Robert Johnson (c. 1583 – 1633) was an English composer and lutenist of the late Tudor and early Jacobean eras. He is sometimes called “Robert Johnson II” to distinguish him from an earlier Scottish composer. Johnson worked with William Shakespeare providing music for some of his later plays.
Robert Johnson was the son of John Johnson, who was lutenist to Elizabeth I. In 1594 Robert’s father died, and in 1596 he joined the household of George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon as an apprentice. Robert is assumed to have been around 13 at the time, as this was a typical age to begin an apprenticeship, but his date of birth is not known. Carey and his wife Elizabeth Spencer were patrons of the lutenist and composer John Dowland, who dedicated various compositions to them. The family had a London house (Hunsdon House, Blackfriars) and a country home (Hunsdon House, Hunsdon, Hertfordshire), which partially survives.
Johnson joined the Carey household at an interesting time in their patronage of the arts. In 1597 Dowland dedicated his First book of songs and ayres to George Carey. As well as supporting musicians, Carey was patron of a theatre company to which William Shakespeare belonged. In 1596/7 the company was briefly known as “Baron Hunsdon’s Men”, but is better known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the name they used after Carey became Lord Chamberlain in 1597), or their subsequent name, the King’s Men. It is not known whether Johnson worked with this theatre company on any of their productions in the 1590s, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor. However, he certainly provided music for the King’s Men in a later stage of his career.