March 2019


Last Saturday, I gave a lecture to teachers at the Historical Association’s free Continuing Professional Development day in York. The day focused on Teaching the Tudors, with workshops on teaching pedagogy and subject knowledge lectures.

Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to catch Tracy Borman’s lecture on Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, so the first session I managed to get to was Using Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors to refresh the teaching of the early modern world, by Kerry Apps and Joshua Garry. They noted that at community level, history is very popular among black audiences, but their academic involvement often doesn’t continue beyond A-level, as the curriculum is not empowering for people of colour.

Kaufman’s book takes a social history approach based on archival material: there are 360-400 people of colour in the Tudor period for whom we have sources. There is a wide geographical spread but most are in London or close to large ports.

Joshua studied history at university. He was fascinated by the Tudors but wanted to know where he fitted in. He only saw slavery which didn’t give him pride – but then realised there blacks here before the slave trade, and that slavery was illegal in Tudor England. He suggested several ways in which Black Tudors could be taught:

  • Introducing students to the black Tudors.
  • Brainstorm what you already know about black Tudors – often the answer is nothing. Then you can get them to think about why that is the case.
  • How did Tudors view the Africans?
  • Introduce key characters – who were they, why did they arrive, why are their stories significant? Note that they had talent and this makes a difference. This is empowering.
  • You can include some of the characters in more general teaching activities. By teaching the Mary Rose, you can throw in Jacques. Teaching Circumnavigation and Drake, you can throw in Diego.
  • Do you think racism by today’s standards existed in Tudor England? Or was more about religion.
  • Build on their work by a debate on to what extent were Africans free and accepted in Tudor England. Then write a short judgement.

Kerry had also always been interested it the Tudors, and colonisation. Her Year 7 curriculum very traditional, but she wanted to move away from the top down approach to demonstrate that the early modern world was a more connected world than we think. Her Year 8 is more about identity,  so  her students study witchcraft and Tudor exploration leading eventually on to the slave trade, to show that race becomes a ‘thing’ during the period.  She has decided to pepper the Black Tudors into a scheme of work about expansionism. 

She was happy to say that too many of her students now know about John Blanke the Tudor trumpeter to make him a big impact to start the course. Instead she uses the story of the Salcombe Treasure to link to the Moroccan delegation to Elizabethan England.  Her students are still surprised, though, to note that the Reformation hinges on a person of colour – the witness to Catherine of Aragon’s wedding night was her servant Catalina, a woman of North African descent. 

They had several aims with their teaching:

  • to widen the Tudor horizons,  placing English history in the wider world where it had links.
  • to break down myth that diversity only arrives with Windrush
  • to demonstrate that historical blackness doesn’t equate to slavery (slavery doesn’t arrive until codification in 1661 in Barbados)
  • to complicate approaches ahead of teaching slavery and abolition

The next session was my lecture: A History of the Reformation in 5 Ballads, which I will tell you more about next week.

After lunch, I went to Hugh Richards’ Making Sense of Sources at A level.  Hugh is subject leader for history at the fully comprehensive Huntington School in York. It is a research school, and one of the top 2% of country.

He started by asking the teachers to identify good things about sources at A level:

  • • Challenge
  • • Making them think
  • • Skills they have to use

And then the challenges:

  • • Comprehension
  • • Context
  • • Misconceptions
  • • Wrongful assumptions
  • • Accessibility and availability
  • • Creating exam style questions
  • • Turning thinking into something that the exam board actually want.

You will have noticed that the list of challenges was much longer than the list of good things.

Hugh argued that chronology is everything, so pedagogy needs to be intelligently based on a secure grounding in what happened when. They have to know about a topic before they can engage with sources successfully.

He suggested various ways of using sources, all based on the idea of sources as raw material.  He also suggested thinking in terms of lego rather than a jigsaw: a jigsaw puzzle makes a single picture, but primary sources are more like lego – you can arrange them in all sorts of ways depending on what you’ve got and what you are looking for.

Finally, he noted that English and history are the least objectively and reliably marked subjects at A-level.  A scary thought.

The final session was a lecture given by Professor Steven Alford of the University of Leeds on All his Spies: The Secret World of Robert Cecil. The title comes from a Ben Jonson play about spies, intelligencers, informers and tyranny. These were the buzz words of the late Tudor and early Stuart period.

A document from around 1597 called the Names of the Intelligencers is a list of Robert Cecil’s spies. They included lots of merchants and officials. The book for which it was the title page no longer exists, but it would have contained lists of payments and handlers. Another document which sits alongside it  dates from Cecil’s diplomatic mission to France in 1598. He left behind him a list of names of and payments to his key strategic intelligencers across Europe. He intended to make sure that any information coming in from these individual were properly dealt with in his absence.

Robert Cecil was part of a formidable father and son team. He was positioned by his father as a political heir.  Robert Cecil became the queen’s secretary 1595. His espionage network was of about 15 individuals who had a full system of secret communications, cyphers, payments, paid for by a budget of c£13,000 a year. The modern equivalent would be about 1000 times that.

Espionage was central to the 1590s and early 17th century. Information was key and was a kind of political currency.  The 1590s was a difficult decade and Professor Alford suggested that we could seriously a posit a late sixteenth century crisis  There are strains of war, conscription, financial problems, and the succession is fraught. In addition, there are all the social problems ofdearth, famine and plague. People are beginning to think in terms of politics as being necessarily unstable. In this situation, there is a claustrophobic sense to court culture. The court is full of danger, you need wary circumspection to keep an eye on the people around you. Dissimulation becomes key to understanding how court politics works. All of this speaks to anxieties about politics. Informants are dealing with the big problems, such as recusancy and Catholicism.  Cecil knew exactly what his intelligencers were like – he knew they took his money but didn’t always come up with the goods. But they were worth it.

From the end of the sixtenth century, those at court have to look to the future and have to start planning.  The secret correspondence between Cecil and James VI is the most incredible part of his career – its an almost solo effort on Cecil’s part. His first letter to James shows that he believes it necessary and permissible for the queen’s counsellors to do their own thing and keep their actions from the monarch, in the interests of the monarchy. It seems that he believes that it is too dangerous and destabilising not to do this, and that he is keeping her in the dark for her own good.

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Wearing one of my other, semi-academic, hats, I’m on the editorial board of the Historical Association‘s members’ magazine, The Historian.  I’m about to start the process of putting together an edition for the first time, not by myself, but with Trevor James. The edition, which will be out in the autumn, is about history and literature, which seemed quite appropriate for me. I’ve commissioned a couple of articles for it already, and I’m looking forward to putting the magazine together over the next couple of months.

One of the articles is being written by a colleague from Lancaster University, Chris Donaldson, on the Lake Poets and travelogues. Another will be based on a lecture that was given to the Bolton branch by Guyda Armstrong last year, when she talked about Renaissance translations of Boccaccio, and how the naughty bits were edited to make them acceptable to an English audience. All I have to do now is find some more people to write!

At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the third in a short series of posts about the day.

After the afternoon tea break there was a final panel of two speakers. The first was Oskar Cox Jensen, who I last saw at Una McIlvenna’s Singing Across the Channel workshop in Canterbury a couple of years ago. It was lovely to be able to catch up with him (and to meet his sister Freya, of course). He was talking about ‘Of Ballads and Broadsides: Mediating the Mainstream’

Oscar Cox Jensen

Oscar talked persuasively about the eclecticism of musical culture, and how commoners used to music that didn’t originate in ‘their’ social spaces. He also explained why he has a problem with the word ‘popular’ in terms of culture – for example, it implies an ‘other’, in the form of the elite.  He argues that this isn’t particularly helpful, as it operated on a basic principle of miscellany. Although the term ‘cheap print’ is good for the material item, it doesn’t suit the songs themselves. Instead, he suggested the word ‘mainstream’, which he suggested helps us understand the circularity of the printed and sung word. The elite and the commons had a repertoire in common.  It was also interesting to hear him suggest something that I have been saying, in other words, for a long time: if you asked people in the past what about their musical tastes, their answer would probably be much the same as ours – ‘I like a bit of everything’. 

Oscar described Peter Burke’s theory of the elite withdrawal from popular culture by 1800.  But he argued that everybody could buy broadsides and all walks of life were still listening to the songs at least sometimes. They might not be buying broadsides but they still experienced them.

According to Oscar’s theory, the restriction for the mainstream was that the tune should stand up as a solo line. Ballad tunes were simple in that they were stripped down to the bare minimum, but they came from all sorts of sources, including the opera house. Bareness doesn’t mean performance is bad, but in fact makes it more important. Sonically their repertoire, though drawn from wide sources, was reduced to a relatively sparse palette.  This was particularly important and helpful before the time of recording of more complex resources as it allows the cultural objects to be reduced to their most portable.  Skill and pragmatic productionism was the part of the ballad singer.  There was hunger for the widening of the mainstream.

The final paper of the day was given by Professor Donald Meek – ‘A nineteenth century Gaelic broadside from Australia’. Professor Meek found the ballad in question when it dropped out of a 19th century copy of the Transactions of the Inverness Gaelic Society in his garage. The title translates as ‘A Song to the Profane Clergy by a Gael in Australia’.  It was published 1859 in Melbourne, and seems to have been sent as a new year gift to someone in the highlands of Scotland in 1863.  The piece is heavily annotated in English to criticise the Gaelic usage in the text. The annotations correct the Gaelic and change new spellings.  A verse is scored out because it says the profane clergy are said to be using the bible to extend their profanity.  On the back he complains at length about Gaelic poets and scholars: ‘Not a word of Gaelic shall be spoken here after this generation is gone’. Professor Meek suggested that possibly the annotator was the author of the printed work.

Professor Donald Meek

The first part of the song is a condemnation of the profane clergy – wolves in sheep’s clothing who cause the flock to scatter.  They should all be damned for wanting worldly goods and self advancement. The context is that in 1859, in Victoria, the hot topic was creation of reunited presbyterian church. The author tells us that those who have joined this union are traitors and foxes. The second half talks about the church in Scotland.  They are described as the descendants of Orthodox Church. Finally, the author names the church at Carlton in Melbourne as the ones who are to maintain the faith.  They were the main Gaelic congregation high number of settlers in the area.  They were literate in Gaelic (and English) making it worthwhile publishing in Gaelic.  The church attracted a significant clergyman from Scotland – the Reverend Doctor Mackintosh Mackie. He’d had a distinguished career as a Gaelic scholar.  Between 1854 and 1856 he had been involved in the creation of an expensive new church building at Carlton, then left leaving them in debt. He moved to Sydney and got involved supporting the new union.  He went back to Scotland in 1863.  The tract seems to have been sent back to Scotland to highlight what the Reverend Doctor Mackintosh Mackie had been involved in while he was in Australia

At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the second in a short series of posts about the day.

The first of the afternoon’s talks was given by Peter Shepheard on ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’. Peter described how he recorded ‘The Bold Keeper’ in January 1966 from the Brazil family, and later discovered that what he had was the first known oral tradition versions of the ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’ from 1690.

Peter Shepheard

Although there are many similar broadsides, and traditional songs, his is the first version based on the original ‘Master-piece of Love Songs’ .  The text is very similar, unlike the Bold Dragoon ‘versions’.  He argued that they are not the same song as too many of the words are different.  Storyline remains the same in the Masterpiece and Bold Keeper, but not the Bold Dragoon.  The metre of the Bold Dragoon is different (2/4) to the Master-piece and Bold Keeper which are both in 3/4.

During questions, Vic Gammon pointed out that it raises an interesting question about where one song ends and another begins – they have similar themes, but not rhyme scheme, storyline, words (ie phraseology) and not the same characters.  Peter suggested that it was born of the original, but was not the same song.

The next paper was given by Professor Margaret Bennett, on ‘Robert Macleod, Fife Miner Poet and Broadside-Maker’. Professor Bennett described how this research into Robert Macleod was sparked when she was offered a shoe box of papers by a hairdresser. They had belonged to his grandfather, who did turns at the local music hall. Some of his songs had been printed on broadsides. In 1911, aged 35 Macleod’s legs were crushed in a mining accident.  He was in hospital for a year and then made a living from his music.

Professor Margaret Bennett

Professor Bennett described how many Scottish miners joined up for the First World War because they thought it would get them into the fresh air.  Macleod translated the days news (and of lives lost) into songs.  Sometimes the words give us idea of the tunes he used – eg The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was set to Dark Lochnager, and Professor Bennett had the assembled crowd singing along with Macleod’s words.

The final paper in this session was given by Martin Graebe, who spoke about ‘Clift of Cirencester’. Cirencester is a quiet market town created on the network of roads when it was second city of Roman Britain.  The most prolific of its 19th century printers was William Clift.  He registered to operate a printing press in 1824, adjoining the Ram Inn, placing an advertisement in the Oxford Journal. In 1840 he advertised himself as being 30% cheaper than other printers in the area.

Martin Graebe

Martin discovered Clift’s tomb in the parish church, buried in the Pierce family tomb – after marrying into the family.  He believes that it is likely that William Clift took over the Pierce printing shop from the widow Mrs Pierce – then married the daughter of the family. The shop was located on the site currently occupied by Fatface.

Many of Clift’s broadside ballads are in the Madden Collection, although one is in the Bodleian Library.  A small collection once belonging to William Stephens is in the Cricklade museum.  Many are in poor condition and there are some particularly bad typographical errors. Among the corpus of songs, there are lots of old favourites but on the whole they are pretty tame – there are no monsters, no local topical ones, little sex and no executions. There are, however, several songs on the minstrelsy theme of Jim Crow, originated by Thomas Rice in 1830 in America. Rice visited England in 1836 and these songs were very popular. Martin has found two songs published by Clift not found elsewhere – The Baking Day; and The Dreadful Bonnet (which was illustrated by a saint with a halo!).

At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the first in a short series of posts about the day.

On Cathdral Street, Glasgow

Due to a series of unfortunate cricumstances, I didn’t reach Glasgow until 11am, so I missed papers by Catherine Ann Cullen (Speckled Cats and Gravey Distillers), David Stenton (The Forth Valley Songster) and E. Wyn James (‘The Black Spot’ and ‘The Old Man of the Wood’: Welsh Street Literature During the Long Eighteenth Century

I arrived during the morning tea break (nice pastries and a decent cuppa). The first paper I heard was given by Freyja Cox Jensen on ‘In Good Queen Bess’s Golden Days’: Memories of Elizabethan England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’. Freya talked about the context of English identity, which was very closely bound up with Protestantism and Protestant insularity.  The period was shaped by the notion of England as an island nation.  The idea comes from Elizabeth I, who comes to embody a very English types of Protestantism, with England as God’s chosen land.  Elizabeth continues to play a role in the idea of Englishness in the years after her death, as part of the cultural memory of Elizabethan England.  She’s a model for high politics after James II, especially with William and Mary.  The image of England is partly, therefore, created from the top-down, but it is also celebrated more widely.  Ballads from Queen Anne’s reign make explicit reference to Elizabeth I.  They see parallels between the armada and the Anne intervention in the war of Spanish succession. The most common idea, though, is the one that Elizabethan period was merry and a golden age. It was held up for centuries afterward as a jolly good time.

Freya Cox-Jensen

  Ballads are often set to Tudor tunes, and pick out martial characters from the period, such as the earl of Essex,  or Thomas Stukely who was a rather more complicated character than most – the ballad suggests he repents of going abroad as a recusant even though there is no evidence of this.  Many of these are long lived songs. They represent England as the underdog, the small and feisty man fighting for good.

But Freya noted that none of this is true – it’s a constructed myth that’s been going on for centuries.  And it’s not just about nation building, it’s also the belief in the ancient constitution which we see raised against Charles I before his execution. Custom is also a legitimising framework in court. Appealing to time out of mind trumps anything more recent especially relating to parish boundaries and common land. Traditionally scholars say the creation of the Elizabethan myth happens in the 18th and 19th centuries but Freya argued that the ideas were alive and well even before Elizabeth died.

Next up was me, talking about ‘Liege Ladies: Sixteenth-Century Broadside Ballads and Reigning Queens’, in a significant reworking of a paper I gave a few years ago at the Mary I Quincentenary conference. Then it was time for lunch.