Thomas Tallis became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1542, where he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. He was the most important English composer of the middle if the 16th century and his music reflects the religious upheavals and political changes that affected English church music in this period. Under Henry VIII, Tallis wrote Masses and votive antiphons; under Edward VI he wrote music pioneering English language works for the new Church of England. From the reign of Queen Mary, when Catholicism was briefly restored, Tallis wrote a number of Latin hymns and a large seven voice Mass Puer Nobis; under Queen Elizabeth Tallis set music to both Latin and English words. William Byrd, the chapel organist and composer, was a pupil of Tallis.
Byrd's first known professional employment was as organist and choirmaster of Lincoln Cathedral, a post which he held from 1563 until 1572. At this time Byrd obtained the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. This career move vastly increased Byrd's opportunities to widen his scope as a composer and also to make contacts at Court. Byrd's works include English polyphonic songs, keyboard pieces and liturgical music; undoubtedly his best vocal compositions are his Latin Masses and motets.
In 1575, Queen Elizabeth granted to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd a 21-year monopoly for polyphonic music and a patent to print and publish music, which was one of the first arrangements of that type in the country. Tallis' monopoly covered 'set songe or songes in parts', and he composed in English, Latin, French, Italian, or other tongues as long as they served for music in the Church or chamber. Tallis had exclusive rights to print any music, in any language. He and William Byrd were the only ones allowed to use the paper that was used in printing music. Tallis and Bryd took advantage of the patent to produce a grandiose joint publication under the title Cantiones que ab argumento sacrae vocantur consisting of 34 Latin motets dedicated to the Queen herself.
When his teacher and colleague Thomas Tallis died in 1585, Bryd wrote 'Tallis is dead and music dies' --a lament which captures the esteem and veneration in which Tallis was held by his fellow composers and musical colleagues in the 16th century and, indeed, by the four monarchs he served at the Chapel Royal.