Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2013

Thesis Advisor(s)

Eric Rice

Honors Major





The fifteenth century saw the development of a substantial body of English songs known as carols, characterized by a strophe (multiple stanzas of text set to the same music) and refrain. While late medieval carols enjoyed great popularity, the occasions for their performance remain obscure. Carols on both sacred and secular themes abound, written in Latin, vernacular languages, or a mixture of both. Partially as a result of this fluidity, scholars have proposed widely varying theories about the origins and use of these pieces.

This thesis approaches the question of performance contexts for carols of the late Middle Ages through a detailed study of the carols of the Ritson Manuscript (BL Add. 5665). Several factors make this manuscript a valuable source for understanding the genre of carol. Its connections to a specific institution, Exeter Cathedral, have been firmly established. Furthermore, it is unique among its fifteenth-century counterparts for providing the names of two composers.

The paper explores evidence within the manuscript itself, as well as drawing on other primary sources such as liturgical books from Exeter Cathedral. It sketches the available biographical details for composers William Smert and John Trouluffe. A discussion of the use of macaronic verse and other textual features follows. Finally, a detailed examination of three of the forty-four carols, each of which draws melody and part of its text from plainchant, leads to considerations about the interplay between carols and liturgy in fifteenth-century Exeter.

Included in

Musicology Commons