That Fine Music
at Henry VIII's Court
Had a Covert Flavor.
An ensemble of classical musicians with a fondness for Elizabethan and Jacobean music and musical instruments is drawing attention to the idea that a covert community of Jewish musicians, composers, and instrument makers flourished in Tudor and Stuart England. It is a remarkable historical discovery given the fact that Jews were banished from England by royal decree from 1290 to 1655.
Fretwork, a consort of viol players, featured compositions by members of the families Lupo and Bassano at their Wigmore Hall (London) concert of 21 September. A spokesman for Fretwork said the Lupos and Bassanos, who arrived in England from
Milan and Venice at the behest of Henry VIII to provide new music for his court, were Jews who had publically converted to Christianity but covertly practiced the rites and rituals of the Jewish faith.
"The first viol players came over (to England) from the Netherlands in 1520," Richard Boothby of Fretwork told The Jewish Chronicle in a story published on 12 September. "Twenty years later, Henry VIII cast his net wider and headhunted some Italian musicians already prominent in Venice. Among them was a whole family of string players, the Lupos. They were Marranos — Jews who had publicly converted to Christianity but covertly practiced their own religion. Unlike in Spain, there was no English Inquisition. King Henry might even have protected these expert Jewish musicians.”
Michael Church, reviewing the Wigmore Hall concert for The Independent on 22 September, cited the “detective work of Professor Roger Prior,” who suggested “that many musicians, composers, and instrument makers in the Tudor and Stuart courts were of Jewish origin.” To our dismay, the reviewer chose not to reveal any other information about Professor Prior.
Ever curious and dutiful in the task of verifying sources, we sought information about this musical detective named Roger Prior. A search of Internet resources showed us that Roger Prior in 1997 was Professor of English at Queen's University of Belfast. However, the University of Belfast website on 25 September 2008 did not include Professor Prior’s name on its list of English Department faculty. Given the fact that search engines pointed us to a legion of Roger Priors not connected to musical instruments or the works of Joseph and Thomas Lupo, and aware of the many other tasks demanding our immediate attention, we reluctantly abandoned the search.
NOTE: Jews were expelled and banished from England in 1290 by Edward I. They were officially readmitted to the kingdom in 1655 by decree of Oliver Cromwell.
Here are links to the two stories that informed this report:
"Fretwork, Wigmore Hall, London"
— The Independent, 22 September 2008
"Airing the closet-kosher music loved by the Tudors"
— The Jewish Chronicle as published by The Jewish Community Online, 12 September 2008
with a Dynasty.
"For fans of the Tudor and Stuart era, this will be a welcome treat," Publishers Weekly (15 September 2008) writes about Adam Nicholson's Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War (Harper, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-06-115431-7). The reviewer writes:
"In his typically supple and elegant prose, Nicolson — author of the acclaimed God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible — traces the Pembroke family’s 'arc of ambition, success, failure, and collapse' between the 1520s and the 1640s, when the fourth earl of Pembroke joined the Puritan rebellion. Along the way, Nicolson highlights the ambiguous nature of this most powerful of dynasties — 'one of the richest and most glamorous' of their time. Outwardly the servile courtiers of the king in London, in fact they presented a potent provincial counterweight to the monarchy’s centralizing preferences with their vast Anglo-Welsh palatinate and a legion of loyal tenants.
"While fiercely protective of their rights, the Pembrokes were not 'liberal' by today’s standards; if anything, it was the royal administration that represented the future modern state while the Pembrokes and their feudal values harked back to the Middle Ages."
Mr. Nicholson's history is scheduled for release on November 4. It includes 16 pages of color photographs.
The Other Queen
Focuses on Mary's
Confinement in England.
Her reputation firmly established and her sales figures skyrocketing, novelist Philippa Gregory attracted widespread interest from print and Internet media with the late summer 2008 publication of her final Tudor novel, The Other Queen (Touchstone, 438pp, $25.95). "Romantic, tragic, doomed, beautiful, stupid," Ms. Gregory said about the novel's heroine, Mary, Queen of Scots. "She fought every step of the way and it wasn't a world of men who beat her, it was powerful conspiracies."
Ms. Gregory was speaking to reporter Chitra Ramaswamy of Scotland on Sunday for an Internet article published on 23 August 2008. The interview emphasized Ms. Gregory's fascination with the relationship between Mary and her "jailer" for sixteen years, the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick.
"Mary's sixteen years in their care marked the longest stretch she spent anywhere," the article stated. "She was twenty-six when she arrived and would never see Scotland again. Almost bankrupting the earl and Bess, Mary arrived with her vast train of servants and expensive habits that would make most WAGs hang their heads in shame, such as washing her face with vintage white wine every day. The earl fell in love with the famously beautiful queen, leading to a court scandal that was the Diana, Charles, and Camilla outrage of its day."
If you're interested in the full text of the Scotland on Sunday interview as well as other reviews and interviews related to the publication of The Other Queen, follow these links:
"She keeps her head writing about Tudors"
— The Kansas City Star
"Philippa Gregory's 'Queen' rules with intrigue"
— USA Today
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary"
— Scotland on Sunday
"The arresting tale of Mary Stuart"
— New York Daily News
"Small Talk: Philippa Gregory"
— Financial Times