Myself and Mark Empey are currently making final revisions to an essay on women’s book ownership (part of a volume titled Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain, edited by Leah Knight, Elizabeth Sauer and Micheline White, forthcoming with University of Michigan Press), an exercise that has turned my thoughts to women’s ownership of music books in the early modern period. While chasing down a reference in the British Library last week, I came across two music manuscripts owned by women, and these in turn opened up a host of others I hadn’t known about, via the work of Candace Bailey and Yael Sela.
British Library Egerton MS 2046 belonged to Jane Pickeringe, possibly the Jane Puckering (d. 1652) mentioned in the ODNB entry for Sir John Puckering (1543/4-1596) as his surviving unmarried daughter. She signed and dated her music book in 1616.
There are no female-authored items in this manuscript (and hence, it is excluded from the RECIRC database) but it contains a wide range of songs and lyrics in her hand. Composers include John Dowland, Daniel Bacheler, William Byrd, John Johnson and Philip Rosseter. I’m particularly interested in ‘The Conntiss of pembruth funeralle by anthony holborne’:
This is an early composition by Antony Holborne (d. 1602?), whose Pavans, galliards, almains and other short aiers both grave and light, in five parts, for viols, violins, or other[wise] musicall winde instruments was printed in 1599. The ODNB entry for Holborne suggests this setting is ‘probably commemorating the deaths in 1586 of Mary Herbert’s father, mother, and brother, Sir Philip Sidney’.
A recording of music from this manuscript was released by Jacob Heringman in 2003. He proposes that Jane’s compilation should be interpreted biographically, as a document of her life that ‘conveys a vivid impression of her musical taste, technical attainment, and even the type of instrument she owned’.
British Library Add. MS 10,337 belonged to Elizabeth Rogers. Two signatures of ownership occur at the beginning of this book, in the same hand: ‘Elizabeth Fayre’ and ‘Elizabeth Rogers hir virginall booke. ffebruarye ye 27: 1656’ (fol. 1). As Candace Bailey argues, the likeliest explanation is that the former was the owner’s maiden name, and her manuscript’s compilation continued into married life. Comprising popular tunes as well as music by William Lawes and William Byrd and, more unusually, by foreign composers such as Jean Mercure and Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, in four different hands (one of which is Elizabeth’s), Bailey finds that this is uniquely sophisticated among pre-Restoration music books because it ‘blurs the distinctions between amateur and professional’. She argues that it ‘not only prompts modern observers to reconsider their interpretation of women’s manuscripts, but also demands a re-examination of what is meant by amateur, household, and professional when describing manuscript sources’ (542).
Research by Bailey and Yael Sela has uncovered a number of other music books owned by women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, among which the most interesting from a RECIRC perspective is that belonging to Anne Cromwell (b. 1618), paternal aunt to the miscellany compiler, Anna Cromwell Williams (d. 1688). The latter enjoyed a reputation as ‘poetess’ in Huntingdonshire. She compiled a miscellany (BL Harl. MS 2311) in which her own prayers, meditations and sermon notes are transcribed, along with a poem attributed to her mother-in-law, Baptina Cromwell (1598-1618), and another to Elizabeth Cromwell (either her mother or aunt). Both these poems are printed in Stevenson and Davidson’s Early Modern Women Poets (pp. 179-80, 270-1).
Anne Cromwell’s virginal book transcribes working arrangements for songs, dances and masques. In stark contrast to Elizabeth Rogers’s book, the hands of this manuscript are ‘inexpert’, according to its editor: ‘Some [of the arrangements] are well adapted for the keyboard, others are crude, and a few are hopelessly amateurish’ (Ferguson, p. iv). Less harshly, Bailey sees this manuscript as typical of ‘post-virginalist/pre-Commonwealth (c.1625-50) amateur sources’, a category of music book marked by the simplicity of its arrangements and practical orientation (514). At the very least, it expands and nuances our understanding of the cultural practices in which the Cromwell women engaged.
Women’s active participation in musical culture materialises in a very practical sense through such manuscripts. They enrich the texture of early modern women’s book ownership, attesting to the utility and artistry of the books they kept.
Candace Bailey, ‘Blurring the Lines: “Elizabeth Rogers Hir Virginall Book” in Context’, Music & Letters, 89 (2008): 510-46.
Marie-Louise Coolahan, ‘British Library: MS Harleian 2311’, Perdita [https://web.warwick.ac.uk/english/perdita/html/].
Howard Ferguson (ed.), Anne Cromwell’s Virginal Book, 1638 (London and NY: Oxford University Press, 1974).
Ian Harwood, ‘Holborne, Antony (d. 1602?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13479]
Jacob Heringman, ‘Jane Pickeringes Lute Book’: [http://magnatune.com/artists/albums/heringman-pickering?song=1].
Yael Sela, “My Ladye Nevells Booke: Music, Patronage and Cultural Negotiation in late Sixteenth-Century England.” Renaissance Studies 26.1 (2012): 79–102.
Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson (eds.), Early Modern Women Poets (1520-1700): An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).