Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hunnis, William

HUNNIS, WILLIAM (d. 1597), musician and poet, was appointed gentleman of the Chapel Royal by Edward VI. He was a protestant, and throughout the reign of Mary engaged in conspiracies against the queen. In 1555 he was one of twelve conspirators elected to assassinate both king and queen, but the plot came to nothing. As an intimate friend of Nicholas Brigham [q. v.], keeper of the Treasure House at Westminster, and of his wife, Hunnis was invited in the following year to take part in an attempt to rob the treasury in order to provide funds for the conspiracy devised by Sir Henry Dudley, the object of which was `to make the Lady Elizabeth Queene, and to marry her to the Duke of Devonshire' (Froude, Hist. vi. 11, where Hunnis's name appears as Heneage). Hunnis seems to have refused the request of a fellow-conspirator named Dethicke to go to Dieppe, and there, 'as having skill in alchemy, to make experiments on a foreign coin called ealdergylders to convert them into gold.' On 17 or 18 March 1555 Hunnis, with many of his associates, was arrested on information given by one of the number, and was imprisoned in the Tower. He was arraigned on 5 May at the Guildhall; but whether he was pardoned or remained in the Tower till the accession of Elizabeth to the throne is uncertain. In May 1557 Hunnis was admitted to the Grocers' Company.

One of Elizabeth's earliest acts as queen was to restore him to his position as gentleman of the Chapel Royal. On 2 June 1559 he married Margaret, widow of Nicholas Brigham (who had died in 1558), but she died in the autumn of the same year. Her will, of which Hunnis was executor, was proved on 12 Oct. 1559. In 1562 Hunnis was appointed custodian of the gardens and orchards at Greenwich, at a salary of 12d. per day, and various perquisites. In 1568 he received a grant of arms (Harl. MSS. 1359, f.54). In 1570, according to an entry in the Guildhall records, grant was made of `a reversion of the office of collection of the cities rightes, duties, and profittes, cominge and growinge uppon London Bridge, for wheelage and passage, to William Hunnys, citizen and grocer, and also Master of Hir grace's children of hir Chappell Royal.' Hunnis appears to have ultimately accepted 40l. in lieu of this reversion. A device and a copy of verses were written by Hunnis for the entertainment of the queen at Kenilworth in July 1575, and were published in George Gascoigne's 'Princely Pleasures of Kenilworth,' 1576-7.

On 15 Nov. 1566 he had succeeded Richard Edwards in the office of master of the children. The emoluments of the post were not great. In November 1583 Hunnis stated in a petition to the council that he was unable to maintain 'an usher, a man-servant for the boys, and a woman to keep them clean, on an income of 6d. a day each for food and 40l. a year for apparel and all expenses.' Nothing, he added, was allowed for the expenses of travelling and lodging when the movements of the court necessitated his carrying the boys with him to various places. [1] Hunnis died 6 June 1597, and was succeeded as master of the children by Nathaniel Giles. He left no will, unless we accept as such the following verses which Warton quotes as having been written by Hunnis on the flyleaf of a copy of Sir Thomas More's works:

‘To God my soule I doe bequeathe, because it is
   his owne,
My body to be layd in grave, where to my
   frends best known.
Executors I wyll none make, thereby great
   stryffe may growe,
Because the, goodes that I shall leave wyll not
   pay all I owe. ’

Wood speaks of Hunnis as being a crony of Thomas Newton, the Latin poet, and among the latter's `Encomia' (v. 177) are lines addressed `Ad Guliel. Hunnissum amicum integerrimum.' In commendatory verses prefixed to Hunnis's 'Hyve,' Newton also compliments Hunnis on his interludes, none of which are now known, as well as on his sonnets, songs, and 'roundletts.'

Hunnis published: 1. 'Certayne Psalmes chosen out of the Psalter of David and drawen furth into English meter,' London, 1549. 2. 'A Hyve full of Hunnye, contayning the firste booke of Moses, called Genesis, turned into Englishe meetre,' London, 1578, 4to, dedicated to Robert, earl of Leicester. 3. 'Seven Sobs of a Sorrowfull Soule for Sinne: Comprehending those seven Psalmes of the Princelie Prophet David, commonlie called Pœnitentiall; framed into a forme of familiar praiers, and reduced into meeter by William Hunnis. … Whereunto are also annexed his Handfull of Honisuckles; the Poor Widowes Mite; a Dialog between Christ and a sinner; diuers godlie and pithie ditties, with a Christian confession of and to the Trinitie,' London, 1583 (Brit.Mus.), 1585, 1587, 1597, 1615, 1629, and Edinburgh, 1621. 4. 'Hunnies' Recreations, conteining foure godlie and compendious discourses: Adam's Banishment, Christ his Cribbe, the Lost Sheepe, and the Complaint of Old Age,' London, 1588; another edition, with additions, London, 1595 (Brit. Mus.)

Hunnis also published an 'Abridgement, or brief Meditation, on certaine of the Psalmes in English metre, by W. H., servant to the Rt. Hon. Sir William Harberde, knyght,' London, 1550, and contributed twelve pieces to 'The Paradyse of Daynty Devises,' London, 1576, and two pieces by him appear in 'England's Helicon,' 1600. Some manuscripts of Hunnis are preserved in the Music School at Oxford.

[Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 338; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser.1556; Hunter's Chorus Vatum Anglic, ii. 277-9; Add. MSS. 24488; Rimbault's Old Cheque Booke of the Chapel Royal, C.S. pp. 2-5, 186-8; Mrs. C. C. Stopes in Athenæum, Nos. 3304, 3308; Memoir prefixed to 1810 reprint of Paradise of Dainty Devices; Warton's Hist. of Engl. Poetry, iii. 180; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, iii. 254, 418;Watt's Bibl. Brit. i. 526; Hunnis's works in Brit. Mus.]

R. F. S.


  1. In 1585 he obtained a grant for 21 years of property in the counties of Derby, Essex, Suffolk, Hertford and Middlesex (Pat. Rolls. Eliz. pt. 17, mm. 20, 21, 22, 23: cited C.C. Stopes, W. Hunnis and the Revels the Chapel Royal)

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.162
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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261 ii 13 f.e. Hunnis, William: for the Duke of Devonshire' read the Earl of Devonshire'