John Blitheman

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Alias: William Blitheman


Born: c.1525

Died: 1591

Biography Blitheman was a priest, and probably also a singingman, at Christ Church, Oxford, from the end of February 1555 until at least 1578. A note by Bishop Tanner states that ‘John Blithman belonged to Christ Church quire, [and] seems to have been master of the choristers 1564.’ There is nothing in the Christ Church records either to confirm or refute this, although from 1569 onwards his name heads the list of lay clerks. He was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal: he first appears in the chapel lists on 13 December 1558 when he sang at the funeral of Queen Mary, probably as a fairly recent recruit, and remained a member until his death.

Blitheman’s will was proved on 25 May 1591, two days after his successor in the Chapel Royal had been appointed. Among a respectable tally of bequests he left £4 to the Sub-dean and Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal collectively, an extra £5 to the composer William Mundy, 20s. to Mundy’s wife, 40s. to the composer John Bull and 40s. to Robert Blytheman, vicar of Walgrave near Henley-on-Thames. His grave in St Nicholas Olave, Queenhithe, had an epitaph (now lost) which was recorded by Stowe:

Heere Blitheman lies, a worthy wight who feared God above;
A friend to all, a foe to none whom rich and poore did love,
Of Prince’s Chaple gentleman, unto his dienge day;
Wher all toke greate delight to here him on the organs playe
Whose passing skill in musykes arte, a scholar left behinde
John Bull by name his master’s veyne expressing in eche kynde.
But nothing here continuethe longe, nor resting place can have;
His sowle departed hence to heven, his body here in grave.

In 1586 he supplicated for the degree of B.Mus., but there is no record of it being awarded.

The scribes who copied Blitheman’s music generally give only his surname. Only one musical source, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, quotes a christian name. There he is called William, but this is evidently an error. Other documents, including all the Chapel Royal references, are unanimous in calling him John.

[From Andrew Ashbee and David Lasocki assisted by Peter Holman and Fiona Kisby, A Biographical Dictionary of English Court Musicians 1485–1714 (2 vols, Aldershot, 1998), vol. 1, pp. 159–161.]

View the Wikipedia article on John Blitheman.

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