The History of the harp in England

From the Dark Ages to the Victorians:-

"And in his harping, when he had songe,

his eyen twinkeled in his head aright,

as don the starres in the frosty night."

Chaucer's Friar

Left, The shadowy external outline of a harper, parish church, Launceston, Cornwall, 16thC.

Right, Sarah with her reproduction English medieval harp at Muchelney Abbey.

The history of the harp has been written about many times in the past, but often from an exclusively 'Celtic' viewpoint - so much so that the vast majority of people nowadays believe the harp to be an exclusively 'Celtic' instrument. But through years of her own research Sarah Deere-Jones, who now lectures on this subject around the world, has revealed that the small harp has been in England since the 10th century and by the 14th century had become the National Instrument of England, played and loved by medieval Kings, their wives, their court musicians aswell as common minstrels across the country.

Sarah is intending to publish articles on this subject in the near future, she has a collection of her own images taken from her travels around the UK - if you know of any medieval images, paintings or sculptures of English harpers, and know the dates and sources, please email us as this research is ongoing and your conrtibution will be gratefully received!

Cornish Nationalists please note - I include Cornwall under the term 'English' purely because I do not wish to exclude Cornish references from my main research, and because Cornish examples ARE excluded, somewhat ironically, from research by other 'Celtic' harp historians. The harp in Cornwall did not appear to be any different either in form or use to the harp in England during the medieval period, and therefore it is included here. My option would be to exclude references to the harp in Cornwall altogether, which I feel would be a shame, since it is not included elsewhere. There is not very much information about medieval harps in Cornwall and therefore it was not worth treating as a separate subject, no offence is intended.

Right, illustration from Junious II in the Bodleian Library, and dated from 930ad,

the oldest depiction of a triangular closed frame harp from England.

St Dunstan, who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 10th century,

is believed to be one of the first English harpers,

he is reputed to have soothed King Athelstan with his harp playing at his court in Winchester,

when the King was 'fatigued with worldy cares' -

perhaps indeed St Dunstan was the very first 'healing harpist'!

Sarah Deere-Jones and Phil Williams play reproduction medieval instruments in 'Lammas' medieval duo here-

Right: Sarah Deere-Jones with her Regency Erat harp and harp-lute and Phil Williams with his English guitar.

The harp-lute was invented by Edward Light in 1802 and was intended for travelling harpists,

see for more details of this recently rediscovered instrument.

To see Sarah playing the harp-lute authentically, click here -

To see Sarah playing her restored Regency harp, click here -

For information about concerts in the Regency period see this website - Regency Harp and Harp-Lute

For enquiries about Sarah's lectures and publications on the history of the harp see

Left, Sarah in Tudor costume playing her Gothic harp

info (at)

Home | Courses & Tuition | Sarah Deere-Jones | Sheet Music and CDs | Ensemble | History |Regency Harp and Harp-Lute