Thomas Morley: 25 Facts and Speculations on the Elizabethan Musician


1. Thomas Morley was born in Norwich in either 1557 or 1558.

2. His father was a brewer, though the names of his parents are unknown.

3. It is assumed that as a child Thomas was a member of the Norwich Cathedral choir.

4. In 1574 he moved to London, becoming a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral.

5. While in London he is thought to have worked as a singer and been a student of well-respected Roman Catholic musician William Byrd, who was his mentor.

6. Thomas converted to Roman Catholicism at a fairly young age, probably as a result of Byrd’s influence.

7. Thomas Morley was appointed to a number of church musical roles, returning to Norwich Cathedral in 1583 where he led the choristers, as Master of the Children, for four years. This must have been a part-time role as he also attended Oxford University, gaining his BA in 1588.

8. He started publishing his music in the late 1580s.

9. Thomas Morley is known to have had a young son who died in 1589.

10. By this year he had returned to London, having been appointed organist at St Giles in Cripplegate.

11. Two years later Thomas was employed in a musical capacity at St Paul’s Cathedral.

12. By 1591 Thomas appears to have recanted his Catholicism and, as a result, avoided persecution.

13. It is believed that during the same year he was working within the English espionage circle spying on Roman Catholics in the Netherlands.

14. While there is no evidence, it seems likely he and Christopher Marlowe knew each other.

15. However, Morley’s main love was music and by the early 1590s he was writing madrigals, merging the Italian style of these with English traditional songs.

16. Morley was a very accomplished musician and composer of many church pieces and instrumentals, as well as more than 50 songs, many of which are still known today.

17. Among the vast repertoire for which Thomas Morley is famous are madrigals such as: “Arise, Get up my Deere”, “Flora wilt Thou Torment Mee”, “Now is the Month of Maying” and “April is in my Mistress’ Face”, a ballet similar to a madrigal – his shortest and most famous.

18. His madrigals were popular, memorable and easy to sing and would probably be described today as having “catchy tunes”.

19. At one time Thomas Morley lived in the same London parish as William Shakespeare but whether they were acquainted is not certain, though it seems likely.

20. Thomas Morley set to music Shakespeare’s “It was a Lover and his Lass” from “As You Like It”, though it is not known if this musical version was ever part of the play.

21. Morley was one of the most celebrated musicians and composers of his age and wrote the book “Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke” which was published in 1597 and is still regarded today as a source of useful information on the music of his era.

22. While little is known of Thomas Morley’s private life, it seems certain that he was married to Susan and the couple had three children who were born between 1596 and 1600.

23. Thomas Morley died in London in early October 1602.

24. He was buried in the churchyard of St Botolph’s Church, Billingsgate.

25. Sadly, the church and his grave were both destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London.


The title page of Thomas Morley’s book
“A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke”

The above details are correct to the best of my knowledge but please let me know if you notice any inaccuracies. I am indebted to a variety of online sources for the information I have gathered for the above list.
Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin

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