I’m really pleased that this week, my monograph Singing the News: Ballads in Mid-Tudor England comes out in paperback. I first got an inkling of this a couple of months ago, when I came across the pre-order button on the Routledge website by accident. At the time, I hadn’t been contacted by the publishers so I wasn’t entirely sure how reliable it was….. even though there did appear to be a link on the Amazon website too.

I did eventually get an email from Routledge telling me that they had decided to produce a paperback, and then a week ago I arrived home from a walk to find a parcel containing two copies of the book – it’s real!

So if you’re interested in reading the book, it is now rather more affordable than it was!

It’s been a busy few weeks, and the scheduled blog posts ran out while my attention was elsewhere because I’ve been teaching full time on the English for Academic Purposes course at Lancaster University. The course is for overseas students to introduce them to academic skills such as essay writing, referencing and collaborative presentations, so that when they begin their courses at the university they are in as good a place as possible to succeed.

Normally, the course takes place face to face for 4 weeks with a week’s preparation for the staff, but this year it was converted to wholly online teaching. We had two weeks part-time to prepare ourselves for the course, but inevitably this took more time than was anticipated, so I’ve been working essentially full time for 6 weeks.

The students handed in their assignments on Monday mornings, which we had to mark and return before seeing each student for an individual tutorial, most of which took place on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Thursday, there was a whole class seminar. Along the way, the students had to produce reflective assignments, videos on Flipgrid, group presentations and various exercises.

It was certainly an interesting experience, if a little hard going at times – the early part of each week, in particular, had a heavy workload. Nevertheless, the staff were grouped into teaching teams made up of a combination of new recruits like me and old hands who had taught the course many times before (albeit face to face in the past!). The teams were under the watchful and supportive eye of an academic co-ordinator – in our case, SuperJavi, who was an absolute superstar.

What was really nice, especially after months of working from home, more or less alone, was to be part of that team – it was lovely to be able to log on each weekday to see how everyone was, and to share our successes and our frustrations (not just about the course but life in general).

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

On Friday morning, I moved on to Thursday’s panel on Hymns, Psalms and Songs with Antonio Chemotti’s ‘From Silesia to Pennsylvania: interdenominational circulation of vernacular hymns’, which looked the use of vernacular hymns in Silesia.  Although its known that motets, for example were used by both Catholic and Protestant communities, vernacular hymns tend to be much more closely associated with one community.  Nevertheless, Chemotti showed that the hymns in Valentin Triller’s hymnbook were used by both Catholic and Protestants of all shades, without concern.  The book attacked some of the beliefs of one of the Schwenkfelders (a radical spiritual movement in Silesia) and was squarely Lutheran in quality, nevertheless it appears to have been used by them.  I was particularly interested by his evidence that some hymns were collected by a Schwenkfelder in America who was only interested in the hymn text, not the 3 part settings, while another removed the dedicatory passage which was particularly anti-Schwenkfelder – fabulous historical detective work.

Next came Timothy Duguid’s ‘“Rangy” Psalm Tunes? Singing Scottish Psalms in the Early Modern Period’, which provided an interesting contrast to Sam Arten’s paper.  He concentrated on the Scottish Psalm Buik of 1554, which was influenced by Genevan psalms as well as the English metrical psalms.  The tunes were simple both melodically and rhythmically, but Duguid argued that untrained singers today would struggle to sing them because of their tessituras.   His starting point was that in larger congregations used the psalter as written, singing the prescribed tune for each song, but that rural congregations may not have done (there is more evidence for what went on in places like St Andrews). He argued that because of issues surrounding literacy and clerical provision, not all congregations would have been able to learn all 104 tunes, however, recent research has shown that 82% of post-reformation Scottish churches had someone with clerical training at university, and this would normally have included musical training.  He pointed out that it was common for someone to be able to learn a tune and song after only hearing it a couple of times.

Using computational analysis of the tunes, he went on to look at whether the melodies’ tessitura affected how ‘sing-able’ they were.  Pitch standards have changed several times, so it is difficult to pick an appropriate pitch for an accurate modern performance.  Nevertheless, the fact that many of the settings would have required men to sing at one pitch and women and children at an octave higher means that untrained women and children would have struggled to reach the top notes.  the jury is still out on whether physiological changes have lowered vocal ranges over the intervening centuries, but there is evidence that somehow they made it work.  There are several practical solutions, such as individuals automatically switching octaves when the music went too low or too high, or that the precentor simply picked a pitch that suited most of the congregational. In practice, that means that the pitches in the psalm book don’t necessarily relate to what was actually sung (to me, this seems like common sense – especially in domestic settings where people might not have had anything on which to play a starting note – but then it’s what I’ve done with all sorts of songs in all sorts of settings for the last 30 years or more).

The final paper in the set was given by Barbara Dietlinger, on ‘Fathoming a New Reality in Song – the Birth of the Dutch Republic’.  Music and poetic texts were among those printed materials which marked the Peace of Műnster, but while official text were simply celebratory, the songs emphasised the contestation around the peace as well as celebrating, as not all the provinces of the new Dutch Republic supported the peace.  She took two songs as her examples.  In her first song, the Wedders Liedt, it was not only the words that were partly critical (the peace would be bad for the economy but good for Christianity), but the tune gave the song an underlying tone of support.  It had been used for songs about one of the biggest victories of the Dutch Revolt at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.  Sadly, the tune itself seems not to survive, despite its popularity. The second was a drinking song was from the play Hollants Vree-tonneel, in which the singer, Morio, points out that there are two sides contesting the treaty.  After the song, he allows the audience to disagree with it.  But of course as a drunkard, Morio himself undermines this view, while the play itself is broadly positive.  What both songs do, then, is show that politics was more contested in the Dutch Republic around 1648 than the official publications would have us believe.

For my last paper before breakfast, I picked out Ellie Chan’s research on ‘“Sweet” and “Spic[y]” Music in Sixteenth Century Britain’, which explored how the words ‘sweet’ and ‘dulcis’ were used.  She revealed a tension between uses which relate to expression and consonance. However, she also pointed out that inbuilt in the concept of sweet was the opposite, bitterness or sourness, and therefore also brought to mind dissonance. Sweet also verges on lascivious at times.

After breakfast and PE with Joe Wickes, I went to Music and Culture in Renaissance Nuermburg II.  The first paper was Sonja Tröster’s ‘Humanism, Music and Lighthearted Drinking Sessions —Wilhelm Breitengraser in Nuremberg’, which examined humanist circles in early sixteenth century Nuremburg.  The next paper was on ‘Buchtrucker(in) –Women and the (Music) Book Trades in 16th-century Nuremberg’, by Susan Jackson. She noted that 5% of the book traders were women, but that this figure doesn’t include the many wives and daughters who would have been less formally involved.  Two of the women produced large numbers of music prints, contributing to the transmission of some of the most important an influential music of the time. It was interesting to hear about how one of the women stuck to her first married name for some years after she married for a second time, presumably indicating that name recognition was important to her reputation. The final paper of the three was Elisabeth Giselbrecht speaking on ‘Music as Pedagogical Tool’.  The first book she mentioned used musical notation to indicate the emphasis on long and short syllables in the pronunciation of Latin.  Others included pitch to assist further in the process of pronunciation.  What is interesting here, as Elisabeth noted, is that it relies on students already being musically literate, at least to the level where they can understand the difference between a breve and a semibreve on the page.

At this point, I had to abandon ship to scan a chunk of my daughter’s homeschool work for her to submit… such is virtual conference attendance.

This is the third in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

It took me until the following afternoon to get back to MedRen, when I picked up the Music for the Dead in the Early Modern Period panel with Sanna Raninen’s ‘“In dust and sand and dark soil” –Funeral Songs in Swedish Prints and Manuscripts at the beginning of the Reformation’. There could be singing at the funerary procession and at the graveside in post-Reformation Sweden, which interests me as I’m still hoping to work on the English epitaph ballads I’ve found and how they might have been performed.  Sanna talked about how some of the Latin responses were sung in pre-Reformation times, but there were also responsories in Swedish which were new to the post-Reformation tradition. She pointed out that singing in procession was often done by schoolboys and their teachers.  Manuals written after the Reformation sometimes refer to appropriate repertory by name, and suggest appropriate points in the funerary services where singing might occur – for example when sprinkling soil on the grave. 

The final paper in the set was Andrea Puentes-Blanco on ‘Music and Liturgical Practices of Funerary Rituals in Counter-Reformation Barcelona’.  She had interesting things to say about the effect of funeral processions on the city soundscape, and indeed on the differences between public and private funerals. Her paper stressed how many people from all levels of society were involved in funeral processions for bishops.  She also talked about the burials of Our Lady, which had particular norms which had to be performed, including the singing of polyphony.  These services were popular across all social spectra throughout Barcelona.  There are still many questions about the contexts and types of litanies which were sung at funerals.  Some of the responses were sung, at least in part, by the entire congregation, with polyphony for the verses and chant for the refrain. 

My next virtual visit was to the panel on Music and Politics.  Tim Shephard’s introduction examined some of the key ways in which music played a part in politics.  He started by describing an image in Andrea Alciato’sEmblemata (1531), in which a lute symbolises the harmony between the various Italian states.  This idea harks back to Plato and Pythagoras, in which the universe is fashioned by demi-urge (or god) and creates a perfect sound or divine harmony through the mathematical principles of the intervals.  By Alciato’s lute, the god’s role is taken over by the terrestrial governor, and it represents the ability of a wise prince to bring harmonious concord to the disorderly multitude of opinions among his subjects, whereas a republic has no way to bring these views into harmony.  He looked at the ways prudence, piety, magnificence and liberality intersected with the prince’s power and his training in music.  The need to show off these virtues to their subjects was a central part of creating display. For example the need to show off piety meant the creation of royal chapels and the polyphony that was performed there, while magnificence and liberality meant large amounts of conspicuous expenditure were morally justified.

The next paper was ‘Imagery and Instrumental Music at the Court of Maximilian I’, given by Helen Coffey. She examined images from the Triumphzug, a literary commission by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian,in which a number show instrumentalists. While we know that he had a number of musicians in his employ, they don’t square with the number shown in the illustrations – there are nearly twice as many on paper than in reality. Her paper concentrated on the images of brass players, looking at how they were portrayed and comparing this to the records of what they actually did at the emperor’s court.  Although the images show more instrumentalists than there really were, there are elements of reality in the situations in which they are playing.

Finally, Vincenzo Borghetti talked about ‘The Arrival of a Queen and the Departure of a Prince: Music for Maria de’ Medici and Heinrich Posthumus Reuss’.  He opened by looking at the image of a Playmobil set, and contemplated why musicians are seen as an integral part of early modern kings, their courts, and their expressions of power.  He examined Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of the arrival of Maria de Medici and Schutz’s music for Heinrich Reuss’ burial.  The Disembarkation at Marseilles is one of a series of paintings tell the queen’s story, emphasising her triumphs and her trials, and they were commissioned by the queen herself.  Because the king did not go to meet her on her arrival, she was free to present the occasion without any reference to him.  Instead, it is full of musico-political imagery and sounds including trumpets on the ship and waves in the sea.  The queen is at the centre of the sounds, so she brings order to them.

This is the second in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

Over lunch on day 1, I listened to Samantha Arten on ‘Singing The Whole Booke of Psalmes’and its links with ideas of order and disorder.  She suggested that the book’s success lay mainly in its audience’s failure to use it as it was intended. Her practical demonstrations were really helpful and really demonstrated why you need to try out singing the music rather than just reading them. For example, she suggested that we sang along with her in a performance of Psalm 2.  Obviously, as I was eating my lunch at the time, I didn’t, but throughout her singing I was wondering why she hadn’t cropped her photos of the psalm book so that we could see the tune on the right hand side of one page at the same time as the word on the left hand page of the next image (ie, on the reverse side of the page with the tune). But that was precisely her point – in order to sing the tune the first time, you have to flip back and forth in the book to read the music, or learn the tune.  The problem wsa compounded by tune references which related to music printed at points further away in the book, since multiple psalms were set to the same tune but the music was only printed once.  As she said, that’s hardly an insurmountable problem, given the number of times the tune would be repeated, while we might also remember that people were used to learning tunes by ear (indeed, we still are).  She outlined other practical difficulties faced by people with different editions of the book, where tune directions changed or migrated, which would effectively mean that people had to jettison the ‘suggested’ tunes and simply find a single tune that fitted and which everyone knew. 

She then moved on to look at reader annotation which shows how readers actually used their copies.  Some corrected mistakes in the texts, while others added alternative musical directions or information.  There was also evidence of uses completely unrelated to the content, such as baptism records.  It was particularly notable that only one of the many copies she has studied contained a correction to the psalm tunes. She suggested that the readers saw the book much more as a devotional text than a music book, although this left me wondering about those who learned the tunes by ear.  Granted, this probably means that most people weren’t using it as a way to learn to read musical notation, as she has already demonstrated that it was intended, but it still doesn’t preclude readers singing the song.  But she also pointed out that it might well mean that Temperley was right when he suggested that most people did not use the printed ‘proper’ tunes, but instead a smaller group of ‘common tunes’.  One of her most interesting conclusions was that the ability to substitute one tune for another requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of musical metre, even if people could explain it or express it.

Given my interest in Thomas Cromwell, I made a point of listening to Magnus Williamson on ‘Taverner after Oxford’, which presented new evidence for Taverner’s whereabouts during his ‘lost years’.  I had to make a note of Williamson’s comment that some of the documents in Lincolnshire archives have not yet been fully explored in relation to the Pilgrimage of Grace. And of course I’m interested in Mary I, so I had to listen to Anne Heminger’s examination of ‘Civic Processions and the Performance of English Catholicism under Mary I’.   They were part of a struggle to define England’s identity, and Anne suggested that Mary’s processions asserted Catholicism as the officially sanctioned orthodoxy and helped to bind the viewers together in an explicitly English community identity.  Public processions under Henry VIII, involving the whole of London as either viewers or participants, were held only a few times a year, while smaller processions by parishes or guilds were more common.   Although the large scale, general processions were stunning, but the king himself was not a participant.  They included hundreds of voices singing polyphony in procession, and this would have been audible over a wide area, presumably.  Edward VI’s government forbade processions because they were seen as papal, but instead, music played a critical role in the widespread adoption of religious reform.  Instead of processions, the public expression of religious belief came in the form of sermons at Paul’s cross.  Mary reinstated public processionals using the Te Deum and the processional hymn, Salve festa dies—seven versions of which appeared in the Sarum processional – for significant political events, allowing people to worship in public.  It also allowed them to link past performances to current events. Anne argued that this indicated a desire to strengthen the connection between the English Catholic past and her hope for the nation’s future.

Having listened to the papers on early modern England, I moved on to the panel on Music for the Dead in the Early Modern Period, and managed to squeeze one of them in before the keynote ‘watch party’. Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita talked about ‘Music to reach heaven: Sixteenth-century Barcelonan convents in urban life’, suggesting that the frequency of the adjective ‘celestial’ being applied to nuns voices suggests that their voices were particularly associated with the angels.  There were, however, concerns about the way women’s voices attracted men, who might be able to identify individual nuns by their voices.  Their voices were also seen to make a connexion between heaven and earth, making them particularly important in post-mortem masses, which helped speed the soul of the dead through purgatory and on to heaven.  In some cases, nuns left provision for thousands of masses after their death.  Similar patronage was linked to popular religiosity as many people from all levels also endowed masses for their souls, or those of their families.

Interestingly, this paper connected really well with Professor Laurie Stras’s keynote, ‘What Does it Mean When a Woman Sings?’  Laurie, who was recovering from Covid-19 at the time she recorded her paper, pointed out that she is a firm believer in practising and performing the music that she studies.  She noted that she has been challenged over this when they move from women’s music to that from male spaces, and that this is in part because the focus has been on technique rather than meaning.  She wanted to think what informed ‘meaning’ when the music was new, and compare it to what it means now.  Her observations were based on Franco-Flemish and Italian polyphonic music from the late 15th to early 17th centuries, and obviously there were differences in different locations and confessions. 

The problem that some people have with women singing polyphony comes from Christian traditions, even though women sing throughout the Bible, and two songs by women are central to the Catholic tradition.  No-one objected to nuns singing unison chant, because unlike polyphony or extemporised chant, it didn’t require knowledge – and it was knowledge, not desire, which was the problem with nuns singing.  As long as it was unison chant, nuns could sing the most erotic texts.

For noble women, the issues were slightly different.  They were trained from an early age to be ready for display at court and on the marriage market.  Castiglione’s ideal woman should only perform modestly and at someone else’s request, while it was unseemly for women to exert themselves in order to learn how to do this.  Any display of this agency is immodest.

She made some interesting points about how these issues have still not been resolved.  Einstein, for example, thought that louche women were the enemy of the composer’s intended meaning.  The discussion of the inclusion of girls in cathedral choirs, the lack of volunteers to be castrati and the timbre and pitches of modern voices was absolutely fascinating.  The Live Question and Answer session discussed some ideas around the need to restore women’s voices to the soundscape.

This is the first in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

The conference’s introductory video opened with a view of James Cook’s floating head in front of some visuals to give a flavour of where the conference would have taken place if it had been in person. Other organisers talked about the practicalities of the virtual conference too. MedRen had been organised with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous sessions to allow people from all over the world to take apart and to accommodate those people who have caring responsibilities during the day. All papers were pre-recorded and for many panels there were scheduled live question and answer sessions. But as an alternative, you were able to post a question in the chat box at any point during the conference.  Several live ‘watch parties’ were also scheduled to allow those who were able to watch the concerts and keynote alongside others.

As I never know quite when things are going to crop up and get in the way at the moment, I headed straight for the sessions that were most relevant to me – so I started with the first panel on early modern English music, overlooking for a moment that Ross Duffin’s paper onThe Gude and Godlie Ballatis Noted / Tunes and Contrafacts in Early Modern Britain’ was about Scottish song!  The strongly Protestant Compendeous Buke of Godlye Psalmes and Spirituall sangis, also known simply as the Gude and Godlie Ballatis, was first published in Edinburgh in 1565 and reprinted for decades afterwards.  It contains psalms and ballads, and although it doesn’t contain printed music, there are tune directions scattered throughout the volume.  I’m fascinated by the fact that the songs, meant for singing, haven’t really been analysed as ‘songs’ up to now.  Ross gave an excellent account of the methodology that both he and I (independently, I might add) have come to for suggesting melodies for songs that have no tune indication.  Although few tune directions were given in the book, this fact in itself suggests that they were obvious to the audience. His presentation then went on to reconstruct some of the songs, using tunes from, for example, Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes of 1535, and particularly the Forme of Prayers (the Scottish Psalter) of 1564.  There were also lots of lovely, sung, musical examples.  What was really interesting, and is emerging more and more in early modern ballad scholarship, is the way that tunes circulate across Europe… (Una McIlvenna and Clara Strijbosch, I’m looking at you!). I was also fascinated to hear Ross suggest that the song set to ‘Balulalow’ in the Gude and Godlie ballatis might be the original, and as such the lost tune could therefore be the 1539 setting of ‘Von Himmel Hoch’. 

Next, I listened to “Singing Jane Shore: Music and Propaganda in Richard Legge’s Richardus Tertius”by Joseph M. Ortiz.  He argued that Hymen’s performance at the end of As You Like it functions not only as a dramatic performance of a textual form of instruction, but as a theatrical didactic performance – that is, a dramatic enactment of a dramatic enactment.  Unlike settings of religious texts or vernacular poetry, songs in university drama are laden with classical imitations, so they were a pedagogical tools for humanists learning which translate classical texts into auditory forms.  Each of the three plays which constitute Richard Legge’s Richardus Tertius ends with a song, and they bear no resemblance to the Senecan models.  They aren’t commentary, or allowing time for costume changes. Taking the example of the song about Jane Shore from the end of the first play, he argued that the meaning of the song contrasts with the sentiments of the characters who sing it. It is a formal event, rehearsing a conventional morality in the performance of its propaganda. Turning to the songs in Thomas Heywood’s Rape of Lucrece, he suggested that this might explain why the bawdy songs seem so at odds with the tragedy of the play. Heywood capitalised on his classical training by using it to write the play, but recognised that the performance of song allowed the expression of scepticism about that learning.

From there, I jumped to Day 3, with Music in Early Modern England II.  The first paper was fascinating, and something I’ve been interested in for quite a while although I’ve not done much work on it: Katherine Butler talked about ‘Rounds and Catches in Sixteenth-Century Society’.  They have received little scholarly attention, and although they are often associated with drinking culture, they are a very varied genre. She gave a preliminary round up of sources and offered some thoughts on by whom and where they were being sung.  The singing of a catch in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night fits the stereotype of these songs being sung by commoners, often in alehouses when drunk.  However, by placing it in the context of other evidence, she showed that the reality was that the social positions of catch performers were far wider than just tradespeople, nor were they exclusively associated with drinking.  She talked at some length about Thomas Ravenscroft’s Pammelia, as well as some lesser known examples, suggesting that there was a common repertory in the early 17th century.  She argued that some of the rounds and catches were aimed at royal events, or were complex rhythmically or with 8, 9 10 or even 11 voices.  Some were on religious themes, and although its not clear whether the rounds and catches were ever sung in the context of church services, it seems that some were associated with bellringers.  She speculated that, as several rounds and catches begin by singing through the hexachord, that they may have been used in the training of choristers.  Overall, she commented on their ubiquity in early modern England.

The second paper in the trio was given by Nicholas Smolenski on ‘Propagandistic Sensory Rhetoric of Charles I, 1647–49’.  He opened by talking about the sensory landscape of Charles I’s execution, before turning to how the sensory rhetoric was manipulated by royalists in the face of parliamentarian attempts to break the link between the king and his subjects by supressing the sensory experiences.  He then looked at the king’s posthumous reputation through its sensory rhetoric.  I was fascinated when he noted that the king’s reported ability to heal scrofula also had resonances beyond healing the disease itself.  As the swellings are most often around the eyes, by healing this disease he is also restoring their sight. 

The final paper of the three was Samantha Bassler’s new research onFeminine Voice, Sound, and Disability in Elizabeth Tanfield Cary’s The Tragedie of Mariam (1613) and Mary Sidney Herbert’s The Tragedie of Antonie (1592)’.  Working on the premise that music, gender and disability constantly occur together in early modern English music.  Music is often seen as healing, or as quite the opposite, and damaging, while women are particularly susceptible to its effects as well as madness.  She wanted to look at less familiar texts than Shakespeare, and her focus on women writers is fairly new to musicology although it’s been looked at by literary scholars. Whilst I was already vaguely familiar with Mary Sidney Herbert, I’d never heard of Elizabeth Tanfield Cary – and what an amazing woman she sounds to have been! She certainly achieved her aim of piquing my interest in her.

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!