Gilbert Banester


English composer Gilbert Banester was possibly born in London in 1445. He was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal from 1478. He contributed a carol in florid style to the Fayrfax Manuscript, and wrote and produced pageants at Henry VII's court; his latin motets include one probably for Henry's wedding. He is represented in the Eton Choirbook.

Gilbert Banester's only work in the Eton Choirbook is the antiphon O Maria et Elizabeth. This is similar in many ways to Horwood's music, but a compact, consistently syllabic style is employed very much more widely because the text is exceptionally long. As in only two other Eton antiphons, the text is in prose; this choice of form is all the more remarkable since there are two poems ascribed to Banester, the Miracle of St Thomas (1467) and the first known version of Boccaccio in English (c. 1450). O Maria et Elizabeth is partly about the motherhood of the Virgin and of St Elizabeth, but ends with a prayer for king, church and people. The king's name is omitted, and unfortunately the three notes provided for it could fit 'Henricum', 'Edwardum', or even 'Ricardum'. In view of the allusions earlier to St Elizabeth, it is possible that the piece was composed for the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on January 17, 1486. The tenor, in place of a regular cantus firmus, twice quotes the opening phrase from 'Benedicam te Domine', third antiphon at Lauds for the Sunday before the wedding, the first after the Octave of the Epiphany. But in spite of this it is perhaps possible that Banester's piece was written during Elizabeth's pregnancy, or after the birth of Prince Arthur in September 1486. Why should the king's name be omitted? Was the king in fact Edward (IV), whose order in the 1460s that the Eton treasures be handed over to his own St George's, Windsor could well have discouraged the scribe from perpetuating his name? The Elizabeth would then have been Edward's queen and Henry VII's mother-in-law, Elizabeth Wycleville. Banester after all appears in records as the 'king's servant' in 1471, received corrodies at two Abbeys from Edward, became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1475 and master of the choristers in 1478; he had ample reason to pray for Edward's success.

IV M: England Through 1635   |   Latin Church Music 1460-1575: The Composers