PRICE, Sir John (1501/2-55), of Brecon and Hereford.
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Family and Education
b. 1501/2, 1st s. of Rhys ap Gwilym ap Llywelyn of Brecon by Gwenllian, da. of Hywel Madoc. educ. Oxf.; Camb. BCL 1535/36. m. 11 Oct. 1534, Joan, da. of John Williams alias Cromwell of Southwark, Surr., 6s. inc. Gregory and Richard† 5 da.; 1 da. illegit. Kntd. 22 Feb. 1547. suc. fa. unknown.3
Servant of Cromwell by 1530; registrar, bpric. of Salisbury Dec. 1534; jt. registrar-gen. in ecclesiastical matters by 1534; public notary by 1536; sec. council in the marches of Wales 27 Sept. 1540-d., sheriff, Brec. 1542-3, Herefs. 1553-4; j.p. Herefs., Mon., Salop, Welsh counties 1543, Cheshire, Glos., Worcs. 1545-7; commr. subsidy, Brec. 1543, chantries, Wales 1545, relief, Brec. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities Herefs., Hereford 1553; bailiff, Brecon 1544-5.4
John Price was descended from Dafydd Gam, a renowned hero of Agincourt. After studying civil law at Oxford he had by 1530 come within the orbit of Thomas Cromwell. In May 1534 he was one of the agents who secretly searched Tunstall’s palace in Durham because of the bishop’s attitude towards the royal divorce and the ecclesiastical changes which accompanied it. In the following year he was present at the coronation of Anne Boleyn as one of the servitors at the dresser. The King rewarded him with the registrarship of the bishopric of Salisbury which he obtained despite a prior claim on it by Richard Watkins. In the dispute as to who was entitled to the registrarship Cromwell supported Watkins, but the minister’s line does not suggest animosity towards Price. Cromwell followed his advice on how to proceed in argument against the bishops, and made him one of the family; on 11 Oct. 1534 Price married Cromwell’s niece at the minister’s home in Islington, he being at that time 32 and his bride 18. Their firstborn son was to be named Gregory after Cromwell’s eldest boy.5
Among the activities for which Price is chiefly remembered is his part in the visitation of the monasteries launched by Cromwell early in 1535. Little good has ever been said of the visitors, but Price for one should not be judged too harshly. A sincere Reformer, he had no patience with the superstitions enshrined in decadent religious houses, but his sense of history gave him some respect for the monastic ideal. He also deplored the behaviour of Thomas Lee I, whom he usually accompanied on visitation. Price’s instinct to be fair and humane was perhaps out of place in an operation designed not to assess the spiritual worth of the monasteries but to find reasons for their destruction. He was next to find employment as a public notary during the examinations and interrogations of the rebels of 1536, both in London and in their homelands. During 1539 he was a commissioner for the surrender of the monasteries in a number of counties, mainly in the west of England, and in 1540 he was prothonotary during the process of nullification of the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.6
Price furnished Cromwell with a great deal of information about Wales, although there is no evidence for the suggestion that he was the author of the petition to the crown for the Union. He was a tireless worker. In a letter written in his own hand to Cromwell in 1538 he listed the ‘examinations, writing of professions, instruments touching his grace’s marriage, minutes of leagues, riding on his grace’s affairs and such other simple services as I have done his highness’; he had been diverted into this multiplicity of tasks by ‘the decay of his office [of registrar] which chiefly consisted in election of abbots and priors now abolished’, and to make up for this he petitioned for the purchase of the former priory at Hereford or for the ratification of his lease of the priory. If his activities were not lucrative in themselves, they put him in a good position with respect to the new crown property. In May 1538 he leased the rectory of the parish church of Brecon, in 1540 the grange of Dereham in Norfolk and in 1542 the sites of Brecon and Hereford priories and lands elsewhere.7
Price’s peripatetic activities came to an end with the fall of Cromwell. In September 1540 he was appointed to the council at Ludlow as its secretary. He was straightway involved in a dispute with Charles Foxe, who with his brother Edmund Foxe held the post of clerk of the signet and clerk of the council, over their respective functions. Price complained to the Privy Council, and after both men had been summoned to appear at Westminster an order was made on 13 Sept. that all matters of variance between them ‘should now be ended’. This resolution proved too sanguine, for 18 months later Price and Foxe were again at Westminster, this time with Edmund Foxe as well. It was then decided that Price should be given the signet but that the clerkship and secretaryship of the council should be further considered and the fees meanwhile held by the president: how the matter was finally resolved does not appear. His duties on the council and elsewhere earned Price exemption from military service in France in 1544 but brought him a knighthood at Edward VI’s coronation.8
The new reign also saw the beginning of Price’s parliamentary career: his election for Breconshire in 1547 answered to his standing in a shire of which he had been sheriff five years earlier. Although as an enthusiast for the Edwardian Reformation, which he was to propagate in Wales, he might have been expected to sit again in March 1553, he is not known to have done so (the names of nearly all the Members for the Welsh and border constituencies are known, except those for Hereford, Herefordshire, Leominster, New Radnor Boroughs and Radnorshire, for any of which he might have been returned), but he was to appear in the first three Marian Parliaments. In October 1553 he sat for Hereford, near which he had his main residence. His election was shortly followed by his appointment as sheriff, a mark of the Queen’s confidence which he perhaps reciprocated by not opposing the first measures passed in this Parliament for the restoration of Catholicism. It was also at this time that he wrote his treatise on the restoration of the coinage, which he dedicated to the Queen.9
When at the next election his shrievalty compelled Price to look elsewhere for a seat, he used his position and connexions at Ludlow to provide him with one, although perhaps not without competition, for the indenture bears an alteration suggestive of a contest. Six months later he scraped into what was to prove his last Parliament only by filling a casual vacancy much further afield. This arose when Anthony Browne II, who had been returned at both Maldon and Ludgershall, chose to sit for Maldon: at a by-election on 19 Nov. 1554, seven days after the Parliament had begun, Price replaced him at Ludgershall. All that is clear about this curious episode is that Price must have owed his nomination to (Sir) Richard Brydges, the patron of Ludgershall. Whether he had tried and failed to secure election in Wales, and why he turned to Brydges, are alike unknown: the two were almost certainly divided in religion, and there seems to be nothing to connect them save the incidental fact that Price’s county of Herefordshire was among those of which Brydges was joint receiver for the duchy of Lancaster. Not the least interesting aspect of the affair is Price’s evident eagerness to find a seat. The Parliament was to see the Marian Restoration reach its climax with the repeal of the Act of Supremacy; although this was a betrayal of all that Price stood for, he was not one of those found to be absent without leave at the calling of the House early in January 1555. He was presumably the ‘Mr. Price’ appointed on 27 Oct. 1553 with two other civilians, David Lewis and Sir John Tregonwell, to examine the validity of John Foster II’s return, but it is less certain whether he or John Price II was the recipient in the following April of the unsuccessful bill prohibiting the use of handguns.10
Throughout his life Price was an active scholar. A student of history, he wrote the Historiae Britannicae Defensio to defend the Arthurian legend against the attacks made on it by Polydore Vergil. In his will he urged his son Richard to print those works ‘that I have made against Polydore’s Story of England, and to annex to the same some piece of antiquity that is not yet printed out of the written books of histories that I have in my house, as William Malmesbury’s De Regibus Anglorum or Henry of Huntingdon’. Loyal to his father’s wish, Richard Price saw to the publication of the Defensio, which appeared in 1573. Price’s other works were the Description of Cambria, published as part of the Historie of Cambria by David Powell (1584), and Fides Historiae Britannicae, another attack on Polydore Vergil. He was also versed in theology, bequeathing his ‘written books of divinity’ to Hereford cathedral and St. Augustine’s works to the vicar of Bromyard, Herefordshire. His interest in spreading the reformed faith in Wales led him to undertake the publication in 1547 of the first printed book in Welsh, Yny Lhyvyr hwnn, which contained translations of the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer; in the preface he advocated worship in the vernacular. He was also a noted collector of Welsh manuscripts, which he left to one Thomas Vaughan of Glamorgan.