Transcription © Copyright E.C. ("Paddy") Apling July 2011 (from digital copy provided by the authors).
© T. E. & M. Miller 2011
In 1535, he established himself by a favourable marriage to Margaret Neville, the only daughter and heir apparent to Sir Thomas Neville of Mereworth in Kent, a bencher of Gray's Inn and a privy councillor; and by obtaining the appointment of Common Sergeant of London. In 1536, Sir Richard Riche the Solicitor-General was appointed Chancellor of the newly formed Court of Augmentations, set up to handle the revenue arising from the dissolution of the monasteries, and Robert joined him in the more promising, but less lucrative, position of its solicitor, with a fee of £20. In 1537 he became the Court's attorney on the sudden death of John Onley. Both of these posts were by royal appointment and a statutory requirement was that the appointees should be "learned in the laws of the land." They were the Court's chief legal representatives, acting for the crown in cases involving the King. His salary at the Court of Augmentations was less than that of his previous post and he begged Cromwell to intercede with the King on his behalf. He writes that, "I must by the colour of mine office, reside in London the most part of the three or four years. I have as yet no house there but my chamber at the Temple, a good mile from Mr. Chancellor's, so that going thither and returning I spend a great part of the day." Apparently Sir Richard Riche carried out a great deal of his business from his house in London and from his country house at Leighs in Essex. Robert asked friends to help him find a house to rent in London, which he hoped to rent for only £6 per year. Like most ambitious men he was continually in search of more money, however he was certainly not overpaid. He comes across as a concientious, careful and trustworthy administrator.
The next year he was added to the commission of the peace for the counties of Kent and Norfolk. In the following years he was a very prominent figure in public affairs. He reported on the suppression of Furness abbey, surveyed the lands bequeathed to the Crown by the Earl of Northumberland, and supervised the suppression of more than twenty monasteries in the southern half of England. He was responsible for assigning pensions to the dispossed monks, for example at Faversham he assigned a pension of 100 marks to the Abbot and sums of £5, £4 and £3 6s 8d to the monks. His office in the Court of Augmentations enabled him to acquire numerous parcels of monastic land in Sussex, Kent and London, many of which he later sold at a profit. In 1537 he leased sixteen properties in Norfolk and two in Suffolk; leases at this time were usually for twenty-one years. At the same time he was granted pensions from eight churches in Norfolk and four in Suffolk. In 1543, he was granted for £1,512 15s 0d, subject to an annual rent of £8 6s 9d, the manor of Hoxne, the whole Hundred of Hoxne, the parks and annual fairs with appurtenances in Framlingham, Ocley, Allington, Syleham, Weybred, Mendham, Metfield, Fressingfield, Worlingworth, Wilby, Southwold, Soham, Bedingfield, Denham and Earsham in Suffolk, all of which had belonged to the bishopric of Norwich, and the former possessions in Suffolk of the Bishop of Norwich. He also was also able to influence decisions regarding property for his family. In a letter to Cromwell from Westacre he reminds Cromwell of his father's "suit for Mallyng." Not all properties were sold or rented for profit, as later, when Master of the Rolls, he leased to William Honnyng a portion of the great garden belonging to the Rolls for ninety-nine years at a rent of one red rose at Midsummer on demand.
In 1540, he surrendered his office with the Court of Augmentations and was sworn as a privy councillor with a stipend of £100. This allowed him to serve as a master or receiver of requests in place of Sir Nicholas Hare. In the autumn of the same year he delivered the autumn reading to the Middle Temple. During the next few years he served as a Commisioner of Sewers for Essex, a Commissioner of the Peace for Norfolk, Essex and Surrey and a Commisioner of Oyer and Terminer for the Home Circuit. On 31st October, 1540, with the Sheriff of Surrey and William Peter he was directed by the Privy Council to investigate riots and the burning of stacks of wood. On 6th November they reported back to the Council that they had found who had burnt the first stack but not the last. At this time he received an annuity of £25 from the King. In 1541 he was sent by the King to join the Council of the North. His wage for the first quarter of 1541 was £25 plus 10 shillings for household expenses; he also received £40 for being sent to the north. His servant was paid £4 for eleven journeys to the King and back.
The pinnacle of Robert's legal career was reached on 1st July, 1541, when he was appointed Master of the Rolls for life by Henry VIII, with the House of the Converts for his dwelling and a yearly allowance of one tun or two pipes of Gascon wine. He was also granted the late monastery of St. Saviour in Bermondsey and a number of properties in Kent. In September, 1541, the King instructed: Lord Matravers, Deputy of Calais; Robert Southwell, Master of the Rolls; Sir John Baker, Vice-treasurer of England; Thomas Moyle, one of the general surveyors; Sir Edward Wotton; Sir Edward Bray; Anthony Rous; and Richard Lee to make a comprehensive survey of the surroundings of Calais. Whether Richard actually travelled to France is not recorded. In November that year he was summoned to Parliament. His knighthood, which followed the next year, 1542, is described by Charles Wriothesley. "This year, the 16th daye of Januarye, 1541, begane the Parliament at Westminster, and that daye was masse of the Holy gost, the Kinge rydinge from his palace at Westminster in his Parliament robes, with all his lordes spiritual and temporal in theyr robes, and so rode to church of St. Peters; and that daye the Kinge made kightes in Parliament Chamber, Mr. Robert Southwell, Mr of the Rolles, and Mr. Pollard, the Keeper Remembrauncer." The death of his father-in-law that year provided Sir Robert with a seat at Jotes Place, Mereworth. He was also appointed keeper of Knowle House and Knowle Park near Sevenoaks, Kent, a mansion and deer park originally created by Thomas Bourchier (1404?-1486) the then Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1544 he was sufficiently well thought of to be appointed to hear and determine matters in Chancery while the Lord Chancellor was otherwise occupied.
On the accession of King Edward VI, Sir Roberts's name appears on the list of pardons; this was probably a formality to clear the way for continued and future appointments. On the list he appears as, Robert Southwell, knight, late of London, Master of the Rolls, alias late of Middle Temple, gentleman, alias late common sergeant at law of the City of London, alias late of Charlewood, Surrey, esquire, alias late solicitor of Augmentations and receiver of Requests to Henry VIII, alias late of Merstham, Surrey, alias late of Bermondsey, Surrey, esquire, alias late of Hoxne, Suffolk, Mereworth, Kent, Barwyk, Rainham, Essex and Puttenham, Surrey, knight. Soon after, in 1547, he was appointed Commisioner of the Peace for Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex. Holding high office and considerable property did not absolve one from community obligations; on 11th March of that year, with others, he was charged by the Commissioners of Sewers with cleaning "the river from Bowe bridge to Mocking Mill and thence Grayes bridge thence Raynam flete and thence Stifford bridge within the county of Essex." In 1554 he himself was a Commissioner of Sewers charged to make statutes, ordinances and provisions for the safeguard of premises after the laws and customs of Romney Marshes, Kent. The same year he served on a Commission concerning treasons and other offences in Sussex, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire and the City of Canterbury.
He still continued to acquire property, for example on 27th June, 1548, for £276 he and John Corbett of Sprowston near Norwich were granted the late Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene and 64 acres at Sprowston and the rents from tenements in Norwich and nearby villages with a yearly value of £6 0s 6d.
After sitting in chancery for ten years Sir Robert resigned as Master of the Rolls in 1550. The reason for his resignation is not known; he does not appear to have fallen out with the regime of Edward VI, as he continued to serve actively on commissions and in parliament throughout Edward's reign and throughout that of Queen Mary. He appears to have been a concientious and respected member of the legal profession. Although he obviously used his position to acquire lands following the dissolution of the monasteries, he seems to have basically been an honest man, and acquiring property in this way would have been accepted as normal. He was obviously of a flexible religious disposition, since he participated in heresy investigations under both monarchs. In 1554, like his brother, Richard, he played an active part against Sir Thomas Wyatt's insurrection to prevent the marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain. For his service to the Queen against the rebellions of Wyatt and the Duke of Northumberland Sir Robert and his wife Margaret were granted lands in Kent in 1555; only to sell them off two years later. The State Papers of 1556 again record a pardon to Robert Southwell knight late Sheriff of Kent alias of Mereworth. This time his brother Francis of Hertfordingbury, Hertfordshire and John Corbett of Sprowston, Norfolk bound themselves before the barons of the exchequer in £40 for his performance of the said office of sheriff.
In 1553, Sir Robert served with his brother Sir Richard on a Commission of noblemen, gentlemen and others learned in the laws for the examination and decision of the causes of appeal and complaint of Edward Bonner, Bishop of London.
Bishop Bonner who entered holy orders about 1509 initially found favour under Cardinal Wolsey and after Wolsey's death continued to prosper under Thomas Cromwell. He had been appointed by Henry VIII, but during Edward VI's reign, Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, Nicholas, Bishop of Rochester, Thomas Smythe, knight, one of Edward VI's principal secretaries, William Maye, Dean of St. Paul's and William Peter, knight pretending to be Commissioners had removed him from office and had him imprisoned. Bishop Bonner claimed he had behaved himself well in his pastoral office and intended to continue to do so, and that he was a man of praiseworthy life and had done nothing whereby he ought to be deprived of his bishopric. The "Commissioners" had refused to allow him to appeal and had committed him to prison in filthy fetid conditions without making provision for food or clothing. Moreover they had appointed one of themselves to the bishopric. He appealed to the newly crowned Queen Mary to commit his appeal to honest men. The Queen desiring at the beginning of her reign that justice be seen to be done, granted his appeal. His appeal was sucessful and Edward Bonner was reinstated as Bishop of London.
From being a staunch supporter of Henry VIII's Reformation Bishop Bonner of whom it has been said, "nature seems to have designed for him an executioner," went to the other extreme in supporting Catholicism. He gained notoriety from the extreme zeal with which he rooted out all traces of the Reformation and in re-establishing the sacrement of the mass. Within three years he had committed over two hundred to death by burning. On the death of Queen Mary, he attempted to congratulate Queen Elizabeth on her accession, but she would have nothing to do with him. He refused the oath of allegiance and he was again deprived of his bishopric and committed to prison where he died on 5th September, 1569.
Sir Robert was buried at Mereworth on 8th November, 1559. His widow Margaret married William Plumbe of Widiall, Hertfordshire and lived until 1575. Sir Robert and Dame Margaret had seven children, Thomas, Francis, Robert, Henry, Anne, Dorothy and Martha. Anne married Edmund Bedingfield, the son of Sir Henry Bedingfield of Oxborough Hall, Norfolk.
In his will dated 24th August, 1559, Sir Robert made provision for Margaret and all of the children. His lands were largely left to Margaret with the condition that some of them would pass to Francis and Robert on her death. Francis also had the lease of a farm in Kent. Henry had to make do with just the mortgage on the capital messuage in Bermondsey. Thomas did not receive any of the land or manors because he had inherited from Sir Robert's elder brother Sir Richard Southwell. This inheritance included the Woodrising estate; he had also recently gained property by his second marriage. Dame Margaret kept "her rayment jewels cheanes of her own wearing browches billamonte and such like things belonging to the apparell of her bodie. " she also got his "wholllynen stuff a napery a half of my household stuff / plate excepted." Thomas the eldest son and heir received "a bason and an ewer of silver pcell gilt wherein I will my Armes and my wifes to be sett at the coste and chardge of myne executors a goblett with a cover all gilt a great pott all gilt which King Henrye the eight myne olde Mr gave me for my last new yeres gift and twelve silver spones pcell gilt. I give unto hym also my signet of golde whereon is my badge and a ringe that my goode mother whose sowle god preserve gave me whiche I will hym in any wise to keep in remembrance of his good grandmother." Thomas also received his father's weapons; "I give unto hym all my harness and murrycon as they been in myne Armorye with all bylle halberde bowes and arrows." Dorothy and Martha his unmarried daughters, were to receive £500 each on reaching the age of eighteen.
Sir Robert was also generous to his servants - "I give to everye of my household servants as well men as women there wholle yeres waige and also Richard Gyles and Besse foule and such other of my servants as at any time have served me and are fallen into povertie to be kept of charytie at the chardge of myn executors during their lives." To his servant Robert Gadden he bequeathed £5 for faithful service; to William Rodenhauss he left "the unbequeathed apparel belonging to my back;" and to Humfry Nevell £20.
He made numerous other bequests to friends and relatives as well as the customary ones to prisoners and the poor, including his goshawk to Sir Henry Jerningham and 40 shillings to Margaret Pregnall a girl charitably brought up by his wife
Sir Robert's and Sir Richard's younger brother Francis was also active as a "civil servant" during the reign of Henry VIII, but to a lesser degree than his elder brothers. In 1541 he and John Waterhouse were appointed to travel to several monasteries to inquire into allegations against William Cavendish, who was an auditor of Augmentations at the time of surrender of the monasteries. Both were paid £8 13s 1½d for this task. Francis also served on the Council of the North for which he was paid twenty shillings and two shillings for two horses for three days for him and his servant. He was also granted land in Shropshire and Pembrokeshire. In 1542 he was made an auditor of the Exchequer, a post he held again under Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. The following year he and Waiter Mildmay were auditors of accounts of the King's works, of the King's ships and all money expended on the King's affairs, for which he received £40 a year. A year later with Thomas Rolf an esquire of the body he was auditor of the Salisbury and Fermour lands. From these posts it would appear that Francis's forte was as an accountant. In 1546 he served on a commission to survey the chantries of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for which he was paid £14. The next year he was a Commissioner of the Peace for Hertfordshire. Acquiring wardships could be a lucrative business and Francis was granted the wardship and marriage of Edward Mynne, son and heir of John Mynne of Hertfordingbury, Hertfordshire. For this he again received £14 but undoubtedly he would have gained more from the control of his ward's estate and from any marriage settlement. He continued to serve under Queen Mary. As well as auditor of the Exchequer he served with Robert on a commission concerning treasons and other offences in Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Sussex and the City of Canterbury. He was made for life an equerry of the stable and granted the office of registrar and Keeper of the Register or Registers of Decrees or Orders in Chancery by Elizabeth I.
Francis, who in 1556 was living at Hertfordingbury, was the third son of Francis and Dorothy; it is not known exactly when he was born but he died in 1582 some twenty years after his eldest brother Richard. Francis was married twice, firstly to Alice Standish of London, who died without producing children, and secondly, in 1560, to Barbara Catelyn the daughter of John Spencer of Rendelsham, Suffolk, and widow of Richard Catelyn. Francis and Barbara had three children, Myles, Francis and Mary. After Francis's death Barbara married Robert Flynt of Norwich.
Anthony the youngest brother does not appear prominently in the records of the time. He certainy benefited from his brother Richard's position as on Richard's advice he was granted the lease of the manors of Ruthin and Llanbethian and land in the forest of Tallavan in Wales in 1546. He is known to have married Anne Strange of Hunstanton, Norfolk, and to have had three children, Robert Anne and Elizabeth. He seems to have died at a fairly early age; he was certainly dead at the time his eldest brother Richard's will was written. Anne later married William Mongey.
© Transcription Copyright E.C. ("Paddy") Apling, July 2011.