POPE, Thomas (1506/7-59), of Clerkenwell, London and Tittenhanger, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 1506/7, 1st s. of William Pope of Deddington, Oxon. by 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Edmund Yate of Standlake, Oxon. educ. Banbury sch.; Eton c.1520-4. m. (1) ?Elizabeth Gunston (div. 11 July 1536); (2) 17 July 1536, Margaret (d.1538), wid. of Sir Ralph Dodmer of London, 1da.; (3) Elizabeth, da. of Walter Blount I of Blount’s Hall, nr. Uttoxeter, Staffs. and Osbaston, Leics., wid. of Anthony Basford (d. 1 Mar. 1538) of Bentley, Derbys., s.p. suc. fa. 16 Mar. 1523. Kntd. Oct. 1537.3
Clerk of the writs, Star Chamber 1532, jt. clerk 1534-d.; warden of the mint, the Tower of London 1534-6; treasurer, ct. augmentations 1536-40; master of the woods, south of the Trent by 1545-53; clerk of the crown in Chancery by July 1537, jt. (with John Lucas) Feb. 1538-44; j.p. Oxon., Surr. 1541-7, q. Kent, Oxon., Surr. 1554; commr. benevolence, Surr. 1544/45, contribution 1546, chantries, Surr., Suss. and Southwark 1546, Surr. 1549, of Admiralty in Nov. 1547, relief, Herts., Oxon., Surr. and Southwark 1550, heresy 1557; PC by July 1544-?47, 4 Aug. 1553-?58; custos rot. Surr. c.1547; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1552-3, 1557-8.4
William Pope was a small landowner whose ancestors had moved from Kent to Oxfordshire at the beginning of the 15th century. He held property at Hook Norton and Whitehill which had been vested in feoffees and which on his death was divided between his widow and his eldest son. Thomas Pope was also left £100, while £40 was given to each of his three sisters, but there is no mention of the second son John.5
In the statutes of his foundation of Trinity College, Oxford, Pope was to refer to his own education at Banbury school. Thomas Warton, the 18th-century author of a colourful biography, says that his hero was destined for the law, although there is no evidence that Pope was admitted to an inn of court. His bequest of a gown to Master Croke, his ‘old master’s son’, probably means that he was articled to Richard Croke, comptroller of the hanaper and chief of the Six Clerks in Chancery who served Chancellor More. More has been credited with furthering Pope’s early career but he had resigned the great seal by October 1532, when Pope first obtained office. Two-and-a-half years later More is said to have been visited in the Tower by his former underling and to have replied cheerfully when told that he was shortly to be executed. Such an ambiguous service was to be typical of Pope’s career.6
More’s successor Audley certainly favoured Pope, who is described as his ‘servant’ in March 1536; later, Pope was to receive a grant of land jointly with the chancellor and to be named his executor. Further advancement needed the help of Cromwell, for whom Pope was negotiating land purchases in September 1534. Audley himself cultivated the minister and Pope followed suit, swearing that he had no other friend. His rise was signalized on 26 June 1535 by a grant in arms, which are still borne by his college, and by a knighthood in 1537. In March 1540 the chancellor thanked Cromwell for his kindness to Pope, who had just resigned the treasurership of augmentations, and promised that he would requite it; three months later Cromwell fell, but Audley and Pope escaped unhurt.7
Pope must have had exceptional ability to be singled out when so young. The court of augmentations had been set up to deal with the property of suppressed religious houses. Sir Richard Rich became its chancellor and Pope, a man of about 28 and of far less experience, its treasurer and second officer. The court’s officers, although politic, were not always subservient to Cromwell, and on one occasion Pope incurred the minister’s anger over the manor of Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, which the treasurer bought from Sir John Dudley and leased to George Robinson, when Cromwell wanted it for himself. Henry Polsted, Cromwell’s servant and deputy steward north of the Trent, told his master that Pope knew of Cromwell’s interest and rejected Pope’s claim to have lost money on the transaction. Pope importuned others to intercede for him, including Thomas Wriothesley and John Gostwick, who wrote on his behalf to Cromwell’s nephew. The minister promised to bear no ill will if Pope would let him buy Drayton and in the same year the treasurer sought his favour against a young Oxfordshire landowner named Billing, who was protesting that he had been under age when Pope acquired some property from him. Cromwell seems to have kept his word, for the lands, at Ardley, remained with Pope, who also held the manor there when he died. In September 1536 Pope joined his colleague Robert Southwell in support of a charge of profiteering brought against Rich by Christopher Lascelles.8
Another debt of Pope’s to Cromwell was his return to Parliament for Buckingham in 1536. On 19 May George Gifford II, his fellow-Member, wrote to the minister from Northamptonshire, where he was visiting religious houses, that he and Pope had been duly elected, in accordance with Cromwell’s letters to the town. Unlike Gifford, Pope had no family ties with Buckinghamshire, sat on no commissions there and held no property in the county; he was an official nominee and he and Gifford were made an exception to the general directive calling for the re-election of the previous Members. His return for Berkshire in 1539 with Sir Richard Brydges was probably also Cromwell’s work, although in this case there is no evidence of such intervention, for Pope’s connexion with this county was equally tenuous.9
If Cromwell suspected Pope of being both selfish and devious, others were sure of it. Viscount Lisle was obliged to bribe him as treasurer of augmentations to secure payment of an annuity. Corruption may help to explain Pope’s wealth but calculation was the key to his survival. He was on a list of Surrey gentlemen who were to supply men, probably to crush the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, and perhaps saw in the troubles a chance to rise higher by discrediting others. When the 3rd Duke of Norfolk was subduing the north, John Freeman, a receiver in the augmentations, reported at dinner in Pope’s house that the duke had spoken sympathetically to the rebels at Doncaster. His host made Freeman write down his allegations on the spot and tried without success to persuade the other guests to do likewise. In May 1537 Norfolk was forced to refute this and other slanders in a letter to the King.10
Pope’s own attitude to the rebellion was naturally dictated by his office. He was not yet a justice of the peace, but the chancellor and treasurer of the augmentations both helped to examine the Lincolnshire rebels. Although not a regular commissioner for suppressing the monasteries, on 5 Dec. 1539 he received the surrender of St. Albans. In many cases, annuities were extracted from religious houses and then confirmed by the court; Pope, who often signed warrants granting pensions to the inmates, was enjoying four such annuities, according to his own account as treasurer for the year ending Michaelmas 1539. In 1543 the number is recorded as five, compared with 11 which had been granted to Cromwell and 13 to Rich.11
Pope resigned as treasurer in favour of Edward North in March 1540, probably at his own request. A new post, the mastership of the woods south of the Trent, was instituted in 1543 and perhaps at once given to Pope; he was master in 1545 and was confirmed in office when the court of augmentations was reformed, to include that of general surveyors, on 2 Jan. 1547. He was now only the fourth officer in the court but a man of much greater substance, for these were his busiest years in buying and, less frequently, selling property; he now played a fuller part in local affairs and could supply 50 men at a muster of the Surrey gentry in 1544. A member of the Council by July of that year, he was involved in secret diplomacy, for in April 1545 the Protestant 3rd Earl of Cassillis sent him a letter in cypher from Edinburgh which he passed on to Secretary Petre. In the following year he advertised his orthodoxy by joining Norfolk and others in witnessing the recantation of Dr. Crome, who had offended against the Six Articles.12
Too much has been made of Pope’s withdrawal from affairs under Edward VI. True, he was no longer a member of the Council, and he is said to have been out of sympathy with the Reformers, but he continued as master of the woods in the augmentations until the court’s abolition in 1553. Grants of land continued and on 23 July 1547, in accordance with an indenture of the late King, he and his wife received the house and park of Tittenhanger, which became his chief residence. He would hardly have been pricked sheriff in 1552 if the Duke of Northumberland had seriously distrusted him, but he was not among those who signed the King’s letters devising the crown upon Jane Grey or who otherwise abetted Jane during her brief reign.13
Pope must have been quick to rally to Mary, with whom he was later reported to have had great influence. On 29 July 1553 the Council ordered him to arrest (Sir) Francis Russell and other suspects, on 4 Aug. he was sworn in as a Councillor and on 4 Oct. he obtained a general pardon. In February 1554 he was among those who watched Wyatt’s rebels surging along Fleet Street to Ludgate Hill; he later joined in the baiting of prisoners taken to the Tower, where for over a week he sat with (Sir) Richard Southwell and others to examine them. Chosen in 1556 as custodian to Princess Elizabeth, Pope probably spent only a short time with her at Hatfield, although Warton lists a series of festivities supposedly given by him in her honour; in April 1558 he was deputed to broach with her a marriage proposal from Eric XIV of Sweden. In 1557 he had been named to the commission which was to punish heresy, nonconformity, vagrancy and neglect or misuse of church property. His surprising absence from all the Parliaments of the reign may have reflected either a desire to avoid the limelight or a growing preoccupation with the plan for a new college at Oxford.14
The dissolution of the monasteries had helped to make Pope one of the richest commoners of his time. In July 1537 he had complained to Cromwell ‘I have no gain in office but my fee, above which I must spend yearly 200 marks’, but already his accumulation of lands in many midland counties had begun. Thenceforward he acquired or exchanged monastic property almost every year, most of it in Oxfordshire, where it extended into 15 parishes, or in the suburbs of London. At Bermondsey he pulled down the old priory to make way for Bermondsey House, which he sold to (Sir) Robert Southwell in 1555, and he established another town residence at Clerkenwell. Large sums changed hands in the process: among scores of lesser transactions between 1540 and 1554 four large purchases cost him nearly £6,000.15
Apart from his wife Pope had no one to provide for; his brother was also a rich man and Pope’s only child, Alice, had died in infancy. Accordingly, on 20 Feb. 1555 he bought the site of the former Durham College, Oxford, which had passed into private hands. Royal letters of 8 Mar. licensed him to establish a new college dedicated to the Trinity; he was also given leave to found a free school at Hook Norton, but this intention was afterwards abandoned in favour of four scholarships to the college. Although his foundation provided for masses and traditional observances, his aims were not primarily religious and his statutes followed other codes of the day, being notable only for their avoidance of detailed rules governing elections. He also presented 93 volumes to the library, with furnishings and plate. The lands settled on the college were barely adequate, in view of the many charges specified in the statutes, especially as Pope’s property was mostly let to relatives or friends on 99-year leases. There were to be financial and religious difficulties which he did not live to see, but most of the original endowment is still held by the college.16
Pope made a long will on 6 Feb. 1557, adding a codicil on 12 Dec. 1558. The many personal and charitable bequests included sums to the nuns of Syon and the friars of Smithfield. A family settlement had left most of his estates to his brother, who was to be the ancestor of the earls of Downe, but Clerkenwell, Tittenhanger and certain Derbyshire properties went to the widow, with remainder to the sons of her first marriage. The widow, her brother William Blount and Nicholas Bacon were named executors and Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Sir Francis Englefield and the brothers Sir Richard and Sir Robert Southwell overseers. Pope died in his house at Clerkenwell on 29 Jan. 1559, probably of the prevailing epidemic, and a week later his coffin was borne to St. Stephen’s Walbrook as he had requested. His widow married (Sir) Hugh Paulet.17
Pope’s memorial was to be Trinity College, in whose chapel his widow erected a handsome tomb, with alabaster effigies of her husband and herself, to which his remains were transferred in 1567. The president’s lodgings contain one of several portraits of him, painted in middle life, but the stolid and rather fleshy features are not revealing. He cannot have been a commonplace man, but he owed his fame to his benefaction rather than to his career.18
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: T. F.T. Baker
- 1. LP Hen. VIII, x. 916.
- 2. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
- 3. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/40/56. DNB; H. E. D. Blakiston, Trinity Coll. Oxf. 35.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII, v, vii, xi, xiii, xv-xxi; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 71, 304-5, 331n, 492; C66/801; 193/12/1; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 88, 90; 1548-9, p. 115; 1550-3, p. 141; 1553, pp. 354, 357, 362; 1553-4, pp. 20, 23-24, 35, 138, 176, 195-6, 265, 302, 507; 1554-5, pp. 90-91, 107, 343; 1555-7, p. 281; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 115; Rep. R. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. of Brit. Hist. and Culture