FLETCHER, John (by 1490-1545 or later), of Rye, Suss.
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Family and Education
Chamberlain, Rye 1511-12, mayor 1524-5, 1527-8, 1530-1, 1534-5, 1540-2, 1545-6, jurat ?1525-d., bailiff to Yarmouth 1538.4
John Fletcher spent a good deal of his life at sea. He is to be distinguished from, among other namesakes, a yeoman of the crown, who also had a maritime connexion, mentioned in documents about 1540. Fletcher was evidently a useful intelligencer. In 1538 he was ordered by the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, Sir Thomas Cheyne, to inquire secretly at Boulogne about a suspect French ship; in the following April he himself approached Cheyne with an offer to serve the King, apparently by watching at sea for a possible invasion; and in October 1542 Admiral Russell reported that the King had Fletcher of Rye patrolling outside Dieppe until ships had been despatched to Bordeaux and elsewhere. Fletcher also purveyed fish. In October 1539 he wrote to Sir William Kingston, comptroller of the Household, about the high price charged to the King for fish, and complained that the mayor of Rye, Thomas Birchet, had set fishermen against him. In 1543, shortly before the formal opening of hostilities with France, Fletcher became a privateer. On 18 May the Privy Council ordered that he should be instructed to release three Flemish ships with wine from France and not to interfere with the Emperor’s subjects, wherever they came from. A month later he was ordered to bring up to the Council three or four men known to have expert knowledge of the coasts of Normandy and Brittany.5
Fletcher’s services by land to his town and his country were nearly conterminous with the reign of Henry VIII: they included his representation of Rye at 20 Brotherhood assemblies and at the court of Shepway in 1525 when Sir Edward Guildford was admitted to the wardenship of the Cinque Ports. Guildford was to be a knight of the shire for Kent in the Parliament of 1529, the first in which Fletcher sat for Rye. Of Fletcher’s role in the House of Commons we know only that he did not attend throughout every session, although in this respect he was not as remiss as his fellow-Member Nicholas Sutton: neither Member was present for the first four weeks of the second session early in 1531, and with Sutton attending only fitfully in the following year Fletcher’s considerable absences must have left Rye without a representative for weeks at a time. Fletcher was paid for his services at the standard rate of 2s. a day, increased to 3s.4d. for the 11 days which he spent as the port’s representative at the coronation of Anne Boleyn. He must have been at Westminster on other than parliamentary business when, in July 1532, he was arrested by a fellow-townsman, John Eston, probably for debt, a piece of high-handedness which earned Eston a summons to appear in the port to answer for it. Fletcher was apparently present for the seventh session as Cromwell included him in a list drawn up on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of Members with a particular, but unknown, connexion with the treasons bill then on its passage through Parliament.6
Sutton’s death in 1532/33 had given Fletcher a new colleague in Richard Inglet; together they achieved a much improved attendance record during the remainder of this long Parliament and this would probably have earned them re-election to its brief successor in 1536, even if the King had not asked for the previous Members to be returned again. Neither was to sit in 1539, when Thomas Birchet, Fletcher’s opponent in the fish dispute of that year, was one of those elected, but Fletcher came in again in 1542, aided perhaps by his prospective role in the threatened war with France: it was at the close of the second session, in May 1543, that he embarked on his privateering exploits. His receipt of a mere £3 6s.in wages for this session, which lasted 111 days, suggests that he had relapsed into absenteeism, but in the previous June he had been among those appointed by the Brotherhood in its renewed campaign to maintain the ports’ tax-exemption, and he was presumably involved when in January 1543 all their Members were ordered to repair to the Council on this matter.7
Fletcher made his will on 18 Nov. 1545. He left all his property to his wife while she remained a widow, but if she remarried she was to keep only his principal tenement in Rye, while a house, four shops at the Strand and the newest of the three tenements which he had built on the town ditch would then go to his eldest son Thomas, and four older shops at the Strand and a storehouse on the town ditch to his second son Richard; the third son, Robert, was to have the principal tenement after his mother’s death. For some unexplained reason the will was not proved until 25 May 1560, by which time Richard Fletcher, one of the executors, was dead, leaving his elder brother Thomas as the other. John Fletcher had probably died by August 1548, when he was no longer a jurat, but in the absence of jurat lists for 1546 and 1547 the event cannot be dated more precisely.8