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The Death of Queen Jane
; Master title: The Death of Queen Jane
; Child 170
; G/D 3:693
; Ballad Index
at Old Songs
; Mudcat 17304
; words trad.; music of some versions by Dáithí Sproule]
F.J. Child: English and Scottish Popular Ballads Nick Dow: Southern Songster Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs John Morrish: The Folk Handbook John Jacob Niles: (The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles Cecil J. Sharp: One Hundred English Folksongs Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd: Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Mike Yates: Traveller’s Joy
F.J. Child catalogued the ballad The Death of Queen Jane as #170, and he included both English and Scottish versions. It was also printed in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd’s Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Cyril Tawney sang Queen Jane in 1969 on his Polydor album of traditional ballads from Devon and Cornwall, The Outlandish Knight. He noted:
Collected by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould from Samuel Font, Blackdown, Mary Tavy, Devon, March 1893. No text of this is preserved in Baring-Gould’s manuscripts, and had he not sent it to Professor Child for publication in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Font’s words would have been completely lost. According to history the birth of King Henry the Eighth’s son Prince Edward (later Edward the Sixth) on 12 October 1537 was a natural one although his mother, Jane Seymour, died twelve days later. There was a strong rumour at the time, however, that it had been found necessary to cut the baby out of its mother’s side and that Queen Jane died as a consequence. The traditional ballad, very popular in Scotland as well as Devon, Somerset and Dorset, supports the legend.
Dave and Toni Arthur sang The Death of Queen Jane in 1969 on their Topic album The Lark in the Morning. Their sleeve notes comment:
On 12 October 1537, Jane Seymour presented Henry VIII with a son, later to become Edward VI. The birth was quite natural, but through bad nursing the Queen died twelve days later. Ballad writers of the day, obviously more concerned with drama than fact, ascribed her death to a Caesarean operation. This myth was perpetuated in the Charles Laughton film The Private Life of Henry the Eight.
The earliest record of the song seems to be the broadside, The Lamentation of Queen Jane, licensed in 1560. Francis Child printed nine versions in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and it has remained a constant countryside favourite for some four hundred years. It is known in America too. A version collected from an Irish girl in Kentucky begins:Jane was a neighbour for six months or more,
which shows how the words may be jumbled in oral tradition.
Dáithí Sproule composed his own melody for The Death of Queen Jane in 1971. His version was first recorded by the Bothy Band live in Paris in 1978 for their album Afterhours, and his website notes nearly 20 recordings by other artists.
Sheena Wellington sang The Death of Queen Jane to Dáithí Sproule melody in 1986 on her Dunkeld album Kerelaw. She noted:
The compelling voice of Maureen Jelks, of Forfar, introduced me to this version of the poignant ballad.
Martin Graebe sang Queen Jane at the Golden Fleece in Stroud in the early 2000s. This recording was included in 2005 on the Musical Traditions anthology Songs From the Golden Fleece: A Song Tradition Today.
Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded Death of Queen Jane for their 2006 album Straws in the Wind. Carthy noted:
Something about Jane Seymour surely got its hooks into the collective imagination because, apart from Death of Queen Jane, there aren’t many songs this sympathetic to actual (as opposed to storybook) royalty. Neither is there a great deal of good feelings towards Henry VIII: he’s very much on the sidelines. The song has her dying in the immediate aftermath of birth of her son—which of course makes for the starkest drama—but in fact she died twelve days afterwards: the idea of the [Caesarean] section to assist the birth is not, I think, supported by history.
Karine Polwart sang The Death of Queen Jane in 2007 on her CD Fairest Floo’er and in 2017 on A Pocket of Wind Resistance. According to Jill Rogoff, the tune she used and her slighly adapted text is from John Jacob Niles (The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles, #50, pp. 271-275); he collected both the melody and a text in Whitesburg, Kentucky on 8 July 1932 from Aunt Beth Holcolm.
Jon Boden sang The Death of Queen Jane on 24 October 2010 (the anniversary of Jane Seymour’s death) in his project A Folk Song a Day, using Dáithí Sproule’s tune. He noted in his blog:
I learnt it from the Bothy Band, although it’s an English song through and through and it’s unusual to come across a sympathetic characterisation of Henry VIII.
Jess and Richard Arrowsmith sang The Death of Queen Jane in 2012 on their CD Customs & Exercise.
Martin Carthy sings Death of Queen Jane
Queen Jane lay in labour full nine days or more
Till the women were so tired, they could stay no longer there,
Till the women were so tired, they could stay no longer there.
“Good women, good women, good women as ye be,
Do you open up my right side to find my baby,
Do you open up my right side and find my baby.”
“Oh no,” says the women, “that never may be,
We will send for King Henry we will hear what he say,
We will send for King Henry and hear what he say.”
King Henry was sent, for King Henry he did come:
“What do ail you, my lady, for your eyes look so dim?
What do ail you, my lady, your eyes look so dim?”
“King Henry, King Henry, will you do one thing for me?
Will you open up my right side and find my baby?
Will you open up my right side and find my baby?”
“Oh no,” says King Henry, “it’s a thing I’ll never do.
If I lose the flower of England, I shall lose the branch too,
If I lose the flower of England, I’ll lose the branch too.”
King Henry went mourning, and so did his men,
And so did the dear baby, Queen Jane did die then,
And so did the dear baby, Queen Jane did die then.
How deep was their mourning, how black were the bands,
How yellow, yellow were the flamboys that they carried in their hands,
How yellow, yellow were the flamboys they carried in their hands.
There was fiddling, there was dancing on the day the babe was born,
But poor Queen Jane beloved lay cold as any stone,
But poor Queen Jane beloved lay cold as any stone.
Lyrics taken from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, ed. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959:31, and adapted to the actual singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.
Thanks to Lisa Richardson for the information on Dáithí Sproule’s tune.