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X: 1 T:Trenchmore. (p)1652.PLFD1.111 M:6/4 L:1/4 Q:3/4=90 S:Playford, Dancing Master,2nd Ed.,1652 O:England;London H:1652. Z:Chris Partington. F: K:C V:1 clef=treble name="1." [V:1] G|:^F2GA2B|A2GA^FD|G>ABB>AB|B>ABB>AG| ^F2GA2B|A2GA^FD|G>ABB>AB|B>cdB>AG:|

TRENCHMORE. AKA and see “Willy Prethe/Prithee Goe/Go to Bed.” English, Country Dance Tune (6/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Barnes, Raven): AB (Chappell). The music for this dance tune was printed in Deuteromelia in 1609. The dance itself, also called Trenchmore, was, according to Grattan-Flood (1906), an Irish import to England (ed.: Flood was quick to make such unsubstantiated claims, although this one seems likely to be true, c.f. Donnolly, cited below). The first record of the tune and dance is in an account of the Christmas festivities at the court of Edward VI of England in 1551, where a list of expenses for the year’s Lord of Misrule (the character responsible for overseeing the celebrations) included, for his dancers, the cost of thre garments of sarsenett with iij payre of sloppes of owde store, for them that daunsed trenchemore… The dance featured a number of ‘tricks’ or ‘capers’ and seems to have been a large, boisterous activity. Thomas Deloney, writing in his work The Gentle Craft, Part II (London, c. 1598), describes a character who “like one dauncing the trench more he stampt up and downe the yard, holding his lips in his hands.” It was mentioned in a 1564 morality play by William Bulleyn, where a minstrel was described as "dancing Trenchmore”; William Sampson’s The Vow Breaker (1636) gives: “We had a Wedding to day and the young fry tickle Trench-more.” Some time after its introduction the dance was sufficiently common as to attract allusion in both literature and common usage—any unrestrained, wild activity was likely to provoke comparison with ‘dancing Trenchmore’, and, on a more sinister note, one recorded letter threatens that a man will be made to talk by being suspended so that his feet barely touch the ground, so that he will ‘dance Trenchmore’ in his agony (see Donnolly). "Trenchmore" is given by John Playford as the title of a dance, however, as Dean-Smith & Nicol point out:

The word is used elsewhere as the name for a kind of dance with an under-and-over movement (like 'Grimstock' or the roll-figure of certain sword-dances) or danced under and over the furniture through the hall and kitchen; the word is often used in the literature of the period:--"Capering a morrisca or trenchmore": "Like one dancing the trenchmore he stampt up and down, holding his hips in his hands," "Among a number of these contrey dances I did light on such a Galliard as had a tricke (caper) above trenchmore", while 'The West-country Jigg' or 'A trenchmore galliard' to the tune of 'Up with Aley' in the Roxburgh Ballads described a country gathering like "Come Lasses and lads" as the wedding of the Lasses of Trenchmore Lee[1].

Irish musicologist Grattan Flood (unfortunately, not the most reliable of sources) asserts the name ‘Trenchmore’ is an Anglicised corruption of "Rinnce Mor" or the "Rinnce Fada," the Long Dance, which is alluded to in The Complaint of Scotland, dated 1549. Seán Donnolly (in his article "Trenchmore: An Irish Dance in Tudor and Stuart England?") disagrees and refers to the Oxford English Dictionary (1914) which suggests the name is either a proper noun—a name or place. Donnolly thinks the former unlikely as surname variants are quite rare, however, he finds evidence that Trenchmore is a place-name and that in Middle English the word trench, along with the usual meanings, could also mean ‘a cutting through a wood.’ He finds a reference to an Irish placename that fits perfectly; Trenchmore (in Irish An Trinse Mór, or ‘the Great Trench’), a townland of 424 in the parish of Coolaghmore, barony of Kells, County Kilkenny. There was a castle of Trenchmore that belonged to the Butler family, Anglo-Norman earls (and also dukes and marquises) of Ormond, that has since disappeared but that is referred to in records of the 17th and 18th centuries. Donnolly thinks it likely the ‘the great trench’ was a defensive earthwork or boundary trench marking old borders.

Donnolly contends that calling a tune or dance by a place-name was common enough in England and Scotland after the Reformation, and points to hymns and psalm-tunes that commonly were referred to by recognizable points on the map: “Dundee,” “York,” “Windsor,” “Hackney,” “Bangor,” “Newtown,” “Coleshill” (known by Scottish Presbyterians as “Dublin”) and “Athlone” (a title used by the Church of Ireland for a tune attributed to the harper Turlough O’Carlolan). Place-names were used in Playford and there are indications that place-names from Ireland in connection with dances are also quite old (a country-dance called “Cork” was published in 1773, for example). It is entirely possible, asserts Donnolly, that the Irish “Trenchmore” was introduced to England by one of the Butlers, specifically Tomás Dubh Butler (1532-1614), 10th Earl of Ormond, called “Tom Duff” by Tudor courtiers. Tomas was one of a group of noble children educated who were selected by Henry VIII to be educated with his son Edward, and it is recorded that in 1552, when the school group formally disbanded, Ormond participated in the year’s Christmas festivities which featured the first introduction of “Trenchmore.”

Chappell (1859) says the origin of the tune stems from "at least" as early as Henry VIII's time (the mid 1500's), either as a song or dance tune. He quotes Selden from Table Talk:

The court of England is much alter'd. At a solemn dancing, first you had the grave measures, then the corantoes and the galliards, and this kept up with ceremony; and at length to Trenchmore and the Cushion Dance: then all the company dances, lord and groom, lady and kitchen maid, no distinction. So in our court in Queen Elizabeth's time, gravity and state were kept up. In King James's time things were pretty well, but in King Charles's time there has been nothing but Trenchmore and the Cushion Dance, omnium gatherum, tolly polly, hoite come toite.

By 1600 several fantasias were written on the tune for the lute, but the dance form of the tune is only found in "presentable" form in the Dancing Master of 1652. Several political ballads were written to the air, but by the early 18th century it had gone out of style and does not appear in the later editions of the Dancing Master. Chappell finds the tune in Deuteromelia (1609), Dorothy Welde's Lute Book, a Cambridge University Library lute MS, and Playford's Dancing Master (1652). It was also published in John Walsh's Second Book of the Compleat Country Dancing Master, second edition, (London, c. 1735).

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time, vol. 1), 1859; pp. 224 225. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 18.

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  1. Margaret Dean-Smith & E.J. Nicol, “The Dancing Master: 1651-1728: Part III. “Our Country Dances.” Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol. 4, No. 6 (Dec., 1945), p. 226.