December 16, 2013

Make Merry with an Elizabethan Dance

In December 1599, all was aflutter at the court of Elizabeth I, the queen of England. The queen looked forward to a quiet Christmas Day, followed by a dozen days of merrymaking with the lords and ladies who wintered with her at Whitehall Palace on the Thames River. In these dark days of December and January, when there were only eight hours of daylight, everyone liked to party.

Elizabeth Tudor adored dancing.  Even at age 66, when her light-footed ways were a memory, the queen was known to beat time on the floor with her cane as her courtiers danced.

The pavane, an Italian import, was in high favor.  Because the ladies wore stiff undergarments, they couldn’t bend and sway very easily to the music, but still they followed the series of steps that comprised this courtly dance and even managed to clear the floor at times.  (Back in 1971, Dr. Paul B. Cares, my history professor at Allegheny College, claimed that a gentleman literally grabbed his lady by her farthingale and hoisted her upward. Aparently he spoke truth, because a web search shows Elizabeth herself elevated by her admirer Robert Dudley.)  

We are fortunate that the Library of Congress offers online examples of Elizabethan dances, including the pavane. To learn the steps, visit  

From Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen comes this activity. 
You can download the tune at Try CPDL #10696 for a good tempo, and give it a whirl!

1 comment:

  1. I love the historical details! Dance, Lizzie, dance!