The blog has been somewhat quiet over the last couple of months.  Silent as the grave, in fact.  There was, however, good reason.  I was busy as the proverbial bee, finishing the thesis.  So with the electronic submission complete and only the printing, binding and handing over of the examination copies left to do, here is the thesis abstract:

This thesis investigates ballads from the period 1530 to 1570, especially in relation to
high politics, social comment, gendered constructions of power and the
Reformation. My research highlights the musical dimension of popular song,
suggesting that, on occasion, ballads could form a public sphere. 438 ballad texts
form the basis of this study, drawn from a variety of sources including manuscript
collections held in the British Library, printed broadsides and Privy Council
records. These are supplemented by evidence about the transmission and reception of
ballads from official documentation, plays, letters and autobiographical writings.
Selected lyrics are set to their stated tunes, while sixteen melodies, mainly taken from
contemporary instrumental collections, are analysed musically. Through a close
reading of the texts, the thesis is able to show how balladeers reacted to the rapid
changes of the mid-Tudor years. By applying Peter Bailey’s theory of knowingness to
both lyrics and melody, my research shows that sixteenth-century ballads provided a
space for engaged consideration of the Tudor regime’s policies at a time when
speaking one’s mind could prove dangerous. In examining surviving Tudor ballad
tunes, this thesis breaks down barriers between art music and popular song, arguing
that balladeers demonstrated practical musicianship in their assimilation and
adaptation of many types of music. It suggests that the oral transmission of ballads
played a part in the way modality moved towards major/minor tonality. By analysing
the recycling of tunes, the thesis shows that choice of melody could make a significant
contribution to the way a ballad was to be understood.
The thesis considers in depth two case studies of ballad texts. The first examines a
balladic war of words on the fall of Thomas Cromwell, a veiled discussion of Henry
VIII’s religious policy. My research refines the theory of knowingness by suggesting
that ,within it, there can also be ‘implicitness’, subdividing the knowing into those
who supported or rejected a particular belief. Ballads even debated the nature of
monarchy itself, as demonstrated by a case study of the ballads responding to the reign
of Mary I. Four hitherto neglected manuscript collections then offer an insight into the
habits of sixteenth-century ballad collectors, showing that embedded within a majority
of moralistic and religious songs was a significant minority of socially critical ballads.
These subversive songs reflected an active interest in issues such as enclosure and
inflation, apportioning blame for social and economic ills. Finally, the thesis takes
issue with recent scholarship by arguing that the ballad could be important to the
social exchange of information, stimulating debate and spreading news.
This thesis argues for the central role of the ballad in mid-sixteenth-century society,
not only as communal entertainment but as a medium through which performers and
auditors could consider and debate topical, social, governmental and religious matters.
The ubiquity of ballads and the fact that the large majority, with their catchy tunes and
rhyming texts, were innocuous provided the perfect cover for those that sought to
elude the restrictions on free speech in order to debate the issues of the day.