Cuckolds All in a Row

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X: 1 T:Cuckolds All In A Row. (p)1651.PLFD.019 M:6/4 L:1/4 Q:3/4=100 S:Playford, Dancing Master,1st Ed.,1651. O:England H:1651. Z:Chris Partington. K:G a2 a a2 g|f2 g a2 d|e2 e f>ef|[1g6:|[2g3-g2| |:B|cdc BAB|A2 A fef|g2 d e d2|B3 G>AB| c>dc B>AB|A2 A fef|g2 d e d2|(B3G2):|



CUCKOLDS ALL (IN) A ROW. AKA and see "Cuckolds All Awry," "Hey Boys Up Go We (4)." English, Jig (6/4 or 6/8 time). G Major (Raven): C Major (Chappell): D Major (Johnson). Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Chappell): AABB (Johnson, Raven). The air, in its country dance iteration, appears in John Playford's English Dancing Master of 1651 and in every subsequent edition through the end of the long-running series, with the 18th (1728), then published by John Young in London. "Cuckolds All Arow" was also published in all three editions of Walsh's Compleat Country Dancing Master (1718, 1731, 1754). The tune belonged to a favorite dance of Charles II [1].

François Bunel, Actors of the Commedia Dell'Arte (c. 1590s)

As with many Playford country dance tunes, the melody was also saw service as vehicle for a ballad (melodies were frequently used for both in the 17th and 18th centuries), registered in the Stationer's Register on June, 9, 1637, with words that are now lost but which began: "Not long ago, as all alone I lay upon my bed..." It was used as a party tune by the Cavaliers, according to Chappell (1859), who states that they sang the words of "Hey, boys, up go we" and "London's true character" to the tune. The latter song heaped abuse on the citizens of that town for siding against the King in the civil wars, and began "You coward-hearted citizens..."; it is printed in Rats rhimed to Death; or, The Rump Parliament hanged in the Shambles (1660) and in both editions of Loyal Songs written against the Rump Parliament. "Culcolds All a Row" is mentioned in the older song "O London in a fine town." Cuckoldry was frequently the topic of comic productions and ordinary jests in the early decades of the 17th century. Keith Whitlock ("John Playford's The English Dancing Master 1650/1 as Cultural Politics", Folk Music Journal, vol. 7, No. 5, 1999) suggests this stemmed from the annulment by King James VI/I of the marriage between the Earl of Essex and Lady Frances Howard, which resulted in a famous scandal and murder. The two principals were both barely out of puberty when they were wed in a political union, but quckly separated before the marriage could be consummated. Essex was sent abroad on an extended tour, and meanwhile Frances had found a new love in the 1st Earl of Somerset. When he returned they spurned one another, each decrying the incompatibility of the other; Frances's virginity was physically checked by committee, but a stand-in may have actually been examined. Sir Thomas Overbury, a close friend and advisor of Somerset, had tried to advise Somerset of the unsuitability of Frances, but the Howard family was anxious to see them wed, if only they could free her of her previous commitment to Essex. They were able to maneuver Overbury into disfavor with the King and he was imprisoned and then poisoned, allegedly by Frances and Somerset. This removed the last obstacle to Frances and Somerset and they were married, but the crime was revealed and the couple sent to the Tower of London. She was found guilty in a subsequent trail but spared execution, and was eventually pardoned by the King and released in early 1622. Cuckolds became the subject of ridicule in period broadside ballads and masquerades.

Diarist Samuel Pepys (a middle-class government official with a long and successful career in the Navy office) attended a dance at the court of Charles II, misheard the name of the tune, and made this entry in his diary (which he kept in code) on the 31st of December, 1662:

Then to country dances; the King leading the first, which he called for; which was, says he, "Cuckolds all awry," the old dance of England. Of the ladies that danced, the Duke of Monmouth's mistress, and my Lady Castlemaine (the King's mistress) , and a daughter of Sir Harry de Vicke's, were the best. The manner was, when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stand up; and indeed he dances rarely, and much better than the Duke of York. Having stayed there as long as I thought fit, to my infinite content, it being the greatest pleasure I could wish now to see at Court, I went home, leaving them dancing.

Interestingly, Pepys was a fiddler, and wrote in his entry for April 24, 1663:

After dinner all the afternoon fiddling upon my viallin (which I have not done many a day), while Ashwell (his wife's female servant) danced above in my upper best chamber, which is a rare room for musique.

Forest of Dean, Gloucester, fiddler Charles Baldwin's "Morris Call" is a version of "Cuckold all a row" [1]. Phillip Heath-Coleman points out that another Forest of Dean musician, Henry Allen, knew it under the title "Calling On," and that the melody was the vehicle for the Fieldtown (Leafield), Oxfordshire, Morris dance nicknamed "Signposts" AKA "Shepherd's Hey" (not the ususal tune by that name."

Researcher Anne Gilchrist remarks:

[Cuckolds all in a row] was also in all probability the now forgotten tune of the nursery-rhyme--

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With cockle-shells, and silver bells
And cowslips all arow.

This is the version in Gammer Gurton's Garland (1810), but the last line is varied with "columbines," "mussels," and "pretty girls." Halliwell possessed a copy dated 1797 which had the probably genuine old reading "cuckolds," discarded in politer days. Is it not possible that the nursery-rhyme sung to this popular tune of the day may have referred to the little Princess Mary (afterwards Mary II)? Under date April 1st, 1669, Pepys describes a visit to the Duke of York's lodgings in Whitehall "where I did see the young duchess--a little child in hanging sleeves--dance most finely, so as almost to ravish me, her ears were so good; taught by a Frenchman who did heretofore teach the king and all the king's children and the Queen-Mother herself, who do still dance well. [2]


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Barlow (Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford's Dancing Master), 1985; No. 19, p. 20. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986 (appears as "Hey Boys, Up Go We"). Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time), vol. 1, 1859; p. 306. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 14: Songs, Airs and Dances of the 18th Century), 1997; p. 5. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 9 and p. 44. Walsh (Complete Country Dancing-Master, Volume the Fourth), London, 1740; No. 191.

Recorded sources : - Familiar FAM 47, Pyewackett - "7 to Midnight" (1985). Island Records AN-700, Kirkpatrick & Hutchings - "The Compleat Dancing Master" (1974). Maggie's Music MMCD216, Hesperus - "Early American Roots" (1997). North Star NS0031, "Dance Across the Sea: Dances and Airs from the Celtic Highlands" (1990).




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  1. Anne G. Gilchrist, "Some Additional Notes on the Traditional History of Certain Ballad-Tunes in the Dancing Master", Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol. 3, No. 4, Dec., 1939, p. 278).
  2. ibid.