The Bowes Tragedy

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Melody - "Queen Dido"
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Traditional ballad

Let Carthage Queen be now no more
The subject of our mournful song;
Nor such old tales which, heretofore,
Did so amuse the teeming throng;
Since the sad story which I'll tell,
All other tragedies excel.

2. Remote in Yorkshire, near to Bowes,
Of late did Roger Wrightson dwell;
He courted Martha Railton, whose
Repute for virtue did excel;
Yet Roger's friends would not agree,
That he to her should married be.

3. Their love continued one whole year,
Full sore against their parents' will;
And when he found them so severe,
His loyal heart began to chill:
And last Shrove Tuesday, took his bed,
With grief and woe encompassed.

4. Thus he continued twelve days' space,
In anguish and in grief of mind;
And no sweet peace in any case,
This ardent lover's heart could find;
But languished in a train of grief,
Which pierced his heart beyond relief.

5. Now anxious Martha sore distressed,
A private message did him send,
Lamenting that she could not rest,
Till she had seen her loving friend:
His answer was, 'Nay, nay, my dear,
Our folks will angry be I fear.'

6. Full fraught with grief, she took no rest,
But spent her time in pain and fear,
Till a few days before his death
She sent an orange to her dear;
But's cruel mother in disdain,
Did send the orange back again.

7. Three days before her lover died,
Poor Martha with a bleeding heart,
To see her dying lover hied,
In hopes to ease him of his smart;
Where she's conducted to the bed,
In which this faithful young man laid.

8. Where she with doleful cries beheld,
Her fainting lover in despair;
At which her heart with sorrow filled,
Small was the comfort she had there;
Though's mother showed her great respect,
His sister did her much reject.

9. She stayed two hours with her dear,
In hopes for to declare her mind;
But Hannah Wrightson stood so near,
No time to do it she could find:
So that being almost dead with grief,
Away she went without relief.

10. Tears from her eyes did flow amain,
And she full oft would sighing say,
'My constant love, alas! is slain,
And to pale death, become a prey:
Oh, Hannah, Hannah thou art base;
Thy pride will turn to foul disgrace!'

11. She spent her time in godly prayers,
And quiet rest did from her fly;
She to her friends full oft declares,
She could not live if he did die:
Thus she continued till the bell,
Began to sound his fatal knell.

12. And when she heard the dismal sound,
Her godly book she cast away,
With bitter cries would pierce the ground.
Her fainting heart 'gan to decay:
She to her pensive mother said,
'I cannot live now he is dead.'

13. Then after three short minutes' space,
As she in sorrow groaning lay,
A gentleman did her embrace,
And mildly unto her did say,
'Dear melting soul be not so sad,
But let your passion be allayed.'

14. Her answer was, 'My heart is burst,
My span of life is near an end;
My love from me by death is forced,
My grief no soul can comprehend.'
Then her poor heart it waxed faint,
When she had ended her complaint.

15. For three hours' space, as in a trance,
This broken-hearted creature lay,
Her mother wailing her mischance,
To pacify her did essay:
But all in vain, for strength being past,
She seemingly did breathe her last.

16. Her mother, thinking she was dead,
Began to shriek and cry amain;
And heavy lamentations made,
Which called her spirit back again;
To be an object of hard fate,
And give to grief a longer date.

17. Distorted with convulsions, she,
In dreadful manner gasping lay,
Of twelve long hours no moment free,
Her bitter groans did her dismay:
Then her poor heart being sadly broke,
Submitted to the fatal stroke.

18. When things were to this issue brought,
Both in one grave were to he laid:
But flinty-hearted Hannah thought,
By stubborn means for to persuade,
Their friends and neighbours from the same,
For which she surely was to blame.

19. And being asked the reason why,
Such base objections she did make,
She answered thus scornfully,
In words not fit for Billingsgate:
'She might have taken fairer on -
Or else be hanged:' Oh heart of stone!

20. What hell-born fury had possessed,
Thy vile inhuman spirit thus?
What swelling rage was in thy breast,
That could occasion this disgust,
And make thee show such spleen and rage,
Which life can't cure nor death assuage?

21. Sure some of Satan's minor imps,
Ordained were to be thy guide;
To act the part of sordid pimps,
And fill thy heart with haughty pride;
But take this caveat once for all,
Such devilish pride must have a fall.

22. But when to church the corpse was brought,
And both of them met at the gate;
What mournful tears by friends were shed,
When that alas it was too late, -
When they in silent grave were laid,
Instead of pleasing marriage-bed.

23. You parents all both far and near,
By this sad story warning take;
Nor to your children be severe,
When they their choice in love do make;
Let not the love of cursed gold,
True lovers from their love withhold.


A true story about Rodger Wrightson and Martha Railton, of the Town of Bowes, in the County of York, who died for love of each other, in March, 1714/5. The following is an exact copy of the entry, as transcribed by Mr. Denham, 17th April, 1847. The words in brackets are found interlined in another and a later hand by some person who had inspected the register:

'RoDger Wrightson, Jun., and Martha Railton, both of Bowes, Buried
in one grave: He Died in a Fever, and upon tolling his passing
Bell, she cry'd out My heart is broke, and in a Few hours expir'd,
purely [OR SUPPOSED] thro' Love, March 15, 1714/5, aged about 20
years each.'

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