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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

11 - Court Culture and Godly Monarchy: Henry Purcell and Sir Charles Sedley's 1692 Birthday Ode for Mary II


A rare anecdote about Queen Mary II and the composer Henry Purcell relates to the origins of the ode for her thirtieth birthday on 30 April 1692, Love's Goddess Sure was Blind.

The queen having a mind one afternoon to be entertained with music, sent to Mr. Gostling, then one of the chapel … to Henry Purcell and Mrs. Arabella Hunt, who had a very fine voice, and an admirable hand on the lute … Mr. Gostling and Mrs. Hunt sung several compositions of Purcell, who accompanied them on the harpsichord; at length the queen beginning to grow tired, asked Mrs. Hunt if she could not sing the old Scots ballad ‘Cold and Raw’, Mrs. Hunt answered, yes, and sung it to her lute. Purcell was all the while sitting at the harpsichord unemployed, and not a little nettled at the queen's preference of a vulgar ballad to his music; but seeing her majesty delighted with this tune, he determined that she should hear it upon another occasion; and accordingly in the next birth-day song, viz, that for the year 1692, he composed an air to the words, ‘May her bright example chace Vice in troops out of the land’, the bass whereof is the tune to ‘Cold and raw’.

Love's Goddess Sure was Blind is among the finest of the six birthday odes created for Mary II. However, the 1692 birthday ode for Mary II commands interest beyond the aesthetic. It is also a vivid micro-history of the political preoccupations of the court ode, of the ways in which monarch and courtier used the court ode to advance shared and individual agendas, and of the interaction between late Stuart court culture and the public sphere.

This essay considers the 1692 birthday ode to Mary II from three perspectives. The first section places the ode's text by Sir Charles Sedley alongside those of other court odes. It analyses the ways in which the court ode associated moral reform and godly monarchy with Mary II and her husband and co-monarch, William III. This development was especially important to creating a language that legitimised and celebrated the reign and rule of a female monarch who was also a wife.