Popular Music Of The Olden Time Vol 1

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52                                                          HENRY VIII.
"being loth," says Foxe, "to spend much time, and more loth to spend his money, among the greedy cormorants of the Pope's court," he devised to meet him on hi$ return from hunting; and "having knowledge how the Pope's holy tooth greatly delighted in new-fangled strange delicates and dainty dishes, it came, into his mind to prepare certain fine dishes of jelly, made after our country manner here in England; which to them of Rome was not known nor seen before. This done, Cromwell observing his time accordingly, as the Pope was newly come from hunting into his pavilion, he, with his companions, approached with his English presents, brought in with a three-man's song (as we call it) in the English tongue, and all after the English fashion. The Pope suddenly marvelling at the strange­ness of the song, and understanding that they were Englishmen, and that they came not empty-handed, willed them to be called in; and seeing the strangeness of the dishes, commanded by and by his Cardinal to make the assay; who in tasting thereof, liked it so well, and so likewise the Pope after him, that knowing of them what their suits were, and requiring them to make known the making of that meat, he, incontinent, without any more ado, stamped both their pardons, as well the greater as the lesser." (Acts and Monuments.) The introduction of these songs into Italy is also mentioned by Michael Drayton in his Legend of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, which was first printed in quarto in 1609.
" Not long it was ere Rome of me did ring, Hardly shall Rome such full days see again; Of Freemen's Catches to the Pope I sing, Which won much licence for my countrymen. Thither the which I was the first did bring, That were unknown in Italy till then," &c.
In the Life of Sir Peter Carew, by John Vowell, alias Hoker, of Exeter (Archseologia, vol. 28), Freemen's Songs are again mentioned. "From this time he (Sir Peter) continued for the most part in the court, spending his time in all courtly exercises, to his great praise and commendation, and especially to the good liking of the king (Henry "VTH,), who had a great pleasure in him, as well for his sundry noble qualities, as also for his singing. For the king himself being much delighted to sing, and'Sir Peter Carew having a pleasant voice, the king would often use him to sing with him certain songs they call Freemen Songs, as namely, ' By the bancke as I lay,' and ' As I walked the wode so wylde,'" &c.
To sing at sight was so usual an accomplishment of gentlemen in those days, that to be deficient in that respect was considered a serious drawback to success in life. Skelton, in his Bowge at Court, introduces Harvy Hafter as one who cannot sing " on the booke," but he thus expresses his desire to learn:—
" Wolde to God it wolde please you some day, A balade boke before me for to laye, And lerne me for to synge re, mi, fa, sol, And when I fayle, bobbe me on the noil."
Skelton's Works, Ed. JDyce, vol. i., p. 40.