The Devil of Doncaster

The Devil of Doncaster

In 1614, Brian Cooke, ‘gentleman’ of Doncaster, complained to the Court of Star Chamber that Thomas Bevett, Original Bellamy, and twelve others, ten of them musicians, had defamed him. Motivated by “a long conceived and undeserved mallice” against him, the defendants, Cook claimed, conspired together to bring him into “disgrace, shame and reproche in the world.”* They tried to do this by means of a libellous poem which, over the course of four months beginning in November 1613, Bevett, Bellamy and their collaborators distributed, sang, and read aloud privately and publicly, in various places in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. The home towns of the musicians were probably the places where the libel was performed, with John Still’s inn being the specific venue in “Tuyworth” (Torworth), in north Nottinghamshire.

The Devil of Usury (woodcut). From John Blaxton’s pamphlet against loan sharks, ‘The English Usurer’, printed by John Norton for Francis Bowman of Oxford, 1634.

The English usurer; or usury condemned, by the most learned and famous diuines of the Church of England…’, 1634 (Folger Shakespeare Library STC 3129).

The poem, which consists of twelve eight-line stanzas, portrays Brian Cooke as a usurer and a thief—he, in the words of the refrain, is “The Devil of Doncaster.” We do not know what occasioned the dispute between Cooke, Bevett, and Bellamy, but others had felt the pinch of Brian Cooke’s sharp practices. In 1610, George Shepperde stated the terms of the loan he had received, rejected Cooke’s summary of them, and then averred “that the said Compleynant goeth aboute to make a praye of the defendant ” (Cooke v Shepperde, C2/JasI/C25/10). Of the defendants, Original Bellamy at least might well have defaulted on a loan from Cooke. He seems to have been a young gentleman in need of money: by 1618 two defendants in “Bellamy v Fretwell” deposed that this case was merely a vexatious attempt by Bellamy to “releeve his desperate and decayed estate” (STAC 8/71/7).

Many libellous poems are bawdy in content and crude in style. “The Devil of Doncaster,” however, is remarkable in its confident handling of rhythm and rhyme, its array of classical allusions (to Pluto, Cerberus, Rhadamanthus, Prometheus, Briareus, Mercury, Scylla and Charbydis), and its pointed inclusion of almost all the main ideas in contemporary critiques of usury. The piece may have been sung to a popular tune, but its writer or writers must have been educated people. For a sample:

Breake your bonde but a daye
a minit or an hower
Straighte you become a praye
vnto this tyrantes power
Briarus hundred handes
bryanus passethe fayre
A thowsande lymed wandes
settes the devill of Doncaster

Eche where he baites for fishe
touche but his silver hooke
fforthwith youar made a dishe
vnto this raveninge Cooke
No dogge doth byte so sore
as dothe an vsurer
No devill deludethe more
then the devill of Doncaster

These stanzas identify the very thinly disguised target of the piece. ‘Bryanus’, an invented counterpart to mythological Briareus, names Brian, and he is, of course, the “raveninge Cooke” of the following verse.

In his bill of complaint, Cooke alleged that the defendants aimed “to overthrowe and take away his life and estate if theye could.” They certainly did not do that. He quickly went on to be elected a capital burgess, alderman, chamberlain, and mayor of Doncaster. The libellous song aimed at Brian Cooke seems to have had less impact on him than the singing used to torment Original Bellamy. In Bellamy v Waterhouse (1610; STAC 8/69/21), he complains that his riotous enemies “being all armed and weaponed” gathered at the gates of his house “showting, halloweing & sometymes singing … to the great terrour, feare, and annoyance of your said subiectes reste & and others of his family.” Nor had Bellamy and Cooke finished with one another. In 1621, the Journals of the House of Lords (II.236) report that Bellamy had been arrested in Nottinghamshire “at the suit of Bryan Cooke and others.” Was he arrested for debt? Had the consequences of that debt inspired a defamatory song about a demonic usurer of Doncaster? We know only that both men were to appear before the Lords, Brian Cooke “to answer for the contempt” in this action taken against Original Bellamy, who was now “one of the yeomen of his majesty’s guard.”

 “The Devil of Doncaster”

STAC 8/113/3:  Bevett vs. Cooke, 1613

       Diplomatic Transcription                                          Modernized Transcription

In gryslye Plutoes Cell                                            In grisly Pluto’s cell
Where Sarbarues do wake                                    Where Cerberus do wake
And Radamanthus dwell                                        And Rhadamanthus dwell
and furious whipps doe shake                                And furious whips do shake
Devills on deceased men praye                             Devils on deceased men prey          5
but he I singe of here                                              But he I sing of here
Waist{es} lyvinge wyght{es} awaye                        Wastes living wights away
the Divill of Doncaster                                            The devil of Doncaster

The feines infarnall all                                             The fiends infernal all
were angells once I knowe                                     Were angels once I know                10
But throughe their pride did fall                               But through their pride did fall
from heaven to hell belowe                                     From heaven to hell below
ffrom heaven this never fell                                     From heaven this never fell
nor ever will come there                                          Nor ever will come there
But was Creat in hell                                               But was create in hell                      15
donne, divill of Doncaster                                        Done, devil of Doncaster

No catist paice Can houlde                                     No Catist pace can hold
w{i}th this great Alcamiste                                       With this great alchemist
Who turnes time into goulde                                   Who turns time into gold
and silver when he liste                                           And silver when he list                   20
ffrom yeares moneths week{es} and daies             From years months weeks and days
he extracts mettle pure                                            He extracts metal pure
p{ar}asselciones all yielde praise                            Paracelsions all yield praise
to the devill of Doncaster                                         To the devil of Doncaster

By mortgage, bills and bondes                                By mortgage, bills and bonds        25
like Conduite pypes he drawes                               Like conduit pipes he draws
ffrom men their good{es} & landes                          From men their goods and lands
into his grypinge Clawes                                         Into his gripping claws
Money by monethe or weeke                                  Money by month or week
paye double vse before                                           Pay double use before                   30
You maye here, if you seeke                                   You may here, if you seek
the devill of Doncaster                                            The devil of Doncaster

That vse before hande tayne                                  The use beforehand ta’en
he vnto others lett{es}                                             He unto others lets
W{hi}ch breed{es} new vse agayne                        Which breeds new use again         35
& that newe Coyne begett{es}                                And that new coin begets
Like wheate amongst the Chaffe                            Like wheat amongst the chaff
W{i}th sounde Coyne rotten ware                           With sound coin rotten were
Is com{m}onlye putt of                                             Is commonly put off
by the devill of Doncaster                                        By the devil of Doncaster               40

Like as the Vulture feed{es}                                     Like as the vulture feeds
on damned Tytons brest                                          On damnèd Titan’s breast
So by his cruell deed{es}                                         So by his cruel deeds
poore people be opprest                                          Poor people be oppressed
Whilest any bloud remaynes                                   Whilst any blood remains               45
this house leache will not sture                               This house leech will not stir
Blood suckinge still sustaynes                                Blood sucking still sustains
this devill of Doncaster                                            This devil of Doncaster

Suche Cruell Crocodyles                                        Such cruel crocodiles
seeminge Compassionate                                      Seeming compassionate               50
W{i}th fayned teares & Wyles                                 With feignèd tears and wiles
draw fooles vnto the baite                                       Draw fools unto the bait
Then like Cheribdis gulfe                                        Then like Charbydis gulf
men & meanes they devoure                                  Men and means they devour
Not hells mouthe gapethe halfe                               Not hell’s mouth gapeth half           55
like the devell of Doncaster                                      Like the devil of Doncaster

Breake yo{u}r bonde but a daye                              Break your bond but a day
a minit or an hower                                                  A minute or an hour
Straighte you become a praye                                Straight you become a prey
vnto this tyrant{es} power                                        Unto this tyrant’s power               60
Briarus hundred handes                                          Briarus’ hundred hands
bryanus passethe fayre                                           Brianus passeth fair
A thowsande lymed wand{es}                                 A thousand limèd wands
sett{es} the devill of Doncaster                               Sets the devil of Doncaster

Eche where he baites for fishe                               Each where he baits for fish         65
touche but his silver hooke                                     Touch but his silver hook
fforthw{i}th youar made a dishe                              Forthwith you’re made a dish
vnto this raveninge Cooke                                      Unto this ravening cook
No dogge doth byte so sore                                   No dog doth bite so sore
as dothe an vsurer                                                 As doth the usurer                         70
No devill deludethe more                                        No devil deludeth more
then the devill of Doncaster                                    Than the devil of Doncaster

Not winged Mercurye                                             Not wingèd Mercury
w{i}th his Conveniente fyne                                    With his convenient fine
Can matche in theverye                                         Can match in thievery                     75
this nimble devill of myne                                       This nimble devil of mine
Book{es} close he can Convey                              Books close he can convey
throughe a stronge studye doore                           Through a strong study door
Doore, bolt{es}, and barrs obey                             Door, bolts, and bars obey
this devell of Doncaster                                         This devil of Doncaster                   80

Beinge once to entertayne                                     Being once to entertain
some worthye p{re}llet ate                                     Some worthy prelatate
Earthe pott{es} he dothe disdayne                         Earth pots he doth disdain
and stole his neighbo{u}rs plate                             And stole his neighbour’s plate
But by Chance beinge spyde                                 But by chance being spied              85
from thence he flitted farre                                     From thence he flitted far
And ever since hathe plaide                                   And ever since hath played
the devill of Doncaster                                           The devil of Doncaster

W{i}th thefte he did begyn                                      With theft he did begin
w{i}th Cheatinge he p{ro}ced{es}                           With cheating he proceeds              90
To shorte his daies of sinne                                   Too short his days of sin
growe apace hempen weed{es}                            Grow apace hempen weeds
And all yonge gentlemen                                        And all young gentlemen
that hould{es} yo{u}r lyvinge deare                        That holds your living dear
Before you bleede take heed                                 Before you bleed take heed              95
of the devill of Doncaster                                       Of the devil of Doncaster

Transcription and translation by Ted McGee, University of Waterloo, 8 March 2016.


Map of Yorkshire showing location of Doncaster, etc., c.1600.

Funerary monument of Bryan Cooke on the side of the Almshouses he founded in his will of 1660: ''Bryan Cooke of Wheatley in the county of York, Esq., by his last will and testament signed the third day of January A.D. 1660, appointed this building to be erected. A sum of money sufficient for that purpose being bequeathed, for the use of twelve persons, the most distressed by poverty and age in the parish of Arksey, to each of whom he left £5 annually, in succession for ever ...'

Funerary monument of Bryan Cooke on the side of the Almshouses he founded in Arksey (n. Doncaster) his will of 1660: ”Bryan Cooke of Wheatley in the county of York, Esq., by his last will and testament signed the third day of January A.D. 1660, appointed this building to be erected. A sum of money sufficient for that purpose being bequeathed, for the use of twelve persons, the most distressed by poverty and age in the parish of Arksey, to each of whom he left £5 annually, in succession for ever …” (at


Here Is a list of “The Devil of Doncaster” Defendants:

Thomas Bevett South Kirkby gentleman
Original Bellamy Lambcote Grange gentleman
James Bird Torworth musician
Ralph Bird Torworth musician
Abraham Chambers Pontefracte musician
Humfrey Clemett Stainford musician
Edward Gressame Stainford musician
John Harrison Pontefract musician
Thomas Harrison Pontefract musician
Thomas Hill Pontefract musician
Christopher Huscroft Kirk Smeaton yeoman
Thomas Key Doncaster musician
Thomas Peate Stainford musician
John Still Torwoth innkeeper

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from Bevett v Cooke et al. (STAC 8/113/3). All the documents quoted are in the collections of the National Archives, Kew. In the quotations, brackets indicate the extensions of abbreviations in the manuscripts.

This month’s Flower is very kindly provided by Ted McGee, editor (with Sylvia Thomas) of the REED West Riding volume.

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