The King and Commoner tradition within English Medieval and Early Modern literature

George Lovell

Self-employed: English teacher (online), Valencia (Spain)
ORCID ID 0000-0001-5782-958X


Keywords: King and Commoner literary tradition, Late Middle Ages, Early Modern Period, fifteenth-century radicalism, medieval England, Conservative shift within English ballads.


This paper explores the King and Commoner tradition within English ballads written during the Late Middle Ages through to the Early Modern Period. The tradition is defined by monarchs being either deliberately or mistakenly unrecognised by a member of the labouring class.

The author chronologically examines the way in which the fifteenthcentury radicalism was gradually erased and how later examples of the motif became more conservative in nature, reinforcing rather than challenging the social hierarchy of medieval England. In particular, it highlights how the rare voice afforded to the commoner in the earlier ballads is absent during those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is replaced by declarations of loyalty to the king.

Alongside this research, the author draws on similar examples from a great variety of sources, including religious writings, folktales, historical accounts and many more. The inclusion of these is not intended to suggest a causal relationship between the two but only to ground claims made about the ballads in a broader literary context.

The paper touches on the dissolution of the monasteries and state regulation of texts after the introduction of the printing press as causal factors. The information contained in this paper may be used for further research into these developments.

Authors Biography.

George Lovell, English teacher (online), Trinity College London, University College London, University of East Anglia, Valencia (Spain).


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PDF (English).

Published: 2023.04.04.

Vol 23 No 1 (2023).