Posted by our Tudor music correspondent Richard Rawlinson
England’s finest early composer Thomas Tallis died in 1585, having served as court musician for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Elizabeth I. Royal patronage then was the equivalent of being signed up to a major record label pre iTunes.
He also held posts at a Benedictine priory at Dover, the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham and Canterbury Cathedral, witnessing dissolution and the painful transition to Protestantism. Himself an unreformed Catholic, he somehow managed to avoid the religious controversies that raged around him. Despite his closeness to the Tudors, he kept his head, perhaps because he was a charming fellow as well as the fount of glorious polyphonic music.
He was buried at St Alfege Church in Greenwich but his remains appear to have been discarded by labourers when the church was rebuilt. It’s said a brass plaque by his tomb was engraved with this lovely poem:
Entered here doth ly a worthy wyght,
Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell:
His name to shew, was THOMAS TALLYS hyght,
In honest virtuous lyff he dyd excell.
He serv’d long tyme in chappel with grete prayse
Fower sovereigns reygnes (a thing not often seen);
I meane Kyng Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth oure Quene.
He mary’d was, though children he had none,
And lyv’d in love full thre and thirty yeres
Wyth loyal spowse, whose name yclypt was JONE,
Who here entomb’d him company now beares.
As he dyd lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet sort (O happy man!)
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let deth do what he can.