Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Worst Briton of the 16th Century Died on June 12, 1567

Richard Rich, lst Baron of Leez (does it rhyme with sleeze?) was given that title by BBC History magazine in 2005. He seems to have been able to change allegiance on a dime; a chameleon on plaid.

He betrayed both Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More, perjuring himself in the latter case. Rich took full advantage of the Dissolution of Monasteries as Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations to acquire great wealth, even though he was a Catholic. The Pilgrimage of Grace linked his name with Thomas Cromwell's in their umbrage against the suppression of the monasteries.

He also betrayed his master, Thomas Cromwell when his fall was near and he assisted in the torture of Anne Askew in the Tower of London. Rich consulted with Bishop Gardiner, whom he would later prosecute, in efforts to discover and punish heresy according to Henry VIII's desires.

Baron Rich served as an executor of Henry VIII's will and then as Chancellor for Edward VI. He aided Lord Somerset in the prosecution of the Protector's brother, Thomas Seymour and then switched sides to aid John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, in the trial and prosecution of Protector Somerset. Rich prosecuted the conservative (Catholic) bishops Gardiner and Bonner, and joined in the harassment of Mary to give up the Catholic Mass and conform to the new Book of Common Prayer.

Again, he switched sides when Northumberland's plot to place his daughter-in-law Jane Dudley (nee Grey) on the throne in 1553 appeared doomed to failure, and then he prosecuted Protestants and heretics during Mary I's reign. He died on June 12, 1567, having again accommodated himself to the religious settlement under Elizabeth I. He did found a school in Felsted, Essex where he is buried most elegantly.

I can find no apologist for Richard Rich; his changes of loyalty are so easy and self-serving, I wonder that anyone trusted him! He at least must have been a competent statesman and administrator, but someone should have figured him out--having him on your side meant nothing, for he would abandon you as soon as he could when trouble appeared.

1 comment:

  1. Great posting. A precursor of Tallyrand and Fouche'. Thanks.