June 2016

As we have seen, William Elderton’s emphasis on the exemplary feminine virtues of his heroine in A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant is line with the norms of the Renaissance epitaph.  But in Elizabeth Parr’s case it is especially interesting. It reflects the way in which epitaphs idealised their subjects. William and Elizabeth Parr’s union had had an uncertain start, despite the fact that the Parr family were known to be supporters of the reformed faith and had connexions at the highest level of government. As a pre-eminent evangelical at court, William’s sister, Queen Katherine Parr, had been responsible for appointing the Protestant John Cheke as tutor to the young prince Edward in 1544. Having published her own Prayers and Meditations in 1545, her possession of proscribed, heretical books left the queen open to accusations of treason as Henry VIII’s health declined. William Parr was one of the Protestants whose support enabled Edward Seymour to become duke of Somerset and lord protector on Henry’s death in 1547. But as the political and religious upheavals of the mid-sixteenth century unfolded, the Parrs’ marriage felt the dramatic vicissitudes of fortune.

Elizabeth was not William Parr’s first wife. Remarriage in Tudor England was common, but only when the partnership had been broken by death. Even in the newly-Protestant England of Edward VI, remarriage was difficult and extremely unusual while a first spouse still lived. William Parr was first married to Anne Bouchier, who eloped with a man by the name of Hunt or Huntley in 1541 and later gave birth to her lover’s child. Although Parr was granted a legal separation the following year, he was unable to secure the divorce which would allow him to remarry during Anne’s lifetime. Nevertheless, Parr began his relationship with Elizabeth Brooke in 1543 and undertook a clandestine and bigamous marriage in 1544. Parr petitioned the king, Edward VI, for a divorce in 1547 on the basis of Anne ‘conceiving and bearing of one bastard child begotten by a base vile unworthy adulterer’, but the commission appointed to investigate his case was slow in its deliberations.[1] Although he had been a close supporter of the duke of Somerset, Parr’s secret marriage offended the protector.  Even though the commission agreed to the divorce, Somerset ejected Parr from the Privy Council in 1548 and ordered that he separate from Elizabeth. William and Elizabeth’s union was finally legalised in 1551, during the duke of Northumberland’s lord presidency of the Privy Council, at the same time that William was at last granted a divorce from his first wife.

But the Parrs’ fortunes fell again with the accession of the Catholic Mary I. William Parr’s divorce was invalidated and his titles rescinded. Anne Bouchier was promoted to Mary’s lady-in-waiting and had to beg pardon for her husband’s part in the plot to bring Lady Jane Grey to the throne. Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth I in 1558. Another dramatic turn of events saw William and Anne’s divorce reinstated and, with it, Parr’s second marriage.

Perhaps Elderton alludes to this chequered history with his comment that ‘…she be dead and gone / Whose courting need not be to tolde’, but generally, A proper new balad seems to gloss over the unlikely amorous history of its subject. As Nigel Llewellyn commented, ‘The social body as represented in commemorative art was generally idealized’ and the epitaph ballad was, after all, another form of commemorative art.[2]  Nevertheless, William and Elizabeth’s troubled marital history perhaps provides one reason why it was easier to leave out the marchioness’s name: those that were in the know would understand anyway, and everyone else could identify with the more general themes of the song.

So instead of dwelling on Parr’s relationship with her husband and position as a wife, Elderton emphasises above all the lady marques’s feminine virtues of modesty, cheerfulness and piety:

Me thinkes I see her modeste mood,

Her comlie clothing plainlie clad,

Her face so sweete, her cheere so good,

The courtlie countenance that shee had;

But, chefe of all, mee thinkes I see,

Her vertues deutie daie by daie,

Homblie kneeling one her knee,

As her desire was still to praie.

Parr’s black clothing may have been a symbol of her piety, or simply an acknowledgement that she was a servant of the queen, because according to May-Shine Lin, ‘The combination of black and white gradually became the personal colors of Elizabeth as her reign progressed, and men wore black and white garments at court masques, tiltyard and her progresses, in tribute to the queen’.[3] Similarly, Alison Weir claimed that Elizabeth’s ladies were all ordered to wear black in order to make the queen’s clothing more prominent.[4]  Certainly, Elizabeth Parr wears black in the Cobham family memorial portrait painted in 1567 and now held in the collection of Longleat House.[5]


[1] Petition from William Parr, marquess of Northampton to the king, [January x April] 1547, in State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547-1553,vol. 10/2 fol.106, (State Papers Online, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2013), accessed June 27, 2013,



[2] Llewellyn, The Art of Death (Reaktion Books, 1991), 55.

[3] May-Shine Lin, “Queen Elizabeth’s Language of Clothing and the Contradictions in Her Construction of Images,” (2010), accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.his.ncku.edu.tw/chinese/uploadeds/383.pdf.

[4] Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (London: Jonathan Cape, 1998), 259.

[5] Master of the Countess of Warwick, Cobham Family Memorial Portrait, 1567.


Portrait of a Woman, thought to be Lady Katheine Knollys – Steven van der Meulen

William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant was not the only eulogy published in 1569. Thomas Newton penned a steadfastly Protestant panegyric to Lady Katherine Knollys. Katherine, who may have been the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII, was also a confidante of Elizabeth I. Sally Varlow commented that ‘it was often noted that Katherine was, in the words of Thomas Newton’s verse epitaph on her, ‘In favour with our noble queen, above the common sort’, possibly reflecting the inadmissible fact that they were half-sisters’.[1] Katherine and her husband, Francis, had been among the more prominent of the Protestant exiles to flee abroad rather than face execution for heresy under Philip and Mary. Newton describes how throughout her life, Katherine ‘…traced had so cunningly, / the path of vertues lore, / Prefixing God omnipotent, / her godly eyes before’.[2]


The mid-Tudor ballad epitaphs predate the development of the funeral sermon as ‘the definitive Protestant instrument of commemoration’ in the later Elizabethan and early Jacobean period.[3] But the themes of female piety displayed by Elderton and Newton were used by both Catholics and Protestants. The first extant broadside elegy for a woman was published in 1558, following the death of Mary I. The title of the copy held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, London, Epitaphe vpon the Death of the Excellent and our late vertuous Quene, Marie, deceased, augmented by the first Author, suggests that it may not have been the first version to be published.[4] Hyder E. Rollins described the ballad as an ‘exaggerated eulogy’ written by ‘an ardent Catholic, very probably a priest’, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests that its author may have been Leonard Stopes.[5] The balladeer describes how Queen Mary drew strength from her faith: ‘In greatest stormes she feared not, for God she made her shielde, / And all her care she cast on him, who forst her foes to yelde’.[6] Nevertheless, the Epitaphe is a much less confessional ballad than the one written by Richard Sheale for the Catholic Margaret Stanley, countess of Derby, which can be found in Bodleian Library Ashmole 48.  In fact, a ballad epitaph for the Protestant monarch Edward VI is similar in many ways to that of his half-sister Mary and, furthermore, all the contemporaneous eulogies of dead women contain commonplaces such as ‘mirrour of all womanhed’.[7] Although the anonymous balladeer praises Mary’s mercy upon those that opposed her rule and commends her steadfast faith in God, he also praises her sister Elizabeth now that she has come to the throne. Whilst this show of support for the reigning monarch was standard practice, it could also demonstrate a hope that Elizabeth would maintain her half-sister’s Catholic revival.


But it was not only the aristocracy who were lauded by balladeers. Peter Marshall has suggested that ‘the recurrent association of commemoration with generous benefaction raises another issue, that of whether a result of the changes in mortuary culture consequent upon theological change was to make postmortem commemoration increasingly a prerogative of the socially important, and thus narrow the circle of community, and increase social divergence’.[8] In July 1570, the wife of London’s then lord mayor, Sir Alexander Avenon, died. Lady Avenon may not have been a member of the aristocracy, but she was certainly the wife of a prominent member of the London merchant community. Her life was celebrated by John Phillips in a broadside ballad entitled An Epitaph on the death of the vertuous Matrone the Ladie Maioresse, late wyfe to the right Honorable Lorde (Alexander Auenet) Lord Maior of the Citie of London, who deceased the vij daie of July, 1570.[9]

Perhaps, then, printed ballad epitaphs also provided the sixteenth century equivalent of celebrity gossip, setting stories about the deaths of well-known individuals to catchy tunes. Folk songs in oral culture have always addressed the lives and deaths of prominent members of society, showing that there was an interest in, for example, the activities of military personnel and the aristocracy. Sensationalism was also popular, with tales of natural wonders and hideous monsters fulfilling a need for excitement, with the added bonus of editorial comment to explain how such events carried a supernatural message. These broadsides and ballads played to people’s natural curiosity and played on their fear of God’s wrath. The early modern audience was able to enjoy salacious details of abnormal births, while in the process receiving warnings about God’s punishment of those who did not amend their wicked ways.  The epitaph ballads were similar, in that they supplemented their celebrity stories with religious instruction.

[1] Sally Varlow, “Knollys , Katherine, Lady Knollys (c.1523-1569),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, January 2009), accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69747.

[2] Thomas Newton, An epitaphe vpon the worthy and honorable lady, the Lady Knowles (London: William How, for Richarde Iohnes, 1569), Early English Books, 1475-1640 / 387:07, accessed November 19, 2013, http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&res_dat=xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99856980.

[3] Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead, 268.

[4] Anon., Epitaphe vpon the Death of the Excellent and our late vertuous Quene,Marie, deceased, augmented by the first Author; Library of the Society of Antiquaries, London, collection of ballads and broadsides fol. 46r.

[5] Hyder E. Rollins, Old English Ballads 1553-1625: Chiefly from Manuscripts([S.l.]: Cambridge University Press, 1920), 23; Sarah Elizabeth Wall, “Stopes, Leonard (d. c.1608),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman (Oxford: Oxford University Press), accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26584.

[6] Rollins, Old English Ballads, 24.

[7] Rollins, Old English Ballads, 25.

[8] Peter Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 285.

[9] John Phillips, An epitaph on the death of the vertuous matrone, the Lady Maioresse, late wyfe to the right honorable Lorde, (Alexander Auenet) Lord Maior of the citie of London. Who deceased the vii. daie of Iuly. 1570 (London: By Richard Iohnes, 1570), Early English Tract Supplement / A3:4[22b], accessed November 19, 2013, http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&res_dat=xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99887600.


With apologies for the length of the delay between posts (brought about by a computer faliure), here is the second piece about Elizabeth Parr and William Elderton:

William Elderton’s A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques (London, 1569; STC (2nd ed.) / 7562) is unique among the surviving early ballad epitaphs in that it specifies the tune to which it was to be sung: ‘The Lusty Gallant’. With its implications of joyfulness and chivalry, ‘The Lusty Gallant’ may seem inappropriate for a verse epitaph, yet as you can see the words of A proper new balad fit the tune perfectly and the melody is in a minor mode – the Aeolian.

A proper new Balad in praise of my Ladie Marques whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant-p1al7bfl541esn1sdtgt1it91qj8

Actually, it’s debateable whether the initial upbeat on the first verse is necessary. Originally, I put it in because it matched the bouncy crotchet-quaver rhythm of the rest of the line. The lyrics work equally well, however, with no upbeat, because it emphasises the first syllable of ‘Ladies’ by placing it on the stronger beat of the bar.  It also matches the three-quaver rhythm of the second line. I’ve played around with both and I’m undecided.