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Did Richard enjoy a virelay with Anne . . . .?


In the fourteenth century (and perhaps still in the fifteenth) courtiers and their ladies desired more and more songs because they liked to dance to them. They either sang as they danced (called ‘carolling’) or danced to the song (a ‘conduit’) or joined in the refrain of the song they danced to (a ‘virelay’).

I had never given this thought before. It always seemed to me that they danced to music/singing, as we still do now. Mostly. But it puts a different complexion on the matter if one imagines them singing along as they danced.

These days, of course, the hokey-kokey springs to my mind as an example of carolling, although I hardly imagine there was a fourteenth-century court equivalent to this particular caper. Would such sumptuously-clad, highborn ladies and gentlemen really cavort in such a rowdy, decidedly inelegant manner? Who knows, I suppose. Things were very different then. Rowdy, inelegant dancing existed for the lower classes, as is amply illustrated – a riotous time seemed to have been had by all outside the confines of the court, but I just cannot, for the life of me, envisage a king like Richard II condoning anything like that.

But if carolling is akin to what we understand by singing a carol, does it mean that originally the songs that were sung at Christmas might also have been danced to?

Maybe dancing fashions had moved on by the time Richard III came to the throne, but perhaps carolling, conduits and virelays were still to be found at that 1483 Christmas at his court, when everything was so wonderful, dazzling and happy. Did they carol? Did they enjoy conduits? And might Richard himself have joined in the refrain as he enjoyed a virelay with Anne?

As you can no doubt tell from the foregoing, I am not au fait with the finer points of mediaeval dancing. It just interested me that dancing at court was not necessarily the rather sedate affair that we always see portrayed in films and drama. Please, if someone knows more, leave a comment, because I would love to learn.

This post was inspired by the book The Court of Richard II by Gervase Mathew.

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One thought on “Did Richard enjoy a virelay with Anne . . . .?

  1. sighthound6 on said:

    They must have been very fit. Singing and dancing at the same time is hard work, and the clothes were heavy, and needed managing.

    Liked by 2 people

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