July 2020

This is the second of two posts about my attendance at the first day of MEMSFest2020.

After lunch, I chose to go to Patronage, Community, and Civic Participation, chaired by Cassandra Harrington. Chris Hopkins was the first speaker on the panel, talking about One Day in Canterbury: The Story of an Anglo-Saxon Charter.  Chris used the much-studied manuscript, Cotton Augustus II 91, to explore several questions.  The first of these was, why did Anglo Saxon kings give such valuable land to the church? The answer would appear to be that it was part of a programme of extravagant display.  He suggested four possible locations for where the charter was enacted at Canterbury, partly based on how charters were publicly ‘performed’ in that the charter was read aloud. It was interesting to hear about how a couple of the witnesses’ names were added beforehand, but others were added at the ceremony, which suggests that the scribes were able to predict the presence of some but not all of the witnesses to the event.

Next up was Noah Smith, on Bakers, Fishmongers, and Militant Brotherhoods: Reassessing the Guild Iconography of the Leugemeete Chapel in Ghent circa 1334. He argued that Flemish guild art was instructive in how they saw themselves.  He noted that the location of the paintings in the layout of the Leugemeete Chapel meant that you would process towards the altar flanked by the images of the militant brotherhoods.  Like Francesca’s, this paper was interested in the physical location and space of the building and how this affected the people who used it.

Ella Ditri’s Women and Landed Society in Conquest England looked at the changes to female landowning and the distribution of females’ landed wealth before and after the conquest.  Very few women retained control of their land after the Norman conquest.  This was felt more by secular women than religious women.  Much of the land went to William the Conqueror, with much of the rest going to his men.  There were a few new female landowners, but not enough to replace the number of women who were completely dispossessed.  The conquest brought about changes to inheritance patterns which reduced women’s opportunities to inherit. 

Finally, Eilish Gregory’s paper was entitled We Bless the Queen, and we Invoke the Saint’: Literary Dedications to Catherine of Braganza, Queen Dowager of England, 1685-1689.  Eilish started by discussing Aphra Behn’s support for Catherine after her husband’s death.  She then talked about Catherine’s lasting role as a patron during her time as queen dowager, suggesting that she had a significant impact on Catholic religious culture. Soon after Charles II’s death, several poems presented her as the grieving widow and appeared to share her woe.  In the final section, she looked at the sermons which were preached in front of Catherine.  The sermons preached at her private chapel at Somerset House caused the Privy Council alarm, because so many Catholics were attending and they could not control the messages they would hear in the preaching. Moreover, some of these sermons were printed by royal command.

In the last session of Friday afternoon, I started by attending the Literary Tradition and Criticism panel chaired by Michael Powell-Davies.  Grace Murray’s paper was Thomas Tusser’s “Mnemonic Jingles”:  Reading and Remembering the Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandry. Tusser was music master to Paget.  His Five Hundred Points of Husbandry was reprinted many times.  Originally printed as an almanac written in verse throughout.  It’s a genre-bending publication.  CS Lewis was particularly scathing about it.  Tusser was writing in verse because it was easy for reading aloud and remembering if your audience was semi-literate tenant farmers, but we know from annotated copies that readers from higher social ranks. Some read it as poetry, others as a manual.  She suggested that although it is a bit of a mish-mash (my words, not hers!), it is Tusser’s own authorial voice that makes the whole thing hang together.

Faith Acker talked about her work on manuscript collections of epitaphs in Beer, Sex and Life After Death in Early Modern Epitaphs.  The writer of Folger MS V.a.103 differentiated between laudatory and merry epitaphs.  She concentrated on the ‘merry and satirical epitaphs’, pointing out that food and drink featured prominently in the epitaphs, which themselves centred on men at Oxford colleges.  The examples she gave told us less about the individuals who had died than their role in providing food!  The butlers’ individual traits are forgotten when the food they had access to is supplied form elsewhere.

I then skipped across to Intellectual Networks and Early Modern Knowledge Communities, chaired by Anna Hegland, to catch Challenges of the Social Network Analysis in History: The Case of the Marquis of Santa Cruz de Marcenado by Pelayo Fernández García.  Almost forgotten now, the Marquis was one of the foremost military writers of his age.  Pelayo described his research into the Marquis’s social networks, but he pointed out that even when you have almost complete epistolary records, you still can’t recreate the networks of face to face contacts.  By analysing the content of the letters, you can find out qualitative information about contacts. Finally, Emily Rowe’s Whetstones of Wit: Iron Wits and Cutting Words in Early Modern English Prose explored the ways in which the various metaphors of iron were employed to describe the workings of people’s minds.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused some considerable problems with research and the sudden reorganisation of teaching, it has also opened up some opportunities that I wouldn’t ordinarily have had to network, attend conferences and hear about other people’s research.  As an early modernist working in a department where there aren’t all that many of us, this has been really very useful – if I’m honest, I haven’t taken as much advantage of this as I should, but it’s hard work working and homeschooling through lockdown. So a few weeks ago, fresh from PE with Joe on YouTube, I went to MEMSFest, hosted by the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.  This is the first of a pair of posts about the conference.

In the opening remarks the organisers drew attention to MEMS Library Lockdown – a list of resources that we still have access to even though we’re in lockdown – and we were invited to their online seminar series. The first panel I attended was on Emotion and Embodiment and was chaired by Róisín Astell. First, Francesca Saward-Read talked about the early stages of her research into Audience Culpability in Early Modern Drama, exploring the differences between modern audiences – how do you gauge audience reactions when they’ve been dead 400 years – perhaps by accepting that it wasn’t If they felt something but What they felt.  Examples were taken from The Spanish Tragedy (Kyd, 1585), Hamlet (Shakespeare, 1601), and The Revenger’s Tragedy (Middleton, 1606).  Soliloquies and asides are direct connections to the audience.  Hamlet is well known for soliloquies, of course, charting his descent into madness but dramatic features such as this allow the audience to connect with the performer.  She explored how asides and soliloquy heighten the emotion of the scene, and make the audience part of the play, speculating on whether this made them partly culpable in the crimes of revenge tragedies. She suggested that we also need think about physical performance space and how it affects the original audience. She pointed out that the physical space created cohesion between audience and action – lighting, for example, was the same for both so they could be seen.  There was very little separation to limit the setting to the stage.

Anna-Nadine Pike then presented a paper called “Spekyngly silent”: Moments of Irrationality in The Cloud of Unknowing. She talked about how the Cloud author dealt with the fact that apophatic theology believed that God was unknowable and could not be described by language.  It was a way of attempting to quiet the mind and attain a state of contemplation.  The Cloud of Unknowing recommends its readers should approach the text with love rather than intellect, allowing them a ‘nakid entente directe unto God’.  Once this is attained the rest of the text aims to prevent the reader thinking logically and interrogating the text with its rational mind.  It makes it clear that they should be grappling with something unimaginable.  The text invites the reader to choose a word to contemplate – the language is use performatively by its readers.

The next paper was from Lydia McCutcheon on Familial Relationships in the Miracle Collections for St Thomas Becket and the ‘Miracle Windows’ of Canterbury Cathedral.  On the 800th anniversary of Becket’s death, she argued that familial relations in the miracle stories are central to the way that the monks helped to shape the monk’s veneration.  The Miracle Windows have different shapes and numbers of panels, and each sequence is recorded in one of the miracle story collections.  Lydia’s research has sought to identify familial relations in the Miracle Windows, then looked at the nature of the relationship. They are mostly loving, but they are not all simple, stock characters.  This raises questions about their function and the way that the artists used the families to create Becket’s cult.  Even in the stained glass, she argued, we are more invested in the characters because of their familial relationships. The final paper in the panel was given by Jordan Cook, who talked about Embodying the “Earthly” in Early Netherlandish Painting.  Art historians face a challenge in deciding whether a setting is meant to embody an earthly or a celestial space.  Her first example was The Virgin and Child by Jan van Eyck.  It’s a very natural painting, but many scholars have used clues such as fantastical architecture show that it’s not a real, earthly space.  Jordan looked at the imperfections in the Netherlandish spaces suggest a more earthly reading.  She pointed out that, from a divine point of view, time happened simultaneously.  This means heavenly spaces cannot be changed by the passage of time, while earthly spaces withered and decayed over time.  Why would a heavenly setting include things like cobwebs or chips in stone, such as those that are seen in the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck?  The inclusion of these worldly imperfections are useful details for artists concerned with naturalism.  These principles are still used today by digital artists and architects.

This is the last in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

For the moment, I think this will be the last in this series of posts, as I’m getting to the point where I don’t have a lot more to say – I’ve nearly got my manuscript to the point where I need to pass it on to my fiend and other people to read and see how they find it. In fact I wasn’t going to write any more after post 5, then I tried the music and had to write about that. Then I definitely wasn’t going to write any more posts, because really I had nothing else to say. And then…

I had one of those moments that make all the hours of messing about and getting nowhere and going round in circles worthwhile.

One of the moments when it almost seems possible to touch the past.

I’d got hold of a copy of William Senior’s map of Brindle from Chatsworth House. I only emailed them on the off-chance. Most of the places I’ve contacted in an attempt to track down documents over the last few months have politely said ‘yes, we’ve got x, y or z but we’re not at work so we can’t access it’. But not, this week, Chatsworth Archives.

Brindle’s lord of the manor was the earl of Devonshire, and in 1611 or so he commissioned William Senior to conduct a survey of his estates and create maps to go with them. I managed to get hold of a copy of Fowkes and Potter’s edition of Senior’s survey, and there were two Balshaws… and a copy of the Brindle map – but it was too small to read who and what was where.

I contacted Nottingham University Special Collections first, because they hold black and white ‘copies’ (hard to know what that means) and I thought that if they were images, they might be able to access them from home. Sadly not, apparently.

But it did turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because on Monday I tried Chatsworth. By the end of the day they had confirmed that yes, they already had a digital image and they could send it to me for just £3. Yes, just £3. Even I can afford that. I paid up, and the next day it arrived in my inbox.

When I opened it, it wasn’t just a black and white image, but a beautiful full colour map marked with little trees, houses and windmills. The roads are in brown, and each person’s landholdings are painted in different colours. It took me a little while to find the Balshaw land, and I began to get a little bit excited…

Could it possibly be…?

I’d better check.

So I compared Senior’s map with the large scale Ordnance Survey map from the mid nineteenth century on the National Library for Scotland website. The advantage of this map is not just the detail (25 inches to a mile is just fabulous!!!) but the fact that, being an intermediary one between then and now, it includes some bits of Brindle that have since disappeared (some, for example, are now under the M61 and more recently, the M65), so it’s better for working out exactly what is where. Senior, after all, didn’t manage to be completely exact in his rendering of the village – it’s brilliant, but it’s not exactly accurate. So I traced the road down the hill from the church past the turn to Pippin Street to another turn and a path marked on the other side of the road.

It really might be….

Let’s check with Google maps.

I traced the road down the hill from the church past the turn for Pippin Street to another turn, but the path marked on the other side of the road isn’t there… So I flipped to the satellite view, and there is a line of trees where the path should have been. I dropped my little yellow person on the road, and to be honest even on Google Streetview, it’s hard to tell whether there is actually still a path there as well as the gateway that allows access to the field. I turned round and yes…


It’s the house that on my trip to Brindle a few weeks ago, I stopped to take a photograph of! It stands on what was once Balshaw land!

If I were into spookiness, I’d be wondering about it. What possessed me to stop and take a photo of this house, out of all the possible houses? Actually, I knew I’d seen its name somewhere, but I thought it was on the list of listed buildings in Brindle, which it isn’t.

It’s on the list of documents I found in Lancashire Archives, that I (infuriatingly) can’t get at at the moment. I can’t say for certain it’s the right man..


In the 1680s John Balshaw lived there.

This is the sixth in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

Over the years, performance has become central to the way I practise my research into songs. You get much more of a feel for what they mean and what they were like when you actually sing them. So it was that on a wet weekend in June, stuck in the house, I found myself singing through John Balshaw’s Jig. I used my phone to make rough recordings of each song, which meant that not only did I get a sense of how they might have sounded, but I also had some idea how long they might have taken to perform. Of course, there are several problems. Firstly, it was just me singing through songs that were intended, in some cases, for 6 people, so it didn’t really give me a feel for the dialogue. Nevertheless, it was quite instructive in its own way. I discovered, for example, that the prologue takes only 3 minutes (a fairly standard pop song length), and three of the four main scenes run to about 10 minutes each. The final scene, however, is a tour de force of some strength. Lasting in the region of 20-25 minutes, it’s sung to a tune with a range of an octave and a 6th. As you might expect from what is, essentially, a finale, the whole cast is involved, which means that all 6 singers have to be pretty competent performers.

All told, I reckon the Jig would take about an hour to sing, but of course it’s not that straightforward, because this is a theatrical performance, not just a song. There are entries and exits for each character and the characters have to interact with one another. To my mind, it is in many ways more like a pantomime than a concert, albeit that it is sung right through.

So the following afternoon, I roped in the rest of the family to give it a read through. It was really only a tentative first go, and they had never seen the script before, so it was by no means perfect, but it became clear that it really is quite funny in places. Even my children thought it was okay (and yes, I know I’m lucky to have children who are prepared to take part in a seventeenth century drama, even if it is only at home). It really invites acting out, and I’m pretty certain that there would be some pretty lewd horseplay from the ‘fool’ character. Whoever Balshaw was, he could certainly tell his tale, and I am now more convinced than ever that this Jig richly deserves a full stage performance, preferably in Brindle!

The Centre of Brindle – (c) Jenni Hyde

This is the fifth in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

John Balshaw’s Jig is, essentially, a seventeenth century musical. It’s sung throughout, but rather than having its own bespoke melodies, it is set to a series of ballad tunes. We can tell this because the tunes are named in the text, and they don’t relate to the words. This was standard practise for broadside ballads – often, they simply named an existing tune, whereas if the tune had been newly created for the song, it became known by the title of that song, its first line or its refrain.

Take ‘Welladay’, for example:

A Ballad Intituled, a Newe well a daye
As playne maister Papist, as Donstable waye.

Well a daye well a daye, well a daye woe is mee
Syr Thomas Plomtrie is hanged on a tree.

AMonge maye newes
As touchinge the Rebelles
their wicked estate,
Yet Syr Thomas Plomtrie,
their preacher they saie,
Hath made the North countrie, to crie well a daye.

Well a daye, well a daye, well a daye, woe is me,
Syr Thomas Plomtrie is hanged on a tree.

This ballad about Thomas Plumtree and the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569-70 is the earliest known ballad to the ‘Welladay’ tune. But it doesn’t SAY that the tune is ‘Welladay’ – it seems to be a new tune that then became known by the first line of the refrain (although I will grant you that the title might suggest that this was a ‘new’ Welladay to compare with a previous ‘old’ Welladay! Anyway, you get the principle).

Sometimes, when a tune was used for a particularly popular song, it took on the name of that ballad. This means that the same tune can sometimes go by several names. One tune called ‘The Twenty-Ninth of May’, which appeared in 1667, went by the names of ‘May Hill, or the Jovial Crew’, ‘The Jovial Beggar’ and ‘The Restoration of King Charles’ over the following fifty years.[1]

So John Balshaw wrote his Jig to existing tunes. In some cases it was easy to find them, as they were included in our two main modern sources for early modern ballad tunes, William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time and Claude Simpson’s The British Broadside Ballad and its Music. But for most of the tunes, such confident identifications were impossible. The survival rates of broadside ballads are low, we have even fewer tunes, and it’s possible that some of the tunes he used were for songs in the oral tradition, or even a local oral tradition. The combination of these problems means that it is impossible to make a positive identification of all the tunes used in John Balshaw’s Jig. Instead, in some cases I have made a ‘conjectural setting’ of the song.  By this, I mean that I have selected, from those melodies which we know to have been in circulation during the mid-seventeenth century, a suitable tune which fits the metre of the lyrics.  I’ve said before that this is the process that I think people would have used in Tudor and Stuart England if they didn’t know the tune to a song – they would have made one up, or found one to fit.

Ultimately, what I wanted was to provide a full set of tunes which could be used for the Jig so that it could be brought back to life and performed in Brindle sometime in the post-lockdown future.

[1] William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols. (London: Cramer, Beale and Chappell, 1855), II, p. 491.