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> Dave Swarbrick > Songs > Death of Queen Jane

The Death of Queen Jane

[ Roud 77 ; Child 170 ; G/D 3:693 ; Ballad Index C170 ; words trad.; music of some versions by Dáithí Sproule]

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 The Outlandish Knight: Traditional Ballads from Devon and Cornwall. His liner notes commented:

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 October 12, 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 October 12, 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 After Hours, and his website notes nearly 20 recordings by other artists.

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 commented in the sleeve notes:

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.

Jon Boden sang The Death of Queen Jane on October 24, 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.

Lyrics

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.

Acknowledgements

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.