The Wode Partbooks, Their World and Their Music: Making Known One of Scotland’s Cultural Treasures

Submitting Institution

University of Edinburgh

Unit of Assessment

Theology and Religious Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies

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Summary of the impact

One of Scotland's cultural treasures, the Reformation-era Wode Partbooks (also known as the Wode Psalter), their music and their Reformation world have been brought together from locations in museums across Scotland and Europe for the first time and introduced and made better known to audiences within Scotland, the UK and internationally. Through public engagement this project has enriched awareness of the Scottish and British heritage and the value of the Wode Partbooks as a cultural object and record of the cultural impact of the Reformation. The project has also provided an impact on cultural life and education as particular interest groups, such as choirs, church groups, embroiderers and history enthusiasts have been actively engaged through choral and stitching workshops, public psalm-singing events and collaboration over publishing.

Underpinning research

Dawson (appointed lecturer in Edinburgh in 1991, Professor 2007) developed a distinctive interpretation of the complex process of re-formation and Reformation within early modern Scotland's society, culture, church and government. Presented in her book Scotland Re- formed (2007) her conclusions rested upon an integrated methodology that consulted a broad sweep of evidence from contemporary visual and material culture as well as documentary sources. This approach was employed within Scottish Protestant culture, examining public worship and discipline, domestic devotion, the reception of the Anglo-Genevan legacy and the life of John Knox (published 2004-12). It was also used to select visual material on the late medieval church (451 images in the online media collection Religion in Late Medieval Scotland, 2008), including a complete Scottish Book of Hours, for an online research and teaching resource.

One insight emerging from these studies of religious culture was the perennial significance of the psalms across the Reformation divide, linking medieval liturgies and Books of Hours to the Protestant Word-centred worship and metrical psalm-singing. The Anglo-Genevan legacy brought Scotland its first metrical psalter developing into a psalm-singing tradition that has remained part of Scottish life and spread across the English-speaking world. The Wode Partbooks provided one special example of the first metrical psalter. These eight illustrated and annotated manuscripts written by Thomas Wode (d. 1592) are one of Scotland's cultural treasures, containing a high proportion of the country's surviving early music. Having been dispersed (Washington DC, London, Dublin and Edinburgh), research on the Psalter has been difficult and displaying the Partbooks together for the first time since the 17th century and providing a digital record was one aim of the research project, `The world of Reformation Britain as seen and heard in the Wode Psalter' (2009-2012).

Dawson's historical insights and multidisciplinary approach underpinned that project and were reflected in much of the interpretative material within the Singing the Reformation exhibition and booklet. The research collaboration between Dawson and Mrs Nancy Bailey, a Renaissance stitching expert, produced four research-based stitched exhibits which were central to the exhibition's domestic section, entitled `Hamely with God', linking singing and religious instruction to embroidery, painted interiors and plant decorations. Other parts of the exhibition revealed how the psalms played a central part in Scottish worship and devotion, as well as in literature and poetry, particularly at the court of James VI. Singing inside and outside church helped spread Reformed ideas and practice within a non-literate society and assisted in the creation of a Scottish identity. The Gaelic dimension was demonstrated through John Carswell's versification of the Lord's Prayer found in the first book printed in Gaelic [his Foirm 1567], a volume discussed in Dawson's earlier research. Previously established connections between Thomas Wode, George Buchanan and Regent Moray underlay the sections featuring these individuals and their context within the Reformation in St Andrews. The entire exhibition used the Wode Psalter research to demonstrate the interconnecting layers of early modern Scottish culture with no sharp boundaries between religion and other aspects of life.

References to the research

Research Outputs

3.1 J. Dawson, Scotland Re-formed: 1488-1587 New Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume 6, (Edinburgh, EUP, 2007): available on request from HEI


3.2 J. Dawson, `John Knox (c1514-1572), religious reformer', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004,, Volume K 196-226: available on request from HEI

3.3 J. Dawson, `Discipline and the making of Protestant Scotland' and `Patterns of worship in Reformation Scotland', in Worship and Liturgy in Context: Studies of Theology and Practice eds. Duncan B. Forrester & Douglas C. Gay (SCM Press, 2009), 123-36, 136-51: available on request from HEI

3.4 J. Dawson, `John Knox, Christopher Goodman and the "example of Geneva"' in The Reception of Continental Reformation in Britain, eds. P. Collinson & P. Ha (OUP Oxford Proceedings of the British Academy, 164, 2010), 107-35. [REF2]


3.5 J. Dawson, `Hamely with God': a Scottish view on domestic devotion' in Private and domestic devotion in early modern Britain, eds. J. Martin & A. Ryrie (Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, 2012) 33-52. [REF2]


Research grants

AHRC grant 2009-12: The world of Reformation Britain as seen and heard in the Wode Psalter Award No: AH G00028X/1. Amount of award: £303,666. Award holder: Prof Jane Dawson

AHRC grant 2012-13: Making the music of the Wode Psalter widely accessible through web- based performing editions and a recording. Award No: AHK001809/1. Amount of award: £3,257. Co-Investigator: Prof Jane Dawson (Award Holder: Dr Noel O'Regan).

Edinburgh University HSS Knowledge Exchange Grant 2010-11, iPhone Application for Singing the Reformation Exhibition. Amount of award: £3,944. Award holder: Prof Jane Dawson.

Details of the impact

The importance of the Wode Psalter project is immediately visible in reactions to the exhibition and related activities such as the concert and the workshops from informed observers.

The Wode Part Books were `initially the work of Thomas Wode, a monk and cleric from St Andrews, who was commissioned to produce a series of harmonisations of psalm tunes for a protestant Scottish Psalter. Wode was more ambitious however, and he took it upon himself to gather as much of the music he then heard being played in Scotland, in the fear that music from the nation might otherwise be lost to us for ever. The highly decorative series of part books, which make up the Wode Collection, has been scattered across the world for centuries, but the books have recently been brought back together for a special exhibition at Edinburgh University.' Catherine Bott, Early Music Show Blog (5.1).

`Contemporary Scots and others can come to this exhibition and see how important and central music was to the worship of God and also to society itself...This is one of the most important exhibitions on Scottish music for generations.' James MacMillan, Online Telegraph blog (5.2).

Singing the Reformation Exhibition

The exhibition was held in Edinburgh [6 Aug — 28 Oct 2011, attendance 4438], displayed all the Partbooks alongside 38 more exhibits illuminating the world of Reformation Britain. Travelling exhibitions were taken to Dundee and Belfast [5-6 Nov 2011, 13-14 Apr 2012, attendance c200]. Visitors expressed their reactions through the Visitors' Book (5.4b below) [238 comments], questionnaires [163 completed — 100% liked exhibition], individual correspondence and social media postings [Facebook, Twitter and Wordpress]. In the Visitors' Book visitors commented upon the accessibility: `Extremely well researched and presented. Very engaging and accessible even for those with little knowledge on the subject'; `...treating me to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Singing the Reformation is a unique and beautiful exhibition, presented in exquisite detail and full of marvels'. They admired the multidisciplinarity; `I learnt a lot as well as got my senses engaged through the beautiful maps, stitches and manuscripts and the music'; `I liked the way it crosses over divisions between history, art, music, history of printing, history of belief, traditions in sewing and so on'; `This treatment in an exhibition works really well: who won't go away without a different and wider view of the 16th century Reformation here?' They also recognised key research themes, such as the Psalms: `I loved the way psalm singing was seen in its catholic context and not just the fruit of the Reformation'; `It's great to remember Scotland's reformation and the impact of the psalms.' They appreciated viewing the Partbooks and Scottish heritage: `Such a rare opportunity to see the collection'; `Fabulous music and an important element of Scottish life often overlooked.' `It was a joy to read the original manuscripts in Scots...I could also make out some of the Gaelic version of the Lord's Prayer so that was also a great pleasure'. Accessible to a worldwide audience, digital images of all 8 Partbooks assembled for the first time in the exhibition are also available online: Wode Partbooks on Digital Archive of Medieval Music (5.3). One complete Partbook can be read as an e-book (5.3a).

The exhibition booklet provided a research-based commentary upon the exhibition and was also used independently with c2,000 copies distributed to educational establishments and groups within UK & Ireland, USA, Canada and Pakistan: Singing the Reformation (5.4).

An iPhone App was developed providing ten musical items including modern and Partbook scores and ten images of exhibits. The App provided easy and instant access to musical extracts and visual images from the exhibition and CD in places and to audiences who had no other form of access to this material e.g. people who walked in off the street in Dundee or Belfast. As well as downloads [c300], the App was also used within the workshops, travelling exhibitions and psalm-singing events: App still available at iTunes Store (5.5).

`Wode Collection' Concerts

The main Wode Music Concert filled Saint Giles Cathedral, Royal Mile, Edinburgh on 20 August 2011 and was listed, as was the exhibition, in Edinburgh's Fringe Festival. Both generated media coverage with interviews and stories appearing on national TV and Scottish, Irish and local radio and newspapers. Under Dr Noel O'Regan's direction [Wode Project Team] the Dunedin Consort & Fretwork performed Wode music live at concerts in Edinburgh [20 Aug 2011, attendance 310] and Aberdeen [8 Oct 2011, attendance 280] and recorded a CD [The Wode Collection]. BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show broadcast a programme [58 mins] and podcast [8 Oct 2011: 2.2 million listeners per week, June 2011] dedicated to the exhibition and CD: The Wode Collection (5.6).

Wode Partbook Workshops

A series of collaborative events were held involving special interest groups. A workshop for eighteen embroiders was held in January 2012. Two workshops engaged choirs [Edinburgh and Glasgow Oct & Nov 2011] and psalm-singing events were held in Dundee and Belfast (Nov 2011 & Apr 2012; c200). The Rev Eric Sawar in Karachi was supplied with a pdf and hardcopies of booklets helping him produce an Urdu version for Pakistani psalm-singers. Images and assistance were supplied for publications by the Dunfermline Heritage Trust: Jhone Angus: Monk of Dunfermline and Scottish Music [with CD] (Dunfermline, 2011) and Marilyn Brown's Scotland's Lost Gardens: From the Garden of Eden to the Stewart Palaces (RCAHMS 2012). The Church Service Society collaborated on musical scores and is involved in the Wode Follow-on project [Making the music of the Wode Psalter widely accessible AHRC AH/K001809/1]: Church Service Society website (5.7a). The Scots Language Centre placed information on their website about Thomas Wode and Jhone Angus: Scots Language Centre Website (5.7b). Collaboration with History teachers created a School Resource Pack for Scottish History Higher on Age of Reformation, currently with Education Scotland.

Sources to corroborate the impact

[The following weblinks are to original webpages but should these be unavailable a pdf of the page can be found at]

5.1 Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3 and blog:

5.2 James Macmillan, Scottish composer who opened the Singing the Reformation exhibition, writes about it in his blog

5.3 Wode Partbooks (741 digital images) on Digital Archive of Medieval Music website

5.3a E-book of Wode Partbook Bassus 2

5.4 Exhibition Free Booklet: Singing the Reformation: Celebrating Thomas Wode and his Partbooks 1562-92 (Edinburgh, 2011), 24pp and detachable illustrated dustjacket.

5.4a PDF of Booklet on Wode post-project website

5.4b Singing the Reformation Exhibition Visitors' Book and Questionnaires Data and analysis:

5.5 Wode Psalter Free iPhone App:

5.6 CD Recording: The Wode Collection: Sixteenth-century music by Scottish, English & Continental Composers CKD 388 [and download]

5.7a Collaborations about Wode:
Church Service Society website:

5.7b Scots Language Centre website:

5.8 Individual corroborating sources:

5.8a President, Church History Society, corroborating impact of Wode exhibition

5.8b Retired minister from Pakistan, corroborating impact of exhibition and related booklet

5.8c Teacher of History, Adam Smith Institute, Kirkcaldy, corroborating impact of educational use of exhibition booklet