Verse 1: 'Come all you thoughtless young men, a warning take by me, / And think upon my unhappy fate to be hanged upon a tree; / My name is William Corder, to you I do declare, / I courted Maria Marten, most beautiful and fair.' The name of the publisher is not included and the sheet is not dated.
This very dark ballad is mainly narrated from the viewpoint of a wealthy young gentleman called William Corder, who murdered his sweetheart, Maria Marten. The ballad is based on a chilling crime that took place in Polstead, Suffolk, in May 1827. After a brief courtship, Corder told Marten that he wished to marry her, and visited her family's home to inform them about the arrangements for the ceremony. Instead of taking her to Ipswich, however, he took her to a part of his premises called the Red Barn and murdered her. After being found guilty by the jury, Corder then confessed to the crime. He was executed on the 11th of August, 1828. A broadsheet published in London by James Catnach about this crime sold over one million copies.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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