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CORNYSSHE, WILLIAM (d. 1524?), musician, was a member of the Chapel Royal in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. The first information we have of him is derived from an entry in the Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VII on 12 Nov. 1493, when 13s. 4d. was paid to ‘one Cornysshe for a prophecy.’ On 26 Oct. 1502 he was paid 30l. for three pageants, and in the same year he received 13s. 4d. ‘for setting of a carrall upon Cristmas day.’ According to Stow (Annales, ed. 1615, p. 488) he was the author of a satirical ballad against Sir Richard Empson, which he wrote at the request of the Earl of Kent. This it was which probably led to his being imprisoned in the Fleet, where he wrote a short poem called ‘A Treatise bitweene Trouth and Enformacon.’ A manuscript copy of this is to be found in the British Museum (Royal MS. 18, D. 11), and a bad text of it is printed in Skelton's ‘Pithy, Pleasaunt, and Profitable Workes’ (1568), where it is classed among the newly collected works. The manuscript version of the poem is headed ‘In the fleete made by me Wllm. Cornysshe, otherwise called Nyssewhete Chapelman wth the moost famost and noble Kyng henry the VIIth, his raigne the xixth yere the moneth of July,’ and begins ‘A. B. of E. how C. for T. was P. in P.,’ which possibly may stand for ‘A Ballad of Empson, how Cornysshe for Treason was Put in Prison.’ The pseudonym ‘Nyssewhete’ is evidently formed from the author's name, ‘wheat’ being put as a synonym of ‘corn.’ The poem contains many bitter complaints against informers; it is of small literary value, but part of it, ‘A Parable between Informacion and Musike,’ is interesting from its use of musical terms. Whatever may have been the reason for his imprisonment, Cornysshe was before long released, and reinstated in his appointment, for his name occurs as having played before Henry VII at Richmond with Kyte and ‘other of the Chapell’ in 1508–9; and on the death of William Newark in the latter part of 1509, he became master of the children at a yearly salary of 26l. 13s. 4d. On 1 Jan. 1511 he received a sum of 5l., and on 13 Feb. of the same year he played two prominent parts in a pageant at Westminster entitled ‘The Golldyn Arber in the Arche Yerd of Plesyer.’ For his dresses in this performance 14 yards of stuff were allowed for a gown and bonnet, and 46½ yards of green satin for another gown. Cornysshe and his colleague Crane's [q. v.] dresses were decorated with three hundred letters ‘H. K.,’ but the mob on this occasion was so unruly that most of the costumes, including those of the sub-dean and two gentlemen of the chapel, were quite spoilt. In the same year Cornysshe played at Greenwich in Gibson's pageant ‘The Dangerus Fortrees,’ in which 163/4 yards of white satin were allowed for his dress. On 12 March 1512, for some unexplained reason, Cornysshe and Sir John Kyte entered into a recognisance for the repayment of a loan of 2,500l. from James Harrington, dean of York, but the whole sum was repaid by 2 July in the same year. In December 1513, when the court was at Windsor, Cornysshe received 20s. for singing ‘Audivi’ on Allhallows day. As master of the children it was part of Cornysshe's duty to provide the Chapel Royal with choristers, for which purpose he had, as was long the custom, wide powers of forcing children with suitable voices into the chapel. The Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII's reign contain many entries as to the costs paid to Cornysshe, e.g. in April 1514, 66s. 8d. was paid to him for teaching, finding, and apparelling Robert Philip, child of the chapel, for half a year; in June 1514 he received 33s. 4d. for ‘finding of 2 children;’ in July 1517 he was paid 33s. 4d. for finding and teaching William Saunders, ‘late a child of the chapel,’ for one quarter, and 20d. a week when the king keeps no household; and in May 1518 he received board wages for ten children at 8d. a week. His duties as master of the children seem at one time to have nearly led him into a dispute with Wolsey, for from a letter to the latter from Pace, dated 25 March 1518, there appears to have been a chorister in the cardinal's chapel whom Cornysshe wished to secure for the Chapel Royal. Pace informs Wolsey that the king ‘hath plainly shown unto Cornysche that your Grace's chapel is better than his,’ but Wolsey took the hint and surrendered the boy, for on 1 April Pace writes: ‘Cornysche doth greatly laud and praise the child of your chapel sent hither, not only for his sure and cleanly singing, but also for his good and crafty descant, and doth in like manner extol Mr. Pygote for the teaching of him.’ In the earlier of these letters we also learn how on a royal progress from Reading to Abingdon, where fodder was likely to run short, Cornysshe ‘made a merry supplication unto the King's grace for a bottle of hay and an horseloaf.’ It was also the duty of the master of the Chapel Royal to prepare and perform interludes and masques, generally at Christmas and Twelfth Night. At Christmas 1514 ‘The Tryumph of Love and Beauty’ was written and presented by Cornysshe and others of the chapel at Richmond, for which the king gave him ‘a ryche rewarde out of his owne hand, to be dyvyded with the rest of his felows,’ as he himself recorded in an autograph roll of the expenses of the revels. He seems to have been in high favour, for in November 1516 he received a reward of 200l., the usual payment for playing before the king with the children of the chapel being 6l. 13s. 4d. On 6 Jan. 1515 he played at Greenwich in Gibson's pageant ‘The Pavyllyon on the Plas Parla,’ and on 6 Jan. 1516 at Eltham he played the part of Calchas, dressed in ‘a mantel and bishop's surcoat,’ in ‘The Story of Troylous and Pandor.’ In the same play he took the part of a herald, the dresses he received in the whole piece being entered as a mantle, a surcoat of yellow sarcenet, a coat armour, a garment of black sarcenet, and a bonnet. In another pageant, ‘The Garden of Esperance,’ it is recorded that 16 yards of black sarcenet and 52½ yards of green sarcenet were used for his clothes, and after the entertainment the king gave him three gowns of black, red, and green sarcenet and two coat armours which had been worn by the performers. In 1518 Cornysshe received 18l. 2s. 11½d. for two pageants at Greenwich, and in August 1520 a masque by him was played before Henry at New Hall, Essex. In the same year he accompanied the king, with ten of the children of the chapel, to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where he was entrusted with the devising of the pageants at the banquet. For the diet of the children during their absence (sixty-two days) he was paid 2d. per diem. In 1522, when the emperor visited Henry at Greenwich, Cornysshe again devised the revels; his name also appears on the list of persons whose houses were occupied by the visitors. He must have been in affluent circumstances, as he is put down as possessing eight feather beds (Rutland Papers, ed. Jerdan, Camden Soc. 82). His duties seem to have been multifarious, for in 1516 he was paid 100l. for repairs at Greenwich, and in the same year 36l. 10s. for ‘paving gutters of lead for urinals and other necessaries at Greenwich.’ On 10 Aug. 1523 Cornysshe obtained a grant of the corrody in the monastery of Thetford, vice John Lloyd deceased (also a member of the Chapel Royal), and ten days later a grant in survivorship was issued to him, his wife Jane, and Henry his son, of the manor of Hylden, Kent. The Thetford corrody does not seem to have been valuable, as it is recorded in 1524 that 3s. 4d. was paid to Cornysshe by the prior. He also owned a corrody in the monastery of Malmesbury. The exact date of his death is unknown, but he was dead in November 1524, when the Malmesbury corrody was granted to Edward Weldon. Of his music not much remains. Four pieces by him are printed in Wynkyn de Worde's collection of twenty songs (1536), and other songs for two, three, and four voices are to be found in the British Museum (Add. MSS. 5465 and 31922). He seems to have been principally a composer of secular music, and set several poems by Skelton. Of his church music there are extant the medius part of a ‘Salve Regina’ (Harl. MS. 1709, fol. 51 b), and a setting for four voices of Skelton's ‘Wofully Araid’ (Add. MS. 5465, fol. 63 b). Hawkins (History of Music, iii. 2) has reprinted two of the songs from the latter manuscript, in which Cornysshe is described as ‘John Cornysshe, Junior.’ This has led Hawkins and other writers to conclude that there were two contemporary composers of the same name, but it seems probable that this was not the case, especially as the ‘Libri Computi’ of Magdalen College chronicle the payment of 27s. 7d. in 1502–3 to ‘Cornysshe, pro hymnali,’ and in 1508–9 of 7s. 7d. to Thomas Cornysshe ‘pro scriptura 13 tabularum pro æde sacra,’ and in the British Museum (Add. MS. 5665) is a motet ‘Dicant nunc Judei,’ signed Johannes Cornysshe. The suffix ‘Junior’ was therefore most likely added to distinguish William Cornysshe from these individuals, either of whom may have been his father.

[Most of the facts as to Cornysshe are to be found in the Calendar of Letters and Papers, Henry VIII; Collier's Hist. of Dramatic Poetry, ed. 1879; Magd. Coll. Registers, ed. Bloxam, ii. 263; Skelton's Works, ed. Dyce, 1843; Archæologia, xli. 371–86; Tanner's Bibliotheca; authorities quoted above.]

W. B. S.