The story of our family...for my sons



Monday, September 26, 2011

Sir Richard Rich, Baron of Leighs


Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich (1496/7 - June 12, 1567), was Lord Chancellor during the reign of King Edward VI of England. He was the founder of Felsted School in Essex in 1564. Many people will know of him from the play and film A Man for All Seasons, although there is some dispute about whether this was entirely fair in its treatment of Richard. In the film he was played by John Hurt.

Thomas More told Rich at the time of More's trial that he was reputed light of his tongue, a great dicer and gamester, and not of any commendable fame; but he was a commissioner of the peace in Hertfordshire in 1528, and in the next autumn became reader at the Middle Temple.

He may have studied at Cambridge before 1516. In 1516 he entered the Middle Temple as a lawyer and at some point between 1520 and 1525 he was a reader at the New Inn. By 1528 we know that Rich was in search of a patron and wrote to Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529, Thomas Audley succeeded in helping him get elected as an MP. As Audley's career advanced in the early 1530s so did Rich's through a variety of legal posts, before he became truly prominent in the mid-1530s.

Other preferments followed, and in 1533 he was knighted and became solicitor-general, in which capacity he was to act under Thomas Cromwell as a "lesser hammer" for the demolition of the monasteries, and to secure the operation of Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy. He had an odious share in the trials of More and Bishop John Fisher. In both cases his evidence against the prisoner included admissions made in friendly conversation, and in More's case the words were given a misconstruction that could hardly be other than wilful. More expressed his opinion of the witness in open court with a candour that might well have dismayed Rich. In an irony, Rich would also play a major part in the fall of Cromwell, whom he despised, using similarly dubious methods.

Rich became the first chancellor (April 19, 1536) of the Court of Augmentations established for the disposal of the monastic revenues. His own share of the spoil, acquired either by grant or purchase, included Leez (Leighs) Priory and about a hundred manors in Essex. Rich also acquired -- and destroyed -- the real estate and holdings of the Priory of St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield. He built the Tudor-style gatehouse still surviving in London as the upper portion of the Smithfield Gate. He was Speaker of the House of Commons in the same year, and advocated the king's policy. In spite of the share he had taken in the suppression of the monasteries, and of the part he was to play under Edward VI, his religious convictions remained Roman Catholic. His testimony helped the conviction of Cromwell, and he was a willing agent in the Catholic reaction which followed. Anne Askew stated that the Chancellor Wriothesley and Rich screwed the rack at her torture with their own hands.

No comments:

Post a Comment