William Byrd was a recusant Catholic, which means that he refused to attend the official Church of England services. For most people, that alone would have warranted fines. His association with the Paget family, who were involved in the Throckmorton Plot, would have merited torture and death.
But Byrd was like teflon. Nothing got to him. Maybe it was because he was a genius. Maybe it was because he made his loyalties to the Queen clear by dedicating so much work to her. Maybe he was just lucky. Either way, he pulled some serious pro-Catholic stunts. Like this one:
In 1581 Edmund Campion was killed. He was a Jesuit priest who came to England to convert people to Catholicism. He was martyred at Tyburn. One of the spectators was Henry Walpole, wrote a poem about Campion. Walpole would later go on to become a priest, and was himself martyred.
A publisher tried to print the poem. That publisher was tortured and killed.
A few years later, William Byrd was looking for some poetry to set to music, and landed on this poem. Because of course, that seems like a really appropriate thing to do.
The most offensive lines were left out of the official version, but certainly they could have been sung by those who knew them. Like other recusant Catholics in the safety of their homes.
Byrd was never punished for this. Because like I said, he was teflon. Scroll down to listen to a recording from YouTube of the song, Why do I use my Paper, Ink, and Pen.
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
And call my wits to counsel what to say?
Such memories were made for mortal men;
I speak of Saints whose names cannot decay.
An Angel’s trump were fitter for to sound
Their glorious death if such on earth were found.
That store of such were once on earth pursued,
The histories of ancient times record,
Whose constancy great tyrants’ rage subdued
Through patient death, professing Christ the Lord:
As his Apostles perfect witness bare,
With many more that blessed Martyrs were.
Whose patience rare and most courageous mind,
With fame renowned perpetual shall endure,
By whose examples we may rightly find,
Of holy life and death a pattern pure.
That we therefore their virtues may embrase
Pray we to Christ to guide us with his grace.
My soveraigne Liege behold your subiects end,
your secret foes do misinforme your grace:
who in your cause their holy lives would spend
as traytors dye, a rare and monstrous case,
the bloudy wolfe, condemnes the harmles shepe
before the dog, y whiles the shepherds slepe.
England looke up, thy soyle is stained with blood,
thou hast made martirs many of thine owne,
if thou hast grace their deaths will do thee good,
the seede wil take which in such blood is sowne,
and Campions lerning fertile so before,
thus watered too, must nedes of force be more.
You thought perhaps when lerned Campion dyes,
his pen must cease, his sugred tong be still,
but you forgot how lowde his death it cryes,
how farre beyounde the sound of tongue and quil,
you did not know how rare and great a good
it was to write his precious giftes in blood.