Richard Pygott [Pigott]

(c.1485-1549 )

Although nothing definite seems to be known about Pygott's early years, his highly successful adult career is relatively well documented, notably the thirteen years or more that he occupied as the choirmaster of Cardinal Wolsey's own household chapel choir. In view of Wolsey's habit of exploiting contacts formed during his membership of Magdalen College, Oxford, it is tempting to identify the composer with a namesake who received various payments from the college between about 1510 and 1514; there is, however, no proof that this man was a musician. Our Richard Pygott was definitely in Wolsey's service in January 1517, when a royal pardon for possession of a crossbow and handgun (weapons to which his status did not entitle him) described him as a servant of the Cardinal of York living in Westminster -- lodging, presumably, in or near York Place. His position in Wolsey's household is not specified, but we may assume that he was employed in the chapel, either as a singer or already as choirmaster. He was certainly choirmaster by the end of the year, because an inventory of Wolsey's household goods made after his death in 1550 includes 'a fedderbedde bought for Pygoote maister of the children' in December 1517; this purchase suggests that Pygott's status within the household was relatively high compared to that of the other singers, who probably had to make do with mattresses of straw.

Wolsey's chapel choir clearly prospered under Pygott's direction -- so much so, in fact, that it soon aroused the envy of the king. Late in March 1518, the dean of Henry's own household chapel, Richard Pace, wrote to Wolsey in order to requisition one of the cardinal's choristers, couching his reason as a veiled threat: 'if it were not for the personal love that the King's highness doth bear unto your grace, surely he would have out of your chapel not children only, but also men; for his grace hath plainly shown... that your Grace's Chapel is better than his, and proved the same by this reason that if any manner of new song should be brought into both the said Chapels to be sung ex improviso then the said song should be better and more surely handled by your chapel than by his Grace's.' A few days later, when Pace wrote again to thank Wolsey for the chorister, he remarked that 'Cornyshe [the master of the king's chapel] doth greatly laud and praise the child... and doth in like manner extol Mr. Pygote for the teaching of him.' Pygott seems to have continued to direct Wolsey's chapel for the rest of its existence, accompanying his master on embassies to France on at least two occasions, and being rewarded from time to time with annuities from monasteries susceptible to the cardinal's influence.

Wolsey's fall from favour in 1529 and death in the following year were crises for all who depended upon him, not least for his musicians. Cardinal College went into a state of torpor until its closure and re-foundation by Henry VIII in 1532, and several members of the choir, including Taverner, resigned in order to take up appointments elsewhere. With the disbanding of his household, Wolsey's own chapel choir ceased to exist, and his chapel musicians found themselves unemployed. A few of them were fortunate enough to be absorbed into the royal household chapel almost immediately; given his achievement and reputation, it is no surprise that Pygott was one of these. He spent the rest of his career as a gentleman of the king's household chapel; the further annuities and rewards that he received from time to time suggest that his contribution was greatly prized. He may perhaps have been especially highly valued as a composer; it is interesting to note that - if the evidence of the surviving musical sources is reliable - from the death of Fayrfax in 1521 to the appointment of Pygott about a decade later, the royal household chapel contained no composer of outstanding ability.

The Will signed by Richard Pygott on August 24, 1549 is very informative about his circumstances and relationships. He was clearly a man of means: he made gifts in cash amounting to more than 120 (roughly equivalent to 120,000 in modern terms); he owned the leasehold of a house in Greenwich and had other lodgings in Greenwich and Ware; he gave three horses to servants and friends; and he made other bequests of clothes and jewels. While there is no mention of a wife or children, there are several references to kinsmen, most of whom lived in or near London. Three fellow-gentlemen of the chapel, Thomas Bury, Thomas Byrd and Thomas Tallis, are named as overseers of the execution of the Will, and Tallis also received a legacy of 6. Pygott would have made his Will because he thought that death was imminent; in a codicil dated October 2, he mentioned money spent 'all the tyme of my sicknes', and by November 12, when the Will was proved, he was dead.

There are two works by Pygott in the Peterhouse Partbooks..

A Partial Richard Pygott Discography   |   IV M: England Through 1635   |   Latin Church Music 1460-1575: The Composers