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Christopher Tye

born: c1505
died: before 15 March 1573
country: United Kingdom

The surname Tye was well known in East Anglia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whether in its predominant orthography of ‘Tey’ in Essex, or ‘Tye’ in Cambridgeshire. Since Christopher Tye appears to have spent so much of his life in the Fens, and the first ascertainable facts about him are in Cambridge, it is reasonable to suppose that he was also born in the area. The main obstacle to detailing Tye’s life with any precision is the haphazard survival of series of official records of the establishments with which he was connected and which might have outlined his career with greater certainty. The first sure reference we have to him is in the University of Cambridge. During the academic year 1536/7, Tye received the degree of MusB from the university, and for two terms he is recorded among the lay clerks of King’s College. The entries in the university Grace Book for this period are undated, and the accounts of King’s College are to be found in two series: ‘Mundum’ Books and ‘Commons’ Books.

The ‘Mundum’ Books are detailed summaries of account for the entire establishment, drawn up for each term within the year for which, until the reforms of the nineteenth century, there were four, linked to the quarter-days of Michaelmas (29 September), Christmas, Lady Day (25 March) and St John Baptist (24 June). For the two terms Annunciation and Baptismal in 1537, Christopher Tye received a salary of 20 shillings as a lay clerk. He may have remained beyond the end of that particular academic year, but the next surviving Mundum Book is for the regnal year 1542/3. Where the Commons Books survives they record the weekly allowances for commons—the basic food provided to all in the college—from the Provost down to the junior choristers. Within that decade, only those for parts of the academic years ending Michaelmas 1535 and Michaelmas 1540 survive, and there is no trace of Christopher Tye in the 1540 book. In any case there is potential confusion, for there was another lay clerk called Richard Tye, and christian names were normally omitted, but it seems clear that the Richard Tye continued his association with the college while Christopher was there for only a brief period. The Grace for Tye’s MusB records him as having spent ten years in the study of music, and that he had had experience instructing boys, and Paul Doe has deduced that if these testimonials were never understated, Tye’s adult musical career must have begun around 1526, which would place his date of birth around 1505. There is thus nothing to link Christopher Tye with the occurrences of the name Tye in the Commons Books between 1508 and 1512, and thus to place his date of birth at the beginning of the century.

Much of Tye’s career seems to have been championed by Richard Cox, who was Bishop of Ely from 1559 to 1580. It is not clear how the two men became acquainted. Cox came to King’s via the route established by King Henry VI’s statutes which lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century: Eton scholar, scholar at King’s College when a vacancy occurred, and Fellowship there in due turn. His admission as a scholar was on 1 August 1519, becoming a Fellow on 2 August 1522. His name disappears from the Mundum Books after 1527, and we know that he had taken up a junior canonry at Wolsey’s short-lived Cardinal College in Oxford in 1526. This would have automatically caused him to have to resign his King’s Fellowship. After Wolsey’s fall from favour, and the subsequent demise of Cardinal College, Cox, a staunch Lutheran reformer, was translated to Eton College as Headmaster from 1530 to 1534, after which he took the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity in Cambridge during the academic year 1534/5, and Doctor of Divinity in the year ending Michaelmas 1537. It is uncertain whether he would have been in Cambridge with any regularity at this time, and there are repeated Graces to defer his public disputations and sermons which he was required to give to confirm the DD degree until the succeeding academic year. He is listed as a chaplain to the Bishop of Ely, and it may be that he was thus able to coincide with Tye’s sojourn at King’s around these dates.

The Priory of Ely was dissolved on 18 November 1539. Although Robert Steward, the Prior, and several monks were left in interim office to keep the fabric in some sort of order, it was not until 1541 that the new establishment became official. In the Charter, the first Chapter is named. The former Prior was retained as Dean, and Richard Cox was made First Prebend. Cox had also become Archdeacon of Ely on 24 November 1540. While the first surviving Visus Compoti rolls—the treasurer’s accounts—from Ely Cathedral are for the year ended Michaelmas 1543, where Christopher Tye is shown to have been paid ten pounds as Magister Choristarum during the year, he may have begun his employment there before Michaelmas 1542. He is not listed among the first officials of the establishment in a return made to the Archbishop in 1541, but it seems highly probable that Richard Cox secured for his protege this post on the new foundation. Although the word ‘organist’ does not appear until the late 1550s, the Henrician Statutes make it clear that from the lay clerks there should be one elected who was able to play the organ and to teach the boys, and so the posts were concurrent. This was a time when money was also being spent on the musical fabric, for there is a record in the Custus Ecclesie accounts ‘In reperacione organorum hoc anno XVs’ for the same year. The Visus Compoti rolls at Ely survive only very spasmodically. Those for the next available year, 1547, show Tye still to be in his post, and that 3s 4d was spent ‘per hymnalibus processionalis’. In the meantime, Tye had taken his MusD degree at Cambridge in 1545. Hugh Benham has suggested that the Mass which Tye was required to submit as his exercise for the degree may be identified with the Euge Bone setting.

There are no further accounts surviving at Ely until 1561 when Tye is shown to have received only half his annual stipend, but there is an entry recording that Letters Patent of Christopher Tye were exhibited on 15 December 1558, and a grant to Tye of the Organistship and Mastership of the Choristers on 23 May 1559. Between 1547 and 1559 the only other information to hand concerning Tye is that printed in 1553 in his Actes of the Apostles—settings of an English metrical version of a synopsis of the New Testament—that he was one of the ‘Gentlemyn of his grace’s most honourable chappell’. lt has been surmised that, although Tye is not on any of the surviving lists of the Chapel Royal around this date, he may have expected preferment there, perhaps through Cox who was tutor to Prince (later King) Edward from 1544 to 1550. The death of Edward the Sixth in 1553 might have frustrated Tye’s hopes, and his dedicatory verse in the publication shows a personal friendship with the monarch, but it has also been suggested that the composer might have had a peripheral connection with the Chapel, rather than been on the establishment. It has also been thought that he may have retained his connection with Ely throughout this period.

It is interesting to note that Cox, who had probably left Ely by the time he became Dean of Christ Church in Oxford in May 1547, Chancellor of Oxford from the same date, and a Canon of Windsor in May 1548, was also raised to the Deanery of Westminster Abbey on 22 October 1549. Six works by Tye are to be found in the Gyffard Partbooks (British Library Add MSS. 17802–5) which Hugh Benham has suggested might represent the four-part repertoire of a major London establishment, either Westminster Abbey or Saint Paul’s Cathedral during the reign of Queen Mary (1553–1558). Did Cox procure some peripheral involvement for Tye at Westminster Abbey, or at any rate within the London musical orbit during his time there?

There is no evidence connecting the Letters Patent of 1558 with the Grant of the Dean and Chapter of Ely the following year, but one of Tye’s successors at Ely, John Farrant, also exhibited Letters Patent ‘de officio Organiste et Magistro Choristarum’ on 9 December 1567 and the following day received his Grant of the Organistship. It seems likely that Tye’s letters were also linked with the grant, and it may be that Cox, who was nominated Bishop of Ely on 15 July 1559, had been attempting to secure Tye his old post at Ely during the translation of the previous bishop, Thomas Thirlby, who was deprived on 5 July 1559. Cox himself had fallen from favour under Queen Mary and was forced to move abroad to Frankfurt. The process of Tye’s reinstatement at Ely, if that was what it was, would have taken a little longer to effect during the office of a Marian bishop, and perhaps had met with capitular resistance, yet the final terms secured for Tye provide the safeguard that if his ten pounds per annum be not paid at any time he have the right to distrain on the Manor of Sutton, belonging to the Dean and Chapter. This right was not accorded to Farrant eight years later, and there is no record at all in the Leiger Books of the appointment of Richard White, Tye’s immediate successor, who was receiving the usual annual stipend as Magister Choristarum by 1562. The suggestion has been made that the Dean and Chapter were wishing to retain Tye at Ely, and were taking the unusual step of offering him a suitable surety, but this would fail to explain the Letters Patent. They did not always appoint the cathedral officials with a grant of office, and the only other one in this period is for the cathedral barber. Whatever the intention, Tye had decided by 1560 to take holy orders, and so to leave the cathedral.

He was ordained Deacon on 7 July 1560, and Priest at the next ordination held by Bishop Cox on 24 November that year. All those intending to be ordained had to answer eleven questions or ‘Appositions’ concerning their age, probity and education, and while the answers for many of those ordained on the same occasion survive in the Ordination Book, f 74 merely records ‘Mr Christoferus Tye in musices doctor’ as having been examined. Thus we have lost an opportunity to ascertain Tye’s age, since he was already sufficiently well known to the bishop and the Diocesan authorities for them not to have put him to the full examination.

The livings which Tye was presented to in plurality were, in all but one case, those where the advowson was held by the Bishop or Ely. That of Doddington-cum-March was held the longest, from some time after November 1560 to 15 March 1573, following Tye’s death. It was later one of the richest livings in the country, and probably very valuable at that time, but the taxation on the incumbent, called ‘first fruits’, seems to have been a burden to Tye and caused him to have the living sequestrated in 1570. Despite this, he appears to have continued to hold the Rectory there, and, indeed, in the Subscription to Articles which he signed on 27 August 1571, another hand has described him as ‘Rector de Doddington’. A similar rate of sequestration attended him at Newton in the Isle of Ely, which he was forced to resign in 1570, and at Little Wilbraham near Cambridge, which he held from around 1564 to 1567. This latter was presented to him by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which had held the advowson since the previous century, but it is not known that Tye had any connection with that college. In addition, Venn, in Alumni Cantabrigienses published at the end of last century, quotes Tye as holding the benefice of Bluntisham-with-Earith from 1570 to 1573. This was also presented to Tye by the Bishop of Ely, but was in the Diocese of Lincoln and the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon. In the Act Book of Thomas Cooper, Bishop of Lincoln 1571–1584, there is an entry dated 23 April 1573 recording the institution of ‘Sir John Parker, clerk, to the church of Blunsham, vacant by the death of Sir Christopher Tye’. We should not be confused by the use of ‘Sir’. This register is littered with false knights, and although in the Ely diocese Tye was renowned as a doctor of music, his fame might not have spread to the Bishop or Lincoln’s palace at Buckden, nor to the Bishop’s clerk. The closeness of date of this entry to that of 15 March for the Doddington institution vacant ‘per mortem naturalem venerabilis viri Christoferi Tye musices doctoris’ would seem to underline his death in 1573 rather than late in 1572 as has been suggested. Doddington was important financially; the previous entry in the Ely register is dated 2 March, and it would seem somewhat negligent to have left the matter undecided for a long period of time. It would be understandable that what Bishop Cox may have had an interest in seeing carried out straight away in his own diocese would take a month or so in another diocese where he had less influence.

There would seem to be two, and possibly a further two, musical establishments which influenced Tye. King’s College in his formative years, Ely, and perhaps Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. That Latin polyphony was used regularly in King’s in the 1530s cannot be doubted. The often-cited inventory of 1529 shows a repertoire based around the generation of Taverner, Ludford and the composers of the Eton Choirbook. The votive antiphon and magnificat as well as masses are prominent. This sonorous music, and its surroundings which were not used regularly until the temporary chapel at King’s actually fell down one night in the year 1536/7, must have been a strong inspiration to Tye. Indeed, Tye may have been one of the first to have sung in the new King’s College Chapel, and his appointment seems to have increased the number of clerici temporarily to seven. The Henrician Statutes of 1541 for Ely Cathedral list certain forms of prayer. The Preces pauperum end with the instruction that once the prayers have been said in English then ‘Quaesumus omnipotens Deus’. This prayer-motet has already been found to be musically related to the Euge bone Mass. Could it be that it was written for use at Ely, early during Tye’s work there, and that being called upon to construct a Mass for the MusD exercise within a very few years, it was only natural that Tye should draw, perhaps even subconsciously, upon recent material? The source of the mass, the so-called Forrest-Heyther partbooks, is thought to have its first layer copied at Cardinal College in the second half of the 1520s, but Tye’s mass is in a layer copied by John Baldwin which may date from Queen Mary’s reign, presuming that itÿwas copied at a time when there might have been an opportunity to use the work, rather than in order to add to an antiquarian collection. Was this a Richard Cox export to Oxford around 1547? Paul Doe has suggested that words in the prayer which may be the source of the Euge bone title were connected with King Edward the Sixth and the Protectorate, so the mass might be connected with the period when Tye seems to have been forging links with the Court in London where, as we will remember, Cox had been tutor to Prince Edward since 1544.

from notes by Andrew Parker © 1990


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