Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music


Magnus Williamson The Eton Choirbook: Its Institutional and Historical Background (DPhil, Oxford, 1997)

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Full dissertation without appendices (4.8 MB) | Appendices only (2.3 MB)


The Eton Choirbook (Eton College Library, MS 178) is one of the most important English musical codies surviving from the century before the Reformation. Its significance derives from its size and quality; from its value as a source of unica; and from its unbroken association with its host institution, one of the foremost royal foundations of the late Middle Ages. The aims of this thesis were to examine in detail the circumstances in which it was made; to establish the reasons for its compilation, when and how it was made, and the most likely sponsors; to consider its role within the devotional life of the college, to determine the reasons for its survival and for its present physical state; and to profile the careers and interests (as far as could be traced) of those who used it.
Table of Contents

1. History and Historiography
1.1 Henry VI as king and founder
1.2 Eton within the tradition of royal foundations
1.3 Revisions and enlargements
1.4 Eton as a royal college
1.5 The Eton choirbook in modern musicology
1.6 MS 178 in the context of contemporary choral practice
2. Liturgy, Devotion and the Daily Round
2.1 The devotional day
2.2 The architectural environment
2.3 The votive antiphon and its place within the college’s devotional life
2.4 The liturgical uses and positions of organs
2.5 Conclusion
3. Establishment, Suppression and Re-establishment: 1440-1479
3.1 Precedents
3.2 The statutory framework
3.3 Nomination, recruitment and expansion
3.4 The chronology of expansion and statutory revisions
3.5 Henry Abyndon
3.6 Consolidation
3.7 1465-79: re-establishment and retrenchment
3.8 Securing the services of a professional choir-trainer
4. MS 178: A Source Study
Introduction: issues and objectives
Paleographical Examination
4.1 MS 178: a description
4.1.1 quiring and foliation
4.1.2 binding

4.2 order of copying
4.2.1 prima facie evidence
4.2.2 scribal evidence
4.2.3 illuminations: corroborative evidence of the copying order
4.2.4 conclusions

Authorship, Ownership and Dating
4.3 the date of MS 178
4.4 the financing of MS 178
4.4.1 other sources and institutions
4.4.2 possible donors of MS 178
4.5 the significance of cantus firmus
4.6 conclusion: MS 178 and its concordances
5. The Institutional Background, 1479-1530
5.1 Financial recovery
5.2 The prosopographical background
5.3 Recruitment and provision after 1510
5.4 Employment practices, promotion and skills
5.5 Chaplains and their musical role
5.6 Musical activity among the scholars
5.7 Conclusion
6. Schism, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, 1530-1558
6.1 Musical and liturgical changes before 1547
6.2 The Edwardine Reformation
6.3 Reform and restoration: MS 178
6.4 Conclusion
A. Daily suffrages and observances
B. The liturgical rota
C. Biographical register
1. clerks of Eton College, 1440-1560
2. chaplains
3. choristers, scholars and fellows
D. The career of John Browne
E. Year-lists of clerks, chaplains and choristers
F. College officials, 1444-1560
G. Income and expenditure
H. Selected wills
Manuscript muniments, Eton College, 1440-1560