Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Psaltery

There were three categories of musical instruments in the Middle Ages and early modern period - wind, string, and percussion. The Psaltery was an instrument which was a cross between a harp and lyre. It is a kind of a lyre or a harp with twelve strings, but having a trapezodial (table-like) sounding board under the strings. 
Santur babylon2.jpg
The archetype of the instrument carried horizontally and struck with two sticks, found in iconographical documents in ancient Babylon (1600-911 BCE) and neo-Assyria (911-612 BCE).

The instrument was brought to Europe by the Arabs through North Africa and Spain during the Middle Ages and also to China where it was referred to as the "foreign qin". It is the main instrument used in the classical Magam tradition along with the Iraqi spike fiddle "joza"




The instrument can also be placed on a table and plucked by fingers or with  plectrum or quill.

The psaltery (psalterion, saltere, sauterie, Psalterium, Psalter, salterio) is an ancient instrument seen in many forms. Developed in the Middle East, the psaltery is in the family of chordophones. Vibrating strings by running a bow across them makes their sound. The psaltery's strings run the entire length of the instrument and put it in the same classification as the zither.
The psaltery was a very important instrument during the Medieval Period. The name of psaltery entered Christian literature in the 3rd century B.C. translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint where, in the Psalms, "nebel" was translated "psalterion". The book of Psalms has also become known as the Psalter (or psalterium), from the hymns sung with this harp.
Southern Europe, influenced by Moorish Spain, preferred the trapezoidal psaltry with three or four strings to a note. Northern psalteries tended to be triangular or wing-shaped and single or double-strung. Like most other instruments of the time, the psaltery had no specific repertory, but was used to play whatever music the occasion demanded. It was referred to frequently in lists of musicians and instruments and in the art of the time. The psaltery was widely used until about 1500, but could not cope well with the chromaticism of the Renaissance, so was used less as time passed.
Illustrations from the 12th century onwards depict a number of different forms of the instrument. Such plucked psalteries were well known throughout Europe during the Middle Ages: Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1340 - 1400) refers to it in his Millere's Tale. By the 18th century it had developed into several other instruments, including the hammered dulcimer. The harpsichord is a hammered dulcimer with a keyboard mechanism; which eventually gave rise to the most important instrument of modern times, the piano. Historic illustrations show the plucked psaltery held against the chest with the narrow, pig-snout end pointed down, or resting on the lap. 
The earliest psalteries had gut strings. Later steel strings were added for a louder, brighter sound. Illustrations from the 12th century onwards depict a number of different forms of the instrument. Such plucked psalteries were well known throughout Europe during the Middle Ages: Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1340 - 1400) refers to it in his Millere's Tale. By the 18th century it had developed into several other instruments, including the hammered dulcimer. The harpsichord is a hammered dulcimer with a keyboard mechanism; which eventually gave rise to the most important instrument of modern times, the piano. Historic illustrations show the plucked psaltery held against the chest with the narrow, pig-snout end pointed down, or resting on the lap. The strings of the plucked psaltery are plucked, either with fingers or with a quill or plectrum.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Weald and Downlands

I have to tell you and spread the word about one of my favourite places in England. I must have visited this place at least 8 times and would never hesitate to find an excuse to go again. A visit to one of the most spectacular displays of English houses from as early as the fourteenth century is a must should anyone happen to be in West Sussex. The Weald and Downlands open air museum  features original historic houses and buildings that have been dismantled from all over the country and reconstructed painstakingly to ensure faithful reproduction. 

A visitor would need at least a day to explore the 50 acre site, displaying not only historical houses and buildings but a range of livestock from Shire horses to pigs and chickens living in and around the reconstructed buildings. There is also a charming lake populated by a variety of ducks; a working mill, where you could buy freshly milled flour and biscuits made from the same flour; a cafĂ© with a selection of delicious cakes; a Tudor kitchen where authentic early modern recipes are prepared and served to visitors; and a variety of activities and special features depending on the time of year and occasion. 

Walking into one of the houses, you are instantly transported to another time and another world. These ancient structures with their authentic and accurately reproduced interiors capture a way life you may have only read about or seen in films. Every detail is considered and during the colder months you may even experience the warmth and the welcoming glow of a real fire lit for heightened authenticity in some of the houses. You can see how people slept, ate, socialised and cultivated their vegetable plots. You can smell, touch and see what the original inhabitants may have experienced in their homes and obtain a flavour of how life may have been. I found myself captivated by the aura and simplicity of a house I visited. I sat in a chair placed opposite a roaring fire, and felt a strange compulsion to remain there for a long time. The Spartan-like surroundings, the earthy musky smell, the rustic and 'honest' aura combined to create a sensation completely unique and mesmerising. This is history experienced in a way that cannot be compared. 

Hangleton exterior adjusted IMG_3331

Cottage from Hangleton. 13th century


Hall from Boarhunt. Late 14th century.


Bayleaf: Wealden House. 15th century.


Medieval house from Sole Street Kent


Barn from Cowfold. Built 1536.


Pendean Farmhouse. Built in 1609.

parkland bayleaf aerial view


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Mousehold Heath

My Easter weekend in England was spent in Norfolk, mainly near and at the historic city of Norwich. It's a part of England I have always wanted to visit, specifically for its historic significance. Aside from the medieval relics and shrines which pilgrims from far and wide would visit, such as the Our Lady of Walsingham shrine, Norfolk contains sites where some of the most dramatic moments in English history occurred - one of which is Mousehold Heath. 

Arriving at the site, I felt a rush of anticipation and excitement at the thought of walking in the footsteps of thousands of brave men who camped and fought as part of a rebellion in the name of the common man against the forces of repression. In 1549, during the reign of Edward VI, Robert Kett and his men numbering in the region of 4000 engaged in a massive rebellion which verged on civil war against enclosures erected by the aristocracy and the landed gentry. Mousehold Heath was their camp site. Here they remained for weeks, camped in defiance of the law and the army. They slaughtered local livestock for their survival and organised their next plan of action. Ultimately, their rebellion was crushed under Protector Somerset's leadership by the Earl of Warwick and an army of 14,000 men including foreign mercenaries. The men were slaughtered and those who were captured were hung, drawn and quartered. 

As I walked with my family and friends through the woodland, I knew they were oblivious to my thoughts and sentiments. I felt a sense of detachment and isolation in my preoccupation as I contemplated the magnitude of what had once occurred in this beautiful and peaceful woodland park. Ghostly apparitions - products of my over-active imagination - presented themselves in various spots. Here they lit a fire. There they slaughtered a cow. Around the corner they trained in armed combat, while next to them men sharpened their weapons. These ancient apparitions seemed somehow strangely tranquil and benign in the peaceful serenity of Easter Sunday, 2013. Their presence was not one of turbulence and anticipated doom, but one of hope and liberation. In my romantic mind's eye I envisioned Spartan-like brave warriors preparing for the ultimate sacrifice.  

My family's laughter and chatter rudely interrupted my pensive mood, when a friend discovered a rope attached to a tree branch with a piece of wood tied at the end in the shape of a swing's seat. They took it in turn to jump on the rope and swing before jumping off. Such happy, frivolous playfulness - similar to countless other examples of families and children who grew up in the area and have visited the site for leisure and exploration. I wondered how many of these casual visitors ever stopped to contemplate the plight of Robert Kett and his rebels? Or is it just the indulgence of the occasional sensitive history enthusiasts, who seek to walk in the footsteps of ancestors while recreating dramatic moments in their mind's eye?

Robert Kett and his rebels.
File:A group of dissenters in Norfolk during Robert Kett's rebellion of 1549.jpg

Mousehold Heath Woodland.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Henry VIII as Robin Hood.

The occasion of Valentine's day, yesterday, coincides well with this amusing snippet I just found in a book I am reading. It conjures an image of Robin Hood not as Errol Flynn in the classical film version of the story, but of Henry VIII and a bunch of his 'merry' men gallivanting in green stockings and feathered hats to entertain his queen. This account reveals the character of the youthful Henry, in love with his Spanish queen and eager to impress her.

Married life enthralled Henry VIII - at least at his early stage in his reign. In the halcyon weeks that followed his crowning, he wrote enthusiastic letters to his father-in-law Ferdinand describing his joyful and enchanted life with Katherine. These were happy, carefree salad days, spent in quest of boundless regal pleasure - whilst the king's ministers ran the country, as they had done for his father. A profound love for Katherine had blossomed unexpectedly in his teenage heart. He wrote promising that the enduring bond between him and his bride was 'now so strict that all their interests are common. The love I bear Katherine is such that if I were free, I would choose her in preference to all others.'
Possibly because of the plague that was raging in some parts of England, Henry kept Christmas isolated at Richmond, with forty shillings paid to the children of the Chapel Royal for singing Gloria in Excelsis and £10 to William Wynnesbury as 'Lord of Misrule', who presided over the full gamut of noisy revelry. The festivities continued until Twelfth Night (probably then the evening of 5 January), with a play staged in the great hall, but for the king, the merrymaking continued. 
On 12 January 1510 Henry took part incognito in a private joust in Richmond Park together with Compton, who was also in disguise. This was the first time he had jousted as king and despite his efforts his presence was an open secret. Disaster followed. Edward Neville, one of Henry's cronies, ran a course against Crompton and 'hurt him sore and [he] was likely to die'. There was panic amongst the spectators that the injured contestant was Henry, but when the visor of Crompton's helmet was raised, 'one person that was there knew the king and cried 'God Save the King!' [and] with that all the people were astonished. Then the king discovered [revealed] himself to the great comfort of the people.'
Unabashed by this accident, Henry decided to take on the persona of Robin Hood in a merry jape to entertain the heavily pregnant queen. After Christmas, the court returned to Westminster and one morning the king and eleven of his nobles, all disguised as Sherwood Forest outlaws, burst suddenly into the queen's chamber, dressed in 'short coats of Kentish kendal with hoods on their heads and hose of the same. Everyone of them, his bow and arrows, and a sword and buckler ...[like] Robin Hood's men. Whereof the queen, the ladies and all others there were abashed ...for the strange sight [and] also their sudden coming. After certain dances and pastime made, they departed.'
Walter Crane painting Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (1912)

 Perhaps the king tried to make amends to Katherine for his earlier Robin Hood prank. On Shrove Tuesday - the last day before Lenten fast - Henry threw an elaborately arranged banquet in the queen's honour for the foreign ambassadors in the Parliament Chamber in Westminster. Amid polite applause, Henry personally led Katherine to his own regal seat beneath the golden cloth of estate canopy at the top table. The guests were 'marshalled by the king, who would not sit, but walked from place to place, making cheer to the queen and the strangers.'

Suddenly the king disappeared and then re-entered the banquet with Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex. Both were dressed in the Turkish fashion, wearing long robes of baudekin (a rich figured silk) powdered with gold, and crimson velvet hats, and each armed with broad-bladed Middle-Eastern scimitar swords. The King's young friends followed, dressed in the Russian and Prussian styles, escorted by torchbearers in crimson satin, their faces blackened with soot to resemble Moors. All then took part in a 'mummery' - a silent play or dance to music. 'So the king made great cheer to the queen, ladies and the ambassadors,' reported Edward Hall. 

There is no evidence to indicate what was Katherine's reaction to Henry's pranks. But it illustrates a side of the youthful Henry most people are not aware of, since we tend to see him as the later bloated king moving from one wife to another. Henry and Katherine were married for almost 24 years. Even before this, they had known each other for almost a decade, and Henry’s decision to marry her was one of his first acts as king in 1509. They shared a similar education and a love for court entertainment and learning. But, somewhere between the private tragedy of miscarriages and stillbirths and the public political and dynastic ambitions of Henry VIII, their marriage failed.

Sources: Robert Hutchinson, Young Henry.

Katherine of Aragon  

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The children of Henry and Elizabeth.

In January 1486, a papal dispensation for the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was granted to 'end the long and grevious variance, contentions and debates' between England's warring factions. Henry was almost 29 and Elizabeth was almost 20. On that occasion the theme of divine intervention on behalf of Henry VII was deliberately promoted and widely believed. Not long after the wedding, the queen found herself pregnant with her first son, Arthur, and gave birth on 20 September 1486. By March 1489 the queen was pregnant again and on the 29 November she delivered a baby girl, Margaret. Eighteen months later her third child, Henry, was born at Greenwich Palace, alongside the River Thames, five miles (8km) east of London, on 28 June 1491.

Henry VII (1457–1509) Henry VII.

Elizabeth of York (1465/1466–1503), Holding the Yorkist White Rose
Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother to Henry VIII.

A few days after his birth, Henry VIII was baptised in the newly built church of the Order of the Franciscan Observants that adjoined Greenwich Palace immediately to the west. Immediately after the christening, Mistress Anne Oxenbridge took charge of the baby as his wet nurse on a salary of £10 a year, or nearly £5,000 a year at current values. Anne cared for Henry for at least two years and his grandmother, Lady Margaret (Henry VII's mother), ordered that 'her meat and drink be assayed [tested] during the time that she gives suck to the child and that a physician do oversee her at every meal, [who] shall see that she gives the child seasonable meat and drink after he had progressed to solid foods.' The wet nurse was assisted in her duties by two official 'rockers' of the royal cradle - Frideswide Puttenham and Margaret Draughton.

Henry probably shared the royal nursery with his two-year-old sister Margaret (his brother Arthur was raised elsewhere), although they lived in separate accommodation and had their own female attendants. While the queen frequently stayed in the same building as her children, everyday care and love always devolved upon paid staff. However, Elizabeth of York was probably well educated, and it may be that she taught Henry to read and write when he was about four years of age.
In their early years, the royal children had a peripatetic existence, shifting from one palace to another as their mother travelled with the seasons, following the set regal diary of events, which was sometimes linked to religious festivals. Their elder brother, Arthur, meanwhile had an entirely separate life, spending his first two years at Farnham castle, before his nursery was moved to Ashford in Kent around 1488. When Arthur was seven he was taken to Ludlow where he learnt the duties of a king, complete with his own household and council, administering his principality of Wales. Meanwhile, his younger brother's life during this time was spent in a very cloistered and cosy feminine world at Eltham. As the only boy at this royal houselhold, Henry was thoroughly spoilt and tenderly protected from the hard knocks and bruises of childhood misfortune. The toddler prince was cossetted, his grumpiness and tears cooed away, and his every whim swiftly fulfilled by the doting matronly ladies who cared for him.
Did this period in Henry's early life forge a deep psychological flaw within him that later created some of the personal difficulties that arose in his relationships with his wives? Some psychiatrists have detected in him an unconscious craving for a forbidden incestuous union - even signs of an Oedipus complex. Certainly that soft, compliant female world may have planted and nurtured the seeds of his terrible temper in adulthood (one inherited by his daughter Elizabeth); the breathtaking tantrums that assailed courtier or commoner when he was denied what he desired or confronted by any kind of opposition, however feeble or insignificant the source.
It did not take long before Henry VII reasoned it was time to exploit the appeal and status of the second son. On April 1493 the king made the infant Henry Lord Warden of the fourteen Cinques Ports on the south-east coast of England and Constable of Dover Castle. It was a highly symbolic act. Not only was a royal prince now nominally in charge of the realm's defensive front line, but the appointment was also deliberately linked with the name of a famous memory. Further prestigious offices followed: Earl Marshal of England and then, on September 1494, his appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland. He was also created Duke of York and a knight of the most honourable order of the Bath. All this when Henry was barely three years old.
The toddler was confronted with a seemingly impossible test of infant nerve and stamina. He was to be at the centre of an unintelligible and interminable series of elaborate rituals, full of strange sounds and vibrant colours, and amid a host of strangers, all in the unfamiliar and intimidating surroundings of Westminister. Perhaps Henry was anxious to demonstrate his royal bearing, even at an early age. Certainly, these occasions spawned his later delight in gaudy pagentry and lavish ceremonial, which was also a delight inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth. On 17 May 1495, at the age of four, young Henry received the Garter, the highest order of chivalry in England.
Henry VII fourth child, Elizabeth, born 2 July 1492, began displaying signs of ill health in 1495. Unknown to the royal physicians, she was suffering from atrophy, a wasting disease caused by the breakdown of her body's tissues and  on 14 September Henry's sibling and playmate died at Eltham Palace, aged three years and two months. Very early in life, Henry was made aware of the fragility and precariousness of life - no doubt an anxiety which haunted him during the years to come when his own children were born.
The loss of Elizabeth was eased by the birth of another sister, Mary on 18 March 1496, who joined Margaret and Henry in the nursery at Eltham.

Margaret Tudor

Prince of Wales

                                  Hans Holbein d. J. 044.jpg      

Henry VII fifth child, Mary.

Henry's first public duty came at Windsor on 21 September 1496, when he was aged five. This was his formal witnessing of a royal grant of a charter to the abbot and convent of Glastonbury to hold two annual fairs in the Somerset town. Paradoxically, forty-three years later as king, he destroyed the abby during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and had its last abbot brutally hanged for high treason.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth of York had given birth to another son, named Edmund after the king's father, on Friday 20 February 1499. There were now three sons in direct line of succession to the Tudor crown. But not for long. Edmund died on 19 June 1500 and was buried in Westminister Abbey.
In 1501, Katherine of Aragon, Arthur's intended bride, left Granada to England for the wedding. Aged sixteen and described as 'pink-cheeked with blue eyes and reddish-gold hair', she was also noted unkindly as slightly on the plump side and quite short, even tiny. Arthur was fifteen, 'half a head shorter than her, with a pallor to his face and lips.' On the 14 November 1501 their marriage took place in St Paul's Cathedral. Ten-year-old Henry was granted the honour of giving the bride away. Henry escorted Katherine in her dazzling entrance into the city of London two days before the wedding. It was the first sight of the girl who was to preoccupy his life, for better, for worse, for more than three decades. A spectacular wedding ensued. Edward Hall was beside himself with excitement, stunned by the splendour of 'the rich apparel of the princess, the strange fashion of the Spanish nation, the beauty of the English ladies, the goodly demeanour of the young damsels, the amarous countenence of the lusty bachelors'.
Shortly before Christmas the newly-weds left the Palace of Richmond to begin their new life together on the Welsh borders at Ludlow Castle. On April 1502 - less than twenty weeks after that sumptuous wedding - Arthur was dead and cold in his bed. The cause of death: probably tuberculosis. Henry was now the unexpected and untrained heir-apparent to the throne. In just over a 1,000 days, Death had now cruelly snatched two of the three Tudor Princes - a foreshadowing of Henry's own future fate in his attempt to secure an heir to his throne.
In 1503, another disaster befell the House of Tudor. Elizabeth had fallen pregnant a few months after Arthur's death. With two daughters living, the king and queen had hoped desperately for a second boy to firmly secure the line of Tudor succession. During the night of 2 February, the queen 'travailed suddenly of a child' but with the assistance of her midwife, Alice Massy, safely gave birth to a daughter, christened Katherine. A few days later Elizabeth fell ill, possibly of a puerperal fever arising from an infection picked up during birth. Early on the morning of Saturday 11 February 1503, Elizabeth died. It was her thirty-seventh birthday. Henry VII had lost his gentle, blond and fair-skinned wife of eighteen years, and of the eight children she had borne him, only three now survived - Margaret, Mary and Henry.
Much later Henry VIII wrote of his thoughts on the death of the king of Castile, recalling his great grief at the loss of his mother:
For never, since the death of my dearest mother, has there come to me more hateful intelligence. Your letter ... seemed to tear open again the wound to which time had brought insensibility.

Young Henry



Sources: Robert Hutchinson Young Henry.