« VorigeDoorgaan »
all Englishmen, and will be found honoured and revered to the latest generations.*
The Marquess of Winchester married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Capel, Lord Mayor of London, and by her had four sons and four daughters, who were all married, and left a numerous progeny. His descendants distinguished themselves highly in the civil and military service of their country. The sixth Marquess was, in the reign of William and Mary, created Duke of Bolton. After a succession of six Dukes, this title became extinct in 1794, by the death of Henry Duke of Bolton without male issue; but the Marquisate was inherited by the father of the present gallant representative of this illustrious house, who, lineally descended through males from the Lord Keeper, is the premier Marquess in the peerage of England.†
[OCT. 23, 1547.]
LIFE OF LORD CHANCELLOR RICH.
We now come to a Chancellor of whose infamy we have already had several glimpses, and who was through life a very consistent character in all that was base and profligate. RICHARD RICH was descended from a commercial family that had flourished in the city of London from the time of Henry VI., the founder having acquired great opulence as a mercer, and served the office of Sheriff of London and Middlesex in the year 1441. This worthy citizen's epitaph, in the church of St. Lawrence Poultney, shows more piety than poetry :
Respice quod opus est præsentis temporis ævum
Omne quod est nihil est præter amare Deum."
His son followed his trade,, and was well esteemed as a sub
* Sir James Mackintosh, when speaking of "the versatile politicians who had the art and fortune to slide unhurt through all the shocks of forty years of a revolutionary age," says, "the Marquess of Winchester, who had served Henry VII., and retained office under every intermediate government till he died in his 97th year, with the staff of Lord Treasurer in his hands, is perhaps the most remarkable specimen of this species preserved in history."1 But more scandal was excited in his own time by William Herbert, whom Hen. VIII. created Earl of Pembroke. Having followed all the fantasies of that monarch, and obtained from him the dissolved monastery of Wilton, he was a keen Protestant under Edward VI., and one of the first to acknowledge and to desert Queen Jane. Mary having restored Wilton to the nuns, he is said to have received them " cap in hand;" but when they were suppressed by Elizabeth, he drove them out of the monastery with his horsewhip, bestowing upon them an appellation which implied their constant breach of the vow they had taken,
† See Grandeur of Law, p. 15.
1 Mackintosh's History of England, vol. iii. p. 155.
stantial tradesman, not wishing for more dignity than to be elected deputy of his ward. The grandson, however, who is the subject of this memoir, early displayed an aspiring genius, and a determination to have all the pleasures of life without patient industry, or being very scrupulous about the means employed by him to gain his objects.
He was born in the city of London, in a house near that occupied by Sir John More, Judge of the Court of King's Bench, and he and young Thomas More were intimate, till, on account of his dissipated habits, all who had any regard to character were obliged to throw him off. While yet a youth, he was "esteemed very light of his tongue, a great dicer and gamester, and not of any commendable fame."*
He does not seem ever to have been at any University; but his father, finding there was no chance of his applying to the business of the counting-house, agreed to his request, that he might be bred to the bar, and entered him of the Middle Temple. For some time there was no amendment of his life; and, instead of attending "readings" and 'moots," he was to be found in the ordinaries, gaming-houses, and other haunts of profligacy in White Friars, which had not yet acquired the name of " Alsatia," though infamous for all sorts of irregularities.
Nevertheless, he had occasional fits of application; and being of quick and lively parts, he laid in a pretty stock of legal learning, which, turned to the best account, enabled him to talk plausibly on black letter points in the presence of attorneys, and to triumph at times over those who had given their days and nights to Bracton, Glanville, and the Year Books. In the 21st of Henry VIII., he was appointed " Autumn Reader" in his house, and acquitted himself with applause. He was still in bad odour with his contemporaries; for besides his dissolute habits, no reliance could be placed on his honour or veracity. By evil arts, he rose into considerable practice; and while Sir Thomas More was Chancellor, recommending himself to the Duke of Norfolk, and the party who were hurrying on a breach with Rome, he was, in 1532, appointed for life Attorney General of Wales. The Great Seal being transferred to Audley, Rich was taken regularly into the service of the Crown, and was ever ready to assist in imposing the new-fangled oaths, or examining state prisoners before trial, or doing any dirty work by which he might recommend himself to promotion. So successful was he, that in 1533 he was appointed Solicitor General to the King, and the most dazzling objects of ambition seemed within his reach.
We have seen how he laid a trap to betray Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More under the guise of friendship;-how he disgraced himself at the trial of the former by disclosing what had been
* Speech of Sir Thomas More on his trial.-More, 265.
communicated to him in private confidence*;-and how he perjured himself on the trial of the latter by inventing expressions which had never been used, when mere breach of confidence, and his skill as a counsel, could not obtain the required capital conviction.t
I know not whether, like Lord Chancellor Audley, he ever openly urged "the infamy he had incurred in the service of the government" as a claim to favour; but there can be [A. D. 1535.] uo doubt that this was well understood between him and his employers, and, in 1535, he was rewarded with the wealthy sinecure of Chirographer of the Common Pleas.
In 1537, an insult was put upon the House of Commons, which shows most strikingly the degraded state to which parliament was reduced in the reign of Henry VIII. On the recommendation of the Court, Rich, whose bad character was notorious, and who was hardly free from any vice except hypocrisy, was elected Speaker. We have seen how he repaid this promotion by comparing the King, on the first day of the session, for prudence to Solomon, for strength to Samson, and for beauty to Absalom: and, on the last, "to the sun, that warms, enlightens, and invigorates the universe."
While Speaker, he rendered most effectual service in reconciling the Commons to the suppression of the greater monasteries, and the surrender of all their possessions to the King.
These were now put under the management of a royal commission, and Rich was placed at the head of it, with the title of Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations." His first care was to augment his own fortune; and he got a grant of the dissolved Priory of Lighes, in Essex, and of other abbey lands, of immense value, which were found a sufficient endowment for two Earldoms, enjoyed simultaneously by his sons.
He gave himself no trouble about the religious controversies which were going forward, and, except that he became the owner of such a large portion of church properity, it could not have been suspected that he was a friend of the new doctrines more than of the old.
He felt some disappointment at not succeeding to the Great Seal on the death of Audley, though greatly comforted by the increased means he enjoyed of amassing [A. D. 1544.] wealth. He had been a spendthrift in his youth, but cupidity grew with his riches, and he was become saving and penurious. In 1544 he was made Treasurer of the King's wars in France and in Scotland, an office by virtue of which the whole of the expenditure for the pay and provisioning of the army passed through his hands, and which afforded ample scope for his propensity to accumulate. Soon after the capture of Boulogne, he was one of the † 1 St. Tr. 385. Ante, Vol. I. pp. 489. 491.
* Ante, Vol. I. p. 483.
Commissioners who negotiated the peace between France and England.
He was now in high personal favour with Henry, conforming himself to all his caprices, and assisting at the Council board in examining and committing Lutherans for a violation of the Six Articles, and Roman Catholics of hesitating to acknowledge the King's spiritual supremacy. When the King's will was made, he was appointed one of the sixteen Executors who were to carry on the government during the minority of Edward, —both parties being suspicious of him, but each party expecting from his professions to gain him.
On the demise of the Crown the Great Seal seemed within his reach, if it could be made to fall from the hand which [A. D. 1547.] held it, and he did his utmost to widen the breach between the Chancellor and the Protector. He was supposed to suggest the expedient of bringing the charge against Wriothesley of issuing the illegal commission to hear causes in Chancery, and to refer to the Judges the question of its validity, and the nature and punishment of the offence of fabricating it. He had been included in the great batch of Peers, along with most of the Executors, — who ennobled themselves, or took a step in the Peerage, under pretence that these honours were intended for them by the late King. Most of the Commoners now promoted took new and high sounding titles; and it might have been expected that the witness against Fisher and More would have become "Lord of Lighes;" but whether he was afraid that some scurvy jests might have been passed upon this title as personal rather than territorial, he preferred to be "Lord Rich," - and by this title he was made an English Baron.
When the Great Seal had actually been wrested from the fallen Wriothesley, the new Lord thought that, as a matter of course, it must at once be handed over to him, and he was exceedingly indignant to find it intrusted to Paulet, who was no lawyer, and who had never done, and was never likely to do, any very signal service to the Crown. He made no open remonstrance, even when the ceremony of the delivery of the Great Seal to Paulet as Lord Keeper was from time to time repeated, but he privately complained of the appointment, and procured others to complain of it as insulting to the profession and detrimental to the public. Paulet's real insufficiency gave effect to these intrigues. The Protector doubted some time whether such an unscrupulous intriguer would be more dangerous to him as an opponent or as a colleague. Timid councils, or a love of present ease, prevailed, and, on the 23d of October, 1547, Richard Lord Rich was appointed Lord Chancellor of England.*
The ceremony of delivering the Great Seal to him took place at Hampton Court, in the presence of the infant King, in whose
* Cl. R. 1 Ed. 6.
name the Lord Protector declared "the royal pleasure that the new Chancellor should hold the office, with all powers and profits that had ever belonged to any of his predecessors." I do not find any account of his swearing in or installation in Westminster Hall, The old Duke of Norfolk, who had so often presided at such ceremonies, could not have been present, for although he survived, by the seasonable death of King Henry VIII. a few hours before the time appointed for his execution, he was still kept a prisoner in the Tower, from the apprehensions of both parties, and his attainder was not reversed till the following reign.
Lord Chancellor Rich displayed considerable ability as well as dexterity in discharging the duties of his office, and in combating the difficulties he had to encounter in the conflicts of contending factions. He presided himself in the Court of Chancery, and despatched the whole of the business without assistance till the end of the year 1551†, when a commission was issued to Beaumont, the Master of the Rolls, and others, to hear causes in his absence. Although he had retired from the bar a good many years, he had kept up his professional knowledge by attending the mootings in the Middle Temple, by associating with the Masters of the Bench of that learned Society, and by acting as Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, where he had, from time to time, to hear and decide various legal questions. With discretion to conceal ignorance, a little law goes a great way on the bench, and the new Chancellor, who was pronounced "a great Judge" by the dependents and expectants who surrounded him, and beleived to be a tolerably good one" by the public in general. In a few terms he nearly cleared off the arrears which he found in the Court; but he afterwards became more remiss, and complaints arose of his delays, notwithstanding his liberal compliance with the usage beginning to gain ground of referring matters of difficulty to the Masters, who were often very expert officers, and although still generally churchmen, were well acquainted with the civil law, and much more familiar with the practice of the Court than "the Keeper of the Royal Conscience." During the last year he held the Great Seal, he seems to have found sitting in Court so irksome, or he was so much absorbed by political intrigue, that he left the hearing of causes chiefly to the Master of the Rolls and the other Commissioners, whom he appointed to supply his place.‡ But during the whole time of his continuance in office we are to re
The entry in the Close Roll concludes with merely stating that having joyfully received the seal, and extracted it from the bag, he sealed a commission Sicque preus Ricus Dns .Riche curam et custodiam ejusdem Magni Sigilli ac officium Câncellarii Anglie super se assumens Sigillum illud penes se retinuit et retinet in presenti,
† Nov, 26, 1551.
There having been a King's warrant for putting the great Seal to this commission, it was free from the objection for which Lord Chancellor Wriothesley was deprived of the Great Seal.