Henry VIII Book

Add. MS 31922 - British Library (London, United Kingdom)

Facsimile edition
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Short description

The Henry VIII Book (1491-1547) is the most important source concerning the secular music of the English Royal House of the early 16th century. The collection originated between 1510 and 1520 and consists of 112 pieces altogether in widely varying genres of vocal and instrumental music. What is unique is that Henry VIII himself is represented with 33 of his own compositions. These works to a large extent came from Robert Cooper, William Cornysh (1468-1523), and other mostly English composers.

Facsimile editions available


Henry VIII Book

Today, there are sadly only a few pieces of evidence providing information about the secular music of the English court in the early 16th century. Thus, the Henry VIII Book (1491-1547) is all the more significant, because its collection of 112 pieces in various genres is the most important source for the music at the court of the English King. With 63 compositions, the songs and ballads predominate, most of which are for three or four voices. What is additionally unique is that 33 of the pieces are attributed by name to the King himself, whereby some more of the anonymous works might be added. Furthermore, it assembles the manuscript pieces developed by the English composers Robert Cooper and William Cornysh (1468-1523) in London between 1510 and 1520.

Secular Music under Henry VIII

With its broad spectrum of vocal and instrumental music, the significant manuscript gives a stately impression of early 16th century music with Christmas songs, theatrical pieces, and a few larger works. While a majority of the texts are in English, one also encounters 15 in French and even 3 in Dutch.

Tasteful Illumination

Handwritten notes and text segments are decorated with enchanting initials, aside from two addenda. They immediately catch the eye of the reader and thus denote important sections with luminous blue, radiant red, and glimmering gold. In a few cases, the ornamental frames stretch to the margins and produce an expansive bordure. The design is also so artistic that it never detracts from the clear typeface of the notes, which undoubtedly stand in the foreground.

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