Alumni & Friends

Tamsin Lewis (1988, Literae Humaniores) – Songs and Hymns in Time of Plague

'Like so many other musicians, most of my live performances this year have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis. Isolating at home, I have distracted myself by researching the music associated with the plague in early modern England. There was a wealth of material to be found, and a number of parallels to be drawn between then and now: social distancing and lockdown are nothing new…

The words of broadside ballads (the sung newspapers of the day), theatre songs, hymns, prayers and psalms from both before and after the Reformation give a great insight into contemporary attitudes to the plague and its terrifying spread. It spared nobody, be they rich, poor, young or old; and public events and other social pleasures had to be cancelled. Without a proper scientific explanation, the plague was most often seen as a judgement from God, and so it is unsurprising that the majority of the songs contain calls for repentance, and cries for mercy. But there are words of comfort too, and even the odd bit of humour to be found.

My book Lord have mercy upon us: Songs and Hymns in time of Plague is available from Rondo Publishing.'

- By Tamsin Lewis


Tamsin has also published a video to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. This talk aims to recreate the world of those on board ship.