The social, political and religious contexts of the late Medieval carol
By Louise McInnes
PhD dissertation, University of Huddersfield, 2013
Abstract: This thesis examines the late medieval English carol, an important indigenous musical form that is abundant in a number of sources from the late fourteenth to the early sixteenth century, both with and without extant musical notation.
Carols with musical notation have been favoured by musicologists in previous research. This thesis however, provides a new context for the study of the carol by also including a close investigation of those carols without extant musical notation; thus presenting a fuller picture of the genre than that of previous musicological studies.
The carol has been somewhat neglected in terms of recent, detailed, published research, therefore this study addresses the reasons for its neglect, and reveals a broader understanding of the genre. It applies a combination of traditional and modern methodologies: empirical research, gender study and ethnomusicological research, in order to place the carol genre in clearer social, political and religious contexts and better understand its place and use in late medieval society.
Through the application of these methodologies, this thesis provides an important perspective on the place of women, not only in the carols, but also within broader social and musical contexts, revealing a complex picture of their place in medieval music as subjects, performers and composers. Suggestions for the use of carols in sermons and other forms of worship are also made, and the carol’s value as a vehicle for political commentary and English nationalism in this period is demonstrated. By approaching the carol in this manner, this study takes us beyond the popular perception of it as a genre merely for the amusement of educated clerics, instead revealing an important, popular musical form that was found in all strata of society.