Ballads and Popular Politics

Popular, cheap literature offers an insight into the way political matters were discussed at street level and among those outside parliament and the court. In an era long before television news, the printed broadside ballads offered a multi-media commentary on political affairs, framed as a song to be sung aloud and sometimes with an accompanying illustration. In this film Professor Andrew McRae and Dr Alexandra Franklin look at some ballads that commented on the tumultuous political changes of the Stuart period.

Key Questions

  • What do ballads reveal about popular engagement with politics in Stuart England?
  • To what extent are ballads a form of political commentary?
  • What is the relationship between images and text on broadside ballads?

Further Reading

  • Joad Raymond (ed.), The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume 1: Britain and Ireland to 1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Angela J. McShane, Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth-Century England : A Critical Bibliography (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011).
  • Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini, and Kris McAbee, eds., Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).
  • Lucie Skeaping, Broadside Ballads: Songs From the Streets, Taverns, Theatres and Countryside of Seventeenth-Century England (London: Faber Music, 2005).
  • Broadside Ballads Online, from the Bodleian Library.
  • The English Broadside Ballad Archive, an online archive made at the University of California, Santa Barbara, containing images and recordings of ballads from the Pepys Collection, Roxburghe Collection (British Library), and collections at the Huntington Library, California.

Unless otherwise noted, images in this film are reproduced by courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford.

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