Creating Harmonious Subjects? Songs for Queen Elizabeth I’s Accession Day

Elizabeth_Great_Seal_IrelandQueen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) was the first monarch whose Accession Day  on 17 November (the day when Mary I died and she became Queen) became a yearly occasion for celebration. Although never at official holiday, at Whitehall, noblemen honoured Elizabeth’s Accession Day with a tournament open to paying spectators, followed by a private banquet and entertainments in the evening. Across the country there was bell-ringing along with prayers, sermons, bonfires, the giving of alms, and even pageants performed in the streets. Poetic tributes to the day frequently evoked images of singing, music-making and dancing. George Peele’s poem Anglorum feriae (1595), for example exhorted nymphs: ‘paeans singe and sweet melodious songs; / Along the chalky cliffs of Albion [England]’ and described how ‘court and country carol in her praise / And in her honour tune a thousand lays’.

This all-encompassing harmonious image was far from reality, however. The occasion was never uniformly celebrated. Some localities never honoured the day, while others did no more than ring their bells. Church services, when held, were not necessarily well attended, while few towns put on civic festivities and these were not held every year. Moreover both Puritans and Catholics complained that the celebrations were idolatrous in their worship of Elizabeth.

Nevertheless, this musical imagery was not merely political metaphor, but inspired by the social phenomenon of Accession Day singing around the kingdom that had been developing since the late 1570s. Many songs would have circulated orally and been learnt by copying the ballad-seller or through communal singing in church, home or alehouse. Some, however, can be traced in extant manuscripts, single-sheet broadside publications, prayer books and records of further, now-lost publications in the Stationers’ Register (a record book in which publishers could document their right to print a particular publication). Such genres spanned diverse social classes and contexts: from the educated to the illiterate, from street to church; from private household devotions to civic festivities. At times this singing was was officially encouraged by church and government, but it was also fuelled by the local enthusiasm of civic or parish authorities, individual households and commercial printers.

The first known Accession Day songs appeared in a series of official prayer books that provide the format for special church service to commemorate the day (A Form of Prayer, with Thanksgiving, to be used Every Year, the .17. of November). The 1576 edition merely appointed to psalms to be sung, but the following year the royal printer, Christopher Barker published A Prayer and Also a Thanksgiving unto God for His Great Mercy in Giving, and Preserving Our Noble Queen Elizabeth for Accession Day 1577 by by ‘I. Pit, minister’, which provided a specially created text designed to be sung to the tune coin churches for for Psalm 81.

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I. Pit’s A Prayer and Also a Thanksgiving (first stanza) as it could be sung to the tune of Psalm 81. The tune is taken from The Whole Book of Psalms (1562)

By the time of the 1578 edition of the Accession Day service book (the twentieth anniversary of Elizabeth’s Accession) it contained three more special songs, two to be fitted to psalms and one with the tune unspecified but suggestive of a carol tune with refrains. Congregational singing was a remarkable new tool for promoting a sense of communal harmony in the post-Reformation Church and now it was being applied politically to bring together the subjects of a kingdom in loyalty to their monarch (and Head of the Church) on Accession Day.

Commercial printers too capitalised on the anniversary by providing their own songs, including the printer Richard Jones with A Song for Each Subject that in England Bear Breath (1578, no longer extant). Other printers aimed at a more elite audience. For the 25th anniversary in 1583, Abel Jeffes printed William Patten’s Ann: Foelicissimi Regni Reginae Elizabeth: XXVI which included a Latin psalm alongside the English version adapted for the occasion and printed a tune for it to be sung to (a rare occurrence in single sheet songs!) Nor was this singing necessarily restricted to Protestant households. The manuscripts of Edward Paston – a Catholic who maintained a Mass centre at Appleton – contain three versions of William Byrd’s consort song ‘Rejoice unto the Lord’ which commemorated 28 years of Elizabeth’s reign and was probably originally composed for celebrations at court in 1586. Religion, it seems, did not prevent the Pastons from joining the festivities – despite their obvious Protestant tone.

From the late 1580’s Accession Day song publications were both more frequent and more widespread, with eight different printers issuing song sheets in the final 15 years of the reign. This market for songs seems to indicate the popularity of celebratory singing among the population, beyond the official songs of the Accession Day prayer book. Furthermore these commercially printed songs were now less overtly religious in tone than those from earlier in Elizabeth’s reign. Rather than being described as ‘psalms’, ‘prayers’, ‘godly ditties’ or ‘anthems’, they were now simply ‘ballads’, and rather than place their emphasis on praising or thanking God, these songs now declare that they will show ‘the happiness of England for her majesty’s blessed reign’ or tell of England’s ‘abundant blessings’. Similarly, psalm tunes were being replaced by ballad tunes. A Pleasant New Ballad of the Most Blessed and Prosperous Reign of Her Majesty for the Space of Two and Forty Years (1600), copied into the Shirburn ballad collection, was sung to the tune of ‘The Queen’s Hunt’s Up’. The lyrics evoke the bells and drums typical of civic festivities that might be held in celebration, which were also spreading as Elizabeth’s reign progressed. The following verses describe Elizabeth’s achievements as queen, including how she has defended England with naval forces, maintained castles and fortifications, and been called to help foreign kings.

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A Pleasant New Ballad of the Most Blessed and Prosperous Reign of Her Majesty for the Space of Two and Forty Years (1600), first stanza, as it could be sung to one of the many versions of the ‘The Hunt is Up’ tune.

Yet the paradox is that as Accession Day singing seems to have been increasing in popularity, England was becoming less and less harmonious society. The 1590s brought successive harvest failures, sharp rises in food prices, outbreaks of disease, heavy taxation, increasing crime and unemployment, intensifying factional rivalries at court and signs of civil unrest in the country with London riots and a failed uprising in Oxfordshire. Yet there was no obvious decline in civic celebrations or song publications, which continued until the very last year of her reign. Should we see this singing then as a genuine expression of an existing social harmony or as an attempt to create such unity in the face of mounting unrest? The expanding market for printed Accession Day songs was now commercial rather than governmental, responding to the popular mood rather than official direction. The growth in civic festivities, however, was led by local authorities. The increased potential for disorder may have caused civic leaders to see Accession Day as an important occasion on which to reinforce a sense of loyalty to the queen in the hope of maintaining order. Elizabeth’s popularity need not have been great for people to have welcomed an opportunity to liven up a cold, wet November. Nor was singing necessarily an unqualified expression of English harmony. The more insecure a community feels, the greater the need for people to assert their unity, even though this may be more hopeful than actual. As foreign threats and domestic difficulties increased, there was perhaps a growing need to believe in England as a harmonious kingdom unified by its queen. A subtle mixture of continued royal esteem but growing anxiety, of popular will and encouragement from local leaders, is the most likely explanation.

You can find out more about music-making for Elizabeth’s Accession Day in my article:  ‘Creating Harmonious Subjects? Ballads, Psalms and Godly Songs for Queen Elizabeth I’s Accession Day’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 140 (2015), 273-312 (available here).

Exploring Henrician Musical Sources at the British Library

TudorPartbooksFacultyWebsite.qxp_Layout 4 copyOn 12 May a multidisciplinary group of scholars gather to explore and re-examine some the British Library‘s musical partbooks from the reign of Henry VIII as part of the Tudor Partbooks project. Experts introduced the sources and initiated discussion, while manuscripts were available for participants to have a look at.

TudorPartbooks Study Day at the British Library

David Skinner started the day with an introduction to Harley 1709, a single surviving partbook from a set containing 26 votive antiphons. Little is known about the origins of the book, which is normally dated to the mid-1520s, though the otherwise unknown composer Thomas Hyllary might provide a clue. Tudor Partbooks PhD student Daisy Gibbs has found records of a Thomas Hyllary from the West Country in the right period. Although the composers of the majority of the music – including Nicholas Ludford, Robert Fayrfax, Richard Davy and William Cornysh- and the manuscript’s strapwork initials suggest a date of c.1515-20, the inclusion of Thomas Tallis’s Salve intemerata presents something of a puzzle and suggests a slightly later dating for the manuscript. Tallis’s birthdate is usually estimated to be c.1505 and Salve intemerata is not his earliest known work (it is more mature than, for example, his Ave Dei patris).

Much discussion followed surrounding Tallis’s biography and career. A birthdate of 1505 would make him surprisingly young to have composed such an accomplished piece as Salve intemerata. Was he something of a child prodigy or does our estimated birthdate Gb-Lbl: Harley1709need revising (making him even older at his known death date in 1585)? Roger Bowers gave an extempore overview of the first known‌record of Tallis’s life in the Dover Priory Account books in 1530/1 suggesting that his role playing the organ and running a choir was a substantial one, not just a job for a talented teenager. This would support a birthdate of c.1500-1505. Further discussion centered around why the music was copied into partbooks (one voice per part) rather than a single large choirbook as was still common at this date, and the extent to which these copies were intended for performance use or were library copies for singers to learn or copy their own parts from.

‌After lunch John Harper turned our attention to Royal Appendix 45-48, a set of partbooks and an organ book from c.1525 containing Nicholas Ludford’s seven Lady Masses. He began with an overview of the liturgical music required to provide the Lady Mass throughout the year and about Ludford’s place of employment St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster (with valuable contributions from the St Stephen’s Chapel Project). However, the books’ leather bindings stamped with the arms of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and their appearance in an inventory of the royal library in 1542 (5 years before the dissolution of St Stephen’s Chapel in 1547) open up the  possibility that the manuscript may have been a gift to the royal family or else had a courtly function. Harper suggest potential uses in the Queen’s Chapel, perhaps curtailed by the rise of Anne Boleyn in 1533, explaining the unused appearance of the books and their storage in the royal library by 1542. Another alternative was the King’s closet where he held his private devotions, perhaps performed by Philip van Wilder and the Privy Chamber Singers. Yet more possibilities were that the books could have been used by a very small number of singers when the court went on progress, or even by a choir in the household of Princess Mary.

‌In the final session of the day John Milsom introduced us to the remains of the earliest English printed set of partbooks, known as the Twenty Songs (1530). The one surviving partbook contains a mixture of love songs, Marian devotional songs, textless pieces and DSCI0139_cropsome more surprising items including some lewd songs and others in the voice of prostitutes. Our insight into the printing method was heightened by Peter Blayney whose model of a Tudor printing press helped us to understand the process by which these books would have been made. Several mysteries surround these books. Firstly, they are printed in using the expensive double impression method (where the staves were printed first, and then the music printed over the top), even though the more efficient single impression methods had already been in use in England on single sheet music publication since the 1520s. Secondly, who was the printer and where did they get their music type from? The music type may have been of German origin as it contains natural symbols that were not typically used in English music notation. The highly accurate music type-setting suggest that it was set by a musician and probably an Englishman (due to the different continental and English conventions for the placement of dots after notes).‌The publisher was possibly John Heywood who had links to the Rastall family whose type was used for the text. Finally, how do we explain both the huge expense outlaid in casting a music fount which was used in only one extant book, and the long gap between this publication and the English printed polyphonic music books in the 1570s?  As only one in five printed books from this period survives complete, could this high attrition rate be masking the existence of both earlier and later printed polyphonic music books in early Tudor England?

It is difficult to capture to the range of discussion that took place throughout the day both formally during the session and informally as we circulated and viewed the various manuscripts and printed books. Inevitably these discussions raised as many questions as they answered, but the study day has opened up many new avenues for consideration and further research. The next Tudor Partbooks study day will be held at Christ Church, Oxford, on 19 November and will focus upon the interaction of manuscript and printed music as exemplified by the Baldwin partbooks, GB-Och: Mus. 979-983.

(with thanks to Daisy Gibbs for her comments and suggestions!)

The Earliest Surviving Song in Praise of Queen Elizabeth I?

The earliest song in praise of Queen Elizabeth I is not a madrigal, lute song, consort song or anthem – the genres most widely associated with her reign – but a modest broadside ballad by one William Birche. His A Songe Betweene the Quenes Maiestie and England (now in the library of the Society of Antiquaries) is a charming love song between Bessy (Elizabeth) and her realm. The surviving copy was published in 1564, but it this was probably a reprinting on an earlier version published in 1558-9, shortly after her Coronation. As a broadside ballad it would have circulated widely. Printed on a single sheet it would have been sold cheaply and could also have been learnt orally through hearing the ballad seller singing his wares or his customers enjoying their purchases. Ballads were found pasted up in alehouses and private homes, and were enjoyed by nobility and poor husbandmen alike. [1]

Coronation_Procession_of_Elizabeth_I_of_England_1559

Coronation Procession of Elizabeth I of England_1559

Birche adapted a popular song melody, ‘Come over the born, Bessy’, which refers to one of two similar tunes: either ‘Ouer the Broome Bessy’ or a minor mode variant, ‘Brown Bessy, Sweet Bessy, Come Over to Me’ [2]: Musical setting of A Songe Betweene the Queenes Maiestie and England

As early as her coronation day, Elizabeth’s reputation as a monarch who loved and was loved by her people was being forged. Richard Mulcaster described London during her pre-Coronation procession as ‘a stage wherein was showed the wonderful spectacle, of a noble hearted princess toward her most loving people’ (The Passage of Our Most Drad Soueraigne, 1559). Birche’s song too emphasises the intimate bond between Queen and kingdom. In the first verse tells how Elizabeth was supposedly called by England to be Queen, and then England asks Bessy to give her hand in marriage:

England:
I am thy lover fair
hath chose thee to mine heir
and my name is Merry England
Therefore come away
and make no more delay
Sweet Bessy give me thy hand

Bessy:
Here is my hand
My dear lover England
I am thine both with mind and heart
for ever to endure
thou mayest be sure
Until death us two depart.

With the character of Merry England, Birche looks ahead to a new golden age of English prosperity. Yet the ballad presents a complex and paradoxical set of relationships between Bessy and England: she is England’s ‘dear lady’, lover, wife and heir.

Elizabeth’s role as lover and ‘dear lady’ suggests the Elizabeth_I_Coronation_Miniaturesame true affection between kingdom and monarch evoked by Mulcaster. This is followed by the bond of marriage, suggesting the official coronation ceremony that has bound monarch and country and in which the monarch also received a ring. This metaphor of a monarch marrying their kingdom dated back to at least 1300, and had been employed by Elizabeth herself in her speech to Parliament in 1559 [3]. Finally her representation as heir underlines her legitimate claim to the throne. The emphasis on her Englishness both distanced her from her sister, Mary I, who was popularly perceived as Spanish (because of her Spanish mother and marriage to Philip II), and also used her subjects’ sense of national identity to encourage a bond of loyalty with their new queen.

The ballad also recognises that Elizabeth has not always been treated with such affection and it stages a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation. Bessy describes her imprisonment during in the Tower and at Woodstock during Mary’s reign. England makes its excuses for her treatment (tyrants and fear), painting a picture of a country that had lamented the reign of Mary and waited eagerly for Elizabeth’s Accession. Expressing disbelief at her treatment, England confirms her legitimacy: surely these enemies were mad men who did not know she was daughter of Henry, princess by birth and sister to Mary? Bessy responds by graciously offering her forgiveness to all those who amend their ways. Her quasi-religious persona becomes increasingly explicit until the final verses hail her as ‘sweet virgin pure’ and ‘handmaid of the Lord’. Elizabeth/Bessy becomes a second Virgin Mary. The image presents her piety, purity and divine appointment as the crowning arguments for her authority. The charmingly informal image of two lovers has formalised into one of Queen and Kingdom, with the monarch bidding the realm to be obedient and the subjects praying for her long reign. They end united in praise and prayer to God:

All honour, laud and praise
be to the Lord God always
Who has all princes’ hearts in his hands
That by his power and might
he may give them a right
For the wealth of all Christian lands.

What does this song represent? Was this official propaganda instructed by Elizabeth or a member of her government in a format that could carry across the country as both printed broadside and orally-circulated song? Or was Birche’s song an enthusiastic outpouring from an enthusiastic Protestant thrilled to be rid of the Catholic Mary and hoping to gain some early favour with the new Queen?

Birche’s Protestantism is evident from his other godly ballads: A warnyng to England, let London begin:To repent their iniquitie, & flie from their sin (1565?) ending with a prayer for Elizabeth; The complaint of a sinner, vexed with paine (1563?); and A free admonition without any fees/To warne the Papistes to beware of three trees (1571) which ends with a resolute ‘God save our Queene Elizabeth.’ Or are we perhaps in danger of being taken in by the very rhetoric of mutual love Birche’s song pours forth? One can hardly imagine Birche being allowed to print (and reprint) a song that goes as far as putting words in the Queen’s mouth if it did not at least have royal approval.

Yet if it was officially instigated by Elizabeth’s government, it was not a strategy that Elizabeth was quick to repeat. Not until 1577-8 were official broadside songs of praise produced, this time by royal printer Christopher Barker to commemorate her Accession Day on 17 November. These, however, were sung prayers and thanksgivings of a more sober nature than Birche’s charming dialogue.

Whether officially instigated or merely royally approved, Birche’s ballad certainly started the process of constructing and disseminating across the kingdom aspects of the royal image that were to become characteristic of her reign: Elizabeth’s status as one divinely appointed by God and under his direct protection, and the ideal of a mutual affection between the Queen and her subjects.

References
1. Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), chap.5 and Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety (Cambridge, 1991), chap.1
2. Frederick Sternfeld, Music in Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1963), 180-88
3. William Camden, Annales, The True and Royall History of the Famous Empresse Elizabeth. Queene of England  (London, 1625), p.28; Judith Richards, ‘Mary Tudor as “Sole Quene”?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy,’ The Historical Journal 40 (1997): 895-924 (p.912).

Motets and Monarchy: The Politics of Early English Music Printing

The politics behind Vautrollier’s Recueil du mellage d’Orlande de Lassus (1570), and Byrd and Tallis’s Cantionae Sacrae (1575)

In 1570 Thomas Vautrollier printed his Recueil du mellange d’Orlande de LassusOrlando_di_Lasso, a collection of Lassus’s chansons. It was only the second music publication to be printed in England (aside from psalm books) and it had been forty years since the last one (known as the ‘Twenty Songs’  and published 1530, though only the bass partbook and a few fragments survive).

Vautrollier was a Huguenot seeking refuge from religious persecution in France. He saw Elizabeth’s England as the fulfilment of the ideal of concordia discors (harmony of discords) in its religious tolerance, and even dedicated his print to the Earl of Arundel, a musical patron with Catholic sympathies. Praising the ‘admirable beauty of the harmony’ in states that temper the ‘unified diversity of their various parts’, Vautrollier compared Elizabeth’s England to a musical motet in which ‘thanks to the leading of one part, all others hold to a similar measure’, making no discord despite their differences. Elizabeth is the leading part that keeps all the estate and religious faction in harmony. To Vautrollier, Elizabeth’s kingdom was an example to other nations of how a diversity of peoples can be skilfully governed to produce a stable and secure society.

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