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Mary Queen of Scots' Viols and Violins

Updated: Nov 18



'there came beneath her window some five or six hundred scoundrels of the town, who gave her a serenade with wretched violins and little rebecs of which there is no lack in Scotland, to which they chanted psalms so badly sung and so out of tune that nothing could be worse. Ha! What

music and what repose for her first night!'


– Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, biographer of Mary Queen of Scots


'A cumpanie of most honest men who, with instruments of musick, and with musicians, gave their salutations at her chamber windo. The melodie, as sche alledged, lyked her weill, and sche willed the sam to be continewed sum nycths efter with grit diligence.'


– John Knox


The two descriptions of the musical performance that greeted Mary Queen of Scots on her arrival to Scotland on the 19th August 1561 – one from French courtier and biographer to Mary Queen of Scots Pierre de Bourdeille, the other from presbyterian firebrand and reformer John Knox – describe two very different reactions to the to the Edinburgh locals playing and singing. This massed group of players and singers not only contained 'the scoundrels of the town', but also four royal violers of the Scottish court: William Hog, John Dow, Morris Dow, and John Raa, who were paid 10s by the Edinburgh authorities for their part in the performance. Mary also brought her own musicians from the French court, including Martin Mignon, Michel Le Fevre, and Adrian Le Fevre, who were chantres et joueures de violles and Guillaume Gendrot who was chantres viollons et joueur de luth. It was this combination of violins, viols, and lutes from France and Scotland that inspired the instrumental combination for our performance last August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of music from the Scottish Court, Kirk, and Reformation. We included 'Vous perdez tempz', a chanson by famous French court composer Claudin de Sermisy, which appeared in the Premiere livre de luth (1549, Lyon) of Jean-Paul Paladin, lute teacher to Mary Queen of Scots between 1548-1553 when she was in France. Mistakenly attributed to Jacques Arcadelt when first printed, this setting is almost unknown compared to Claudin de Sermisy's other setting of the same text.


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