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It is nearly 35 years since the last biography of Nicholas Ludford was published.(1) Since that time little further information has come to light regarding this elusive composer. However, in this article I shall present important new findings that expand and correct our knowledge of Ludford's life and musical career. The bulk of information previously assembled was, for the most part, based on his association with the royal chapel of St Stephen in Westminster, where he is known to have been a verger. Excluding the dissolution certificate of 1548, no significant documentary evidence concerning Ludford's employment at St Stephen's was believed to have survived from this period. The recent discovery of additional archival material at last provides us with a clearer picture of this shadowy figure, revealing his specific duties at St Stephen's and his long and continuous association with the parish church of St Margaret in Westminster.
It will be useful first to summarize the efforts of performers and scholars alike in restoring Ludford to his rightful position among the most eminent of composers for the pre-Reformation English church. Ludford scholarship has its beginnings early in the present century with the published discussions of H. B. Collins and Sir Richard Terry.(2) It was Terry's own chior at Westminster Cathedral that reintroduced the performance of Ludford's music as part of the liturgy. But Terry's promise in 1916 to publish Ludford's Masses after the Great War was never realized and Ludford was virtually forgotten for some 30 years, although a few pages were devoted to him in H. Grattan Flood's short study on the lives of Tudor composers.(3)
In the 1950s Hugh Baillie's archival work uncovered the first significant details of Ludford's career, which were gleaned from his more general study on London musicians in early Tudor England.(4) Around this time music by Ludford and lesser known composers was again being performed in London by Henry Washington's Schola Polyphonica, under the academic guidance of Hugh Baillie and Frank Ll. Harrison.(5) None of Ludford's music was available to the general public until John Bergsagel's edition of his Lady Masses was published in 1963, followed by a second volume in 1977 comprising four festal Masses and a Magnificat.(6) It seems surprising that these publications were not followed by more frequent performance, although this may be attributable to the scale and complexity of the music and the discouragingly expensive and weighty library editions in which they were exclusively available. In 1983 Ludford's Missa Lapidaverunt Stephanum, set in the context of a liturgical reconstruction for St Stephen's Day by Nick Sandon, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. However, it is only in the present decade that Ludford's music has finally been made available on disc and has achieved widespread recognition.(7)
It is fortuitous that sources providing more information about Ludford's musical career have come to light at the same time as the recent accessibility of his music to the general public. The first new document is a certificate of Ludford's employment at St Stephen's, Westminster, which outlines his chapel duties and salary (appendix 1).(8) Documents concerning his life include a contemporary court copy of his will (found with those of John Sheppard and Robert White), which is recorded among the will registers of the peculiar court of the liberty of Westminster now housed in the Westminster City Archives (appendix 2).(9) In the Westminster Abbey Muniments Room is a register of christenings, weddings and burials for the parish of St Margaret's, Westminster (1538-1660); this provides the dates of Ludford's wedding and burial.(10) Most enlightening are the churchwardens' accounts for St Margaret's, which have survived remarkably intact from 1460 to the present day. (These too are kept in the Westminster City Archives.)(11) H. F. Westlake's book on St Margaret's, Westminster, published in 1914, provided transcriptions of selected parts of these accounts, and it is from this book that Baillie, and subsequently Bergsagel, quoted; the original manuscript accounts seem never to have been consulted. These new documents are vital sources for any study of church music in 16th-century Westminster, and for Nicholas Ludford's biography from c.1525 until his death. Included are payments for the copying and binding of choirbooks, details of Ludford's two marriages, and the accounts for his funeral expenses.(12)
We know from Cardinal Pole's pension roll that Ludford was still receiving an annuity in 1555-6.(13) From this information Billie and Bergsagel were correct in assuming that Ludford had died an old man in 1557; the burial register of St Margaret's tells us that 'Nycolace Ludfoorthe of age' was buried on 9 August of that year. Details of Ludford's early life and career, however, are still unclear, although it seems likely that he did not hail from Westminster originally. Baillie's discovery of a 'Master Nicolas ludford', recorded in the 1521 membership entries for the Fraternity of St Nicholas (a guild of London parish clerks), is still our first reference to the composer.(14) He next appears in the churchwardens' accounts for St Margaret's in 1525, when he paid 3s 4d 'for his parte of a pewe'.(15) Every inhabitant of Westminster, including employees of the king's palace and members of St Stephen's, was by the same token a parishioner of St Margaret's. This is the first entry in the accounts which refers to a Ludford, and the date 1525 seems to mark Nicholas Ludford's arrival in Westminster.
Within two years Ludford had gained a position in the royal chapel of St Stephen. In his contract of employment dated 30 September 1527 he was granted the office of verger (officium virgebaiulantem) and organist (officium organa perstrependi) for life. Roger Bowers was first to suggest that the unusual post of verger-cum-organist might have originated from St Stephen's,(16) and this new Ludford document strongly supports his theory. Bowers explains that a similar post was devised in early drafts of the statutes of Cromwell's college at Tattershall which were assembled c.1454-6. (Cromwell's agents were instructed to collect ideas from several existing foundations, including Westminster.) Although a verger was not provided for in the final draft of the Tattershall statutes, Bowers noted that the exceptional idea of a verger-cum-organist must have been borrowed from an arrangement that existed elsewhere. No statutes for St Stephen's have survived, so we are unable to trace the earliest instance of this post; however, the composer John Bedyngham is known to have been verger there in 1457.(17)
There is no reference in Ludford's contract to any musical duties in connection with his post as verger; presumably he held the office in its traditional role of overseeing chapel maintenance and leading the processions. His annual verger's salary was [pound]9 2s 6d, which was payable at the end of each month at the rate of 6d a day; he was also granted 13s 4d at Christmas each year towards his livery. He was also to receive a portion of mortuary payments, an undisclosed amount which people presumably were required to pay for the privilege of burial in the chapel. Apparently this was to be shared between the chapel officers (distributiones obituum).(18)
As organist, Ludford received 40s annually in addition to his verger's salary to be paid at the four quarters of the year; that is, …