Thomas Lawes, was in all probability the person who was a vicar-choral at Salisbury (d. 1640). Lawes received his early education in music from Giovanni Coperario (Cooper) [q.v.]. He was sworn in as pisteller or epistler of the Chapel Royal, 1 Jan. 1625–6, and on 3 Nov. of the same year as gentleman; he afterwards became clerk of the cheque and a member of the king's band. It is not known when his connection with the household of the Earl of Bridgewater began, but it was probably before 1633, when the earl's sons, Lord Brackley, and his brother Thomas Egerton, took part in the masque 'Cœlum Britannicum,' written by Thomas Carew, and performed at Whitehall 18 Feb. 1633–4 with music, which is of slight importance, by Henry Lawes. There is no decisive proof that he had any share in the composition of the music for Shirley's 'Triumph of Peace' [see Lawes, William], produced in the same year. Peck's statement as to the origin of 'Comus' (New Memoirs, &c., p. 12), that Lawes, 'being desired to provide an entertainment' (for the Earl of Bridgewater), 'and being well acquainted with Mr. Milton's abilities, he pitched on him to compose the masque,' is possibly true; for Lawes was throughout his life familiar with literary men, and himself had a strong literary instinct; and the fact that the first edition of the masque was published without Milton's name, only that of Lawes appearing in the dedication, is more easily explained if the initiative in providing the entertainment belonged to the musician. The performance took place on Michaelmas night 1634, and Lawes and his three young pupils, the brothers just mentioned and Lady Alice Egerton, played prominent parts. In the lines allotted to the Attendant Spirit, afterwards Thyrsis, the part taken by the composer, are numerous allusions to his musical powers (lines 84–8, 499–501, 631–3, &c.). Apparently only five songs were provided with music. In the best-known of these, 'Sweet Echo,' the composer has not scrupled to give the last line a more technical character than the poet had done, by altering the words 'give resounding grace' to 'hold a counterpoint' (the music is in Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 11518). Burney's statement that the music of D'Avenant's masque, 'The Triumph of the Prince d'Amour,' produced in 1635, was written by both brothers, requires confirmation [see Lawes, William]. In 1636 Henry set to music the songs in Cartwright's 'Royal Slaves,' which was performed before the king at Oxford. In 1638 Lawes wrote to tell Milton that he had received permission to go abroad (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. p. 320). In 1637, the year in which Lawes's edition of 'Comus' appeared, there was issued George Sandys's 'Paraphrase vpon the Psalmes of David. By G. S. Set to new Tunes for private Devotion. And a thorow Base, for Voice or Instrument. By Henry Lawes.' The book contains twenty-four tunes by Lawes; these are different from the settings contributed by him to the 'Choice Psalmes put into Musick for Three Voices,' published in 1648. The latter work was issued in four part-books; it contains a portrait of Charles I, supposed to be the last issued in his lifetime, commendatory poems, among which is Milton's well-known sonnet, thirty psalm tunes by H. Lawes, as well as elegies and dialogues by Dr. J. Wilson and others, and finally many compositions by William Lawes. The dedication to the king by Henry Lawes contains the most important contemporary account of his deceased brother's works. The title of Milton's sonnet 'To Mr. H. Lawes on his Aires,' together with its date, 9 Feb. 1645–6 (see discussion as to original title in Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vi. 337, 395, 492), seems to point to an earlier publication, before 1648. Lawes mentions an unauthorised issue of twenty songs in his preface to his first book of 'Ayres and Dialogues for One, Two, and Three Voyces,' published in 1653; but this unauthorised publication is almost certainly Playford's 'Select Musical Ayres' of 1652, and cannot solve any difficulties connected with Milton's sonnet. 'Ayres and Dialogues', contains a fine portrait of Lawes by Faithorne; a dedication to his two former pupils, now the Countess of Carbury, and Lady Herbert of Cherbury; a preface 'To all Understanders or Lovers of Musick,' in which are some interesting remarks on the English and foreign music of the time, and an amusing account of the deception practised upon some ignorant admirers of Italian music, by his setting of an index of old Italian songs; a number of commendatory verses; and fifty-four compositions by Lawes, among them the 'Tavola,' referred to in the preface. Playford's 'Select Musical Ayres and Dialogues' of the previous year contained compositions by Henry Lawes, Dr. Wilson, Laniere, Smegergill (Cæsar), and others. The fact that Lawes's settings of the 'Psalmes' of 1637 and 1648 are without bars, while his 'Ayres' of 1652 and 1653 have them, makes it probable that Lawes was one of the first to adopt the invention.
On the breaking out of the civil wars Lawes lost his appointments; he 'betook himself to the teaching of ladies to sing, and by his irreproachable life and gentlemanly deportment contributed more than all the musicians of his time to raise the credit of his profession' (Hawkins, p. 581, ed. 1853). In the household book of Sir Edward Dering