Alas! what shall I do for Love? | King Henry VIII #poem

Henry VIII | Meynnart Wewyck circa 1509

Turns out King Henry VIII wrote some poems in his spare time.

Or to be more precise, lyrics, as most of his poems were also designed to be sung and played. Some of the lyrics were collated in the Henry VIII Manuscript circa 1522 along with other court composers of the time. They reveal that during the early years of his reign, young Henry’s court was one of lively fun and courtly pleasure.

Brevity also seemed to be much in favour.

Alas! what shall I do for love? was written for four voices.

“Alas! what shall I do for love?”
By King Henry VIII

Early Modern English                  Modern English
Alas what shall I do for loveAlas, what shall I do for love?
for love alasse what shall I doFor love, alas, what shall I do?
Syth now so kyndSince now so kind
I do yow fyndeI do you find
to kepe yow me vntoTo keep you me unto

Note the play on words with alas at the end of the original with a lass.

Given the number of wives and mistresses Henry would go on to have, it turned out there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for love!

Below is a Naxos 2006 version of the poem with the Alamire choir.

This post is part of A Poem For a Thursday with Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness and part of my Wolf Hall Trilogy Readalong 2021.

11 thoughts on “Alas! what shall I do for Love? | King Henry VIII #poem

  1. 1960s pop songs aren’t so short after all – just following a royal precedent. I listened to it but I’m afraid I didn’t think it any better sung than read. Nice though to get the tie in with Wolf Hall.


    1. I’m getting myself (slowly) in the mood for writing my final post. Even though I’ve started a new book set in modern times, my mind is still in Tudor England.


  2. I once read he composed “Greensleeves” though that seems to be a myth, just another song from his time. Still, we who have read about him know there was much more to him than just his six wives.


      1. I think it’s easy to forget that he was married to Catherine of Aragon for over 20 years. He chose to marry her – she was more or less shoved aside after Arthur died, and Henry, as the new king, could probably have had his pick of eligible princesses. And he trusted her enough to leave her in charge whilst he was campaigning in France – she was effectively ruling England at the time of Flodden Field. But she just gets seen as one wife amongst six, even though their marriage was longer than the other five put together!


  3. Not bad, Henry! But should you really be telling us this?

    Seriously, I didn’t know Henry VIII wrote poetry or lyrics, though I guess it’s not completely surprising. And it’s fun to see.


    1. There was a moment in The Mirror and the Light when one of the ladies in waiting was shown to be collating poems of the court, then the king busily working on another poem rather than matters of state, keeping Cromwell waiting. So naturally I had to do some research. This poem was much earlier though.


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