In my final blog post on William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant, I’d like to look at possible reasons why the ballad wasn’t published until well after the marchioness’s death:

Although the ballad appeared in the Stationers’ Registers of 1569, the last line of the first verse declares that the eponymous lady marquess ‘Was caught from court a great while agoe’.[1]  Elderton professes that her death ‘is no news for me to show’, perhaps meaning that his ballad was a report of her death rather than recent news. This may help to explain why the ballad was not published until 1569, four years after Elizabeth Parr’s death.  This was hardly the most topical of subjects in the relatively fast-moving market of cheap print. After all, ballads on the subject of the 1569-70 Revolt of the Northern Earls were brought to the press very swiftly. Of course, 1569 could simply be the first time that A proper new balad had been registered. Not only did ballads often circulate in manuscript both before and after publication, but also, not all ballads were registered with the Stationers’ Company. It is, therefore, conceivable that the ballad had previously been published without license. Nevertheless, Elderton’s description of the deceased as ‘caught from court a great while a goe’ lends credence to the suggestion that this was indeed the first time that the ballad had been published. Why, then, was it not published until four years after Elizabeth Parr had died?

Hyder E. Rollins speculated that the publication of the ballad in 1569 was driven by Elderton’s need for patronage during a personal financial crisis.[2] The balladeer’s final wish is certainly more worldly than godly, as he trusts that the court ladies ‘will consider my payne’, especially ‘When any good venison cometh in’. Rollins’s ‘financial crisis’ theory does not, however, entirely explain why Elderton would have chosen to restart his ballad-writing career after what appears to have been a break of several years with a eulogy of someone four years dead. Ralph Houlbrooke described how a ‘Virtuous life and good deeds are also… the surest basis of lasting fame. They give the deceased a sort of immortality, and make them worthy of imitation, a source of edification for succeeding generations’.[3] Furthermore, Patricia Phillippy demonstrated that women could gain posthumous influence through the memorialisation of their pious lives and good deaths.  These writings granted deceased women ‘surprising degrees of spiritual and cultural power, associated with the authority of the deathbed itself’.[4]

Elderton and his publisher appear to have believed that there would be enough interest in the marchioness’s exemplary life to warrant publishing an epitaph four years after her death. That A proper new balad was not published until 1569 may indicate that its themes of courtly love and feminine piety were expected to appeal to a wider audience than just those women who knew her personally. Conversely though, because broadside ballads were relatively cheap and easy to produce they were capable of reacting quickly to events in a way which was more difficult for books and pamphlets. This rapidity meant that, as Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston commented, ‘ballads and prose broadsides were the principal ways news was disseminated in print; composed by professional writers and printed in haste, they were cried on the streets by vendors hawking them for a penny’.[5] If there was an expectation that many ballads provided news, anonymising the lady marquess disguised the song’s lack of topicality.  Instead, the exemplarity of her life is emphasised. A proper new balad therefore fits into a genre of literature which had lasting appeal on account of its edifying content. By setting these themes to a lively tune, the ballad gave Parr’s memory an afterlife beyond a handful of ladies of the court.

vonsnakenborg,helena(resized)

A Young Lady aged 21, possibly a portrait of Helena von Snakenborg, c.1569

Another plausible explanation for the delay, however, lies once again in the identity of the marchioness herself. Given that ballads were multivalent, it is possible that Elderton’s song was also a veiled message to those people who knew the identity of its heroine, Elizabeth Parr. It seems that the ballad was published during William Parr’s courtship of his third wife, whom he married in 1571. Helena Snakenborg had arrived in England in 1565 in the entourage of Princess Cecilia of Sweden and caught the eye of the recently widowed marquess. Snakenborg became a close confidante of Queen Elizabeth and was appointed as a maid of honour in 1567, later being promoted to gentlewoman of the queen’s bedchamber. It is possible that the ballad was published during the courtship of Snakenborg and Parr either in order to remind the ladies of the court about the virtues of Parr’s second wife, or perhaps even in the hope that Snakenborg, too, would become his patroness, just as her predecessor seems to have been.

[1] Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London,3 vols (London: privately printed, 1875) 1.384.

[2] Hyder E. Rollins, ‘William Elderton: Elizabethan Actor and Ballad-Writer’, Studies in Philology 17:2, pp. 207-8.

[3] Ralph Houlbrooke, Death, Religion, and the Family (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998) p. 353.

[4] Patricia Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature (Cambridge: CUP 2002) p. 83.

[5] Katharine Park and Lorraine J. Daston, ‘Unnatural Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England’, Past & Present 92:1981, p. 28.

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