(Portions of this article were adapted from Lupo, G. M., "The Lupo Family of Early Virginia" in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 36, No. 4, October December, 1992, pgs. 281-288.)
In November of 1540, six viol players, Alexander, Ambrose and Romano of Milan, Albert and Vincenzo of Venice and Juan Maria of Cremona, received payment for their services to the English crown beginning May of that year. These men had obvious Italian connections, and had been brought to England on orders from Henry VIII, who charged his agent Thomas Cromwell with finding European musicians to help improve the standards of English music of the time. Henry's preoccupation with improving British music may have been influenced more by his impending wedding to Anne of Cleves than by any desire to have a long term impact on the English musical establishment, but while his marriage lasted only a few months, the effect he would have on the music England produced would endure for over a century. Ambrose of Milan later known as Ambrose Lupo the longest serving of this original group of six string players, held his position at court for nearly fifty-four years, ending with his death around 1594.
Though identified as being of Italian origin in early state papers, it appears that Ambrose and his musical colleagues were actually Sephardic Jews of Spanish or Portuguese lineage. Evidence of this comes from a number of sources, most notably the will of another musician from 1542. Ambrose, along with Albert of Venice, Alexander of Milan and John Maria of Cremona, were witnesses to the will of John Anthony, a royal sackbut player. Two days later, when the will was proved, Ambrose, as sole executor, identified John Anthony as "Anthony Moyses", and himself as "Ambrose de Almaliach", both Jewish names. The fact that Ambrose used the Jewish versions of his and John Anthony's names gives some insight into Ambrose's character as evidence suggests that John Anthony, as well as Romano de Milan, died while they and the rest of the string players were in prison for being suspected Marranos, that is, Jews who practiced their religion in secret while openly professing Christianity.
Two distinct sources provide clues to this incident. In records of the Privy Council from 4 February 1542, three individuals, Phillip Hobbin, gentleman usher, Sir Edward Kerne, and Dr. Peter, who, under command of Henry VIII, had apprehended several individuals suspected of being Jews, presented to the Privy Council records from the apprehension and inventories of the goods of the individuals in custody. The names of the suspects are not given. However, in a letter dated 29 January 1542, Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Spanish Emperor Charles V, in a letter to Monseigneur de Granvelle, the Emperor's chief minister, also makes reference to this event and hints at the musical background of the prisoners:
"The King has lately ordered the arrest and imprisonment of the New Christians that came from Portugal. Most likely, however well they may sing, they will not be able to fly away from their cages without leaving feathers behind."
Shortly after these events were recorded the remaining musicians appear to have left England for several months, probably returning to Venice. Roger Prior, in an article on Jewish musicians in Tudor England, suggests that this chronology of events may have occurred:
Recently, a new source has come to light which lends weight to the notion that the Lupos were Jews. In testimony before the Inquisition in Venice, a teen-aged musician named Orazio Cogno recounts his movements while in the employ of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, in England. Responding to questions about who he had been in contact with in England, he recalls meeting one of the Queen's musicians, identified as "Ambroso da Venezia", as well as an individual called "Master Alexandro". The individuals named were apparently responsible for allowing Orazio to read material the Inquisition deemed heretical, though the content is not specified. As the leading aim of the Inquisition was to ferret out Jews who were pretending to convert to Christianity while maintaining their Jewish practices in private, mention of Ambrose, et al. within this context could be further proof of their religious background. Interestingly, Orazio states that the wife of Ambroso da Venezia still resides in Venice, which suggests Ambrose had continued dealings there after relocating to England.
Ambrose was the founder of the Lupo family in England, and the first known member of the family to adopt the name Lupo, the Italian word for wolf. This suggests a connection to the ancient Hebrew tribe of Benjamin (see Gen 49:27). Ambrose had two sons, Peter (b. ca. 1534) and Joseph (b. ca. 1536), who are found among a list of individuals admitted to the musicians guild in Antwerp, Belgium in 1555 and 1557 respectively. Joseph, who turns up in British State papers beginning in 1563, was living in Blackfriars, London in 1571, and listed as a Venetian on a return of Strangers dated that year. Peter was originally employed by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester beginning around 1567, and became a Queen's musician around 1570.
Together with their father, Peter and Joseph contributed to the long and distinguished service the Lupos performed for the British monarchy. Ambrose was among the musicians who played at the funeral of Henry VIII and the coronations of Edward and Elizabeth, while Joseph and Peter were two of four Lupos listed among the six violinists who played at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in 1603.
Late in the reign of Elizabeth, Ambrose and his sons were granted a Coat of Arms. The grant, as abstracted in the publications of the Harleian Society, reads as follows:
Lupus, Ambrose, s. of Baptist, of "Castello maiori" of Busto in Normandy, in the Republic of Malan; augmentation and crest granted ? 45 Eliz. ... by W. Dethrick, Gart. Queen's College Oxford manuscript, folio 96, copy of grant in Latin; Stowe ms. 676 fo. 138b names sons Peter and Joseph.
Peter Holman speculates that "Castello maiori" may represent the Venetian district of Castello in the main part of Venice, and that "Busto in Normandy, in the Republic of Milan" represents the town of Busto Arsizio, which is Northwest of Milan. The reference to "Normandy" may indicate that this region was under French control at the time of Ambrose's birth.
The augmentation and crest granted to the Lupos contains four Tudor roses (i.e. white over red), signifying service under Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth and is a testement to their long years of service to the English royal family. This service extended into the Stuart dynasty, in the personages of Joseph's sons Thomas, Sr. and Horatio, and Peter's son Thomas, Jr.
Thomas Sr. served in the courts of Elizabeth I and James I as a musician and in the newly created post of "Composer to the Violins", starting in 1619. He received his first appointment, to replace Francesco de Venice in May, 1591, and was given an appointment for life by a warrant dated May 4, 1592. Thomas left behind a considerable body of work, some of which has been recorded. Peter Lupo's son Thomas was also a musician and composer, and some confusion exists as to which Thomas authored which piece, though John Jennings concludes that most of the surviving works were written by Joseph's son, attributing differences in style to the evolution of the elder composer's technique rather than two composers.
Peter Lupo married Katherine Wickers in St. Botolph's on October 27, 1575 and the christening records of his children appear in this parish. In a letter to a colleague, dated 18 March 1578, Peter, in a mix of Italian, Latin and Spanish, mentions having returned from Hampton Court, a royal residence outside of London, and speaks of his oldest daughter who is infected with the plague. There was a major outbreak of the plague in London in 1578, which is probably what prompted the royal trip to Hampton Court. In a second letter from around the same time, Peter writes to the Earl of Essex inquiring about a piece of music in the earl's possession which Peter wishes to perform. In 1606, Peter was living at Sandwich, Kent, according to the marriage record of his daughter Mary to Thomas Cawdell in St. Margaret New Fish Street, London. He appears to have died around 1608.
Note: For more information on Henry VIII, his wives or any of the Tutor Monarchs, visit Lara Eakin's excellent site at tudorhistory.org
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