High or Low? Medieval English Carols as Part of Vernacular Culture, 1380-1450

Lisa Colton, Louise McInnes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The English carol’s mixture of vernacular and Latin lyrics has caused difficulties for its reception: was it once connected to high status, liturgical, Latin song of the church, or was its preservation in manuscript a fortuitous exception to the popular song of the Middle Ages that has otherwise all but vanished? The carol’s poetic topics—which range from the Nativity to satire and social commentary—have likewise compounded the problems of categorization for anthologists. In the present study, Colton and McInnes distance themselves from the nationalism and nostalgia that have led to carols’ primary reception as low-status lyric, arguing that the genre cut across social categorizations. Close analysis of several examples demonstrates ways in which carols crossed popular and liturgical traditions and underlines the potential significance of the carol for understanding insular devotional culture before 1450.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVernacular Aesthetics in the Later Middle Ages
Subtitle of host publicationPolitics, Performativity, and Reception from Literature to Music
EditorsKatherine W. Jager
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan, Cham
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9783030183349
ISBN (Print)9783030183332, 3030183335
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2019

Publication series

NameThe New Middle Ages
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


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