Fairfax, Robert (d.1529) (DNB00)

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FAIRFAX or FAYRFAX, ROBERT (d. 1529), musician, is described as ‘of Bayford in Herts,’ and as belonging to the ancient Yorkshire family of Fairfax, but his name was invariably written Fayrfax by his contemporaries. Dr. Burney (Hist. ii. 547) surmises that the two-part song ‘That was my woo is nowe my most gladnesse’ was addressed to Henry VII on his ascending the throne after the battle of Bosworth Field. If this were so, a later date than 1470 could not be assigned for his birth. It was probably during the last decade of the fifteenth century that he was appointed organist at St. Albans. The organ had been given to the abbey by Abbot John Whethamstede in 1438, and was considered the finest organ then in England. Fairfax is supposed to have held the post of ‘informator chori,’ or chanter (Wood, MS. Notes, Bodleian). The same authority says: ‘I have seen several of his Church services of 5 parts in the Archives of the publick Musick Schoole at Oxon, of which one was called (as having the beginning of) “Albanus” (margin “another Regalis”) and several anthems which were sung in monastical or conventual choirs, but are all, or at least mostly lost.’ He was at St. Albans, and probably in an official capacity, in 1502, when he received 20s. ‘for setting an anthem of oure lady and Saint Elizabeth’ (Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York, 28 March 1502). He took the degree of Mus.D. at Cambridge in 1504, and was admitted to the same degree at Oxford in 1511. The ‘exercise’ for his degree is preserved in a large and very beautiful choir book in the Lambeth Palace Library (Cat. no. 1). It is a Gloria in five parts, and is complete, as the parts were written in ‘cantus lateralis,’ instead of in separate part-books. The other portions of the mass, which follow immediately upon the Gloria, are probably by Fairfax, although his name only appears over this one movement. This may possibly be a portion of one of the five-part masses mentioned by Wood as existing at Oxford. The other masses by him are in three parts. His name first appears as one of the gentlemen of the King's Chapel in 1509 (22 June), when he was given an annuity of 9l. 2s. 6d., to be paid part out of the farm of Colemore, Hampshire, by the prior of Suthwyke, and the remainder out of the issues of Hampshire. In 1510 he was paid for the board and instruction of sundry choir-boys, and in 1513 (6 March) John Fyssher, a gentleman of the chapel, receives a corrody in the monastery of Stanley ‘on its surrender by Robert Fairfax.’ In November of that year Fairfax and Robert Bythesee receive an annuity in survivorship, on surrender of the patent of 22 June, 1 Hen. VIII (1509). On 10 Sept. 1514 he was appointed one of the poor knights of Windsor, with an allowance of 12d. a day, in addition to his annuity. Various entries in the State Papers show that he added considerably to his income by writing out music-books. The sum of 20l. appears as the most usual charge for ‘a prycke-songe book,’ or ‘a balet boke limned’ (i.e. illuminated). It is almost a matter of certainty that the celebrated Fairfax MS. is such a book as this, written by himself, perhaps for his own use. He died shortly before 12 Feb. 1529, on which day Bythesee (or Bithesey) had to surrender the patent of 1513 to R. Buclande upon the death of Fairfax. He was buried in St. Albans Abbey under a stone afterwards covered by the mayor's seat (the mayoress's seat, according to the title-page of the Fairfax MS.). Two single part-books in the University Library and St. John's College Library at Cambridge contain part of a mass by him, probably for three voices. Besides the masses in the Music School at Oxford, the Fairfax MS. (Add. MS. 5465) contains the most important of the works that have come down to us. The title-page shows his coat of arms, which bears a sufficient resemblance to that of the family of Fairfax of Deeping Gate, Lincolnshire, although it is so badly blazoned as to have no trustworthy authority; a reference to the pages on which his own compositions are to be found; the motto (in red ink) ‘Faueur d'un Roy aut [?] roialle n'est pas Eeritage [?]’ and the names of the later owners of the book, general Fairfax (1618), and Ralph Thoresby of Leeds, the author of ‘Ducatus Leodiensis.’ Among many compositions by Newark, Sheryngham, Hamshere, Turges, Sir Thomas Phelyppes, W. Cornysshe, Browne, Banestre, &c., are five songs by Fairfax: ‘That was my woo’ above mentioned, ‘Most clere of colours and rote of stedfastnesse’ for three voices, in the initial M of which the composer's arms are again found; and three other songs for three voices (reprinted in Stafford Smith's ‘English Songs’). Hawkins gives an ‘Ave summe eternitatis’ from the same manuscript, which is not to be found in it; an ‘Ave lumen gratiæ’ for four voices is in Add. MS. 5054, and a canon with an enigmatical inscription in Add. MS. 31922. The single (Bassus) part (in the British Museum) of a set of books printed by Wynkyn de Worde and published 10 Oct. 1530 contains an ‘Ut, re, my, fa, sol, la’ for four voices, and a three-part song ‘My hartes lust;’ a manuscript (Medius) part-book (Harl. MS. 1709) contains ‘Lauda tibi Alpha et O;’ and Add. MS. 29246 contains the accompaniments, in lute tablature, of two motets and a mass ‘Sponsus amat sponsam.’ A fragment of a song with the refrain ‘Welcome Fortune’ was recently found in the lining of a binding in the library of Ely Cathedral. The Christ Church and Peterhouse collections contain music by Fairfax, and Burney (Hist. ii. 546, &c.) gives ‘That was my woo,’ the ‘Qui tollis,’ and ‘Quoniam’ from the mass called ‘Albanus,’ and a ‘Gloria’ from another mass, all for three voices.

[Grove's Dict. i. 510, ii. 587; Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York, ed. Nicolas; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. vol. i., Fasti, col. 652; Wood's MS. Notes in Bodleian Library; Brewer's State Papers Henry VIII, i. 28; Calendar of State Papers, Dom. 1514–20; manuscripts in Brit. Mus. as above; information from W. Barclay Squire, esq.]

J. A. F. M.