Towre Out Ben Morts

Towre Out Ben Morts
By SAMUEL ROWLANDS in “Martin Mark-all, Beadle of Bridewell: His Defence and Answere to the Belman of London”.


Towre out ben morts & towre,1 look-out, good women;
Looke out ben morts & towre,
For all the Rome coues are budgd a beake,2 all the Rome-coves [Notes] have run away [Notes]
And the quire coves tippe the lowre.3 Queer-coves taken the money


The quire coues are budgd to the bowsing ken,4 have sneaked to the ale-house
As Romely as a ball,5 nimbly
But if we be spid we shall be clyd,6 whipped
And carried to the quirken hall.7 taken to gaol.


Out budgd the Coue of the ken,8 crept; master of the house
With a ben filtch in his quarr’me9 staff; hand.
That did the prigg good that bingd in the kisome,10 went to search for the man who had given the alarm.
To towre the Coue budge alar’me.


Samuel Rowlands, a voluminous writer circa 1570-1628, though little known now, nevertheless kept the publishers busy for thirty years, his works selling readily for another half century. Not the least valuable of his numerous productions from a social and antiquarian point of view is Martin Mark-All, Beadle of Bridewell; his Defence and Answere to the Belman of London (see both Notes ante).

Martin Markall delivers himself of a vivid and “originall” account of “the Regiment of Rogues, when they first began to take head, and how they have succeeded one the other successively unto the sixth and twentieth year of King Henry the Eighth, gathered out of the Chronicle of Crackropes” etc. He then criticizes somewhat severely the errors and omissions in Dekker’s Canting glossary, adding considerably to it, and finally joins issue with the Belman in an attempt to give “song for song”. Dekker’s “Canting Rhymes” (plagiarised from Copland) and “The Beggar’s Curse” thus apparently gave birth to the present verses and to those entitled “The Maunder’s Wooing” that follow.

Stanza I, line i. Ben = Lat. bene = good. Mort = a woman, chaste or not. Line 3. Rome-cove = “a great rogue” (B. E., Dict. Cant. Crew, 1690), i.e., an organizer, or the actual perpetrator of a robbery: quire-cove = a subordinate thief—the money had passed from the actual thief to his confederate. Rom (or rum) and quier (or queer) enter largely into combination, thus—rom = gallant, fine, clever, excellent, strong; rom-bouse = wine or strong drink; rum-bite = a clever trick or fraud; rum-blowen = a handsome mistress; rum-bung = a full purse; rum-diver = a clever pickpocket; rum-padder = a well-mounted highwayman, etc.: also queere = base, roguish; queer-bung = an empty purse; queer-cole = bad money; queer-diver = a bungling pickpocket; queer-ken = a prison; queer-mart = a foundered whore, and so forth. Budge = a general verb of action, usually stealthy action: thus, budge a beak = to give the constable the slip, or to bilk a policeman; to budge out (or off) = to sneak off; to budge an alarm = to give warning.

Taken from Musa Pedestris, Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536―1896], collected and annotated by John S. Farmer.

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Rhymes Of The Canting Crew.
The Beggar’s Curse
Towre Out Ben Morts
The Maunder’s Wooing
A Gage Of Ben Rom-Bouse
Bing Out, Bien Morts
The Song Of The Beggar
The Maunder’s Initiation
The High Pad’s Boast
The Merry Beggars
A Mort’s Drinking Song
A Beggar I’ll Be
A Budg And Snudg Song
. . .