M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Eleanor Hedger

Music, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

Singing in the Face of Death: Music and Martyrdom during the English Reformation 1553-1649

My thesis sets out to explore two unusual, largely unanswered, and extensive questions: what did the unsettled, conflicted, and turbulent world of post-Reformation England sound like? And what did the sounds associated with conflict, violence, and punishment signify to those that made and heard them? In order to answer these questions, I take a two-dimensional approach in my research: at the micro-level, I explore the sonic and musical characteristics of conflict and punishment from the start of Mary I’s reign in 1553 until the death of Charles I in 1649. I examine the ways in which sound functioned during rituals of punishment, such as public executions and charivari, and also how sound reflected and heightened aspects of social and religious conflict in spaces such as the early modern prison and the parish church. At the more conceptual, macro-level, this thesis interrogates the ways in which sound interacted with, and even altered, networks of power and resistance through a Foucauldian lens, issues which are certainly not unique to the early modern period. I hope to demonstrate that consideration of the sonic experience of such rituals and spaces can serve as a conduit for investigating the complex social, political, and religious tensions that surfaced during this period. 

Research Area

  • Music


Eleanor Hedger, 'Heinrich Isaac's Missa Comme femme desconfortée: A Musical Offering to the Virgin Mary', in Stefan Gasch, Markus Grassl, and August Valentin Rabe (eds.), Henricus Isaac (ca. 1450-1617): Composition - Reception - Interpretation (Vienna, 2019), pp. 177-188. 


Review of David J. Burn, Grantley McDonald, Joseph Verheyden, and Peter De Mey (eds.), Music and Theology in the European Reformations (Turnhout, Belgium, 2019), for the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.



'Lamentable Shrieks' and 'Audible Voices': Female Vocality during Public Executions in Early Modern England

''Tinging kettles and fry-pan Musicke': Rough Music and Popular Justice in Early Modern England', paper presented at Borderlines XXIII, 'Sound and Silence in the Medieval and Early Modern World', Trinity College Dublin, 26 April - 28 April 2019.

Lightning presentation given at Early Modern Global Soundscapes: A Workshop, University of York, 25-26 January 2019. 


'Prison Soundscapes during the English Reformation', paper presented at Reformation Studies Colloquium, University of Essex, 30 August - 1 September 2018. 

'Prison Soundscapes during the English Reformation', paper presented at the international Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Maynooth University, 5-8 July 2018.

'Soundscapes of Martyrdom during the English Reformation', paper presented at EMREM Postgraduate Annual Symposium: 'Truth, Lies, and Deception', University of Birmingham, 17-18 May 2018.

'The Politics of Song: Authority and Subversion at the Gallows', paper presented at Loyalty to the British Monarchy c. 1400-1688, University of Nottingham, 24 January 2018


'Heinrich Isaac's Missa Comme femme desconfortée: a Musical Offering to the Virgin Mary', paper presented at Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Prague, July 2017.


Conference assistant at the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, University of Sheffield, July 2016.

'That noble traine that fought with word & not with sword': Power, Resistance, and Public Execution in Sixteenth-Century England, paper presented at Border Crossings: Exploring the boundaries between the visible and the invisible in the Humanities, University of Stirling, June 2016.


'Power, Resistance, and Public Execution: Last Dying Speeches and Music in Sixteenth-Century England', paper presented at the NWCDTP Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Conference at Keele University, October 2015.

Public Engagement & Impact


In January 2020 I started a part-time placement at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has been temporarily postponed due to Covid-19. My role includes cataloguing items from the archives, library, and museum collections; data improvement on the online catalogue; contributions to digital collections, including organisation of an online exhibition; transcription of early modern documents; establishing a set of transcription conventions to be implemented by the Collections Department; and engaging with the public at collections events.


Lecture given Bishop's Tachbrook History Group, 8 October 2019

Volunteering for the charity Leamington Music - assisting with social media and the early music concert series

Other Research Interests

  • Michel Foucault
  • English Reformations
  • Death and Religion
  • Crime and Punishment in Early Modern England
  • Soundscapes of Early Modern England
  • Sound studies
  • Issues of music, gender, and sexuality
  • Politics of Popular Music
  • Politics and History of Silence

Scholarly Engagement

  • Assistant editor for the Midlands Historical Review
  • Member of the EMREM committee, University of Birmingham (Early Medieval - Renaissance - Reformation - Early Modern)
  • College of Arts and Law PGR Mentor (2018-19)


  • Postgraduate Teaching Associate for the first year undergraduate module 'Reformation, Rebellion, and Revolution: The Making of the Modern World' (Autumn Term, 2018)
  • Single seminar taught for the Undergraduate module 'Love, Death, Religion, and Music in the Renaissance' (Autumn Term, 2019)
  • Single seminar taught for the Masters module 'Advanced Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music' (Autumn Term, 2019)

Academic Awards

  • 2020: Winner of the International John Bunyan Society Early Career Essay Prize (essay entitled 'Singing in the Face of Death: Making Martyrs on the Scaffold during the English Reformation')
  • 2014: Arnold Goldsbrough Memorial Prize (awarded for my undergraduate dissertation on Mass composition in sixteenth-century England)