"Often a noble woman, a lady, locked me up tight in a coffer. From time to time she took me out with her hands and gave me to her lord, her faithful ruler, as she was bidden; then he thrust his head inside me, from beneath upwards, fitted into the narrow part: if the zeal endured of him who received me, something shaggy was due to fill me, adorned as I was. Guess what I intend."
--A riddle in The Book of Exeter, circa 1,000 AD
The above riddle might be two hundred years older than the book it was copied into. It may seem like a strange riddle to be included in a book copied by a monk and then presented by Bishop Leofric of Exeter to his cathedral, but when you see the answer you'll understand it is not such a bawdy riddle after all; the answer is, of course, a shirt of mail! If nothing else, it shows that people in medieval times found the subject of sex to be at least as interesting and amusing as we do today. It also illustrates a major aspect of the English language bawdy son, the double entendre. We do not have much actual music of this sort surviving from the early parts of the Middle Ages, but from the regular denunciations of them by the church we can be sure that they were both popular and abundant. The manuscripts of the fifteenth century often contain stories, rhymes, metaphores and images that are echoed in the bawdy ballads of the eighteenth century.
The rise of the Puritan in England was accompanied, oddly enough, by the bawdy song. One of the first "drolleries" was published in 1640: Wit's Recreations. It was followed by several others, many issued while Cromwell still ruled England. (Cromwell forbad singing any song not found in the Anglican Hymnal!) these drolleries included song lyrics, bawdy stories, "advice" to the love lorn, and witty sayings for all occassions. Wit's Recreations was popular enough that it was reprinted in 1641, appeared again under different names in 1645 and 1650, in a new addition in 1654, reprinted again in 1663, 1667, 1667 again, and 1683. Competing with it were Choyce Drollery in 1656, Merry Drollery in 1661, The Oxford Drollery in 1671, and the Westminster Drollery in 1672.
In 1661, John Playford, author of The English Dancing Master, issued a drollery: An Antidote Against Melancholy. His son, Henry, added a collection of songs and reissued it in 1682 and 1684 as Wit and Mirth: An Anitdote Against Melancholy. In 1698 he extended the contents with the lyrics to over a hundred popular songs and issued Wit and Mirth, Or Pills to Purge Melancholy. Three more volumes were added, in 1700, 1702-3, and 1706. In 1719-20, Thomas D'Urfey added still more songs, and new volumes to this venerable compilation of the bawdy. In his day D'Urfey was the equivalent of a Cecil Sharpe or James Childe. Many of the songs he included in, as it became popularly known, Pills to Purge Melancholy, were collected from the oral tradition. (Today we'd call it folk music.) He also was not above lifting material from the earlier drolleries, which themselves got much of their material from popular folk songs. Many of the songs included were popular broadside ballads of the day, and some were hot off the playhouse stages. For many of the songs included in this book, it is not possible to say with certainty that they were current before 1650, but it is almost certain that some of them are far older than that.
Most of the songs in this book appeared, in one form or another, in the 1719-20 edition of Pills to Purge Melancholy. I have condensed, revised, substituted alternate versions (that I have no idea of the antecedents thereof) and even added a verse here and there. I am no purist to be bound by what was printed 300 years ago. Folk songs are constantly changing because each singer does what I have done in this book: I chose the version that I like the best. Still, I think you will find most of them authentically medieval enough for almost any taste.
The devices used in the songs are characteristic of the period, particularly the double entendre, especially one using the imagery of a particular trade or occupation. The riddle was a popular theme. Unlike the early English riddle, such as the one taken from the Book of Exeter, quoted above, where the clues were suggestive but the object riddled was "innocent," the medieval bawdy song used "innocent" imagery but allowed of no innocent interpretation.
I would like to point out that all of these songs are not necessarily "post revel" songs. D'Urfey was called upon to perform some of them before Royalty: charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne, and the Price of Wales (later George II). He was a favorite of King Charles II who would often lean over his shoulder and sing along!
D'Urfey, in addition to editing PTPM, also contributed a large number of his own works to it. (None are included in this song book, but if you are interested in a sample of the master, try the song "Tom and Doll" on the Elektra album When Dalliance was in Flower.) D'Urfey was much criticised in his day, but, as he himself pointed out: "The Town may da-da-damn me for a Poet, but they si-si-sing my songs for all that." (He talked with a stutter; curiously, he did not stutter at all when singing.)
We of the Letchers Guild of Coeur d'Ennui hope that you enjoy these songs as much as we have. I would like to close this introduction with the traditional toast of the Public Nuisances of Calontir:
Here's to our wives and sweethearts--may they never meeet!
No music for these songs is included for one principal reason: The editor does no know how to read music! I learned most of them from record albums and picked the rest up at folk sings. If anyone can't find someone who knows any particular song, just send me a cassette (along with a stamped, self addressed return envelope) and I will see that you get a recording of it. Write to: [address deleted, as His Excellency is deceased]
I have music available for almost all of these songs in various song books, but I discovered, to my horror, but not to my suprise, that some of the music differs from the versions I know. I'll be damned if I'll edit a song book, include different music from what I know, and later find out that I've made the version I know extinct because "the other version's in the song book."
I'm always looking for new songs, or new versions of songs I already know. If you have one that you think I ought to know, come up and sing it to me. Who know, you might get an acknowledgement in the Letchers Guild Song Book, Volume 2.
I have not been able to locate certain albums and books that I would like to have in my personal collection. If you have them and are willing to sell them (or, in the case of albums, make a cassette of them) please contact me at the address above.
Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads Oscar Brand
Rugby Songs Harry Morgan
More Rugby Songs Harry Morgan
All of the Oscar Brand Bawdy Song and Backroom Ballads set of recordings
All of the Ed McCurdy Dalliance series, including Son of Dalliance
If you have any records or song books for sale that I should know about, please contact me. My interest in the bawdy song covers all periods, not just the medieval.
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