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The Tixall circle and the musical life of St Monica’s, Louvain

  • Jane Stevenson (a1)

This article explores the possibility that poems preserved in the recusant coterie collection, Tixall Poetry may include verses written both by and for the Augustinian canonesses of St Monica’s, Louvain, and provide evidence for the cultural life of the convent. It then turns to a consideration of evidence for the cultivation of music, and argues for the practical importance of music to the lives of the canonesses. It explores the intense significance which the canonesses attached to the clothing ceremony, and suggests that one of the Tixall poems, ‘The Royal Nun’, an adaptation of two lyrics from Nathanael Lee’s play Theodosius (1680), perhaps by Herbert Aston, might have been used as the libretto for the music which, when possible, covered the hiatus in the clothing ceremony when the nun took off her bridal garments and assumed her habit.

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1 Tixall Poetry, ed. Arthur Clifford (Edinburgh: James Ballantyne & Co. for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1813), 166–8.

2 Theodosius, or, The force of love: a tragedy (London: Printed for R. Bentley and M. Magnes, 1680), 9–10, 25–6.

3 Autores historiae eccl[e]siasticae:Eusebij Pamphili Caesariensis libri IX. Ruffino [interprete]. Ruff[in]i Presbyteri Aquileiensis, libri duo. Recogniti ad antiqua exemplaria Latina per Beat. Rhenanum. Item ex Theodorito episcopo Cyrensi, Sozomeno, & Socrate Constantinopolitano libri XII. uersi ab Epiphanio Scholastico, adbreuiati per Cassiodorum Senatorem, unde illis Tripartitae historiae uocabulum [Basileae: apud Io. Frobenium, 1523].

4 ,L’Histoire ecclésiastique nommée tripartite, divisée en douze livres... Rédigée par Sozomène, Socrate le Scholastique et Théodoret, traduite du grec par Épiphane le Scholastique, et arrangée par Cassiodore. Nouvellement traduite de latin en françois par Loys Cianeus (Paris: G. Gorbin, 1568) seems to be the earliest.

5 The Emperor of the East, a tragae-comoedy, licensed 11 March 1631 (London: John Waterson, 1632) Caussin, Nicolas, The Holy Court, 5 vols (Paris [i.e. Saint-Omer: By the English College Press], 1626), V: 492493 . See Gray, J. E., ‘The Source of The Emperor of the East ,’ Review of English Studies 1 (1950): 126135 .

6 de Coste, Gaultier, de La Calprenède, seigneur, Pharamond, or, The history of France a fam’d romance trans. J. Phillips, Gent., 12 vols (London: Printed for T. Bassett, T. Dring, and W. Cademan ..., 1677), principally 1:1, 10, the character of Varanes, and 7:1, 207–19, the story and characterization of Martian, and the claustration of Marina and Flacilla.

7 See for example Wynne Fisken, Beth. ‘The Art of Sacred Parody in Mary Sidney’s Psalmes’, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 8 (1989): 233239 . The Scot Elizabeth Melville was author of several entirely serious sacred versions of secular poems: see Ross, Sarah, Women, Poetry, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 4748 .

8 The manuscript material for Tixall Letters is now London, British Library Add. 36452. The cataloguer comments that ‘the arrangement agrees with that of the printed work’. The letters alluded to by Clifford but not included in his edition seem all to have been lost.

9 Her manuscript collection, Huntington MS HM 904, is ed. Aldrich-Watson, Deborah, The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler (Tempe: Renaissance English Text Society, 2000).

10 Tixall Poetry, x–xi.

11 Aldrich-Watson, Verse Miscellany, 128–33, ‘To my Honor’d Sister G A’, lines 105–8. Horace’s Odes 3:30 famously claims that his poems will be ‘more lasting than bronze’ (exegi monumentum aere perennius).

12 Information from ‘Who were the nuns?’ ( Physically disadvantaged women sometimes decided for, or were encouraged into, the cloister. Walker, Claire, Gender and Politics in Early Modern Europe: English Convents in France and the Low Countries (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 33 .

13 She may have stayed in England by choice, but it is also the case that Herbert Aston, who was apparently not unwilling to part with a second daughter, tried to skimp on her dowry: Reverend Mother Thimelby had to write a letter which combines her characteristic protestations of devoted familial affection with telling him firmly that she is not in a position to bargain: her nuns vote on admitting a postulant, and if the girl’s portion is insufficient, they will not admit her. BL Add. 36452, f. 89. Arthur Clifford has seen fit to suppress this embarrassing revelation in his edition, Tixall Letters 2:69–70.

14 Tixall Poetry, xxv.

15 Walker, Gendered Politics, 58.

16 Walker, Claire, ‘Doe not suppose me a well mortifyed Nun dead to the world’: Letter writing in early modern English convents’, Early Modern Women’s Letter Writing, 1450–1700, in James Daybell, ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 159176 . The English Benedictine nuns at Brussels were also prolific correspondents: Arblaster, Paul, ‘The Monastery of Our Lady of the Assumption in Brussels (1599–1794)’, EBC History Symposium (1999), 5477 , at 58.

17 Lay, Jenna, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), l37 , Van Hyning, Victoria, ed., ‘Thimelby-Aston literary exchanges: “itt imports not wher, but how wee live”’, in Nicky Hallett, ed. English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800, III Life Writing 1 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012), 134

18 Tixall Poetry, 6–7, Tixall Letters 2:87.

19 Tixall Poetry, 99–100 (on ‘Franke’) and 103–4 (on ‘Mall’)

20 Tixall Poetry, 52–3.

21 Crashaw, Richard, Steps to the Temple (London: Humphrey Moseley, 1646), 15 .

22 Tixall Letters 2:25.

23 Shell, Alison, ‘St Winifred’s Well in British Catholic Literary Culture’, in Peter Davidson and Jill Bepler, eds. Triumphs of the Defeated:Early Modern Festivals and Messages of Legitimacy (Bonn: Harrassowitz, 2007), 271280 .

24 Elizabeth Draycott, professed in 1627, Mary Appleton, professed in 1646, Katharin Beaumont, professed in 1636, and Marilla Morgan, professed in 1666. Marina Hunlock was born with the name and kept it when she professed in 1666. Information from ‘Who were the nuns?’.

25 The Roman Martyrologe (St Omer:English College Press, 1627), 10 September, ‘S. Pulcheria Empresse renowned for Religion and Piety’, 299.

26 Information from ‘Who were the nuns?’

27 Hackett, Helen, ‘Women and Catholic Manuscript Networks in Seventeenth-Century England: New Research on Constance Aston Fowler’s Miscellany of Sacred and Secular Verse,’ Renaissance Quarterly, 65.4 (Winter 2012): 10941124 , at 1096–7.

28 BL Add. 36452, f. 83.

29 Compare the verses in a recusant miscellany manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng Poet B.5, notably the poem on pp. 50–51, which is printed in Stevenson, Jane and Davidson, Peter, eds. Early Modern Women Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 400 . As Helen Hackett has shown, this collection is linked with the Tixall milieu since it was written by the same person who is the ‘Hand B’ of Constance Aston’s manuscript verse collection, probably an English Jesuit called William Southerne. ‘Unlocking the mysteries of Constance Aston Fowler’s verse miscellany (Huntington Library MS HM 904): the Hand B scribe identified’, in Eckhardt, Joshua and Starza Smith, Daniel, eds. Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 91112

30 Price, David C., Patrons and Musicians of the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 87 .

31 London, Public Record Office, SP 12/248, ff. 108r–109v.

32 In contemporary Italy, nuns’ music was often highly serious. See Monson, Craig A., Disembodied Voices: Music and Culture in an Early Modern Italian Convent (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1995), Kendrick, Robert L., Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), Reardon, Colleen, Holy Concord Within Sacred Walls: Nuns and Music in Siena, 1575–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and also Monson, Craig. ed. The Crannied Wall: Women, Religion and the Arts in Early Modern Europe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992).

33 Chronicle 1:152.

34 Father Richard White, alias Johnson, came to the convent in 1652, and remained there until his death in 1687. If this sentence is read literally, the implication is that between 1613 and 1652, the nuns managed their music for themselves: this was evidently not the case.

35 H.J. Pollen, biographical notes on Bolt, John, Publications of the Catholic Record Society, Miscellanea III (London: Privately printed, 1906), 31 . Chronicle 1:150.

36 Chronicle 2: 184–5.

37 Van Hyning, Victoria, ‘Naming Names: Chroniclers, Scribes and Editors of St Monica’s Convent, Louvain, 1630–1906’, in Caroline Bowden and James Kelly, eds. English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 87108 .

38 Chronicle, 1:66.

39 Andrew Cichy, ‘Parlour, Court and Cloister: Musical culture in English Convents during the Seventeenth Century’, English Convents in Exile, 175–90, at 184.

40 Cichy, ‘Parlour, Court and Cloister’, 179, 188. See further Cummings, Anthony M, ‘Toward an Interpretation of the Sixteenth-Century Motet’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 34.1, (Spring, 1981): 4359 , Brobeck, JohnSome “Liturgical Motets” for the Royal Court: A Reconsideration of Genre in the Sixteenth-Century French Motet,’ Musica disciplina, 47 (1993): 123157 .

41 Dering, Richard, Motets for One, Two or Three Voices and Basso Continuo, ed. Jonathan P. Wainwright, Musica Britannica, 87 (London: Stainer and Bell, 2008). Cichy suggests that some of these may have been written when he was in Brussels.

42 Cichy, ‘Parlour, Court and Cloister’, 179.

43 Chronicle, 1:122.

44 Cichy, ‘Parlour, Court and Cloister’, 177.

45 Bowden, Caroline, ‘Building libraries in exile: The English convents and their book collections in the seventeenth century’, British Catholic History 32 (2015): 343392 , at 349.

46 van Strien, C.D., ‘Recusant Houses in the Southern Netherlands as seen by British Tourists, c. 1650–1720’, Recusant History 20 (1991): 495511 , at 504. Letters from James, Earl of Perth (London: for the Camden Society, 1845), 44.

47 Pietas parisiensis, or, A short description of the pietie and charitie commonly exercised in Paris:which represents in short the pious practises of the whole Catholike Church (Paris: Vincent du Moutier, 1666), 144–150.

48 Walker, Gendered Politics, 94.

49 Chronicle 2:53–4. A laywoman, Lady Mary Weston, daughter of the Earl of Portland, was a permanent resident, in a suite of rooms built on to the Church, Chronicle 2:150.

50 Smither, Howard E., A History of the Oratorio, 4 vols (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 1:3–4.

51 Smither, History, 1:5.

52 Following the death of her brother, who had given her the imperial title of Augusta during his lifetime and left no direct heir, Pulcheria was invited to assume the throne and choose a co-ruler, legitimising this through a formal marriage. She agreed to this provided that her vow of chastity was respected. Her style of dress is revealed by objects which represent her, notably an ivory panel now in the Trier Cathedral Treasury, on which she appears in the full magnificence of early Byzantine imperial regalia.

53 Chronicle 2:x.

54 Scott, Geoffrey, ‘Cloistered Images: the Representation of English Nuns, 1600–1800’, in Caroline Bowden and James Kelly, eds. English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800: Communities, Culture and Identity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 191208 , plate 12.

55 BL Add. 36452, f. 72, Tixall Letters 2:31.

56 Chronicle, 2:151. ‘Ned’ is Edward Thimelby, another of her brothers, and a contributor to the Tixall poems. He was provost of the collegiate church of St Gery in Cambrai; hence his availability on this occasion (Tixall Poems, xxvi).

57 ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’, attributed to Hrabanus Maurus, was often sung on occasions of dedication, including clothings. The Sepulchrines of Liège and the Carmelites of Hoogstraten both sang it at clothing ceremonies. Lux-Sterritt, Laurence, ed. English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800, II: Spirituality (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 492 .

58 My thanks to Victoria van Hyning. See also Cichy, ‘Parlour, Court and Cloister’, 186.

59 Sotheby’s, The Library of William O’Brien: Property of the Milltown Park Charitable Trust (London: Sotheby’s, 2017), See also Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in bibliotheca D. Thomæ Phillipps, Bart., 4 vols (Middle Hill: s.n., 1837–1871), I: 57.

60 English Convents in Exile,2: 455–6, from the Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster, c.22 in box AC.11.

61 English Convents in Exile, 2: 451–3.

62 Confessions, 8. 11: 26–7; The confessions of S. Augustine Bishope of Hippon and D. of the Church. Translated into English by S.T.M. (Paris: [For widow Blageart], 1638), 297–8.

63 Chronicle 2:150.

64 BL Add. 36452, f. 93, Tixall Letters 2:44–5.

65 English Convents in Exile 2: 456–7, 459–60.

66 English Convents in Exile 2: 459–60.

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