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The British Library: Miscellaneous Collections and Individual Ballads

EBBA has designated as "Miscellaneous" all British Library ballads outside of the large, well-known named collections (the Bagford, the Huth, and the Roxburghe). We discuss the miscellaneous larger collections of ballads below, and include a list of additional shelfmarks by ballads held by the British Library can be found.

The Book of Fortune

The relatively unknown Book of Fortune (shelfmark C.20.f.14) contains 32 mostly unique black-letter ballads from 1651-1655. The collection initially seems to consist of the simple (and typical) pastoral heyday ballads of the period, but, upon further examination, these ballads often encode Royalist sympathies still thriving after the English Civil War and during the Interregnum. For instance, the final ballad in the volume, "The Ladies Lamentation. For the losse of her Land-lord" (C.20.f.14.(32.), EBBA 37101), at first glance reads like a classic pastoral romance, where a lady longs for her missing love. Subtle clues throughout the ballad, however, imply that it is actually an allegorical lament for the loss of Charles II (the true "landlord" of England, from a Royalist perspective), who fled to France or Spain after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Most of the ballads in this rare collection can be read through the same lens. The provenance of the collection is largely unknown. Our only guide is a a note inserted into the bound volume by J.W. Ebsworth, who calls it The Book of Fortune, which indicates that it passed through his hands at one point. Ebsworth also correlated the ballads in this volume with other extant volumes, and his note indicates which prominent collections contain other editions of some of the contents of this collection. Ebsworth's notes also indicate that the collection was acquired by the British Museum in 1884.1

Notes by J.W. Ebsworth in the Book of Fortune

J.W. Ebsworth's notes on the provenance of the Book of Fortune,
as well as other editions of some of the collection's ballads. (Click to enlarge.)

A Collection of 225 English Ballads

Containing several unique ballads, A Collection of 225 English Ballads (shelfmark C.22.f.6) consists of 225 mostly black-letter heyday ballads, with a handwritten index dating the collection to the 1660s-1690s. It is strange indeed that such a large, pristine collection is unnamed, and its provenance too is obscure. These ballads are bound in a single volume, each trimmed (as are most collected ballads pre-1701) and pasted horizontally into windowed pages, alphabetized by title. They are in impeccable condition. The leather cover of the volume is stamped with a gilt crown over a coat of arms with the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense"—the historical motto for the Order of the Garter, which, loosely translated, means "Shame upon him who thinks evil of it."

The Luttrell Ballads

The Luttrell collection (shelfmark C.20.f.3-5), like the Bagford, offers a mixed bag of broadsides and pamphlets. EBBA combed through the three volumes of the Luttrell collection held by the British Library in order to archive the 145 ballads held therein. These ballads are particularly interesting because their collector, Narcissus Luttrell, typically documented his ballads with the date of purchase, and occasionally with illuminating marginalia. The addition of the British Library's Luttrell ballads allows us to more closely date near-duplicates of other ballads across our archive. It also nearly completes the archiving of Luttrell's eclectic ballad collection, which is now spread across the globe: we have already archived the Bindley (formerly Luttrell) collection from the Huntington Library, as well as scattered Luttrell ballads in the Broadsides By6 collection at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, donated by their purchaser, Professor James Osborn, and we intend to archive additional ballads held by the Newberry Library in Chicago and UCLA's Clark Library. Most of the Luttrell ballads are white-letter political ballads from the latter half of the seventeenth century, as accords with Luttrell's own interest in the politics of his time.

The Osterley Park Collection

The Osterley Park collection (shelfmark C.39.k.6) contains 72 ballads, many of them printed in white letter. Of particular interest in this collection is the number of ballads with musical notation—35 of the 72 have some kind of notation on them, accounting for almost half of the collection. In this collection, we again find traces of J.W. Ebsworth at work, in the form of eight handwritten pages about the volume, which include an index and notation that 69 of the ballads were unique to the British Library. The ballad collection gets its name from the fact that it was owned by the Earls of Jersey for centuries; their London mansion was named "Osterley House." In 1930, F. Burlington Fawcett published a printed edition of the Osterley Park ballads under the title Broadside Ballads of the Restoration Period from the Jersey Collection known as the Osterley Park Ballads.

Poetical Broadsides

Poetical Broadsides (shelfmark C.20.f.2) is a three-volume collection of broadside poems which contains numerous broadside ballads (given its title, it was likely bound and named generically by the British Museum or Library). Of the three volumes, 50 ballads are being archived by EBBA. Many of these ballads focus on the latter half of the seventeenth century, with several concerned with the political goings-on of the time. As with the other unnamed collection on this list, A Collection of 225 English Ballads, the provenance of Poetical Broadsides is opaque.

The Thomason Tracts

The Thomason Tracts (shelfmark 669.f.[vol no.]), like the Luttrell collection, are a hugely wide-ranging set of documents that span 2,000 volumes. They are crucial documents related to the period of the English Civil War. Collected by the London bookseller George Thomason, these artifacts, like those in the Luttrell collection, are often annotated in Thomason's own hand, providing critical information about such things as dates and subject matters. Given the wide range of the Thomason Tracts, EBBA's team spent several days combing through microfilm images of the volumes of single-sheet documents, and ultimately drew 117 items from 20 different volumes to focus on in person. The majority of these ballads, also like the Luttrell, are white-letter political ballads. Of particular interest to today, the Thomason Tracts contain the only known extant edition of "The World is Turned Upside Down" (669.f.10.(47.), EBBA 36622), a ballad about Parliament outlawing Christmas celebrations in 1646; this ballad is that referenced in the popular American musical Hamilton in the song "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)." It is historically said to have been sung by the retreating British soldiers after the battle of Yorktown (1781) during the American Revolution, as a snide comment upon their forced abdication of power.

Other Shelfmarks

Other British Library ballads can be found under the following shelfmarks:

  • C.18.e.2 (6 ballads)
  • C.20.f.6 (13 ballads)
  • C.38.i.25 (18 ballads)
  • C.121.g.9 (74 ballads)
  • C.161.f.2 (2 ballads)
  • G.559 (3 ballads)
  • HS.74/1042 (2 ballads)
  • L.23.c.6 (1 ballad)
  • 82.l.8 (19 ballads)
  • 516.m.18 (1 ballad)
  • 712.m.1 (1 ballad)
  • 806.k.16 (7 ballads)
  • 807.g.5 (3 ballads)
  • 816.m.24 (4 ballads)
  • 839.m.22 (5 ballads)
  • 1872.a.1 (2 volumes, 35 ballads)
  • 1876.f.1 (39 ballads)


1 The British Library was a part of the British Museum until the British Library Act of 1972; thus, items acquired before 1972 (as is the case with most of these ballad collections) were acquired by the British Museum, but are now housed in the British Library.