The dissertation seeks to explore both the causative and resultant issues surrounding the rise of polyphony in the late medieval London parish, existing perspectives being examined and refined within the wider context of socio-religious patterns and beliefs -- a framework hitherto largely unexamined by musicologists.
A detailed study of the post mortem bequests of London inhabitants reveals highly organised financial and adrninistrative regimes charged with supplying musical chantry priests to local churches. Though each endowment provided only one priest, a number of churches were the recipients of several sucb bequests and, thus, benefited from the services of a correspondingly larger number of priests. Furthermore, endowments brought with them an income which often exceeded the amount needed to finance their priest's salary; it is demonstrated that these excesses were commonly used to pay the wages of clerks or conducts engaged specifically for their musical skills.
Having investigated the circumstances under which music flourished, an examination is made of the musicians who benefited from consequent employment, particular attention being paid to the social and professional status of the parish clerk and his assistants - men who were not in holy orders and were employed for their musical and administrative abilities. A study is made of the much neglected archive of property ownership and rental; more of the clerks' social status is gleaned through an examination of the Fraternity of Parish Clerks and, finally, through a consideration of their earning power, comparison being made with other professions both in and out of the Church. The parish musician is revealed to be a highly ambitious metropolitan participant with associations which crossed many professional and social boundaries.
The comparative examination of churchwardens' accounts - the basis of another large area of study - reveals far more than individual institutional histories, and has also been used, alongside wills, inventories and other archives, in an assessment of the music repertory of the parish church at this time. Examining the extent of the repertory as well as its circulation does much to demonstrate how the work of stationers fitted into the parish structure, what urban history did for the printing business, and what the extent of music books says about London society.
Looking beyond formulations based purely on the evidence of musical style and other details available from music scores, it is thus possible, against the social and religious background of late medieval society, to chart the changes in the provenance, provision and role of music and musicians within the parish church at this time. The revelations are of a hitherto unsuspected flourishing polyphonic tradition serviced by an ambitious and organised workforce.