by Gerrit van Honthorst, oil on canvas, 1628

It was great fun to teach on the Edge Hill Summer Residential this year.  It’s aimed at students between years 12 and 13 who are thinking of applying to do history at university (it’s one strand of a wider programme of summer residdentials for different subjects). There were two and half days of academic input, all from me apart from a 15 minute talk on student life by a student helper and a few minutes on the Monday afternoon when the head of department, Professor Paul Ward, popped in to say hello to the students.  For the rest of their time, the students received advice on useful topics such as applying for university, and there were social acitivities for the students to enjoy.

It was also a really great opportunity for me, as I was responsible for planning the whole thing.  The only proviso was that it must include an independent research project which the students had to present back to the whole group.  I chose to focus on the long-term changes which led eventually to the execution of Charles I.    I was able to try out all sorts of teaching activities that I’ve never attempted before.  Not all of them went entirely to plan, but it was interesting to see what worked and what can be improved.  Often, it was the technology that caused the problems – video linked in a powerpoint wouldn’t run in Edge, which is where it opens automatically, although it worked perfectly in Chrome…  And I’d booked a room with a visualiser especially so that I could show students each others’ castle designs.  I went in to check how it worked on the Monday afternoon so that I was ready on the Tuesday, and then on the Tuesday it failed miserably to show anything at all on the screen other than a bright light.  Note to self: must undergo some proper training on document cameras as soon as I can!

I had far more material than I could get through, mainly because the students really got stuck in to the tasks they were set.  It meant I could tailor the sessions to where they seemed interested, and that I got some meaningful responses to the activities we did complete.  One of the students was even prepared to make up a tune and sing the chorus and verse of a ballad that his group had made up about Prince Charles’s visit to Spain to woo the Infanta Maria.  They could have done with a lot more time for that activity, but I had been worried that they might not take up the challenge at all, so I had other things planned as a safety net.

There was one activity I had planned that I was disappointed not to get to.  I had put together an activity to look at how historians use their sources.  The idea was that the students would read an extract from a journal article by Nicholas Canny and some short extracts from one of  the primary sources that he used to write the article – in this case, Edmund Spenser’s description of the Irish.  I’d still like to use it, so if I get asked to take the summer school again next year, I might have to re-jig the timetable a bit in order to make sure I fit that one in.

But the crowning glory of the summer school was the mock-trial of Charles I, which we held at the end of the 2 days.  It worked like this:

  • I gave them the outline of their independent research project: Charles I was being tried for treason. This document outlined what they were expected to do, and suggested the elements which needed to be covered by each group, for example ‘absolutism’ and ‘the role of Ireland’.
  • I also gave them a copy of John Morrill’s Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to the Writing of the English Revolution, with instructions to try to read through it that evening.
  • I divided the class in half.  One group had to prepare the case for the prosecution and the other the case for the defence.
  • The students divided up the various topics between them, according to their interests.
  • Students completed individual research and wrote a short speech on their chosen topic.  They were given an hour and a half hour during the teaching sessions, as well as the opportunity to do further research during the evenings of the residential stay.
  • On Tuesday afternoon, following their lecture on Charles I, we rearranged the tables into a horseshoe and sat the defence team on one side and the prosecution on the other.
  • The students on the prosecution team made the case for Charles being guilty of treason.
  • The defence team gave their speeches.
  • We held a vote on whether Charles was guilty.

I was really proud of the students, who had put an awful lot of work into their speeches, not only in terms of the subject matter but also in the way they expressed themselves.  One student, for example, went to great lengths to explain why she thought parliament’s claim that Charles was an absolutist monarch (or at least aiming towards it) was self-defeating because if he were absolute, parliament would not be sitting.  Others had managed to find out all sorts of details that I had not covered during the two days’ teaching. In the end, they voted to find him not guilty (thus changing history, of course, and that did make me wonder about unintended consequences and counterfactual history – although I stand by the fact that the outcome of the trial was less important in this case than that they had thought about the evidence for each side of the argument.  I might have a bit of a rethink about how to handle this another time).

What made the proceedings particularly interesting was that I’d invited Paul Ward along to hear the students give their presentations, and as he arrived I realised that he could take on the role of Charles I!  It could, of course, have been a bit hairy if the students had decided that he was guilty, because then I would have had to behead the head of department…



I recently attended the latest meeting of the North West Early Modern Seminar Series, which was held at Liverpool University on 1 November.  It came at the end of a particularly busy few days for me, so I was really quite tired, but happily there was lovely homemade spiced apple cake from Elaine Chalus and great big cups of tea to wash it down.

2017-11-01 15.22.58The first paper was by Sophie Jones, a  student at the University of Liverpool: “‘Drinking the King’s Health’: Taverns, Sociability and Loyalism in Revolutionary New York”.  The main questions she asked were: how did taverns come to play such a political role? and how did they become so closely associated with royalism?

Her paper focussed on Albany, an area of colonial New York. It was at the centre of territorial disputes with New England,  but Albany was relatively small: it had fewer than 3500 inhabitants in c1700.  The county was predominantly rural apart from Albany town itself, therefore it represented the closest resemblance to feudal Engalnd in America.  The area was dominated by big estates with a lot of land, which provided a source of social tension in the 17th century.  There was little urban development,  and there were no coffee houses or other public amenities.  The social space it did have was a network of public houses and taverns which occupied the same functional space as coffee houses.  They were not, however, confined to the city of Albany but were also found in rural areas and they created focal points for unhappy tenants who sometimes turned into mobs.  She also pointed out that although ostensibly  a ‘public’ space, taverns also had private spaces and could therefore be seen as secretive.

During the revolutionary period, Albany was particularly afraid that tavern keepers were not loyal to the cause of American freedom.  Licenseto run taverns were issued on the basis of an oath of allegiance and committees were set up to detect loyalism.  One of their methods for identifying the disaffected was to listen for people who drank the king’s health.  Sophie suggested that this was a fractured society.

Next up was Dr Jonathan Spangler of Manchester Metropolitan University on “The Miseries of War: The Duchy of Lorraine, Jacques Callot and the 400th Anniversary of the Start of the Thirty Years War”.  His paper presented his recent research on the Westreich a bilingual not bi-confessional region.  Lorraine was nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the dukes were constantly trying to balance between French and German political influence by marrying French  and Germans.  In 1618, fraternal strife increased between Henri, who had 2 daughters, and Francois, who had 2 sons.  They fell out over the dynasty – to whom the children should be married and, alongside that, whether to fight for the French or the empire.

2017-11-01 15.40.52Jonathan is interested in what effect this had on the dynasty.  Francois was allied to the empire, while his brother Henri was trying to appease France, whose army was getting bigger and only had access to the empire through Lorraine.  The marriage of one of Henri’s daughters to one of Francois’ sons in order to create a dual monarchy fell apart when Francois’ son overthrew his wife, and this created a split in the nobility, who were more pro-Catholic than loyal to their country.

By end of 30 years war Lorraine had lost 60% of its population. Beauvau described it as like an apocalypse.  The printmaker Jacques Callot was a product of this society.  His work has been described by art historians as technical but not emotional.  His most famous work is the series of woodcuts,  The Miseries of War.  They are moralising images which show that soldiers who are let loose to run amok will get their comeuppance.  They represtent peasant horror and peasant justice.  Jonathan argued that they are good evidence for him being more emotional than has hitherto been thought, because they might represent the trauma of his homeland.


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The first speaker after the break was Dr Anna French (University of Liverpool), who spoke about “Salvation of the Soul in Pregancy to Early Infancy”.  This talk was based on her new work on the social and cultural impact of belief, particularly surrounding the question: when did the human become a person?  She is investigating early modern perceptaions of infants?  They have small bodies and often fleeting lives, and attitudes to them demonstrate spiritual uncertainty, especially until baptism.

The first of her two key texts was a funeral sermon by Samson Price from 1624 – The two twins of birth and death.  This text described the closeness between these to parts of the human life cycle. It shows that birth wasn’t necessarily seen as the beginning of the new life because death often followed quickly.  A successful birth meant that child and mother had lucky escape from death. Original sin meant that although mother and child could and probably should have died during childbirth and been damned, they were saved from by God’s grace.

She pointed out that although birth meant that babies were awake, they were yet to be awoken to the presence of God. However, even infant baptism didn’t solve this so childhood was a difficult time for salvation. Children were seen to be in great spiritual danger. Indeed, infants were often not seen as a child or even as he/she until baptism – they were not given a name and were instead referred to as ‘creature’.

Her second text was Jacob Ruff’s The expert midwife, translated in 1637 and addressed to the ‘daughters of Eve’.  It described the inevitable but risky venture of pregnancy and labour, seeking to prevent ‘the great danger and manifold hazards’ to mother and child.  This text suggests that even after the quickening, when the woman first felt the child move in her womb, the foetus was not considered to be a person. It had a spirit, which moved it, but this was not the soul.  Instead, it just provided a channel for the soul, which came later.

Her overall argument was that life was defined broadly and ensoulment was crucial but piecemeal process.  It reveals some tension about what it meant to be a human.

We also heard short papers from two research students. Toni Prince (University of Sheffield) spoke on 2017-11-01 16.55.10“Authorship, Ovid and The Tempest”, arguing that some of Shakespeare’s scenes don’t sound the same and the lexical units (grammatical units which have meaning, not just words) are different.  Some of these lexical units appear again and again in Shakespeare’s plays as a whole, others appear to have been written by someone else.  Finally, Tom Morrissey (University of Liverpool) talked about “Exploring the reaction of the West Country Gentry to the English Reformation”.  He suggested that the gentry were complicit with successive Tudor regimes throughout the reformation as it changed the face of the localities. Their role was one of policing and enforcing the reformation – and their own faith.

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Last week, during my panel meeting, one of my supervisors pointed out that my use of the phrase ‘based on the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant chords’ to describe a seventeenth-century tune was anachronistic, but conceded that finding terms to describe Renaissance music was difficult. We arranged to discuss it further next week, but in the meantime I’ve been wrestling with technical details and grand plans, trying to work out how best to describe my musical examples.

If I’m honest, despite the fact that I used to teach music, modes have always scared me. At the sight of anything modal, my brain goes into panic mode and simply says ‘I can’t do this’.  Teaching to GCSE level really only involved acknowledging that modes existed, that they were a feature of medieval and to a lesser extent, Renaissance music (and thereby hangs another blog post – why musicians and historians can’t talk to one another because we can’t talk about the same time periods!), and then moving on. You played some examples to show that they sounded a bit different and as long as students could recognise that a piece was modal, that was as much as information as you needed to impart. But working on the ballads has required a much more detailed knowledge of this, for me, thorny area. Not only do I need to be able to tell which scale any tune uses (relatively straightforward when you have a list in front of you and a husband to make sure you haven’t gone completely loopy), I suddenly need to know the exact meanings of terms I’ve been using loosely for years. There are philosophical debates to be had (well, actually, I’ve had them, several times over, with my long-suffering husband and equally long-suffering Fiend) about whether church music influenced popular music; how much influence popular music had on the church; what roles both popular and church music had in the move from modes to major and minor scales; whether what we find easy to learn in the twenty-first century is the same as what the sixteenth-century man or woman would have found easy to pick up by ear; and whether it matters if I use terms that hadn’t been invented in the sixteenth century to describe the melodies.

There is no immediately obvious set of terminology to use about the tonality of sixteenth-century popular music. It does not fit into the patterns of the eight Gregorian church modes, nor is it major or minor; but popular music, as it now appears to us, is mainly in the major or minor modes (Ionian, Dorian, Aeolian) or a mixture of them. These are the modes most closely linked to modern major/minor scales because of the patterns of tones and semitones that they contain. As such, they are the easiest modes for the untrained/amateur musician to sing. Are we being anachronistic to assume that we know what the sixteenth century man on the street would have found difficult to sing? If they were more used to doing things by ear, then maybe they picked up things that we might find more difficult without too much of a problem. But then, logically, the evidence that we have is that most of the popular song melodies of the period were written in the Ionian, Dorian and Aeolian modes, suggesting that they found those modes easier too; otherwise there should be just as much popular music to be found in all the other modes. My Fiend pointed out that there are reasons why we find certain musical intervals pleasing and others unpleasant – that’s why the augmented fourth is thought to be so nasty and yet any A-level music student studying Baroque harmony will know that its inversion, the diminished fifth, is used regularly and is fine. Music is heard by vibration, so there could be physiological reasons why some things are more pleasant than others.  He reminded me that the human brain likes patterns.  A quick google search for ‘brain, music, pattern’ brings up an article which points out that brain scan results all show similar responses to music. I’m fairly certain this would be corroborated if I went to Jstor and ran the same search. If we consider for a moment twentieth-century serial music, such as that by Schoenberg, the main problem of acceptance that it faces is that, for many, it has no easily discernible tune. A musician may be able to appreciate the construction, but the non-specialist strains to hear a melody, and finding none, finds the music unacceptable. The brain longs for a pattern to latch on to. Perhaps the pattern in the Ionian, Dorian and Aeolian modes is just easier to find than that in the Hypophrygian.

Of course, there is no way of knowing that what we now accept to be the tunes for sixteenth century ballads or even late medieval carols are actually how the tunes were sung at the time, because of the vagaries of notation, oral transmission and the fact that some do not appear extant in notation until the seventeenth century. The bits that were more difficult to sing could have been smoothed out in the process of the tunes being handed on from one set of ears to another. But again, this backs up the argument that tunes based on other scales were less easy to sing because the less familiar and simple intervals were more difficult to remember.

Anyway, the use of terms such as tonic/dominant/subdominant is anachronistic in that it implies a type of chordal harmony that did not exist in the sixteenth century. But it is the most accessible set of terms to a modern, non-specialist audience. Furthermore, if the tune is built on the arpeggios of those very chords, sometimes following the cadential patterns of major/minor harmony that we would recognise today, it does describe the music rather perfectly, at least to my mind. It may also play into the argument that, as music headed towards major and minor keys over the next century or so, the ballads were ahead of the game in mainly using major/minor tonalities. It is equally anachronistic to talk about things in the Aeolian mode, but talking about ‘the Dorian mode with the flattened sixth throughout’ is complicated and confusing.

There is the possibility of using solmization, which designates each pitch with a syllable, but it is based on aural rather than visual recognition, being used to recognise intervals. It is also more confusing for the non-musical audience. Apparently the standard form of plainsong harmony in the middle ages and early renaissance was on ‘fa’. One harmony line (the burden) was almost always sung a third or a fifth below the melody and the other (the treble), a fourth above – it was known as the fa-burden and avoids that horror of A-level Bach harmony students, the consecutive fifth. Technically, the fa-burden was a series of parallel first inversions of the triad on the melody note. But that is beside the point.

There is a balancing act to be done here between using language incorrectly, which I don’t want to do because it annoys me when other people use technical musical terms without the slightest understanding of what they mean (and because I just don’t like being wrong!), and using such technical language that the general reader can’t follow it. There is even an issue of what is popular and what is art music… In these paragraphs I’m assuming anything to be popular if it wasn’t written by a trained composer, but what about tunes that were written by trained musicians that were taken up by a wider audience…? What a lot of cans of worms.

I have a grand theory about music based on the use of the vernacular but I don’t think it’s all that new – I don’t see how it can be. Nevertheless, all the musicologists I’ve read seem to insist that over the long term, court and church composers influenced popular music into the change to major/minor keys, while popular music held on for many years to its out-dated modal tunes. This makes no sense to me since the vast majority of the ballad tunes were Ionian, Dorian or Aeolian, the most similar modes to the modern major and minor scales. Some of the ballad tunes, as I’ve said, seem to be squarely in a major key because not only are they based on a major scale, they have a cadential pattern which follows the standard modern patterns associated with a major key. Which is not to say that they have harmony, it’s just to point out that were you to harmonise it with chords I, II, IV, V and VI, there are standard chord progressions that would fit.

My theory is that as the sixteenth century English church embraced the vernacular, it also embraced the culture of the people. We know that across Europe, the Protestant church utilised popular melodies to enable the singing of vernacular hymns. Up until the Reformation, the church liturgy (and indeed, much official discussion in print and manuscript) was conducted in Latin. The population as a whole took no part in singing in church because church music was Latin polyphony sung by trained choirs, where it existed at all. The shift to congregational singing in the vernacular had to draw upon the only tradition of communal singing that existed – that of ballads, carols and folk songs. It is well known that Protestant reformers privileged the words over the music for theological reasons so that the meaning of God’s word was clear, but what else could you do if you wanted untrained voices to join in? The church modes were theoretical constructs developed for trained church choirs, not for the farm labourer or tanner. The simpler the melody, the easier it was for everyone to join in with metrical psalms. Perhaps you could continue to produce tunes in modes such as the Hypophrygian, but all the evidence of the extant popular tunes suggests that your congregation would have found that something of a challenge to learn by ear and reproduce. Therefore, over time, the church was forced to take on board the music of the people, not just in the use of tunes drawn from traditional, demotic sources but also by adopting the musical keys which the untrained ear had already privileged because its patterns were more pleasing to the brain. Although I’d be the last person to deny that church and court music influenced the ballads, at the moment I believe it to have been a two-way street, with the ballad music being somewhat ahead of the game in looking towards the major and minor keys before they had even been invented!

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I’d give you a quick update on my progress towards my summer goals:
• Definition of ‘ballad’ for introduction.  I’m part way through this, although it needs a LOT more work.  I’m discussing it with friends that I met at the Psalm Culture conference in London in July and I’ve given it a lot of thought, but so far, there’s only a little bit on paper.  This is my priority when the children go back to school before the university semester restarts.  However, I did produce a short piece on the nature of the ballad for my panel meeting, so I can count that too.

• Transcription of digital copies of ballads from MSS in the British Library, consulted last autumn.  Again, I’m part way through this.  I’ve checked the whole of one manuscript and I’m about to start work on another.  However, so that I can get my head round what I’ve completed and what I haven’t, I need to make some proper records.

• Archive visits during summer 2013: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire County Record Office, National Archives etc.  This hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  Stonyhurst College assure me that they won’t have anything of interest.  I haven’t yet made it to the county record office in Preston this summer, although I have been before.  I need to go to the British Library again, but I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that in.  I’m booked in to the Bodleian in Oxford and I’ve been to the University Archives in Cambridge and the Parker Library.  I’d like to go to Keswick and Stratford too, but again, I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it in before the end of the summer.

• Completion of article on ballad epitaph.  Yippee – something I can say I’ve completed!  This was sent off to a journal several weeks ago.

• Revise ballad flyting chapter.  Bigger yippee – something else I can say I’ve completed, at least in its first draft.

•  Knowingness, Implicitness and the Early Modern Audience.  This is a new addition to the list, and what held up work on the transcriptions.  I’m doing some background reading on the audience of cheap print in the period, which feeds in to a heavy-going (at least to write and for me to think about) piece on the use of knowingness in the sixteenth century.  This will, eventually, form part of my introduction.

•  Rewrite of chapter plan – This piece of work was set at my panel meeting, as my chapter plan still reads as if I’m just starting my research.  My supervisors suggested that I might find it helpful to rewrite my chapter plan to reflect the findings of the chapters I’ve completed.  Actually, I found it a rather soul destroying business.   I find writing abstracts extremely difficult at the best of times so writing several of them in one go was like torture.  I have to admit that I gave up.  I ought to come back to it, I suppose!

• Submission of proposals for talks – I’ve submitted an abstract for the History Lab North West interdisciplinary conference ‘Beyond History’ in November looking at music as historical evidence – the links between psalms, ballads and politics and especially melodic knowingness.  This conference was perfect for me, considering that my work is so interdisciplinary.   I was asked to take part in the Material Histories seminar series at the John Rylands University Library next academic year, so I’ve submitted a paper on ‘William Elderton and the Ghost of the Ladie Marques’.  That should be fun.  I hope that both these papers will provide an opportunity to sing some of the ballads, since that is what they were written for!

I think that covers most of what I’ve done.  When I’ve been to the Bodleian, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off so that I can spend some time with my children before they go back to school.  I haven’t had any proper time off since my interruption in February/March, which I don’t count because I was ill.  Even when we went on holiday to Donegal I worked every day because I had a deadline coming up.  I think we all deserve a break.

A short post, because I probably won’t have time to write one later.  This week I have worked mainly on one particular ballad, writing a short article about it that I hope to submit for publication fairly soon.  It turned out to be something of a double-edged sword, as there is more to it than initially met the eye, which was great for writing an interesting piece and for what it had to say about religious change and death beliefs during the early modern period, but not so good for getting the article finished off quickly as I’d hoped to!  There have been several things that got in the way of work this week, so I would have liked to have spent more time on it than I’ve actually been able to.

I’ve written my paper for Histfest, although of course it continues to be re-drafted as I keep reading it through.  It includes a couple of ballad extracts that I can sing…  I’ve put together half a powerpoint presentation for it, so that will need finishing as a priority.  I’ve also submitted a pair of short paper proposals for the HistoryLab seminar series next academic year, which my friend and I prepared.

In other news, I’ve had my first singing lesson since before I was taken ill, which was very good fun.  I’ve also nearly finished my Historical Association  Programme for next season.

This week seems to have seen me concentrating on moralising ballads.  On Wednesday I had a long meeting with my supervisor, discussing them and the reformation of manners.  He suggested I read an article by Peter Lake on Puritanism, Arminianism and a Shropshire Axe-Murder!  I read it this morning.  Fascinating, it was.  So many layers of meaning to one pamphlet; so many things that it provided evidence for without even intending to.

I spent two long days at the beginning of the week combing the Stationers’ Registers and my spreadsheet of ballads for moralisations and original, unmoralised versions.  It was slow and tedious and although normally I quite enjoythat sort of thing as a means to an end, I just couldn’t manage to enjoy it this week, possibly because I am so incredibly tired.  (I picked up a bug a week or so ago and I can’t seem to shake it off.)  I created yet another table out of the results, which was quite revealing in itself.

On Wednesday afternoon I went to see the careers service, which is something I’ve intended to do for ages but haven’t quite got around to until now.  I was quite reassured by the suggestions that she made and especially by the various websites she showed me, some of which relate to opportunities  for funding.  As a self-funded student that, in particular, was very welcome.

This afternoon I spent writing my paper for Histfest in June.  It needs a lot of work, but there’s plenty of time for that.

Most of this week I have spent analysing the extant sixteenth century ballads.  I have a big spreadsheet with the names of the ballads in one column and all sorts of topics and features listed across the top.   I have comments in some of the boxes, and others are just ticked off.  It’s a slow and painstaking process, but it’s fun.  Every now and again a little gem turns up, some of which I’ve posted here, and sometimes there are things that I spot that I think are really exciting.  It’s great.  Then today, I came down with the lurgy.  I have a headache, catarh and I’m either freezing cold or sweating.  So I retreated to the sofa with several blankets and a copy of the Oxford History of Print Culture.    I’m not at all sure about some of the arguments put forward in it.  For example, I’m not at all sure that I agree with Angela McShane’s belief that ballads didn’t spread the news.  I don’t think you can divorce news from commentary in the period, and I find it difficult to understand how her argument for the seventeenth century transposes back to the sixteenth when there were no newspapers.

Yesterday I went in to the university, where I had a long discussion about the Cromwell ballad flyting with my supervisor, over a very nice pot of tea. Definitely the way forward for supervision meetings.  After that I went to the library and picked up a few books, then had some lunch with some of my fellow postgrads.  Unfortunately, one of them is leaving.  He’s had enough.  As he said, what’s the point in carrying on when you look at your source material and think ‘Who cares?’