The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is a primary source of keyboard music from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods in England, i.e. the late Renaissance and very early Baroque. It takes its name from Viscount Fitzwilliam who bequeathed this manuscript collection to Cambridge University in 1816, where it remains to this day in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Once called Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, a title that has been abandoned because it has been determined that she never owned it, the manuscript was given no title by its author. It is believed to be the manuscript collection of an amateur keyboard player of the very early 17th century named Francis Tregian the Younger, who copied the entire collection while imprisoned between 1609 and 1619 in connection with his Catholic sympathies (although his authorship is now disputed ). There is no authorship attribution in the book itself. Until Parthenia was printed in about 1612, there was no music published as such in England at this time, and like the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, most of the collections of keyboard music were compiled by performers: other examples include Will Forster's Virginal Book; Clement Matchett's Virginal Book; [William] Tisdale's Virginal Book.
It includes music dating from approximately 1562 to 1612 by John Bull, Giles Farnaby (51 of whose 52 known pieces are included), William Byrd, Peter Philips and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, as well as many others; there are more than 300 separate pieces. As with many keyboard manuscripts of the time, the pieces were not written for a specific instrument (at least, none is mentioned), and most sound happily on all contemporary keyboard instruments, from the virginals through to chamber organs. Most of the pieces in the book are short, and many of them are character pieces with droll and memorable titles, including: "Put up thy Dagger, Jemy," "The New Sa-Hoo," and "Quodlings Delight," by Giles Farnaby; "Nobody's Gigge," by Richard Farnaby; "Pakington's Pownde" and "The Irishe Dumpe" (anonymous); "The Ghost" and "The Earle of Oxford's Marche," by William Byrd; "Worster Braules" by Thomas Tomkins, and the famous "Lachrymae Pavan" by John Dowland, as arranged by Giles Farnaby.
The book was not published at the time of its writing, instead remaining a manuscript in private hands. In 1899, Breitkopf & Härtel published a newly engraved edition with critical commentary. Since copyright on this edition has now lapsed, it has been reprinted by Dover Publications and other publishers specializing in reprinting of out-of-copyright editions, and is available inexpensively.