Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich (1496/97 – 12 June 1567), was Lord Chancellor during the reign of King Edward VI of England from 1547 until January 1552. He was the founder of Felsted School with its associated alms houses in Essex in 1564. He was a beneficiary of suppression of the monasteries, and a persecutor and torturer of those opposed to the officially established Church of England.
|The Right Honourable|
The Lord Rich
|Speaker of the House of Commons|
9 June 1536 – 18 July 1536
|Preceded by||Humphrey Wingfield|
|Succeeded by||Nicholas Hare|
|Preceded by||The Lord St John|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Goodrich|
12 June 1567 (aged 70–71)|
|Occupation||Lord Chancellor of England|
According to some sources, Rich was born in the London parish of St Lawrence Jewry, the second son of Richard Rich by Joan Dingley. But according to Carter, he was born at Basingstoke, Hampshire, the son of John Rich (d. 1509?), of Penton Mewsey, Hampshire, and a wife named Agnes whose surname is unknown. Early in 1551 he was described in an official document as 'fifty-four years of age and more', and was therefore born about 1496 or earlier.
According to Sergeaunt (1889):
Little is known of his early life. 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 for Colchester. 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 a share in the trials of Thomas 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. While on trial, More said that Rich was "always reputed light of his tongue, a great dicer and gamester, and not of any commendable fame." Rich would also play a major part in the fall of Cromwell.
As King's Solicitor, Rich travelled to Kimbolton Castle in January 1536 to take the inventory of the goods of Catherine of Aragon, and wrote to Henry advising how he might properly obtain her possessions.
On 19 April 1536, Rich became the chancellor 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, the prosecution of Thomas More and Bishop Fisher and of the part he was to play under Edward VI and Elizabeth, his religious beliefs remained nominally Roman Catholic.
Rich was also a participant in the torture of Anne Askew, the only woman to be tortured at the Tower of London. Both he and Chancellor Wriothesley turned the wheels of the rack to torture her with their own hands.
Rich was an assistant executor of the will of King Henry VIII, and received a grant of lands. He became Baron Rich of Leez on 26 February 1547. In the next month he succeeded Wriothesley as chancellor. He supported Protector Somerset in his reforms in church matters, in the prosecution of his brother Thomas Seymour, and in the rest of his policy until the crisis of October 1549, when he deserted to Warwick. He resigned his office in January 1552.
Rich took part in the prosecution of bishops Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner, and had a role in the harsh treatment accorded to the future Mary I of England. However, Mary on her accession showed no ill-will to Rich. Lord Rich took an active part in the restoration of the old religion in Essex under the new reign, and was one of the most active of persecutors. His reappearances in the privy council were rare during Mary's reign; but under Elizabeth he served on a commission to inquire into the grants of land made under Mary, and in 1566 was sent for to advise on the question of the queen's marriage. He died at Rochford in Essex, on 12 June 1567, and was buried in Felsted church.
In Mary's reign he had founded a chaplaincy with provision for the singing of masses and dirges, and the ringing of bells in Felsted church. To this was added a Lenten allowance of herrings to the inhabitants of three parishes. These donations were transferred in 1564 to the foundation of Felsted School for instruction, primarily for children born on the founder's manors, in Latin, Greek and divinity. The patronage of the school remained in the family of the founder until 1851.
By his wife Elizabeth Jenks (Gynkes) he had fifteen children. The eldest son Robert (1537?–1581), second Baron Rich, supported the Reformation. One grandson, Richard Rich, was the first husband of Catherine Knyvet: another grandson Robert Rich, third lord (1559-1619) was created First Earl of Warwick in 1618.
Rich had an illegitimate son named Richard (d. 1598) whom he acknowledged fully in his will with legacies and guardians for his minority, for his education in the common law, and for suitable marital arrangements. In this line of descent was his grandson the merchant adventurer Sir Nathaniel Rich, and his great-grandson Nathaniel Rich (nephew of the elder Nathaniel), a colonel in the New Model Army during the English Civil War.
Since the mid-sixteenth century Rich has had a highly negative reputation for immorality, financial dishonesty, double dealing, perjury and treachery that is seldom matched in all of English history. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper dismissed Rich as a man "of whom nobody has ever spoken a good word".
Rich is the supporting villain in the play A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, which shows his slide toward corruption. In the subsequent, Oscar-winning film adaptation, he is played by John Hurt. Bolt depicts Rich as perjuring himself against More in order to become Attorney-General for Wales. More responds, "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?". The final line of the film notes that Rich "died in his bed" as a critical juxtaposition with More's martyrdom.
Rich is a supporting character in the Shardlake series of historical mystery novels by C. J. Sansom, which are set in the reign of Henry VIII. Rich is portrayed as a cruel villain who is prepared to subvert justice in order to enhance his property and position. He has a significant role in the plot of Sovereign, the third of the series and in Heartstone, the fifth.
Rich (spelled Riche in the novel) is a supporting character in Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. In the BBC television adaptation of the two novels, Wolf Hall, Rich is portrayed by Bryan Dick.
Sir Humphrey Wingfield
| Speaker of the House of Commons
Sir Nicholas Hare
The Lord St John
(Keeper of the Great Seal)
| Lord Chancellor
(Keeper of the Great Seal)
|Peerage of England|
| Baron Rich