HARPER, George (1503-58), of Sutton Valence, Kent and London.
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Family and Education
b. 11 Mar. 1503, o.s. of Richard Harper of Latton, Essex by Constance, da. of Sir Robert Chamberlain of Capel and Gedding, Suff. m. (1) Nov. 1524, Lucy (d.1552), da. of Thomas Peckham; (2) by June 1556, Audrey, da. of Sir John Gainsford of Crowhurst, Surr., wid. of George Taylor of Lingfield, Surr., s.p. suc. fa. 10 Apr. 1509, gdfa. 22 Oct. 1516. Kntd. Feb. 1547.1
Esquire of the body by 1533; j.p. Kent 1539-47; keeper, manor of Penshurst, Kent 1543; sheriff, Kent 1548-9; commr. relief 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1541-55.2
After the death of his grandfather George Harper’s wardship was purchased for £180 by his stepfather Alexander Culpeper. In July 1524 he sued out livery of his inheritance and later in the same year he married his stepfather’s great-niece Lucy Peckham. During the next few years Harper established himself at court, becoming an esquire of the body. In 1534, following the death of Sir Edward Guildford, he was granted a lease of the alnage of cloth in Kent. During the Lincolnshire rising of 1536 he carried letters between the King and the Duke of Suffolk, commander of the royal forces.3
Harper’s father and grandfather had lived in Essex, but his stepfather’s lands lay in Kent and Sussex and his first wife inherited considerable property in Kent from her brother. She complained to Cromwell that her husband refused to support her because she would not make over to him half her lands. Apparently she was worsted in the quarrel, for in 1540 Harper obtained a private Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.72) assuring to him in fee simple the manor of Horne Place in Kent, which he held in right of his wife. In 1540 also he was granted two tenements in London; these he sold in April 1542 when he received a large grant of lands, including the house and site of the dissolved priory of Austin Friars in Canterbury and five manors in Essex, practically all of which he sold within 15 months. In June 1543 he was appointed keeper of the manor of Penshurst, in the hands of the crown through the attainder of his half-brother Thomas Culpeper, and in 1544 he acquired from his brother-in-law Nicholas Clifford the manor of Sutton Valence, which became his chief residence in Kent.4
During these years Harper saw service overseas and after the capture of Boulogne in July 1544 he remained for some months in the town, in charge of transport; in spite of his efforts, which the 3rd Duke of Norfolk commended, there were in October 700 sick men waiting to be taken home. Harper himself received a gunshot wound, although evidently he was not seriously hurt. On 29 Dec. 1544 he was elected knight of the shire for Kent in the Parliament summoned to meet in January but in the event delayed until November 1545; two of his Culpeper relatives were among the electors named on the indenture. By the summer of 1545 Harper was back in England and concerned with the defence of Kent.5
Harper was knighted during the coronation celebrations of 1547 and pricked sheriff in the autumn of 1548. He is not known to have sat in either of Edward VI’s Parliaments but during the first of them he was one of the Kentish landowners who obtained an Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no. 40) freeing their land from gavelkind tenure. Between 1549 and 1553 he leased from John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and later Duke of Northumberland, considerable Kentish property in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and elsewhere, sharing the leases with another Thomas Culpeper and other relatives. On 4 July 1553 he was licensed to retain 30 persons beside his household servants, apparently in the hope that he would use them in support of Lady Jane Grey. He may have made tentative moves in her direction: after the accession of Mary he was ordered to come up to court and in October 1553, as well as a general pardon, he received one for all treasons and other offences against the Queen and a release of all indictments standing against him.6
In the new year Harper joined Sir Thomas Wyatt II in armed opposition to the Spanish marriage. The Duke of Norfolk, sent against the rebels, wrote to the Council on the evening of 28 Jan., reporting that Harper had stolen away from them at Rochester and arrived at Gravesend that afternoon in the belief that Norfolk had procured him a pardon from the Queen. The duke explained that he had written to Harper about the pardon in order to win him from the rebels and now begged that the fiction might be turned into fact: ‘I had rather suffer a hundred times death than by my promise he should have any hurt.’ Harper was less scrupulous and again joined Wyatt when Norfolk attacked Rochester on the following day but (according to Stow) returned once more to his allegiance at the eleventh hour with news that Wyatt was marching on London. Whether he came over of his own accord or was taken prisoner, he was soon lodged in the Tower. He was included in the indictment found against the rebels on 13 Feb. but there is no record of his being brought into court with the others to answer the charge. He was further indicted at Maidstone for his part in the earlier stages of the rebellion, but on 6 Nov. 1555 was pardoned. He had been released from the Tower on 18 Jan. in recognizances of £4,000 and in April he appeared before the Council and was fined lands worth £100, or £2,000 in cash. In May he was again sent for and he and Thomas Culpeper, ‘having the rule of that town’, were ordered to go to Tonbridge, where there was trouble. Perhaps Harper was held responsible for the disaffection there, for he seems to have been returned to prison: on 17 Aug. 1555 the lieutenant of the Tower was told to see that he appeared before the Council on the following day. Probably he was then released, although the clerk made no entry in the Council register of his appearance or fate. Thereafter he engaged in unsuccessful litigation against (Sir) Robert Southwell, sheriff of Kent at the time of the rebellion, for misappropriation of his goods.