Welcome to Execution Ballads, a database built by Dr Una McIlvenna, of hundreds of songs about crime and punishment across Europe from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. This database contains songs in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch, with transcriptions of the songs, recordings, and where permission has been granted, images of the original songsheets and pamphlets themselves.
Across Europe, from the sixteenth century until the early twentieth century, the news of the deeds of criminals and their subsequent executions was delivered via song, often printed on cheap, single-sheet broadsides or small, book-like pamphlets, as well as passed on orally or via manuscript. Songs were usually set to a familiar tune (often indicated at the top of the pamphlet), which allowed anyone to easily sing along. They were sold in busy streets and marketplaces by street singers, who usually sang the contents of the pamphlet in order to promote their wares.
Execution ballads could be graphically violent, usually compassionate, sometimes satirical, but always compelling. Explore the site to see how diverse this genre could be across languages and across time.