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The Songs and Travels of a Tudor Minstrel: Richard Sheale of Tamworth

The Songs and Travels of a Tudor Minstrel: Richard Sheale of Tamworth

Andrew Taylor
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 225
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  • Book Info
    The Songs and Travels of a Tudor Minstrel: Richard Sheale of Tamworth
    Book Description:

    Richard Sheale, a harper and balladeer from Tamworth, is virtually the only English minstrel whose life story is known to us in any detail. It had been thought that by the sixteenth century minstrels had generally been downgraded to the role of mere jesters. However, through a careful examination of the manuscript which Sheale almost certainly "wrote" (Bodleian Ashmole 48) and other records, the author argues that the oral tradition remained vibrant at this period, contrary to the common idea that print had by this stage destroyed traditional minstrelsy. The author shows that under the patronage of Edward Stanley, earl of Derby, and his son, from one of the most important aristocratic families in England, Sheale recited and collected ballads and travelled to and from London to market them. Amongst his repertoire was the famous Chevy Chase, which Sir Philip Sidney said moved his heart "more than with a trumpet". Sheale also composed his own verse, including a lament on being robbed of £60 on his way to London; the poem is reproduced in this volume. Andrew Taylor lectures in the Department of English, University of Ottawa.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-863-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on the Texts
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Introduction: The Minstrel Rides Out
    (pp. 1-12)

    At nine o’clock in the morning late in the autumn around the year 1556 or 1557, Richard Sheale, minstrel, harper and mediocre poet, rode out alone from his home town of Tamworth on the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire and headed south. He carried with him, or so he subsequently claimed, roughly sixty pounds in gold, with which he intended to clear his debts in London. Sheale’s wife was a ‘sylke woman’, that is, a kind of peddler, and sold shirts, skirts, smocks, neckerchiefs, ribbons, edging, silk thread and linen at fairs and markets in the vicinity of Tamworth. Sheale...

  8. Chapter 1 The Minstrel of Tamworth and His Audiences
    (pp. 13-39)

    Like the vast majority of people of his day, Richard Sheale of Tamworth left virtually no trace in official records. This is scarcely surprising. The poorer members of society have always hovered on the edge of anonymity, their activities rarely recorded unless they were the subject of unusual legal intervention. In early modern England, however, the growing problem of vagrancy and increased religious tension led to a massive increase in policing and a system of licences and regular checks.¹ As a result the rolls of the county Quarter Sessions frequently preserve detailed accounts of local misconduct. So, for example, when...

  9. Chapter 2 The Stanleys, The Stanley Poem and the Campaign of 1558
    (pp. 40-81)

    The Stanleys were one of the two great families that dominated the north of England in the sixteenth century, the other being the Percys. In Lancashire, Cheshire and the Isle of Man the Stanleys ruled almost as minor monarchs.¹ As early as the twelfth century, various Stanleys held positions of consequence in the Midlands, but in 1385 the family took a major step upward when Sir John Stanley (1350?–1415), a Cheshire knight who had fought in Aquitaine and later served Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, married Isabel, ‘five years later heiress of Sir Thomas Lathom, owner of considerable...

  10. Chapter 3 Ashmole 48 and Its History
    (pp. 82-116)

    It is time to turn from the people in Sheale’s life and the various economies in which he worked to a very different kind of evidence, that provided by the manuscript that contains his songs, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 48. The manuscript is described by W. H. Black in his catalogue as ‘a small quarto volume consisting of 141 leaves of paper of the XVIth century by different hands, and containing a collection of miscellaneous pieces of old English minstrelsy’.¹ This description evokes both the manuscript’s particular fascination as a possible minstrel’s songbook and something of the challenge of...

  11. Chapter 4 The Hunting of the Cheviot and the Battle of Otterburn
    (pp. 117-135)

    No poem in Ashmole 48 is so redolent of the old minstrelsy as The Hunting of the Cheviot. The best known of all the Border ballads, its very tune, ‘sung by an old blind crowder’, became a synonym for popular song, and ‘to sing chevy chase over a pot of ale’ a standard phrase for an evening’s entertainment in the tavern.¹ Even today the ballad has a curious familiarity. When Senator Francis G. Newlands set up the Chevy Chase Land Company in 1890 to develop suburban real estate in Maryland, he linked the ballad with what would soon become a...

  12. Chapter 5 ‘More than with a Trumpet’: Tudor Responses to the Cheviot Ballads
    (pp. 136-157)

    The Otterburn ballads long ago lost the popularity that once made them synonymous with ballad singing in general. As we have seen, the name Chevy Chase survives in the United States largely by coincidence, and no version of the ballad ever seems to have entered the American folk tradition. Nor have the Otterburn ballads been favoured by modern literary taste, which prefers ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and the ‘Twa Corbies’. There are fine modern recordings of the version recovered by Sir Walter Scott, but not many of them. Hearing Gordeanna McCulloch’s slow, mournful rendition to a tune preserved by Northumbrian pipers,...

  13. Chapter 6 The Lay of the Last Minstrel
    (pp. 158-163)

    Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel is one of the most forceful expressions of the romantic nostalgia that has infused the history of minstrelsy, almost, it would seem, from its beginning. For those who come after, the minstrel provides a link to the oral tradition, but the link is always tenuous, the tradition imperilled and the organic community in which it flourished in decline. The minstrel suffers a gradual demise, from bard to courtier, from courtier to beggar, and at some point the chanting minstrel ceases to be a social reality and becomes a literary convention with no existence...

  14. Appendix: Five Poems Bearing the Name of Richard Sheale
    (pp. 164-178)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-204)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-208)