1893 text

Henry Purcell, father of the celebrated composer, was gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

8 Annotations

First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Who was the father of the famous Henry Purcell?

Editors of the Latham & Matthews edition of the diary are unsure whether or not the Purcell who played with Pepys on 21 February 1660 was Thomas or the elder Henry Purcell. But L&M is more certain of which one of the two Purcells is the father of the well-known composer Henry Purcell (1659-95) -- Dr. Richard Luckett, who wrote the "Purcell" entry for the Companion volume, states flatly that the father was Henry. Dr. MacDonald Emslie, who wrote a note for the 21 Feb. entry (L&M Vol. 1, p. 63, Note 1), says it with just as much certainty. But the matter is still debated.

"At a concert in Seattle the other evening, the conductor turned to the audience to introduce a piece by the Baroque English composer, Henry Purcell. He remarked on the historical uncertainty of the composer

David Quidnunc  •  Link


According to the L&M Companion volume, Thomas "was a tenor in the Chapel Royal, a member of the Private Musick, and groom fo the robes and under-housekeeper at Somerset House."

Page references below are to J.A. Westrup's biography, "Purcell":

We have no record of his life during the Interregnum, "a lean time for church musicians." A resident of Westminster, he "was a professional musician who had a distinguished career in the royal service from the Restoration till his death in 1682." (Chapter 1; pp 18-19)

"Thomas had a large family -- "six boys and two girls, if not more" (Ch. 1; p 20)

"Like several other musicians in the royal service Thomas Purcell was not content with a single post. The cost of living had gone up since pre-Commonwealth days, and even though the salaries of the gentlemen of the chapel were raised in 1662 from 40 l. to 70 l. a year, he probably found the sum insufficient for a married man with a family. The death of Henry Lawes in October 1662 created a vacancy in the private music for lutes, viols and voices, to which Thomas was appointed a few weeks later. ... The emoluments of Thomas's new post were 32 l. 2s. 6d. per annum, which included 16 l. 2s. 6d. for his livery." (Ch. 2; pp 21-22)

"Thomas Purcell was as well off as any royal servant at that time could expect to be. By 1674, in addition to being a gentleman of the chapel, musician for the lute, viol and voice, and [one of two people who jointly held the post of] composer for the violins ... he had also become groom of the robes and a musician-in-ordinary. ... Together these posts brought in a substantial sum, even though it might be necessary to wait several years before receiving payment. Everything goes to show that Thomas was a respected and infuential musician." He was put in charge of arrangements to install an organ at the king's private chapel at Windsor in 1674, and he was in charge of the distribution of the annual payment of 400 l. to the Chapel Royal musicians that year. In 1672, he replaced Henry Cooke as marshal of the Corporation of Music, "a society for safeguarding professional interests." (Ch. 3; pp 38-39)

Even with all those official posts, the "amount he actually received in cash was less impressive. Five years after his death [31 July 1682] there was still owing to his widow the sum of 220 l. 12s. 6d. For all his assiduity he can hardly have died a wealthy man. By his will, made on 4th June 1681, he left his wife his house in Pall Mall, together with the furniture and other appointments and money owing to him from the Treasury, and 5 l. to each of his children, to be paid out of the arrears of his salary. On 2nd August he was laid to rest in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey." (Ch. 4; p 60)

-- J.A. Westrup,

David Quidnunc  •  Link


We know less about the musician Henry Purcell the elder than we do about Thomas. The L&M Companion volume says Henry was "musician-in-ordinary for the violins and the lutes and voices, master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey. ... A catch by the elder Henry appears in *Catch that catch can* (1667)" The following is from J.A. Westrup's "Purcell":

"The elder Henry Purcell ... is probably to be identified with the 'Mr. Henry Pursill' who took the part of Mustapha in Sir William D'Avenant's experimental opera, *The Seige of Rhodes* ... in 1656. Like his brother, Thomas, he was successful in getting a place as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and as a musician for the lute and voice. He was also appointed a senior singing-man (or lay-clerk) and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey, where he took up his duties on 16th February 1661. He died on 11th August 1664 and was buried two days later in the east cloister of the abbey."

-- J.A. Westrup,

David Quidnunc  •  Link

We don't even know Henry & Thomas were brothers

"The relationship between Thomas and [the elder] Henry is assumed, there being no documentary evidence for it."

-- J.A. Westrup,

David Quidnunc  •  Link

The case for Thomas Purcell's paternity

J.A. Westrup forcefully argues that it was Thomas who fathered the great composer. His evidence (from "Purcell," Appendix E: "Purcell's Family"):

A letter from Thomas (signed "T. Purcell") to the Rev. John Gostling, a singer in the Canterbury Cathedral choir, dated 8 February 1679. In the letter, Purcell refers to "my sonne Henry" and says "I am sorry wee are like to be without you soe long as yours mentions: but 'tis very likely you may have a summons to appeare among us sooner than you imagine; for my sonne is composing wherein you will be chiefly concern'd." later that month, Gostling became a member of the Chapel Royal. (p 325)

An early biographer of the famous composer, [John?] Hawkins, wrote about eighty years after the composer's death that the elder Henry was the father and Thomas the uncle, "and ... every ... subsequent writer has followed him." But Hawkins was often inaccurate. Hawkins said his authority was from manuscript notes made by one Anthony Wood. In one note, Wood wrote that one Daniel Purcell was the son of Henry Purcell, but Wood (in his own hand) corrected that note, saying he was "Brother to Hen. Purcell." (p 326)

One historian maintained that the letter to Gostling indicates that Thomas adopted the young Henry at the death of Henry's father. "This explanation has been borrowed by other writers, but there is not a scrap of evidence for it." Westrup argues that the simplest, clearest explanation should apply -- that Thomas Purcell was the composer's father. (p 326)

Westrup also points out that when the elder Henry Purcell's wife died in 1699, Henry and Katherine's daughter, Elizabeth, was appointed to administer her mother's estate. Yet Daniel Purcell and Edward Purcell -- known to be brother's of the younger Henry -- were both still alive. Katherine would not have been appointed if Elizabeth had living sons, Westrup says. So neither Daniel, Edward nor Henry were sons of the elder Henry Purcell. (p 327)

Bradford  •  Link

Pepys features prominently on "Years of Wonder," a 75-minute span of words and music, available on BBC Radio 3's iPlayer through 29 December 2009:


Their description:
---Juliet Stevenson and Kenneth Cranham read prose and poetry describing the momentous times that the composer Henry Purcell would have witnessed. He was a baby at the the time of Charles II's Restoration to the throne, but would have known the Great Plague and Great Fire of London. In adulthood, he would have seen both the accession and the forced abdication of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as well as the coronation of James's daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

---Readings include excerpts from Pepys, Evelyn, Dryden, Aphra Behn and Defoe, while the music includes Purcell and his contemporaries alongside works from the 20th century.

To which it may be added:
The programme begins promptly with Charles II's return to England, includes Pepys on the comets heralding the Plague and the Fire besides much else. The readings are interleaved with splendid musical performances, which would have gladdened Sam's heart. Highly recommended as a respite from the holidays, or an enhancement of them.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.