The History of Music at Hatfield House

As patrons, dedicatees, commissioners and collectors of music, the Cecil family has formed an important thread through the cultural life of the country. Many of Britain’s most celebrated Tudor and Jacobean musicians crop up in some form in the Hatfield House archive: John Dowland, lutenist and composer, and Nicolas Lanier, first ever Master of the King’s Music, were in the First Earl of Salisbury’s pay. Thomas Morley, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, amongst many others, dedicated pieces to him.

The literary connections, too, are star-spangled. There are beautiful manuscripts of poems by Ben Jonson, Thomas Campion and Walter Ralegh. An illustrated book, “Father Hubbard’s Tales, or the Ant and the Nightingale”, with verses by Thomas Middleton, is of particular ornate beauty.

Other unique documents tell of musical supplication – the petition from Byrd and Tallis to Elizabeth I for renewal of their publication patent puts the Cecils at the heart of musical patronage at this period. Dozens of later printed copies of music tell their own tale: Lady Georgiana Cecil (c. 1773-1860, daughter of the first Marquess) was clearly an accomplished musician, with much keyboard and vocal music stemming from her collection. The repertoire is wide-ranging, from operas and oratorios to glees and catches. The later collections of the family include music hall and popular songs of the twenties, thirties and forties.

Robin Harcourt Williams and William Whitehead

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