Reading Accounts of Elizabethan Entertainments: Online and Open-Access

Next week I am lecturing on the music performed during the grand entertainments put on for Elizabeth I (1558-1603) when she travelled around the county on progress. Progresses included both royal entries into cities and visits to the estates of noblemen. Both made use of pageants, plays, dancing and copious amounts of song and instrumental music. Below I’ve listed some of the the accounts of Elizabethan progress entertainments that are now freely available to read online.Elvetham Nichols

To give you a quick flavour of these entertainments, here’s an image of a particularly elaborate pageant being performed for Elizabeth at Elvetham (an estate of the Earl of Hertford) in 1591. Hertford had the crescent shaped lake specially-built for Elizabeth’s visit, its moon-like shape a testamaent to her chastity and Virgin Queen image. The pageant saw Sylvanus (God of the Woods) declare his love for the sea nymph, Neaera, and get firmly put in his place by the Sea-God, Nereus. In the picture you can spot Elizabeth sat on the left hand side, as Tritons playing shells perform for her. We also know from the text that the boats depicted contained lutenists and singers,  who performed an echo song, and cornet-players who played Scottish Gigs in canon (‘made three parts in one’).

We know about these elaborate entertainments largely because accounts of the events were printed (though a few are preserved in manuscripts). None of these printed accounts contains any notated music, but they do describe the music that was provided and often include song lyrics. Yet a few extant songs from manuscripts and music publications have been connected to the progresses, including several from Elizabeth’s entertainment at Elvetham in 1591 by the Earl of Hertford which have been described by Ernest Brennecke in ‘The Entertainment at Elvetham, 1591,’ in Music in English Renaissance Drama, ed. John H. Long (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1968). A couple of these songs – Edward’s Johnson’s ‘Eliza is the Fairest Queen’ and ‘Come Again Fair Nature’s Treaure’ – can be heard here: Nicholas Stroger’s ‘Mistrust not Truth’ also appears to have been written for Elizabeth’s visit to Bristol in 1574.

Early English Books Online provides facsimile images and transcriptions for most of these printed accounts but is available only with a subscription. What follows is a list of those account whose  images and editions are freely available online. The digital images provided by the British Library in particular are far clearer (and more satisfying) to read than the EEBO facsimiles.

Digital images:


Online editions:


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