COVERT, John (by 1501-58), of Ifield and Slaugham, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. by 1501, 1st s. of Richard Covert of Slaugham. m. (1) by 1522, Joan, da. and coh. of Thomas Cooke of Rustington, 2s. 2da.; (2) 1545, Anne, da. of William Beard of Cowfold, 3s. 3da. illegit. bef. m. suc. fa. 1547.1
Servant of Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, subsidy collector, Suss. 1523; j.p. 1532-d.; commr. benevolence 1544/45, loan 1557; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1554-5.2
The family of Covert can be traced in Sussex from the 13th century, but only in the late 15th, after the purchase of Slaugham manor, did its members begin to wield authority in the county. John Covert’s father was sheriff in 1522-3 and had an estate assessed at £180 by the subsidy commission of 1525. Until his father’s death Covert lived at Ifield, seven miles north-east of Horsham on the Surrey border; by his two marriages he acquired lands at Cowfold and Rustington.3
Covert may have received a legal education and like many of his family practised as a lawyer, but no reference to him has been found at Gray’s Inn, the one favoured by his family. He entered the service of the Duke of Norfolk and was apparently attached to the ducal household at Horsham, while his brother George served another Sussex magnate, Thomas West, 9th Lord La Warre. He himself had some dealings with the La Warres—in 1536 he witnessed the will of Eleanor, Lady La Warre—but it was with Norfolk that he was more closely associated throughout his career. In 1536 he was called to raise men for the suppression of the northern rebellion, but in the event they were not required and he was ordered to remain in Sussex. It was probably Norfolk’s influence which ensured his presence at the reception of Anne of Cleves on Blackheath. Norfolk ordered Covert to join him at Newcastle in 1542 with a band of the duke’s Horsham tenants, but no details have survived of Covert’s part in the campaign. He fought in the French war of 1544, when Norfolk was lieutenant-general of the army, and he witnessed the sieges of Boulogne and Montreuil. His considerable military experience explains his appointment with six other local gentlemen to guard the county of Sussex in 1548 in the event of troops being despatched away. Norfolk turned once more to him during the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt II, when according to (Sir) Robert Southwell he moved directly against the rebels in Kent without first going to London in compliance with his original orders.4
The Duke of Norfolk’s influence may be seen at work in Covert’s parliamentary career. He was returned for the duke’s borough of New Shoreham to the Parliament of 1529 and probably sat for one or other of the Howard boroughs in Sussex in those later Parliaments of Henry VIII’s reign for which no returns survive. Although he became head of the family in 1547, Covert was not returned to either of Edward VI’s Parliaments, probably because during the whole of that reign his patron was in the Tower. On Mary’s accession and Norfolk’s release, Covert was elected to the Queen’s first Parliament as junior knight for Sussex. The duke’s death in August 1554 did not diminish Covert’s standing in the county. Senior knight of the shire in November 1554, he was pricked sheriff of Surrey and Sussex two days after Parliament had begun. There is no trace in the Journal of his absenting himself on account of his local duties, and to judge from the list of Members prosecuted in 1555 for premature withdrawal he was present at the call of the House shortly before the dissolution.5
Covert’s career under Mary suggests that he was a religious conservative, and it is no surprise that he was not among those noted to have ‘stood for the true religion’ in the Parliament of October 1553. His views may have been inherited from his father and transmitted to his son. When in 1538 Bishop Sampson of Chichester was criticized for allowing friars to preach the old ways, he replied that he had granted but one licence to a friar ‘with old Master Covert, on his promise that he should preach nothing but the gospel sincerely’. After John Covert’s death his son Richard was to be adjudged in 1564 ‘a misliker of religion and godly proceedings’.6
On 23 Aug. 1558 Covert made a nuncupative will on his deathbed, asking to be buried in Slaugham church ‘whereof he was patron’. He left his son Richard a chain of gold and all his goods and chattels. His ‘eldest base son’ Edward Beard alias Covert, received a ring, two horses and the lease of the parsonage of Maudlin, Sussex (held of the warden and fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford), and his other two illegitimate sons were to have £40 each on coming of age. Covert made his son Richard the sole executor and his brother George witnessed the will, which was proved in March 1559. His widow survived him, unmarried, by some 24 years.