Series: The Tudor Court, Book I
By Karen Heenan
She has the voice of an angel…
But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.
After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.”
She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.
Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?
Audio Buy Links:
Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield
Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.
She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.
Connect with Karen:
A Note from the Author
The Life of a Minstrel at the Court of Henry VIII
He told me I was now a member of the King’s Music, a group of performers kept for court entertainments. It was a great privilege; the king was very particular about the musicians in his employ. Songbird, chapter 1
While minstrels were considered royal servants, they were a cut above the other servants who made the life comfortable for the inhabitants of the court. A minstrel provided both comfort and beauty, and in Henry’s court, beauty was at least as important as comfort.
Minstrels were provided with food, lodging, and clothing or livery, as were all court servants, but because they were also frequently in the royal presence, their attire was of better quality, and they were often costumed to take part in masques, or evening entertainments for the court.
Henry loved music, and before his brother’s death, he had been permitted only two. When he became Prince of Wales, and then king, he acquired musicians at a speed which would put jokes about his later wife-gathering to shame. The number of musicians in the royal household was generally sixty, but he was always willing to add more.
[Illustration #2] Some minstrels were specialized—playing the lute, harp, or virginals—but there were also general purpose entertainers, acquired each year at the Lenten schools of minstrelsy, who were also acrobats, storytellers, or who worked with animals. I did not cover this in Songbird because each time I tried, the research rabbit hole yawned wider, and I could see the story rapidly losing its shape.
In addition to minstrels, there were other types of musician at court. There were the choristers of the Chapel Royal—men and boys—who sang mass several times each day. There was another, smaller choir, who traveled with the king. There was the Music, the general minstrels, and then there were special musicians, imported (or occasionally lured away) from other countries and courts.
A core group of minstrels always traveled with the king, because he would not want to be caught without music. They went on progress with him, and, in 1520, when the king and most of his courtiers journeyed to France for the Field of Cloth of Gold, it would have been unspeakable to leave them home. Henry took every weapon in his arsenal to impress the French, and the quality of his musicians would have definitely been a point in his favor.
He also took the Chapel Royal choir, because they were made to do musical gymnastics with the French choir—for a final mass, the English choir sang with the French organist, and vice-versa, in one of those “it sounded like a good idea at the time” performances that no doubt had choristers on both sides muttering under their breath.
Songbird came about because I discovered that one of the ways Henry added to the choir and the Music was to buy children. These were most likely poor, musically talented children whose parents were more than happy (or as happy as you can be, surrendering a child, even to a promising future) to trade their child for security for the rest of their family. More than likely the children were boys, and destined for the choir, but in the case of Songbird, I made the child a girl, and Bess Llewelyn was born.