Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Manuscript of Earliest English Secular Song Found


Manuscript of song Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Rawlinson Collection, MS. Rawl. G 22 via

A manuscript of what is now considered the earliest English secular song was found some time ago in an unexpected place.  The name of this song is Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast.  Here’s the story.  Someone wrote out this English song and two other French songs and stuck the sheets of paper in the front of a book of psalms.  The paper dates from the first half of the 13th century.

Whoa.  That’s over 760 years ago!

The other contender for earliest English secular song had been Sumer is Icumen In.  This manuscript predates it.

Ian Pittaway has written a fantastic blog post on Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast.  He provides great detail on the song’s significance and structure.

Here is Ian Pittaway performing Mirie It Is.






Image attribution:  Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Rawlinson Collection, MS. Rawl. G. 22 via


6 thoughts on “Manuscript of Earliest English Secular Song Found

  1. Really enjoying your blog, which I discovered recently. And this piece about the earliest English song. A lovely kind of time travel. Thanks too for the link to Ian’s site. Also loved listening to the Mozart/Salieri piece too. This is a perfect site for me as someone who is slowly learning more about classical music. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, Chris, and thank you for linking to my blog. It’s not a newly found manuscript, though: my article was taking a fresh look at the original ms., which has been known for some years, to show how the ‘standardised’ version of the song sung by today’s early music groups is, as my article argues, not a true representation of the song as written. I’m glad you enjoyed. An article giving the same atgument for ‘Sumer is icumen in’ has just gone online at


  3. How neat- thanks! I had not been aware of it. The harp music, while not totally off-base, is a bit fanciful and stylistically advanced for the time- very pretty but probably not relevant (especially that added third in the cadences). The dating of the Summer Canon was for years in dispute- some put it as early as the 13th century, but that’s not at all likely- much too advanced in harmony for that early. Manfred Bukofzer, in a famous paper and on the basis of musical and forensic evidence, put it in the 15th century, as I recall.


    Liked by 1 person

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