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My Ladye Nevells Booke

'My Ladye Nevells Booke' is one of the finest Tudor music manuscripts in existence and contains 42 pieces for keyboard by William Byrd, the greatest English composer of his age. The manuscript was acquired by the British Library in 2006 and a digitised version is now available as a 'Turning the Pages' feature in the Library's Online Gallery.

A voluntarie: for my ladye nevell: by William Byrd

A voluntarie: for my ladye nevell: by William Byrd

About the manuscript

'My Ladye Nevells Booke' is one of the most beautifully written music manuscripts to survive from the late 16th century, and is still preserved in its original ornate binding. It was painstakingly compiled by the Windsor-based scribe John Baldwin, who completed work on it on 11 September 1591. Baldwin seems to have worked under the direction of the composer of all the pieces in the book, William Byrd, and clearly thought highly of him, describing him elsewhere as one

whose greate skill and knowledge: dothe excelle all at this tyme:
and farre to strange countries: abroade his skill dothe shyne:

Binding of 'My Ladye Nevells Booke'

Binding of 'My Ladye Nevells Booke'

By 1591 Byrd was mid-way through his career as composer of church music and secular vocal and instrumental music. The manuscript provides a snapshot of the keyboard music he had composed by that date and is an exceptionally important source for his music. It contains some of his best-known compositions for keyboard, including variations on the popular tunes 'Sellinger's Round' and 'All in a Garden Green'.

Inscription in My Ladye Nevells Booke, 'mr: W: birde: gentleman: of: her: majesties: chappell:

Inscription in My Ladye Nevells Booke, 'mr: W: birde: gentleman: of: her: majesties: chappell:

It also includes music written by Byrd specially for the dedicatee of the manuscript, 'Ladye Nevell'. She has recently been identified as Elizabeth, wife of Sir Henry Nevill of Billingbere, Berkshire. Her family's coat of arms adorns a leaf at the front of the manuscript.

Nevill family coat of arms

Nevill family coat of arms © The British Library Board

The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the British Library in April 2006, with additional funding from donors. The British Library would like to thank the following, whose generosity made the acquisition possible: National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, Friends of the British Library, Friends of the National Libraries, the Golsoncott Foundation and a great many members of the public who contributed through the British Library Support programme and a special collection box.  You can view the complete manuscript in the Library's Online Gallery.

Calligraphy in My Ladye Nevells Booke

Calligraphy in My Ladye Nevells Booke © The British Library Board

Contact

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