“The Romish Lady”


A young woman is a closet Protestant (she reads the Bible and refuses to worship angels). Her Catholic mother has her imprisoned. Tried before the Pope, she is burned at the stake. She pardons her tormentors while blaming her mother for her fate


This song obviously dates to a time when Catholic-Protestant tensions were high, though it is not clear whether this dates it from before Henry VIII's break with Rome (1533), or during the reign of Mary I (1553-1558).

The song is known to have been in existence in the time of Charles II, 1660-1685, and a fragment is apparently found in John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont's 1611 play "The Knight of the Burning Pestle." (I say "apparently" because the reference is extremely brief. All that we have are the title -- "A Lady's Daughter of Paris, Properly" -- and

part of the first line -- "It was a lady's daughter..."; it is unusual in that it is a ballad *not* sung by Merrythought.)

Many of the charges leveled here are, sadly, true though overblown. The statute "De heretico comburendo" was enacted in England in 1401 (it had passed earlier in most continental countries) -- but very few English martyrs other than Tyndale were burned.

The Catholic laity was long forbidden to read scriptures -- but Catholic translations of the Bible into English first appeared in 1582.

Most of the other implied charges (e.g. worship of idols, slavish adherence to priests) are traits shared with at least some Protestant churches.

Curiously, in a piece so clearly controversial, there are no direct scriptural quotations. The claim "I'll live by faith forever" obviously is based on Romans 1:17 and its host of parallels; the phrase "the pride of life" is an allusion to 1 John 2:16 (KJV; NRSV renders "pride in riches"); the injunction "shed not a tear for me" may hark back to Luke 23:28; the statement "while my poor body is burning, my soul the Lord shall see" is reminiscent of the last minutes of Stephen (Acts 7:55f.); her forgiveness of her persecutors also refers back to Stephen (Acts 7:60) as well as Jesus's pardon of his killers (Luke 23:34 in the KJV; many early Bible manuscripts omit this verse). - RBW


  1. Laws Q32, "The Romish Lady"
  2. Belden, pp. 450-455, "The Romish Lady" (5 texts; it appears that Laws omits version "C" from his list, but it is clearly the same piece)
  3. Eddy 97, "The Romish Lady" (1 text)
  4. Gardner/Chickering 149, "An Account of a Little Girl Who Was Burnt for Her Religion" (1 text)
  5. Randolph 604, "The Death of a Romish Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. BrownII 56, "The Romish Lady" (1 text with variant readings)
  7. Hudson 28, pp. 137-139, "The Death of a Romish Lady" (1 text)
  8. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 175-178, "A Lady's Daughter of Paris," with local title "There Was a Romish Lady" (1 text; tune on p. 404)
  9. Brewster 49, "The Death of a Romish Lady" (1 text plus a fragment)
  10. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 94-97, "The Romish Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. LPound-ABS, 25, pp. 63-66, "The Death of a Romish Lady" (1 text)
  12. BBI, ZN1518, "It was a Ladies Daughter, of Paris properly"
  13. DT 540, ROMSHLDY*
  14. Roud #1920
  15. BI, LQ32


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1586 (stationer's register)
Found in: Britain(England) US(MW,SE,So)