Skip to main content
Select Source:

William Byrd

William Byrd

Colonial planter and merchant William Byrd (1652-1704) founded one of the most remarkable and enduring political dynasties in America.

The first of several generations bearing the name, William Byrd emigrated from England to the New World as a young man, fortified by an extensive inheritance from an uncle which permitted him to purchase a large estate on the James River (near modern Richmond, Va.). Later, as he became increasingly prominent, he removed to the "Old Dominion's" western frontier. In 1676 he jeopardized his growing economic and political position by joining briefly in Bacon's Rebellion against the troops of royal governor William Berkeley. He had undoubtedly shared in the frustration with the government's inability to prevent depredations by native peoples that had led to the rebellion.

However, connections and wealth helped to smooth over Byrd's involvement with Bacon, and a few years later he sat in Virginia's House of Burgesses, in 1683 moving up to the more elite Council of State—testimony to his growing prominence. He eventually served as auditor general of the colony and president of its council, but it was not in politics that he made his greatest mark.

From his plantation on the James, and later from Westover, his frontier estate, Byrd traded with the Native Americans, parlaying his inheritance into one of the great fortunes of colonial Virginia and setting the keystone for a prolific and powerful political dynasty. Pioneering and exploring even as he traded with the Native Americans, Byrd was one of a small band of white men to move beyond the Blue Ridge in the 17th century. Indeed, he pushed across the Allegheny Divide into Kentucky at the head of a trading company a full century before Daniel Boone.

For Virginians like Byrd, moreover, the Native Americans offered a somewhat risky but enormously profitable wellspring of trade, at a time when such trade was limited to those licensed by the royal governor. By the 1680s Byrd was sending pack trains far into hostile country to exchange pots, pans, guns, and rum for furs and hides that were quickly and profitably sold at Virginia's flourishing eastern ports.

So extensive was his knowledge of the Native Americans that Byrd frequently represented the colony at treaty-making ceremonies. This activity, in turn, led him to a high rank in the Virginia militia. Increasing wealth, meanwhile, opened other economic doors; eventually he augmented his fortune in several ways that became traditional for future colonial Byrds: he was part owner of several merchantmen, a well-known slave dealer, a planter of tobacco, and a dealer in public securities. By the time he died on Dec. 4, 1704, he had firmly established both his family and fortune.

Further Reading

The standard source on Byrd is the biographical sketch in The Writings of "Colonel William Byrd …," edited by John Spencer Bassett (1901). See also Louis B. Wright, The Cultural Life of the American Colonies, 1607-1763 (1957), and Wesley Frank Craven, The Colonies in Transition, 1660-1713 (1967). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Byrd." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Byrd." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-byrd-0

"William Byrd." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-byrd-0

Byrd, William

Byrd, William (b probably Lincoln, 1543; d Stondon Massey, Essex, 1623). Eng. composer. Org., Lincoln Cath., 1563. From 1572 hon. org. Chapel Royal jointly with Tallis. In 1575 he and Tallis jointly pubd. a coll. of motets, Cantiones sacrae, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I. From 1587 to 1596, Byrd pubd. several important collections of Eng. mus. Left London for Essex 1591, as member of household of his patrons, the Petres. Wrote some of his Gradualia for undercover masses held in Ingatestone Hall. Little is known of Byrd's life apart from various lawsuits over property and the fact of his Roman Catholicism, from the consequences of which he seems to have been protected at a time of anti-Papism by his fame as a composer and by friends in high places. In his motets and masses, Byrd showed himself the equal of his Fr. and It. contemporaries as a contrapuntist. He was an innovator in form and technique in his liturgical works, the finest of which is the Great Service. His madrigals are also of exceptional quality, and there is superb mus. in his solo songs and songs for the stage. In his Fancies and In Nomines for str. instr. he est. an Eng. instr. style of comp., but perhaps even more significant was his mus. for virginals, in which he developed variation form, and his series of pavans and galliards for kbd. Among his pupils were Morley and Tomkins, and probably Weelkes and Bull. Prin. comps.:SACRED WORKS: Masses, No.1 in 3 v.-parts, No.2 in 4, No.3 in 5. Motets: Cantiones (with Tallis, 1575. Contains 17 items by Byrd); Cantiones sacrae, Book I, 1589 (29 motets), Book II, 1591 (32 motets); Gradualia, Book I, 1605 (63 motets), Book II, 1607 (45 motets); Preces, Psalms and Litany; Short Service; Great Service; 12 verse anthems; 10 psalms.SECULAR WORKS: Madrigals; sonnets; Songs of sundrie natures (1589), containing 47 songs; solo songs, canons, and rounds.INSTRUMENTAL: 14 Fantasies; 8 In Nomines; 9 pieces in In Nomine style on plainsong melodies. KEYBOARD: Over 120 pieces in various colls., incl. My Ladye Nevells Booke, transcr. 1591, and Parthenia (1611).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byrd, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byrd, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/byrd-william

"Byrd, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/byrd-william

Byrd, William

Byrd, William (c.1543–1623). Britain's leading composer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, Byrd's large, varied output included English anthems and consort songs, Latin motets and masses, and keyboard and instrumental consort music. A pupil of Thomas Tallis, he was appointed organist and choirmaster at Lincoln cathedral in 1563. In 1570 he became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he was joint organist with Tallis, with whom he was granted a royal monopoly of music printing. Byrd published three collections setting English texts (1588, 1589, and 1611), yet he wrote few true madrigals, preferring the contrapuntal consort song for solo voice and viols (such as the elegy ‘Ye sacred muses’, written on Tallis's death in 1585).

Byrd's finest music was inspired by Latin texts. He was regularly listed as a recusant, virtually retiring from the Chapel Royal (where Elizabeth allowed Latin in the services) to live in Essex close to leading members of the catholic nobility. His two books of Gradualia (1605, 1607) supply music for the proper of the mass, complementing three masterly settings of the ordinary, whose finely balanced counterpoint matches the best of Palestrina and Lassus. Many of Byrd's Latin motets set penitential texts, treating Jerusalem as a metaphor for catholic England with powerfully expressive music. Joyful exuberance, however, pervades works like the madrigalian ‘Laudibus in sanctis’, as it does his virtuoso keyboard variations.

Eric Cross

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byrd, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byrd, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william

"Byrd, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william

Byrd, William (English composer)

William Byrd, 1543–1623, English composer, organist at Lincoln Cathedral and, jointly with Tallis, at the Chapel Royal. Although Roman Catholic, he composed anthems and services for the English Church in addition to his great Roman masses and Latin motets. He was esteemed by his contemporaries and was favored by Queen Elizabeth I, who, in 1575, granted to Byrd and Tallis a patent for the exclusive printing and selling of music. Byrd also composed instrumental music.

See biography by K. McCarthy (2013); studies by E. H. Fellowes (2d ed. 1948), O. W. Neighbor (1978), and J. Kerman (1981).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byrd, William (English composer)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byrd, William (English composer)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william-english-composer

"Byrd, William (English composer)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william-english-composer

Byrd, William (1652–1704, English planter in colonial Virginia)

William Byrd, 1652–1704, English planter in early Virginia. He came to America as a youth and took up lands he had inherited on both sides of the James River, including the site that would later be Richmond. In 1691 he moved to "Westover," long famous as the Byrd family home. His landed fortune was increased by his interest in trade, and he served (1703) as president of the Virginia council. Byrd's wealth, culture, and character made him the ideal tidewater aristocrat. He was the father of William Byrd (1674–1744).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byrd, William (1652–1704, English planter in colonial Virginia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byrd, William (1652–1704, English planter in colonial Virginia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william-1652-1704-english-planter-colonial-virginia

"Byrd, William (1652–1704, English planter in colonial Virginia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william-1652-1704-english-planter-colonial-virginia

Byrd, William

Byrd, William (1543–1623) English composer. He was appointed by Elizabeth I to be joint organist of the Chapel Royal with Thomas Tallis, whom he succeeded in 1585. With Tallis, he was granted England's first monopoly to print music. Byrd was a master of all the musical forms of his day, but was especially celebrated for his madrigals and church music.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byrd, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byrd, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william

"Byrd, William." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byrd-william