By Kristine Hughes Patrone
The next stately home on our Familiarization Trip hosted by Visit Britain was Penshurst Place, a 14th century manor house owned by Lord and Lady De L’Isle. Penshurst Place has been owned by the Sidney family since 1552; after passing through the hands of two of Henry IV’s sons, followed by Henry VIII who used it as a hunting lodge. Given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII, it was then briefly in the hands of Sir Ralph Fane and was finally gifted by Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, to his loyal steward and tutor, Sir William Sidney. The Sidney family have been in continuous occupation for more than 460 years since.
Once inside, visitors find themselves in the Baron’s Hall, used as a set in the film The Princess Bride. Described by the writer John Julius Norwich as ‘one of the grandest rooms in the world’, Baron’s Hall belongs to the original part of the house and was completed in 1341 and features a magnificent chestnut roof, arcaded windows, a 16th century Minstrel’s Gallery and unique octagonal hearth.
What we saw of the house was terribly medieval and thrilling, with the highlight of our visit being the tea and cakes, made by and served to us by Lady De L’Isle. I remember the open fire, which was welcome on a cold day, and the hot tea, equally welcome, but truthfully little else stays in my memory, as we saw three homes/castles/manors all in a single day. I suppose I could fudge things and pull photos and narratives off of the internet, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Or very honest.
We did have time for a quick tour through the grounds, some of which are Grade I listed. You’ll find an interactive map of the gardens on the Penshurst Place website.
by Louisa Cornell
My study of the music of the Regency Era has covered a broad range of musical forms. One of the most typically English forms is that of the traditional ballad. It is a difficult field of study in one aspect as many of these songs have been passed down in varying forms long before they were written down. Their authors were often unknown and their words were interchangeable depending on the singer and the venue in which they were performed. In addition to word of mouth, during the Regency many of these songs came from the music hall in the form of parlour ballads, music hall comic operas and eventually in the form of commercial print literature and broadsheet publications.
A few of the commonalities they shared were formulaic diction, stock phrases and narrative motifs. One of the most fascinating of these is the stock phrase. Each of these phrases had a message or meaning the listener knew at once because it was such a standard in so many ballads. The best examples of these can be found in what was known as the “Child’s ballads” – songs of love, betrayal, murder, and mystery collected and published in the nineteenth century by Francis James Child in his The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Here are a few of those stock phrases, some quite chilling when one learns their meaning!
Lily-white hand serves as a warning something dramatic is about to happen. When written as a man taking a lady’s hand it can denote either rape or seduction. And whilst the rape connotation always ends tragically (such as in Prince Heathen) the seduction connotation can go either way (in Katherine Jafray she is seduced and later rescued by her lover.) In addition to her lovely skin tone the phrase may also denote the lady’s virtue as well.
Playing at the ball – serves a rather eerie purpose as it usually forewarns a love affair, adultery or violent death (sometimes all three.) A group of ladies or boys are seen playing at a ball and one is singled out as the ‘fairest flower’ of them all. The word play can be used to mean a literal game, a symbol of fate or to signify manipulation and pursuit. In some ballads the game is followed by the immediate death of the game’s spectator.
Where will I get a bonny boy – This plea is generally met with a willing response from a boy to either carry a message or run an errand. His efforts can end well or ill. In Lord Lovel the lover receives a message from his lady, but when he returns it is too late, she has died of longing for his return. However, in Geordie the condemned husband is saved. The term bonny is used to denote health, strength, vigor, and physical beauty.
She dressed herself in silks so fine / rich attire / scarlet red – a ballad character who dresses in her finest is often about to embark on a journey. Some of its other uses include outfitting oneself for war. Most often this journey is to confront a lover who is about to marry another. As you can imagine, many of these ballads do not end well for any of the parties concerned. Sometimes the heroine is dressing to go to her execution. One does want to look nice for such an occasion.
O mother, mother make my bed – This one, unfortunately, never bodes well. It always signals the imminent death of the speaker. It usually refers to the grave. The best example can be found in Bonny Barbara Allen.
As many of the early singers of these ballads could not read or write and learned the words and melodies by heart, these phrases enabled them to compose their own songs or to add their own or local twists to a song familiar to their listeners. In later years it served to give a ‘traditional’ flavor to the songs used in the music halls and the broadsheet ballads. These phrases were familiar to the man on the street and to even the most discerning music listener of the era.
And interestingly enough, the use of phrases like this is nothing new. They can be found in the works of Homer and in the verses of many of the epic poems even before the middle ages.
A particularly maudlin form of the English ballad is the murder ballad. But that is a story for another post.