Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Cryes of the Dead, 1620

"The Cryes of the Dead" is a nice and gory murder ballad about a man, Richard Price the Weaver, who tortured and killed three young boys. Most ballads in the early modern era dealt with something scandalous or exploitive, as you may have noticed. And the more dramatic or disturbing the crime, the better for 17th century printers (of course, this principle remains basically exactly the same for modern news media as well).

But the "Cryes of the Dead" is also interesting in that it exposes how absolutely fucking terrible it was to be an apprentice in England during this time. Guys, it was the worst! Boys were usually sent away to an apprenticeship when they were between 10 -13 years old. There were few laws to protect them from brutality from their masters. For example, in this ballad's section of A Pepysian Garland, we get the story of how, on "October 8, 1655, Mathew Nicholas was discharged from his apprenticeship to an Uxbridge tool-maker, William Lovejoy, because it was proved that Lovejoy had grossly mistreated the boy, 'tyinge and fetteringe him to the shoppe, and that the said master his wife and mother did most cruelly and inhumanely beate his said apprentice, and also whip'd him until he was very blooddy and his flesh rawe over a great part of his body, and then salted him, and held him naked to the fyre, beinge soe salted to add to his paine.'" Yikes.

Richard Price is an even nastier character. We learn that:

Many poore Prentisses
to himselfe did he bind [...]
Beating them cruelly
for no cause, tel they syed:
Spurning and kicking them,                                                     
as if dogs they had beene,
Careles in cruelty,                                                     
was this wretch ever seene.

Price beats to death one apprentice, and then another. Here's one of the gorier/more upsetting parts, when the third murdered boy's body is discovered:

his poor mangled corpse,
By neighbors there was found,
bruised and beaten sore,
with many a deadly wound.
His brains ny broken forth,
and his neck burst in twain,
On his Limbs over all,
spots of blood did remain.

Yuck, right? This finally leads people to start thinking that maybe they should tell the po-po about Price, and he gets arrested. But for most apprentices who were cruelly treated, they had no recourse and were expected to endure the abuse in hopes that they would learn the trade and eventually have some economic independence.

So the woodcut is really odd and funny, but I had to spoil it by actually reading the ballad and now I'm depressed. Leave those kids alone! They just wanted to weave! And we all know weaving is a man's game.

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