TRACY, Richard (by 1501-69), of Stanway, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Family and Education

b. by 1501, 2nd s. of William Tracy of Toddington by Margaret, da. of Thomas Throckmorton of Warws. educ. Oxf. adm. 27 June 1515, determined 1516; I. Temple, adm. 6 July 1519. m. by 1547, Barbara, da. of Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warws. by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Empson of Easton Neston, Northants., 3s. 3da.1

Offices Held

Master of the revels, I. Temple 1519, butler 1530-4, steward 1535-7, gov. 1549-50.

J.p. Worcs. 1537-47, Glos. 1547, 1558/59-d.; commr. musters, Worcs. 1546, chantries, Glos., Bristol and Gloucester 1548, relief, Worcs. 1550; escheator, Glos. 1547-8; sheriff 1560-1.2

Biography

Richard Tracy’s background and early life doubtless resembled in most respects those of many young men of similar lineage. His family was an old established one in Gloucestershire, which its members had served both locally and at Westminster, his father a justice of the peace and sheriff. A younger son, Richard Tracy spent some time at Oxford before entering the Inner Temple, where if he made no mark on the professional side he was to work his way up as an administrator to the rank of governor.3

The borough of Wootton Bassett, for which Tracy was returned to the Parliament of 1529, was to be represented by many men from across the nearby border, but his home near Winchcomb was rather distant for him to be accounted a local man: the same was true of his fellow-Member, Walter Winston, who lived at Randwick near Stroud. Like two other Wiltshire boroughs, Devizes and Marlborough, Wootton Bassett formed part of the jointure of successive queens consort and this court connexion probably explains the appearance among its Members of men who had little, if any, personal connexion with it. In the case of Tracy, the names of possible patrons include those of Sir Edward Baynton, a local magnate who besides securing his own election for the shire may have been influential in other boroughs, and Sir John Brydges, who was returned for Gloucestershire and whose marriage connexions with Tracy probably assisted his election. If religious sympathy entered into the matter, Baynton’s incipient Protestantism would have made him a natural patron for the son of so doughty a reformist as William Tracy.4

The elder Tracy’s death on 10 Oct. 1530 started a chain of events which were to have a profound effect on his son. The dead man had made a will in which he explicitly refused to bequeath anything ‘for that intent that any man shall say or do to help my soul’, a provision which, when the will came to be proved, was referred to the Convocation of Canterbury and condemned as heretical on 23 Mar. 1531. Thereupon Dr. Thomas Parker, chancellor of Worcester, not only exhumed Tracy’s body, as he had been instructed to do, but burnt it at the stake, for which he needed, but did not obtain, the writ de heretico comburendo. The fine of £300 imposed on Parker was some retribution for this gruesome affair but the Church itself was to be the greatest loser. Tracy became a Protestant hero and near-martyr, and his will—or what purported to be it—was circulated among the faithful and was published with a commentary by William Tyndale: even the orthodox Robert Joseph admitted that ‘Tracy has done more harm to the Christian religion in his death than by his pestiferous contentions before’.5

Filial piety and reforming zeal combined to make Richard Tracy the protagonist in his father’s cause—his elder brother is never mentioned—and from his vantage-points of the Temple and Parliament he organized his campaign. He had been present in Convocation when the verdict was given and it would be interesting to know if he tried to interest the Commons either in this or in its sequel. All that is known is that on 15 Jan. 1533, shortly before setting out for London to attend the fifth session (which began on 4 Feb.) he wrote, presumably from Gloucestershire, to an unnamed friend, recounting the story and promising to explain the situation to Cromwell who, he had heard, was commissioned to investigate. Whether Cromwell was brought into the affair, or whether, as some versions suggest, even the King took it up, does not appear. Cromwell was of assistance to Tracy in other spheres and helped him to obtain several properties and leases: on 16 Feb., during the fifth session, the abbot of Tewkesbury agreed to the minister’s suggestion to grant him the manor of Stanway, which immediately became his home. Tracy’s name appears in several of Cromwell’s memoranda, and it is evident that the two men were close. Nothing else has come to light about his part in the work of the Parliament. Presumably he served for Wootton Bassett in the following one, that of June 1536, when the King asked for the re-selection of the previous Members, and perhaps again in 1539 and 1542, for which Parliaments the names of the borough’s Members are lost.6

When in the autumn of 1536 the north rebelled, Tracy was one of those gentlemen in the west on whose loyalty the King felt he could rely, but in the event Tracy’s allegiance was never put to the test. In the following year he was named to the bench for Worcestershire, where he owned more land than in his home county, and from then on he cut a figure in local affairs, especially in religious matters for which he earned the praise of Bishop Latimer. In 1538 he served on the commission to examine a relic belonging to Hailes abbey which was adjudged spurious and entrusted to his care, and later in the same year he was nominated, but not pricked, sheriff of Worcestershire, being passed over in favour of Robert Acton. His friendship with Cromwell led to his occasional presence at court and it was perhaps on such a visit that he witnessed the reception of Anne of Cleves. The fall of the minister did not harm Tracy’s career, although in the 1540s no trace of his presence at court has been found.7

Tracy’s lasting fame rests not so much on his efforts to redeem his father’s name as on his literary output. In 1535 he sent Cromwell a discourse, which may have been of his own composing, on the evils of making lawyers bishops and the need to choose suitable preachers. His first known work, The profe and declaration of thys proposition: Faith alone iustifieth, dates from five years later; it was dedicated to Henry VIII, to whom he described himself as the ‘most simple of this your realm and yet one of the lively members of this your civil and politic body’. Two more tracts, Of the Preparation to the Crosse and to Death dedicated to Cromwell in 1540 and The Supplycation to our most Soueraigne Lorde Kyng Henry the Eyght published four years later, are usually considered Tracy’s work and gained him some popularity. Their reformist bias was not welcomed by the government and in July 1546 his publications were banned, together with those of other Protestant authors. On the accession of Edward VI this ban lapsed, and in 1548 Tracy published A most godly enstruction and lesson and A bryef and short declaration made wherebye every Chrysten Man may knowe what is a Sacrament, in which he opposed transubstantiation. His purpose was didactic, and according to his sympathisers he observed in his own life the principles that he advocated. His reputation as ‘an earnest favourer of all good and godly learning’ was generally praised, particularly by his protégé Bartholomew Traheron.8

The year 1551 was an unhappy one for Tracy. On 10 May his friend Robert Keilway II was imprisoned in the Fleet for having concealed ‘a seditious and lewd message’ from him, and a week later Tracy was himself committed to the Tower. There he remained until February 1552 when the attorney-general and John Throckmorton I were ordered to examine him, but he was not released until the following 17 Nov. and even then he was ordered to appear weekly before the Council. This episode has been thought to have resulted from Tracy’s unfavourable estimate of the Earl of Warwick, but it may be more than a coincidence that several years later Tracy had to defend his title to a manor against one John Throckmorton. His religious views were to bring him to the notice of the Council during Mary’s reign, when he was removed from the bench for both Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. His avowed intention to conform met with some incredulity, and the Queen’s doubts were confirmed in September 1555 when the Council rebuked him for his behaviour towards Bishop Brooks of Gloucester. On this occasion Tracy reiterated his avowal and he probably did conform as no more is heard of his opposition and he is not known to haave gone into exile: he was to be in trouble with the Council once more before the reign was out, but this was for refusing to contribute towards the forced loan of 1557. He must nevertheless have welcomed the advent of Elizabeth: he was restored to his place on the bench and in 1560 pricked sheriff of Gloucestershire. All the same, the new religious settlement was to disappoint him and in 1565 he protested against the retention of a crucifix in the Queen’s chapel and warned Cecil of the dangers of idolatry.9

In his brief will, made on 6 Mar. 1569, Tracy provided from a debt owing to him the marriage portions of his three daughters, Hester, Susan and Judith, whose baptisnmal names, like his sons’, reflect his devotion to the Bible. His part of the lands of Clifford priory and certain unspecified lands recently purchased from the 1st Earl of Pembroke he devised upon his younger sons, Samuel and Nathaniel; he appointed his eldest son Paul executor and his cousin George Stretford overseer. Tracy died two days later, and the will was proved in the following month.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Elizabeth McIntyre

Notes

  • 1. Date of birth estimated from education. DNB; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 573; C142/48/109, 52/52, 150/131; Vis. Glos. Harl. Soc. xxi), 165-7; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 111, 287; NRA 6336, p. 8; CPR, 1547-8, p. 48; PCC 8 Babington.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xii-xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8 to 1563-6 passim.
  • 3. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, ii. 56; v. 155; LP Hen. VIII, i.