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Stories of the Stuarts: Entertainment at the Stuart Court

The Stuart Court was a very lively place with Music and Masques being the main form of entertainment and during the reign of King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria, music, poetry, drama and painting flourished at their cultured court.

The Court of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria was very cultured.

The Court of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria was very cultured.

Masques were the greatest of court spectacles, and combined music with dancing, poetry, scenery and dramatic costume. Though they were at their height during the reign of King Charles I, Masques were also very popular at the court of King James I and his Queen, Anne of Denmark. Inigo Jones, architect of the Queen’s House at Greenwich, designed elaborate and dramatic scenery including moving parts and other special effects for many Masques. The stories of Masques often linked the Stuart court to King Arthur or to Imperial Rome and were planned to “portray the English Court’s divine image as it should be in this our Golden Age.”

It wasn’t just Masques that were a focal point of entertainment for the Stuarts, music was also a central part of court life. Since the Renaissance, music was regarded as one of the four ‘liberal arts’ alongside geometry, arithmetic and astronomy. During the period of Baroque music, the human voice played a central part in music with composers using a single melodic line with harmonic accompaniment to allow the human voice to be clearly heard.

Lady Anne Clifford filled the role of many Court Masques during the early 17th Century.

Lady Anne Clifford filled the role of many Court Masques during the early 17th Century.

Aside from music and masques, musical instruments also played a massive part in Stuart Court entertainment. Perhaps the most popular of instruments was the lute, viol, harpsichord and virginal as they were especially suitable to accompany the human voice. As well as dancing well and taking part in Masques, Courtiers were also expected to play a musical instrument, whether that be one of the four most popular instruments or a flute or recorder, which were also popular instruments at the Stuart court.

It seems the Stuart Court was one of music, masques and merriment and one wonders if any court since has rivalled it in the entertainment stakes!

Photo Credits: Hendrik Gerritsz. Pot (circa 1580–1657) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Lisby [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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