CORBET, John II (by 1514-59), of Sprowston, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. by 1514, 1st s. of John Corbet of Spixworth by Margaret, da. of one Dixon. educ. L. Inn. m. by 1540, Jane, da. of Robert Berney of Gonton, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1540/41.3
Steward of sheriff’s ct., Norwich 1540-7, recorder 3 May 1547-3 May 1550; j.p. Norf. 1554-53, q. 1554-d.; steward, Great Yarmouth, Norf. 1541-53; commr. relief Norf. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553.4
The John Corbet, styled on this occasion junior, gentleman and ‘legis peritus’, who was admitted to the freedom of Norwich on 8 Sept. 1538 by inheritance from his father and namesake, a brazier of the city, was later to appear in the visitation of Norfolk as of Sprowston and to be shown as the son of John Corbet of Brodishie, esquire. The discrepancy is probably more apparent than real, for the brazier, who was sheriff of Norwich in 1529, may have prospered and turned gentleman and his descendants have preferred to forget his urban-industrial origin. Corbet’s legal training is harder to trace: he was probably one or other of the John Corbets admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1524 and 1530, and if the elder of them he may have been the ‘Corbet’ called to the bar in 1529, but the customary omission of christian names from the Black Book of the inn conceals his further progress there. It is unlikely that he was the young John Corbet accused of Lutheranism in 1529.5
Corbet is first found acting for Norwich in 1534-5, when he and Nicholas Hare were paid 24s.8d. by the city for business done in the Exchequer. Three years later Corbet was admitted freeman and on 21 Sept. 1538 excused all civic office. This exemption notwithstanding, on 13 Aug. 1540 he was elected steward of the sheriff’s court in succession to Edmund Grey; he held this office, at a fee of 20s. raised to 26s.8d. on 1544, until 16 Aug. 1547, when he replaced Grey as recorder. He was recorder for three years, but when he resigned on 3 May 1550 he ‘of his gentleness offered to be in readiness at all times to do any pleasure for the city and commonalty’, and he was then granted an annual fee of 4 marks and asked to act for the recorder in his absence. He combined with his offices at Norwich that of steward of Yarmouth. He also embarked on service in the county: he was presumably the John Corbet senior (to distinguish him from his younger brother) who was put on the commission of the peace in November 1540, his father being probably dead by then, and he was certainly named in the commission of May 1542.6
The possibility that Corbet was one of the Members for Norwich in the Parliament of 1536 arises from the inclusion of a ‘Mr. Corbet’ among four Members named on the dorse of an Act for continuing expiring laws passed by that Parliament. The fact that Members so named, probably as having scrutinized the bill concerned, were usually lawyers (as were at least two of the three whose names appear with Corbet’s) tells against his identification with Roger Corbet, the only other bearer of the name who can be presumed to have sat in this Parliament. If John Corbet did so, it was almost certainly for Norwich. One of the two Members for Norwich in the Parliament of 1529, Reginald Lytilprowe, may either not have survived or have been unable to reappear in its successor, as the King asked all the previous Members to do, and the city could well have chosen Corbet, then on the threshold of his career in its service, to take his place. It is also possible that the long interval before his election for Norwich in 1554 reflected Corbet’s dependence upon the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. His rise to prominence began with Norfolk’s return to power in 1540, but although the county historian Blomefield’s description of him as ‘being in the duke’s service’ appears to be unsupported by evidence it is consonant with his close connexion with (Sir) Richard Southwell and (Sir) Robert Southwell, themselves followers of the duke before the tragedy of 1546.7
In a grant of 1545 Corbet is called the King’s servant, and to judge by the £20 annuity he was to receive from Queen Mary for services at Framlingham (if he, and not his younger brother who lived at Framlingham, was the recipient) he was both a loyal servant of the crown and probably a co-religionist of the Queen. This may have had something to do with his election to her third Parliament for Norwich, where although no stranger he no longer had an official position. In the event the city had cause for satisfaction, for he and Alexander Mather succeeded, where previous Members had failed, in pushing through an Act (1 and 2 Phil. and Mary, c.14) to establish a new industry for making russells, satins and fustians there: Corbet was one of the founder-members of the company established by the statute to organize the industry. Of his part in the other proceedings of the Parliament it is known only that he was not among those who quitted it early and were prosecuted for that offence.8
Corbet had grown rich on the spoils of the Dissolution. Among his larger purchases were those of the manor of Sprowston, formerly belonging to the bishop of Norwich, for £176 in 1540, of the manors of Kirby Bedon, Poringland and Rockland, formerly of the abbey of Langley, in 1542, and (with Richard Southwell) of the chapel of Mary Magdalen in Sprowston, and a chapel in Rainham, Essex, for £276 in 1548. One further grant in May 1553 of the wardship of lands and person of James Nunne, which he used to find a husband for one of his daughters, seems to have ended his acquisitions: during Mary’s reign he was busy in ensuring their peaceable descent to his son Miles.