Medieval songs outside the Codex

MS 1681

MS 1681

One of the smaller items in the manuscript collection at Lambeth Palace Library is probably one of the most interesting, and rare. Dating from the 1350s and written in Anglo-Norman French it contains the words to a jeu parti, a debate, in song, on love, sex, wealth, and ethical behaviour by a troubadour. These were very popular throughout France in the thirteenth and fourteenth century and contain a wealth of historical information about social attitudes at the time. It is also, as far as I can tell, unique with no other examples of jeux partis surviving in this form (it had not come to serious scholarly attention until 2004). This text gives us not only an invaluable insight into the transmission of music, the movement of people, but also the transmission of ideas and people’s attitudes to the morals at the time.

The impressive opus of trouvères chansons survive now as collections and reorderings of more ephemeral texts in grand codices. Aristocratic pride in local traditions can be found in the poetic schools in Oc and Oil (different regions of France defined by their dialect) as well as Sicily and Aragon in Spain. The collections encompass Crusader songs in Occitan and prose chronicles in Franco-Flemish. These were all collected, republished, and bound in richly decorated volumes many showing regional tastes and variations. Courtly songs of refined love were most popular in Northern France (chansons courtoises, cansos) and appear side-by-side with songs of Marian devotion (chansons pieuses) as well as songs of erotic conquest (pastourelles), women’s songs and weaving songs (chansons de toile), and the battles of wits, as well as the song-debates known as the jeux partis.

All of these different types of songs were collected in to these manuscripts which were also filled with vernacular text and idealised images[i]. These texts made use of the growing practice of fixed musical notation on a stave (all but four of the twenty two major sources contain music written on a stave[ii]) which allowed a performer to sight-read a melody, if not a complete transmission of the rhythm.

MS 1681 extended

There has been a musicological tradition of applying a hierarchy to these tropes with ‘courtly songs’ receiving the most attention and praise, the jeux partis being seen clearly as a ‘lesser genre’ (see for example Alfred Jeanroy). This however is not borne out by the surviving texts. Hundreds of these texts were written, many in multiple manuscripts, the majority with musical notation.

This manuscript in Lambeth Palace Library, however, is a less substantial item than the grand codices. Codices could consist of hundreds of such songs, this item consist of six songs on one roll of Vellum.  This type of document is referred to as a Liederblätter (‘single sheets’) and rotuli (‘rolls’) by historians and musicologists. These are different from the codex, or bound volume, and were probably intended as transient or even disposable objects. Some of the first discoveries of these rolls were by Richard Rouse in 1982[iii], with a modern overview provided by William Paden.[iv] There is also clear evidence for its use in the manuscripts showing that, whilst not many have survived, they were common objects. Elizabeth Aubrey shows how the construction of the codices and errors by the scribes show that they must have been working from multiple sources. There are instances where songs were written in without enough space for the music before being rewritten later with the music in place. There are also multiple emendations made to the texts in different hands suggesting text and music was added as it became available.[v] Something similar to the Lambeth Palace Library rotulus is portrayed in the illumination and decoration accompanying the Codices and they are talked about by the poets themselves. A well-known example is the “Provençal chansonnier N” (New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.819), where the poet is shown fainting, overcome with an erotic despair that prevents him from writing on the roll he holds in his hand. To allay suspicion of maybe reading too much into a picture, context is provided by the poem Meravill me cum pot nuills hom chanter which appears alongside the image in the manuscript.

Meravill me cum pot nuills hom chantar
si cum ieu fatz per lieis que·m fai doler,
qu’e ma chansso non puosc apareillar
dos motz qu’al tertz no·m lais marritz chaser,
car non sui lai on estai sos cors gens,
doutz e plazens,
que m’auci desiran
e non pot far morir tant fin aman.

[I’m amazed that any man could sing like I do for the lady who makes me suffer: I can’t put two words together in my song without, when I arrive at the third, letting myself fall, dazed, because I’m not where her gentle figure is, sweet and pleasant, that kills me through desire and can’t make such a perfect lover die.]

These items could function as a support or aide de memoire for recitation and a means of transmitting works, enabling performers to recreate the jeux partis before different audiences and supplying a missing link in our understanding of songs and music more widely. They were designed as temporary things made of non-durable material, in this case small sections of vellum stitched together. Writing in thirteenth-century Europe was increasingly being used not only by the trained clergy, but also being used laypeople in local dialects.

MS 1681

Unlike the other genres of Trouvere/ Trouvères  songs, the jeu parti presents itself as unique event, a one-off improvised performance between specific performers and judges, many of whom are named in the songs. However, their existence in multiple versions and formats implies repeated performances, re-enactments of events, or of imagined events. The genre provides a fascinating opportunity to look at questions of song performance and reception. In attempting to represent a particular time and place it has two contestants addressing each other by name and posing a dilemma before alternating verses of argument. The substance of these arguments was often, although not always, love and sexual conquest i.e. ‘Who should one pity more: the man who is constantly jealous of his wife, or the one who knows for sure that his mistress fools him?’ or ‘Do you prefer your sweetheart to be a knight of great bravery, but clumsy and lacking courtesy when he’s off the battlefield, or a handsome, charming and amorous fellow who lacks martial skill?’. The final stanza holds the debaters’ appeal to a judge, present at the performance, to judge in his favour. Whilst judges are named no surviving manuscript records the judgement.

The people involved and named in these songs were noted thirteenth and fourteenth century individuals from aristocratic, bourgeois, and clerical backgrounds, many associated with the Northern French town of Arras. This has led to the genre being treated as an outlier. However, the songs that have survived have been copied and recopied into dozens of manuscripts implies repeat performances re-enacted over a variety of locations. According to Jenna Phillips’s article “Singers without borders: a performer’s rotulus and the transmission of jeux partis” there has been no mention of jeux partis existing in rotuli outside of the codices, demonstrating the importance of this document’s survival. This has resulted in current debates on their production ignoring much regarding their potential for performance before a wide range of audiences and locations. Taking the notion of Textual Communities put forward by Brian Stock, they ?suggest that there is evidence of a ‘shared community’ of irreverent and humorous dialogue that extends beyond its traditional location of Arras, fuelled by scripts, rotuli and other ephemera transmitting not only songs but also play sheets and stories.

The proof of this position is difficult however with most, if not all, of the corpus of troubadour music existing in texts that postdate their putative author by some margin. The proponents of a written tradition point to manuscript evidence of performance from scrolls or wax tablets, sometimes both in the same picture. For example see the miniature from the Manesse Codex.[vi]

MS 1681 showing the two of the sheets of vellum stitched together

Lambeth Palace Library MS 1681 consist of three membranes of vellum sewn together with clear damage to both ends.[vii] On the hair side (a curiosity in itself as most scribes wrote on the smoother inner side for preference as it made a better writing surface) someone has written seven old French songs. These are identified by Jenna Phillips as Chansons by Gace Brule and the Chatelain de Coucy (these two songs are known from other chansonniers) Par quel forfet et par quel achaison, and Cil qui d’amors me conseille respectively. These are followed by five jeux partis written by Jehan Bretel, Jehan Grieviler (his Grieviler vostre ensient found in this roll can also be found in the Chansonnier d’Arras), Guillaume and Gilon le Viner. The scroll lacks musical notation, although it is present in other sources. On the reverse are memoranda dating to the fourteenth century concerning the genealogies of the Esse and Knyghton families and their lands Ashe in Dorset. There is an interesting question as to the reason for the survival of this roll, whether it is for these memoranda or for the music.

MS 1681 showing a join in the vellum and the string loop

Much has been written on the subject (see Petrucci, Armando, and Charles M. Radding. Writers and readers in Medieval Italy: studies in the history of written culture) of the rapid increase in writing in the vernacular in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and a proliferation of ‘ephemeral’ texts (Richard Rouse in ‘Roll and Codex’, pp. 13–29). This was being done by and for a public of literates who could read and write in the vernacular and who had a much wider geographic distribution than was previously thought. This was writing outside of a precise social function or obligation, writing because one was literate. Matched with the increasing industrialisation of book production through scriptoria and the universities (by this time there are over twenty throughout Europe) this saw a large increase in book production, letter writing, receipts, and memoires (registers).

The importance of this scroll (aside from the uniqueness of its contents) stems from what it can tell us about the transmission of these songs. Whilst much of the scholarship surrounding jeux partis focuses on the city of Arras and its surrounds, due to the presence of Adam de la Halle and Jehan Bretel (famous composers of these songs), musical/ poetical societies (called Le Puy, derived from Latin Podium)[viii] existed throughout northern French and Flemish cities, spreading to London and the south of France by the thirteenth century.[ix] Still working in French (the lingua franca of trade in the Anglo-Norman world) it is conceivable that the copying of songs heard in one city for recreation in another by members of these clubs was not unknown or uncommon. The question is of course how much of this was done by the recreation of an oral memory and how much would have been done by aides memoires written down. Does this roll represent an anomaly or the tip of an iceberg? We know of a thirteenth century German roll found in the flyleaves of fifteenth century codex (Rouse, ‘Roll and Codex’, 13–29; Paden, ‘Lyrics on Rolls’, 325‒40). William Paden surveyed eleven examples. The British Library, until 1971,[x] held the Song of the Barons dating to 1260. Several others have been recently discovered; these are songs are different genres to the jeux partis (see Jenna Phillips), most recently in 2017 David Catalunya finding roll fragments of fourteenth century polyphonic music in the flyleaves of a fifteenth century book.[xi] It is also the case that medieval rolls preserving plays can also be found[xii] and as has been shown above there are many pictorial examples in other codices.



[i] Samuel Rosenberg, Introduction to Songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères: an Anthology of Poems and Melodies,  Samuel Rosenberg, Margaret Switten and Gérard Le Vot (eds.) (New York: Garland, 1998), 4.

[ii] See Elizabeth Aubrey, ‘Sources, MS III, Secular Monophony: French’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., ed. S. Sadie., 29 vols. (London: Macmillan Reference, 2001), 23: 851–60.

[iii] Rouse, Richard H. 1982. Roll and Codex the Transmission of the Works of Reinmar von Zweter. pp.193-231

[iv] Keith Busby and Catherine M. Jones. 2011. “Li premerains vers”: essays in honor of Keith Busby. Amsterdam: Rodopi

[v] Aubrey, Elizabeth. 2000. The music of the troubadours. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press. pp 47-49

[vi] Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 323r. The minnesinger in question is Reinmar von Zweter, who flourished in the 1230s, perhaps 70 years prior to the compilation of the Manesse Codex. The image is discussed by Marisa Galvez in Songbook: How Lyrics Became Poetry in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 136.

[vii] Based on the lengths of the other membranes, the first piece is lacking around 20 cm, which likely contained another song. Axel Wallensköld, ‘Le Ms. Londres, Bibliothèque de Lambeth Palace, Misc. Rolls 1435’, Mémoires de la Société Néo-Philologique de Helsingfors 6 (1917): 3–40 (5).

[viii] Puy made reference either to the platform on which performers stood, or to the high pedestal on which holy relics were elevated. The contentious history of this organisation and the terms used to describe it are surveyed by Carol Symes, A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 216–22

[ix] Helen Cooper, ‘London and Southwark Poetic Companies: “Si tost c’amis” and the Canterbury Tales’, in Chaucer and the City, ed. Ardis Butterfield (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006), 109–25 (111).

[x] Andrew Taylor. 1991. “The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript”. Speculum. 66 (1): 43-73 (68 ff.)

[xi] David Catalunya, ‘Nuns, Polyphony, and a Liégois Cantor: New Light on the Las Huelgas’ “Solmization Song”’, Journal of the Alamire Foundation 9 (2017): 89–134

[xii] Four examples are cited by Thomas Forrest Kelly, The Exultet in Southern Italy, 18.




This is a 17th century music book of 29 solo songs in English, French, and Italian, with some accompaniment designed for the theorbo (MS 1041). It was written in the mid 17th century for Lady Ann Blount daughter of Mountjoy Blount. The songs run the gamut of popular English song writers from the English Republic to the Restoration, including Nicholas Lanier (who famously wrote what some consider to be the first recitative in English), Henry and William Laws (both highly popular composers and published extensively by Playford), and Charles Colman (composer and one of the compilers of this manuscript, see ff51-64 with a signature at f54r).


The songbook contains written out accompaniments with embellishments/ ornamentation, as well as instructions in thoroughbass, a commonly used system where numbers were used to identify the chords used to create a basso continuo. This implies that the manuscript was probably intended for advanced players, and possibly used for instruction or teaching.


It has been suggested that this, and the choice of composers, nominally royalists (although Laws and Coleman were active in the English music scene throughout the Republic), as well as the prevalence of French and Italian music, that the intended recipient was familiar with the French court and had royalist, or anti parliamentarian, feelings. Ann Blount’s father was also a member of the royalist army and fought in the second battle of Newbury.

That being said, the explosion of musical publishing due to the collapse of the publishing patents would also account for the interest in this ‘new music’ and the popularity of the composer’s works was not diminished by their previous political bedfellows. Both Coleman and Henry Lawes were very active in the music scene during the Interregnum with Lawes even writing music for masques. Ann Blount’s father also passed on the information he received on the First Army Plot which allowed John Pym to expel royalists from parliament and force many of them into exile. So lines are not always clear.

The Songbook can be divided into two parts with Charles Coleman, Lanier, Henry and William Lawes constituting the first, and largest, part and Edward Coleman John Good-Groome, Matthew Locke, and Alphonso Marsh contributing the second, smaller, part. These seven songs were added in to the book at a later date.

The contributors to this book were all highly regarded composers and performers. Charles Coleman (1605-1664) was an active performer appearing in masques for both James I and Charles I and a member of the Kings Consort. He remained in England during the Republic, during which time he composed extensively and was awarded Doctor of Music from the university of Cambridge. Lanier is a particularly interesting composer being primarily responsible for popularising the new ‘Italian’ style of music in the English court and producing what is claimed to be the first recitative in English, in his Opera Hero and Leander, c. 1625, performed for Charlies I.

This stands in distinct contrast to his pre-Italy compositions ‘Bring away this Sacred Tree’ and more importantly ‘Lovers made Men’. These pieces, it is argued however follow more closely the Declamatory Ayre English tradition.[i] There is much that can be said about the practice of ‘declamatory ayres’ and their relationship to the evolving Italian practice of ‘recit aria’ but this is not the place.[ii] Lanier left England following the defeat of Charles I but had returned by 1650 primarily working as an art dealer, a position which interestingly enough he had previously occupied for Charles. William Lawes, whist still being a popular composer had died in 1645 at Chester during the Civil War. Henry Lawes, his brother on the other hand was a prolific and well-regarded composer who survived the war. Despite working for the court he worked closely with notable republicans, having set to music poems by Milton, Waller, and Carew,[iii] and as did many other people continued working under the new government. Most notably he supplied the incidental music for the Masque “Comous” (1634) and the vocal music for the opera “The Siege of Rhodes” (1656).

It is a common trope that the Republic was a period when music was banned. You can still find the Burney quote ‘Ten years of gloomy silence seem to have elapsed before a string was suffered to vibrate, or a pipe to breathe aloud, in the kingdom’[iv] quoted uncritically, even after the rest of Burney’s work has, justifiably, been superseded. Music playing, performance, and most significantly publishing all continued through this time period and in the case of publishing, expanded greatly.

Of the second group of writers, Locke is by far the best known. He was a prolific composer producing frequent publications for John Playford and holding musical ‘salons’ in London. The group is rounded up with Edward Coleman and Good-Groom both working as music teachers and Alphonso Marsh who was a performer in the Siege of Rhodes and a composer. The collection of names contributing to the book presents a good overview the most popular musicians and songwriters during the Republic and following the Restoration.


The song book also contains works by continental composers. These tend to be older works having been previously published or composed by more established composers. The French composers are Francois de Chancy, who composed for Richelieu and was an active composer of Ballets de Cours, Jean de Cambefort, Michel Lambert a prolific composer, and the Marquis of Mortmart.

MS 1041 contains 29 songs, many of which are unique to this manuscript, (We do account the music good, Qu’un rival vienne devant moi, When shall I see my captive heart, Chere Philis puisque tous mes service, Ne vous etonnez pas, Ma Cloris je me meurs d’amor, Farewell, farewell, fond love, Non temer Filli mia, Last night my fair resolved to go, Ye powers that guard loves silken throne, Lucinda wink or veil those eyes, and Fret on fond Cupid curse thy feeble bow) and which are in four distinct groupings. Of particular note is the French grouping 9v-19v due to the extensively written out vocal embellishments. What we can tell from this ornamentation, and other sections, is that the intention of the composers is for the pieces to be performed in the ‘Italian style’. That being using performance practices and styles that were used and taught in Italy at the time. As opposed to English songs being performed in the common English style that was taught to students and musicians . This could be for a number of reasons from the increasing continental influence to changing tastes or even political signalling. The French songs and, interestingly, several of the songs by Henry Lawes are to be sung in the French style. The level of written out embellishment, if we contend that the book is intended as a teaching aid, in the English/ Italian/ French songs suggests more familiarity with the English and Italian manner of singing. Also whilst many of the songs have embellishments written out few have symbols marking these or other embellishments. The ones that do occur tend to be found in the second, latter collection. They can also be found in the accompaniments.


To take an example Coleman’s Bright Aurelia features an elaborate vocal ornamentation in the second line of the score. Over the text there is a roulade (a musical ornament), typical of Italian coloratura style (a manner of singing) longer than a trill or a mordent but not extending into a cadenza. This is a method of ornamenting a piece of music using a distinctive style of singing. It is placed in a song written in English that is otherwise fairly typical of English Songs of the period. In principle this is an invaluable addition showing the use of stylistic elements, and approaches to singing that would otherwise be overlooked. However, it also shows how assumed knowledge on the part of the performer can obscure  later readers. In this case there are questions about where to start and end the ornament. With this we have clear examples of Italian styles being interpolated into English music.


One of the interesting things about these pages, and something that allows us to date it with some accuracy, are the numerous watermarks in the paper.[v] There are two distinct imprints; on the pages with musical notation there is a stamp of two pillars with the initials “MSD”. The pages without music on them contain a pot type of watermark with the initials IB. . Watermarks in paper were added during the manufacturing process as the paper was drying to identify the paper maker. They also served as statement of quality and of provenance. They are also invaluable for codicological studies for identifying the age, printing location and trade patterns of the early book trade. It should be noted however that the watermarks only show when the paper was made not necessarily when the book was constructed.


Palaeographical studies of the manuscript show five different hands over the various folios. Some are limited to particular genres, hand 2 for example is responsible for all of the French songs, along with one Italian and English. And hands 4 and 5 copied all the English songs with thoroughbass added later

Looking at the various hands displayed in the manuscript several are easily identifiable. One (which one? identifiable as Charles Colman in addition to four others which are unknown. Although it is suggested in Songs with Theorbo (ca. 1650-1663), edited by Gordon Callon,[vi] that one is possibly the same hand as another merely separated by some years.


This manuscript presents a fascinating look popular music, what people were interested in and how tastes were changing, in a rapidly evolving musical landscape. The difference in the musical landscape from the end of 1640 to 1660 was immense. From the proliferation of printed music to the rapid ascendency of continental styles of music. The changes had a lasting and profound impact on the evolution of music and our historical conception of it.

[i] Walls, Peter. “The Origins of English Recitative.” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 110 (1983): 25-40.

[ii]Pinnock, Andrew, and Bruce Wood. “A Mangled Chime: The Accidental Death of the Opera Libretto in Civil War England.” Early Music 36, no. 2 (2008): 265-84.

[iii] Lindenbaum, Peter. “John Playford: Music and Politics in the Interregnum.” Huntington Library Quarterly 64, no. 1/2 (2001): 125-38. doi:10.2307/3817880.

[iv] Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (1789), 1776-1789, Rpt. (London: Foulis, 1935) 334. This work was issued in four volumes, the first appearing in 1776 and the last in 1789.

[v] Callon,Gordon J. Songs With Theorbo (Ca. 1650-1663): Oxford, Bodleian Library, Broxbourne 84.9 London, Lampeth Palace Library, 1041: 105 (Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era) A-R Editions (1 Jun. 2000) ff ix

[vi] ibid



Photographs of Music

The extract of music today comes from Lambeth Palace MS 457 and consists of four poems with music. As well as studying verse and notation, it will also allow us to look at the use and reuse of parchment and how, with modern technology, we can reconstruct missing or damaged pages in manuscripts. The text is a is a rebound set of three manuscripts dating from the 15th century and earlier and is written on paper and parchment. Aside from the two folios we shall look at the text is non-musical and consists of treatises, liturgical writings, and sermons, including the writings of Jerome and Seneca. Of the two pages containing music notation only one is visible to the naked eye. The other has been scraped away and a commentary on the seven deadly sins has been written over the top (palimpsest). This was a common occurrence in medieval manuscripts, whereby scribes and writers could reuse or correct previous writing by scraping the existing text away from the velum with a small knife and leaving a clear surface to write upon again.

The music itself is in a 13th century non-mensural script, this being literally non-measured notes, where the placement and form of the note indicate pitch but not timing or rhythm. This is not to say of course that there is no way to tell what the rhythm is meant to be. The interpretation relies on our understanding of cultural norms and rhythmic modes, as well as textual analysis looking at the stresses in the syllables and the rhythmic structure of the text. Examples of the rhythmic modes, like harmonic modes but governing rhythm rather than pitch, can be found in France around the 12th century.[i] These examples are attributed to Léonin (1150s-1201) who was a member of the Notre Dame school of Polyphony, which existed from 1160-1250. During this time, he established six underlying pulses or rhythmic modes to guide people in interpreting note values in a given piece of music. How far outside of the Notre Dame school in Paris this travelled is a matter of some contention as is the possibility of other schools using similar principles. That they likely existed can be surmised by non-mensural music that does not conform to his patterns and that was written some distance from Paris. It should be said however that the proliferation of this type of notation does not necessarily equate to multiple schools considering what we know of the movement of people and rapid diffusion of ideas during this period. This was superseded in the 13th as mensural music systems were developed and codified, the most well-known example was by Franco of Cologne who wrote Ars Cantus Mensurabilis in 1250-1280.

It is a common feature however that music based on pre-existing compositions was still written in non-mensural notation even after the 13th century. This is commonly seen for example in transcriptions of troubadour songs. This piece in MS 457 can be clearly defined as non-mensural by the lack of ligatures in the setting and by the positioning of breves and longs above one another where both must have the same value (for more information about this type of notation see A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke. Thomas Morley) Approaching this piece then one can see the limits of our understanding of this type of music. When one approaches with the wrong rhythmical system the carefully prepared dissonances and resolutions of voice leading, something that was very important in this form of music, are lost. This can result in further attempts to ‘correct’ errors in the music, which can then lead to very different interpretations. Examples of the approaches range from syllabic, each syllable having equal value with melasmas being quickened, to entirely unmeasured, the choice being up to the performer. One of the ways musicologists have attempted to reconstruct a more historically accurate basis is to look at instances where both mensural and non-mensural notation is used to depict the same tune.


Figure 1Bnf MS fr. 844 f78v 13century

In this example there is a dance (a vielle) beginning “Tant es gay es avinentz” written in mensural notation. On the right on the third stave down is a troubadour song by Blacasset vegining “Ben volgra que.m vengues mer[c]es” written in non-mensural notation. Both however use the same melody. This raises a whole host of interesting questions, about how one approaches this type of music and why the use of non-mensural notation persisted when more ‘accurate’ notation was available. It has been suggested by some musicologists that the very ambiguity of the notation was the point. Complaints by Elias Salomon in the 1270s, amongst others about church singers retarding, accelerating, anticipating, and improperly phrasing the notes suggest that the practice of treating the written music as a guide rather than prescriptive meant that depicting the exact rhythm was not only not useful but not required. The next question is that if this was the case why then also transcribe this work in mensural notation? The answer, I believe, has to do more with form than historical precedent. The first piece on the page is meant to be a dance. Without a regular rhythm this becomes much more difficult. Whereas for a song, particularly if there is a cultural expectation and performance practice of rhythmic expression, writing something out in strict metric rhythm would be unnecessary.


Returning to the manuscript, having looked at why the style of notation was used and discussed what remains and what does not, we can next consider the application of spectroscopy and the use of non-visible light spectrums when studying medieval or historical manuscripts. This has been revolutionary in what it has allowed us to see. Below are three examples the middle one showing the image as it would appear to the naked eye. The one on the right being a composite of under UV light showing a previously unseen trace of a border. The one on the left demonstrates the effect on pigments of this sort of technology.


In the above images of MS1370 you can clearly see how by viewing the page under different sources of light the image of an erased border can be seen. This is due to the different reactions of ink to different wavelengths of light. Pigments, simplistically, get their colour from the reflection of a certain, or combination of certain, wavelengths of light. The simplest and most common example in manuscripts is the use of carbon, in various forms, in black ink. This means that when looked at under UV or IR light the carbon particles absorb the wavelengths far more than the surrounding parchment. This can reveal text or line drawings that are otherwise obscured either because they have been erased or because they have been covered up. For example, when looking at illuminated pages in a manuscript under IR light the pigments used do not, by and large, absorb the light, thus allowing us to see the black lines beneath where the artist sketched out the design. This can reveal previous ideas or alternative arrangements of the image. Similarly, when the text is viewed under UV light the different pigments reflect differing amounts of UV light. With the right camera and equipment this can be rendered visible and, as you can see, reveal information about the pigments used and how they were applied.


Turning to MS 457, whilst the music on f 192v has been erased it can viewed under UV light showing a continuation of the music underneath the writing. This is done by shining a hand-held UV lamp at the page whilst taking images with the digital camera; a low-tech approach but suitable for our purposes.


With a slightly fuller picture of the work we can see that the music is divided into 5 distinct songs: The first is quite distinct in its rhythmic approach, which can be interpreted from the syllabification of the text and the placement of ligatures. The poem used is metric with a definite rhyme scheme. It is also probably English in origin, owing to the proliferation of thirds and the fact that similar tune has not been found in other continental sources. The work is harmonically interesting with prepared dissonances throughout resolving and reoccurring as the piece progresses


For the second piece the underlying tune is an Agnus trope, a copy of which can be found in a 14th century Sarum missal in the Bodleian (MS Don.b.5, f. 398). The rhythm of the piece is a modification of the duplum mode and lacks the thirds and dissonances of the previous piece. However, since the trope is from the Sarum we can assume the piece is English again.


The third piece of music is again based on a metrical rhyming poem leading one to believe it has a binary structure (aa bb or ab ab). Of interest however is the last five notes of the piece where a new third voice is introduced, giving what is probably an early example of English three voice polyphony


The fourth piece is where things become more difficult. The trope used is incomplete having two lines of music over one line of text. With the piece being through composed, that being music composed with a focus on voice leading and the individual melodic line rather than harmonic patterns, it is likely that the text continued on the next page with fragments of the second and third verses of the trope visible under UV light. Fortunately, the trope is recognisable and exists with different music in other sources. However, unlike the proceeding pieces the work is not metrically balanced and lacks an internal rhyme. This melody, as said, is from an Agnus Dei chant which, in this case, is found throughout England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, leading to clear difficulties in identifying the original piece.


This has hopefully provided a brief introduction into the difficulties in studying early manuscripts and the advantages that modern technology can bring to this process.

[i] (


A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke. Thomas Morley

A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke : set downe in forme of a dialogue: diuided into three parts. The first teacheth to sing, with all things necessarie for the knowledge of pricktsong. The second treateth of descante, and to sing two parts in one vpon a plainsong or ground, with other things necessarie for a descanter. The third and last part entreateth of composition of three, foure, fiue or more parts, with many profitable rules to that effect. With new songs of, 2. 3. 4. and 5. parts / By Thomas Morley, Batcheler of Musicke, and one of the gent of her Maiesties Royall Chappell.

This modestly titled work is by the English composer Thomas Morley and was one of the foundational pieces of music practice and education for 200 years. It is still vital to the understanding and performance of Renaissance music and is one of the most famous musical treatises in the English language.

As with the more familiar work by Johann Joseph Fux (“Gradus ad Parnassum”) Morley’s “A plaine and easie …” endeavours to teach the mechanics of music within a traditional lecture style of master and student. The work is divided into three parts. The first addresses singing, the second descant (the practice of placing a melody above a moving bass), and the third deals with composition. Due to the necessities of space I will be focusing largely on the first section of this work. I would however strongly encourage anyone with even a passing interest in early music to visit the library and look at the significant music collection held at Lambeth Palace Library.

As an aside before we begin the work itself begins with a dedication to William Byrd [Birde] expressing the author’s admiration and debt to the musician and is well worth reproducing in full.



As stated above the work is set out as a classical dialogue between Philomathes and Master and begins as is common in this format with the introduction of the characters, apologies for the students’ lack of knowledge and their requests, or in this case demands, to be taught everything the master knows. The work can be placed within a more overarching cultural discussion as the ‘student’ abandons Stoicism for Pythagoreanism. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Morley. Whilst the dialogical form was popular on the continent, and in Italy specifically, it was rarely used in England. One of the suggested reasons for its use here is that Morley is aspiring to a Platonic dialogue, seeking as it were to impart not only musical but also moral and ethical instruction as well.[1] In an attempt to regulate musical activity, at least on a professional level, the English government had outlawed freelance musical activity completely, and made licensing dependent on employment in a noble house.[2] This led to a flurry of pamphlets on both sides, with Gosson’s “The Schoole of Abuse” and Stubs’ “The Anatomie of Abuses” being for licensing on the one side and Thomas Lodge’s “Protogenes can know Apelles” and Case’s “The Prase of Music” against these restrictions on the other. The latter was influential enough for Byrd to produce a six-voice madrigal setting of “A Gratification unto Master John Case, for his Learned Book”.[1] One of the outcomes of this was the attempt by ‘serious’ musicians to differentiate themselves from their ‘unlearned’ counterparts. This comes with the obvious class distinctions. It is into this conflict, one both intergenerational, class based, and acrimonious that Morley introduced this work. This argument is addressed in the opening of the work where the Master is surprised to learn of Philomathes’ desire to learn music. The prospective student was thought to be Stoic and against music (“he had been heard to speak against the art, as to tearme it a corrupter of good manners and an allurement to vice”), thereby opening the work with a fictional victory over his detractors.

morley 2


And so, we begin at the beginning. The author introduces the scales, their degrees, clefs, and the tuning of the notes (including the question of enharmonic equivalence). This is a particularly interesting section with regards to performance practice and how contemporaries thought music might be constructed. Morley was very much aware and involved in contemporary music practices and movements, not only having read Zarino and Zacconi but also being responsible for the popularisation of madrigals in England.[3] This is still a sound world very much defined by the modal system of music. This was the bedrock of musical knowledge taught by theorists from Spain to Germany. What is remarkable about Morley’s work therefore is the small space allotted to these. They are introduced in the third chapter and rather than explain what they are he simply gives examples of their use and moves on. He also places emphasis not only on which key the piece of music starts but also allows these keys to be joined together. For instance, he suggests going from G to its dominant or sub dominant and then back to the tonic.[4] This is one of the fundamental differences between English and Continental music practice. Looking at musical examples such a Tallis or Taverner one can clearly see that they are planned and structured differently to the compositions of Palestrina: with Tallis and Taverner, to put it simply, organising their melodies using a tonal structure and Palestrina still using a more strictly modal practice.

morley 3

One of the themes throughout the work is the insistence that not only should the student learn contemporary practices but should also be familiar with the historical styles that were no longer in fashion. This is especially useful to modern musicologists as he not only deals with them practically but also their theoretical underpinnings:

Surely what they know already I know not, but if they account the moodes, ligatures, pricks of devision and alteration, augmentation, diminution and proportions, things of no use, they may as well account the whole arte of musicke of no use, seeing that in the knowledge of them consisteth the whole or greatest part of the knowledge of pricksong. And although it be true that the proportions have not such use in musicke in that forme as they be nowe used, but that the practise may be perfect without them, yet seeing they have beene in common use with the musicians of former time, it is necessarie for us to know them, if we meane to make any profit of their works. But those men who think they know enough already, when (God knoweth) they can scarce sing their part with the wordes, be like unto those who having once superficiallie red the Tenors of Littleton or Justinians institutes, thinke that they have perfectlie learned the whole law, and then being injoyned to discusse a case, do at length perceive their own ignorance and beare the shame of their falsely conceaved opinions.[5]

morley 4

What results is one of the most reliable accounts of how to read mensural notation (the musical notation system used for European vocal polyphonic music from the later part of the 13th century until about 1600). The term “mensural” refers to the ability of this system to describe precisely measured rhythmic durations in terms of numerical proportions between note values. There are accounts of note forms; the derivation from the long to the breve, semi-breve and onwards, as well as how to interpret them in context (their values changing depending on location) and explanations on how to read ligatures (notes written together indicating melismatic singing over several notes). He even delves into the system of prolation (the relationship between the semibreve and the minim in mensural notation) and how it can be perfect or imperfect – i.e. one long divided into 3 breves into 3 semi-breves is “perfect/perfect”; one long into two breves into two semibreves was “imperfect/imperfect”. There could also be perfect/imperfect and vice versa. This, as one can see from the picture, our modern symbols have inaccurately referred to as common and compound time.

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The work also contains detailed descriptions of the most common forms of music at the time from motets to madrigals, including how they should be performed, what occasion or company they are suitable for, and what sort of mood the work should convey. It is here in other contemporary theorists that one would expect to see the treatment of modes.

Morley was himself a well-known composer publishing under Tallis and Byrd’s monopoly on printed music, even being hailed by Ravenscroft after his death as “he who did shine as the Sun in the Firmament of our Art”. The situation with regards to printed music at the time was a curious one. There was a well-established market for musical publications: however, much was imported from the continent due to the Royal Patents that operated – commonly from Holland but with growing markets in Italy and Germany. It was only with their lapse during the English Republic that the large-scale publication of printed music in England took off. Another notable feature of this work is that it uses a movable type for musical notation rather than the more common block engravings that one can find in other musical works. Whilst not being responsible for introducing this to England – it having been developed in Italy in the 1500s – he did interestingly enough introduce moveable type for lute tablature however.[6] Whilst its use was important in the dissemination of cheap part books to the public the increasingly florid styles were difficult to set in moveable type, resulting in manuscript editions continuing to be used for a number of years. One final point of interest is in the supplementary material in the back of the book. It is arranged with its performance by a small group of players in mind. Each part is arranged around the page to allow a group to arrange themselves around the table whilst still being able to read the music.

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[1] Mann, Joseph Arthur. “”Both Schollers And Practicioners”: The Pedagogy Of Ethical Scholarship And Music In Thomas Morley’s “Plaine And Easie Introduction To Practicall Musicke”.” Musica Disciplina 59 (2014): 53-92.

[2] Marsh, Christopher W. Music and Society in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp73-75.

[3] Stevenson, Robert. “Thomas Morley’s “Plaine and Easie” Introduction to the Modes.” Musica Disciplina 6 (1952): 177.

[4] Wienpahl, Robert W. “English Theorists and Evolving Tonality.” Music & Letters 36, no. 4 (1955): 377-93.

[5] Morley, Thomas. A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music Set down in Form of a Dialogue, Divided into Three Parts, the First Teacheth to Sing, the Second Treateth of Descant, the Third Treateth of Composition, by Thomas Morley … As Printed in the Year 1597. London: Now Reprinted [by George Bigg] for William Randall Successor to the Late Mr. J. Walsh, 1771 183. Thomas Littleton wrote one of the first printed texts on English law, his Tenures (1482).

[6] Murray, Tessa. Thomas Morley : Elizabethan Music Publisher. Music in Britain, 1600-2000. 2014. pp82.

Item of Interest: Biography of a Book

We are excited to introduce a new series of monthly blog posts, each of which will focus on a particular “Item of Interest” within Lambeth Palace Library. From a closer examination of books and manuscripts in our collections to glimpses into the work that is carried out by our staff, we hope these posts will offer an intriguing insight into our world renowned library.

To get us started this month, Jessica Hudson (Sion Project Cataloguer) is exploring the provenance of an item in the Sion College Collection.

Biography of a Book:

“Where words fail, music speaks”, so said Hans Christian Andersen, but the copy of Antiquae musicae auctores septem (G81.1/M47) found among the works in the Sion College Collection, speaks volumes about its ownership history. Through the inscriptions and marginal notes that it bears on its pages, it tells of the hands that it passed through, the traded paths that it followed and reveals the voice and thoughts of its former owners.

As a printed work it charts the history of ancient Greek music through eminent writers of ancient times (such as Aristoxenus), drawn together and edited by the Danish scholar Marcus Meibom (1630-1711). Meibom was best known as an historian of music and he was also, incidentally, a Librarian. Antiquae musicae examines musical theory with mathematical precision and is not only regarded as Meibom’s most significant work, but one that stands as a pioneer in its field and a milestone in musical scholarship. It was printed in 1652 by Louis Elzevir at his workshop in Amsterdam and the title page includes the principal printer’s device used by Elzevir which depicts Minerve with the motto, “Ne extra oleas” (“nothing but the olive”). Bound in vellum with gently yapped edges, it is a fine volume and an interesting addition to the library. As an artefact however, it has yet more to tell.

A potted account of the book’s movements over the course of its history can be found on the front flyleaf, where there is an inscription which reads:

Image 1J W Callcott. Bought of Mr. Faulder Bond St. out of the collection of Dr. Shepherd, Canon of Windsor

With a little research it has been possible to flesh out the named characters, lending an interesting tale of provenance which reminds us that the history of a book extends beyond its composition, printing and binding and rolls through time, being shaped by its owners and readers.

The first name that appears is that of John Wall Callcott who was born on 20th November 1766 in Kensington.  He was elder brother to the renowned artist Sir Augustus Wall Callcott (20 February 1779 – 25 November 1844), after whom the engraved portrait of John (see below) was created. During his early schooling John Callcott learned Greek and Latin and was evidently still proficient in later years, as attested by the Antiquae musicae auctores septem which includes parallel Greek and Latin text. Indeed some of the extensive marginalia found in the book is likely to come from Callcott as he digested, interpreted and commented on the work. Although a promising student of the classics, Callcott’s true passion lay with music, an interest derived from listening to the organ being played during regular visits to Kensington parish Church where his father Thomas had found employment as a brick layer. From around 1778 Callcott received musical instruction from Henry Whitney, the church organist, and would later become a pupil of Haydn (1732 –1809). From here he developed his skills and would grow to become a composer of some renown. During his adult life Callcott was celebrated principally for the award-winning glees that he composed (such as Drink to me only with thine eyes) and for his extensive knowledge of musical theory, becoming a highly regarded teacher and scholar of music (lecturing for example at the Royal Academy of Music). This facet makes his link to the book more poignant, as he may well have gained greater insight into musical theory from reading this very volume, applying his knowledge when he later produced his own much praised work Musical Grammar in 1806. Beyond the book, there is a further Lambeth connection with Callcott, as he was appointed organist to the Asylum for Female Orphans in Lambeth in 1789.

Sadly Callcott suffered a nervous breakdown in 1808 from which recovered, only to relapse in 1813. He was committed to the Fishponds Asylum, where he would spend his final years. Callcott died on 15th May 1821 and was buried in Kensington churchyard.

Image 2John Wall Callcott by Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after original by Sir Augustus Wall Callcott. (Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery).

A further inscription on the title page of volume I tells us that it was in 1797 that Calcott purchased Antiquae musicae from “Mr. Faulder, bookseller in Bond Street”. The bookdealer has been identified as Robert Faulder (1747/48-1815). Robert was both a bookbinder and bookseller operating from New Bond Street in the late 18th century (his premises included 42 New Bond St from 1780-1811 and numbers 48 and 46 New Bond St in 1811). Faulder began trading in 1780, having completed his apprenticeship with James Robson (1733 – 1806). He was freed from his apprenticeship in 1779 while working for the Merchant Taylors’ Company. One of Faulder’s premises is depicted in a satirical cartoon entitled “Sandwich Carrots”, which was produced in 1796 by the engraver James Gillray (1756-1815). Looking beyond the somewhat salacious figures in the scene, you can see his shop front filled with numerous volumes (though the titles on display are added for comedy value, rather than being an accurate reflection of Faulder’s stock). The male character purportedly represents the notorious 5th Earl of Sandwich and strangely forms a connection with the last link in our provenance chain through his father the 4th Earl of Sandwich who was the patron of the earliest owner recorded in the inscription.

Image 3Sandwich-Carrots! – dainty Sandwich-Carrots, engraved by James Gillray (1756-1815)

In 1797 (the year that Callcott purchased the book) Faulder had run into a little hot water when the satirist John Williams (known by the pseudonym of Anthony Pasquin) sued him for libel (a further 42 publishers were to be tried following Faulder’s hearing). The case surrounded the sale of copies of a poetical work produced by William Gifford, The Baviad. Williams claimed that the volume defamed him and many across the land. The case was heard by Lord Kenyon, who dismissed the charges leaving Faulder free to continue on with his business. The proceedings were published in 1811 around the time of Williams’ death of typhus which he had contracted in America where he had fled following the failed court case.

Dr Anthony Shepherd (born 1721) is the final intriguing character recorded who touches the life of our book. He was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge graduating in 1744 and continued his education at Christ’s College where he gained his MA in 1747. He would rise to become Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in 1760 and was appointed as George III’s Master of Mechanics in 1763. He had a great taste for music and it is possible that the more extensive notes which are found in the margins of the book are those of Shepherd. However, his musical abilities apparently never outshone his talent for astronomy.

Image 4Anthony Shepherd (1721?–1796), Plumian Professor of Astronomy (1760–1796), by Gerard van der Puyl (1750–1824). (Image courtesy of The Old Schools, University of Cambridge).

As a clergyman Shepherd held a series of livings including Canon of Windsor (1777-1796) and Rector of Eastling, Kent (1782-1796). However, he always resided in Cambridge, attending to his duties at the University. There are several documents held within Lambeth’s archives which are linked to Shepherd’s clerical career, including his ordination papers (FP XLII f. 14).

Despite his evidently sharp mind, the daughter of Dr Charles Burney rather unkindly described Shepherd as “dullness itself”. Although a little colour is added to his character through his association with Captain Cook who named the Shepherd islands after his friend in 1774. Shepherd died the year before Faulder’s brush with the law, but it is through him that we have an interesting connection between the church, music and the volume now in the Sion Collection – neatly rounding off our story.


Gifford, William (1811). The Baviad and Maeviad. 8th edition. London: John Murray: , pp. 129-179.

Husk, G. & Grove G. (n.d.). A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Callcott, John.,_John

John Wall Callcott. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911.

John Williams (satirist) (2017).

Library of Congress (n.n.) Sandwich-Carrots! – dainty Sandwich-Carrots. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Olleson, P. (2004). Callcott, John Wall (1766-1821). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, pp. 543-544. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oxford University (n.d.). British Book Trade Index

Taub, Liba (2004). Shepherd, Anthony (1721?–1796). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, pp. 240-241. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Gentleman’s Magazine (1796). Volume LXVI, pt. 2. London.