Tallis: Thomas: c1505 – 23 Nov 1585

By | March 23, 2021


Thomas Tallis posthumous portrait engraving

Thomas Tallis was an English composer of the 16th century.

Prior to William Byrd, Thomas Tallis was the first and most important composer of English sacred music.

He wrote his compositions in English, Latin, Italian, French and other languages.

Unfortunately, there is no information regarding his early life, family or even his actual date of birth.


Tallis held brief positions at the Dover Priory, St Mary at Hill, London, Waltham Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. He was also a teacher and one of his students was William Byrd who became a good friend and later a business partner.

In 1543 he became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. However, it wasn’t until he was well into his sixties when he received the appointment of organist. Years later Byrd was appointed organist and the two shared the post.

Tallis had links with the Royal Family. Mary I gave him the lease on a manor in Kent, thus providing him with an annual income. He was also present at her funeral and the coronation of Elizabeth I a month later.

In 1575 Elizabeth I acknowledged the Tallis and Byrd’s partnership permitting them a joint monopoly on the printing of all music. Byrd was just twenty-one at the time – much younger than Tallis. Their first work was a dedication to the Queen which was a collection of Cantiones sacrae.

In his joint petition to Elizabeth I in 1577  Tallis is quoted as saying that he “served your Majestie and your Royall ancestors these fortie years,” . This makes us aware of his association with the court prior to his appointment as a gentleman at the Chapel Royal. He was likely, serving under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. Tallis was versatile in his compositions to meet the needs, and avoid the religious controversies associated with the various monarchs.


Little is known of his personal life and his parents, although, in 1552 he married the widow of a gentleman at the Chapel Royal. However, there is no record of any children from the marriage.

He shared this post with William Byrd who’d been in pupil as a boy

After His Death

Two of Tallis’s most famous pieces which are still famous today are’ Spem in Allium’ and ‘If Ye Love Me’. Vaughan Williams composed a famous piece in 1910 based on a Tallis melody called ‘Fantasia on a Theme’ by Thomas Tallis.

In 1971 the Thomas Tallis School was named after the composer.

Musical Downloads & Further Reading

On music-scores.com we have an arrangement of Thomas Tallis If Ye Love Me Sheet Music.

For further reading on this composer take a look at Wikipedia and Britannica. You can also view our blog on William Byrd.

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