Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Friday, November 10

John Dowland, whistle-blower

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1595, in Nuremburg, the English composer and lutenist John Dowland wrote a long, agitated letter back home to London. The letter was addressed to Robert Cecil, one of the closest confidents of Queen Elizabeth.

In 1595, Europe was split into rival Catholic and Protestant camps. Spies and double agents mixed with foreign travelers and foreign students. Both sides were guilty of assassination attempts and acts of terror.

While in Italy, Dowland had fallen in with a group of English expatriates, and, to his horror, discovered that some of them were plotting to assassinate the Queen. Perhaps fearing that word of such contact would filter back to England and ruin any chance of securing a position at court, Dowland fled to Germany and penned his long letter to Cecil, “God he knoweth,” wrote Dowland, “I never loved treason or treachery nor never knew any, nor never heard any Mass in England.”

Dowland never did land that plum job at Elizabeth’s court, and ended up in the service of the Danish King. As luck would have it, the Danish King’s sister Anne married the King of Scotland, who, after Elizabeth’s death, became King James the First of England. Finally, in 1612, Dowland got what he most wanted: a position as one of the King’s Lutes, at a salary of 20 pence a day.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Dowland (1563 – 1626) A Jig Paul O'Dette, lute Harmonia Mundi 907164

Additional Information

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