A Lanthorne for Landlords was published as a broadsheet ballad to the tune of The Duke of Norfolk, and was clearly directed towards a popular audience in the countryside. Its narrative develops themes apparent in some of the earlier works in this section: most notably Robert Crowley’s poem, which ends with the voice of God promising retribution against an exploitative landlord.
In this ballad, the landlord’s crimes and punishments are described at greater length, in a mode of popular melodrama. Indeed the attention lavished on the downfall of his family assumes among the readership a reservoir of barely suppressed resentment directed against landowners. The narrative of divine retribution is designed to appeal to all readers who have felt aggrieved by the actions of those in positions of economic power.
Recommended edition – The Pepys Ballads, ed. W. G. Day, 5 vols (Cambridge, 1987).
With sobbing grief my heart will break asunder in my breast,
Before this story of great woe, I truly have expressed:
Therefore let all kind-hearted men and those that tender be,
Come bear a part of this my grief and jointly say with me,
Woe worth the man, etc.
Not long ago in Lincoln dwelt, As I did understand,
A labouring man from thence set forth to serve in Ireland:
And there in prince’s wars was slain, as doth that country know,
But left his widow great with child as ever she could go.
This woman having gone her time, her husband being dead,
Of two fine pretty boys at once was sweetly brought to bed:
Whereat her wicked landlord straight, did ponder in his mind,
How that their wants he should relieve, and succour for them find.
For being born upon his ground, this was his vile conceit,
That he the mother should maintain and give the other meat:
Which to prevent he hied fast, unto this widow poor,
And on the day she went to church, he turned her out of door.
Her household goods he strained upon, to satisfy the rent,
And left her scarce a rag to wear, so wilful was he bent.
Her pretty babes that sweetly slept upon her tender breast,
Were forced by the miser’s rage, by nights in streets to rest.
Quoth she, ‘my husband in your cause, in wars did lose his life,
And will you use thus cruelly his harmless wedded wife?
O God revenge a widow’s wrong, that all the world may know,
How you have forced a soldier’s wife a-begging for to go.’
From Lincoln thus this widow went, but left her curse behind,
And begged all the land about, her maintenance to find.
At many places where she came she knew the whipping post,
Constrained still as beggars be, to taste on such like roast.
[The woman’s twins, at the age of two, get lost and die in a field of barley,
where later the woman discovers their corpses in the course of the harvest.
The woman determines to return to Lincoln ‘To prosecute the law against /
The causer of this deed’.]
But see the judgement of the Lord, how he in fury great,
Did bring this miser to distress, though wealthy was his seat.
For when to Lincoln she was brought, the caitiff he was gone.
Of all his cursed family, remaining was but one.
For first the house wherein she dwelt, did prove unfortunate,
Which made the landlord and his friends, to marvel much thereat.
For tenants four there dwelt therein, A twelve month and a day,
Yet none of them could thrive at all, but beggars went away.
Whereat this miserable wretch did turn it to a barn,
And filled it full in harvest time with good red wheat and corn:
To keep it safely from the poor, until there came a year,
That famine might oppress them all and make all victuals dear.
But God forgetting not the wrongs, he did this widow poor,
Sent down a fire from heaven, which soon consumed all his store:
By which this wicked miser man, was brought to beggary,
And likewise laid a grievous scourge upon his family.
His wife she proved a cursed witch, and burned for the same,
His daughter now a strumpet is at London in defame.
At Leicester at the ‘sizes last was hanged his eldest son,
For there consenting wickedly unto a murder done.
His second son was fled away unto the enemy,
And proved disloyal to his prince, and to his own country.
His youngest son had like mishap, or worser in my mind,
For he consented to a bitch, contrary unto kind:
For which, the Lord without delay, rained vengeance on his head,
Who like a sinful sodomite defiled Nature’s bed.
For there were two great mastiff dogs that met him in a wood,
And tore his limbs in pieces small, devouring up his blood:
Whereof when as his father heard, most like a desperate man,
Within a channel drowned himself, that down the street it ran,
Whereas water could scarce suffice, to drown a silly mouse.
And thus the ruin you have heard of him and all his house.
The widow she was soon possessed of all the goods he left,
In recompence of those sweet babes mischance from her bereft.
Wherefore let all hard-hearted men, by this example take,
That God is just, and will be true, for woeful widows’ sake.