Although slightly off-topic, I thought I would share with you a post I uploaded last week to my History SPOT blog for the Institute of Historical Research.  The topic is courtly love as a political tool in Elizabethan England, and, in particular, the poems by Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth.

Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554-1618) well known as an Elizabethan explorer and soldier, is also known to have written a sonnet entitled Fortune Hath Taken Thee Away, My Love.  It is believed that Raleigh wrote this sonnet as a response to the rise of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and thus making a complaint over his own fall from influence.  In her publication of the sonnet Gordon Braden has reiterated the belief amongst scholars that ‘Fortune’ was a code name for the Earl of Essex and that Raleigh was informing Elizabeth that this brought him ‘to woe’ and that the Earl was now ‘my mortal foe’.

Fortune Hath Taken Thee Away, My Love

BY SIR WALTER RALEGH

Fortune hath taken thee away, my love,

My life’s soul and my soul’s heaven above;

Fortune hath taken thee away, my princess;

My only light and my true fancy’s mistress.

Fortune hath taken all away from me,

Fortune hath taken all by taking thee.

Dead to all joy, I only live to woe,

So fortune now becomes my mortal foe.

In vain you eyes, you eyes do waste your tears,

In vain you sighs do smoke forth my despairs,

In vain you search the earth and heaven above,

In vain you search, for fortune rules in love.

Thus now I leave my love in fortune’s hands,

Thus now I leave my love in fortune’s bands,

And only love the sorrows due to me;

Sorrow henceforth it shall my princess be.

I joy in this, that fortune conquers kings;

Fortune that rules on earth and earthly things

Hath taken my love in spite of Cupid’s might;

So blind a dame did never Cupid right.

With wisdom’s eyes had but blind Cupid seen,

Then had my love my love for ever been;

But love farewell; though fortune conquer thee,

No fortune base shall ever alter me.

          Gordon Braden, Sixteenth-century poetry: an annotated anthology [2005], p. 337.

A second sonnet, often argued as having been written by Elizabeth herself, mocks Raleigh in reply.  For more on this have a look at a blog post on Hobbinol’s Blog – Writing the English Renaissance: Elizabethan Courtly Love.

This is just one example of the role that music played at the Tudor court.  Its enactment was political and personal reflecting ideals of courtly love and influencing the process of internal and foreign relations.

Dr Katherine Butler (University of Oxford) has discussed this topic in more detail on one of the History SPOT podcasts entitled: Recreational Music-Making and the Fashioning of Political or Diplomatic Relationships at the Court of Elizabeth I.  In this paper Butler argues that musical performances in the form of lute or virginal productions carried out in private chambers or in the form of more public displays shaped courtly identity and influence and acted as a carefully staged enactment to express grievances, intent, and personality at court.  Butler gives various examples ranging from Lord Darley, Walter Raleigh, and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

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