Percy's Reliques - George Barnwell.

George Barnwell.

The subject of this ballad is sufficiently popular from the modern play which is founded upon it. This was written by George Lillo, a jeweller of London, and first acted about 1730. As for the ballad, it was printed at least as early as the middle of the last century.

It is here given from three old printed copies, which exhibit a strange intermixture of Roman and black-letter. It is also collated with another copy in the Ashmole Collection at Oxford, which is thus intitled, "An excellent ballad of George Barnwell, an apprentice of London, who . . . thrice robbed his master, and murdered his vncle in Ludlow." The tune is The Merchant.

This tragical narrative seems to relate a real fact; but when it happened I have not been able to discover.


ALL youths of fair England
That dwell both far and near,
Regard my story that I tell,
And to my song give ear.

A London lad I was,
A merchant's prentice bound;
My name George Barnwell; that did spend
My master many a pound.

Take heed of harlots then,
And their enticing trains;
For by that means I have been brought
To hang alive in chains.

As I, upon a day,
Was walking through the street
About my master's business,
A wanton I did meet.

A gallant dainty dame,
And sumptuous in attire;
With smiling look she greeted me,
And did my name require.

Which when I had declar'd,
She gave me then a kiss,
And said, if I would come to her,
I should have more than this.

"Fair mistress," then quoth I,
"If I the place may know,
This evening I will be with you,
For I abroad must go

"To gather monies in,
That are my master's due
And ere that I do home return,
I'll come and visit you."

"Good Barnwell," then quoth she,
"Do thou to Shoreditch come,
And ask for Mrs. Millwood's house,
Next door unto the Gun.

"And trust me on my truth,
If thou keep touch with me,
My dearest friend, as my own heart
Thou shalt right welcome be."

Thus parted we in peace,
And home I passed right;
Then went abroad, and gathered in,
By six o'clock at night,

An hundred pound and one:
With bag under my arm
I went to Mrs. Millwood's house,
And thought on little harm;

And knocking at the door,
Straightway herself came down;
Rustling in most brave attire,
With hood and silken gown.

Who through her beauty bright,
So gloriously did shine,
That she amaz'd my dazzling eyes,
She seemed so divine.

She took me by the hand,
And with a modest grace,
"Welcome, sweet Barnwell," then quoth she,
"Unto this homely place.

"And since I have thee found
As good as thy word to be:
A homely supper, ere we part,
Thou shalt take here with me."

"O pardon me," quoth I,
"Fair mistress I you pray;
For why, out of my master's house
So long I dare not stay."

"Alas! good sir," she said,
"Are you so strictly ty'd,
You may not with your dearest friend
One hour or two abide?

"Faith, then the case is hard:
If it be so," quoth she,
"I would I were a prentice bound,
To live along with thee:

"Therefore, my dearest George,
List well what I shall say,
And do not blame a woman much,
Her fancy to bewray.

"Let not affection's force
Be counted lewd desire;
Nor think it not immodesty
I should thy love require."

With that she turn'd aside,
And with a blushing red,
A mournful motion she bewray'd
By hanging down her head.

A handkerchief she had
All wrought with silk and gold:
Which she to stay her trickling tears
Before her eyes did hold.

This thing unto my sight
Was wondrous rare and strange;
And in my soul and inward thought
It wrought a sudden change:

That I so hardy grew,
To take her by the hand:
Saying, "Sweet mistress, why do you
So dull and pensive stand?"

"Call me no mistress now,
But Sarah, thy true friend,
Thy servant, Millwood, honouring thee,
Until her life hath end.

"If thou wouldst here alledge,
Thou art in years a boy;
So was Adonis, yet was he
Fair Venus' only joy."

Thus I, who ne'er before
Of woman found such grace,
But seeing now so fair a dame
Give me a kind embrace,

I supt with her that night,
With joys that did abound;
And for the same paid presently,
In money twice three pound.

An hundred kisses then,
For my farewel she gave;
Crying, "Sweet Barnwell, when shall I
Again thy company have?

"O stay not hence too long,
Sweet George, have me in mind:"
Her words bewicht my childishness,
She uttered them so kind.

So that I made a vow,
Next Sunday without fail,
With my sweet Sarah once again
To tell some pleasant tale.

When she heard me say so,
The tears fell from her eye;
"O George," quoth she, "if thou dost fail,
Thy Sarah sure will dye."

Though long, yet loe! at last,
The appointed day was come,
That I must with my Sarah meet;
Having a mighty sum

Of money in my hand,[ 1]
Unto her house went I,
Whereas my love upon her bed
In saddest sort did lye.

"What ails my heart's delight,
My Sarah dear?" quoth I;
"Let not my love lament and grieve,
Nor sighing pine, and die.

"But tell me, dearest friend,
What may thy woes amend,
And thou shalt lack no means of help,
Though forty pound I spend."

With that she turn'd her head,
And sickly thus did say,
"Oh me, sweet George, my grief is great,
Ten pound I have to pay

"Unto a cruel wretch;
And God he knows," quoth she,
"I have it not." "Tush, rise, I said,
And take it here of me.

"Ten pounds, nor ten times ten,
Shall make my love decay;"
Then from my bag into her lap,
I cast ten pound straightway.

All blithe and pleasant then,
To banqueting we go;
She proffered me to lye with her,
And said it should be so.

And after that same time,
I gave her store of coyn,
Yea, sometimes fifty pounds at once;
All which I did purloyn.

And thus I did pass on;
Until my master then
Did call to have his reckoning in
Cast up among his men.

The which when as I heard,
I knew not what to say:
For well I knew that I was out
Two hundred pound that day.

Then from my master straight
I ran in secret sort;
And unto Sarah Millwood there
My case I did report.

But how she us'd this youth,
In this his care and woe,
And all a strumpet's wiley ways,
The SECOND PART may showe.


"YOUNG Barnwell comes to thee,
Sweet Sarah, my delight;
I am undone unless thou stand
My faithful friend this night.

"Our master to accompts
Hath just occasion found;
And I am caught behind the hand
Above two hundred pound:

"And now his wrath to 'scape,
My love, I fly to thee,
Hoping some time I may remaine
In safety here with thee."

With that she knit her brows,
And looking all aquoy,
Quoth she, "What should I have to do
With any prentice boy?

"And seeing you have purloyn'd
Your master's goods away,
The case is bad, and therefore here
You shall no longer stay."

"Why, dear, thou know'st," I said,
How all which I could get,
I gave it, and did spend it all
Upon thee every whit."

Quoth she, "Thou art a knave,
To charge me in this sort,
Being a woman of credit fair,
And known of good report:

"Therefore I tell thee flat,
Be packing with good speed;
I doe defie thee from my heart,
And scorn thy filthy deed."

"Is this the friendship that
You did to me protest?
Is this the great affection, which
You so to me exprest?

"Now fie on subtle shrews!
The best is, I may speed
To get a lodging any where
For money in my need.

"False woman, now farewell,
Whilst twenty pound doth last,
My anchor in some other haven
With freedom I will cast."

When she perceiv'd by this,
I had store of money there
"Stay, George," quoth she, "thou art too quick:
Why, man, I did but jeer.

"Dost think, for all my speech,
That I would let thee go?
Faith no, said she, my love to thee
I wiss is more than so."

"You scorne a prentice boy,
I heard you just now swear,
Wherefore I will not trouble you."
--"Nay, George, hark in thine ear;

"Thou shalt not go to-night,
What chance soe're befall:
But man we'll have a bed for thee,
Or else the devil take all."

So I by wiles bewitcht,
And snar'd with fancy still,
Had then no power to get away,
Or to withstand her will.

For wine on wine I call'd,
And cheer upon good cheer;
And nothing in the world I thought
For Sarah's love too dear.

Whilst in her company,
I had such merriment;
All, all too little I did think,
That I upon her spent.

"A fig for care and thought!
When all my gold is gone,
In faith, my girl, we will have more,
Whoever I light upon.

"My father's rich; why then
Should I want store of gold?"
"Nay with a father sure," quoth she,
"A son may well make bold."

"I've a sister richly wed;
I'll rob her ere I'll want."
"Nay then," quoth Sarah, "they may well
Consider of your scant."

"Nay, I an uncle have;
At Ludlow he doth dwell;
He is a grazier, which in wealth
Doth all the rest excell.

"Ere I will live in lack,
And have no coyn for thee:
I'll rob his house and murder him."
"Why should you not?" quoth she:

"Was I a man, ere I
Would live in poor estate;
On father, friends, and all my kin,
I would my talons grate.

"For without money, George,
A man is but a beast:
But bringing money thou shalt be
Always my welcome guest.

"For shouldst thou be pursued
With twenty hues and cryes,
And with a warrant searched for
With Argus' hundred eyes,

"Yet here thou shalt be safe;
Such privy ways there be,
That if they sought an hundred years,
They could not find out thee.

And so carousing both
Their pleasures to content:
George Barnwell had in little space
His money wholly spent.

Which done, to Ludlow straight
He did provide to go,
To rob his wealthy uncle there;
His minion would it so.

And once he thought to take
His father by the way,
But that he fear'd his master had
Took order for his stay.[ 2]

Unto his uncle then
He rode with might and main,
Who with a welcome and good cheer
Did Barnwell entertain.

One fortnight's space he stayed,
Until it chanced so,
His uncle with his cattle did
Unto a market go.

His kinsman rode with him,
Where he did see right plain,
Great store of money he had took:
When coming home again,

Sudden within a wood,
He struck his uncle down,
And beat his brains out of his head;
So sore he crackt his crown.

Then seizing fourscore pound,
To London straight he hyed,
And unto Sarah Millwood all
The cruell fact descryed.

"Tush, 'tis no matter, George,
So we the money have
To have good cheer in jolly sort,
And deck us fine and brave."

Thus lived in filthy sort,
Until their store was gone:
When means to get them any more,
I-wis, poor George had none.

Therefore in railing sort,
She thrust him out of door:
Which is the just reward of those
Who spend upon a whore.

"O do me not disgrace
In this my need," quoth he,
She call'd him thief and murderer,
With all the spight might be:

To the constable she sent,
To have him apprehended;
And shewed how far, in each degree,
He had the laws offended.

When Barnwell saw her drift,
To sea he got straightway;
Where fear and sting of conscience
Continually on him lay.

Unto the lord mayor then,
He did a letter write;
In which his own and Sarah's fault
He did at large recite.

Whereby she seized was
And then to Ludlow sent;
Where she was judg'd, condemn'd, and hang'd,
For murder incontinent.

There dyed this gallant quean,
Such was her greatest gains;
For murder in Polonia,
Was Barnwell hang'd in chains.

Lo! here's the end of youth,
That after harlots haunt:
Who in the spoil of other men,
About the streets do flaunt.


1. The having a sum of money with him on Sunday, &c. shews this narrative to have been penned before the civil wars: the strict observance of the Sabbath was owing to the change of manners at that period.

2. i.e. for stopping and apprehending him at his father's.


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