Queens of the Masque

Henrietta Maria

Although most of the masques focussed on the divine right of the Kings, many masques were commissioned by the Queen consorts; both Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria commissioned and performed in masques. Wearing many of their most stunning jewels they would take to the stage to perform the courtly dances, representating of the royal family to the court and world.

They both took their roles seriously and masque rehearsals could commence daily in the run up to the performance; in the 2 weeks running up to the 1609 Masque of Queens, Anne held “daily rehearsals and trials of machinery”. (Marc’ Antonio Correr to the Doge, 1609). This ensured that the machinery and other staging, music, singing, poetry, and dance would all be perfectly timed and work together seamlessly. Such a spectacle, if it was successful, would have reflected well on the royal family and their power. The final rehearsal sometimes had an audience – similar to the cheaper tickets you can get for dress rehearsals at theatres nowadays. Cavendish’s Christmas Masque made specific distinction between the “practisinge” performance and the masque night. The dress rehearsals allowed those who did not have access to the main masque, perhaps due to a lack of invitation from the King, to witness a performance. Anne also defied expectations in the revels of her masques, where women were allowed to join in with lively dances, with one description describing the “young prince [being] tossed from hand to hand like a tennis ball” between the ladies.

Anne of Denmark

Both Queens spent a lot of time and money on the clothing for masques. Although Jones designed many masque costumes, he was expected to submit to the advice his queen gave. For the masque Chloridia, Jones submitted a draft of the costumes to her majesty Henrietta Maria, requesting “her majesties choise” of colours, and waiting for her “command” on whether the designs were acceptable. Anne took a different direction the first Jacobean Masque, The Vision of Twelve Goddesses,  where she donned the clothes of Elizabeth I, taking from her large collection, and providing herself with a level of authority – she was the Queen of England and had all the necessities to go with it.

The Queens also had the right to make decisions and requests for the narrative of the masque. For Jonson’s Masque of Queens, Anne of Denmark demanded that an antimasque was included. Henrietta Maria used the French Ballet de Cours as a great inspiration for the subject of her masques. Daniel Rabel’s drafts inspired her masque, Temple of Love, whilst Charles I’s secretary often passed on French ballet drafts to her to help inspire the masque characters. She was involved in every element of the masque: from the “subject of a masque” to the “songs, music and dancing”. (Anonymous text often attributed to D’Avenant)

Inigo Jones Costume Design for Anne of Denmark’s 1605 “Masque of Blackness”

There were differences between these two Queens. Anne of Denmark more frequently worked in isolation from her husband. They had marital difficulties and from around 1607 they generally lived apart from one another. On the other hand, Henrietta Maria often worked together with her husband. Furthermore, Anne of Denmark was pro-Spanish, whereas Henrietta Maria’s loyalty was with her homeland, France. On the surface this may seem trivial to the masques, however foreign policy might influence which dance was performed in the masque and which ambassadors were invited to watch the entertainment. Yet, despite differences in their approach to masques, both Queens were essential to their development and creation. This resulted in some of the most extravagant performances of the seventeenth century.

Butler, Martin. The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

McManus, Clare. Women and Culture at the Courts of the Stuart Queens. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Ravelhofer, Barbara. The Early Stuart Masque: dance, costume and music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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Parties at the Stuart Court