Ballad: Watkins Ale

This page is part of the Pre-1600 Ballads Songbook.

Musical Sources: William Byrd's Fitzwilliam Virginal Book II, 236; Will Forster's MS Virginal Book, p. 460. Many other late 16th century sources.

Lyrics Sources: A circa 1590 broadside ballad reprinted in Joseph Lilly's A Collection of Seventy-Nine Black-letter Ballads and Broadsides, printed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, between the years 1559 and 1597. London, 1867. This version is given below. There are also alternate lyrics in a manuscript named MS Rawl. poet 185, also dated circa 1590.

Tune from Simpson - click here for printable - click here for MIDI

Learning MP3 -- click here

A Ditty delightfull of mother Watkins ale,
A warning wel wayed, though counted a tale.

1. There was a maid this other day,
And she would needs go forth to play;
And as she walked she sithd and said,
I am afraid to die a mayd.
With that, behard a lad,
What talke this maiden had,
Whereof he was full glad,
And did not spare
To say, faire mayd, I pray,
Whether goe you to play?
Good sir, then did she say,
What do you care?
For I will, without faile,
Mayden, giue you Watkins ale;
Watkins ale, good sir, quoth she,
What is that I pray you tel me?

2. Tis sweeter farre then suger fine,
And pleasanter than muskadine;
And if you please, faire mayd, to stay
A little while, with me to play,
I will giue you the same,
Watkins ale cald by name,--
Or els I were to blame,
In truth, faire mayd.
Good sir, quoth she againe,
Yf you will take the paine,
I will it not refraine,
Nor be dismayd.
He took this mayden then aside,
And led her where she was not spyde,
And told her many a prety tale,
And gaue her well of Watkins ale.

3. Good sir, quoth she, in smiling sort,
What doe you call this prety sport?
Or what is this you do to me?
Tis called Watkins ale, quoth he,
Wherein, faire mayd, you may
Report another day,
When you go forth to play,
How you did speed.
Indeed, good sir, quoth she,
It is a prety glee,
And well it pleaseth me,
No doubt indeed.
Thus they sported and they playd,
This yong man and this prety mayd,
Vnder a banke whereas they lay,
Not long agoe this other day.


4. When he had done to her his will,
They talkt, but what it shall not skill;
At last, quoth she, sauing your tale,
Giue me some more of Watkins ale,
Or else I will not stay,
For I must needs away,--
My mother bad me play,--
The time is past;
Therfore, good sir, quoth she,
If you haue done with me.
Nay, soft, faire maid, quoth he,
Againe at last
Let vs talke a little while.
With that the mayd began to smile,
And saide, good sir, full well I know,
Your ale, I see, runs very low.

5. This yong man then, being so blamd,
Did blush as one being ashamde;
He tooke her by the midle small,
And gaue her more of Watkins ale;
And saide, faire maid, I pray,
When you goe forth to play,
Remember what I say,
Walke not alone.
Good sir, quoth she againe,
I thanke you for your paine,
For feare of further staine,
I will be gone.
Farewell, mayden, then quoth he;
Adue, good sir, againe quoth she.
Thus they parted at last,
Till thrice three months were gone and past.

6. This mayden then fell very sicke,
Her maydenhead began to kicke,
Her colour waxed wan and pale
With taking much of Watkins ale.
I wish all maydens coy,
That heare this prety toy,
Wherein most women ioy,
How they doe sport;
For surely Watkins ale,
And if it not be stale,
Will turne them to some bale,
As hath report.
New ale will make their bellies bowne,
As trial by this same is knowne;
This prouerbe hath bin taught in schools,--
It is no iesting with edge tooles.


7. Thrise scarcely changed hath the moon,
Since first this pretty tricke was done,
Which being harde of one by chance,
He made thereof a country dance;
And, as I heard the tale,
He cald it Watkins ale,
Which neuer will be stale,
I doe beleeue;
This dance is now in prime,
And chiefly vsde this time,
And lately put in rime.
Let no man greeue
To heare this merry iesting tale,
That which is called Watkins ale;
It is not long since it was made,--
The finest flower will soonest fade.

8. Good maydes and wiues, I pardon craue,
And lack not the which you would haue;
To blush it is a womans grace,
And well becometh a maidens face,
For women will refuse
The thing that they would chuse,
Cause men should them excuse
Of thinking ill;
Cat will after kind,
All winkers are not blind,--
Faire maydes, you know my mind,
Say what you will.
When you drinke ale beware the toast,
For therein lay the danger most.
If any heere offended be,
Then blame the author, blame not me.


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Greg Lindahl