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C o n c e r t s


Commemorating the ‘Fatal Vespers’ of 1623,

the forgotten catastrophe at Blackfriars 

A meditation led by Fr Tom Thomas IC

with speaker Eamon Duffy, Emeritus Professor of the

History of Christianity at Magdalene College, Cambridge

and music by The Renaissance Singers

directed by David Allinson

Monday 30 October 2023, 7pm
St Etheldreda’s Church 
14 Ely Place, London

Music by William Byrd (d.1623), to include:

Mass for Four Voices (extracts)

Ne irascaris—Civitas Sancti tui

Emendemus in melius

Justorum animae 

Nunc dimittis from the Gradualia


On the afternoon of Sunday 26 October 1623 around 300 people squeezed themselves into the upper room at the French ambassador’s residence in the London district of Blackfriars. From committed Catholics to the curious and undecided, they had come to hear a famous Jesuit speak. Midway through Robert Drury’s sermon the floor of the makeshift chapel gave way, as did the floor of the chamber beneath. The preacher, another priest and more than 90 members of the congregation fell to their deaths; many more were injured by falling masonry.


Contemporary journalists and chroniclers christened the event the ‘doleful evensong’ or ‘fatal vespers’. Eighteen years after the Gunpowder Plot, the event inflamed already-volatile public opinion, with some Protestants seeing the collapse as no accident, but as divine intervention against Papists. Survivors often found themselves treated with malice, rather then sympathy. Most of the dead were interred in two pits at the scene, since the Bishop of London refused them burial on consecrated ground.


Today this shocking event is almost entirely forgotten. So, this autumn, to mark 400 years since the tragedy, the Renaissance Singers are pleased to present a musical meditation in the Catholic church of St Etheldreda’s, a Catholic church with its own fascinating history. During building work in the 1870s it was discovered that eighteen victims of the Fatal Vespers were buried in the crypt. We hope that the music of William Byrd — himself a recusant Catholic, who died in July 1623 — will bring an appropriate, meditative spirit to this event.


We are delighted that our speaker is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the religious history of Britain, Eamon Duffy, Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity (Magdalene College, Cambridge). Professor Duffy will set the political and social context of the Fatal Vespers, exploring the plight of the victims and the public reaction to the event. Prayers and meditation will be led by the Rector of St Etheldreda’s, Fr Tom Thomas IC.


Free public event (no booking); retiring collection.

The commemoration will last about an hour and a quarter.

Nearest stations: City Thameslink, Farringdon, Chancery Lane

Master Byrd

The year is 1611. William Byrd rehearses his music with a choir in Ingatestone Hall, Essex, the home of his patron, Lord Petre

— sometimes with a little impatience ...


Now in his early 60s, England’s greatest living musician is in reflective mood, musing about his life, his music and his religion. He ponders the tribulations of writing overtly Catholic music in volatile times. He remembers his relationship with the late Queen, relives the terror of persecution and the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. He thinks also about great contemporary figures and writers, not least the dramatist whose work intrigues him most: Shakespeare. Byrd stands before us, striving to make sense of the miracle that is his music and the mysteries which lie at its heart.

William Byrd died in Essex on 4 July 1623. Four hundred years later, as the musical world celebrates his genius, the Renaissance Singers raise their voices in Master Byrd, a new short play by Brean Hammond.


We are thrilled to be performing in the very place where the play is set, Ingatestone Hall, still owned by the family who sheltered and supported Byrd: the Petres. We hope you will join us, for a unique experience in a space the composer would have known well.



Ravenscroft Hold thy peace

Byrd Mass for four voices – Sanctus, Agnus Dei

Byrd Retire my soul

Byrd O magnum mysterium – Beata Virgo

Byrd Fantasia in C

Byrd Justorum animae

Tallis If ye love me

Byrd Emendemus in melius

Byrd Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?

Byrd Ne irascaris, Domine

Byrd Sing joyfully

Byrd Ave verum corpus

We are delighted that Vincent Franklin will perform the part of William Byrd. His television work includes Happy Valley 2 and 3, Doc Martin, Bodyguard, Cucumber, The Office, Twenty Twelve, The Thick of It and Decline and Fall. His film work includes Topsy Turvy, Peterloo, The Bourne Identity and Allelujah!

Master Byrd

a new play by Brean Hammond with live choral interpolations

Saturday 21 October 2023
performances at 4pm and 7pm
Ingatestone Hall
Hall Lane, Ingatestone
Essex CM4 9NR
Director: David Allinson


How to commemorate a composer with more than some greatest hits?


Brean Hammond describes the parallels between Byrd and Shakespeare that inspired his new play.

Tickets: £20/ £17 (concessions)  


Availability limited to 80 tickets per performance.  We expect the performances to sell out, early booking is advised.

Book tickets for the 4pm performance

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