Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700

Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700

Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700

Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700


'A stimulating account of the fabric of lived experience across England in the early modern period.' -Years Work in English Studies'Fox's encyclopaedic knowledge of the period and his keen sense of the connections between different cultural milieus has resulted in a masterpiece that thoroughly reorders some of the most basic categories through which we study the past. In its totalizing sweep and remarkable archival richness, it begs comparison with Religion and the Decline of Magic and The Stripping of the Altars, and in many ways it does for social history what those books did for the history of religious belief.' -Reformation'Rarely has a book of early modern English history so thoroughly conveyed the impression that the author has read every source produced in the England of that time... tour de force.' -Reformation'This densely researched book is another rich contribution to the growing analysis of popular culture within a complex area which is difficult for the historian to retrieve - early modern England. Fox has meticulously drawn upon a wide range of fascinating sources... this is a book to provoke thought and open up new avenues of historical awareness.' -Social History Society Bulletin'Exhilarating... Adam Fox has written a most illuminating and thought-provoking account of this important subject, illustrated with an immense number of telling, pertinent and memorable examples.' - English Historical Review'This compelling study explores the interaction between speech, script and print... Adam Fox's account of early modern English oral culture combines penetrating analysis with celebration of that culture's vigour, diversity, and inventiveness.' -English Historical Review'Painstaking research in many types of sources enables Fox to tell us far more than we might have thought it possible to know about the permeation of text into popular culture and the contribution of oral tradition to publication and print.' -Times Literary SupplementOral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700 explores the rich oral culture of early modern England. It focuses upon dialect speech and proverbial wisdom, 'old wives' tales' and children's lore, historical legends and local customs, scurrilous versifying and scandalous rumour-mongering. Adam Fox demonstrates the extent to which this vernacular world was fundamentally structured by written and printed sources over the course of the period.


The invention of printing, though ingenious, compared with the
invention of letters, is no great matter. But who was the first that
found the use of letters, is not known … A profitable invention for
continuing the memory of time past, and the conjunction of man
kind, dispersed into so many, and distant regions of the earth … But
the most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of
speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their connexion;
whereby men register their thoughts; recall them when they are
past; and also declare them one to another for mutuall utility and
conversation …

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck
(Cambridge, 1991), 24.

Books may be helps to learning and knowledge, and make it more
common and diffused; but I doubt whether they are necessary ones
or no, or much advance any other science beyond the particular
records of actions or registers of time; and these, perhaps, might be
as long preserved without them, by the care and exactness of trad
ition in the long successions of certain races of men with whom
they were intrusted.

Sir William Temple, ‘An Essay upon the Ancient and Modern
Learning’ (1690), in Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century,
ed. J. E. Spingarn (3 vols., Oxford, 1908), iii. 35.

CONSIDER the ballad of Chevy Chase. In sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury England it was said to be the nation’s favourite song. The Hunting of the Cheviot was its proper title and it told of a heroic battle fought in the Scottish marches between two great border chieftains, Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, and his rival, the earl of Douglas. On a field in Teviotdale two huge armies faced each other to settle a dispute over hunting rights. Percy and Douglas fought ‘man for man’ and toe to toe ‘till blood a-downe their cheekes like raine’ did fall. Then an English arrow struck Douglas ‘a deepe and deadlye blow’. Taking the hand of his fallen foe Percy cried out, ‘“Erle dowglas! for thy sake wold I had lost my land!’ But as he uttered forth his lament, a Scottish knight, Sir Hugh . . .

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