DENNY, Anthony (1501-49), of Cheshunt, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 16 Jan. 1501, 2nd surv. s. of Sir Edmund Denny of Cheshunt by 2nd w. Mary, da. and h. of Robert Troutbeck of Bridge Trafford, Cheshire. educ. St. Paul’s; St. John’s, Camb. m. 1538, Joan, da. of Sir Philip Champernon of Modbury, Devon, 5s. 4da.; 1s. illegit. Kntd. 30 Sept. 1544.3
Servant of Sir Francis Bryan by 1531; ?groom of stole by 1535, groom of chamber by 1536, keeper, Whitehall palace 1536, Westminster palace Sept. 1537, other royal properties, Essex and Herts., inc. Hatfield House and Waltham abbey 1538-d.; yeoman of robes by 1537; gent. privy chamber by 1538, chief gent. by 1544; collector of tonnage and poundage, London 1541-d.; PC 1547-d.; j.p. Essex, Herts. 1547-d.; high steward, Westminster by 1548.4
By his will of 1519 Sir Edmund Denny left his second son Anthony £160 to purchase land and the income from property in Kent for his ‘exhibition and finding’, presumably at Cambridge. A contemporary of Leland at St. Paul’s school, Denny later studied at Cambridge but apparently did not graduate. According to Leland he accompanied Francis Bryan on visits to the Continent, and there acquired a knowledge of languages. It may have been as a servant of Bryan that in October 1532 he attended the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I at Calais. By August 1535 he was in the royal service and his first return to Parliament probably followed hard on his establishment at court. A letter from the King to the town of Ipswich recommending his election in place of Thomas Alvard, who had perhaps been Denny’s subordinate at Whitehall, can almost certainly be dated December 1535 (the month being given, but not the year), and if acted upon would have brought Denny into the Commons for the last session of the Parliament of 1529 and probably also for that of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members.5
Between 1535 and 1545 Denny became the most intimate of Henry VIII’s few friends. As keeper of Westminster palace and of the royal household there he acted as receiver and paymaster of the King’s personal spending money, much of which was kept in the jewel house in the palace. His own income from offices has been estimated at some £200 but royal grants of land were the chief source of his wealth; in his will he acknowledged that ‘by the princely liberality’ of Henry VIII he had gained ‘all that I leave or can leave to my posterity’. The most important of these grants were, in 1536, houses in Westminster known as Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, and Cheshunt priory with its lands in four counties; in 1538, Hertford priory; in 1540, Amwell manor, Hertfordshire and Waltham rectory, Essex; in 1542, Mettingham college, Suffolk, with six East Anglian manors; and in 1547, in the distribution of crown lands after Henry VIII’s death, the freehold reversions to most of Waltham abbey’s estates, with over 2,000 acres of land elsewhere. An exchange of lands with the King was confirmed by an Act (35 Hen. VIII, no. 23) in 1544. Denny also leased property from the crown and made extensive purchases in Essex and Hertfordshire from private individuals. At his death he owned about 20,000 acres in Essex and Hertfordshire alone, his annual income from land being probably as much as £750. With the possibility of raising considerable sums from his London customs office, and from a licence granted him in December 1546 to export wheat, beer and leather, he was undoubtedly a wealthy man.6
As a groom of the chamber Denny attended the reception of Anne of Cleves at court and shortly afterwards the King confided to him his disappointment in the new Queen. Denny was sent abroad several times to pay money to English soldiers or ambassadors, and served with 140 or 180 men in the expedition which resulted in the capture of Boulogne in 1544, receiving a knighthood for his services. According to Ascham’s eulogy, delivered as public orator at Cambridge, Denny’s whole time was occupied by religion, learning and affairs of state; as to the last, his part under Henry VIII was probably limited to private discussion with the King. Foxe named him with Anne Boleyn, Cromwell, Cranmer and the royal physician William Butts as a supporter of Protestantism who influenced the King. It was to Denny and Butts that Richard Morice wrote in 1544 ‘defending the case of Master Richard Turner, preacher, against the papists’, and to Denny that Cranmer in 1546 sent the ‘letters of reformation’ of religion for the King’s signature. He was present at Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr in July 1543 and in the last two years of the King’s life he was one of the three men who regularly witnessed the signing of bills and documents with the King’s stamp, himself preferring many of the bills at the instance of suitors. A witness and an executor of Henry VIII’s will, he received a legacy of £300 which was not paid until 1550, after his own death. The last service that he performed for Henry VIII is thus described by Foxe:
[The King’s] physicians ... not daring to discourage him with death for fear of the Act passed before in Parliament that none should speak anything of the King’s death ... moved them that were about the King to put him in remembrance of his mortal state and fatal infirmity; which when the rest were in dread to do Master Denny ... boldly coming to the King told him what case he was in, to man’s judgment not like to live, and therefore exhorted him to prepare himself to death ...7
Denny was described by the imperial ambassador in 1547 as the most trusted of any of the gentlemen of the chamber. He rode with the Queen’s brother-in-law (Sir) William Herbert I in the carriage with Henry VIII’s body at his funeral, and the two men were the pall-bearers at Edward VI’s coronation; they were also deponents with Sir William Paget as to the late King’s intended awards of land and honours. Denny’s court connexion and his standing in Hertfordshire ensured his election as first knight of the shire for his county in 1547. On 12 Feb. 1549 he was one of those appointed by the Commons to try a petition brought by private bill against (Sir) Nicholas Hare. He attended Privy Council meetings regularly in 1547 and 1548. He served in Northampton’s expedition against Ket and the Norfolk rebels in August 1549, among his companions on this occasion being his fellow-knight for Hertfordshire and his successor, Sir Ralph Rowlett and Sir Henry Parker respectively, as well as his brother-in-law (Sir) John Gates.
Denny died at Cheshunt on 10 Sept. 1549 and was probably buried there. A codicil states that his will, made four years earlier, was read over to him ‘lying sick but of good mind and memory’ on 7 Sept. His death was probably natural, for none of the verse epitaphs contains any reference to wounds such as might have been received in the fighting around Norwich a month earlier. Almost half of the will, drawn up on 3 Aug. 1545 consists of a homily on religion and education. The widow was to take care in bringing up the children—all minors at the time, the eldest son Henry being nearly ten at his father’s death—and to see them well educated, so that ‘the commonwealth may find them profitable members and not burdens as idle drones be to the hive’. Marriages planned by Denny for two of them, and mentioned in the will—to a daughter of Thomas, Baron Audley, and a son of Sir Richard Rich—did not take place. Each of Denny’s sons was to have £20 and each daughter 20 marks, annually during their minority; the daughters were also to receive legacies of 600 marks each. The lands were disposed of in a testament made on 7 Sept. 1549; apart from some left to the widow for life, most were entailed on his legitimate sons. The other son William received a £20 annuity. Edward VI was to have a ‘token or device’ worth £50, ‘some such thing apt for a learned king’. Lady Denny and Richard Morison were named executors and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, Rich and William Paulet, Baron St. John, supervisors.8
Princess Elizabeth spent much of her early life at Cheshunt or at Hatfield, where Denny was keeper; one of his wife’s relatives was governess to the princess. His sister married William Walsingham and was the mother of Elizabeth’s minister Sir Francis Walsingham†, while Denny himself was a friend of her tutor Roger Ascham and of her first archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. He combined zealous Protestantism with patronage of literature; among other services to learning he interested Henry VIII in the Latin—English dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot. Thomas Langley, author of an English abridgement of Polydore Vergil’s History, described Denny as ‘a very Maecenas of all toward wits’ and praised his opposition to ‘painted holiness’ and his support for ‘the blessed word of God and the sincere setters forth of the same’.
Among those who wrote epitaphs on him were (Sir) John Cheke, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (who himself died before Denny) and Ascham. No adverse criticism has been found of him—a surprising fact when his wealth and long court career are considered. Perhaps his character really was that described in 1539 by Thomas Paynel:
For what I consider your sincere affection to God and his holy word, your great fidelity and diligence towards our most gracious sovereign lord the king, your pure, honest and lowly behaviour to all men in word and deed, your faithful, wise and friendly counsels, your continual exhortations and persuasion to virtue, your liberal and most gentle nature, I cannot choose but vehemently love you.