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|This ballad was registered circa 1680 by W. Onley in London. It was registered as The Famous Sea-Fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow. To the tune of Captain Ward. It also appears in a black letter ballad (broadside) in Bagford Ballads (1878) as well as in the Pepys and Roxburghe Manuscripts. Two other ballads of Captain Ward (The Seamen's Song of Captain Ward and The Seamen's Song of Dansekar) were entered in the Stationers' Register on July 3, 1609. The ballad also appears later on stall sheets in Scotland and in America.
This ballad is Child Ballad #287 (Captain Ward, Captain Ward and the Rainbow).
According to Child, John Ward was from Kent and is said to have become an outlaw circa 1604 when he persuaded the crew of a King's ship to turn pirate. Ward's career apparently ended around 1609, when he and his associate Daneskar are referred to as "late famous pirates" (see the first link below).
According to another source Captain Jack Ward was a Feversham fisherman whose career spanned 1603 to 1615 and who was never brought to justice.
The Rainbow was one of Drake's four ships that took part in the expedition in Cadiz in 1587. In a longer version of the ballad (in Child) the King refers to three captains who might have ended Ward's career earlier. They are George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland (1605), Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy (1606) and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1601). Clifford and Blount took part in the defeat of the Armada.
For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site see Francis J. Child Ballads.
Come all you gallant seamen bold,
All you that march to drum,
Let's go and look for Captain Ward,
Far on the sea he roams.
He is the biggest robber
That ever you did hear,
there's not been such a robber found
For above this hundred year.
A ship was sailing from the east
And going to the west,
Loaded with silks and satins
And velvets of the best;
But meeting there with Captain Ward,
It was a bad meeting;
He robbed them of all their wealth,
And bid them tell their king.
O then the King proved a ship of noble fame,
She's call'd the Royal Rainbow
If you would have her name;
She was as well provided for
As any ship can be,
Full thirteen hundred men on board
To bear her company.
'Twas eight o'clock in the morning
When they began to fight,
And so they did continue there
Till nine o'clock at night;
Fight on, fight on, says Captain Ward
This sport well pleases me,
For if you fight this month or more,
Your master I will be.
O then the gallant Rainbow, she fired
She fired in vain.
Till six and thirty of her men
All on the deck were slain;
Go home, go home, says Captain Ward
And tell your king for me,
If he reigns king all on the land
Ward will reign king on the sea.
One Hundred Songs of England and
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.