The restoration of Charles II in 1660 is an event that has fostered interest from scholars across a multitude of disciplines. Understanding the cultural aspects of Restoration politics – the music, poetry, visual and other arts produced at this time – is a facet that has proven challenging, not least because of tendencies to dismiss such elements as frivolous at worst and reflective and inconsequential at best.
A lack of extant works performed at the Restoration festivities has added to this challenge. For many years the only secular music identified has been the solo song ‘Welcome, Welcome Royal May’ by Alexander Brome, set to music by Matthew Locke. Evidence of a much larger work – the text of a full ode by James Shirley, set to music by Charles Coleman – sheds new light on the re-establishment of music at the Carolean court.
This paper will take this first ode for the king at the Restoration and, following Andrew R. Walkling’s revisionist approach to understanding the cultural aspects of Restoration politics, will demonstrate the importance such musical outputs had for rebuilding the monarchy’s status. It will argue that such activity was in fact indicative of Charles II’s efforts towards creating a more court-centred and royalist system of government than has previously been acknowledged. Moreover, it will show how the ode as a genre embodied aspects of the absolutism that would emerge later in the reign, serving as an important means through which the court achieved its political objectives.