FISHER, Henry (by 1519-66 or later), of London and Fish Hall, Hadlow, Kent.
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Family and Education
Warden, yeomanry (the fraternity of Our Lady) of the Skinners’ Co. in 1543, Skinners’ Co. 1549-51; surveyor, Beer Brewers’ Co. in 1551; collector, tonnage and poundage, London 3 Mar. 1557.3
Although Henry Fisher’s forbears were undistinguished, they had been at Fish Hall since the end of the 12th century. His father (and perhaps also his aunt) married into the more eminent Vanes of Hadlow Place. It is not known whether Fisher was the firstborn, but by 1561 he had succeeded to the family home. He was apprenticed to Sir Andrew Judd, a prominent London merchant who owned land at Tonbridge. In 1540 he was admitted to the livery of the Skinners’ Company and a year later an apprentice of his own received the freedom of the City, an indication that Fisher himself had been free since the early 1530s. He emulated Judd, taking a leading role in the Skinners’ activities as well as becoming a stapler of Calais and helping to set up the Russia Company. In 1541 his goods in the parish of All Hallows, Bishopsgate, were valued for subsidy at £400. Two years earlier he had leased the manor and parsonage of Dartford, Kent, from the bishop of Rochester.4
Fisher’s parliamentary career reflects the vicissitudes of his political fortunes. He first appears in the Commons as one of the Members for Saltash, and although the evidence for this relates solely to the last session of the Parliament of 1547 the attachment to the Protector Somerset which brought him two spells of imprisonment in 1551-2 leaves little doubt that Fisher had been elected at the outset of that Parliament, when Somerset’s influence was at its height, or that he owed his seat to the Protector. The relationship appears to have been an indirect one: Fisher’s cousin Sir Ralph Vane, himself a Member of this Parliament, was one of Somerset’s stalwarts, and his brother Richard Fisher was yeoman of the woodyard in the King’s household. With the borough of Saltash, which was returning Members for the first time, Fisher had no known connexion, and his election there with another outsider, the exchequer clerk Christopher Smith, bespeaks court intervention. Unlike another colleague in the House, Thomas Fisher, the Protector’s secretary (to whom he was unrelated), Henry Fisher was unscathed by Somerset’s fall from power in the autumn of 1549, and a year later he was a royal nominee for the chamberlainship of London, although passed over in favour of John Sturgeon. It was Somerset’s alleged plot to overthrow his victorious rival Northumberland which saw Fisher and his brother Richard committed to the Marshalsea in November 1551. He was still there when Parliament reassembled in the following January after Somerset’s execution, but on 9 Feb. he was summoned before the Council and two days later released on a recognizance of £200. He presumably rejoined the Commons for the remainder of the session but on 9 May, three weeks after its close, he was sent to the Fleet; because he was ‘diseased in the head’ his wife and doctors were allowed to visit him, and on 31 May he was again freed. In the following month he made personal application in the Exchequer to be assessed for subsidy at Hadlow, where he claimed to live most of the time, and not in London, where his assessment was more than twice that at Hadlow.5
It did not take Fisher long to make his peace with Northumberland, a process doubtless aided by the duke’s cultivation of his old master Sir Andrew Judd, and he reappeared in Parliament in March 1553 for a borough temporarily controlled by the Council. Three months later both he and Judd signed the instrument naming Jane Grey as the King’s successor. This cannot have commended him to Queen Mary, and although he incurred no penalty he was missing from the first three Parliaments of the reign. In 1555, however, he was elected senior Member for Knaresborough. This unexpected come-back he presumably owed to Sir Robert Rochester, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, to which Knaresborough belonged. With Rochester he is not known to have been associated save in the Russia Company, but he may have had access to the Queen herself; when he later sued in the court of requests for the expenses he had incurred in nursing Jane Russell, a gentlewoman of the privy chamber, during her last illness in the winter of 1558, a witness was of the opinion that Fisher and his wife had invited the ailing woman to stay at their London house ‘for the great friendship she showed to the same Fisher in such suits as he had’ to the Queen. If it was he and not Thomas Fisher who in 1555 voted against one of the government’s bills he may indeed have profited from the situation, for within 15 months of that episode he was appointed to a post in the London customs.6
In August and September 1558 Fisher was one of the customs officials called before the Council to answer questions concerning their administration. In 1558 and again in the following year he was among the merchants of the staple who were licensed to export through Bruges instead of Calais, and it was as a stapler that he sued out a pardon at Elizabeth’s accession. In 1560 he received a grant of arms and six years later he shared with his son Andrew a lease in Watlington, Oxfordshire. Nothing further has come to light about him; no will or inquisition has been discovered and no pedigree is known to have been taken of the family. Fisher’s name was to live on, however, because of his controversial handling of Judd’s and his own endowment of Tonbridge School. After this had led to protracted litigation and two Acts of Parliament, the Skinners’ Company was to declare that it had spent more money defending its title than it had ever received.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. R. Johnson
- 1. Hatfield 207.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from admission to the Skinners’ Company, Reg. London Freemen, ed. Welch, 9; PCC 4 Hogen, 15 Spert, 21 Tashe, 99 Stafford; Collins, Peerage, iii. 285-90; Hasted, Kent, v. 182-3; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 43; London and Mdx. Fines, ii. 117; Recs. Skinners, ed. Lambert, 185.
- 3. Recs. Skinners, 185; Skinners’ Hall, bk, fraternity of Corpus Christi; bk. fraternity of Our Lady; E122/86/4; Hargrave ms 134, ff. 28-29.
- 4. Hasted, v. 182-3, 188; Req.2/143/68; Recs. Skinners, 181; S. Rivington, Tonbridge Sch. 8 seq.; Reg. London Freemen, 9; E179;144/120; T. S. Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, p. 96; CPR, 1566-9, p. 395.
- 5. Wriothesley’s Chron. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xx), 44; Hargrave ms 134, f. 139v; APC, iii. 392, 405, 476-7; iv. 40, 65; E115/142/146.
- 6. Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100; Req. 2/158/6; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.
- 7. APC, vi. 369, 386, 401; E122/86/4; CFR, 1557-8, p. 300; 1558-60, pp. 24, 180; 1563-6, p. 371; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 88; Recs. Skinners, 176-86, 351.