Shortly after my book came out, I received an email inviting me to take part in a collaborative paper for a panel on news at the EDPOP conference in Utrecht in June.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.  (My fiend has recently pointed out that I appear incapable of saying no.  He’s probably right, but this was an opportunity that even he agreed was not to be missed.)


As part of the preparations, I was lucky enough to visit Turku in Finland to attend a workshop with the rest of the panel.  I’m working with Massimo Rospocher on news ballads; my external examiner, Joad Raymond, and Alexandra Schäfer-Griebel will be talking about types of news across Europe; while Hannu Salmi and Yann Ryan will be giving a paper on methodologies to investigate the movement of news across Europe.

davI am a nervous traveller, which didn’t really help. It’s not the flying itself that bothers me, but I get anxious over whether all the arrangements will go smoothly, and even just about being away from home.   With hindsight, I would have been better giving myself an extra day so that I could have seen more of Turku, but I hadn’t flown for about 8 years and I’d never done it by myself – in the event, I almost met myself coming back.

It was a long way to go for a long day’s work, but it was well worth it.  We had a very productive workshop, presenting our own work and discussing ideas for taking the collaborative papers forward to Utrecht.  What’s more, I’m actually really looking forward to my trip to the Netherlands!


2018-05-09 07.47.44Well, the academic one at least. Over the last couple of weeks, on my various commutes, I have watched the countryside grow gradually greener, which is very cheering.  On Tuesday evening, I had my final session with my Liverpool Hope University students at Holy Cross College, one of whom kindly made me this card and the attached badge, which I will wear proudly!  We brought ourselves some treats for tea and settled down to get our teeth into them, and early modern witchcraft.  As well as our usual primary source analysis and discussion of the secondary reading, we role played the differences between Scottish and English witch trials and read the witches’ scene from Macbeth.

Finally, we sang a seventeenth century ballad about a case of witchcraft in Lincolnshire in 1619: Damnable Practises of Three Lincolnshire Witches Joane Flower and Her Two Daughters.  According to the ballad, the three accused women, Joan, Margaret and Phillipa Flower, were taken into the employ of the earl and countess of Rutland when they fell on hard times, even though there had long been suspicions that they were cunning women.  Margaret soon began to steal from the household and was dismissed from her post.  Thereafter, the earl and countess heard rumours that Margaret’s disorderly mother, Joan, was not only a woman ‘full of wrath’ who swore, blasphemed and prophesied death, but also a witch who ‘dealt with spirits’. Moreover, Margaret’s sister, Phillipa, had apparently bewitched a young man.  The earl and countess were suitably worried by these rumours and commanded the trio to leave the house, never to return. In revenge, the three women vowed revenge.  The devil spotted his opportunity and provided the women with familiars in return for their souls, the covenant sealed with drops of blood.   Matters went from bad to worse.  Not content with killing cattle and local children, the witches turned their attention to the earl’s family.  First, the earl and countess themselves suffered ‘fits of sickness’, then their eldest son, Henry, Lord Ross, sickened and died.  He was followed to his grave by his brother, Lord Francis, and his sister, Lady Katherine, also fell ill.

When Phillipa was taken before the magistrate, she confessed that she, along with her mother and sister, had taken revenge upon the nobles who had turned them out of doors.  She explained that Margaret had taken Henry’s glove, pricked it full of holes and ‘layd it deepe in ground’ that he, like the glove, might rot away to nothing.  Margaret confirmed her sister’s account, adding that they had all three conspired to ensure that the earl and countess should have no surviving children.  Once implicated by her two daughters, Joan Flower also confessed to her crimes, and the three were transported to Lincoln jail to await the assizes.  Joan, however, then recanted her confession and claimed that she had had ‘no hand at all’ in Henry’s death.  She offered to take a test of her guilt, by attempting to eat a piece of bread and butter: ‘God let this same (quoth she) / If I be guilty of his death / pass never thorough me’.  She immediately choked and died.  Her daughters were tried, found guilty of witchcraft, and hanged for their crimes.

It’s an excellent ballad, not least because it includes so many aspects of early modern witchcraft.  They were  women on the edge of a community, with no male head of the household to keep them in order.  They long had a reputation for cunning, which might be useful to the community at times, but also posed a threat, especially when they fell on hard times and were able to use their skills to harm instead of heal.  The incident which led to their trial was borne out of a grudge against their former employers, who had not, in their eyes, acted charitably towards them.  Furthermore, there was clear evidence of maleficium (actual harm caused by witchcraft) as well as diabolism – they confessed to a pact with the devil, sealed by their blood, which gave them access to spirits which would do their bidding.  All this, in a piece of cheap, popular and ephemeral print.  I am very grateful to my students for allowing me to record a couple of minutes of their performance and share it here.

This will be my last blog post for a couple of weeks.  My daughter will be undergoing major surgery and I’m going to be taking some time off to be with her.

For a while now, I’ve been preparing for the MedRen conference in Maynooth in the summer.  The research has been slotted in between my various teaching sessions and all the commuting, and it very quickly progressed beyond the conference paper itself.  I’ve nearly finished the first draft of an article, which I hope will be ready for submission to a music journal in the summer. I’ve got some finishing touches to put to the article this week, then I am going to put it to one side for a few weeks before I read it through again, in the hope that by then, I’ll be able to look at it more dispassionately.  Then I should be able to see where some of the problems are before someone else points them out to me.

It’s meant really getting stuck in to sixteenth-century English music printing and, in particular, the sort of  metrical psalms that, up to now, I’ve only looked at in passing.  I’m enjoying re-reading Beth Quitslund’s The Reformation in Rhyme, as well as Timothy Duguid’s Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice.  All of this also forms essential background reading for my epitaphs project too, so it’s great that for once I am able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.  I’m looking forward to reading some works on domestic devotions and probably even the history of emotions over the summer, so if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.


While I haven’t been teaching lately, I’ve been writing, and this morning I submitted an application for a Society for Renaissance Studies postdoctoral fellowship to work on epitaphs, ballads and psalms in sixteenth-century England.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Literature Compass on verse epitaphs of sixteenth-century women, and noticed that they were almost exclusively in ballad metre.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, this rang bells.  Many of the newfangled metrical psalms, which were becoming popular with Protestants both for congregational and domestic singing, were also written in ballad metre, so their tunes would fit the epitaphs.  My proposal suggests that by combining the enduring popularity of broadside ballads with the new fashion for singing metrical psalms, these epitaph ballads created a new way for Protestants to come to terms with death.  Psalm tunes would have been particularly fitting melodies for epitaph ballads because they were in vogue, they were devotional and because they leant further meaning to the text.

Similar to my work on A Newe Ballade of a Lover for the MedRen conference in Maynooth, this project suggests that epitaph ballads were a crossover genre which stole from more than one genre in an attempt to cash in on their popularity and to widen the market for broadsides. But this particular genre is even more interesting, perhaps, because of the context of the Reformation.

Protestantism had done away with purgatory and abolished the need for Masses for the dead.  But grief is a natural human emotion, not subject to doctrinal change.  Protestant or Catholic, people were still upset when someone close to them died.   By 1570, after the official English faith had flip-flopped between Catholicism and Protestantism several times, the Catholic rites might have been dismantled, but there were no satisfying new forms of worship or ritual to take their place.  All that remained was confusion.[1]  Without the traditional framework for dealing with the emotions surrounding the death of a loved one, people needed to find new ways to deal with their emotions.  The epitaph ballads seem to have been part of this new culture of memorialisation, creating a new way for Protestants to process grief.


[1] Whiting, Robert. ‘“For the Health of My Soul”: Prayers for the Dead in the Tudor South-West’ in The Impact of the English Reformation, 1500-1640, ed. Peter Marshall (London: Arnold, 1997), pp. 121-42, p. 139.

So now it’s the Easter vacation and I’m up to my eyeballs in music.  I’m thoroughly enjoying doing something that’s closely linked to what I’ve done up to now, but feels refreshingly different, mainly because about a month ago, I hadn’t really thought about why music was printed on the broadside of A New Ballade of a Lover at all.  I’m speculating about crossover genres and attempts to cash in, links to the psalms, Sternhold and Hopkins, and maybe even my epitaph ballad project.

I think that it’s significant that the man who printed A New Ballade of a Lover also printed A Godly Psalme of Mary Queene.  Although it’s not in any way a ballad, A Godly Psalme was significant because it is also a bit of a one off, at least in terms of the survivals from the period.  I’m wondering if what William Griffith, the printer, actually wanted to do was cash in on the popularity of the psalms, and that therefore these two items fit in a field that also contains the thanksgiving songs published to commemorate the accession day of Elizabeth I.

Along the way, I got interested in where A Godly Psalme of Mary Queene might have been performed as well as why it was published.  Whether, for example, it might have been more closely related to Mary I’s accession than we realise.  I started looking at the various accounts of the procession that took place on 30 September 1553, the day before her coronation, and in trying to identify some of the place names that are mentioned, I remembered the interactive map of Early Modern London. I plotted the place names and lo – in front of me I could see the approximate route that Mary took [Agas Map of Early Modern London, accessed 30 March]:

Mary's coronation route.

Moments like this are what make my work so enjoyable.  The past came to life before my eyes.

Back before Christmas, in the middle of copy-editing, I received an invitation to submit a proposal for a panel at the MedRen Music Conference in Maynooth in the summer; I accepted and hastily cobbled something together:

‘Mere Claptrap Jumble’: Music and the 16th Century Broadside Ballad

A New Ballade of a Lover is the earliest extant broadside ballad with music. At first glance though, this music appears catastrophically wrong.  For many years it epitomised the poor quality of printed ballad music, which is often seen as worthless, especially in the context of oral transmission.  Even the tunes named on broadsides can create anomalies. Viewing the ballad as part of a wider musical scene, this paper will suggest alternative explanations for the shortcomings of printed music in Tudor ballads, including the potential for a simple typographer’s error to account for the problems with A New Ballade.

Then I thought no more about it…

…until the panel proposal was accepted.

Which was all well and good, but I hadn’t actually done any of the work needed to write the paper!

So that’s what I’m up to.  I’m looking at the music printed on early broadside ballads and the musical context of the time. Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the paper and what I wanted to say, and trying to find a different way of looking at the catastrophically-wrong music on A New Ballade of a Lover, when I had a brainwave: it’s a crossover genre.  I scribbled the idea down on a piece of paper, before I had chance to forget it, and then, the following evening just before I started teaching, I did something that I almost never do: I wrote a plan.  I was quite pleased with myself.  It wasn’t very detailed, just a list of the statements that I wanted to make in the order I wanted to say them and it only took one side, but I thought that, just maybe, it would make the process of writing this paper easier than some of my other work has been.  I saved it and, I thought, uploaded it to my dropbox.

Only I didn’t.  And the next day, when I was looking for it to flesh it out a bit, I couldn’t find it, which was not only disappointing, but rather frustrating.  It’s not often I write something (even something that simple) and think “that works”.  Moreover, because I’d written it down and saved it, I’d stopped thinking about it and I wasn’t at all sure that anything else that I wrote would be as clear, or as good.

As I only teach there once a fortnight (it is a blended learning course, and the other week is an online session) and I live an hour away, I rang the university centre at Holy Cross, where one of the lovely staff undertook to get in touch with the IT technicians to see if they could find it on the server.  She phoned back later that morning to say that the IT people had said that if I supplied them with some information about the file, they might be able to find it but they couldn’t make any promises.  I sent them the information that they asked for and half an hour later, they sent me back my file.  So I want to send a huge thank you to the folks who saved my skin.  And point out to my students that none of us are infallible. Getting the file back meant I could start on my next project properly and within a few hours of starting over, I had decided that maybe there might be enough there to generate a journal article.

As I write, it’s about 6 weeks since my book came out and the Easter vacation, which is the first time I’ve had chance to sit down and think about doing some research since the beginning of the year.  Actually, it must be longer than that, given that I spent Christmas proofreading the book…  Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve had to do some research for a Long Time.

It’s a slightly scary experience.  Where should I start?  Most of my research time has been tied up in the big Singing the News project for so long it that feels like forever. Even the little project I had been working on alongside the book, on the Pilgrimage of Grace, has run its course.  It’s time to start something new.  I have lots of little ideas of things I’d like to do, and some of them involve writing grant proposals (and finding places to apply for those grants).  There’s a short project on epitaph ballads I’d like to do, leading to a journal article, and at some stage I’d like to revisit the Cromwell ballads and create an annotated, freely-available online  version.  I have a couple of big ideas that would need Proper Funding too – one of which is the project that I started out with on the Marian Martyrs, another is on mapping ballads and libels with a colleague at Lancaster.

I could easily have slipped into the mire of wondering where to start, had a conference proposal not come along and saved me from that fate, sending me off in another direction altogether – mid-sixteenth-century music printing!