Pete Stewart tracks down a mysterious tune with an unlikely history

In Edinburgh in the summer of 1736, when the Edinburgh mob was about to wreak vengeance on the notorious Captain Porteous, an extraordinary event was reported in the local press:
"nine unfortunate young women, ‘very naked and meagre beings’ made an amends honourable through the streets of Edinburgh, the hangman attending them, while drums beat to the tune of ‘Cuckolds come dig’.1

So at least says Cyril Pearl in his I, (Muller, London, 1958) citing ‘The Edinburgh Courant and Mercury’. Presumably this means both the ‘Courant’ and the ‘Caledonian Mercury’; I have been unable to find this report in the Mercury, and no copy of the Courant seems to be currently available in the Edinburgh Libraries. This is particularly frustrating since later sources, apparently quoting Pearl, add a piper to the parade.
Whether or not we take the quote at face value, and there seems little reason why Pearl should invent such a story, and similar events have been reported elsewhere, the identifying of the tune remains a challenge. In all my researches through sources of Scottish popular music pre 18th century this was the first time I had come across this title. A little research, however, led me to conclude that it was not unknown to Sir Walter Scott who quotes it in Woodstock:

"Rat-tat-tattoo!" said Wildrake; "there is a fine alarm to you cuckolds and roundheads!" He then half-mimicked half-sang the march so called —
cuckolds come dig, cuckolds come dig, roundabout cuckolds come dance to my jig'
"By Heaven! this passes midsummer frenzy," said Everard, turning angrily on him. "Not a bit, not a bit," replied Wildrake; "it is but a slight expectoration, just like what one makes before beginning a long speech. I will be grave for an hour together, now I have got that point of war out of my head."2
Scott, however, seems to have been unaware of the origin of the song, since he misquoted the significant word. Three years earlier he had been slightly better informed
“He could hear the hum of "The King shall enjoy his own again," or the habitual whistle of "Cuckolds and Roundheads," die unto reverential silence “3
The king in question here was not, as one might assume from Scott, the bonny prince, but the third Stuart king of Britain, Charles II, but both songs date from the reign of  Charles I. In fact, it turns out that our title was well-known in England from the mid-17th century onwards. The story begins with the threat posed to the City of London by the encroaching Royalist army.

“Charles, in 1642, marched with fifteen thousand men from Northampton towards the capital. The parliament ordered the trained bands to be in readiness, and all the passages and avenues leading to the city to be fortified with posts, chains, and courts of guard. The citizens were thrown into such terrors that persons of all ranks, ages, and sexes, willingly offered themselves to work; and by digging and carrying earth and other materials, they soon completed their barricadoes and fortifications. The royalists, called Cavaliers, looking upon them with an air of contempt, made a ballad upon them and their seasonable industry, in the opprobrious stile, " Round headed cuckolds come dig.”4

By the time of the Restoration, the song and its tune were firmly associated with the military in two related contexts. The first is implied in the various tellings of the notorious story of the events that took place in the Wiltshire village of Tedworth in 1662/3 at the house of a Mr Mompesson:

“Mompesson intervened in the case of a drummer, William Drury, who had requested money from the local constable at the neighbouring village of Ludgershall on the basis of a pass which turned out to be counterfeit. Mompesson had the man arrested (although he was later freed) and his drum confiscated; subsequently, in April, it was sent to his house at Tidworth. Thereafter, he and his family were assaulted by thumpings, tattoos of the drum and other noises. There were also scratchings, panting like a dog, sulphurous and other smells, and strange lights; in addition, objects were thrown around the room, beds were elevated, horses lamed and the like. These disturbances continued over several months into 1663, despite the fact that for part of this time Drury was incarcerated at Gloucester on a charge of theft. Meanwhile, the case became well known, and many people visited Mompesson's house to witness the strange occurrences for themselves.”5

Mempesson himself wrote in a letter in 1662 that the drummer would
“for an houre together play the tune called Roundheads and Cuckolds goe digge, goe digge, and never misse one stroke, [but beat] as sweetly as skillfully as any Drummer in the World can beat, and then [it would beat] the Tattoo and severall other points of Warre.6,7

The implication here that our tune was to be included among the ‘Points of War’ played by military drummers as a ‘call’ is born out by various sources which link it to a tune known as ‘The Pioneer’s March’,  In 1788, under the topic ‘The Pioneer’s March’ France Grose wrote
‘The Pioneers call known by the appellation of ‘Round heads and cuckolds' was for pioneers to come and dig.’8
‘Pioneers’ were the section of the army whose task was the digging of fortifications, preparing of camps etc.9 I have so far been unable to establish at what date the ‘march’ was associated with the Pioneers, or indeed when the Pioneers themselves first appeared as part of army contingents. However, it seems to have got its use as a 'drumming out' tune by the fact that soldiers who did not behave themselves might get 'demoted' to pioneer status, an event which would likely be accompanied by the pioneers’ tune. Grose quotes several examples:

“A Regiment or company of horse or foot, that chargeth the enemy, and retreats before they come to handy strokes shall answer it before a council of warr: and if the fault be found in the officers, they shall be banished the camp ; if in the souldiers, then every tenth man shall be punished at discretion, and the rest serve for pioners and scavengers, till a worthy exploit take off the blot.”10

This usage of our tune was widely known outside military circles. For instance, it appears in the footnote added to many edition of the Diaries of Samuel Pepys, to his entry for Monday 10 June 1667
“Here I eat a bit, and then in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him.”11
The footnote includes a quote from the 1811 edition of James Pellam Malcolm’s Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London
‘A porter's lady, we are informed by the Protestant Mercury, who resided near Strandlane, beat her husband with so much violence and perseverance, that the poor man was compelled to leap out of a window, to escape her fury. Exasperated at this virago, the neighbours made what Dawks, the editor, called a "Riding;" or, I suppose, a pedestrian procession, headed by a drum, and accompanied by a displayed chemise for a banner: the manual musician sounded the tune of—" You round-headed cuckolds, come dig, come dig;" and nearly seventy coal-heavers, carmen, and porters, adorned with large horns fastened to their heads, followed. The public seemed highly pleased with the nature of the punishment, and gave liberally to the vindicators of injured manhood.’12
According to Wikipedia, The Protestant Mercury was published during 1689, so this usage of our tune was well established by this time. It is clear that the song was widely known; it is also clear that a drummer was sufficient to give a recognisable performance.
The practice of employing this tune for ‘ridings’ or ‘skimingtons’ survived into the 18th century; George I was regularly burnt in effigy with horns on his head, or derided in a mock skimmington ride to the tune of the 'Roundheaded Cuckolds',13 and something similar is implied in this description of a bizarre military practice:
“Hoisting. A ludicrous ceremony formerly performed on every soldier the first time he appeared in the field after being married. It was thus managed. As soon as the regiment, or company, had grounded their arms to rest awhile, three or four men of the same company to which the Bridegroom belonged seized upon him, and, putting a couple of bayonets out of the two corners of his hat, to represent Horns, it was placed on his head, the back part foremost. He was then hoisted on the shoulders of two strong fellows, and carried round the arms, a drum and fife beating and playing the Pioneers' call, named Round-heads and Cuckolds, but on this occasion styled the Cuckold's March. In passing the colours he was to take off his hat. This in some regiments was practised by the Officers on their brethren.”14

This is all very well; it establishes a long history for the song that Scott attempted, from the 1640’s until the 1830’s, although the song seems to have disappeared by the 1870’s.15 But what of the tune itself? We now have two titles for our tune, in addition to the song title ‘Ye Roundheaded cuckolds’ –  ‘The Pioneers’ March’ and ‘The Cuckold’s March’ – is there any evidence for the music they indicate? The most likely source would seem to be the music books of the 18th century Military, where the title of ‘Pioneers March’ first  appears in Rutherford’s  Compleat Tutor for the Fife of 1750, along with that other well-known ‘drumming-out’ tune ‘The Rogue’s March’.
Here is the version from Longman and Broderip’s 1780 publication Entire and New and Compleat Instructions For the Fife:

The Pioneer’s March (Entire and New and Compleat Instructions For the Fife, Longman and Broderip’s 1780}

It is not difficult to see how Scott’s words, or something very similar could be sung to this music.
However, there is one source for The Pioneers March which gives a different tune. It occurs in the Copy Book of Thos Molyneaux, Ensign - 6th Regnt., Made in 1780, in Shelbourne, Nova Scotia. His version is a tune known elsewhere as ‘The Jolly Toper’ and which Chappell prints as ‘Women All Tell Me’.16 The valuable thing about Molyneaux’s tune however, is that he gives it the alternative title of ‘The Whore’s March’.
This is the title the earlier Pioneers March music has when it appears in the manuscript of William Vickers in 1770.17

The Whores March (Wm Vickers’ ms, (Newcastle, 1770, original key G)

We are thus brought full circle; this third title is perhaps explained by the manner in which the tune was apparently used in Edinburgh in 1736 and in the British Army in 1782, when the following was included in Advice for Officers of the British Army. It warns that drummers, in particular, were
“sure of bringing off a girl in every quarter. After infecting her with a certain disease, and selling her clothes, you may introduce her to the officers, your employments making all dependant on mercury as well as Apollo’, a reference to the contemporary treatment of venereal disease.“When matters did get out of hand - ’the women of the camp are pretty much in common’, according to the same source– or perhaps when the married women of the battalion mutinied at the behaviour of the sluts and bawds who hung about the lines after dark, soliciting custom, the long-suffering commanding officer might turn out the drums and fifes to play the pioneer march to drum out the idle women from the camp.”18

Apart from the episode reported by Pearl and the quotations from Scott [both of which are from his ‘English’ novels] there does not appear to be any evidence of this tune in Scotland. The tune does not appear in the known records of the ‘Scotch Duty’, the military music used by the Scots regiments. Nevertheless, Pearl’s report of its use in Edinburgh does suggest that both the tune and its popular context were known in Scotland.

The Scotch March
However, in researching this article it was inevitable that I would encounter material discussing the much-sought ‘Scots March’. One contender, proposed by no less an authority than Henry Farmer, for this widely mentioned but as yet unconfirmed tune is that in Elizabeth Rogers' Virginal Book of 1656, titled ‘The Scots Marche’.19 I can’t help noticing the close relationship between the melodic material in that source and that of the Pioneers March. It occurs to me that perhaps this march, apparently known throughout Europe by the late 16th century, was the original melody to which the ‘Roundheaded Cuckolds’ words were written; the relationship between the puritan ‘roundheads’ and their Presbyterian Scots brethren being the motive. The call to ‘come dig, come dig’ would then be a natural reason to transfer the tune to the Pioneers. From this derisory use of the tune and its link with the 17th century’s fixation with the figure of the cuckold, its use as an accompaniment to ‘rough music’ would be a simple transition.

‘The Scots Marche’ from Elizabeth Rogers’ Virginal Book 1656.


1 In some Scottish towns the hangman and the town drummer were the same person; not, it seems, in Edinburgh.
2 Sir Walter Scott, Woodstock or the cavalier: a tale of the year sixteen hundred and fifty-one, Baudry's foreign libr., 1832, p. 70
3 Sir Walter Scott, Peveril of the Peak, p. 33
4 Hughson, David, London: being an accurate history and description of the British metropolis and its neighbourhood : to thirty miles extent, from an actual perambulation, Volume 1, Printed by W. Stratford ..., for J. Stratford, 1805, p183. See Appendix 1.
5 Hunter, Michael ,  ‘New light on the ‘Drummer of Tedworth’: conflicting narratives of witchcraft in Restoration England’ in Historical Research, Volume 78, Issue 201, pages 311–353, August 2005. [ret. 21/07/2011]
6 Hunter’s note here [91] is:’ The precise tune mentioned by Mompesson has not been identified, but for tunes invoking cuckolds see, e.g., Rump: or an Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times (2 vols., 1662, repr. 1874), i. 14.’
7 A similar collection of tunes was cited in a letter written to the Tattler describing the contribution of a drummer boy to a musical contest in 1711: ‘The first tune that he entertain'd the listening crowd withal, was ye round-head-cuckolds; at which, some: of the company seemed to be displeased. Then with all his might he beat a point of war; then, to soften them again, he play'd, Jenny- come tye-me ; then to arms, to arms ; and so on…’ [Lillie, Charles, Original and genuine letters sent to the Tatler and Spectator during the time those works were publishing, Volume 2 Printed by R. Harbin for C. Lillie, 1725, p66
8 Grose, Francis, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785
9 British Army website: “As a Pioneer you'll join a proud family regiment of men and women who do just about any job, from preparing and guarding defensive positions and handling sensitive stores such as fuel and ammunition, to bricklaying and carpentry.” [ret. 20/07/;2011]
10 Grose, Francis, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785.
11 Pepys, Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, F.R.S.: secretary to the Admiralty in the reign of Charles II and James II.J. B. Lippincott & co., 1855
12 The reference to ‘Malcolm (Manners of London)’ is to Peller Malcolm, James, Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London from the Roman invasion to the year 1700 ...:To which are added, illustrations of the changes in our language, literary customs, and gradual improvement in style and versification, and various particulars concerning public and private libraries ..., Volume 1, Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1811, p. 400
13 Rogers, Nicholas, , Crowds, culture, and politics in Georgian Britain, Oxford University Press, 1998 p55
14 Brand, John & Ellis, Sir Henry, Observations on popular antiquities: chiefly illustrating the origin of our vulgar customs, ceremonies, and superstitions, Volume 2, Charles Knight and Co., 1841
15  Notes and Queries for Jan-June 1869 [4th series vol 3rd] contained the following:
"Round-headed Cuckolds."— I would be much obliged if any of your correspondents could inform me whether a copy is known to exist of the Cavalier song "Round-headed Cuckolds, come dig," made by the Royalist party during the civil war. Jacob Larwood.’ Mr Larwood does not appear to have received a reply to his query.
16 Chappell Popular Muisc of the Olden Time vol II p.679/80; 1740-50; ‘one of the most popular drinking songs of the time’, says Chappell
17 Seattle, Matt, The Great Northern Tune Book. According to Seattle, Vickers’ title is ‘The Whars March’. Seattle added editorial accidentals in the first edition, but ommitted them in the current edition The final short length bar is as in Vickers.
18 Murray, David, Music Of The Scottish Regiments, The Pentland Press, Bishop Auckland, Durham, 1994, p.20
19 A number of other tunes have claim to the distinction. Jack Campion  suggested another possibility, the tune printed in Amsterdam in Estienne Roger's Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boeren Lietjes en Contredansen of 1700-1716, [].