MORICE, William (c.1500-54), of Chipping Ongar, Essex and London.
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Family and Education
Gent. usher to Richard Pace prob. by 1525; yeoman of chamber by 1530; gent. usher by 1533-d.; jt. receiver-gen., ct. gen. surveyors 1530-47, possessions recovered by ct. common pleas 1536-?d.; receiver-gen. of Walter Lord Hungerford’s forfeited lands 1540-9; j.p. Essex 1540-d.; commr. relief 1550.3
William Morice’s father established a position for the family by service with Henry VII’s mother Margaret, Countess of Richmond, as master of the works and, after her death in 1509, as a gentleman usher in the royal household and as joint receiver-general in the court of general surveyors. One of James Morice’s tasks for Margaret Beaufort was to supervise her Cambridge foundations and from one of these, Christ’s College, he acquired a lease of the manor of Roydon. No doubt he utilized his position to procure openings for his children: Ralph, his second son, became Thomas Cranmer’s secretary in 1528, and William, his eldest, entered the service of the diplomatist, Richard Pace.4
In December 1530 William Morice joined his father in the court of general surveyors and through his brother, Ralph, he probably became acquainted with Cranmer. The Morice brothers gave early evidence of their Protestant sympathies in 1532 when with Edward Isaac, already or soon to become William’s brother-in-law, they entreated Hugh Latimer to accompany them to Newgate to visit a heretic, James Bainham, on the day before his execution; according to Foxe, Isaac and the Morices wanted to understand the cause of Bainham’s condemnation, which was ‘to many men obscure and unknown’. Through his wife, William Morice was related to several Protestants of note: her stepfather was a first cousin of Sir Thomas Wyatt II, and her mother was a sister of (Sir) Thomas Wroth. Morice’s mother-in-law died in 1540, having named Cranmer’s brother, Edmund, an overseer of her will, and Morice and her two sons, Edward and Thomas Isaac, executors: the archbishop wrote to Cromwell referring to her deceased husband as his loving friend and asking for a grant from the King to enable the executors to perform her will.5
In January 1536 Morice sent Cromwell a token for the New Year and asked him to let his brother know when he would be admitted to the minister’s service; the request probably referred to Philip, William’s youngest brother, who was Cromwell’s servant by May 1538. In September 1536 William Morice and his father were granted, in survivorship, the office of surveyor and receiver of all possessions recovered by the crown for debts due to the court of common pleas; this office was a profitable one for it carried a fee of £40 a year and 6d. in the pound out of the issues, and it was granted on the revocation of the elder Morice’s patent of 1525 which had appointed him to the same or a similar post. In an undated letter to Cromwell of 1537 William Morice, who was about to depart for the west country, reminded the minister of his suit for a lease in Essex; he asked Cromwell to act quickly, for the chancellor of augmentations, Sir Richard Rich, had promised the tenant a renewal of his lease—this request almost certainly referred to the manor of Chipping Ongar of which he received in September of that year an 80-year lease, to run from 1545. A few years later Rich was to prove his enemy on account of his alleged jealousy of Morice’s manor of Ongar. In 1542 he acquired the advowson of Ongar from George Harper, and at his death his property there was worth £29 4s.8d. a year.6
Ralph Morice relates how Cranmer’s enemies decided to discredit the archbishop by telling the King that he
kept no hospitality or house correspondent unto his revenues and dignity, but sold his woods, and by great incomes and fines maketh money to purchase lands for his wife and children. And to the intent the King should with more facility believe this information Sir Thomas Seymour, being of the privy chamber, was procured to take this matter in hand. And before he informed the King thereof he blasted it abroad in the court insomuch that [mine eldest brother, being one of] the gentlemen ushers, and he fell out for the same, my brother declaring that his report was manifest false, as well for the keeping of his house as of purchasing lands for his wife and children.
In his manuscript the words in brackets have been erased and ‘my brother’ altered to ‘they’ in order to suppress the name of William Morice. According to Ralph Morice the King’s rebuke of Seymour and his fellows prevented the introduction into Parliament of several bills for the confiscation of bishoprics which had been prepared. William Morice’s standing up to such a man as Seymour throws some light on his personality. In 1539 he helped in the preparations for Anne of Cleves’s journey to England, and five years later accompanied the King during the French campaign. On 16 July 1546, the day of Anne Askew’s martyrdom, Morice was in the custody of (Sir) Richard Southwell, and six days later he gave the Council a recognizance of 50 marks to appear if summoned within the next 12 months: since John Lowth, who was tutor to Southwell’s illegitimate son, conferred with Morice ‘of his answers which he had to make in religion afore the Council’, Morice may well have offended against the Act of Six Articles.7
In January 1547 Morice and his father were granted a pension of £110 in compensation for the loss of their offices as receivers of the court of general surveyors, on the court’s incorporation into the court of augmentations. It was revealed that they had been heavily indebted to the crown for some years for unpaid receipts. A debt of some £2,757 had been reduced to £1,844 by 1544; lands evaluated at £1,133 were then accepted in part payment although this sum was considered ‘far above the value’ of the property, a concession made to James Morice for ‘long, true, and faithful service’ to Henry VIII and his grandmother. A year later £500 was still owing. Although the Morices never settled this debt their pensions were not affected.8
When Morice was returned to Edward VI’s first Parliament for Downton, the episcopal lord of the borough, Stephen Gardiner, was a prisoner in the Fleet, and his patronage was presumably exercised during his imprisonment by the Privy Council, on which Cranmer was a leading figure. In the second session (1548-9) Morice obtained a private Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no. 55), uniting the parishes of Ongar and Greenstead, and vesting the advowson in Sir Richard Rich. Morice had formerly owned the advowson of Ongar: now he received ‘the site of the said church of Ongar and the ground called the cemetery’. In view of Morice’s former relations with Rich the Act may well represent a deal between the two men. Rich already had the manor of Greenstead and perhaps wished to consolidate his property while Morice was to be accused of unworthy motives in the Act of 1554 which repealed the union. It is, perhaps, noteworthy that the words vesting the advowson in Rich have been written over an erasure in what looks like a different and smaller hand from that of the bulk of the text, and that the grant to Morice of the site of the church, in a proviso, is added at the end of the Act in this same smaller hand. Later in the final session (1552) the Commons ordered that one of Morice’s servants, Thomas Stanman, who had been arrested in London, should have the privilege of the House. A year later Morice procured his return for a Cornish town to the Parliament summoned by Edward VI on the Duke of Northumberland’s advice, again presumably as Cranmer’s nominee, although on this occasion he may also have enjoyed the support of the receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall, (Sir) Henry Gates, and the steward of the duchy, Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford. Although Gates lost his appointment at the accession of Mary, Bedford’s authority continued undiminished under the new regime, and Morice entered the first Parliament of the Queen’s reign as the senior Member for another Cornish borough. He was not, as might have been expected, noted among those who ‘stood for the true religion’ in that Parliament. On 1 Dec., four days before the close of Parliament, Morice received a general pardon.9
Morice was a sick man when he made his brief will on 16 Jan. 1554, and he died the next day. He committed his soul to God and all his goods to his wife. She received a life interest in one third of his lands with remainder to their son James, another third was set aside for the performance of the will, and the rest was to pass to James when he should reach his majority. Morice appointed his relatives Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Thomas Wroth and Edward Isaac as his executors. The Act for the union of the parishes of Ongar and Greenstead was repealed, not long after Morice’s death, in Mary’s second Parliament. The preamble for the repeal (1 Mary St. 3, c.10) recites the complaint of the parishioners that ‘inordinately seeking his private lucre and profit’, Morice had acted without their consent, and that he had taken away from the church at Ongar ‘ornaments, bells, vestments, chalices and lead’, and had recovered the roof with tiles; Greenstead church, which lies about three-quarters of a mile from Ongar, could not accommodate all the parishioners, ‘whereby your said subjects ever since the time of the said Act have wandered as sheep without their shepherd to strange parishes for divine service and administration of sacraments’, and in winter the curate of Greenstead could not cross the stream which separated the original parishes. The repeal seems to have caused some disturbance, for on 7 June 1554 the Council ordered an examination of Morice’s widow and the inhabitants of Ongar, ‘that without authority of their own heads attempted lately to pluck down the church walls there’.10