As a recorder player, I knew of Watkin's Ale
as a tune in Queen Elisabeth's Virginal Book
which had been arranged by William Byrd
. I first came across it as a song when looking for material for We're only here for the beer!
in Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time
(1859). Here Chappell gave just three innocuous verses in modernised English. My taste whetted, further research led me to A collection of seventy-nine black-letter ballads and broadsides, printed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, between the years 1559 and 1597
by Joseph Lilly (1804-1870) and published in 1867. Here in describing the ballads, Lilly writes:
"Others, again, are more or less openly obscene, of which there is one example only in the present volume, the ballad of " Mother Watkin's Ale," (p. 251). This, also, appears to have been extremely popular, for it is not unfrequently alluded to in the lighter literature of the Elizabethan age, though no traces of its existence had been discovered until the present collection came to light."
For me Watkin's Ale
is a charming precautionary story in Shakespeare's beautiful language. Its subtitle A Ditty Delightfull of mother Watkin's ale, A warning wel wayed, though counted a tale