Anne Boleyn’s Songbook

Music & Passions of a Tudor Queen

Clare Wilkinson, voice
Jacob Heringman, lute
Kirsty Whatley, harp
Directed by David Skinner

2 disc CD set

Anne Boleyn is without doubt the most famous of Henry VIII’s six wives. She was brought up for a time under the guardianship of Margaret of Austria, who was patron to some of the most famous composers in all of Europe, and then in the French court before her return to England in 1522. It was in France where the young Anne developed her keen musical tastes, and when a collection of her favourite works began to be assembled into what is now known as the Anne Boleyn Songbook (Royal College of Music, MS 1070). The book probably remained in her possession until her execution in 1536, when she was accused of adultery with no less than five men including her own brother, George, and lutenist Mark Smeaton.

Here Alamire explores the finest works in the Songbook by the greatest composers of the early 16th century, including Compère, Brumel, Mouton, and Josquin. Performances by Alamire are interspersed with French chansons and instrumental items for lute, harp and voice. The programme concludes with a most haunting setting of ‘O Deathe rock me asleep’, not from the Songbook but possibly linked to Anne’s fate while awaiting her execution in the Tower of London.

NOMINATED, BBC Music Magazine Music Awards, Choral Category
5* review, BBC Music Magazine


In the press

"David Skinner and his splendid vocal consort, Alamire, offer a generous sampling of the book’s diverse contents. What is immediately noticeable is the group’s sonorous, rich, even tone.”
- Limelight Magazine | Vocal & Choral Recording of the Year

“The music is tinged throughout with the hues of melancholy, and nowhere more so than in the concluding lute-song, O Deathe rock me asleep the chilling words of which may have been penned by Anne or one of the condemned men accused of being her lover, shortly before their execution. Scholar and director David Skinner brings his expertise to both the editions and the performances here by his vocal consort Alamire. He never shies from expressive gestures and dynamic variations – effects heightened by the responsive acoustic of the Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel Castle.”
- BBC Music Magazine | 5* review

“But the other irresistible point about the book is what it might tell us about Anne herself. The overriding theme of the collection is love, though it’s hard to know whether this shows Anne’s amorous nature (which would fit with the accusations made that she was a man-eater), or simply the preoccupations of a woman who wanted to make a good match.”
- Feature in The Telegraph

“Music by some of the greatest composers of the time is included in the book – Josquin, Mouton, Brumel and Févin. It’s a mixture of sacred and secular music and there are plenty of anonymous works – some of which might even be by Anne Boleyn herself.”
- Feature in Classic FM

“In a sequence of such varied music it’s hard to pick highlights, but any list would have to include the exquisite simplicity of Brumel’s Sicut Lilium, beautifully understated here, and – at the other extreme – the extended complexity and dense textural detail of Josquin’s Praeter rerum seriem.”
- The Arts Desk

“Quite remarkably, a songbook thought to have been owned and used by Anne Boleyn has come down to us; it is now preserved in the Royal College of Music, London. It’s a very curious survival, and scholars still debate its origin and function. The only tangible evidence that the book – a scrapbook of 42 songs collected together by its owner – went anywhere near Anne Boleyn is an inscription, very clearly in an early 16th-century English hand: “Mistres ABolleyne nowe thus” followed by some musical notation of three minims and a long.”
- Feature by David Skinner in The Guardian

“All three of the secular songs in the manuscript are included here, all sung eloquently by Clare Wilkinson with accompaniment by Jacob Heringman and Kirsty Whatley; […] For the rest, the motets are sturdily sung by a mixed chorus of 16 voices, with the programme – at least to my ear – focusing around three large Josquin pieces, Stabat mater, Liber generationis and Praeter rerum seriem, this last in an especially stirring performance. But the main impression is of the sheer variety of motets contained in this lovely collection.”
- Gramophone Magazine

Music from Anne Boleyn’s songbook performed for the first time in 500 years
- Feature on ITV News