A fascinating historical insight from the world's preeminent historian of the State of California.
William Byrd (1543-1623) flourished at a time prior to Spanish settlement of California, which began in the late 1690s when the Jesuits went into Baja California and 1769 when the Franciscans under Junípero Serra and Captain Gaspar de Portolá began the colonization of Alta California at Mission San Diego. On the other hand, since the 16th century a grand contest for domination of North America was underway among Spain, France, and England. But even the English settlement of North America -- Jamestown in 1607 -- barely falls into Byrd's lifetime. Yet the grand drama of Catholic Spain and Catholic France vying with Protestant England for dominance of North America was occurring during Byrd's lifetime: a fact made especially poignant in that Byrd was a Roman Catholic whom Queen Elizabeth I continued to favor even after Pope Pius V excommunicated her and thereby made her technically liable to assassination, which resulted in the hunting down and execution of Catholic priests in England in the late 16th century.
In 1579, however, Francis Drake (not yet Sir Francis Drake) achieved the connection this concert is looking for. Having sacked Spanish ports in the Caribbean, rounded the tip of South America to raid Valparaiso, Drake proceeded north and landed his ship The Golden Hinde in June 1579 in what is now designated Drake's Bay in Marin County. The Golden Hinde was literally coming apart from the weight of all the loot that Drake had crammed into it in the course of his free-booting adventure. Drake brought The Golden Hinde ashore and careened it for repairs. The entire event was later written up by Phineas Fletcher, an Anglican clergyman on board, and later published in Hakluyt's Voyages
A number of things are important to recognize about Drake's sojourn on the shores of California. Following Magellan, Drake was only the second person to circumnavigate the planet. Secondly, during the thirty or more days that the English were in Marin County, they maintained peaceful relationships with the Coastal Miwok peoples, as noted by Fletcher. Thirdly, Drake claimed the entire region -- by which he meant California -- for the English crown. He called it Nova Albion in order to suggest a new beginning for England on the Pacific Coast. The claim went nowhere, for the time being. It became relevant again, however, in the 1790s when England, Russia, France, and the newly established United States found themselves in competition for Southern Alaska and the present day states of Washington and Oregon. Indeed, in the 1850s the United States and England squared off against each other for possession of the Oregon Territory, which each nation jointly occupied, until the present-day border between the state of Washington and British Columbia was established. While one does not have Englishmen settled in California during William Byrd's lifetime, one does have this dramatic month-long presence of Drake (whom Queen Elizabeth knighted upon his return) and the claim for Nova Albion that, while it failed to secure California, Oregon, and Washington for England, did fully secure the British hold on Western Canada.
The British have always loved California, Southern California especially. An Englishman, William Edward Hartnell (1798-1854), established the first school in California, in Monterey in the 1820s, in part to educate his own children. He and his wife, a de la Guerra of Santa Barbara, had twenty-five children, a number of them adopted under the provisions of godfathering so strong at the time. In the late 19th and early 20th century, English expatriates such as George Wharton James, Horace Annesley Vachell, and J. Smeaton Chase wrote brilliantly on the California landscape. In a later era, English writers such as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood chronicled the rise of Southern California. English investment, meanwhile, was strong in Southern California. After all, if London could finance projects in Africa and Asia, why not Southern California? The great Sir Thomas Beecham -- like so many of his countrymen -- loved Santa Barbara, especially in the winter, and in the 1920s helped establish the Granada Theatre there as a venue for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to appear when on tour. This relationship between the RPO and Santa Barbara continues to this day. Beecham also conducted at the Hollywood Bowl. By the early 20th century there were an estimated 300 choral groups operating out of Southern California churches and cultural organizations. In other words, Anglo-American Protestantism brought to Southern California not only the population boom of the 1880s but a tradition of choral music alive and well in Southern California and the UK to this day, as your concerts prove.
University Professor and Professor of History, USC
California State Librarian Emeritus
National Humanities Medalist 2006
Harvard GSAS Medalist, Harvard University 2006
California Hall of Fame 2010