Week 101: The Death Of Queen Jane, by Anon

I first met this ballad on one of Joan Baez’s first albums, back in the early sixties – and thank you, Joan, for opening up to me a world of music I never knew existed – and though I have heard it in many versions since, it’s Joan’s economical lyrics I give here, even though they don’t quite match any of the official Child versions. It has long been one of my favourite folksongs, though my wife, who has undergone four births and two caesareans, has at times been less enamoured of it – ‘Do you have to keep playing that awful song when I’m nine months pregnant?’

The historical details seem to be a little awry – Jane Seymour did not die giving birth to Prince Edward, but twelve days later, King Henry was not there with her, and it is doubtful that she had a caesarean section at all, probably dying of a puerperal infection.

Bob Dylan used this song to criticise Joan Baez’s choice of material, saying that ‘Queen Jane’ was not ‘where it was at’. With all respect to the great Dylan, I think he was quite wrong: for me, songs like this are always and forever where it’s at.

The Death Of Queen Jane

Queen Jane lay in labour
For six weeks or more
The women grew weary
And the midwife gave o’er.

King Henry he was sent for
On horseback and speed.
King Henry came to her
In the time of her need.

O Henry, good King Henry,
If that you do be,
Come pierce my side open
And save my baby.

O no Jane, good Queen Jane,
That never could be.
I’d lose my sweet flower
To save my baby.

Queen Jane she turned over
She fell all in a swoon.
Her side was pierced open
And the baby was found.

How bright was the morning
How yellow was the moon,
How costly the white robe
Queen Jane was wrapped in.

King Henry he weeped,
He wrung his hands till they’re sore.
The flower of England
Will never be no more.

Anon

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