Over the last few weeks I’ve been investigating the publication of ballads in mid-Tudor England, looking at the Stationers’ Registers  in detail. It’s been really interesting to look at which publishers specialised in ballads. It’s also shown that there were some printers who only printed occasionally, and when they did, they printed ballads.  I went throught the Stationer’s Registers line by line, making a note of how the items registered were described and who printed them.  I was  then able to use this information to create some statistics about the numbers of ballads and other items that each printer produced.  Next, I compared the lists of registered ballads to the extant ballads, using Rollins’s ‘Analytical Index’.   Of course, there are problems with the Stationers’ Registers, not least of which is the fact that we can see from the extant ballads that by no means all of them were registered in the first place!  But it gives a useful starting point to discuss those issues.

On the authorship side, I’ve tried to identify some of the more obscure balladeers and look into their backgrounds where possible.  It’s true that it can be very difficult to find out about the people who wrote ballads in the mid-Tudor period, and that in itself tells us something – if we can’t find out much about them, it suggests that these people tended to be of low social status.  Nevertheless, I was surprised just how many of the balladeers I could find out about.

The purpose of this work was to provide the basis of a new chapter that I am writing, so that I can turn the thesis into a book.  The idea is that it will set the rest of the book in context, talking about the way ballads were actually produced.  I am, however, acutely aware of the fact that ballads were sung, and that spending a lot of time talking about how printed ballads were published might suggest that this was the most important format.  I am looking forward to writing about oral transmission, where ballads were passed on by learning by ear, especially because this remains the way that most of us learn songs even now.