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Princess Royal (Tune from Thomas Denley)

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Source: Copy of C. Sharp ms no. 2328 in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library
Performer: Denley, Thomas
Place Collected: Sevenhampton
Date collected: 30 August 1909
Collector: Sharp, Cecil

Cecil Sharp (CJS) noted 6 tunes from Thomas Denley, then aged 72, at Sevenhampton on 30 August 1909. He wrote: “Thomas Danley [sic] played these tunes to me (very beautifully) upon a tin whistle. His father used to play pipe & tabor for the Withington Morris men.. Thomas … although he can play fiddle, clarionet, organ, etc. as well as the tin whistle, could never manage to learn the pipe & tabor. He can play from note but has a great musical memory for tunes and can play a tune at one hearing with great accuracy (This I tested).”

Princess Royal was composed by Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), who called it Miss MacDermott or The Princess Royal. The MacDermott princes traditionally presided at the inauguration of the kings of Connacht. Hence the reference to the “Princess Royal”. William Shield adapted the tune for his song “The Arethusa,” in his opera The Lock and Key, performed in 1796. In the Cotswolds it is used as a solo morris dance from several different villages, and in Abingdon as a set dance. O’Carolan’s original composition is in the minor mode. Some of the versions found in the tradition, such as this, are in the major.

Media & Downloads

See the song/tune as collected (PDF file)
Hear the song/tune (midi file)

Modern recording performed by: Chris Denley, who plays all the instruments heard.

Song/tune as collected (abc file)