Lady Banbury's Hornpipe

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LADY BANBURY'S HORNPIPE. English, Country Dance Tune (3/2 time). F Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). B (Sharp): AAB (Barnes). The melody dates to 1657 when it appeared in the third edition of London publisher John Playford's The Dancing Master [1]. Cecil Sharp (1909) notes that John Playford printed the tune in duple (2/2) time (two six-bar phrases). Sharp altered the tune to place it in triple time (two four-bar phrases) "in order that the rhythm of the music might be brought into accord with that of the dance movements." The tune was retained in the Dancing Master through the eighth edition of 1690, after which it was excluded from the series.

The tune title presumably refers to Elizabeth Howard (1586-1658), Countess of Banbury, an English Stuart peeress and scandal figure. She was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk and his wife Catherine Knevet. At age nineteen Elizabeth married Sir William Knollys (1547–1632) as his second wife and became Lady Knollys (1605–1616). The Essex Howard family was powerful, and Elizabeth became a prominent figure at the court. When her husband was ennobled as Lord Wallingford Lady Elizabeth became the Viscountess Wallingford (1616–1626); Lord Wallington was further raised in 1626 and created first Earl of Banbury by King Charles I and which time Elizabeth also became the Countess of Banbury (1626–1632). It was during this period that scandal erupted. Lady Banbury gave birth to a son Edward (1627) at her husband’s house, while a second son, Nicholas, was born (1631) to her at Harrowden in Northamptonshire, the residence of Sir Edward Vaux (1588–1661), fourth Baron Vaux of Harrowden. Her husband (Lord Banbury) was considerably older than she (he would have been aged 85 when the second son was born), and the paternity of both sons was widely attributed to Lord Vaux. When Lord Banbury died in 1632 Elizabeth became the Dowager Countess of Banbury (1632–1658), a title she held until her death. Playford's identifying the tune as a "hornpipe" may have been an oblique reference to Elizabeth's cuckolding of her husband, a practice anciently referred to as giving him "horns".

Within six weeks Lady Banbury had remarried to Lord Vaux and additionally became the Baroness Vaux of Harrowden (1632–1658), at which time she also converted to Roman Catholicism (adding another reason for her to be treated with suspicion in many circles). Later her children had difficulty inheriting the Banbury titles.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Barlow (Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford's Dancing Master), 1985; No. 124, p. 40. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Playford (The Dancing Master), 1657; p. 126. Sharp (Country Dance Tunes), 1909; p. 52.

Recorded sources:




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