Master of the Queen's Music

Master of the Queen's Music

Master of the Queen's Music (or Master of the King's Music) is a post in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. The holder of the post originally served the monarch of England.

The post is roughly comparable to that of Poet Laureate. It is given to people eminent in the field of classical music; they have almost always been composers (George Frederick Anderson was one exception; he was a violinist who is not known to have ever composed any music). Duties are not clearly stated, though it is generally expected the holder of the post will write music to commemorate important royal events, such as coronations, birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and deaths, and to accompany other ceremonial occasions. The individual may also act as the Sovereign’s adviser in musical matters.


The King's Musick

As early as the fourteenth century, minstrels known as the ‘King's Minstrels’ or the ‘King's Musick’ received royal patronage. They wore the livery of the King and exercised some control of other musicians. During the reign of Henry VI, a Royal Commission regulated encroachments from other musicians on their preserves, and in 1469 Edward VI granted them a Guild charter. The charter stated that "no Minstrel of our Kingdom ... shall henceforth in any way practise or publicly exercise the art or occupation within our Kingdom aforesaid, unless he belong to the said Brotherhood or Guild". This led to legal difficulties between the Westminster Minstrels and the City Company, chartered by London in 1604 to perform in the city and three miles outside it. The King's Minstrels requested and received a charter from the king in 1635 to "have the survey, scrutinie, correction and government of all and singular the musicians within the kingdome of England".

The first Masters of the King's Musick

The first appointed Master of the King's Musick would be the only one to seriously attempt to rule all of the musicians in the kingdom as a guild. This was Nicholas Lanier for whom the title was created in 1626 by Charles I of England as Master of the King's Musick (the k after Music was dropped during Edward Elgar's appointment). At that time the holder of the post took charge of the monarch's private band, a responsibility which continued until the band was dissolved in 1901.

The Master received an emolument. At the time of George III it was £200 a year for leading the band and composing birthday odes. If minuets were composed for court dances, an additional £100 was added. Additional payments were made for any music copying done for the court.

Two of the early Masters, Louis Grabu and Nicholas Staggins, were more courtiers than musicians, and composers such as Henry Purcell were called on for the music such as Purcell's 'Welcome Song to His Majesty at His Return from Newmarket' (1682). During the reign of composer John Eccles as Master of the King's Musick, George Frideric Handel supplied the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713).

Appointments of Edward Elgar and Walford Davies

In 1924 with the appointment of Edward Elgar, often considered the greatest British composer of his generation, the position became akin to that of Music Laureate. The title might now be given to composers or academics of proved attainment, signifying an endorsement of national achievements. Most of Elgar's "royal music" was behind him by then – the Imperial March (1897), the first four Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901–1907) and the Coronation Ode (1901). The Pageant of Empire was performed a few weeks after he was appointed Master, although composed before the appointment. He did compose the fifth Pomp and Circumstance March (1930) and the Nursery Suite in 1931 dedicated to "their Royal Highnesses Princess Elizabeth and Margaret Rose". Elgar used his appointment to track down the original instruments in Edward VII's band and to ensure the music library was well ordered. When Elgar was made an Honorary Life Member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 1931 (descendants of the City Company of London), this healed the ancient feud between the London and Westminster musicians.

Elgar's successor, Sir Walford Davies, a popular broadcaster, was the first Master of the King's Music to be well known to the public by this title.

Current appointment

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was appointed in March 2004 for a ten-year period, unlike previous appointments, which were for life.


The longest-serving Master of the King's Music was John Eccles, who served for 35 years, from 1700 until his death in 1735. He is also the only one to have served four monarchs (King William III, Queen Anne, King George I and King George II).

Three monarchs have had four different Masters during their reign: King George III, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II (currently reigning, and the incumbent, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is due to leave the post in 2014).

The monarchs who had the same Master of the King's Music throughout their reign were: King Charles I (Nicholas Lanier), King James II (Nicholas Staggins), Queen Anne and King George I (John Eccles), King Edward VII (Sir Walter Parratt) and King Edward VIII (Sir Walford Davies).

Holders of the post

Name Year appointed Year of death Comments Monarch served Monarch's
Nicholas Lanier 1625 * * The post was abolished in 1649 when the monarchy was overthrown, and reinstituted in 1660. ([1]) Charles I King/Queen of
1660 1666 Charles II (d. 1685)
Louis Grabu 1666 (after 1693) Grabu seems to have fallen foul of the Test Act, passed in spring 1673 and enforced on 18 November, which banned all Catholics from court.[citation needed]
Nicholas Staggins 1674 Staggins died on 13 June 1700.[1]
1685 James II (Glorious Revolution 1688)
1688 1700 William III and Mary II (joint monarchs; Mary d. 1694; William d. 1702)
John Eccles 1700 The longest-serving Master of the King's Musick (35 years) and the only one who served 4 monarchs.
1702 Anne (d. 1714)
- King/Queen of
Great Britain

(from 1707)
1714 George I (d. 1727)
1727 1735 George II (d. 1760)
Maurice Greene 1735 1755
William Boyce 1755
1760 1779 George III (d. 1820)
John Stanley 1779 1786
(Sir) William Parsons 1786
- 1817 King/Queen of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland

(from 1801)
William Shield 1817
1820 1829 George IV (d. 1830)
Christian Kramer 1829
1830 1834 William IV (d. 1837)
Franz Cramer 1834 No relation to his predecessor.
1837 1848 Queen Victoria (d. 1901)
George Frederick Anderson 1848 (1876) Anderson left the post in 1870.
(Sir) William Cusins 1870 1893 Knighted 1892; the only Master of the Queen's Musick to be knighted during his term of office.
Sir Walter Parratt 1893 [2]
1901 Edward VII (d. 1910)
1910 George V (d. 1936)
- 1924 King/Queen of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland

(from 1922)
Sir Edward Elgar 1924 1934 The title of the office was changed from Master of the King's Musick to Master of the King's Music during Elgar's tenure.
Sir Walford Davies 1934
Edward VIII
(abd. Dec 1936)
1941 George VI (d. 1952)
Sir Arnold Bax 1942
1952 1953 Elizabeth II
Sir Arthur Bliss 1953 1975
Malcolm Williamson 1975 2003
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 2004 incumbent Davies was appointed for a ten-year period, the first not to be appointed for life. He is due to leave the post in 2014.


  • Cudworth, Charles. “Masters of the Musick” The Musical Times, Vol. 107, No. 1482 (Aug., 1966), pp. 676–677.
  • Duck, Leonard. “Masters of the Sovereign's Music” The Musical Times, Vol. 94, No. 1324 (Jun., 1953), pp. 255–258.
  • Roper, E. Stanley. "Music at the English Chapels Royal c. 1135, Present Day" Proceedings of the Musical Association, 54th Sess., (1927–1928), pp. 19–33.

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