March 2015

Having spent the first few days this week putting together junior fellowship and bursary applications, for the last couple of days I’ve been working on John Roberts.  Mostly, this has involved a major crisis of confidence and a long time spent re-acquainting myself with the sources that I was using.  First I panicked that I hadn’t got all the source materials I needed.  Then I drew an enormous spider diagram of everything I knew about everyone that was involved in the main source for the article.  It was very colourful and finished up looking less like the spider and more like his web. Yesterday I worried that I’d misunderstood the document and had assumed people to be in prison at the wrong time, owing to the document’s use of ‘quarters’ to describe the time periods.  Eventually I asked on Twitter: if someone was in prison over the Christmas quarter, was that before or after Christmas?  The answer that came back was ‘probably after’. When I finally checked what I’d written, I’d made the same assumption so a lot of worrying had been wasted on something that was right anyway.  In fact, everything I’d worried about was right when I came to look at it.  Finally, today, I’ve had something resembling a bit of a meltdown, with a lot of staring into space and worrying about the dates, and not just the quarters, even the years.

That might sound ridiculous, but those people who work on late Tudor and early Stuart England will know just what I mean…  in 1582, Pope Gregory reformed the calendar to sort out a problem with the spring equinox and Easter.  The change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian began with the apparent loss of 10 days from the calendar, which corrected the drift of Easter.  The trouble is that although the papal bull became law in October 1582, it only applied to the papal states.  Protestant states  took up the ‘new’ calendar as and when they saw fit.  England only did so in 1752.  So there is an inherent problem in working with documents from this period, exacerbated by the fact that the new year in England was on Lady Day until 1752 too.  Sometimes dates are given as ‘Old Style/OS’ (Julian) or ‘New Style/NS’, or both years are given for the period where they don’t overlap, eg 10 Jan 1609/10.   Sometimes, a modern author will make a decision as to which calendar they are using, then mention it in the introduction to their work.   If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is.   There is no easy way to write about it!

Happy to announce that I am now, officially, Dr Hyde.

Over the last few months I have been privileged to give some lectures for Sovereign EducatioMary_Stuart_Queenn, who provide study days for A-level students.

The two most recent lectures were on the subject of ‘the King’s Great Matter’.  Sadly, there were no ballads involved, but at least I got to talk about Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and the break with Rome while they were still a hot topic, what with the BBC2 adaptation of Wolf Hall.

The first, though, was on Mary, Queen of Scots.  It was delivered last November to a large group of A-level students in Manchester.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially as it gave me the chance to sing a few verses of a ballad about the Babington Plot!  As an undergraduate, I was taught that there was much to be learned from the portraiture of the Renaissance, so I decided to introduce the students to a painting or two while I was at it.

What struck me, though, while I was preparing the lecture, was the difference in tone of the Scottish and English broadside ballads.  As my doctoral research was based on English ballads, I had paid much less attention to those printed north of the border.  Comparing ballads about the various queens in the one island was quite an eye-opener.

The most vitriolic English ballads that I came across were written by Protestants during the reign of King Philip and Queen Mary.  They were xenophobic, certainly, but they were careful who they criticised.  Take, for example, T.E.’s A tragicall blast of the papisticall trompette for the maintenaunce of the Popes kingdome in Englande which was printed at the back of a letter from the serving man, John Bradford (The Copye of a letter, Wesel, 1556).   Mary I is only mentioned briefly, and then she is  only described as their ‘foe’.  T.E. lays the blame for the persecution on Philip, but there is little direct criticism of the Queen or her husband, the king.  We might remember, here, that the English tradition was to criticise not the monarch, but their advisors.

Contrast that with a Scottish ballad, Robert Sempill’s Ane deeclaratioun of the Lordis iust quarrell [A declaration of the Lords’ (or maybe Lord’s) just quarrel] which was published in Edinburgh in 1567 as a protest against Mary Queen of Scots’ marriage to Bothwell.  The marriage was a blow to Mary’s reputation, coming as it did hard on the heels of accusations that she had indulged in an adulterous relationship with the ill-fated David Rizzio and that she was complicit in the assassination of her late husband, lord Darnley.   It is tempting to envisage Sempill’s ballad being sung to a rollicking, probably minor, tune:

Than sen that bowdin bludy beist Bothwell,
Hes trayterously in myrk put downe our King:
His wyfe the Quene syne rauyssit to him sell,
In fylthie lust throw cullour of wedding.
Thocht sho be witcheit wald in ruttery ring,
The Nobillis sould nether of thir enduire,
That lowne to leif, nor hir to be his huire.

In modern English translation, it might go something rather like this:

Then afterwards that puffed up bloody beast Bothwell,
He traitorously in darkness put down our King :
His wife the Queen next ravished to himself,
In filthy lust through colour of wedding.
That she bewitched ruled in lusty reign,
The nobles should neither of them endure,
That rogue to trust, nor her to be his whore.

Banish any romantic notions about being ‘ravished’: Sempill’s ballad accused Bothwell, Mary’s husband, of murder and rape!  It is difficult to imagine a ballad quite like that being printed about Elizabeth I in England at the time, and it’s something I hope to look into more in the future.

Yesterday, this blog post by the Research Whisperer landed in my inbox. It couldn’t, in the words of Luka Bloom, have come at a better time. At the moment I am up to my neck in applications. No sooner is one post-doc fellowship application out of the way than I’m on to the next one. And what’s more, they’re all different, so trying to keep my thoughts on one at a time is proving to be a challenge! Anyway, these step-by-step instructions on writing about your research methods have been an absolute boon in the last 24 hours. We can but hope that the advice pays off, as being paid a stipend to do the extra research needed to write up my thesis into a book would be absolutely brilliant. Job applications are somewhat thinner on the ground, but still on my radar.

I’m also thinking about my work on John Roberts and the Gatehouse Prison. As soon as these applications are out of the way, he is my next priority.

The Research Whisperer

Photo by Mel Hattie | Photo by Mel Hattie |

Yesterday I read a research application that contained no research methods at all.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

In an eight-page project description, there were exactly three sentences that described the methods. Let’s say it went something like this:

  • There was to be some fieldwork (to unspecified locations),
  • Which would be analysed in workshops (for unspecified people), and
  • There would be analysis with a machine (for unspecified reasons).

In essence, that was the methods section.

As you might imagine, this led to a difficult (but very productive) discussion with the project leader about what they really planned to do. They knew what they wanted to do, and that conversation teased this out. I thought that I might replicate some of that discussion here, as it might be useful for other people, too.

I’ve noticed that most researchers find it easy to write about the…

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Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m quite interested in art, but I know very little about it.  I came across this on twitter and some of these images are really beautiful.  But it is Mothering Sunday, not mother’s day.