HARINGTON (HERYNTON), John II (by 1517-82), of Stepney, Mdx.; Kelston, Som. and Cheshunt, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. by 1517, s. of Alexander Harington (d.1539) of Stepney m. (1) by 1554, Audrey (d. by 1559), illegit. da. of John Malte of London by Joan, da. of one Digneley, 1da.; (2) 1559/60, Isabella (d. 20 May 1579), da. of Sir John Markham of Cotham, Notts., 2s.1

Offices Held

Servant of Sir Thomas Seymour II by 1546-9; constables, Caernarvon castle, Caern. June 1551-d.; ex officio mayor, Caernarvon June 1551-d.; receiver Exchequer, Notts. and Derbys. 29 June 1559-8 Apr. 1561, Sum. and Dorset 26 Mar. 1561-7 Apr. 1581; j.p.q. Herts., Mdx. 1569-d.2


John Harington came from a branch of a Lancashire family favoured by the last two Plantagenet kings and was a distant kinsman of John Harington I of Exton with whom he is sometimes confused. His great-grandfather, Sir Robert Harington Of Badsworth, Yorkshire, was attainted twice by Henry VII and probably died at the battle of Stoke in 1487. Sir Robert Harington’s attainder was reversed in 1504 at the suit of his son James, dean of York, but his lands were not restored and his family pressed unsuccessfully for them until the end of the 16th century. The family’s pedigrees differ as to whether the dean of York had any children, but one of the earliest gives him two sons, Alexander and James. Whether these were born before he took orders or were his illegitimate offspring or were the children of an untraced brother is not known. Little has come to light about Alexander, who settled at Stepney where the family had long owned property and who died in 1539. Harington was later to recall his father’s poverty.3

Harington had joined the court before his father’s death, perhaps as a member of the chapel royal. In 1538 he and a gentleman of the chapel shared in survivorship an annuity worth 20 marks out of the lordship of Denbigh. He studied composition under Thomas Tallis after Tallis became organist to the chapel in 1540. None of Harington’s musical work survives, but his song ‘Black Sanctus or the monk’s hymn to Satan’, of which he wrote both words and music, pleased Henry VIII. His mastery of verse drew him into the circle around Sir Thomas Wyatt I and the Earl of Surrey, and his modern fame rests on his collection of their poetry. He has sometimes been linked with the publication of some of Wyatt’s poems but the man associated with this project was a namesake, a London bookseller active until 1549.4

In September 1547 Harington bought two manors in Gloucestershire in part exchange for the surrender of his annuity. It is possible that this purchase was influenced by his marriage or betrothal to the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII’s tailor John Malte. In the previous year Malte had purchased the manor of Kelston in Somerset on behalf of himself and Audrey Malte alias Digneley, ‘bastard daughter of the said John Digneley alias Dobson’, and on to Sept. 1546 he made Audrey, ‘my bastard daughter begotten upon the body of Joan Digneley’, his chief legatee and recipient of all his property in Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Somerset. At the time that Malte made his will Audrey was not yet 15 and engaged to an illegitimate son of (Sir) Richard Southwell, perhaps Richard Southwell alias Darcy. Harington’s marriage to Audrey Malte gave him wealth and position in the west country, as well as in the home counties: she was still alive in early 1556. The first reference to her as Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter comes in the not altogether reliable Nugae Antiquae compiled largely by her stepson but as evidently neither John Malte nor Harington was aware of her august paternity it is doubtless a myth. Harington’s second marriage took place in 1559 or 1560 when Sir John Markham provided for his unmarried daughter Isabella.5

Harington had entered the service of Sir Thomas Seymour by the spring of 1546 when he delivered to the Earl of Hertford the plans of some proposed fortification at Boulogne. It is possible that as joint chancellor of North Wales the earl had obtained for him his annuity out of the lordship of Denbigh: as the Protector Somerset the earl favoured his purchase of two Gloucestershire manors. This connexion with Seymour and the Protector doubtless explains Harington’s first known appearance in Parliament, at the beginning of Edward VI’s reign. As a port Pembroke was presumably amenable to Seymour’s influence as admiral: Harington’s friend Thomas Phaer was to procure his election for Carmarthen Boroughs and perhaps his links with the locality also assisted Harington’s return for Pembroke. As his name appears as ‘Robert Herynton’ on the indenture it is clear that Harington did not attend the election: the mis-spelling is not repeated on the list of Members of the Parliament. The Journal makes no mention of him in this Parliament, but as one close to Seymour he probably supported bills in which the admiral was interested: during interrogation he denied that the admiral had asked him ‘to speak anything in the Parliament to any bill’ but admitted that another of the admiral’s servants, William Wightman, had suggested to him the possibility of parliamentary arbitration in the dispute between the admiral and the Protector over the ownership of Catherine Parr’s jewels. Harington was imprisoned with the admiral in the Tower on 17 Jan. 1549 and thus missed the second half of the second session when Seymour was attainted. His answers about presents given by his master to Edward VI and about the proposal to marry the King to Lady Jane Grey were used in evidence against Seymour, but his receipt of one of his master’s poems written while awaiting execution shows that Seymour did not blame him. He was to remember the admiral with affection and always upheld his innocence. While a prisoner Harington taught himself French and translated Cicero’s De Amicitia from that language into English; his translation was published in 1550 as The booke of freendeship with a dedication to Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk. His discharge was ordered on 22 Oct. 1549, a week after the Protector had entered the Tower, and presumably he took his place in the Commons on the opening of the third session on the following 4 Nov. He held the Protector responsible for his master’s death and his appointment as constable of Caernarvon castle may have been a reward for his support of Somerset’s victorious rival Northumberland. In 1551 he attended the discussions at Cecil’s house on the nature of the eucharist and in May 1552 Lady Jane Grey’s father transferred the possession of the Minories to several kinsmen and to him. Despite this connexion with the Greys, and possibly with Northumberland, he is not known to have reappeared in the following Parliament summoned in March 1553 under the duke’s aegis.6

Although Harington had known Jane Grey since 1548 nothing has come to light about his role in the succession crisis in 1553. In January 1554 he was arrested in the Minories and sent to the Tower after the Duke of Suffolk’s flight on the discovery of Wyatt’s conspiracy. When Princess Elizabeth was brought to the Tower he commented, ‘My wife is her servant, and doth but rejoice in this our misery, when we look with whom we are holden in bondage’. He protested that he had done no more than carry a letter from Suffolk to Elizabeth, but Gardiner was convinced that a letter found in the Minories proved his guilt. A rumour about his release in March led (Sir) John Cheke on going into exile to ask him and his wife to look after Cheke’s family. Harington was transferred to the Fleet in June but it was as a prisoner in the Tower that in January 1555 he was bound over in £100 and set free. After his release he transferred much of his wife’s property to feoffees for her use and his, and perhaps to meet his expenses as a prisoner (£1,000 according to his son) he sold a living to the dean and chapter of Oxford. In 1557 some of his poems were published in The Songes and Sonettes written by Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey and others.7

It was the advent of Elizabeth and his marriage to another of her servants which heralded his recovery. During her reign he reappeared twice in Parliament, obtained two lucrative posts in the Exchequer and became a member of the bench in two counties. Harington died at Stepney on 1 July 1582 and was buried beside his second wife in St. Gregory’s by St. Paul, London. He was succeeded by his son, the godson of Queen Elizabeth and translator of Orlando Furioso. Harington helped his son in this task and several of his proposed renderings survive.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: P. S. Edwards


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. This biography rests on R. Hughey, John Harington of Stepney, The Arundel-Harington Ms, and ‘The Harington ms at Arundel castle and related documents; The Library, (ser. 4), xv. 388-444. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. iii. 17-19’, iv. 191-6; I. Grimble, Harington Fam. 77-78, 90-91; PCC 39 Alen.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; E. Breese, Kalendars of Gwynedd, 127; Cal. Caern. Q. Sess. Recs. ed. Williams, 132, 136, 158; CPR, 1558-60, p. 90; 1560-3, p. 135; 1569-72, pp. 225-6; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 424.
  • 3. Grimble, 76-83, 85-88; J. Harington, Nugae Antiquae (1779), i. 14-16.
  • 4. W. L. Woodfill, Musicians in Eng. Soc. 166.
  • 5. CPR, 1547-8, pp. 62-63; 1555-7, p. 93; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; PCC 39 Alen, 50 Chaynay; VCH Berks. iv. 536-7.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; C219/19/157; Hatfield 207; HMC Hatfield, i. 63; Harington, ii. 329-30; APC, ii. 371; E. M. Tomlinson, The Minories, 109, 113-15; CPR, 1553, p. 5; Strype, Cheke, 70, 77; Troubles conn. with the Prayer Bk. of 1549 (Cam. Soc. xxxvii), 124-6.
  • 7. Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 53, 71, 182, 184; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 26-27; APC, v. 45-46, 90-91.
  • 8. C142/202/155.