Monday, April 20, 2009

Question from M. Lawrence - Henry VIII's musical instruments

In the inventory of Henry VIII's possessions after his death, it has been noted that he left many musical instruments, including more than 70 recorders. What happened to those recorders and other instruments? Did any survive, and if so, are they on display in museums, or are they in private collections?

(This is not a question for a school project; I am merely curious about whether any of Henry VIII's musical instruments still exist)


DeclareJeNos said...

Oddly, I was having a pub discussion about this the other day following mention of Philip Sheppard/David Skinner's music for Starkey's C4 documentary series -v interesting if you haven't heard it...

I am NO expert on this subject, but I have a limited amount of consort principle and Henrican instrumental knowledge from my long ago undergrad days (where I had access to a collection of modern reproduction instruments which I very much enjoyed having a go at and fired my enthusiasm for the topic at the time!). I hope my sketchy pub answer plus a bit of old undergrad note’age will tide you over until someone better informed answers your query...

The 1542 Whitehall Inventory (1542) and the ‘1547’ ‘death list’ (British Library: Harley Ms. 1419 A, f.206) show many instruments including recorders as you have said. However, I cannot recall seeing any pre-restoration musical instruments (apart from modern reproductions!) displayed in any of the Royal Palaces (I have been to HC & the Tower very recently for unconnected research and at various times have been to the rest) and find no mention in my notes/readers/any of my library to any. An enquiry to the Royal Collection or Historic Royal Palaces might help clear this up?

If I prove to be correct and no actual Henrican relics survive, I offer the following consolation:
It is probably a miracle that instruments from this period survive at all as most are lost in the mists of time through decay, breakage, their becoming obsolete/destroyed and sadly, the most were probably destroyed during the civil war* etc. They are, after-all, often fragile and made of wood/other natural materials. Plus, of those that do survive (especially viols), few are in their original condition (ie. they have been extensively repaired, renewed etc according to the latest/changing fashions etc). Ownership is often uncertain as -obviously- these instruments were unlikely to have eg. “this instrument was the property of HenryVIII” stamped upon them(!), although the maker with viols/virginals and their patrons, as with modern violins, is sometimes in evidence.

For general examples of instruments may I suggest a visit to the Bate Collection in Oxford and London's V&A who certainly have some fine examples (although I think mostly post Henry VIII). You may also want to look at some of the relevant royal artwork of the period showing instruments.

I am sorry again I cannot be more specific and I hope this rough outline helps in some small way. If anyone has any further information I implore them to post (either to correct me** or add information) as I also would be very interested!


*THE CIVIL WAR / INTERREGNUM: During the civil war soldiers destroyed every instrument they could find, however, conversely, due to being able to play your instruments in the privacy of your own home during the interregnum (it was considered a ‘safe’ activity –as Roger North said: ‘many chose rather to fiddle at home, than to go out and be knocked on the head abroad’), the consort music of the Viol flourished whilst choral and church music died and more Viols from this later period therefore survive!

** Never had any fear of this –the second you stop learning is the second you stop.

Sarah said...

At Hnry's death, his collection of instrumnents included:
5 Cornemuses/ Drones (Bagpipes)
19 Viols
20 Regals
14 Virginals
2 Clavicords
26 Lutes
65 Flutes
7 Citterns
15 Shawms
10 Sackbuts
154 Recorders
This information comes from Alison Wiers 'Henry V111, King and 131, who turn got this information from inventorys taken after his death.

Unfortunatly, it does not mention if any survive today, allthough the section provides you with other information about Henry's talents. I highly recommend this book.

Hope this helps!