Blackmore Area Local History

William Byrd (1543 - 1623)

William Byrd, Elizabethan Composer, lived for the last 30 years of his life at Stondon Massey (Essex)
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A 'William Byrd Festival' was held at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey, in May 2011.  Follow the link to the Festival blog to learn more about the great composer and events at the Church.

The booklet, 'William Byrd. Some Notes',
(third edition) tells the story of the Elizabethan composer
from a local perspective.  
It is available from St Peter & St Paul Church,
Stondon Massey, Megarrys Antiques and Teashop on The Green, Blackmore, and via this website, priced 2.00 plus postage and packing.

William Byrd (1543 - 1623)

Text by Revd. E. H. L. Reeve (c 1900).

William Byrd, the famous Elizabethan composer, lived for the last thirty years of his life at Stondon Massey.  He was a composer of sacred music in both Latin and English, writing madrigals and sonnets, and keyboard pieces.  He was quite an all-rounder.  He once wrote: “There is not any Musicke of Instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voices of men, where the voices are good and the same well sorted and ordered. The better the voice is, the meeter it is to honour and serve God therewith; and the voice of man is chiefly to be employed to that end”. 

Although 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.  William Byrd wrote a Mass settings for three, four and five voices for the Petre family, his Patron, of nearby Ingatestone Hall.  If he had been caught either saying or hearing the Catholic liturgy, he would have been in serious trouble.  This was a treasonable offence. 

Byrd 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”. His Last Will and Testament states:  “I may live and die a true and perfect member of His holy Catholic Church without which I believe there is no salvation for me. My body to be honestly buried in that parish and place where it shall please God to take me out of this life which I humbly desire if so it shall please God may be in the parish of Stondon where my dwelling is: And then to be buried near unto the place where my wife liest buried, or else where as God and the time shall permit and suffer”.  Unfortunately, because our Parish Registers do not survive before 1708, we have no record of his burial.

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. 

Last updated: 16 June 2011