Benedictines, Bonfires, and Basilindas: Politics, Religion, and Celebratory Music at English Convents in Exile, 1660-1686

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


On 23 April, 1661, the exiled English Benedictine convent in Ghent celebrated the coronation of Charles II with a week of raucous festivities. After a sung high mass with trumpets in the morning, they piled bonfires in the streets 'on a high piramid which the coaches could pass through', while 'Trumpets and weights as well as the vyolins play[ed] in the streets at severall windows by turns[,] bonfiring and drinking the kings health by frequent companyes of the Nobillity and gentry that came and sent presents'. Although the public-facing celebration 'lasted but on[e] night', the nuns then kindled their own bonfires where they 'sung catches and spent some howrs ther: and 3 days of feasting with something extraordinary, and the whole week recreation’.

It is no wonder the Ghent Benedictines were so zealous in their celebrations. As Claire Walker has noted, the convent’s Abbess, Mary Knatchbull, played an important role in the struggle for Charles II’s restoration. This paper will present new research regarding how exiled English nuns responded to Stuart political endeavours through music. It will explore the context for specific records of nuns’ use of figural/polyphonic music - both liturgical and recreational - marking the coronation of Charles II in 1661, the coronation of James II in 1685, the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart, and Jacobite plots in late 1695 and early 1696. In doing so, it will demonstrate how the hybridised musical cultures developed by English nuns in exile engaged with and influenced musicians in England as a part of wider religious and political endeavours.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Jun 2023
EventThe 4th early modern British and Irish Catholicism conference: Popery, Politics and Prayer: British and Irish Catholicism - Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Jul 202313 Jul 2023


ConferenceThe 4th early modern British and Irish Catholicism conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • baroque
  • early music
  • early modern music
  • Catholicism
  • convents
  • musicology
  • religious studies
  • spirituality
  • music and politics

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