Leah Stuttard

Leah Stuttard is a medieval harpist, singer, composer, arranger and musicologist. She works globally with well known ensembles such as Hesperion XXI and Micrologus. In August 2019 she appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking to Roderick Williams about songs and singers in medieval Britain. Brighton Early Music Festival 2019 commissioned her to direct their last night medieval extravaganza, 'The Feast of Fools'.

The Wool Merchant and the Harp

A medieval wool merchant’s accounting notebook tells us about music lessons he had in the late fifteenth century. He wrote down what repertoire he learnt and how much his teacher charged him to teach it. This programme brings together the songs he mentioned, dances from England and abroad and other music the merchant and his teacher might have known.


Alternative titles:

  • Music under two roses
  • Merchants and lovers
  • Music and merchants (or The musical merchant)
  • Cotswolds to Calais: music enjoyed by a 15th century merchant
  • Dancing, Loving and saying farewell: a 15th century teenager’s guide to wooing women
  • Sheep and harps
  • Pleasurable pastimes: how the medieval English enjoyed themselves)


Information for promoters
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Let me introduce a young man to you. His name is George Cely. He was born and raised in the City of London, the youngest son of a respected Merchant of the Staple, Richard Cely senior. The family’s principle business is the trade of wool, raw wool or fells, exported to be transformed into tapestries most likely and source of many an Englishman’s riches. When he came of age, he went to Calais, the only approved place where the export could occur, to learn the trade.


Whilst there, he decided to take up music lessons. Maybe he was bored of an evening. Or maybe he wanted to improve his social standing. Or maybe he thought it likely to attract young ladies. Or perhaps he just really loved music. It was expensive, but he obviously thought it was worth it, as long as he had the coin and the time.


The teacher was Thomas Rede. He played the lute and the harp and knew all the best dances and songs to learn. He knew how to maintain the instruments too, helping to set them up so that they would sing out with the best sound, a real expert’s job.


The young George is keen to gain the approval of his family still and has a meticulous side to his nature. After each lesson, he carefully records how much he paid and what for in a little notebook, signed with a flourish on the front.


George becomes a merchant. His little music lesson accounting notebook is put away safely with all the other documents he likes to keep. He travels a lot. He sells and buys at the markets in Antwerp and Bruges. He marries and has a family. In his early thirties, having lived a vibrant and interesting life, he dies rather suddenly after contracting an infection in Calais.


His brother wrangles over the family business debts with George’s widow, Anne. They go to court at Chancery and Anne brings before the court the piles of documents, letters, memos, booklets, accounts that George so safely kept to prove that it is Richard Cely junior, not George’s widow, who should be paying out now. There is no record of the outcome. But the documents are safely filed away in Chancery.


In the mid 20th century the documents are brought out of their boxes and studied, first as evidence of the kind of English being written in the late 15th century and then for the fascinating historical information they provide about the genuine everyday life of a Merchant of the Staple. Alison Hanham did a superb job of editing the letters and putting together the story of the Cely Family.



The idea of making a concert first came to me when I was reading an article by my harp teacher, Heidrun Rosenzweig. She mentioned George’s music lessons and I followed up, tracing the songs he mentioned and trying to find out which dances he might have learnt. It was actually a lot of fun.


There is very little evidence about what harpists played during the middle ages. No music survives which is clearly intended for harp until the mid 16th century. So this little accounting booklet is a real treasure.