The unquiet thoughts of Spenser, Gaffurius, and Dowland: recusancy and reconciliation in Elizabethan England

A revised and corrected version of the pre-print version of an article from 2009 now available as HTML. One of my goals for this summer was to make my publications more open access and generally available. While many publishers allow authors to mount pdfs of the final version (Cambridge University Press is exemplary in this respect), lots of them don’t, but one is allowed to use the pre-publication text. Not being able to web-mount an article is a problem for authors when the piece occurs in volume that is a one-off (like a Festschrift), published in a small print run, and exists without any published abstract, let alone one online. Short of giving the article a really long title, it would be difficult for people interest in all that such an article might contain to know whether they ought to read it. My article on Dowland’s lute song ‘Unquiet Thoughts’ in the 2009 Festschrift for Bonnie J. Blackburn was a short article that I never gave as a paper but just cooked up specially for Bonnie. Unfortunately, since I had never given it as a conference paper,  it is hiding in a two-volume Festschrift, and the meanie publisher Brepols won’t let authors mount pdfs of the print copy of their works, I suspect that no one has read it apart from the editors of the volume and, presumably, its dedicatee! And that, I think, is a shame, because it’s the kind of article that is designed to start a conversation, which is just something one can’t have on one’s own. My original intention was to take the Word file of the original paper (written in 2006, I think!), stick it in Scrivener and compile it as HTML. In the process I thought I’d take advantage of the online medium and add some extra links, especially as the text mentions quite a lot of names. I’ve adopted a policy of mainly linking to open access sources in the main text and then adding more academic (and thus often paywalled) sources in the footnotes. While I was doing this is became clear that what I had originally read as a confusion by W. J. Tighe was nothing of the sort — the confusion was all mine! I had misunderstood Tighe’s representation (in footnotes) of the data from Burke’s Landed Gentry. I could have gone to a library and looked up Burke’s, but I thought I understood it from what Tighe was saying. But I didn’t. Since I wrote the article, however, the relevant section of Burke’s has appeared online, so it was easy to double check. So I did. I had assumed that the John Scudamore that Dowland met in Florence was from the Kentchurch (i.e. recusant Catholic) branch of the family, but he was in fact the older brother of the famous Sir James Scudamore, the model for Spenser’s Scudamour in The Faerie Queene. Both these brothers are thus from the Holme Lacy cadet branch of the Scudamore family, whose members did much better than the main (Kentchurch) branch in Elizabethan England because of their willingness to accept Elizabeth as head of the Church. Except, that is, for brother John. Anyway, I think it’s now a more interesting story now than I originally had it, and I hope that my scratching the surface of it opens up the possibility for a more extended reading of subtextual messages in songbooks, dedications, and networks of courtiers and musicians in late sixteenth-century Europe. Click here for the HTML version of the new text of Unquiet Thoughts. The poem is read aloud here, and the song is performed in an instrumental version for corgan (!) here. There is also the sung version by Freddie Wadling on YouTube, from which I think modern classical performers of this repertoire might learn much… Creative Commons License Unquiet Thoughts by Elizabeth Eva Leach is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at

2 thoughts on “The unquiet thoughts of Spenser, Gaffurius, and Dowland: recusancy and reconciliation in Elizabethan England

  1. Very thought provoking article! Thank you for finding a way to share it.
    I has me particularly considering the need of artists to prove their political/religious loyalty, even to the point of embedding allusions within their works. The subtlety of their references allow the art to work on a wide variety of levels.
    I’ve been studying early Soviet music for a while, and the need for political alignment through the content of art is a grave concern for composers of this period.

    “And all the while sweete Musicke did apply her curious skill, the warbling notes to play…”

  2. I’m interested to see my inter-net posted transcript of Dowland’s letter coming up casually and unsourced, as something widely available. I mayn’t dispute the ‘wide’, but in fact there had never been a full or accurate transcript before mine: Diana’s book, even in its 1982 reprint, didn’t manage that. The transcript was contained in fuller form in my article of 2002 in The Lute (LSJ), the second of two on Dowland and the Catholicism of his music. I take the point about the possible link of Dowland to Spenser, by various channels including the partially recusant. However the text of ‘Unquiet thoughts’ is quite clear that it is the cutting of a string that stills the tongue in its act of minting. Coins were handstruck, and simply not minted by pulleys in any period up to then; contrariwise the surgical intervention of severing the frenulum linguae to correct infantile speech-difficulty was used Europe-wide, even into the 17th century, and as commonly condemned as counterproductive. Dowland is likelier to be referring to the string linking to a ‘jack’ of some sort, probably in a carillon. It may be objected that this is a vague transition from the idea of coining, and I would have to agree. But then the project of finding the concentration of good poetic thought in this type of poesia per musica has a high risk of failure. Chances of Spenser behind it all are correspondingly diminished. The puzzle remaining is that Barnfield or his like could think to put Dowland on a pedestal with Spenser for parallel artistic effect. Another conundrum altogether!

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