Roy Henry

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A setting of the Gloria by Roy Henry: Folio 12v of the Old Hall Manuscript.

Roy Henry ("King" Henry) (fl. around 1410) was an English composer, almost certainly a king of England, probably Henry V, but also possibly Henry IV. His music, two compositions in all, appears in a position of prominence in the Old Hall Manuscript.

Musicologists have not been able to agree on which English monarch wrote the two mass movements which appear, at the head of their respective sections, in the Old Hall Manuscript. Henry IV, who reigned from 1399 to 1413, was in his early forties when the music was most probably written, since stylistic evidence places it around 1410. That he was still mentally able at this period, and had leisure time to think and design, is clear from his payment for the metal used in the construction of a cannon made to his own design in 1409 (see Mortimer, Fears of Henry IV, pp. 319–20). In addition, there is more evidence of his being an accomplished musician than his son. One contemporary referred to him as a 'sparkling musician'; he obtained the first known recorder and both he and his wife played the harp. (His accounts record a number of payments for harp strings: see Mortimer, Fears of Henry IV, pp. 46–7). As Henry V was so busy after his accession - and abroad on campaign continually from 1417 - the sacred composition falls more naturally into his father's twilight years than the son's martial ones. Two other reasons suggest the father as the composer: one would have expected clarification of the name if it had been the second of the two King Henrys; also the connection of the manuscript with the duke of Clarence suggests Henry IV, as Clarence and Henry V were not close whereas Clarence was his father's favourite son.

Henry V, who reigned from 1413 to 1422, was known to have cultivated music in his youth. An early biography of Henry V states:

…he was in his youth a diligent follower of idle practices, much given to instruments of music, and fired with the torches of Venus herself.

Recent research has shown that work on the Old Hall Manuscript probably ceased on the death of Thomas, Duke of Clarence, in 1421. Since Thomas was King Henry V's brother, and his chapel's musicians are now known to have included Leonel Power, and the manuscript itself passed to Henry V's chapel on the death of Thomas, some people favor Henry V as the identity of Roy Henry. Obviously the manuscript could not have been passed to the long-dead henry IV at this time, so this is not a conclusive argument. But it is worth noting that Henry V's extraordinary piety - outdoing even his father in matters of religion - is consistent with the composition of sacred music, and we can be sure of his musical education. It is impossible to say for certain which man was the composer without further evidence.

Roy Henry's music consists of two movements of the ordinary of the mass: a Gloria and a Sanctus, both for three voices, and written in a fairly low register. The music itself is skillfully written, and unusually for the time, no specific plainchant can be identified as a source; both pieces may be freely composed, or the underlying chant may be part of the enormous lost repertory of music from the early 15th century, hence unidentifiable (the vast majority of manuscripts of the time were destroyed in the 1530s during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries).


  • Margaret Bent: "Roy Henry", "Old Hall Manuscript", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed July 6, 2005), (subscription access)
  • Margaret Bent, "The Progeny of Old Hall: More Leaves from a Royal English Choirbook", Gordon Athol Anderson (1929–1981) in memoriam, ed. L.A. Dittmer (Henryville, PA, 1984), 1–54
  • Ian Mortimer, The Fears of Henry IV (Jonathan Cape, 2007)
  • Ian Mortimer, 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Bodley Head, 2009)