Perhaps the ‘Monsieur’ in question was François, Duc d’Alençon (later the Duc d’Anjou), an unsuccessful suitor for Queen Elizabeth’s hand to whom she referred as ‘my little frog’. He died in 1584. This is certainly an entirely plausible date by which the first setting could have been composed; its style suggests a date in the 1570s. In Matchett’s manuscript a copying date of 16 August 1612 is given although the work was probably composed some forty years earlier. Morley included a version of the tune in his compilation of Consort Lessons (1599). A fine lute setting by Dowland has also recently come to light in an Italian manuscript (but appears to imply a considerably faster tempo than is possible with Byrd’s settings); another extremely virtuoso lute setting by Daniel Batchelar was published in 1610.
The opening strain of the first setting could almost have come from a pavan and lasts 16 semibreves. As such it is twice as long as most of Byrd’s almans. After its varied repeat, there is a second 16-semibreve phrase, very similar to the first, which also has its varied repeat. The whole 64-semibreve structure is then repeated, with new melodies and ornaments over the same bass.
Byrd’s second setting may date from the 1580s. There is a complete extra variation so the 64-semibreve structure now occurs three times.
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999