Holborne entered Cambridge University in 1562. He was admitted to the Inner Temple Court in 1565. Holborne married Elisabeth Marten on June 14, 1584. On the title page of both his books he claims to be in the service of Queen Elizabeth. He died of a ‘cold’ in November 1602.
He was held in the highest regard as a composer by contemporaries. John Dowland dedicated the very first song I saw my lady weepe in his Second Booke to Holborne. His patron was the Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney. In the 1590s he entered the service of Sir Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury.
His brother was William Holborne. Six of William’s madrigals were included in the Cittarn Schoole.
His first known book was the Cittarn Schoole of 1597, consisting of compositions for the cittern. The preface indicates the pieces were composed over a number of years. He writes that the musical compositions are “untimely fruits of my youth, begotten in the cradle and infancy of my slender skill.”
The Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs, both grave and light, in five parts, for Viols, Violins, recorders or other Musicall Winde Instruments was published in 1599 and consisted of 65 of his own compositions. It is the largest surviving collection of its kind. Most are of the pavan-galliard combination. Other pieces are of the allemande style. The rest are unclassified.
“The Fairie Round” from this collection was included on the Voyager Golden Record, copies of which were sent into space aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes in 1977, as a representation of human culture and achievement to any who might find it.