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Too Much Partying


John Dowland probably thought that he had it made. He was at the height of his reputation as one of England’s greatest lutenists and he had just been appointed as lutenist to the Court of Christian the Fourth of Denmark. But coming from service to the reserved Queen Elizabeth, Dowland was shocked by the partying at the Danish court. He described it in a letter in 1598:

“I have been well nigh overwhelmed with carousel and sports of all kinds. We had women and, indeed, wine too, of such plenty as would have astonished any sober beholder. Our feasts were magnificent and the two royal guests did most lovingly embrace each other at table. I think the Dane hath strangely wrought on our good English Nobles, for those, whom I never could get to taste good liquor, now follow the fashion and wallow in beastly delights.

“The ladies abandon their sobriety, and are seen to roll about in intoxication. There hath been no lack of good living, shows, sights and banquetings from morn to eve.

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“One day a great feast was held, and after dinner the representation of Solomon, his Temple, and the coming of the Queen of Sheba was made, or as I may better say, was meant to have been made, before their Majesties…but alas! The lady who did play the Queen’s part did carry most precious gifts to both the Majesties, but forgetting the steps arising to the canopy, overset her baskets into his Danish Majesty’s lap and fell at his feet, though I rather think it was in his face.

“Much was the hurry and confusion. Cloths and napkins were at hand to make all clean. His Majesty then got up and would dance with the Queen of Sheba, but he fell down and humbled himself before her and was carried to an inner chamber and laid on a bed of state….”

It’s unlikely that the lute music of John Dowland was fully appreciated by his new royal patrons.

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