Guest Post: Playing the Lute by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and novelist Toni Mount to my blog, to talk about the latest instalment in her fabulous Seb Foxley mysteries, The Colour of Rubies. Which is released today. Toni is here to tell us all about her research into the lute. Over to Toni….

In my tenth and latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Rubies, the hero needs to get to know his fellow clerks in the King’s Scriptorium at Westminster Palace for one of them may be a murderer!

Queen Elizabeth I playing a lute, c.1580
A miniature by Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547 – 1619)
Trustee of the Will of the 8th Earl of Berkeley
Digital picture kindly supplied by Martin Shepherd

In the case of the Chief Clerk, Hal Sowbury, who plays the lute, Seb has his colleague give him a few basic beginner’s lessons on the instrument. Since I have no knowledge whatsoever of lutes, except that they’re stringed instruments something like a guitar, this aspect of the novel required some research. I discovered the most useful website was because it comes with diagrams and written instructions. The YouTube videos were good but I couldn’t keep up, making notes, but they did show how the lute should be held correctly.

I learned the correct terminology: they’re not called ‘strings’, they’re ‘courses’ and come in pairs except for the single course at the bottom, known as the ‘chanterelle’, yes, just like the mushroom. Basic lutes have 6 or sometimes 8 courses but some can have quite a few more, may be up to 12. For Seb, I thought 6 was enough. The main body of the lute, the sound-box, is known as the ‘bowl’ and it should rest on your right thigh. The bowl has a central cut-out design, the ‘rose’, to let the sound out and this can be ornate and beautiful. The thin part is the ‘neck’ with frets for fingering, ending in the ‘peg-box’ with pegs to tune the courses.

This miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute is dated to exactly a century later than Seb’s lessons and, apparently, the sloping shoulders of the bowl and the long neck make this an English lute, not a Genoese instrument like Hal Sowbury’s which would have a more rounded bowl and shorter neck. There is much expert discussion about the lute in this image, whether there is French influence in the design and how accurate is the artist’s depiction of it. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth really could play the lute – and the virginals though, to her disgust, Mary, Queen of Scots, was said to be far more accomplished on this keyboard instrument – but it’s thought the processes and circumstances of the portrait make it unlikely that it was painted on an actual occasion of royal music-making. It’s more likely to be symbolic, suggesting the harmony of the English body politic [definitely a fiction in the 1580s] and a reference to the musical interests of the Carey family who commissioned it.

But for Seb’s lessons, like a modern guitarist, he has to learn the fingering of the basic chords with his left hand and how to play the courses with his right. Interestingly, one YouTube video stressed that the thumb must stroke downwards quite gently, brushing the courses, while the index finger plucks upwards. I hope that’s correct because that’s what Hal instructs Seb to do in his first attempt at making music on the lute.

The anatomy of a lute []

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for me with my meagre knowledge – Seb has the opportunity for only a couple of lessons with Hal before his employment in Westminster’s scriptorium comes to an end but, who knows, maybe one day he will have another chance to learn to play the lute. We are already familiar with Seb’s love of singing and choral talent, so he must have a musician’s ear and probably the gift of perfect pitch. With an artist’s dexterity, I’m sure his nimble fingers will soon master their positions on the frets and the brushing and plucking of the courses to make beautiful music.

So music gives a lighter side to the action in my new novel but if you want to join Seb, his family and friends on their exploits in medieval London and Westminster, stealing down dark alleyways, waiting nervously in opulent chambers and freezing their fingers off in the icy scriptorium where a murderer lurks, the spying and other dirty deeds aplenty, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book: The Colour of Rubies, by Toni Mount, published 5th May 2022.

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About the book:

Murder lurks at the heart of the royal court in the rabbit warren of the Palace of Westminster. The year is 1480. Treason is afoot amongst the squalid grandeur and opulent filth of this medieval world of contrasts. Even the Office of the King’s Secretary hides a dangerous secret.

Meeting with lords and lackeys, clerks, courtiers and the mighty King Edward himself, can Seb Foxley decipher the encoded messages and name the spy?

Will Seb be able to prevent the murder of the most important heir in England?

All will be revealed as we join Seb Foxley and his abrasive brother Jude in the latest intriguing adventure amid the sordid shadows of fifteenth-century London.

Praise for Toni Mount’s The Colour of Rubies

Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy “An evocative masterclass in storytelling.” Carol McGrath, author of the She-wolves trilogy “I was utterly transported – It’s superb”. “What a plot. What characters. Perfect pitch”.

“I loved the relationship between Seb and Jude”.

“The Colour of Rubies is a totally immersive experience as richly stitched as one of King Edward IV’s gorgeous tapestries. This cleverly plotted novel with its twists and turns will keep a reader page turning late into the night until the book’s final scenes. Sebastian and Jude are wonderfully realised personalities with similar emotions, concerns, fears and hopes we have have today. Their medieval London felt real and intriguing to me with unexpected dangers lurking in alleyways. I felt as if I was walking in Sebastian’s footsteps. With this thrilling novel Toni Mount has shown herself a master of medieval suspense. More please”.

Praise for Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Series

Tracy Borman, historian and broadcaster “An atmospheric and compelling thriller that takes the reader to the dark heart of medieval London.”

Matthew Lewis author of Richard III Loyalty Binds Me “Toni Mount continues to delight with the superbly crafted Seb Foxley mysteries. Impeccable research and sculpted characters combine with an engaging narrative to create another irresistible story. This series goes from strength to strength, and I’m already looking forward to the next instalment”

J.P. Reedman, author of the I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET series: “Sebastian Foxley is the Cadfael of the 15th century”.

“The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery Series by Toni Mount is not only filled by dastardly murders and gripping intrigue but contains many well-researched historical facts from the Wars of the Roses era”

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian “Toni Mount is simply brilliant”.

“If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake (and I do) you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley”.

“From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy “Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connolly, author and medieval historian “A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Rosalie Gilbert, medieval historian and author “The author’s knowledge of medieval history shines through the narrative in the small details which enhance the story woven into it. The details about the inside workings of medieval trade practices lent themselves perfectly for a background to murder and deceit”.

“Recommended for lovers of historic fiction.”

Joanne R Larner author of Richard Liveth Yet trilogy: “I always look forward to a new ‘Colour of…’ book. I can’t wait to see what escapades Seb Foxley and his brother, Jude, get up to next. They, and all the characters, are endearing and colourful. The books are always well written, conjuring 15th century London into the reader’s mind and the plots are excellent!’

Mel Starr bestselling author of the Hugh de Singleton chronicles: “If I believed in reincarnation I would be willing to think that Toni Mount lived a previous life in 15th century London. The scents, the sights, the tastes of the late Middle Ages are superbly rendered.”


About the Author:

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript.

Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.


My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, and Book Depository.


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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Playing the Lute by Toni Mount

  1. stormwatch1977 08/05/2022 / 10:42

    Interesting article! I’ve never played a lute but the fact the strings come in pairs makes me think of my mandolin. I wonder if they would play and sound somewhat similar.

    Liked by 1 person

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