Before going further, let us look a little more closely at this William Byrde. He was a remarkable man, and it is well known in musical circles as one of the great composers of his time. He was bred up to music, we are told, under Thomas Tallis, the composer of the familiar “Canon” and was appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral probably as early as 1563, when he was only about 25 years of age. On Jan. 25th, 1569, Robert Parsons, gentleman of the Chapel Royal, was drowned at Newark-on-Trent, and on the 22nd Feb. following Byrde was sworn in his place. In London he seems rapidly to have made his way, sharing with Tallis the honorary post of organist of the Chapel Royal. Like most members of the Chapel Royal, though outwardly he conformed, he appears to have remained throughout his life a papist at heart. It was probably on account of his religion that he lived all his life some way out of London where he would be less likely to attract attention. His name occurs as living at Harlington, near Uxbridge, in 1581, and again in another entry he is described as “a friend and abettor of those beyond the seas”, and as living at Draighton.
In 1585 Tallis died, and the patent granted to the pair (for publishing certain music) became Byrde’s monopoly. His first important work was published in 1588, and is entitled “Psalmes, Sonets and Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, made into musicke of five parts”. He was a voluminous writer, and some have ventured to claim for him the composition of the first English madrigal.
The association of Bryde with Tallis is happily perpetuated in the complimentary poem prefixed to their “cantiones sacrae”.
“Tallisius mango dignus honore senex.
Et Birdus tantum natus decorare magistrum,”
which perhaps might be translated –
“The old man Tallis, worthy endless fame;
Bird, born to add fresh lustre to his master’s name”.
We can judge for ourselves the personal appearance of the talented gentleman, who for some five and twenty years made a home in our village. His reputation as a musician served no doubt in a large degree to shelter him. A very stringent regulation was passed by parliament in 1593, entitled “An Act to retain her Majesty’s subjects in their due obedience,” by which means an obstinate and prolonged refusal to attend public worship as now reformed was made a capital felony, and this was embodied by James I in the Canons of 1604. Now from the year 1605 until 1612, and probably later, it was regularly recorded that the Byrde family were “papistical recusants”; and Mrs Byrde in particular, if the reports of the minister and churchwardens are to be believed, seems to have been very zealous in making converts. Byrde himself was frequently presented for popish practices before the archidiaconal court of Essex, and is said to have actually been excommunicated from 1598 onwards! Yet he was all this while actively engaged in performing his duties in the Chapel Royal, and was present there at the coronation of James I.
Byrde lived on at Stondon for some time longer. He made his will as an old man of 80, in 1623, leaving the place to his daughter-in-law Catherine Bryde (wife of his eldest son Christopher), and after her to her son, Thomas Byrde and his heirs. The estate at that time appears to have been under certain liabilities, for he mentions Anthony Luther of Kelvedon, as one to whom “the fee-farm rent” is to be paid. He died, probably at Stondon, on July 4th 1623. His death is recorded in the “Chapel Royal Cheque Book” as that of a “father of musicke”, a title which however may refer as much to his age as to the veneration in which he is held by his contemporaries. He desired to be buried where he should die, and trusted that this might be “at Stondon, where my dwelling is”, and that he might be laid near the place where his wife (Ellen) was buried. In a future chapter on the Parish Registers I shall have occasion to refer again to the lamentable fact that all records have perished prior to 1708, so that we have no parochial notice whatever of the celebrities of whom I have been writing. Very possibly the fact of the family having been persistent papists may have militated against any memorial being raised to the great composer in the church or churchyard.
In the Lay-subsidy lists of 1624, Mrs Catherine Byrde appears as taxed for the lands in Stondon and so again in 1628. At this latter date she was styled a Recusant, showing that, like her father-in-law and his family, she still adhered to the Romish faith.
A closer perusal of the State papers makes it clear that the Bryde family continued owners of Stondon Place from their purchase of it in 1610, to the year 1651.
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2007
Welcome to our Festival blog
We are a small congregation who organised a highly successful 'William Byrd Festival' in May 2011 to celebrate the life and work of the village's Elizabethan composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623). In 2012 we played host to the world-famous choir The Cardinall's Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.
This website contains everything you need to know about William Byrd and his links with Stondon Massey. The church is open for services, of course, and on the second Sunday afternoon in the month during the summer.