Medieval Studies Cambridge Songs
Gernot Wieland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0234


The Cambridge Songs is a collection of eighty-three songs in Cambridge University Library (CUL) MS Gg.5.35. Most of the songs can be classified as religious, didactic, narrative, or love songs, as well as extracts from classical and postclassical poets, and panegyrics or eulogies on rulers, bishops, and saints. Some of the songs are localized in Germany: they praise German kings, emperors, and prelates and mention German place names. The lament for the death of Conrad II (†1039, in Cambridge Song 33 = CS 33) provides a terminus post quem for the compilation of the collection; the date of the manuscript, written sometime in the middle of the 11th century, provides the terminus ante quem. This does not provide a means of dating the composition of the mostly anonymous songs; the earliest of the known authors is Virgil (d. 19 BCE) and the latest is Wipo (d. 1046 CE). Because of the numerous songs dealing with Germany, the Cambridge Songs are thought to have come to England from Germany (even though some songs seem to have originated in France and in Italy). An early, by-now-discounted opinion held that the collection was a songbook of a traveling bard (Breul 1915, cited under the Editions); the latest opinion is that bishop Ealdred of Worcester, who in 1054 was on a diplomatic mission to Germany, brought it back to England on his return (“Die unveröffentlichten Gedichte der Cambridger Liederhandschrift [CUL Gg.5.35]”; see Dronke, et al. 1982, cited under the Editions). The collection has long been recognized as a collection of songs rather than of poems, despite the absence of musical annotation for most of the songs. Because of the diversity of the Cambridge Songs, very few articles are written on the collection as a whole. Most scholarly work concerns itself either with themes arising from a group of songs, such as “songs dealing with music” or “songs of friendship,” or with individual songs that are carefully analyzed. Despite the fact that the Cambridge Songs have an “English” name on account of the location of the manuscript, the German content and, for two songs, the Old High German language have attracted German scholars to them. This article will present the editions first, followed by the most-important literature on the manuscript, and will then concentrate on Groups of Songs and Individual Songs. With a few exceptions, these latter two sections list works primarily written after the publication of The Cambridge Songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia) (Ziolkowski 1994, cited under the Editions). Since Jan Ziolkowski’s notes usually take into account all previous literature on an individual song, they make a summary of the literature redundant. The same cannot be said for Carmina Cantabrigiensia: Il Conzoniere di Cambridge; Edizione criticamente riveduta con introduzione, traduzione e note di comment (Lo Monaco 2009, cited under the Editions): Francesco Lo Monaco’s comments on individual songs are not as detailed and as inclusive as those in Ziolkowski 1994, cited under the Editions, nor is his edition well known in the English-speaking world.

Reference Works

Two editions (Ziolkowski 1994 and Lo Monaco 2009, both cited under the Editions) contain extensive bibliographies, with Jan Ziolkowski covering most of the material up to 1994, and Francesco Lo Monaco taking account of the material published up to 2009. Two further resources are the journal Anglo-Saxon England and Medioevo Latino: Bollettino bibliografico della cultura europea da Boezio a Erasmo (Leonardi, et al. 1980–).

  • Anglo-Saxon England.

    This journal contains a yearly bibliography on works dealing with Anglo-Saxon England. Entries on the Cambridge Songs can be found in section 4, titled “Anglo-Latin, Liturgy, and Other Latin Ecclesiastical Texts.” Starting with Vol. 35 (2006), the Cambridge Songs have a separate subsection under “V. Reform Period and Beyond.”

  • Leonardi, Claudio, Rino Avesani, Ferruccio Bertini, Giuseppe Cremacoli, Giovanni Orlandi, and Guiseppe Scalia, eds. Medioevo Latino: Bollettino bibliografico della cultura europea da Boezio a Erasmo (secoli VI–XV). Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 1980–.

    The Bollettino contains an annual bibliography; its paper-based version sometimes lags two to three years behind the actual publications.

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