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Music and musicians in the equity and common-law courts of England, 1690–1760

Duncan, Cheryll (2015) Music and musicians in the equity and common-law courts of England, 1690–1760. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The six journal articles and one book chapter that make up this submission demonstrate the rich potential of legal documents preserved in The National Archives of the UK as sources of new information about music and musicians. Key literature in relation to eighteenth-century legal studies, theatre research, historical musicology and the broader social context is first reviewed in order to appraise the current state of knowledge. Each of the publications takes as its starting point the author’s discovery of one or more lawsuits as a means of exploring professional music culture in England between 1690 and 1760. These encompass a wide diversity of human interactions, including financial agreements, patronage, benefit arrangements, consumption and debt. The litigation also yields details about the professional and personal lives of individuals ranging from iconic figures such as Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel to minor players like Giuseppe Manfredini and Elizabeth Frederica, whose names have been omitted from previous historical accounts. The publications make an original contribution to existing knowledge and scholarship, thereby demonstrating the value of legal documents as a field of musicological endeavour; while building on previous work on eighteenth-century equity lawsuits, they also include the first detailed studies of commonlaw documents undertaken by a musicologist. Legal records are notoriously challenging to use, and some of the issues involved in locating, reading and interpreting these abstruse documents are elucidated. The process of contextualization provides opportunities to deploy the material in ways that feed into a variety of historiographical perspectives, including cultural, social and women’s history. Legal documents open up a field of study that is ripe for further investigation; the outcomes will offer new perspectives on music and musicians viewed through the lens of the law, and make a compelling case for the continuing relevance of archival research.

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