A letter to Rome, to declare to ye Pope, Iohn Felton his freend is hangd in a rope:


A letter to Rome, to declare to ye Pope, Iohn Felton his freend is hangd in a rope:


And farther, a right his grace to enforme, He dyed a Papist, and seemd not to turne.


The singer gleefully transmits the news of John Felton's execution to the Pope, sarcastically asking him to gather up the parts of his body now strewn around London, and to rescue his soul from Purgatory. For more on Felton's life, see notes below the ballad.

Digital Object

Image / Audio Credit

Huntington Library - Britwell, Shelfmark: HEH18325; EBBA 32412. Audio recording by Jenni Hyde.

Set to tune of...


A letter to Rome, to declare to ye Pope,
Iohn Felton his freend is hangd in a rope:
And farther, a right his grace to enforme,
He dyed a Papist, and seemd not to turne.

To the tune of Row well ye Mariners.

WHo keepes Saint Angell gates?
Where lieth our holy father say?
I muze that no man waytes,
Nor comes to meete me on the way.
Sir Pope I say? yf you be nere,
Bow downe to me your listning eare:
Come forth, besturre you then a pace,
Fo I haue newes to show your grace.
Stay not, come on,
That I from hence were shortly gon:
Harke well, heare mee,
What tidings I haue brought to thee

The Bull so lately sent
To England by your holy grace,
Iohn Felton may repent
For settyng vp the same in place:
For he vpon a goodly zeale
He bare vnto your common weale
Hath ventured lyfe to pleasure you,
And now is hangd, I tell you true.
Wherfore, sir Pope,
In England haue you lost your hope.
Curse on, spare not,
Your knights are lyke to go to pot.

But further to declare,
He dyed your obedient chylde:
And neuer seemd to spare,
For to exalt your doctrine wylde:
And tolde the people euery one
He dyed your obedient sonne
And as he might, he did set forth,
Your dignitie thats nothyng worth.
Your trash, your toyes,
He toke to be his onely ioyes:
Therfore, hath wonne,
Of you the crowne of martirdome.

Let him be shryned then
Accordyng to his merits due,
As you haue others doen
That proue vnto their Prince vntrue:
For these (sir Pope) you loue of lyfe,
That wt their Princes fall at stryfe:
Defendyng of your supreame powre,
Yet som haue paid ful deare therfore.
As now, lately,
Your freend Iohn Felton seemd to try
Therfore, I pray,
That you a masse for him wyll say.

Ryng all the belles in Rome
To doe his sinful soule some good,
Let that be doen right soone
Because that he hath shed his blood,
His quarters stand not all together
But ye mai hap to ring them thether
In place where you wold haue them be
Then might you doe as pleaseth ye.
For whye? they hang,
Vnshryned each one vpon a stang:
Thus standes, the case,
On London gates they haue a place.

His head vpon a pole
Stands waueri~g in ye wherli~g wynd,
But where shoulde be his soule
To you belongeth for to fynd:
I wysh you Purgatorie looke
And search each corner wt your hooke,
Lest it might chance or you be ware
The Deuyls to catce him in a snare.
Yf ye, him see,
From Purgatorie set him free:
Let not, trudge than,
Fetch Felton out and yf ye can.

I wysh you now sir Pope
To loke vnto your faithful freendes,
That in your Bulles haue hope
To haue your pardon for their sinnes,
For here I tell you, euery Lad
Doth scoff & scorne your bulles to bad,
And thinke they shall the better fare
For hatyng of your cursed ware.
Now doe, I end,
I came to show you as a frend:
Whether blesse, or curse,
You send to me, I am not the worse.

Steuen Peele.


Composer of Ballad

Steuen Peele

Method of Punishment

hanging, quartering


high treason



Execution Location

St Paul's Churchyard, London

Printing Location

London, by Alexander Lacie for Henrie Kyrkham, dwellyng at the signe of the blacke Boy: at the middle North dore of Paules church.

Tune Data

Composer of tune: C. B. Hardman


Wikipedia: Blessed John Felton (died 8 August 1570) was an English Catholic martyr, who was executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Almost all of what is known about Felton's background comes from the narrative of his daughter, Frances Salisbury. The manuscript that holds her story has a blank where his age should be, but it does say that he was a wealthy man of Norfolk ancestry, who lived at Bermondsey Abbey near Southwark. He "was a man of stature little and of complexion black". His wife had been a playmate of Elizabeth I, a maid-of-honour to Queen Mary and the widow of one of Mary's auditors (a legal official of the papal court). He was the father of Blessed Thomas Felton.

Felton was arrested for fixing a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull Regnans in Excelsis ("reigning on high"), excommunicating Queen Elizabeth, to the gates of the Bishop of London's palace near St. Paul's. This was a significant act of treason as the document, which released Elizabeth's subjects from their allegiance, needed to be promulgated in England before it could take legal effect. The deed brought about the end of the previous policy of tolerance towards those Catholics who were content occasionally to attend their parish church while keeping their true beliefs to themselves. The reaction seemed soon to be justified: it was the publication in England of Pius's exhortation that gave the impetus to the Ridolfi plot, in which the Duke of Norfolk was to kidnap or murder Queen Elizabeth, install Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne and then become de facto king by marrying her.

The law records say that the act was committed around eleven at night on 24 May 1570, but Salisbury claims it happened between two and three in the morning of the following day, the Feast of Corpus Christi. Felton had received the bulls in Calais and given one to a friend, William Mellowes of Lincoln's Inn. This copy was discovered on 25 May and after being racked, Mellowes implicated Felton, who was arrested on 26 May. Felton immediately confessed and glorified in his deed, "treasonably declar[ing] that the queen... ought not to be the queen of England", but he was still racked as the authorities were seeking, through his testimony, to implicate Guerau de Spes, the Ambassador of Spain, in the action. He was condemned on 4 August and executed by hanging four days later in St. Paul's Churchyard, London. He was cut down alive for quartering, and his daughter says that he uttered the holy name of Jesus once or twice when the hangman had his heart in his hand. He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.


Letter to Rome.mp3


“A letter to Rome, to declare to ye Pope, Iohn Felton his freend is hangd in a rope:,” Execution Ballads, accessed July 21, 2024, https://omeka.cloud.unimelb.edu.au/execution-ballads/items/show/848.

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