Insular Secular Carolling in the Late Middle Ages

  • Frances Eustace

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study shows the importance of carolling in the celebrations and festivities of medieval Britain and demonstrates its longevity from the eleventh century to the sixteenth. It illustrates the flexibility of the English carole form for adaptation to include content in high and low registers and its suitability for use on all occasions and by different communal peer groups. It also shows that the carole was part of a developmental trajectory that was not totally subsumed by the dominance, from the sixteenth century onwards, of the religious, composed, polyphonic carol and the subsequent use of the name to denote a specifically Christian Christmas hymn. Although the vast majority of extant texts in carol form, from the late medieval period, are religious in subject content, secular carolling was far more prevalent than the textual record implies. The dance-song elements of the medieval carole were so strongly woven into the vernacular cultural fabric of the British Isles that their threads can be traced through the folk-songs and dances of subsequent centuries. This study contextualises the written evidence and re-integrates the various components of the activity in order to illuminate our understanding of the universally popular medieval, participatory, pastime of carolling.
Date of Award25 Sept 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorLeah Tether (Supervisor) & Emma C Hornby (Supervisor)

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