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The Tudor Society

25 November – A vicious man who saved an archbishop

On this day in Tudor history, 25th November 1545, lawyer, member of Parliament, diplomat and ecclesiastical administrator, Sir Thomas Legh (Leigh), died.

Legh was a faithful servant to King Henry VIII, but his work during the dissolution of the monasteries led to complaints against him and even rebellion.

He was a vicious man, known for his harsh treatment of monks, but he also played a key role in protecting Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1543 when his enemies tried to bring him down.

Let me give you a few facts about this Tudor man, Sir Thomas Legh...

Also on this day in Tudor history, 25th November 1487, Elizabeth of York, queen consort of Henry VII and mother of one-year-old Arthur Tudor, was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Find out more about her coronation, including what Elizabeth wore and who attended, plus a list of some of the interesting dishes served at her coronation banquet which included swan and seal, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1467 – Birth of Thomas Dacre, 2nd Baron of Gilsland, magnate and soldier, in Cumberland. He was the son of Humphrey Dacre, 1st Baron Dacre, and Mabel (née Parr), great-aunt of Queen Catherine Parr. Dacre eloped with Elizabeth Greystoke, 6th Baroness Greystoke, around 1488, and the couple had seven children. Dacre served under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, at the 1513 Battle of Flodden.
  • 1605 – Death of George Withers, Church of England clergyman and Archdeacon of Colchester, at Danbury in Essex, where he was rector. Withers was the author of the 1579 “Certaine godly instructions, verie necessarie to be learned of the younger sorte before they be admitted to be partakers of the holie communion” and the 1585 “An ABC for Laymen, otherwise called the Laymans Letters”. He also compiled “A view of the marginal notes of the popish testament, translated into English by the English fugitive papists at Rhemes in France”, which he dedicated to Archbishop John Whitgift.
  • 1626 – Death of Edward Alleyn, Elizabethan actor, patron, theatre builder and founder of Dulwich College and Alleyn's School. He was buried in the chapel of Dulwich College.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 25th November 1545, lawyer, member of Parliament, diplomat and ecclesiastical administrator, Sir Thomas Legh, died. He was buried at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch.

Legh was a faithful servant to King Henry VIII and also played a key role in protecting Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1543 when his enemies tried to bring him down. But let me give you a few facts about this Tudor man…
• Little is known of Sir Thomas Legh’s background, but his father, John, was a farmer in Calder, Cumbria, and his cousin was Rowland Lee, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.
• Legh was married to Joan Cotton and they had a daughter together, Katherine, who married James Blount, 6th Lord Mountjoy in 1558. Katherine’s son, Legh’s grandson, was Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire.
• Legh was educated at the University of Cambridge, where he studied law, receiving his Bachelor of Law in 1527 and his doctorate in 1531.
• In October 1531, he was admitted to the College of Advocates in the Court of Arches, the ecclesiastical court of appeal, and from December 1532 to March 1553 he served as King Henry VIII’s ambassador to Denmark.
• On his return from Denmark, he was employed by his cousin, Rowland Lee, and cited Catherine of Aragon, the king’s first wife, to appear before the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special court at Dunstable. Legh was also present when the Archbishop pronounced the court’s sentence at Lambeth, ruling that the marriage was invalid.
• Later in 1533, Legh worked for Thomas Cromwell, heading an inquiry at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, which led to the resignation of the abbot and the election of a new one.
• Legh was due to be sent to Denmark in the autumn of 1533, but the embassy was cancelled, and in 1534 he carried out embassies to Lübeck and Hamburg.
• In 1535, Legh was involved in interrogating a servant of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, a man who had supported Catherine of Aragon during the Great Matter and who had been imprisoned for refusing to take the oath of succession. Fisher was tried and executed soon after.
• Also in 1535, Legh began work as a Commissioner in the Visitations of the Monasteries which led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He ended up with a reputation for flamboyance, due to always being accompanied by twelve men in livery, and for his severe treatment. His registrar, John ap Rice, wrote to Cromwell of Legh being “too insolent and pompatique” and of his rough handling of monks. The rough treatment dished out by Legh, and also his colleague Richard Layton, was one of the grievance of the rebels of the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, and during the Lincolnshire rebellion, Legh’s cook was hanged, and in Cumberland, his servant was arrested. The rebels also mentioned Legh and Layton in the ballads they sang.
• Legh went on to interrogate rebels of the failed rebellion, including leader Robert Aske,
• In 1537, Legh was described as a “vicious man” by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, after he tried to become Master of Burton Lazer. He obviously wasn’t a nice guy!
• He continued serving Thomas Cromwell in the Dissolution of the Monasteries and his biographer, Anthony N Shaw, notes that he assisted in the dissolution of 69 religious houses between 1538 and 1540 alone, being richly rewarded for his work with leases and lands.
• From 1542, Legh worked as a commissioner in the Scottish/English borders and was knighted by the Earl of Hertford in 1544 for his service there.
• In 1543, Legh was sent by King Henry VIII to York to investigate a plot against Archbishop Cranmer. This was an attempt by Catholic conservatives to bring down the archbishop, tp brand him as a heretic, and put an end to religious reform. Legh led raids on the plotters and was able to gather evidence against them, thus saving Cranmer.
• Legh also served as a Member of Parliament for Wilton in 1545.
• In August 1545, Legh had become so ill that the Earl of Hertford reported him as dead, but he actually died on this day in history, 25th November 1545, leaving the majority of his wealth to his nephew, Thomas.
He was survived by his wife, Joan, who went on to marry Sir Thomas Chaloner.
• An inscription on his memorial brass at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, once said said of him:
“Great was his wisdom, and greater was his wit
His usage comely, with no sad change dismayed.”
• Legh’s an interesting Tudor man. He seems to have been harsh and cruel, but managed to save an archbishop’s life.

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25 November – A vicious man who saved an archbishop