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Saturday quotes 2.28 Dowland’s training Part 6

December 1, 2012

Our last post left off with Dowland’s documented performance before Queen Elizabeth, and his recorded display of cheek that we have come to associate with his character.  For today’s installment, we step back to the 1580’s and examine the activities of another well-known musician, Alfonso Ferrabosco, who may have even crossed paths with Dowland.

Examining Ferrabosco’s international activities, which seem to have been fairly well documented, can provide a bit of insight as to how musicians were positioned deliberately, and how they were at times abused by politicians.  Our quotes are drawn from Craig Monson, “The Composer as ‘Spy’: The Ferraboscos, Gabrielle Paleotti, and the Inquisiton”, Music & Letters, Vol. 84 No. 1, February 2003, Oxford University Press.

Monson examines records of the Inquistion and surviving letters of Alfonso and his father, Domenico Maria, which “usefully illuminate how generations of musicians might negotiate the complex, potentially conflicting paths of patronage, where the lines between court gossip and espionage easily blurred.”

Tracing Alfonso’s background and affiliations:

“Having crisscrossed the Channel at least twice since his first arrival in England in 1562, Alfonso Ferrabosco left England for good around June of 1578.  Allegedly ‘brought hither by the Cardinal of Lorraine [recte: Cardinal of Guise] as his musician’, Alfonso first turned up in Paris, where he promptly fell under the suspicious and watchful eye of the papal nuncio, Anselmo Dandino, who described him as a ‘most evil-spirited, evil-minded man, and very knowing, and excellently informed of the affairs of those countries; … the Queen of England makes much use of him as a spy and complotter, in which character he might now be employed, so that if one had him in one’s power, one might learn many things’.”

Monson compares two sides of the story with a quote from Dandino “He was sent by her as a spy to Italy…He promised the said Elizabeth, reputed Queen, to return to England and advise her about Italian matters pertinent to her state”. Of course, Ferrabosco viewed his activities from a slightly different angle later in his testimony to the Inquisition: “I promised the said Elizabeth to return to England, and to provide her with news of things in Italy related to her state”. Both say the same thing but ‘news’ can be considered idle gossip or intelligence, based on the motives and the tone of an accusation.

Alfonso Ferrabosco had well-established French connections starting with his service to the Lord Cardinal of Lorraine, who also employed Jacques Arcadelt circa 1555.  Alfonso seems to have entered the service of Queen Elizabeth circa 1562, around the same time the Cardinal of Lorraine’s niece, Mary Queen of Scots, departed France to return to Scotland.  The plot thickens:

“Alfonso Ferrabosco’s link to all these various players at this particular time is the first of several intriguing coincidences that characterize his international comings and goings.  One can well imagine how convenient Elizabeth might have found it to have in service someone linked to the Guise household.  And the potential utility of such a connection could not have escaped the perpetually machinating Cardinal of Lorraine either.”

Alfonso’s French connection was likely managed by William Cecil, later Lord Burghley:

“…In may 1570 the papal bull Regnans in excelsis excommunicated Elizabeth…Obviously, this would have been a useful time for Cecil to have the likes of Ferrabosco at large between London, Italy, and Paris, the hub of diplomatic activity…”

But whether rightly or wrongly, attempts were made to disparage Alfonso’s character, and he was subjected to accusations of complicity in plots against Queen Elizabeth, the heinous crime of taking communion while in the employ of a protestant queen, and he was even accused of robbing and murdering a servant of Sir Philip Sidney.

“Alfonso Ferrabosco always seemed to be in the right–or wrong–place at the right time.  He certainly could have made himself useful to powerful figures in England, France, and Italy, to whom he was obligated, whether as messenger, ‘spy’, or idle informant.”

Without delving too deeply into the details of Ferrabosco’s intrigues, real or imagined, we can observe an example of how a musician’s international movement was managed by political puppetmasters.  Alfonso had dealings with Sir Henry Cobham and Sir Edward Stafford in Paris, and he may have even been there when Dowland was in the service of Cobham.

With all the evidence of espionage and plots involving regligous affiliation and conflict on the part of internationally-renowned musicians like Ferrabosco, the question should not be whether Dowland was involved in espionage, but rather how could he possibly avoid being touched by it?

  1. It’s good to remind readers that there were two Alfonsos, and this one was the father of the one who collaborated with Ben Jonson.

  2. Thanks for clarifying the identity of the proper Alfonso, typically referred to as Alfonso I. Although the offspring set some nice lute songs and music for viols, I have to admit to pretty much ignoring his music in favor of the polyphonic bent of his father. I know Richard Charteris has done a great deal of good work on the elder Alfonso’s music, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there was more contact with Dowland than we know about from the surviving evidence. The ‘Phantasia’ attributed to the elder Alfonso that appears in the Board MS. — which I identified several years ago as Ferrabosco’s arrangement of the Clemens’ motet, ‘Erravi sicut ovis’ — is right next to some pieces by Dowland in the manuscript, and I think he may have written in some of the ornament markings.

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