Peregrine Bertie, eleventh Baron Willoughby de Eresby, had a reputation as an honorable man. He ‘was not one of the Reptilia
: intimating that he could not creepe on the ground, and that the Court was not his element’ (Robert Naughton, 1653). Two occasions are known when he officially returned ‘home’. After going to the Low Countries with the Earl of Leicester’s army in 1586, he was named General of the English forces in the United Provinces. One Elizabethan song recounts that ‘The fifteenth day of July / with glistening spear and shield / A famous fight in Flanders / Was foughten in the field; / The most courageous officers / Were English Captains three; / But the bravest man in Battell / Was brave Lord Willougby’. However, due to ill health, he asked to be relieved of his command and returned home in 1589. He was sent almost immediately to help Henri de Navarre in France, from where he returned in 1590. He died in 1601.
In the FVB, the title of Byrd’s set of variations is Rowland owing to the association of the melody with the popular jig Rowland and the Sexton (1591). The piece therefore appears to date from 1589 or 1590 and to be one of the most up-to-date works copied into Nevell; it was composed when Byrd was about fifty. After the statement of the elegant 12-bar tune, in G minor (transposed Dorian mode), simply harmonised, there are two further variations, mostly in quaver movement, and rather lute-like in character. Dowland based two different lute pieces on the tune (one of which was later turned into a lute duet) but Byrd’s set was probably composed first.
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999