Music for Henry V and the House of Lancaster / The Binchois Consort


Hyperion CDA67868

grabado en mayo de 2010
St Silas' Church, Kentish Town, London

01 - 'Roi HENRY', Henry V (1386-1422). Gloria   [3:42]

The Office for St John of Bridlington · antiphons & responsory
02 - 'Johannis solemnitas digne celebretur'   [7:05]

03 - Asperges me, Domine   [2:41]
chant with faburden

Missa Quem malignus spiritus

04 - 1. Kyrie   [6:59]
05 - 2. Gloria   [6:28]

06 - Ave regina caelorum   [1:15]
chant · solo, Richard Butler
07 - Leonel POWER (d.1445). Ave regina caelorum   [2:53]

08 - 3. Credo   [7:34]

09 - Gloriosae virginis   [0:52]
chant · solo, Christopher Watson
10 - Leonel POWER. Gloriosae virginis   [1:39]

11 - 4. Sanctus and Benedictus   [7:38]

12 - [Thomas?] DAMETT (1389/90?-1436/7). Salvatoris mater ~ O Georgi Deo care   [4:13]
13 - John COOKE (c.1385-1442?). Alma proles ~ Christi miles   [3:50]
14 - [Nicholas?] STURGEON (d.1454). Salve mater Domini ~ Salve templum gratie   [3:04]

15 - 5. Agnus Dei   [6:18]

16 - Ite missa est ... Agimus tibi gratias   [2:01]

17 - Tota pulchra es   [2:02]
chant · solo, Timothy Travers-Brown
18 - Walter FRYE (d.1475). Ave regina caelorum   [2:35]


The Binchois Consort
Andrew Kirkman

Mark Chambers, alto
Timothy Travers-Brown, alto
Richard Butler, tenor
Edwin Simpson, tenor
Matthew Vine, tenor
Christopher Watson, tenor


This recording documents in sound something of the cultural seriousness and panache of the royal princes of the House of Lancaster. Above all, it seeks to evoke the vocal and ceremonial beauty of their household chapels. In doing so it celebrates in music the brilliant, iconic figure of Henry V, hero of Agincourt and the French campaigns; the obviously unheroic but still culturally and religiously influential figure of his son, Henry VI; and finally the perhaps unlikely figure they both revered: John Thwenge (Thwing), a fourteenth-century Augustinian prior who, as St John of Bridlington, was to be the last English saint canonized prior to the Reformation. It also celebrates the great Wollaton Antiphonal, a magnificent illuminated chant book of the early fifteenth century that uniquely preserves the melodies of the Bridlington Office and constitutes one of the finest survivals of the myriad liturgical volumes of pre-Reformation England, so very few of which avoided falling prey to the purges and material destruction of the mid-sixteenth century.

Our programme presents a spectrum of English polyphonic vocal styles spanning the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI, and we have sought to balance the securely ascribed pieces (by both more and less familiar names) with the anonymous ones. The programme as a whole articulates a kind of journey through Lancastrian dynastic concerns, demonstrating as it does so the sheer variety of types of singing, some of it virtuosic in its brilliance, available to well-staffed princely chapels in England at the time. More concretely, it offers sacred ceremonial pieces written either for Henry V himself, as King, or to invoke the saintly patron of the House of Lancaster, John of Bridlington, as well as a group of motets in honorem beatae Mariae virginis.

The Bridlington Mass-setting recorded here dates from the era of his son and heir Henry VI, though it may or may not have been commissioned directly for (or indeed from within) the Chapel Royal itself. It is based on one of the melodies found in the Wollaton Antiphonal (Quem malignus spiritus), and is presented together with items of English plainchant and a selection of motets chosen not just for their sonic qualities, but to illustrate something of the range of styles in use during the ‘Lancastrian decades’ of the fifteenth century. These chants and motets are interspersed among the Mass movements, sometimes as pairs of Latin texts addressed to the blessed virgin Mary, sometimes as integral parts of the order of Mass. The opening sections of the Bridlington Office, up to and including the Responsory which provides the Quem malignus melody, are sung as a kind of musical preface or introduction, beginning at Johannis solemnitas. (As was common in Office chants of the Sanctorale, the various component texts stay very close to the narrative of the life of the saint whose feast was being celebrated, so that anyone listening or participating would be reminded of the relevant stories as the liturgy progressed.) The Asperges me, part of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass, is then performed to Sarum chant, with the ‘refrain’ being sung to improvised three-voice polyphony (a widespread and characteristic tradition, known in England as ‘faburden’). The conclusion of Mass is marked by a short ‘post missam’ motet for three voices, Agimus tibi gratias, that in time-honoured fashion answers the priest’s dismissal Ite missa est (‘Go, the Mass is ended’).

There are three chant/motet pairings dedicated, rather like votive offerings in sound, to the virgin Mary: Gloriosae virginis, Ave regina caelorum and the much-loved Tota pulchra es, which is paired with another Ave regina setting. There is also a group of three extended motets addressed jointly to Mary and St George, as prime intercessors for the kingdom of England (Salvatoris mater, Alma proles and Salve mater). These motets, written by musicians of Henry V’s own chapel, are without doubt political pieces, in a religious and ceremonial sense, reflecting the bellicose history of Henry’s reign with its central victory of Agincourt, and the King’s vital position in relation to the English realm and people at that momentous time. There were celebrations in London following on from the victory itself—an event that was mythologized almost as soon as it had happened, and had already passed into national legend long before Shakespeare and Burbage, let alone Garrick, Kean, Olivier and the rest. Motets played a key role in both the quotidian and the occasional rituals of Henry’s reign, one key event having been the performance of a (now lost) motet Ave rex Anglorum / Flos mundi / Miles Christi—which no doubt expressed sentiments similar to those of the surviving trio of motets—before the gate to London Bridge to herald the King’s entry into the city following his great victory in 1415. The motets may well belong together as a group, which is how they appear in the Old Hall manuscript, couched among the Sanctus and Benedictus settings—and so this is how we present them here, at the appropriate point within the Mass liturgy after the Sanctus (the outer two are based on the two ‘halves’ of a divided Benedictus chant, split at the word ‘ve-nit’). The central motet has the invocation ‘Christ, defend us from our enemies’, and makes a general plea for divine support for both state and people, as well as for the King himself, in time of war.

The Missa Quem malignus spiritus is an extended cantus firmus setting based on the chant extracted from the Bridlington Office. It was evidently quite widely known and performed, surviving as it does in as many as four sources (two of which are in fact the same version copied twice). In particular, it survives (in only fragmentary form) in the so-called Lucca Choirbook, a musically substantial manuscript collection of great historical interest that was written circa 1463, in Bruges, probably for use in the chapel of the English Nation of Merchant Adventurers (whose governor William Caxton, a long-time resident of Bruges, had recently become). The chant melody in (relatively) long note values is given in the lower of the two tenor voices, and in our recording has been sung to its original Bridlington text. The high tenor and discantus parts form an integrated pair of voices above this, and are written with a degree of rhythmic interplay and melodic imitation that gives a sense of tautness and momentum to the texture as a whole. This is exceptional, yet not uncharacteristic, for English music at this period. It is becoming clearer, the more the repertory is explored and investigated in greater depth, that there was a really wide range of vocal idiom and compositional style operative in England during this era. And the anonymous status of so many important works, including such pieces as the Bridlington Mass and the iconic Missa Caput, can only serve to sharpen our awareness of this situation, standing as they do beyond what we (often too readily and uncritically) see as the self-consistent personal styles of the best-known composers.

The Quem malignus Mass was evidently conceived for a skilled ensemble of singers, whose art seems to have left its mark upon the polyphony—its clearness of line, its sense of rhythmic focus and balance, and the general elegance of its solutions to the problem of presenting the liturgical texts in cogent phrases, while offering at the same time a real sense of articulate musical flow, are all evidence of this. It undoubtedly reflects the professional world of the Lancastrian chapels, and those of the important noble families associated with them (Beauchamp and Beaufort, for example). It is a very individualized piece, and one not easily susceptible to close linkage with others; perhaps the work that offers the closest points of analogy is Frye’s beautiful Nobilis et pulchra Mass, although this relationship ought not to be exaggerated. For the present, the proud anonymity of the Missa Quem malignus spiritus (like that of the Caput Mass, indeed) will remain one of its distinguishing characteristics.

Like the Mass, the anonymous three-voice Agimus tibi gratias is also found in the Lucca Choirbook. It is one of a group of (presumably) English motets written together in the manuscript, that are for use at the end of the liturgy (blessing and dismissal); and we may be certain that at some time or other it was heard at Mass in Bruges together with the Missa Quem malignus spiritus, the two being sung from the manuscript they shared.

The four-voice motets Gloriosae virginis and Ave regina caelorum are jewels of the art of Leonel Power. These pieces are not long, but their sense of compactness is lightened and dispelled by the exquisite control of line and sonority which they exhibit. Their finely judged and ‘easy’ intricacy lifts them into a time-dimension where a musical moment or phrase may be neither long nor short, but simply of a perfect duration. Moreover their sound is distinctive and individual, as well as beautiful—this is an idiom unlike any other at that period, even in England, and creates a sense of space and luminosity through the masterly interplay of its musical elements. These short antiphon texts are set as a combination of votive offering and gently impassioned invocation, freely alluding to their respective chants as they do so.

The Frye Ave regina caelorum was one of the most widely copied and evidently best-loved motets of the entire fifteenth century. It survives in a wide range of sources, was depicted in visual art being sung by angels, and was reworked in keyboard arrangements and with expanded vocal textures. Our version is in four voices, and is transmitted in a source as far away as late fifteenth-century Bohemia.

The chant for St John and the succession of the Mass are prefaced by a Gloria, found in the Old Hall manuscript as one of two pieces by ‘Roy Henry’, very probably Henry V himself. That a royal personage should have been a literate musician, no doubt well versed in the arts of singing and musical leisure in addition to those of composition, as well as being very conscious of the personal interest a royal prince ought to take in the musical and ceremonial ordering of his chapel, is on the face of it surprising. Yet as we have seen, the Lancastrians offer, in the vigour of their cultural as well as military prowess, the very archetype of a complete prince in a way that stands as a model for the later Middle Ages, and yields nothing to the princely ideal of later decades. In Henry V’s case, as in that of Charles the Bold later in the century, this engagement with the art of music was clearly a skilled and active involvement.

If the English music of the fifteenth century still has the power to speak to us today, with its individuality of sound, its particular beauty and sense of aesthetic priorities, then that is all of a piece with the fame it enjoyed in its own time. For several generations it was valued and performed both at home and abroad, occupying a leading position on the European stage from Italy and France in the west to musical communities far away in Germany and central Europe. It was sung in the most prestigious chapels and ecclesiastical centres, but also in far-flung places which one might hardly expect English music to have penetrated. This was one of those few moments when English music was at the very forefront of European developments, and was openly acknowledged to be so by European masters. No group of aristocratic patrons did more to foster the emergence of such a situation than the princes of the House of Lancaster.



The Bridlington & Missa Quem malignus Project

THIS PROJECT grew out of a very specific, practical brief: to devise a concert programme for an event that would celebrate in music the process of conserving the Wollaton Antiphonal, and the new phase of intensive study to which this process has given rise. (Parts of the Antiphonal were shown in an exhibition of the Wollaton medieval manuscripts which ran from April to August 2010 at the University of Nottingham; there was a public research colloquium on the significance of the Antiphonal for polyphonic music on 4 May followed by a one-day conference on 8 May, together with the evening concert given by The Binchois Consort.) The research, planning and preparation for the concert opened up new areas of interest and significance and led to the present recording, which brings the Bridlington material and its story into close relation with Henry V, his son Henry VI, and the House of Lancaster.

The House of Lancaster: Princes, Patronage, Music

As men and monarchs, Henry V and his heir Henry VI could scarcely have been more different. Despite being father and son, and (in theory at least) schooled to the same role and the same tasks, they were about as dissimilar as could be imagined. Henry V was the great warrior, with tremendous reserves of character and strength of purpose, whose personality and achievement both on and off the battlefield became the stuff of myth even in his own lifetime. The admiration he enjoyed and the loyalty he commanded were of heroic proportions. Henry VI, by contrast, was the would-be conciliator, whose gentler nature and perhaps too-scrupulous indecision and anxiousness made him a weak leader—a king at the furthest possible remove from his father. Yet the two men were alike in their keen promotion of music. This was especially true of Latin sacred music for the ceremonial operations of the chapels they supported: the celebration of Mass and of Vespers, as a sign of their princely dignity and the divine order of their earthly rule. On this level, our concert and recording project has brought them closer together than they ever were in life. For while they were separated in history by the tide of events, and in posterity by our rather fixed view of their divergent personalities and destinies, they resembled one another in their keen appreciation and patronage of polyphonic art music, and of the working musical institutions needed to support it.

Between them, the Lancastrian princes—Henry and his brothers Clarence and Bedford, essentially, and later the younger Henry—employed most of the famous composers of the era at one time or another. The sense of high-level collective musical endeavour was crucial to the development of strong musical personalities, the fruits of whose labours expanded the horizons not only of English but of European music. The Lancastrians contributed to this in a huge way. As royal figureheads, they brilliantly displayed an all-round package of strengths, virtues and accomplishments: their aristocratic personae and the organization of their entourage offered a palpable sense of richness and dignity. This was part of the aura of power and kingship; and their sense of display—including the best available sacred music, sung by the best singers— helped to maintain that aura. The functional needs of princely ceremonial, and the technical and aesthetic needs of maintaining a brilliant musical establishment and its associated repertoire, went hand in hand. Henry V may have been the quintessential soldier and leader of men; but he also embodied to a remarkable degree the arts of peacetime and good governance, too, as the early fifteenth century understood them. He was in this sense an important agent of cultural as well as political and military history. In him we can easily observe how the nature of the man and the performance of his role, with its many associated tasks and duties, together contributed to the strong projection of his kingly identity.

His son Henry VI was by contrast no great leader, a peaceable man whose reputation has understandably suffered by the comparison with that of his father. But the younger Henry was among other things a religious patron of great energy and commitment, the results of whose activity (as distinct from his historical reputation) have in some instances outlived and outshone those of his father—as for example in his great collegiate foundations at Eton and Cambridge. And the fact that many such colleges were from the very beginning set up as places where polyphonic music was to be cultivated, and the relevant singing and composing skills carefully nurtured, relates directly to the flourishing state of English music throughout the fifteenth century, to the vigour of its traditions, and to its international fame.

Lancastrian Devotion to St John of Bridlington

But there is a further strand to our project: the presence of St John of Bridlington, the last English saint to be canonized prior to the Reformation, and—chiefly through the agency of Henry IV—a patron saint of the House of Lancaster. The Bridlington threads contribute in no small measure to the colour and texture of our tapestry. The early years of the fifteenth century saw an increased attention given to English saints, not least by the Lancastrians. The famous east window in the Beauchamp chapel at St Mary’s, Warwick bears eloquent testimony to this: in the upper level of the window we see, on the left, St Alban and St Thomas Becket, and on the right, Saints Winefred and John of Bridlington. As major political and administrative players in the affairs of the kingdom, the Beauchamps were a key part of the network of alliance positioned around the House of Lancaster, sustaining it and extending its influence. In such a context, the presence of the ‘Lancastrian St John’ among a group of English saints that was clearly intended to be representative and emblematic is striking and significant. (It is easy to imagine any of the professional male-voice ensembles employed by the Lancastrian-related families as part of their household chapels singing the Missa Quem malignus in the context of their liturgical duties; musically it would have been very suitable for just this kind of purpose—and it must surely have sounded in the chapel at Warwick, in the presence of the richly coloured image of the saint himself.)

Partly, the emphasis on English saints was a matter of cultural identity; but it was a question of politics as well. National and regional relationships were being renegotiated during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, even as the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses were being played out (over decades, rather than years). The exigencies of place and power formed part of this process of renegotiation; and so far as the expression of loyalty and nationhood was concerned, authority and solidarity resided as much in securely located, culturally grounded religious tradition as in force of arms or jurisdiction. This is one strong reason, no doubt, why the cult of John of Bridlington became an important factor for Henry IV and his descendants. He was a regional saint, whose shrine was within easy striking distance of their ancestral stronghold at Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire, and may well have been thought of as offering a kind of resistance, or better: a kind of positive rivalry, to the rising cult of Archbishop Scrope at York.

This was doubly important because Henry IV had had Scrope executed for treason after the confrontation at Shipton Moor—and the last thing he wanted was a renewal of the York-based rebellion in the form of a popular uprising fuelled by religious feeling, and focused on a local ‘martyr’ to the Yorkist cause. Such a sense of urgency to match the strength of political and military power with the strength of ceremonial and cultural display was accentuated for the Lancastrians not least because they were usurpers. The energy with which they pursued this was genuinely heroic; and there is little doubt that their sense of the need to invoke divine aid, or at least seek divine approval, was part of their way of dealing positively with the dynamics of their situation.

The Lancastrian revolution (there is no other appropriate word) of 1399 brought them to power, but there was resistance on every side. The psychological need to find, and feel, support from on high was probably overwhelming. And there is no doubt whatever that Henry V did in fact take his religious obligations, especially those towards the saints, very seriously indeed; a devoutness stemming at least in part from the moral exhortations of Thomas Hoccleve, whose Regement of Princes had been written for him and presented to him prior to his accession, in 1411, when he was still Prince of Wales. As in all things, however, he fulfilled his duties not just pro forma but decisively, with heroic energy.

On his royal tour in 1421 he made special pilgrimages to shrines he judged of particular importance, including Howden, Beverley and Bridlington in Yorkshire, as well as travelling from Lincoln to Lynn and then Walsingham in Norfolk. It was thought that St John of Beverley had intervened—or at least, interceded—on behalf of the English so as to ensure the victory at Agincourt, and that his shrine had sweated holy oil as a mark of this. (Agincourt was fought on 25 October which, in addition to being the feast of Saints Crispian and Crispinian, as Shakespeare reminds us with insistence, is the feast of the Translation of St John of Beverley, as observed in the diocese of York; at Henry’s request Archbishop Chichele ordained various forms of enhanced liturgical observance for St John the following year, 1416.)



The Wollaton Antiphonal

As indicated above, the conservation project has been allied with new historical and interpretive research on the Antiphonal. This research is in turn framed within a larger project devoted to the collection of medieval manuscripts of Wollaton Hall Library, where the Antiphonal resided from the mid-sixteenth century until Christmas 1924. It belongs, as it did in the later fifteenth century, to the parish church of St Leonard’s; but it was as a result of having been kept in the family library at Wollaton Hall that the Antiphonal miraculously escaped the purges and destruction of the Henrician Reformation.

The Antiphonal is a sumptuous illuminated medieval service book produced in the early fifteenth century (most probably in East Anglia) for Sir Thomas Chaworth (1380–1459), an enormously wealthy magnate and bibliophile, and one of the most prominent noblemen in the East Midlands. Influential and very active in public life, in addition to being rich and well connected, he was related to the Plantagenet-Lancasters through a common ancestor, the first Sir Patrick de Cadurcis (the original form of Chaworth), and seems to have commissioned the genealogical additions to the famous Chaworth Roll, that brought his very distinguished family tree up to date, in the early years of the fifteenth century. This strong connection to the House of Lancaster (as a young man he had fought at Agincourt with Henry V, with a force of eight men-at-arms and twenty-four archers) probably explains why he might have had a personal—and also dynastic—investment in his devotion to John of Bridlington. He would have sought to maintain and express that devotion as a mark of his Lancastrian loyalty, as other great families such as the Beauchamps and Beauforts would also have done. Moreover, he seems to have had a special allegiance to the Augustinians: he was buried with his wife in an Augustinian house, Launde Abbey in Leicestershire, where he had previously founded a chantry. So there is every likelihood that the Bridlington Office may have been copied (as a special addition) into the Antiphonal at his instigation, some time between the book’s completion circa 1430 and his death in 1459.

He may have viewed his prized liturgical manuscripts (in part at least) as luxury cultural objects. Certainly, their visual and artistic aspects were important to him. But there seems little doubt that he valued them for their religious significance as well, perhaps even primarily; and this then fits in very well with what we know of the acts and attitudes of conventional piety that characterized his later years. His combination of immense wealth with a genuine religious sensibility was a fairly common one among the medieval nobility, and quite naturally found expression in bequests to religious communities and institutions, and in the purchase of extravagantly expensive devotional and liturgical books. If the stylishly adorned Book of Hours was the usual acquisition (the ‘must have’ accessory of choice for fashionable devotion), the purchase of formal liturgical books may not in itself have been all that rare, though the sheer size and splendour of Chaworth’s Antiphonal must surely have been exceptional.

Besides the Bridlington Office itself, entered on separate leaves of vellum at the end of the Sanctorale, there are other additions to the book that are specific to the Use of York, or to the Willoughby family and to Wollaton in Nottinghamshire, which date from the later phase of the book’s existence once it had passed into the possession of the parish church of St Leonard’s, soon after Sir Thomas’s death in 1459. It probably came to the church through the good offices of Richard Willoughby (d1471) of Wollaton Hall (the old hall, which stood close by the church), who was Chaworth’s chief executor; and it was paid for out of the estate of the rector of Wollaton, William Husse, who died in 1460. The close physical study of the manuscript has opened up a new phase of interpretive and contextual study, which is proving to be of real fascination and historical interest. Handwritten changes are present in the Calendar, including the addition of York feasts and the listing of Willoughby obits and commemorations, and also the feast of dedication of Wollaton church. Other handwritten entries, and the glorious heraldic illuminations, tell their own story vividly; and it is the matching of these visual elements with our knowledge of the book’s history that speaks eloquently to us of the practical, everyday use to which it was put, despite its extreme richness as a visual object.

The written image of music has a fascination all its own. Not just the striking visual character and precision of the notational symbols, and also (in the best cases) the clarity and elegance of the script, but the whole conception and layout of the musical book have the power to fix our attention. And this is true whether the book is a liturgical volume, a collection of polyphony, or indeed, in later music, a composer’s autograph. The Wollaton Antiphonal demonstrates very well the extraordinary beauty of the finest kind of liturgical book production of the early fifteenth century in England. (It came, almost certainly, from a skilled East Anglian scriptorium and illuminator’s workshop around 1430.) The arresting mise en page for the beginning of Psalm 109 (fol. 246v) displays the technical virtuosity as well as the visual brilliance of the illuminators. Its decorative scheme shows the Trinity, and also illustrates some of the armorial designs which proclaimed the status and pedigree of Sir Thomas Chaworth, the original owner of the Antiphonal, and his wife Isabella. The image of the singing clerics also illustrates the first verse of a Psalm text (Psalm 97, fol. 241v). The page showing the beginning of the Office of the Assumption (fol. 369r) comes, like the Psalm leaves, from the main body of the volume, while the two leaves showing sections of the Bridlington chant (fols. 411r-v) are an addition: they come at the very end of the Antiphonal, appended to the section devoted to the feasts of the Saints.

As indicated elsewhere, the community of the parish church of St Leonard’s, Wollaton were owners of the manuscript from 1460 and again from Christmas 1924 when it was once more returned to their possession. Were it not for the fact of their custodianship of the Antiphonal, and of its having been kept safe in the interim in the Hall library from the ravages of the Reformation, we would never have had the music of the Bridlington Office at all, and our scenario would have been much less complete. Thanks are due to the church for their generosity in wishing to share what is in their possession, and for participating in the telling of an extraordinary story. Thanks are due as well to all those who have worked, both in the church and later in the Nottingham University Library, to look after and maintain this precious book, and finally, not least, to the man who—with no little courage—took the first great plunge towards the immense task of conserving the Antiphonal in its entirety: Nicholas Hadgraft (1955–2004).