Flower of the Month for April: ‘Phyllida was a fair maid’ – a young wife’s lament

A sad tale from the commonplace and account book of Francis Stringer of Sharlston, near Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire:

Francis Stringer (1565-1637) lived at Sharlston, and was twice married. His first wife having died, he married Dorothy, the widow of Cuthbert Fleming of Sharlston Hall, and the Stringers subsequently lived at the Hall. In June 1604 he records in his commonplace book that his wife had fallen out with him, and had sat by the fire all night, refusing to come up to bed. Later in the year she was unhappy again:

Henry Howard Earl of Surrey 1546, attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554) - Scanned from Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630. New York: Rizzoli, 1995. ISBN 0-8478-1940-X.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Howard Earl of Surrey 1546, attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

‘vpon the 29. of November my wyfe dyd abowte mydnyghte synge fyllydaye was a fayre mayde* & other follyse sals songes & some salmes’

… she sang ‘Phillida was a Fair Maid’ and other foolish songs, … and then a few days later:

‘vpon the 2. of december she dyd singe & dyd wyshe that I shold have as lytell comforte as any mane vpon the earthe & dyd when I did Intreat her to be quyet that wee myghte sleep her answer was that she wold leave me the chamber & goe into ane other chamber & mad a profer as thoghe she wold ryse & then presentlye she dyd lyge her downe agayne & sayd that by god I shold not get shute of her so–& that she would tarrye better by me then so. after that when she would not be quyet I dyd ryse & went into the gavell chamber & ther dyd lyge that nyghte & one other & then vpon her promyse that she wold lyge quyetlye I went to my owne beyde agayne.’

… she agreed to cease her singing, and Francis was allowed to return to his bed!

*The song she sang was to be found in the collection of lyrical and pastoral poems published in 1600 with the title England’s Helicon. ‘Phyllida was a fair maid’, by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, is the herdsman Harpalus’ complaint ‘on Phyllida’s love bestowed on Corin, who loved her not, and denied him that loved her.’


This month’s Flower has been provided by one of the editors of the REED West Yorkshire volume, Sylvia Thomas. The text is found in the commonplace and account book of Francis Stringer (entry for 29 November-3 December), held by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society archives, transcribed and edited by Mrs Thomas.

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