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John Sheppard

born: c1515
died: 1558
country: United Kingdom

John Sheppard (c1515–1558) is thought to have been a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral in or around 1530, although information supporting this theory has proved difficult to come by. By Michaelmas 1543 he is known to have been Informator Choristarum (director of music) at Magdalen College Oxford, where he is reputed to have blotted his copybook through various misdeeds. On further investigation, this mistaken allegation has arisen from a misreading of the college’s records: it was Richard Sheppar (and not Sheppard) who was the culprit. Sheppard later appears in the records of the Chapel Royal (from 1547).

Sadly, much of Sheppard’s music has been lost. His compositions survive in partbooks at Christ Church Oxford, and testify to the elaborate style of church music from the reign of Mary Tudor (1553–1558). These were turbulent times: after Henry VIII’s death, the ten-year-old Edward VI became King. During his reign the first Prayer Books were issued by Archbishop Cranmer in 1549 and 1553. Edward bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey who was proclaimed Queen, but was arrested and executed at the Tower. Mary was a Catholic, acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope, and had Cranmer burnt at the stake, replacing him with a Catholic Archbishop. Her persecution of Protestants earned her the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’. For church musicians this must have been a traumatic time – they had to hedge their bets as to whether to compose in Latin or the vernacular. Latin music might have become passé with alarming suddenness.

from notes by William McVicker 2005

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