Although ostensibly an epitaph, William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant is in reality a curious mix which speaks to various audiences on several levels.  The first was a general listenership who might be edified by ideals of piety and entertained by the sensational, without needing to know exactly who the marchioness was. The second was a specific group of the ‘knowing’, who knew the name of the anonymous ‘ladie marques’ and could understand the significance of Elderton’s subtexts. Furthermore, the very first word of the ballad marks out a specifically gendered audience. From the first line of the song, ‘Ladies, I thinke you maruell that’ we can see that his ideal audience was the ladies of the royal court. This contrasts with later works of female biography, which, according to Patricia Phillippy, ‘bifurcate on gendered terms the relevance of their subjects’ lives and deaths to women and men respectively’.[1]  In addressing the women, Elderton associates himself with ‘female mourners whose grief is revised and reinvested not only with emotive and affective power but also with the possibility of consolation based on a mutual sorrow derived from lived experience’.[2] In order to appeal to these relatively cultured and wealthy women, Elderton’s ballad is styled like a courtly love song, idolising the object of his affections as ‘The fairest flower of my garland’.

There is, of course, a dichotomy between the idealised audience whom Elderton addresses in the ballad and the actual audience who might have bought the printed broadside. Black-letter broadside ballads such as A proper new balad were the epitome of cheap print, accessible to a wide audience. While the ladies of the court may well have enjoyed the ballad, it was presumably sold in the streets by hawkers too. Ballad-mongers’ performances would have made it accessible even to the lowest paid and least educated members of society. While the court elite may have been Elderton’s ideal audience, he seems to have recognised the financial advantage of making his song available to as many people as possible. The themes dealt with by his ballad were universal, as ‘grief was both a natural and cultural phenomenon’.[3] After all, another ballad reminded its listeners that ‘When time doth come, we must all hence, / Experience teacheth so’.[4] Bereavement and mourning were familiar to everyone, so A proper new balad would have had resonances throughout society from the highest to the low.

[1] Patricia Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 86.

[2] Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature, 240-41.

[3] David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 393.

[4] Thomas Newton, An epitaphe vpon the worthy and honorable lady, the Lady Knowles (London: 1569), STC2 18512.

 

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