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

  • Lisa Colton
  • Louise McInnes
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


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.



We wish to convey our thanks to David Fallows and Leah Stuttard for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Colton
    • 1
  • Louise McInnes
    • 2
  1. 1.University of HuddersfieldHuddersfieldUK
  2. 2.Independent ScholarHuddersfieldUK

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