempe" (J. C. Jeaffreson, Middlesex County Records, 11, 54).
The ballad was printed about 1612. It is a valuable commentary on the fifth act of Dekker's Honest Whore, Part II, where a constable with "two Beadles, one with hemp, the other with a beetle," and with various inmates of Bridewell play important roles. The phrase whipping-cheer occurs often in the works of Thomas Nashe {Works, ed. R. B. McKerrow, n, 291) and in Henry IV, Part 11, v, iv, 5. The refrain of the ballad is very attrac­tive indeed, and it is a pity that the tune it demands, Hemp and Flax, is not known.
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