Tudor Music: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about music in Tudor times.

  • Tudor music was important in both everyday life and religious life. Musicians were often supported by the Church or the city, and were in demand at palaces and castles.
  • Travelling musicians in Tudor England had to have a licence to perform.

  • Tudor music for the poorer people was often played at markets and village fairs, as well as at the theatre.
  • There were several popular Tudor musicians and composers. One of the most well-known was John Dowland, whose First Book of Songs was a best seller and made him a lot of money.
  • Other famous Tudor composers included, William Byrd, John Bull, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Campion, Orlando Gibbons, George Kirbye and Vincenzo Galilei.
  • Several Tudor kings and queens were skilled musicians, and Royalty was expected to take an interest in music and songs. Most Tudor kings and queens practiced dancing each morning.
  • King Henry VIII was a skilled recorder player and he wrote several songs. He may have written the popular Greensleeves. The song was probably written for Anne Boleyn during their often troubled courtship.
  • Henry VIII left behind a large collection of musical instruments when he died in 1547. It included over 70 recorders and a mechanical virginal, a keyboard instrument named for the Virgin Mary.
  • Musicians who played Tudor music in towns and cities were known as waits. They played high pitched music on a pipe instrument, which was also used to sound the alarm.
  • Many rich people employed musicians to play in their houses, and families often played instruments as well.
  • Several new musical instruments were invented in the Tudor period, and they were often played together to create different sounds. The most popular combination was the 4 piece English Consort, consisting of the violin, flute, lute and viol.
  • The lute, a type of stringed instrument, was the most popular Tudor musical instrument. It  was similar to a modern guitar, and some of them measured 2 metres long.
  • Other Tudor instruments included the cornet and the trumpet, which was often used by soldiers. The tambourine, bagpipes and recorder were widely used, as well as the harpsichord.
  • The viol was a stringed instrument first used in Spain in the late 1400s.

What next? Learn more about the Tudors by visiting our Tudor resources page.