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Thomas Weelkes (baptised 25 October 1576 – 30 November 1623) was an English composer and organist. He became organist of Winchester College in 1598, moving to Chichester Cathedral. His works are chiefly vocal, and include madrigals, anthems and services.


Since Robin Hood by Weelkes
Weelkes madrigal print: Robin Hood, Maid Marian and Little John are gone, 1608

Weelkes was baptised in the little village church of Elsted near Chichester in West Sussex on 25 October 1576. It has been suggested that his father was John Weeke, rector of Elsted, although there is no documentary evidence of the relationship. In 1597 his first volume of madrigals was published, the preface noting that he was a very young man when they were written; this helps to fix the date of his birth to somewhere in the middle of the 1570s. He dedicated the volume to George Philpot. Early in his life he was in service at the house of the courtier Edward Darcy. At the end of 1598, probably aged 22, Weelkes was appointed organist at Winchester College, where he remained for two or three years, receiving the quarterly salary of 13s 4d (£2 for three-quarters). His remuneration included board and lodging.

During his Winchester period, Weelkes composed a further two volumes of madrigals (1598, 1600). He obtained his B. Mus. Degree from New College, Oxford in 1602, and moved to Chichester to take up the position of organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers) at Chichester Cathedral at some time between October 1601 and October 1602. He was also given a lay clerkship at the Cathedral, being paid £15 2s 4d annually alongside his board, lodging and other amenities. The following year he married Elizabeth Sandham, from a wealthy local family. They had three children and it was rumoured that Elizabeth was already pregnant at the time of the marriage.

Weelkes' fourth and final volume of madrigals, published in 1608, carries a title page where he refers to himself as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal; however, records at the Chapel Royal itself do not mention him, so at most he could only have been a Gentleman Extraordinary - one of those who were asked to stand in until a permanent replacement was found.

While Weelkes was there the Choir of Chichester Cathedral was often in trouble with the authorities for poor behaviour. ..... In 1609 he was charged with unauthorised absence from Chichester, but no mention of drunken behaviour is made until 1613, and J Shepherd, a Weelkes scholar, has suggested caution in assuming that his decline began before this date.

In 1616 he was reported to the Bishop for being "noted and famed for a comon drunckard [sic] and notorious swearer & blasphemer". .....

St Bride's Church, Thomas Weelkes memorial in crypt
Memorial in St Bride's Church, Fleet Street

In 1622 Elizabeth Weelkes died. Thomas Weelkes was, by this time, reinstated at Chichester Cathedral, but appeared to be spending a great deal of time in London. He died in London in 1623, in the house of a friend, almost certainly on 30 November and was buried on 1 December 1623 at St Bride's Fleet Street. Weelkes's will, made the day before he died at the house of his friend Henry Drinkwater of St Bride's parish, left his estate to be shared between his three children, with a large 50s legacy left to Drinkwater for his meat, drink and lodging. Weelkes has a memorial stone in Chichester Cathedral.

Weelkes' memorial stone in Chichester Cathedral


Thomas Weelkes is best known for his vocal music, especially his madrigals and church music. Weelkes wrote more Anglican services than any other major composer of the time, mostly for evensong. Many of his anthems are verse anthems, which would have suited the small forces available at Chichester Cathedral. It has been suggested that larger-scale pieces were intended for the Chapel Royal. A number of Weelkes's church anthems were included in The Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems in 1978.

Only a small amount of instrumental music was written by Weelkes, and it is rarely performed. His consort music is sombre in tone, contrasting with the often gleeful madrigals.


Weelkes's madrigals are often compared to those of John Wilbye (who the Dictionary of National Biography described as the most famous of the English madrigalists): it has been suggested that the personalities of the two men - Wilbye appears to have been a more sober character than Weelkes - are reflected in the music. Both men were interested in word painting. Weelkes' madrigals are very chromatic and use varied organic counterpoint and unconventional rhythm in their construction.

Weelkes was friends with the madrigalist Thomas Morley who died in 1602, when Weelkes was in his mid-twenties (Weelkes commemorated his death in a madrigal-form anthem titled A Remembrance of my Friend Thomas Morley, also known as "Death hath Deprived Me").

Some of Weelkes's madrigals were reprinted in popular collections during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Jacob Hillarye
of Chichester Cathedral

Succeeded by
William Eames
Master of the Choristers
of Chichester Cathedral

Succeeded by

See also

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