The Lyrics of Henry VIII
When we think of exemplary models illustrative of the nature of courtly literature and culture in Renaissance England, the early court of Henry VIII is not always the first to come to mind. By sheer force of voluminous scholarship alone, one might be more drawn to that of his daughter Elizabeth I and, once there, persuaded to consider those who assisted in the process of shaping the literary life of her court in a model suited to its monarch, and literary representations of that monarch in terms suitable to the court. Of this, there are many illustrations, among them the Cynthia of Edmund Spenser’s Colin Clout; the Britomart, Glorianna, and Belphoebe of The Faerie Queene; Sir Philip Sidney’s judicious judge at the centre of his Lady of May; and the figure—constructed and interpreted by Spenser, Mary Sidney, William Shakespeare, George Peele, John Davies, and others—of Astrea. What emerges from consideration in such a vein is the nature of the social fiction that is constructed and elaborated in literary terms by these literati and, when viewed in the larger context of court activity, the way in which literary constructions are reflected in (and, themselves, reflect) themes and trends in the larger fabric of court life.
Such processes are similarly at work in the earlier Tudor court, especially that of Elizabeth’s father Henry in the first years of his reign, but there are far fewer literary figures of such prominence to recount—unless, of course, one is willing to consider the king directly among those literary figures who participated in the construction of courtly social fictions. The Henry VIII Manuscript (BL Additional MS 31,922; hereafter referred to as H), one of only three large songbooks surviving from the period, is notable for many reasons, but chief among them is its intimate connection with Henry’s early court and, within, its exemplification of the social fictions developed and elaborated by Henry and his early contemporaries, specifically that of courtly love and the elements of spectacle and regal power that Henry brought to it. It provides a rare witness to the fictions the early Tudor court literati constructed and upheld, and the even rarer opportunity of examining the light, earlier lyrical works of a figure better known for his later reforms, secular and religious alike. In allowing one to view the court, and its monarch, through the short poetical works which graced them, the lyrics of the Henry VIII MS are themselves exemplary of the literary accoutrement—the apparel or attire intended for special purposes—of the early Tudor court and of the king himself.
Hitherto unedited in a form intended for a literary audience, the lyrics of the Henry VIII MS thus constitute a document that contributes considerably to our critical understanding of the connections between music, poetry and power in early Renaissance society—because of the prominence of its chief author and composer, the King himself, and also because of its literary reflection of the social and political elements of the early Tudor court. The lyrics themselves will appear soon in an edition published by the Renaissance English Text Society, but the matter of the text itself and its relation to the larger context of the literary and musicological study of this manuscript will not be addressed at length in that edition; this note attempts to provide that material, bringing forward aspects of our understanding of the text of the manuscript from the previous generation of scholars to the current one, toward a greater understanding of the social, cultural, literary and musicological understanding of the text of H.
Table of Contents
- Description of the Manuscript
- Date of the Manuscript
- Provenance of the Manuscript
- Language of the Manuscript
- Appendix 1: English Lyrics by Occasion/Theme
- Appendix 2: Notes, References, and Brief Comments on Textual and Musical Witnesses
- Appendix 3: Bibliography
- This extended note contains materials which will not be treated – except in heavily condensed form – in Siemens' edition of the lyrics of the Henry VIII Manuscript for the Renaissance English Text Society, available from the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Google Books.
- See Frances Yates’ Astrea (29-87).
- See, for example, studies in the literature of the Henrician court carried out by Alistair Fox, in his Politics and Literature in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, and Greg Walker, in his Plays of Persuasion, among others.
- On the nature of the fiction of courtly love, see the fourth chapter of R.F. Green’s Poets and Princepleasers, “The Court of Cupid” (101-134); also the chapters in Stevens M&P: “The ‘Game of Love’” (154-202) and “The Courtly Makers from Chaucer to Wyatt” (203-232). On the dynamic of political power inherent to such “fictions,” see Anglo (Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy).
- See OED (“accoutrement”).