You might have noticed that there hasn’t been a post for a couple of weeks. Normally, I write a bunch of posts and then schedule them to come out over a few weeks. It’s easier that way, because I can set aside a chunk of time and write posts in bulk rather than having to fit it in each week. In the last few weeks, though, time slipped away from me. I knew there were a few posts ready to go, but I couldn’t remember when they were due to finish and I didn’t have time to look.

I’ve been up to my eyeballs. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying teaching a couple of days a week at Lancaster, and of course that brings with it its own marking and preparation as well as the teaching. I’ve got 2 new courses to teach there after Christmas too, so that’s going to be fun. One is a masters course, and the other a second year course on the civil wars. I’m looking forward to them, but I’m going to have quite a bit of preparation to do over the next few weeks.

I have also got a lot of reading to do, a conference paper to prepare, an article to finish off and a huge stack of marking. I’m also working on some more podcast scripts. All I all, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

But, before that, chocolate. Well, it is Christmas…


At the beginning of October, I took part in Lancashire County Library Service’s Fun Palaces event at Longridge Library, singing Tudor ballads for an hour to anyone and everyone.  It was good fun, as I hope you can see from the videos below.

I sang several songs, or at least, edited highlights of them.  There were a couple of reasons for editing them down.  One was the fact that some of them are very long.  The other was that some of them are rather gruesome, and it was a little bit difficult to guarantee that innocent ears wouldn’t be offended.

One of the best known Tudor ballads is Martin Said To His Man, and it’s a great one for singing because it has a refrain that allows everyone to join in.  I also sang extracts from a song about the aftermath of the Babbington Plot.  This was one of the Catholic plots to kill Elizabeth I and install her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, as queen of England in order to facilitate a Catholic counter-reformation.  The words describe the dates and place of execution of various Catholic priests and other traitors:

At Tyburn dyed the thirtieth day,

Flewert and Shelley, truth to say,

And Leigh a priest who did deny,

to aid the good Queen of England:

Martin and Roche that present died,

At Tyburn being Traitors tried:

For like the rest they had denied,

to aid the good Queen of England.


A warning to all false Traitors by example of 14. Whereof 6 were executed in divers places near about London, and 2 near Brentford the 28 day of August, 1588. Also at Tyburn were executed the 30 day 6, namely 5 Men and one Woman.  To the tune of Greensleeves.

Interestingly, this song is set to the tune of Greensleeves, probably the most famous Tudor melody of all.

Two of the ballads date from the Armada period.  The Queenes visiting of the Campe at Tilsburie with her entertainment there, To the Tune of Wilsons wilde recounts in great detail Elizabeth’s famous morale-boosting trip.   This was the occasion on which Elizabeth was reputed to have told her troops that although she was a weak and feeble woman, she had the heart and stomach of a man.  The ballad doesn’t corroborate this belief but it does make reference to stomachs:

And then bespake our noble Queen,
“my loving friends and countrymen:
I hope this day the worst is seen,
that in our wars ye shall sustain.
But if our enemies do assail you,
never let your stomachs fail you.
For in the midst of all your troupe,
we ourselves will be in place:
To be your joy, your guide and comfort,
even before our enemies’ face”

A second ballad on the Armada describes the taking of the Great Galleazo by the brave English sailors.  This song contrasts a detailed description of the ship’s provisions (such as wine, meat and 2 hundredth of oats) with gruesome speculation on the Spaniards’ intentions should they manage to invade England:

Our pleasant country,
so fruitful and so faire:
They do intend by deadly war
to make both poor and bare.
Our towns and cities,
to rack and sack likewise:
To kill and murder man and wife,
as malice doth arise.
And to deflower
our virgins in our sight:
And in the cradle cruelly
the tender babe to smite.
Gods holy truth,
they mean for to cast down:
And to deprive our noble Queen,
both of her life and crown.

Our wealth and riches,
which we enjoyed long:
They do appoint their pray and spoil,
by cruelty and wrong.
To set our houses
a fire on our heads:
And cursedly to cut our throats,
as we lye in our beds.
Our children’s brains,
to dash against the ground:
And from the earth our memory,
for ever to confound.
To charge our joy,
to grief and mourning sad:
And never more to see the days,
of pleasure we have had.

A joyful new Ballad, declaring the happy obtaining of the great Galleazzo, Wherein Don Pietro de Valdez Was the chief, through the mighty power and providence of God, being a special token of his gracious and fatherly goodness towards vs, to the great encouragement of all those that willingly fight in the defence of his gospel and our good Queen of England.

To the Tune of Mounseurs Almaigne.

A new Ballade, declaring the dangerous shooting of the Gun at the Courte, To the tune of Sick and sick is one of the very long ones – the edited highlights I sang lasted 12 minutes. This song tells the story of a serving man by the name of Thomas Appleyard, who was larking about with a borrowed gun on the Thames while, unbeknown to him, the queen was afloat on the river in a barge nearby.    One of his shots narrowly missed the queen and the French ambassador, hitting the riverman in the arm.  The queen, as a woman in a man’s role, stepped up to the riverman unabashed by the blood and gore and ‘bade him take it well’.  Meanwhile, her counsellors were dispatched to bring the miscreant to justice.  Appleyard was sentenced to death – after all, if he had accidentally assassinated her highness, there was no obvious heir to the throne and a civil or even international war could have ensued.  The queen, however, being merciful, was moved to pity and, relaising that the shot was accidental rather than deliberate, pardoned Appleyard at the last minute. One of the interesting things about this song is that the description of the accident, and even the words used by the Captain of the Guard to stay the execution, are corroborated by pamphlets from the period.

This is the same song that I sang at the EDPOP conference dinner – I like it because it lends itself to a very dramatic performance, as well as having a really good chorus for the audience to join in with.  The impact of this was probably stronger in Utrecht, where I wasn’t hampered either by a frog in my throat or by a very long skirt.  The skirt was a problem because I hadn’t practised in it.  I rarely wear skirts of any description, let alone ones that reach the floor.  I am in the habit of acting out the section where the prisoner’s master throws himself upon his knees to ask for mercy for his servant man.  Getting down was fine.  Getting up was more of a problem!

Just before the summer holidays, my son took part in his school summer concert.  One of his contributions was a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, which he accompanied on the piano.  He taught himself to play in just a couple of months, so here is a ‘proud mum’ moment.  Quite an achievement.

Up at Lancaster, I was asked if I could pop something quirky in my office that represents my research.  My son made me a lego ballad singer!


Although I’ve been an Honorary Researcher at Lancaster University for a few years, I’ve never done any teaching with them until this term.  Between now and Christmas I am teaching on the first year Reform, Rebellion and Reason course as well as the second year Making History Course.

What’s more, I’ve got my very own office.  Not an office that is borrowed from someone on research leave, but my very own empty office without anything in it except what I take in.  Apologies here for the darkness – it’s not that I’m a mole, but I don’t think I had found the light switches at the time!

office lancaster

Reform, Rebellion and Reason gives the students an overview of 3 key themes in early modern British history.  Making History is a rather different kettle of fish. Rather than study an aspect of history such as a period or a theme, it introduces the students to a range of characteristic practices within the discipline.  There are lectures, for example, on how historians use a range of source materials, and how history relates to working in the archives.  I will be giving a lecture called ‘History, Scripts and Scores’, which will look into how I use song texts in my work, and how other historians have used sources which were written down but intended for performance.  I’m looking forward to it, as it will be the first time I’ve used my own research as the direct source for an undergraduate lecture.

At the very end of October, I was very excited to discover what I think is my first ever citation in someone else’s book.  My own book, Singing the News, didn’t come out in time to make the note, so the reference is to my PhD thesis, but I’m still feeling very proud of myself.  Not least because the book in question is Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell: A Life.  I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a flicker of excitement.  Delighted squealing might be rather more honest.


I appreciate that this might sound a bit like showing off, but it’s actually about more than my ego (yes, honestly).  The fact is that, sitting at home writing in my office, and especially while I haven’t got a permanent job and colleagues, it’s difficult to remember that other people might actually be interested in what I write.  I tend to think of it like I’m in some sort of bubble, writing just for me…

But apparently not:



During the summer, we spent a week on the Isle of Wight.  Our visit to Carisbrook Castle was livened up by the sound of music floating through the grounds.  It was provided by Blast from the Past, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews, who advertised one of their performances with a rather self-deprecating call of ‘Come and hear why the Renaissance happened!’

As you can tell from the videos that I took, this rather undersells the music and their musicianship, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  (I must apologise, though, for the rather shaky camera-work – there is a reason why I’m an academic and not a cameraman.)  I’m also hoping to get along to GreenMatthews‘ performance of A Christmas Carol: In Concert at Edge Hill University in December.