A version of this article was published in English Dance and Song Volume 65 part 1
Published here by permission of the current editor, Derek Schofield

Young Wife Reveals All

Buxom 15-year old gives a graphic and revealing account of her trials of marriage to her aged impotent husband.  Exclusive!

The subject matter of broadside ballads stretching over more than three centuries has an almost exact parallel in the modern day gutter press publications. One subject which seems to preoccupy the tabloid readers of today is that of the older male celebrity marrying a pretty young girl, and this was just as popular in previous centuries. Sometimes the complaint, in ballad form, would be given from the viewpoint of the old man, who had invariably been cuckolded, but just as frequent was the girl's viewpoint, usually lamenting the man's lack of libido.

Some of the latter complaints have survived in the oral tradition upto the present day; O Dear O! (My Husband has No Courage in Him) (Roud 870) and Maids When you're Young never Wed an Old Man (Roud 210) both appeared on broadsides, although the former ballad has a long tradition in print, the oral versions deriving from the 19th century broadside printed in many towns all over Britain.

Another song on the same theme, traditional in Scotland, What can a Young Lassie do wi' an Old Man? (Roud 1295), has a similar content and pedigree, with its origins in a scarce 17th century ballad, The Young Woman's Complaint or A Caveat to All Maids to have a care how they be married to Old Men (Euing Collection 406).

To return to O Dear O, as popularised by Bert Lloyd and Frankie Armstrong, the seventeenth century version given here was printed by P Brooksby, J Deacon, J Blare and J Back, which dates this printing to c.1690 to 96.  Copies of this Black Letter ballad can be found in all of the major collections of seventeenth century broadsides, e.g. The Pepys Ballads Volume 4, p.137.

The Cuckold's Complaint, to which our complaint forms an answer, doesn't seem to have survived, but there are numerous ballads on cuckoldry.  From early times upto the 19th century, Horn Fair (final stanza) near Deptford was a three-day rowdy celebration of cuckoldry and anything to do with horns, which was also much mentioned in balladry.  The reference to digging gravel in the same verse refers to further penance heaped on the cuckolds whereby they were made to take picks, shovels and baskets, go down to the Thames bank and collect gravel to make a path for their wives to walk on to get to Horn Fair.

For the ballad's relationship to the later version look particularly at stanzas 3, 5, 11 and 12.

The Scolding Wives [sic] Vindication;

Or An Answer to the Cuckold's Complaint

Wherein she shows what just Reasons she had to exercise Severity over her insufficient Husband.  To the tune of The Cuckold's Complaint.

Licensed according to order.

  I have been abus'd of late,
      By some of the Poets Crew,
Who says, I broke my Husband's Pate,
      But this I did never do.

'Tis true I his ears did cuff,
      And gave him a kick or two;
For this I had just Cause enough,
      Because he would nothing do.

He's lain like a Log of Wood,
      In bed, for a year or two,
And wont afford me any good,
      He nothing at all would do.

I am in my blooming Prime,
      Dear Neighbours I tell you true,
I am loft to loose my Teeming Time,
      Yet nothing at all he'll do.

He says that I keep a Friend,
      But what if I keep two,
There's no one can me discommend,
      For nothing at all he'll do.

I make it full well appear,
      To be both just and true,
I kept my Maiden-head Two Year,
      For nothing at all he'd do.

Sometimes he'd give me a Kiss,
      And I wou'd return him two,
But when he comes to farther Bliss
      He nothing at all wou'd do.

I am a young Buxome Dame,
      And fain would my Joys renew,
But my poor Cuckold is to blame,
      He nothing, &c.

He says I have him abus'd,
      But what if this same be true?
For this I may well be excus'd,
      Since nothing, &c.

Sure never was Wife so fool'd
      As I, for a year or two;
I did for him whate'er I could,
      Yet nothing, &c.

I feasted him e'ery day,
      With Lamb-stones, and Cock-broths too,
Yet all this Cost was thrown away,
      He nothing, &c.

I feed him with Jelly of Chicks,
      And curious Egg-caudles too,
I'se good feed him with Faggot-sticks,
      For nothing, &c.

He lyes like a lump of Clay,
      Such Husbands there is but few,
'Twould make a woman run astray,
      When nothing, &c.

Now now let him take his ease,
      And sleep while the Skye looks blue,
I have a Friend my mind to please,
      Since nothing, &c.

Long, long, have I liv'd at strife,
      I kick'd, and I cuff'd him too,
He's like to live no better Life
      Since nothing at all he'll do.

I solemnly do declare,
      Believe me this is true,
He shall dig Gravel next Horn-Fair,
      And that he is like to do.

How the ballad evolved into the 19th century version has not yet come to light.  A likely scenario is that a few of the stanzas survived in the oral tradition and these were taken up by a printer's hack looking for material, who added the two leading stanzas.  These are typical of early 19th century complaint ballads with the As I walked out opener, and both from the narrator / spectator viewpoint, not the abused wife's viewpoint which forms all of the 17th century version and the rest of the 19th century version.  Also typical of the 19th century complaint is the added warning final stanza, a Come all ye.

19th century broadside versions range from six to ten stanzas with only minor textual differences between them, and all but a couple of the ten stanzas have been found in oral tradition in the early years of the last century.  The following version is from a broadside with no printer's name, which had been part of the Baring Gould collection, now in the National Library of Wales.


As I walked out one summer's morn,
      To view the leaves and trees a springing,
I saw two birds upon a tree,
      Chirping their notes and sweetly singing.

      CHORUS.       O DEAR O!

I saw two maidens standing by,
      One of them her hands was wringing,
And all her conversation was,
      My husband has no courage in him.

All sorts of meat I do provide,
      All sorts of drink that's fit for him;
Both Oyster-pie and Rhubarb too,
      But nothing can put courage in him.

My husband can caper, dance, or sing,
      Do any thing that's fit for him,
But he cannot do the thing I want,
      For alas! He's got no courage in him.

My husband is admired where ever he goes
      And every one looks well upon him,
With his handsome foot and well shaped thighs.
      But still he got no courage in him.

Seven long years I've made his bed,
      Six of them I lay beside him,
And this morning I rose with my maidenhead
      That shows he got no courage in him.

Every night when to bed he goes,
      I throw my arms right over him,
And my hand I clapped between his two thighs,
      But I cannot put no courage in him.

If he does not shortely try,
      A cuckold I am sure to make him,
For let me do what I will,
      I cannot put no courage in him.

I wish that he was dead and gone,
      In the grave I would quickly lay him,
And then I'd try another one,
      That has got a little courage in him.

Come all fair maids whatever you be,
      Don't have a man before you try him,
Don't have to sing a song like me.
      My husband got no courage in him.

I'm sure we wouldn't have to look hard to find its modern day prose equivalent, even more lurid and graphic, in the pages of the Sun or the Mirror or some other adult comic.

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