Image and Influence: The Political Uses of Music at the Court of Elizabeth I

Katherine Butler

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In their Cantiones sacrae (1575), court musicians William Byrd and Thomas Tallis declared that ‘music is indispensable to the state’ (necessarium reipub.). Yet although the relationship between Elizabethan politics and literature has been studied often, there has been little research into the political functions of music. Most accounts of court music consist of documentary research into the personnel, institutions and performance occasions, and generally assume that music’s functions were limited to entertainment and displays of magnificence. However, Elizabethans believed that musical concord promoted a social harmony that would ease the process of government; hence politics and music were seen as closely connected.

This thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation into the role of music in constructing royal and courtly identities and influencing Elizabeth’s policies and patronage. It considers the political meanings of music within court entertainments (plays, masques, tournaments, progresses and royal entries), social life (accompanying dancing or dinner) and private recreation. Firstly, through the exploitation of music’s ambiguously gendered connotations of feminine seductiveness and masculine order, Elizabeth and her courtiers were able to use music as a source of authority. Courtiers used music to fashion their aristocratic identities, petition the Queen, sweeten unpalatable political messages, or offer political counsel. Finally, music was a valuable tool for shaping national identities, either to promote harmony within the kingdom during civic entries and with Accession Day ballads, or to maintain the international reputation of the English court.

Combining insights from musicology, political history and literary studies, my thesis adds fresh dimensions to our knowledge of the distinctive political situation under Elizabeth’s female monarchy, as well as a new depth of understanding as to how music functioned in Renaissance courts.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rose, Stephen, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


  • Music
  • History
  • Queen Elizabeth I
  • Court
  • England

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