Saturday, 17 November 2018


A recently discovered portrait of Elizabeth I,
c.1559, Unknown artist
Today marks the 460th anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I to the throne of England following the death of Queen ("Bloody") Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's controversial half-sister on November 17, 1558.

The music of the Tudor court has been covered extensively on Unraveling Musical Myths, however in light of recent scientific and media attention toward the 16th century “Virgin Queen's” masterful manipulation of portraiture to influence heads of state, I wish to shift focus to "Gloriana's" use of music as a tool for spreading political propaganda.

This past June, BBC historian and art dealer Philip Mould discovered a hitherto unknown portrait of a diminutive Elizabeth on oak wood, (left) estimated to have been painted during the second year of her reign as Queen of England and Ireland in 1559 - potentially making it the earliest known portrait of the young queen as ruler of the British empire. 

The portrait depicts a youthful, softer side of the characteristically stern-jawed, resplendent likenesses of Hilliard, Segar and Gheeraerts that have become synonymous with the image of Elizabethan power and 16th century English dominance.

It would be followed by a series of likenesses of the Queen, both authentic and imagined, which would feature such feminine, girlish attributes: an increasingly expanding cherubic face, a direct forward facing gaze, a sly smile – demure characteristics Elizabeth would soon grow to detest. As such, authentic portraiture dating from the ruler's early reign – that is, portraiture for which Elizabeth actually sat – would increasingly fall into the category of rare commodities. The Queen is said to have destroyed in the fire portraiture she found unbefitting of the subliminal message of political prowess she sought to covey to her British subjects, and more importantly, to foreign heads of state.

*CLICK TO ENLARGE* Early portraits and likenesses of Elizabeth portrayed the young Queen in diminuitive form, much to the ruler's ire. The infamous "Rainbow portrait," seen on extreme right, bore all of the fruits of Tudor propaganda. Painted well into her rule, Elizabeth's wardrobe drips in symbolic excess - symbols are lifted from books of emblamatic morals: her cloak bears the eyes and ears of an all seeing, all knowing ruler, complimented by a serpent of wisdom which the Queen wears unabashedly on her sleeve, and there is the presence of a cestial armillary sphere, suggesting dominion in the heavens and on earth. This c. 1602 portrait attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger is the most heavily symbolic of Elizabeth's portraits.

Just as “Good Queen Bess” (just one of many nicknames attributed the Queen by her loyal subjects) would exert control over her image as she grew into her role as Ruler of England, becoming slimmer, grander, more symbolic (as seen in the famous Rainbow portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger above right) and even allegorical (see Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, attr. Hans Eworth below)  Elizabeth would extend her propagandizing efforts through music – through intimate and public settings to unconsciously bring detractors into the Elizabethan fold and into England's dominant Protestant Church.

This 1569 allegorical portrait of Elizabeth triumphing over the goddesses Venus, Juno and Minerva belonged to the Queen herself. The portrait is especially bold, as it re-fashions the mythological tale of the beauty contest 'The Judgment of Paris," in which it is Venus who triumphs over her rivals Juno and Minerva. In this painting, attributed to Flemish artist Hans Eworth, the mythological triumvirate enter the realm of the living, whereupon they are defeated by Beauty's ultimate victor, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Presently in the collection of the Royal Collection Trust, this masterful oil work sits inside a frame that bears the contemporary description:  `IVNO POTENS SCEPTRIS ET MENTIS ACVMINE PALLAS / ET ROSEO VENERIS FVLGET IN ORE DECVS / ADFVIT ELIZABETH IVNO PERCVLSA REFVGIT OBSVPVIT PALLAS ERVBVITQ VENVS'. T ('Pallas was keen of brain, Juno was queen of might, / The rosy face of Venus was in beauty shining bright, / Elizabeth then came, And, overwhelmed, Queen Juno took flight: / Pallas was silenced: Venus blushed for shame'.

The Queen of England was known to have held 'intimate' meetings with foreign dignitaries in which discussion of political affairs were accompanied by music - performed by Elizabeth herself. Scottish Ambassador Sir James Melville famously listened to her performing on her virginal in her private chamber, remarking that he had been unknowingly entranced: “I heard such melody as ravished me, that I was drawn in e'er I knew how,” whilst the Duke of Bracciano Don Virginio Orcino felt himself a paladin – a foremost warrior at the court of the illustrious Charlemagne, after the Queen sang, danced and played for him on the lute. 

Elizabeth's private performances with the French Ambassador, Charles de Gontaut (for whom she danced in her private apartments) and with Baron Rabenstein (Breuner, the Imperial Ambassador to Ferdinand I, the Holy Roman Emperor) were even more intimate: with marriage negotiations for the Queen to wed the Emperor's son, the Archduke Charles of Austria at a frustrating standstill (and perceived by the Baron as an exercise in futility), Elizabeth hatched a cunning plan to woo back into her graces the frustrated Ambassador (who was set to leave court empty handed) with a private boat side serenade on the river, where Breuner was instructed to sit in the mighty Treasurer's seat – a shrewd move that succeeded in regaining the Baron's faith in a potential victory for Ferdinand through the clever use of power placement seating and through the 'intimate privilege' of a one-on-one, private performance. The Ambassador would in turn report back to Ferdinand, tempering the Emperor's ire with words not of failure, but rather of praise and of optimistic hope, allowing Elizabeth to maintain a sense of détente between the two powerful rulers through creating the illusion of ongoing negotiations.

The ploy of using music as both a negotiating and propagandizing tactic was ingenious: by mixing her 'body politic' with her 'body natural,' Elizabeth invoked the powers of feminine eroticism with the learned graces of music - a gift promoted through the teachings of Aristotle as an invaluable political tool. Elizabeth effortlessly interweaved this intellectual, poised allure with that of the all-encompassing power of 16th century advertisement: through the illusion of intimacy, and through music, the Queen could begin to establish trust in the foreign diplomats who frequently visited her court, who would, in turn, return home to their respective kingdoms with ravishing reports of a learned, skilled, erudite ruler – reports that would spread rapidly across Europe like an untamed wildfire.

The Queen did not limit the influence of music to personal performances, however. Courtiers and noblemen were wont to both pen lyrics and compose music in her honor for fear of losing her good grace, whilst tunes of grandeur and English revelry would accompany her garrison as she held processional tours – a perfect highlight to the grand entrance of a powerful ruler.

Elizabeth I gets a 21st century animatronic treatment. Using
advanced digital scanning and 3D printing, artist Mat Collishaw draws
upon known portraiture and literature concerning the 'Virgin Queen' in an
attempt to reveal the true face behind the highly propagandized likenesses
of the 16th century Queen. Visit to watch this fascinating video.

At home base, the frequently rivaling religious factions in England were still brewing – Catholic England had lost their chief supporter through the demise of Mary I, and whilst Elizabeth issued a compromise of sorts through her 1559 Religious Settlement, which re-established the Church of England's independence from Rome through the first of two acts, The Act of Supremacy of 1558 and the re-establishment of the Book of Common Prayer through the second (Act of Uniformity of 1559) which attempted to blend aspects of both religions under one faith, the English peoples remained nonplussed. The Protestants felt the full breadth of their faith unfulfilled, whilst the Catholics believed the issuing of the Settlement to be entirely heretical: their faith submerged under the crushing weight of the increasingly popular Protestant ilk which would eventually grow into such a dominating force it would result in the modern Anglican Church.

The industrious Queen Elizabeth, who strongly leaned Protestant, played a large hand in forming the Anglican Church as its denomination knows it today – and she did it through the power and influence of music, and through her trusted Archbishop, Matthew Parker.

In 1567, the Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed by Elizabeth in accordance with her late mother Anne Boleyn's wishes (to keep watch on her only child) was assigned by the Queen the task of translating into English from Latin select entries from the Book of Psalms. For his part, Parker chose Psalms 1, 68, 2, 95, 42, 5, 52, 67 in addition to a 9th century hymn known as Veni Creator (Come, Holy Ghost, Eternal God) and commissioned court composer Thomas Tallis to set the translations to music.

Imagined likeness of Thomas Tallis. Elizabeth would grant the long tenured
court composer and his most prized pupil, the composer William Byrd
exclusive rights to print and publish polyphonic music, granting them a
21-year monopoly which included the right to enforce strict prohibition of
sales of any “songs made and printed in any foreen countrie(s)” in a
game-changing attempt at introducing to the world - and seeking dominance
in it
-the English repertoire among the masses, taking full advantage of the
newly improved printing press. This was but just one example of Elizabeth's
savvy use of music as a tool for manipulating the status quo.

In doing so, Elizabeth was effectively challenging the liturgical practices of the Church as her subjects knew it, whilst influencing reform-minded Catholics to yield to the Protestant yolk. For 16th century English citizens, attendance at Church was mandatory – thus congregates who numbered themselves among the bodies lining fully manned pews were helpless but to both witness and partake in newfound tradition: the Nine Tunes for Parker's Psalter, as the Archbishop-Tallis collaboration would become known, would force the assembled congregation to sing – not simply orate – the poetic Psalms, and only in the English tongue.

It was this last stipulation that was of utmost importance to Protestant influencers, and Elizabeth was fully cognizant of this. By releasing the scripture from its formerly unintelligible tongue (most 16th century civilians could neither read, nor understand spoken Latin) and placing it under a visible spotlight where its words and meaning could be fully digested by all was an immensely clever way of attempting to establish a sole collective of congregates, who could find salvation through comprehension of the 'Word of God' - and, in effect, through the Protestant Church - effecting a potential victory by Elizabeth over the long held, acrimonious Wars of Religion that had for so long plagued the English State.

Listen below to the third of Nine Tunes for Parker's Psalter, “Why fum'th in sight” (Psalm 2) as performed by the Tallis Scholars. This piece would famously influence 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams to compose his much beloved Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. It would also become known as the “third mode melody.”

- Rose.

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