ballads


At the end of January, I happened to be down in London for a Historical Association committee meeting, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the London Renaissance Seminar in order to hear Patricia Fumerton talk about ‘Moving Media, Tactical Publics – The British Broadside Ballad in Early Modern England’.

I was surprised, I must admit, to hear her talk about the  16th and 17th century broadsides in Manchester Central Library, one of which is marked by a seventeenth century handprint.  Professor Fumerton described how she attempted to gain a full appreciation of each ballad, including emotional responses.  She pointed out that although we cannot fully inhabit the lived experiences of people from hundreds of years ago, we can try to do it at one remove. In order to do so, we need a capacious theory or complement of theoretical components, such as assemblage theory, tactical media and plural publics.

Whereas EEBO gives only one image for all editions, EBBA gives the image for every edition.  Unsurprisingly, as founder and director of  EBBA, she argued strongly that studying digital rather than material ballads is fine, because the notion of whole in broadside ballads is already a fiction,  In fact, she suggested that EBBA’s collection helps us to experience ballads more like they would have in the early modern period because they allow us to experience many ballads together, they include recordings and we can see the images as well as words…  This is perhaps how the early modern person experienced ballads – hearing a snatch of a tune, catching a glimpse of another sheet’s words or images – then making associations with what they already –  knew of ballads.   They might ask themselves where they  had heard it before, or where they had seen that before?  To encounter one ballad in early modern England was to encounter many parts, and many were only experienced partially.   Soon, the EBBA database will include the ability to click on an image and it will bring up other links to all the ballads with that image.  EBBA uses  Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, so it takes what it calls an Item eg the ballad sheet, and then thinks of the things that make up its component parts and how they are related.  As it is modular, those parts can be plugged into another sheet – they are related but autonomous, therefore like the notion of assemblages.  She argued that because of this, ballads appealed to multiple publics.   Furthermore, like me, she argued that neither ballad performers nor audiences were passive recipients.  For example, performers could use hand gestures or movement to make a point, while tactical publics allowed consumers to subvert the authors’ intentions. If a ballad producer tried to over-manipulate the consumer, he actually empowered them.

Last Friday saw the publication of my first full length, peer-reviewed article, Verse Epitaphs and the Memorialisation of Women in Reformation England, commissioned by Liz Oakley-Brown when she was editor of the Renaissance section of Literature Compass.  I’m happy to say that it comes with its own teaching and learning guide, as well as supporting materials such as a ballad recording and a video abstract, although when I try to access the video abstract from the Literature Compass page, it takes me not to my abstract but to one by Jolyon Thomas.  Not that I’m not interested in the religious policy of modern Japan…  And frankly, I’d much rather watch someone other than me…

Anyway, it’s a nice way to start what promises to be an eventful week, because on Thursday I will be speaking at the Early Modern British History Seminar at Oxford University.  The title of my paper is ‘Text, Truth and Tonality in Mid-Tudor Ballads’. 

I’m also enjoying getting to know a bit more about twentieth century history, both for my tutoring of GCSE history pupils and my teaching at Holy Cross College for Liverpool Hope, although juggling all my different roles is proving interesting.

As we have seen, William Elderton’s emphasis on the exemplary feminine virtues of his heroine in A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant is line with the norms of the Renaissance epitaph.  But in Elizabeth Parr’s case it is especially interesting. It reflects the way in which epitaphs idealised their subjects. William and Elizabeth Parr’s union had had an uncertain start, despite the fact that the Parr family were known to be supporters of the reformed faith and had connexions at the highest level of government. As a pre-eminent evangelical at court, William’s sister, Queen Katherine Parr, had been responsible for appointing the Protestant John Cheke as tutor to the young prince Edward in 1544. Having published her own Prayers and Meditations in 1545, her possession of proscribed, heretical books left the queen open to accusations of treason as Henry VIII’s health declined. William Parr was one of the Protestants whose support enabled Edward Seymour to become duke of Somerset and lord protector on Henry’s death in 1547. But as the political and religious upheavals of the mid-sixteenth century unfolded, the Parrs’ marriage felt the dramatic vicissitudes of fortune.

Elizabeth was not William Parr’s first wife. Remarriage in Tudor England was common, but only when the partnership had been broken by death. Even in the newly-Protestant England of Edward VI, remarriage was difficult and extremely unusual while a first spouse still lived. William Parr was first married to Anne Bouchier, who eloped with a man by the name of Hunt or Huntley in 1541 and later gave birth to her lover’s child. Although Parr was granted a legal separation the following year, he was unable to secure the divorce which would allow him to remarry during Anne’s lifetime. Nevertheless, Parr began his relationship with Elizabeth Brooke in 1543 and undertook a clandestine and bigamous marriage in 1544. Parr petitioned the king, Edward VI, for a divorce in 1547 on the basis of Anne ‘conceiving and bearing of one bastard child begotten by a base vile unworthy adulterer’, but the commission appointed to investigate his case was slow in its deliberations.[1] Although he had been a close supporter of the duke of Somerset, Parr’s secret marriage offended the protector.  Even though the commission agreed to the divorce, Somerset ejected Parr from the Privy Council in 1548 and ordered that he separate from Elizabeth. William and Elizabeth’s union was finally legalised in 1551, during the duke of Northumberland’s lord presidency of the Privy Council, at the same time that William was at last granted a divorce from his first wife.

But the Parrs’ fortunes fell again with the accession of the Catholic Mary I. William Parr’s divorce was invalidated and his titles rescinded. Anne Bouchier was promoted to Mary’s lady-in-waiting and had to beg pardon for her husband’s part in the plot to bring Lady Jane Grey to the throne. Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth I in 1558. Another dramatic turn of events saw William and Anne’s divorce reinstated and, with it, Parr’s second marriage.

Perhaps Elderton alludes to this chequered history with his comment that ‘…she be dead and gone / Whose courting need not be to tolde’, but generally, A proper new balad seems to gloss over the unlikely amorous history of its subject. As Nigel Llewellyn commented, ‘The social body as represented in commemorative art was generally idealized’ and the epitaph ballad was, after all, another form of commemorative art.[2]  Nevertheless, William and Elizabeth’s troubled marital history perhaps provides one reason why it was easier to leave out the marchioness’s name: those that were in the know would understand anyway, and everyone else could identify with the more general themes of the song.

So instead of dwelling on Parr’s relationship with her husband and position as a wife, Elderton emphasises above all the lady marques’s feminine virtues of modesty, cheerfulness and piety:

Me thinkes I see her modeste mood,

Her comlie clothing plainlie clad,

Her face so sweete, her cheere so good,

The courtlie countenance that shee had;

But, chefe of all, mee thinkes I see,

Her vertues deutie daie by daie,

Homblie kneeling one her knee,

As her desire was still to praie.

Parr’s black clothing may have been a symbol of her piety, or simply an acknowledgement that she was a servant of the queen, because according to May-Shine Lin, ‘The combination of black and white gradually became the personal colors of Elizabeth as her reign progressed, and men wore black and white garments at court masques, tiltyard and her progresses, in tribute to the queen’.[3] Similarly, Alison Weir claimed that Elizabeth’s ladies were all ordered to wear black in order to make the queen’s clothing more prominent.[4]  Certainly, Elizabeth Parr wears black in the Cobham family memorial portrait painted in 1567 and now held in the collection of Longleat House.[5]

WilliamBrookeCobham

[1] Petition from William Parr, marquess of Northampton to the king, [January x April] 1547, in State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547-1553,vol. 10/2 fol.106, (State Papers Online, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2013), accessed June 27, 2013,

http://go.galegroup.com/mss/i.do?id=GALE|MC4300180080&v=2.1&u=jrycal5&it=r

&p=SPOL&sw=w&viewtype=Manuscript.

[2] Llewellyn, The Art of Death (Reaktion Books, 1991), 55.

[3] May-Shine Lin, “Queen Elizabeth’s Language of Clothing and the Contradictions in Her Construction of Images,” (2010), accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.his.ncku.edu.tw/chinese/uploadeds/383.pdf.

[4] Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (London: Jonathan Cape, 1998), 259.

[5] Master of the Countess of Warwick, Cobham Family Memorial Portrait, 1567.

With apologies for the length of the delay between posts (brought about by a computer faliure), here is the second piece about Elizabeth Parr and William Elderton:

William Elderton’s A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques (London, 1569; STC (2nd ed.) / 7562) is unique among the surviving early ballad epitaphs in that it specifies the tune to which it was to be sung: ‘The Lusty Gallant’. With its implications of joyfulness and chivalry, ‘The Lusty Gallant’ may seem inappropriate for a verse epitaph, yet as you can see the words of A proper new balad fit the tune perfectly and the melody is in a minor mode – the Aeolian.

A proper new Balad in praise of my Ladie Marques whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant-p1al7bfl541esn1sdtgt1it91qj8

Actually, it’s debateable whether the initial upbeat on the first verse is necessary. Originally, I put it in because it matched the bouncy crotchet-quaver rhythm of the rest of the line. The lyrics work equally well, however, with no upbeat, because it emphasises the first syllable of ‘Ladies’ by placing it on the stronger beat of the bar.  It also matches the three-quaver rhythm of the second line. I’ve played around with both and I’m undecided.

I’ve been doing a lot of work on ballad epitaphs in recent months, inspired by a William Elderton ballad entitled A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the epitaph had a named, known tune; the second, nowhere in the ballad does Elderton name his Lady Marques.Back in November last year, Notes and Queries published online my article identifying the lady in question as the Marchioness of Northampton, Elizabeth Parr.1   The ballad also features quite heavily in my. forthcoming piece for Literature Compass. What I’d like to talk about over my next few blog posts are a few aspects of the ballad that didn’t make it into the final cut of either article, but that I. nevertheless think are very interesting.   Elderton’s ballad fits into a tradition of verse eulogies and topical song, utilising the familiar sixteenth-century theme of female piety. But frankly, it’s odd that he didn͛t include the Ladie Marques’s name, because the purpose of an epitaph is to keep the deceased in the minds of the  living. That Elderton chose to leave out her name is fascinating, not least because the marchiones’s character is central to the song. In fact, when we know the marchioness͛s name, a multivalent reading of the ballad is possible. The song is not simply an epitaph, it is a genre-defying chimera. It speaks to different audiences about different things. It’s a ballad containing universal themes that everyone encounters; it reflects changes brought about by the Reformation; it is clearly intended to raise money through sales but it also directly begs for charity from the ladies of the court! In addressing audiences both at court and on the street, the song demonstrates the overlapping markets for cheap print. Finally, knowing the marchioness͛s name helps to explain why the balladwas published in 1569, some time after her death.

William Elderton is probably the best known of the mid-Tudor balladeers, but, like so many of his popular song-writing contemporaries, we know very little about his life. An Elderton is known to have been at court during the reign of Edward VI, when he took part in the 1552 Christmas festivities as an actor.2  His first known ballad, The panges of loue and louers fits, was published in 1559.3  By the late 1560s, William Elderton was an experienced and apparently successful balladeer. The eminent ballad scholar, Hyder E. Rollins cites John Stow and Henry Machyn as evidence that duringthe 1560s Elderton was also an attorney in the sheriff’s court at the Guidhall.4

Nevertheless, it appears that the Ladie Marques had been Elderton’s patron, someone for whom he could “spend the time to speake and writte”. As she was the daughter of George Brooke, baron Cobham, Elizabeth was also a niece of the court poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. It is possible that this relationship accounts for her interest in Elderton. Although Elderton’s doggerel verse and Wyatt’s lyric poetry are hardly comparable in literary terms, Elizabeth Goldring commented that “There seems little reason… to doubt that Elderton was well known in Elizabethan literary circles, even if his contemporaries found his capacity for alcohol more noteworthy than his poetry”.5 But Elderton clearly had more than one string to his bow if he were an actor as well as a balladeer, so maybe it was in the position of acting that he had been, in some way, Elizabeth Parr’s client.
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1 Jenni Hyde,’William Elderton’s Ladie Marques Identified’, Notes and Queries,  260:4, pp. 541-2. 

2 Elizabeth Goldring, ‘Elderton, William (d. in or before 1592)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), accessed November 19, 2013; http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8614.

3 William Elderton, The panges of loue and louers ftts, (London: 1559), STC (2nd ed.) / 7561.

4 Hyder E. Rollins,’William Elderton: Elizabethan Actor and Ballad-Writer’, Studies in Philology 17:2, pp. 205-6.

5 Goldring, ‘Elderton, William (d. in or before 1592)’.

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