Thomas Tallis

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Thomas Tallis ( born ? - died November 1585)

Thomas Tallis is the country’s most celebrated composer of music during the Elizabethan period. His musical masterpieces were often created for the church as well as his Royal patrons who, during his lifetime, were Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Throughout these changing times, A Roman Catholic, Thomas remained in favour with the ruling monarchy and church, his musical genius transcending turbulent religion and politics. He lived a long life, composing right up to his death. One of his two most famous pieces, Spem in Alium (Sing and Glorify) was composed for Elizabeth I when he was 70. His other famous piece was ‘If Ye Love Me’ written during the earlier reign of Edward I. His wrote the words to his music in both English and Latin. His music is still very much alive and played today. In 1910 the composer Vaughan Williams took a Thomas Tallis melody and used it as the basis for his haunting piece ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’.

Details of Thomas Tallis’s birth and childhood are lost but it was probably in Kent near Canterbury. He is first recorded as an organist at Dover Priory in 1532.

In around 1538, Thomas Tallis was appointed to create music at Waltham Abbey, then a large Augustinian monastery. Unfortunately the monastery was dissolved by Henry VII two years later and Thomas was paid off.

Thomas moved to Canterbury Cathedral and to Court as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543 where he composed and performed by the monarchs of the day. He married in 1552 but had no children.

Throughout his life, Thomas Tallis led an advantaged life. As well as the pay-off he received when Henry VIII dissolved Waltham Abbey, Queen Mary granted him a lease on a manor in Kent, which provided a comfortable annual income and Queen Elizabeth granted him, and his pupil and fellow composer William Byrd, a licence to print and publish music plus a 21 year monopoly on polyphonic music, that is music set in parts.

In his latter years Thomas Tallis lived in Greenwich. He died at home and was buried in the chancel of his local church, since rebuilt with his exact location unknown. However a brass plate was found in 1720 which read:


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 sovereygnes 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


Map & Directions

Thomas Tallis

Type:Blue Plaque

Highbridge Street, Waltham Abbey, Essex, EN9 1DT

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