This paper investigates the representation of marital relations in some of the most successful broadside ballads published in seventeenth-century England. It explains the manner in which these have been selected as part of a funded research project, and it proceeds to question an existing historiographical emphasis on ballads in which marriages were portrayed as under threat due to a combination of wifely failings (scolding, adultery, violence) and husbandly shortcomings (sexual inadequacy, jealousy, weakness). Best-selling ballads were much more sympathetic to married women in particular than we might have expected, and the implications of this for our understanding of the ballad market and early modern culture more generally may be significant. These ballads, it is argued, were often aimed particularly at women, and they grew out of an interesting negotiation between male didacticism and female taste. Throughout the paper, an attempt is made to understand ballads as songs and visual artefacts, rather than merely as texts.
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