CHURCHYARD, THOMAS (c. 1520-1604), English author, was born at Shrewsbury about 1520, the son of a farmer. He received a good education, and, having speedily dissipated at court the money with which his father provided him, he entered the household of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. There he remained for four years, learning something of the art of poetry from his patron; some of the poems he contributed later (1557) to Songes and Sonettes may well date from this early period. In 1541 he began his career as a soldier of fortune, being, he said, "pressed into the service." He fought his way through nearly every campaign in Scotland and the Low Countries for thirty years. He served under the emperor Charles V. in Flanders in 1542, returning to England after the peace of Crépy (1544). In the Scottish campaign of 1547 he was present at the barren victory of Pinkie, and in the next year was taken prisoner at Saint Monance, but aided by his persuasive tongue he escaped to the English garrison at Lauder, where he was once more besieged, only returning to England on the conclusion of peace in 1550. A broadside entitled Davy Dycars Dreame, a short and seemingly alliterative poem in the manner of Piers Plowman, brought him into trouble with the privy council, but he was dismissed with a reprimand. This tract was the starting-point of a controversy between Churchyard and a certain Thomas Camel. The whole of the "flyting" was reprinted in 1560 as The Contention betwixte Churchyard and Camell.
In 1550 he went to Ireland to serve the lord deputy, Sir Anthony St Leger, who had been sent to pacify the country. Here Churchyard enriched himself at the expense, it is to be feared, of the unhappy Irish; but in 1552 he was in England again, trying vainly to secure a fortune by marriage with a rich widow. After this failure he departed once more to the wars to the siege of Metz (1552), and "trailed a pike" in the emperor's army, until he joined the forces under William, Lord Grey of Wilton, with whom he says he served eight years. Grey was in charge of the fortress of Gaines, which was besieged by the duke of Guise in 1558. Churchyard arranged the terms of surrender, and was sent with his chief to Paris as a prisoner. He was not released at the peace of Cateau Cambrésis for lack of money to pay his ransom, but he was finally set free on giving his bond for the amount, an engagement which he repudiated as soon as he was safely in England. He is not to be identified with the T.C. who wrote for the Mirror for Magistrates (ed. 1559), "How the Lord Mowbray ... was banished ... and after died miserablie in exile," which is the work of Thomas Chaloner, but "Shore's Wife," his most popular poem, appeared in the 1563 edition of the same work, and to that of 1587 he contributed the "Tragedie of Thomas Wolsey." These are plain manly compositions in the seven-lined Chaucerian stanza. Repeated petitions to the queen for assistance produced at first fair words, and then no answer at all. He therefore returned to active service under Lord Grey, who was in command of an English army sent (1560) to help the Scottish rebels, and in 1564 he served in Ireland under Sir Henry Sidney. The religious disturbances in the Netherlands attracted him to Antwerp, where as the agent of William of Orange he allowed the insurgents to place him at their head, and was able to save much property from destruction. This action made him so hated by the mob that he had to fly for his life in the disguise of a priest. In the next year he was sent by the earl of Oxford to serve definitely under the prince of Orange. After a year's service he obtained leave to return to England, and after many adventures and narrow escapes in a journey through hostile territory he embarked for Guernsey, and thence for England. His patron, Lord Oxford, disowned him, and the poet, whose health was failing, retired to Bath. He appears to have made a very unhappy marriage at this time, and returned to the Low Countries. Falling into the hands of the Spaniards he was recognized as having had a hand in the Antwerp disturbance, and was under sentence to be executed as a spy when he was saved by the intervention of a noble lady. This experience did not deter him from joining in the defence of Zutphen in 1572, but this was his last campaign, and the troubles of the remaining years of his life were chiefly domestic.
Churchyard was employed to devise a pageant for the queen's reception at Bristol in 1574, and again at Norwich in 1578. He had published in 1575 The firste parte of Churchyarde's Chippes, the modest title which he gives to his works. No second part appeared, but there was a much enlarged edition in 1578. A passage in Churchyarde's Choise (1579) gave offence to Elizabeth, and the author fled to Scotland, where he remained for three years. He was only restored to favour about 1584, and in 1593 he received a small pension from the queen. The affectionate esteem with which he was regarded by the younger Elizabethan writers is expressed by Thomas Nashe, who says (Foure Letters Confuted) that Churchyard's aged muse might well be "grandmother to our grandiloquentest poets at this present." Francis Meres (Palladis Tamia, 1598) mentions him in conjunction with many great names among "the most passionate, among us, to bewail and bemoan the perplexities of love." Spenser, in "Colin Clout's come home again," calls him with a spice of raillery "old Palaemon" who "sung so long until quite hoarse he grew." His writings, with the exception of his contributions to the Mirror for Magistrates, are chiefly autobiographical in character or deal with the wars in which he had a share. They are very rare, and have never been completely reprinted. Churchyard lived right through Elizabeth's reign, and was buried in St Margaret's church, Westminster, on the 4th of April 1604.
The extant works of Churchyard, exclusive of commendatory and occasional verses, include: - A lamentable and pitifull Description of the wofull warres in Flanders (1578); A general rehearsall of warres, called Churchyard's Choise (1579), really a completion of the Chippes, and containing, like it, a number of detached pieces; A light Bondel of livelie Discourses, called Churchyardes Charge (1580); The Worthines of Wales (1587), a valuable antiquarian work in prose and verse, anticipating Michael Drayton; Churchyard's Challenge (1593); A Musicall Consort of Heavenly harmonie ... called Churchyards Charitie (1595); A True Discourse Historicall, of the succeeding Governors in the Netherlands (1602).
The chief authority for Churchyard's biography is his own "Tragicall Discourse of the unhappy man's life" (Churchyardes Chippes). George Chalmers published (1817) a selection from his works relating to Scotland, for which he wrote a useful life. See also an edition of the Chippes (ed. J.P. Collier, 1870), of the Worthines of Wales (Spenser Soc. 1876), and a notice of Churchyard by H.W. Adnitt (Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Nat. Hist. Soc., reprinted separately 1884).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)