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!

Holbein Henry VIIIThe first topic on the early modern section of the course that I teach for Liverpool Hope is Renaissance kingship, and I like to start by getting the students drawing: first Henry VIII, then Henry VII.  The idea is that it brings home to them the power of the image – they all know what Henry VIII looks like because of the famous Holbein painting, but they struggle with Henry VII.  It’s only a quick exercise – a few minutes at most – but it gets them doing something a bit different and it makes them think about why it is they all know what Henry VIII looks like, but not his father.

I’d like to thank my 2017-18 cohort for again allowing me to share a photograph of their work.


The Research Whisperer

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 7 December 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Photo by Wu Yi | unsplash.comPhoto by Wu Yi |

For as long as I’ve been in academia, one of the staples of scholarly life has been attending conferences. It’s traditionally how you cut your teeth as a researcher, test your ideas among peers and build those all-important networks for your career. Conferences are often held on fabulous sites in wonderful cities.

But there seems to be a turning of the tide when it comes to thinking about academic travel and conference mobility. Today, there’s a lot written about how conferences can be a waste of time and how they could be improved or shaken up to provide more value.

The imperative remains, however, that you must go to conferences.

But what if you don’t?

View original post 1,080 more words


Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of travelling around getting to work.  I’m not fond of driving, it’s never been something I particularly enjoy, but living in the back of beyond means that there’s really little alternative.  When I wrote Over the Next Hill, I thought I would be doing a lot less commuting this year, but my life rarely turns out as I expect! What’s more, teaching at Edge Hill led to some early starts and I was lucky to see some lovely salmon-pink sunrises over the M6 – a lot more attractive than they probably sound.  On a good run, the drive to Edge Hill only takes 45 minutes, which is bearable.

My other morning commute is in the other direction and across country to do my GCSE tutoring.   One particularly frosty morning, I was rather early, so I pulled over to appreciate it.

Of course, it’s not all been sunrises and frost.  There was the 2 hour traffic jam one Thursday evening on the M6 and the truly horrendous 3 hour drive to Edge Hill in the snow – not the beast from the east, which largely missed us, but the pest from the west.  Grim.

DX2GYQrWkAAEtdkTeaching at Edge Hill gave me my first opportunity to take students on a field trip – we went to the Walker Art Gallery, where Elizabeth Newell, a blue badge guide from Liverpool Tour Guide Services, took us round several of the galleries.  Obviously, we concentrated on the sixteenth and seventeenth century galleries, because that’s the period we’ve been studying recently, but before Christmas the students were studying medieval history and it seemed sensible to look at what came after while we there too.

DX2HcbdXUAARqIzThe collection is based on the paintings collected by William Roscoe, one of England’s leading abolitionists.  He amassed a large collection of treasures but they were dispersed during financial difficulties which forced him into bankruptcy in the 1820s.  Thirty-seven of his paintings were saved by his friends and acquired by the gallery in 1819.  So we started our tour by looking at Martin Archer Shee’s portrait of the man himself.

Our next move was into the medieval gallery.  Elizabeth explained that medieval artists mixed pigment with egg albumen to make their paint, and painted on boards.  As the process was so slow and laborious, the paintings were very expensive and, therefore, the Catholic church was one of the few institutions that could afford to commission or buy them.  This explains why there are many, many Biblical themes: the paintings were used to tell Bible stories to the illiterate.


The medieval gallery is also home to some beautiful illuminated manuscripts and ivory carvings, as well as the most important painting in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection: a small piece painted by Simone Martini in 1342 called Christ Discovered in the Temple.  Although the gold relief-work is eye-catching and impressive, the vivid blues used for the Virgin Mary’s cloak were particularly expensive.  There was also a very interesting triptych from Cologne.  This trio of paintings tells the story of Christ’s Passion, from Pilate washing his hands of the blood of Christ, through the crucifixion itself, to the women grieving over Christ’s dead body.  Elizabeth explained that most of the time, the two wings would have been closed, so instead, for most of the year, the congregation would have seen the images of the painting’s patrons instead!


The medieval and Renaissance galleries also gave us a chance to talk about Reformation iconoclasm – the destruction of paintings, sculptures and stained glass, particularly during Edward VI’s reign.  Some Reformation thinkers, such as Calvin and Zwingli, objected to images in church because of the first and second commandments: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me” and “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”.  They were afraid that people were focussing their attention on the image, not the God that it represented – that in fact images encouraged idolatory.  By praying at images and leaving offerings before them, they were worshipping the image not God.  Although the word ‘iconoclasm’ often creates mental images of lynch mobs, in fact, Edwardian iconoclasm was state-sponsored and usually quite orderly.  Elizabeth then pointed out that one of the knock-on effects of the Reformation was to encourage a growth in portrait painting, as it undermined the role of the sort of Biblical images at which we had been looking.

Our next stops were probably the two highlights of the visit, given what we’ve been studying over the last few weeks.


The massive portrait of Henry VIII, from the workshop of Hans Holbein, was copied from the Whitehall mural.  Elizabeth noted that in its original setting, it must have been a terrifying sight.  It was also fascinating to hear about how expensive the carpet on which Henry stands would have been in the Tudor period.  Only a week before the visit, my students had been giving presentations on portraits of Elizabeth I and several of them commented on the opulence of the fabrics she wore.  None of us had paid a great deal of attention to the background fabrics, though. To us, a carpet is a carpet.  But the carpet on which Henry stands would have been made in a similar way to tapestry – time-consuming and expensive.

DX2QHB5WsAAVcJrThe students were particularly interested in the pelican portrait of Elizabeth I, which is attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.  In the portrait, Elizabeth wears a brooch of a pelican as a metaphor for her relationship with her people – the mother pelican was thought to feed its young with its own blood, sacrificing itself in the process.

Another fascinating portrait in the same room was of the Elizabethan courtier, Sir George Delves, and his late wife, whose face is partly obscured by a branch of myrtle, the symbol of everlasting love.




I used the newly-refurbished Virgin and Child in Glory, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, to tell the students about the difference between English and continental art during the early modern period, and how Charles I went to Spain in 1623 to woo the Infanta and instead came back with crate-loads of continental artworks!  His trip ignited a life-long passion for art and started a collection which would later be broken up and sold off by the Interregnum regime.  Okay, so the Murillo is from 1673, somewhat later, but it’s such a glorious piece, it was worth spending some time in front of it!  We also stopped to look at the first Rembrandt to be brought into England – it was given to Charles I in the 1630s.

One of the final pieces we studied was William Hogarth’s David Garrick as Richard III, in which Garrick sits in a ‘lazy’ or ‘serpentine’ curve – the one which would become known as the ‘Hogarth curve’ or ‘line of beauty‘.


We had a really interesting and informative visit, which brought to life some of the things that we’ve been studying over the last couple of months. Our thanks go to Elizabeth for the tour.