Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"But for Wales, Richard, Wales!": Sir Richard Rich Dies

Richard Rich, lst Baron of Leez (does it rhyme with sleeze?) was given the title of Worst Briton of the Sixteenth Century by BBC History magazine in 2005. He seems to have been able to change allegiance on a dime; a chameleon on plaid. More on his life and career here.

He betrayed both Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More, perjuring himself in the latter case (thus the title of the post). 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. As A.F. Pollard notes in the article linked above, "His religious predilections inclined to Catholicism; but he did not allow them to stand in the way of his advancement."

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! Pollard can only say, after noting how horribly he served "the basest ends tyranny and power: "But his ability as a lawyer and man of business is beyond question." He at least was 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. Perhaps it also says a lot about those who worked with him: because of his adeptness at matters of business and law, Thomas Cromwell, Lord Somerset, and the Duke of Northumberlad were all willing use his services. His pattern of betrayal did not matter and he was rewarded richly and buried richly.


  1. And most likely burns in hell most brightly.

  2. Hey...that's my 14th great-grandfather you're talking about.

    1. He's my 14th Great Grandfather as well!

  3. During World War Ii--and at other times no doubt--a number of people who were very much like him emerged, but on a much smaller scale. EVER HEAR THE TERM QUISLING!!!