Thomas Campion

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Thomas Campion (sometimes Campian; 12 February 1567 – 1 March 1620) was an English composer, poet, and physician. He wrote over a hundred lute songs, masques for dancing, and an authoritative technical treatise on music.

The term Lute song is given to a music style from the late 16th century to early 17th century, late Renaissance to early Baroque, that was predominantly in England and France. Lute songs were generally in strophic form or verse repeating with a homophonic texture. The composition was written for a solo voice with an accompaniment, usually the Lute. It was not uncommon for other forms of accompaniments such as; bass viol, or other string instruments and could also be written for more voices. The composition could be performed either solo or with a small group of instruments. The basic style of lute songs are light and serious, with poetic lyrics that usually followed word-setting to composed music. In England, the songs tended to range from extended contrapuntal compositions to short harmonized tunes. The text could be written by the composer or most often borrowed from a poem, set in verse form. These songs were composed for professional and amateur performers, which had variations for solo and ensemble. The lute song was popular among the Royalty and nobility. King Louis XIII was believed to be fond of the simple songs, which led to a volume of work during his reign. Composers of the lute song usually composed other forms of music as well such as; madrigals, chansons, and consort songs. The consort song, popular in England, is considered to be closely related to the lute song. This was an earlier strophic form of music that was for a solo voice accompanied by a small group of string instruments. In France, the chanson, is a precursor to the lute song or air de cour. Collections of “air de cour” were used in other countries, besides England and France. Collections of the French airs were published in England, Germany and Holland. Italy had forms of song that were much like the lute song, such as monody and the frottola, but the lute song seemed more prominent in England and France.

Masque courtly entertainment with music and dance

The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment that flourished in 16th- and early 17th-century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio. A masque involved music and dancing, singing and acting, within an elaborate stage design, in which the architectural framing and costumes might be designed by a renowned architect, to present a deferential allegory flattering to the patron. Professional actors and musicians were hired for the speaking and singing parts. Often the masquers, who did not speak or sing, were courtiers: the English queen Anne of Denmark frequently danced with her ladies in masques between 1603 and 1611, and Henry VIII and Charles I of England performed in the masques at their courts. In the tradition of masque, Louis XIV of France danced in ballets at Versailles with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully.



Campion was born in London, the son of John Campion, a clerk of the Court of Chancery, and Lucy (née Searle – daughter of Laurence Searle, one of the Queen's serjeants-at-arms). Upon the death of Campion's father in 1576, his mother married Augustine Steward, dying soon afterwards. His stepfather assumed charge of the boy and sent him, in 1581, to study at Peterhouse, Cambridge as a "gentleman pensioner"; he left the university after four years without taking a degree. [1] [2] He later entered Gray's Inn to study law in 1586. However, he left in 1595 without having been called to the bar.

Court of Chancery court of equity in England and Wales

The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness of the common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the estates of lunatics and the guardianship of infants. Its initial role was somewhat different: as an extension of the Lord Chancellor's role as Keeper of the King's Conscience, the Court was an administrative body primarily concerned with conscientious law. Thus the Court of Chancery had a far greater remit than the common law courts, whose decisions it had the jurisdiction to overrule for much of its existence, and was far more flexible. Until the 19th century, the Court of Chancery could apply a far wider range of remedies than common law courts, such as specific performance and injunctions, and had some power to grant damages in special circumstances. With the shift of the Exchequer of Pleas towards a common law court and loss of its equitable jurisdiction by the Administration of Justice Act 1841, the Chancery became the only national equitable body in the English legal system.

Peterhouse, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Peterhouse is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It is the oldest college of the university, having been founded in 1284 by Hugo de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, and granted its charter by King Edward I. Today, Peterhouse has 254 undergraduates, 116 full-time graduate students and 54 fellows. The official name of Peterhouse does not include "college", although "Peterhouse College" is often seen in public.

Grays Inn one of the four Inns of Court in London, England

The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, a person must belong to one of these Inns. Located at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road in Central London, the Inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation (chambers) for many barristers. It is ruled by a governing council called "Pension", made up of the Masters of the Bench, and led by the Treasurer, who is elected to serve a one-year term. The Inn is known for its gardens, or Walks, which have existed since at least 1597.

On 10 February 1605, he received his medical degree from the University of Caen. [3]

Campion is thought to have lived in London, practising as a physician, until his death in March 1620 – possibly of the plague. [4] He was apparently unmarried and had no children. He was buried the same day at St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. [1]

Bubonic plague Human and animal disease

Bubonic plague is one of three types of plague caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis. One to seven days after exposure to the bacteria, flu-like symptoms develop. These symptoms include fever, headaches, and vomiting. Swollen and painful lymph nodes occur in the area closest to where the bacteria entered the skin. Occasionally, the swollen lymph nodes may break open.

St Dunstan-in-the-West Church in City of London

The Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West is in Fleet Street in the City of London. It is dedicated to a former Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. The church is of medieval origin, although the present building, with an octagonal nave, was constructed in the 1830s to the designs of John Shaw.

Fleet Street street in the City of London, England

Fleet Street is a major street mostly in the City of London. It runs west to east from Temple Bar at the boundary with the City of Westminster to Ludgate Circus at the site of the London Wall and the River Fleet from which the street was named.

He was implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, but was eventually exonerated, as it was found that he had unwittingly delivered the bribe that had procured Overbury's death. [5]

Thomas Overbury 16th/17th-century English poet and essayist

Sir Thomas Overbury was an English poet and essayist, also known for being the victim of a murder which led to a scandalous trial. His poem A Wife, which depicted the virtues that a young man should demand of a woman, played a large role in the events that precipitated his murder.

Poetry and songs

A Book of Ayres, 1601, with words by Campion and music by Philip Rosseter Houghton STC 21332 - Book of Ayres.jpg
A Book of Ayres, 1601, with words by Campion and music by Philip Rosseter

The body of his works is considerable, the earliest known being a group of five anonymous poems included in the "Songs of Divers Noblemen and Gentlemen," appended to Newman's edition of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella , which appeared in 1591. In 1595, Poemata, a collection of Latin panegyrics, elegies and epigrams was published, winning him a considerable reputation. This was followed, in 1601, by a songbook, A Booke of Ayres, with words by himself and music composed by himself and Philip Rosseter. The following year he published his Observations in the Art of English Poesie, "against the vulgar and unartificial custom of riming," in favour of rhymeless verse on the model of classical quantitative verse. Campion's theories on poetry were criticized by Samuel Daniel in "Defence of Rhyme" (1603). [1]

Philip Sidney 16th-century English poet, courtier, and diplomat

Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier, scholar, and soldier, who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age. His works include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy, and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

<i>Astrophel and Stella</i>

Probably composed in the 1580s, Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella is an English sonnet sequence containing 108 sonnets and 11 songs. The name derives from the two Greek words, 'aster' (star) and 'phil' (lover), and the Latin word 'stella' meaning star. Thus Astrophil is the star lover, and Stella is his star. Sidney partly nativized the key features of his Italian model Petrarch, including an ongoing but partly obscure narrative, the philosophical trappings of the poet in relation to love and desire, and musings on the art of poetic creation. Sidney also adopts the Petrarchan rhyme scheme, though he uses it with such freedom that fifteen variants are employed.

Philip Rosseter English composer and musician

Philip Rosseter was an English composer and musician, as well as a theatrical manager. His family seems to have been from Somerset or Lincolnshire, he may have been employed with the Countess of Sussex by 1596, and he was living in London by 1598. In 1604 Rosseter was appointed a court lutenist for James I of England, a position he held until his death in 1623. Rosseter is best known for A Book of Ayres which was written with Thomas Campion and published in 1601. Some literary critics have held that Campion wrote the poems for Rosseter's songs; however, this seems not to be the case. It is likely that Campion was the author of the book's preface, which criticizes complex counterpoint and "intricate" harmonies that leave the words inaudible. The two men had a close professional and personal relationship; when Campion died in 1620, he had named Rosseter his sole heir.

In 1607, he wrote and published a masque [6] for the occasion of the marriage of Lord Hayes, and, in 1613, issued a volume of Songs of Mourning: Bewailing the Untimely Death of Prince Henry, set to music by John Cooper (also known as Coperario). The same year he wrote and arranged three masques: The Lords' Masque for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth; an entertainment for the amusement of Queen Anne at Caversham House; and a third for the marriage of the Earl of Somerset to the infamous Frances Howard, Countess of Essex. If, moreover, as appears quite likely, his Two Bookes of Ayres [7] (both words and music written by himself) belongs also to this year, it was indeed his annus mirabilis. [1]

In 1615, he published a book on counterpoint, A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counterpoint By a Most Familiar and Infallible Rule, [8] a technical treatise which was for many years the standard textbook on the subject. It was included, with annotations by Christopher Sympson, in Playford's Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick, and two editions appear to have been published by 1660. [1] [9]

Some time in or after 1617 appeared his Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres. [10] In 1618 appeared the airs that were sung and played at Brougham Castle on the occasion of the King's entertainment there, the music by George Mason and John Earsden, while the words were almost certainly by Campion. In 1619, he published his Epigrammatum Libri II. Umbra Elegiarum liber unus, a reprint of his 1595 collection with considerable omissions, additions (in the form of another book of epigrams) and corrections. [1]


Campion made a nuncupative will on 1 March 1619/20 before 'divers credible witnesses': a memorandum was made that he did 'not longe before his death say that he did give all that he had unto Mr Phillip Rosseter, and wished that his estate had bin farre more', and Rosseter was sworn before Dr Edmund Pope to administer as principal legatee on 3 March 1619/20. [11]

While Campion had attained a considerable reputation in his own day, in the years that followed his death his works sank into complete oblivion. No doubt this was due to the nature of the media in which he mainly worked, the masque and the song-book. The masque was an amusement at any time too costly to be popular, and during the commonwealth period it was practically extinguished. The vogue of the song-books was even more ephemeral, and, as in the case of the masque, the Puritan ascendancy, with its distaste for all secular music, effectively put an end to the madrigal. Its loss involved that of many hundreds of dainty lyrics, including those of Campion, and it was due to the work of A. H. Bullen (see bibliography), who first published a collection of the poet's works in 1889, that his genius was recognised and his place among the foremost rank of Elizabethan lyric poets restored. [1]

Early dictionary writers, such as Fétis, saw Campion as a theorist. [12] It was much later on that people began to see him as a composer. He was the writer of a poem, Cherry Ripe, which is not the later famous poem of that title but has several similarities.

Repeated reference was made to Campion in an October 2010 episode of the BBC TV series, James May's Man Lab (BBC2), where his works are used as the inspiration for a young man trying to serenade a female colleague. This segment was referenced in the second and third series of the programme as well.

Occasional mention is made of Campion ("Campian") in the comic strip 9 Chickweed Lane (i.e., 5 April 2004), referencing historical context for playing the lute.

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Campion, Thomas"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press..
  2. He is not listed in Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses.
  3. Christopher R. Wilson. "Thomas Campion", Grove Music Online , ed. L. Macy (accessed 4 March 2006), (subscription access).
  4. Life of Thomas Campion (Luminarium: Anthology of English literature).
  5. Thomas Campion (UXL encyclopedia of world biography, 2003).
  6. Lord Hayes' Masque (Godfrey's Bookshelf).
  7. Two Books of Airs (
  8. Thomas Campion, Christopher R. Wilson, John Coperario. A new way of making fowre parts in counterpoint (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003).
  9. Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick
  10. Works of Thomas Campion (
  11. London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Ref. MS 9172/31, Will number 150.
  12. François-Joseph Fétis, 'Campion' in: Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique, vol. 3 (2nd edition, Paris, 1867) p. 169.