Thursday, 11 February 2016


The exquisite vaulted ceiling and one of the many frescoes of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace

In a followup to Tuesday's post on the historic Latin Vespers Service at the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, this post will discuss what the press who reported on the monumental occasion missed.

If you found yourself clicking on the external links provided, or simply perused other news articles in print or on the web, you may have noticed an not-altogether insignificant discrepancy in the dates provided in regards to the beginning of the reformation under Henry VIII (which, as stated in Tuesday's post here on began in 1534) and the last Latin Service performed at the Palace's Chapel Royal,  documented by the press as "450 years ago... in the 1550's": 

 in regards to the Latin Mass ultimus, the reference is made to the King Henry VIII and the "mid-16th century"- but the reality is, the patriarch Tudor was already dead by 1547! According to the given timeframe of "450 years ago" (from today), the 'last Latin Service' would have been employed in the year 1566 - making Henry almost a full two decades into his grave - and three successive monarchs Tudor in.

So what exactly happened to music at the Chapel Royal, and to Cathedrals and Churches across England in the 32 year time span since Henry VIII initiated reformation proceedings with the issue of Act of Supremacy in November of 1534?

Read below to find out!

The boy-king Edward VI, the only
legitimate son of
Henry VIII and his third wife, Queen
Jane Seymour, who died in less than two weeks of
Edward's birth due to post-natal complications.
Half-brother to Mary I and Elizabeth I.
KING EDWARD VI (Reigned: 28 January 1547 – 6 July 1553):

Six months into the reign of the nine-year old newly crowned King of England, the incorrigible Edward VI, under the influence of Lord Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (the same Archbishop who aided Henry VIII in his annulment from his Queen, Catherine of Aragon and his subsequent break from Rome), both Protestants like the boy-king, would orchestrate a series of ‘royal visitations’ at the countries’ major Cathedrals (including Winchester, York, Canterbury, and Windsor) with the explicit intent to ensure ‘Popish Rituals’ were abolished. Although the minutiae of details regarding who would be made allowed to participate in the act of singing the mass and by what frequency it would be permitted varied according to church, an edict issued by the Archbishop Cranmer at Lincoln Cathedral in 1548 made the changes to both language employed and the use of ornate polyphony within the music itself unmistakably transparent. In the demand, Cranmer (and effectively, the Monarch) decreed that “the choir shall henceforth sing or say no anthems of our Lady or other saints, but only of our Lord, and them not in Latin; but choosing out the best and most sounding to Christian Religion they shall turn the same into English, setting thereunto a plain and distinct note, for every syllable one: they shall sing them and none other.”

The Chapel Royal, the reigning Monarch’s personal Church (and establishment of musicians) at court, had already introduced the first English form of the compline (the evening service) three months prior. This is of interest to note, as it was one of the first precursors of what was to become of liturgical services across the nation. The Chapel Royal, under it’s Sovereign held the distinction of immunity from the actions of reformists. Nonetheless, the conversion from Latin to English at the Chapel set a precedent for the Church of England and all major Cathedrals across the nation.[1] Within five months of the first compline at the Chapel Royal in May of 1547, the Mass Ordinary was sung entirely in English at Westminster Abbey in London.

Two years later, the Act of Uniformity would declare the English-language “Book of Common Prayer” as the ‘dictation of God’ to be used in the Church in replacement of the Latin Service books. By the time the second edition was issued, revised under the hand of the Archbishop Cranmer, music itself in regard to liturgical services was reduced to a diminutive role, considered by the ‘church’ as an unnecessary distraction, and as a result, received scant mention. As the new King, the Archbishop and members of Edward's Regency Council began whitewashing Cathedrals, stripping them of ‘Popish iconography’ - including the organs used for music - so suffered the choirs, and their choir books, which were systematically sold, destroyed and burnt.

Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII & the
annulled ex-Queen Catherine of Aragon; half-sister to
Edward VI & Elizabeth I.
QUEEN MARY I: “BLOODY MARY” (Reigned: July 1553 –17 November 1558)

Edward's whitewashing and dissolution of Services according to the Latin Rite would briefly change under his successor and half sister Mary I, whose stalwart dedication to Catholicism and her invasive measures to restore it as the religion of England and it's peoples earned her the moniker “Bloody Mary” as she systematically rooted out present and ex-conspirators, enemies of Catholicism, potential threats to the throne (this period included the sad tale of Lady Jane Grey, the sixteen year-old "Nine Day Queen” – a sobriquet earned upon her execution at the command of Mary in 1554) and protestants alike for public burnings-at-the-stake. Portions of the Acts of Uniformity were overturned, organs were restored to their Cathedrals and icons returned - and by 1557, around 13 Latin Service books, hoarded in secret by citizens during the Protestant reign of Edward VI - suddenly came to light under the ‘protection’ of the Catholic Queen Mary. 

For roughly five years, Latin Order was restored, and composers were encouraged to revert to the old style of elaborate and ornate polyphony. Such works of note to come from this period were indeed composed by - and for - members of the Chapel Royal, including "Videte Miraculum"[2] and "Gaude Gloriosa"[3] by Thomas Tallis (a staple at the Tudor court, and ‘non reformed Catholic’, who would serve four Tudor Monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, respectively) and the "Cantate Mass"[4] by composer John Sheppard.

In fact, it has been written that immediately upon a thrice-echoed proclamation of “God Save the Queen!” (shouted in earnest by awaiting crowds after the announcement of Mary’s ascension to the English throne was made - at Cheapside Cross by the Lord Pembroke in July of 1553) overjoyed civilians celebrated with a ringing of bells and festivities that lasted through the evening and into the following day. They also celebrated in song: as Pembroke and various Lords of the Council walked in state to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the building’s choir was already preparing to sing a Te Deum Laudamus in honor of the Queen. Formerly stowed organs were dusted off and rolled out to accompany the music: England had not heard it’s like for nearly six whitewashed years of Edward’s reign and imposed reformations.

Such (Latin) musical festivities appear to have been celebrated nation-wide: there are multiple documented accounts of public organ playing, bell ringing and singing well up until Mary’s procession. There is even evidence English composer William Mundy’s six voice Vox patris caelestis was penned for the Queen’s pre-coronation procession, or perhaps even for the coronation itself.

Learn about Mundy’s possible connection with Queen Mary at Oxford Academic.

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII &
executed ex-Queen Anne Boleyn; half-sister to
Edward VI & Mary I.
QUEEN ELIZABETH I: “GLORIANA; THE VIRGIN QUEEN” (Reigned: 17 November 1558 – 24 March 1603)

The great neutralist Elizabeth I, half-sister to Edward VI and Mary I and daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, ex-Queen Anne Boleyn (the seductive spark that fueled the reformation’s fire under the King) herself employed Latin Services at the Chapel Royal and in her own private Services at the beginning of her reign. Under the new Acts of Uniformity, issued by Elizabeth in 1559, reformist theology and tradition would also be included into the doctrine: lessons and readings from the gospel were to be in English, and some of the Latin Rites would be suppressed - including the Elevation of the Host - in an attempt to placate Protestant zealots. This combination of half-measures, of course, did not sit well with extremists: in Easter of 1559, reformist John Jewel, who had witnessed  Elizabeth attending a Latin Mass at the Chapel Royal rebuked the Queen, declaring the “masses and all the follies and abominations of Popery [were] everywhere sanctioned by the authority of the laws.”

Elizabeth’s seemingly relaxed and neutral stance on religion was not to be taken at face value. The so-called "Virgin Queen" was notorious for her fickle indecisiveness and famously maddening ability to ride the fence on almost all major decisions affecting the State. She would, over the course of her 45 year reign on the throne of England, execute more Catholics than the Protestants killed by her late half-sister Bloody Mary and the victims of the Spanish inquisition combined. 

[1]This transition, however, did not happen overnight, but rather gradually. There is some evidence that suggests the composition of additional church music in the Latin tongue during this period, including the works of composer Christopher Tye (the Quaesumus Omnipotens and Domine Deus Coelestis, among others).

In fact, for the two year span between Edward’s coronation and the indoctrination of the first edition of the English Prayer Book in 1549, it is believed most of the attendees to church would have experienced worship according to the Latin rite, using recycled music as compositions in the official Roman tongue began to phase out.

It was, naturally, at the Chapel Royal under King Edward VI that experimentation with English liturgy first occurred, eventually branching out across English churches and cathedrals at St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, both of which performed the mass ordinary entirely in the native English tongue in suit of the Kings establishment at the Chapel Royal.

A deeper look into the minutiae of the Act of Uniformity issued in 1549 reflects a gradual transition from Latin liturgy into English:

“it shall be lawful to any man that understandeth the Greek, Latin and Hebrew tongue, or other strange tongue, to say and have the said prayers heretofore specified, of Matins and Evensong in Latin, or any other such tongue, saying the same privately, as they do understand…though it be appointed in the afore-written preface that all things shall be read and sung in church in the English tongue…yet it is not meant but when men say Matins and Evensong privately, they may say the same in any language that they themselves do understand…”


Latin works from the Composers Thomas Tallis: Videte Miraculum[2] & Gaude Gloriosa;[3] and John Sheppard: Missa Cantate[4]

         Thomas Tallis, Videte Miraculum             Thomas Tallis, Gaude Gloriosa                 John Sheppard, Missa Cantate


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