Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500–1900

2023 - Shortlisted


Judges' Comments

Singing the News of Death is a masterful history of the purpose and persistence of execution ballads in western Europe from the 1500s into the late nineteenth century. In this definitive account, McIlvenna reveals how these ballads were published and performed to disseminate news about crime and punishment, as well as to tell listeners about the importance of faith, the dangers of sin and the need to adhere to authority. Readers experience the emotional texture and vicarious nature of the songs while learning how they transcended class, gender, literacy level and location during a time of sweeping change across Europe.  

Built on painstaking multilingual research in English, French, Italian, German and Dutch archives, McIlvenna expertly combines visual, textual and lyrical sources to bring to life these popular songs of (often brutal) death. Firmly grounded in broader histories of crime and print culture, Singing the News of Death offers an innovative comparative analysis of a cultural phenomenon that was intimately intertwined with European rituals of execution.