ballads


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)’.

 An interesting headstone is caught by the evening sun. Beedon Manor behind. © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

An interesting headstone is caught by the evening sun. Beedon Manor behind.
© Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

It’s almost a year since I handed in my PhD thesis, even though it’s only 6 months since it was all done and dusted. Since then, I’ve written some local history and investigated my family history; sent off an article and a book proposal; attended a couple of brilliant conferences; given some advice about ballads to the BBC; had a short article accepted by Notes and Queries; and I’ve been commissioned to write an article on epitaph ballads for Literature Compass. It’s this last item that I’m working on at the moment, and I’ve spent the last few days updating the secondary reading that I did a couple of years ago when I was working on William Elderton’s ballad about the dead Lady Marques. I’ve by no means finished the reading – I’ve still got a shelf-full to be getting on with – but I wanted to share some initial thoughts, not so much about what I’ve read as about the way it was expressed.

I have spent a couple of days with Scott Newstok’s Quoting Death in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2009). It was, in many ways, a really interesting read. Newstok is particularly concerned with place: that is, locating the dead through an epitaph and especially the epitaphic phrase ‘Here lies’. Quite rightly, his book has been praised for its ‘sharp analysis’ and ‘insight’ into the way early modern playwrights and poets used epitaphs to ensure that the dead were placed by a text in the minds of the living. It was well worth reading, perhaps especially for the unexpectedly touching content of the epilogue, which described how the need to commemorate the dead continues into the twenty-first century, even when crisis undermines the social norms. As he comments, the writing of an epitaph ‘fulfils something deeply human within us, noted throughout this study as the desire to locate the body, to put it to rest beneath a text. The text itself – that core epitaphic phrase, in particular – goes beyond merely covering the corpse…; it recovers the corpse as having been a human body’. But although the content of the book opened new ways of looking at epitaphs, I had a big problem with the way in which it was written. As you can see from the quotation above, Newstok’s prose is littered with dashes, italics and (though there aren’t any in that short extract) quotation marks that made it incredibly difficult  for me to read. It’s not all that unusual for me to have to read things more than once in order to make sure that I’ve understood what the author was trying to say, though I much prefer texts where the author is able to write clearly enough for me to ‘get it’ first time. It’s very unusual for me to have to read a single sentence over and over again to work out what the significance of the italics or the quotation marks was, and how it might change what I thought I’d read. Nevertheless, I’d like to reiterate that I thought what he had to say was not only useful and insightful (as I hope you’ll see when I finish the piece for Literature Compass), but also that it might change the way we think about the early modern epitaph, and that would be no bad thing.


William Elderton, A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques,whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant (London, 1568).
Reviews of Scott Newstok, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) by Philip Major, pp. 838-839, in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 105, No. 3 (July 2010), p.838 and by Sarah Covington, pp. 338-339, in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Spring 2010), p.339.
Newstok, Quoting Death, p.190.

Today I started a new phase of my life: I am officially an independent researcher.  It’s not a role I’d have chosen, if I’m honest, and, so far at least, it’s not one I’m particularly enjoying.  In fact, after one day on the job, I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. My institutional access ran out last week, while I was away on holiday, so I’ve got no database access, but that isn’t the main problem at the moment. All I’ve been trying to do is access Jstor via my alumni access.  After several attempts at logging in via the alumni portal on the Manchester Unviersity website, I managed to carry out a search that didn’t instantly return to the ‘you are not logged in’ screen.  I downloaded a few articles, none of which told me what I wanted to know, then I did a bit of writing on my epitaph ballad article.  Then I logged back in to Jstor, tried to carry out another search and again, as soon as I hit ‘search’, the results screen told me I’m no longer logged in.  I have repeated the process, repeatedly, but to no avail.  This evening, Jstor isn’t having any of it.  It’s tedious, time consuming and trying, and I’m not happy.

The good news is that Notes and Queries have taken my short piece identifying William Elderton’s Ladie Marques, and it should appear in the December 2015 issue.  That makes me very happy indeed.

 Looking down, and south, from the A685.   © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Looking down, and south, from the A685.
© Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I seem to have been doing a lot of travelling lately, whizzing up and down the country on the pendolino and tootling across country on local trains.  I am, in the words of Doctor Seuss, a north going zax so frankly the journey through the valley in the Lakes where the west coast mainline and the M6 run alongside each other was infinitely preferable to the more familiar journey south towards London, although passing a trainload of mummified cars wrapped in bandages on a siding outside Oxford was a novelty.  The reason for all this travelling was academic, for once.  Early summer is conference season.  My twitter feed has been full of conference tweets for several weeks, which can be really interesting.  Several twitter hashtags have looked interesting enough to cause me to find out what the conference was that I was missing, and some of them I’ve really wished I could attend.   It’s a while since I gave a paper at an academic conference, so it was good to get back into the swing of things with trips to Reading and Newcastle.

Reading’s Early Modern Studies Conference was great fun. 410px-Codex_Mendoza_folio_2r Last time I went to Reading University I was on a two week accountancy training course and I hated every minute of it.  Reading was nothing like as unpleasant as I remembered it being, which just goes to show how much your experience colours your memories of a place.  The accommodation was lovely, although the lack of full wifi coverage if you couldn’t (like me and several other people) log into Eduroam was a distinct drawback. Because of my graduation, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but on the Monday afternoon I very much enjoyed Maria de Jesus Crespo Candeias Velez Relvas‘s paper on ‘The Perception of the World in the Sixteenth Century’, as it took me back to undergraduate days of studying The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in the Americas and writing my dissertation.  I still find the impact of the Spanish conquest on the mainly oral tradition of the Aztecs and Inca’s fascinating and I recently downloaded the digital Codex Mendoza app!

The parallel sessions on Monday afternoon were all in seminar rooms, so I was somewhat surprised to find myself delivering my paper on Tuesday morning in a large lecture theatre.  My panel consisted of Richard Hoyle talking about ‘The King and the Poor Northern Man’, myself on ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’ and Jonathan Arnold on ‘Music, Morality and Meaning: Humanist Critiqus of Musical Performance in Early Modern Europe’.  It seemed to go very well. I had to leave Reading mid-afternoon on the Tuesday in order to get home for my graduation, so unfortunately I missed Jennifer Richards’ plenary that evening.

One of the interesting things about delivering a paper to most conferences and seminar series is that people seem surprised when I sing a verse or two of a ballad. Not so at the Voices and Books conference, where breaking into song mid-paper is normal!  I have really enjoyed all the Voices and Books meetings that I’ve attended, and they helped to cement the idea that I had early on in my ballad studies that we need to think of ballads as songs that were sung and read aloud.  It is a truly interdisciplinary network, with supportive scholars from music, history, drama, literature and language all sharing ther ideas and bringing their expertise to the table.  I can honestly say that I’ve come away from the conference with more ideas than I could possibly carry out in the rest of my working life, so I want to say a big thank you to the ever-smiling network organisers Jennifer Richards and Richard Wistreich for all their hard work and their inspiring example!

Voices and Books his was a really busy conference with parallel sessions and plenaries filling the days, leaving little space for tea and the wonderful food that was provided.  Having started the second day of the conference at 9.30am, I left the conference dinner the moment that I finished my main course through sheer exhaustion (in a good way) at 9.30pm, and, disappointingly, before the chewy strawberry pavlova.  My family would testify to how tired I must have been to walk away from a meringue!  And, by the way, the conference also had far and away the best food of any that I’ve ever been to, what with Thai beef salad; wild rice with currants, chickpeas and herbs; mini Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish; lemon posset; and dipped strawberries.

There wasn’t a single session that didn’t include fascinating papers, but the plenaries were particularly excellent. Heidi Brayman Hackel spoke on the relationship between hearing and speaking and the the role of the dumb-show in early modern drama.  Anne Karpf was truly inspiring when she talked about restoring the voice, pointing out that even oral history tends to priviledge the recorded or transcribed voice over the act of speaking itself, making me wonder again how to weave in to my  studies the ballads collected from the oral tradition.  I was struck by her comment that the first voice we hear is the maternal voice which we hear in the womb and can even feel its vibration – it made me wonder if the maternal lullaby works in a similar way to skin-to-skin contact for babies? Perry Mills, talking about performing early modern drama with a company of boys, reminded me of everything I miss about teaching.  And then, of course, there was Christopher Marsh and the Carnival Band demonstrating how to write a hit song in the seventeenth century – the first plenary session any of us had been to with a beer break in the middle!  Apparently the Carnival Band had been given free reign to interpret the songs  as they saw fit, and I noticed that they had chosen to accompany them using major and minor keys rather than modal harmony.  Apologies also for the state of my photographs of them, as my camera didn’t cope well with the limited light!

On Friday I talked about ‘Reinterpreting  the Sixteenth Century English Ballad’, giving a brief airing to my theories about tonality and knowingness, but my main point was that ballads were good for spreading news because they were passed from person to person and used tunes that were easy to pick up and remember.   I decided to demonstrate this by having my very own Gareth Malone moment and getting the conference delegates to sing!  I had been having kittens prior to the conference – as a teacher I used to get children to sing all the time but I’ve never tried it with adults, and if they didn’t go for it and join in I would end up looking rather daft.  Fortunately, they almost all joined in with varying amounts of enthusiasm and learned the first verse of ‘The Hunt is Up’ very  quickly.

At the conference dinner on Friday evening, Jonathan Gibson asked if I might be able to sing a verse of a ballad during his paper the following morning, which I was pleased to do.  So  after retreating from the dinner I went back to my hotel, where I attempted to learn the tune of Wilson’s Wild, while feeling the bass and vocals of ‘I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping sto-one‘ vibrate through the floor.   On the final day I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s paper, Naomi Barker on traces of orality in Italian keyboard music and John Gallagher‘s paper on the teaching of foreign languages.  I’m very interested  in the idea of learning a language through singing its songs, so that’s something we’re both going to look out for.

So I’m home, brimming over with ideas, just as my institutional login is about to run out.  Ho hum.

2015/01/img_0547.jpg

This afternoon I had my mock viva, which was an interesting experience. It was reassuring, in that I survived and there was only one question that I felt I completely flunked. That said, there were several others that brought home to me the need to be certain of my own position, which of course is only possible if you’re completely in command of your material and of what others have said about it.

So I’ve come home armed with two bag-loads of books and a lot on my mind – which is not to say that it’s all bad. The first job when I got in was to have a brew (this thesis was definitely fuelled by tea and chocolate, in a way that perhaps Huw and Tony Williams would have appreciated), the second to have a chat with my Fiend to take my mind off things and the third, to write my ‘to do’ list. You can see it above. I have another Fiend (yes, I manage to have more than one Fiend despite the fact that I spend a lot of time in the company of dead people and their preoccupation with death) who is the Queen of Lists. She would approve, I’m sure. That was once the wall on which my huge list of 16th century ballads used to hang. Now it holds all the things I need to do in the next ten days. I think I’ve got my work cut out. I have to admit that they aren’t all viva-related – there’s a section on research proposals, on articles and on the lecture I’m preparing for A level students on Henry VIII’s break with Rome, as well as for the Bolton Historical Association work that I need to get on with and for family matters. Happily, the conference proposal for Reading is nearly ready and the one for Voices and Books has gone (thanks, Una!).  But I’ve certainly got plenty to keep me occupied. Which is good.

This morning I lifted my thesis from the bookshelf and looked at it for the first time since I put it there in September.  I have to admit that there is a certain amount of pride just from in holding it in my hands.  It’s a substantial piece of work and represents a good three years of my life, so I feel justified in taking some pleasure from the simple fact of its existence.

Reading through it, however, has produced some wildly conflicting emotions.  Actually, so far I’ve only got to page 57 of 328, but I can already spot the bits I worked on at 2 in the morning!  I’ve been thinking through the sorts of questions I might ask if I were my examiner and preparing to justify some of the decisions that I made in writing about ballad music in my first chapter.  But along the way there have been some occasions when I thought what I’d written would sit comfortably alongside other works of early modern history, and other moments when I cringed at the way I expressed myself!  Most of all, it has brought home to me how much easier some of my points could be made with recordings of the music, so that has to be a way forward for the future.  It’s much easier to hear what I mean that it is to see it, when it comes to the musical examples.

New Year’s Day, and I am back at my desk for the first time in several months, mainly in a late attempt to put together a panel for the Reading Early Modern Studies conference in July, for which the call for papers closes very soon.  It’s galvanised me into thinking properly about ballads again for the first time in several months.  I’m also thinking about an abstract for the Voices and Books Research Network conference in the summer.

It feels good to be back here.   So I have decided to share my new year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make them, but as I have ‘time on my hands’ (do I really?) I’ve decided that this year I’m going to make a real effort to learn to play the piano and I’m going to crack the Spanish once and for all. I have two books for the piano that will help if I make myself do it. As for the Spanish, I don’t know quite how I’ll go about it, though I think Juanes, Penguin parallel texts and Spanish news media might play a heavy role…

More immediately and more ‘smart’ in terms of their outcomes, here are my 2015 spring goals:
1. Gain the title of doctor.  My viva is at the end of the month.  More than that you’re not going to find out until afterwards!
2. Revise the articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques ballad.
3. Put together a post-doc application.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

As we didn’t get much of a summer holiday, what with the small matter of a thesis to finish, we’ve just enjoyed a few wet and windy days in Dumfries.  We got completely soaked through at Caerlaverock Castle, the only triangular castle in Britain, went on a boat trip to Threave Castle and saw red squirrels in Dalbeattie Forest.

Dalbeattie Forest

Dalbeattie Forest

Now that we’re home, I have to make a real effort to find a job of some sort.  So priorities for this week include trying to get some school experience so that I can go back into teaching and reacquainting myself with my articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques  ballad.

On the Galloway Kite Trail

On the Galloway Kite Trail

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