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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 very consistent character in all that was base and profligate. His merRICHARD Rich was descended from a commercial family cantile that had flourished in the city of London from the time of Henry VI., - the founder having acquired great opulence as mercer, and served the office of Sheriff of London and Middlesex in the year 1441. His 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 plain London merchant, 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 Birth. 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 Early pro
Aigacy. 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
CHAP. his life; and, instead of attending readings and mootings, 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” of 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 Profes- or veracity. By evil arts, he rose into considerable practice; sional pro- 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. His in
We have seen how he laid a trap to betray Bishop Fisher famous con
and Sir Thomas More under the guise of friendship; and
how he disgraced himself at the trial of the former by disBishop Fisher and closing what had been communicated to him in private conSir Thomas fidence*; 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.f
duct on trials of
* Ante, Vol. I. p. 598.
t i St. Tr. 585.
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 no Office of doubt that this was well understood between him and his Chirogra
pher conemployers, and, in 1535, he was rewarded with the wealthy ferred upon sinecure of Chirographer of the Common Pleas.
In 1537, an insult was put upon the House of Commons, Elected which shows most strikingly the degraded state to which par- Speaker of liament was reduced in the reign of Henry VIII. On the of Comrecommendation 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 grant of all their possessions to the King.
These were now put under the management of a royal Made commission, and Rich was placed at the head of it, with the Chancellor title of “ Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations." His Augmentafirst 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 by his sons.
He gave himself no trouble about the religious controver- His relisies which were going forward, and, except that he became gious indi the owner of such a large portion of church property, 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 Paymaster Great Seal on the death of Audley, though greatly comforted by the increased means he enjoyed of amassing wealth. He had been a spendthrift in his youth, but cupidity grew with his riches, and he was become saving and penurious.
of Court of
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 Commissioners who negotiated the peace
between France and England. Assists in He was now in high personal favour with Henry, conformpersecution of Lu
ing himself to all his caprices, and assisting at the Council therans and board in examining and committing Lutherans for a violation
of the Six Articles, and Roman Catholics for 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 dispute between
his reach, if it could be made to fall from the hand which Wriothes
held it, and he did his utmost to widen the breach between ley and
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 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. His disap- When the Great Seal had actually been wrested from the pointment.
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 CHAP. 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 Appointed 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 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.f 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 His conas dexterity in discharging the duties of his office, and in duct as a
Judge. 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 15514, when a
• Cl. R. 1 Ed. 6.
† 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 prcus Ricus Dns. Riche curam et custodiam ejusdem Magni Sigilli ac officium Cancellarii Anglie super se assumens Sigillum illud penes se retinuit et retinet in presenti."