Henry Fitzalan – conspirator, collector and would-be King

Henry Fitzalan (1512-1580) was the 19th Earl of Arundel managed to serve a succession of Tudor monarchs (Henry VIII was his Godfather) without losing either his land or his titles. Or his head. He achieved this despite his involvement in a succession of conspiracies and an insatiable taste for corruption.

At one point he seriously fancied his chances of marrying Elizabeth I. She was less keen – he was old and ugly. Philip II’s ambassador noted that “she does not get on with him” and thought him to be “a flighty man of small ability”.

The ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor was equally unimpressed, and thought his chances of attaining the throne were minimal: “he and he alone entertains this hope, for he is somewhat advanced in years and also rather silly and loutish, is not well-favoured, nor has a handsome figure”.

He seems to have remained relatively loyal to Henry VIII (after whom he was named). Once Henry was dead he plotted compulsively and was imprisoned on several occasions. By the time Elizabeth was on the throne he was almost universally distrusted but was considered too powerful to depose.

He travelled widely, owned an impressive music library and lots of instruments. He was interested in artistic trends in Europe, especially Italy, but also the low countries. It took an uncommon talent to survive an entire lifetime in the upper echelons of the Tudor court and simply die of old age; Elizabeth I seriously under-estimated the man.

The Fitzalan partbooks (British Library Royal app 59-62) date from Henry Fitzalan’s trip to Italy in 1560. The dances themselves may have been in circulation since the 1520s. There are very few surviving examples of harmonised Italian dances of the period (although plenty of more modern collections exist); the Hessen brothers collection Viel Feiner lieblicher Stucklein (1555) was apparently copied from the same source. The Fitzalan partbooks are a rare example of an apparently complete set of parts.

© B Paul