Musical Culture in the Wars of Religion, 1550-1650


Conference Dates:

17-18 March 2018



St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge

Trumpington Street





Edward Wickham, Tom Hamilton, Alex Robinson

Conference Description

Talks by:

Peter Bennett (Case Western Reserve), Marie-Alexis Colin (Brussels), Tom Hamilton (Cambridge), Kat Hill (Birkbeck), Melinda Latour (Tufts), David van der Linden (Groningen), Margaret McGowan (Sussex), Emilie Murphy (York), David Potter (Kent), Alex Robinson (Cambridge), John Romey (Case Western Reserve), Daniel Trocmé Latter (Cambridge),

and featuring a lecture-recital by Edward Wickham (Cambridge) and the Choir of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge on Claude Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde (1598).


Conference Outline:


Music was a crucial battleground during the age of the Wars of Religion. In spite of this, historians and musicologists have rarely combined their approaches to try and understand the full significance that music had in the civil wars. Historians, for example, have primarily studied how music shaped confessional identities, such as when Protestants sang the Psalms together in worship or on the battlefield to express their solidarity and take comfort in their faith (despite the threat of persecution). Musicologists, on the other hand, have tended to concentrate on the most important composers from this time (such as Eustache Du Caurroy or Pierre Guédron), the genres in which they wrote (like ballets or airs de cour), or certain issues arising from the performance of this repertoire.

This conference brings together historians and musicologists with the aim of overcoming the boundaries that still remain between these scholarly disciplines. It focuses on the various contexts within which music was used and considers its impact in the Wars of Religion. Who sang music and for what aims? What was the relationship (if any) between the performance of music in elite circles versus the use of this art form among the wider public? Did music solidify or traverse confessional divisions? Lastly, how far can modern performers recreate the soundscapes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

Treating the age of the Wars of Religion across a whole century (1550-1650) and using France as a focal point for making wider comparisons, this conference will comprise twelve papers given by speakers from the UK, continental Europe and the USA. These papers will explore the role of music across all sectors of society, from the royal courts to the city streets, as well as from both Protestant and Catholic perspectives; in addition, they will demonstrate how people from both sides of the confessional divide engaged with a common musical tradition. The Psalms, in particular, could be sung to express a desire for peace as well as continued religious war.

Alongside the twelve papers, the conference will include a public lecture-recital of Claude Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde (1598) given by Edward Wickham and the choir of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Le Jeune’s career and compositions perfectly encapsulate the themes of this conference. As a protestant sympathiser during the early phase of the civil wars, he was also associated with the Catholic Académie de musique et de poésie at the royal court in the 1570s, and he later served as a musician in the household of Henri IV (1589-1610). Le Jeune moved between Protestant and Catholic circles, travelled across France, and mixed with the highest levels of courtly society; in addition, he composed major (and still oft-neglected) pieces that combine confessional solidarity with a desire for peace after decades of bloody civil war.

For more information on this event, and to book tickets, see