Simon Aleyn and Thomas Tallis

A quiz: what do Simon Aleyn and Thomas Tallis have in common?

First of all, I suppose we have to work out who on earth Simon Aleyn was. A quick rummage on the internet will reveal that he was (supposedly and among other things) the original Vicar of Bray.

You remember the Vicar of Bray? The English churchman who maintained that, in the words of the song:

…whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

Further light is shed on the Rev. Aleyn’s activities by Thomas Fuller in his Worthies of England (1662), who tells us that Aleyn

…living under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, was first a Papist, then a Protestant, then a Papist, then a Protestant again. He had seen some martyrs burnt (two miles off) at Windsor and found this fire too hot for his tender temper.

Taxed with his inconstancy and lack of principle the worthy reverend asserted that he adhered to just one single principle, which was:

to live and die the Vicar of Bray.

Now you understand the parallel. Tallis lived through the reign of those same four monarchs, but, unlike Aleyn – and at some personal risk – remained Catholic. His music, however – and this is where, for us, it gets interesting – didn’t. As a composer and member of the Chapel Royal he was constrained to follow the religious leanings of the current king or queen; and, as a result, was one of the first composers to set the liturgy in English and conform to the more stringent musical demands of Protestantism.

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