AB_mock.previewA British choir, Alamire, has just released a recording of songs taken from the Anne Boleyn Songbook, a collection of songs (including love songs) and lute tunes that once belonged to Anne Boleyn, most celebrated and tragic of Henry VIII’s six wives. According to the Alamire blurb, “the book probably remained in her possession until her execution in 1536, when she was wrongfully accused by Henry’s council of adultery with no less than five men (one being her brother, George). Another of the accused was Mark Smeaton, her music tutor and lutenist, who may have had a hand in including some of the love songs in the book.”

The book itself, MS 1070 of the Royal College of Music in London, had been known for many years before its true attribution came to light, despite an inscription, “Mistres ABolleyne nowe thus,” which both gives the book’s owner and includes the “nowe thus” motto of the Boleyn family. Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association from 1969-70, one Edward E. Lowinsky said: “It is a strange and difficult manuscript,” which he described as “one of the most intriguing types of manuscripts … whose secrets must be ferreted out by a close study of their musical, textual, and visual aspects.” Prior to his essay, he noted, “the manuscript has never been the subject of detailed study.” By the early 21st century, the book’s attribution was more firmly established, and it has now become the subject of learned colloquiums, inspired surely by its association with Anne as well as its musicological interest. Its history between the execution of its original owner and its arrival in the Library of the Sacred Harmonic Society in the 19th century is unknown.

For anyone who wants a taste of this music, Alamire has uploaded a promotional YouTube video, here. The full recording includes a setting of the poem “O death rock me asleep” supposedly composed by Anne while awaiting her execution in the Tower of London – not from the songbook itself of course, but a lovely addition to the Anne Boleyn legend.


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