(b Maidstone, 1592; d Kimberley, Norfolk, 27 Oct 1678). English composer, supreme in consort music, especially for viols.
According to Anthony Wood, Jenkins was born at Maidstone, and the year of his birth has been deduced from lines on his tomb. He was probably the son of Henry Jenkins, a carpenter who married Anne Jordaine on 28 June 1591. The inventory taken at Henry’s death in 1617/18 noted ‘Seven Vialls & Violyns, One Bandora & a Cytherne’. John was bequeathed the bandora – a significant choice in the light of his later fame as a lutenist and lyra viol player. It is likely that he became apprenticed as a musician in the household of Anne Russell, Lady Warwick, at Northaw, Hertfordshire, and Broadstreet, London: her niece, Lady Anne Clifford, noted in her diary in 1603 that she ‘learned to sing and play on the bass viol of Jack Jenkins, my aunt's boy’, and a ‘John’ Jenkins received a £10 annuity in Anne Russell's will on 11 October 1603. Among Jenkins’s patrons were the Derham family of West Derham [Dereham], Norfolk, and the L’Estrange family at Hunstanton. The two families were friends and Jenkins probably moved freely between them as the occasion required; he was apparently never officially attached to any household, for his pupil Roger North wrote: ‘I never heard that he articled with any gentleman where he resided, but accepted what they gave him’. Jenkins was in London in February 1633/4, participating in the extravagant masque The Triumph of Peace, and once was brought to play the lyra viol before King Charles I ‘as one that performed somewhat extraordinary’ (North).
During the Commonwealth North noted that Jenkins ‘past his time at gentlemen’s houses in the country’. References link his name with the poets Edward Benlowes and Thomas Shadwell, with Elizabeth Burwell of Roughamer, Suffolk, and with the youthful Joseph Procter mentioned by Wood. From about 1654 he was visiting the North family at Kirtling, Cambridgeshire, residing there between 1660 and 1668 as teacher to Roger and Montagu. Roger North’s writings provide an endearing character study of the composer and many reminiscences concerning his stay at Kirtling. In 1660, at the Restoration, Jenkins was appointed as a theorbo player in the Private Musick, but although he spent some time at court between 1660 and 1663, it is unlikely that he attended often. North wrote:
He kept his places at Court, as I understood to the time of his death; and tho’ he for many years was uncapable to attend, the court musitians had so much value for him, that advantage was not taken, but he received his salary as they were payd.
His last years were spent at the home of Sir Philip Wodehouse at Kimberley, Norfolk, where he died. He was buried in the church there on 29 October 1678.
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