Brett Weymark enjoys exploring the ripe choral masterpiece that the Countess of Albermarle pronounced “disgusting”.

When Alionora Romyng, a “common tippelar of ale”, was fined tuppence by Leatherhead magistrates in 1525 for selling short measures, she could have little imagined that 400 years later she would become the rumbustious heroine of a 20th-century choral masterpiece. But when Ralph Vaughan Williams set John Skelton’s The Tunning of Elinor Rummingto music as the first of his Five Tudor Portraits, that’s exactly what she did.

Satirical drawing of John Skelton, Elinor Rumming and the Rev. Jonathan Boucher

“Droopy and drowsy, scurvy and lowsy, her face all bowsy,” rhymes Skelton, lampooning the courtly love poetry of his time to draw a vivid picture of a wrinkled slattern with a roguish eye. In one of his kinder reflections he likens her to a roast pig’s ear. “And yet she will jet like a jollivet,” he adds, with a deal of affection for Elinor who he claims dresses to the nines, before mocking her headgear as being “after the Saracen’s guise, with a whim-wham, knit with a trim-tram, upon her brain-pan.”

For his part,...