ROPER, Thomas (1533/34-98), of Eltham, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. 1533/34, 1st s. of William Roper of St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury and Eltham, Kent and Chelsea, Mdx. by Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas More of London and Chelsea. educ. L. Inn. m. by 1557, Lucy, da. of Sir Anthony Browne of Cowdray, Suss., 5s. 5da. suc. fa. 4 Jan. 1578.1
Prothonotary, KB 1574-d.2
Thomas Roper was a student at Lincoln’s Inn barely out of his teens when he took the senior place for one of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk’s boroughs in Mary’s first Parliament: his fellow-Member was his older kinsman Thomas Elrington. His father’s association with the duke, which dated back as early as 1529, could account for their election, but if Roper himself was already married the returning officer, Sir Anthony Browne, was his brother-in-law. At Newport it was presumably another of his brothers-in-law, James Bassett, who enlisted the powerful support of his Grenville kinsmen: his fellow-Member Thomas Hungate was a former dependant of the Browne family. Roper did not support the Protestant opposition in 1553 and the ‘Mr. Roper’ mentioned in the Journal for 1558 was undoubtedly his father.3
Roper lacked the literary talent of his sister Mary, an expert classical scholar who contributed to the cost of printing the first edition of More’s English works in 1557, and his Catholicism precluded him from a public career in his mature years. In 1574 Roper’s father passed on to him the prothonotary-ship of the King’s bench, which he had held for over 50 years, but shortly afterwards his family’s troubles began. Three years later Lincoln’s Inn made a return of recusants stating that William Roper and his two sons had been sequestered from the inn ‘for suspicion had of their religion’. Early in the following year Thomas Roper was given until its last council before Easter ‘to conform to the religion that is now preached’, but despite the threat a year later to deprive him of his chambers, he did not comply and his name disappears from the records of the inn. When his house was searched in 1581, vessels for use in the mass were found and he was imprisoned in the Fleet with his steward, a priest named Francis Thompson. A month later he was released after he had agreed to attend services at Orpington church. During his remaining years he exercised the prothonotaryship mainly through a deputy. Roper died on 21 Jan. 1598, having refused to make a will on his deathbed since he was unable to do any more for his younger children than he had already done, and referring his servants to his eldest son whom he said ‘should have all and hang all’. The inquisition following his death found he had held manors at Eltham and Redbroke, a house outside the west gate of Canterbury, over 1,500 acres near Whitstable and lands in Staffordshire, all of which were valued at £238.