CHAPMAN, Robert (1493/94-1563), of Cambridge.

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



Mar. 1553
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1493/94, 1st s. of Hugh Chapman of Cambridge by Agnes, da. of John Madock (or Martok) of Mardocks, Ware, Herts. m. (1) Isabel, da. of Thomas Vincent; (2) Elizabeth, wid. of Richard Clarke of Cambridge, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. c.1526.3

Offices Held

Notary public in 1518; mayor, Cambridge, 1533-4, 1542-3, alderman by 1538; j.p. 1537; commr. gaol delivery 1540, 1561, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, heresy 1556.4


Robert Chapman took a leading part, as a supporter of Thomas Brakyn, in the disturbances accompanying the mayoral and parliamentary elections in August and September 1529. He was probably brother to the miller John Chapman, over whose candidature for the mayoralty the dispute began; like Brakyn, he probably owed his return to the Parliament of 1529 to the postponement of the election, which the retiring mayor Edward Slegge had tried unsuccessfully to hold on the last day of his year of office.5

That Robert Chapman was the notary public who in July 1518 received diplomatic papers on behalf of the bishop of Ely is shown by his description, in the Star Chamber case resulting from the disturbances at Cambridge in 1529, as ‘one Chapman late my lord of Ely’s scribe’. He seems to have helped Brakyn at every stage of the affair, and at the end of it, after Brakyn had become mayor, he was appointed to prosecute Slegge for breach of the town’s statutes, although the case was not proceeded with. In another Star Chamber case, dating from 1534, Chapman as plaintiff accused the university proctors of fomenting a riot by the students, who interfered with him in what he claimed to be the exercise of his mayoral functions.6

During and after his first term as mayor Chapman was a diligent supporter of the government. It was probably in April 1535 that he wrote to Cromwell, ‘as one very desirous to be occupied in your service’, congratulating the minister on his recovery from illness. This letter, with its promise that Chapman would ‘be ready at all hours to do you service either here or elsewhere’, may have preceded Cromwell’s appointment as high steward of Cambridge university, for it would clearly have been useful to the town to have a leading inhabitant in the minister’s service. Disputes between town and gown persisted throughout the 1530s and drew a number of letters of remonstrance from Cromwell to the townsmen; their lack of noticeable effect perhaps owed something to Chapman’s intermediate position. Whether the town benefited in any more positive way from the connexion is doubtful; in at least one case it appears not to have done so, for in October or November 1537 the treasurers of Cambridge recorded a payment of 5s. by Chapman and others to counsel ‘for penning of a book that should have been put into the Star Chamber and all was lost as it fortuned’. The break in Chapman’s parliamentary career after Cromwell’s fall may none the less reflect his loss of standing at court. He remained active in town affairs, however, and he was one of three municipal leaders specially complained of by the university in December 1546 for ‘inordinate unseemly and uncharitable facing and craking’ of the vice-chancellor.7

The will admitted to probate had been made by Chapman on 29 Dec. 1562 and ratified by a codicil added on 7 Jan. 1563, when he was ill and the will was in the custody of his son-in-law. It begins with a revocation of earlier wills, in particular the one ‘made and solemnly read before witnesses the last day of November last past’. It is unlikely that Chapman would have prepared two such wills within a month if his only object in revoking the earlier one had been to alter its dispositive part, which he could have done more easily by preparing one or more codicils. It was therefore probably the preamble of the earlier will that Chapman revised. In the last will, after the revocation mentioned, he bequeathed his soul to God ‘trusting ... that He will receive the same to His mercy through the prayers of his most blessed mother our lady Saint Mary and all the holy company of Heaven’. He asked to be buried in Trinity church, Cambridge, and gave directions about his gravestone; the executors were given ‘the whole order of that thing with all other by word of mouth committed to their trust as the times orders and laws of the Queen’s realm shall serve’. Among a number of charitable gifts, Chapman instructed his executors to find at his burial ‘some worshipful and discreet preacher to declare the word of God’. Most of the will is concerned with provision for his wife and children from the revenues of his manor of Mardocks, Hertfordshire, and of his numerous booths at Stourbridge fair, including £16 a year for the minority of his son Thomas provided ‘that he will diligently apply his book and learning’. The witnesses to the will included John Rust, whom Chapman also appointed supervisor and to whom he left 40s.and three yards of satin for a doublet. Chapman must have died before 10 Feb. 1563, when probate of the will was granted to the executors, his widow and his son-in-law Thomas Gardiner; it was Gardiner who successfully defended the validity of the will and codicil against Chapman’s elder son John, sentence being pronounced in March 1577. John Chapman had been well provided for by the will; perhaps he objected to the ban on his alienating the manor of Mardocks without the executors’ consent.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. C. H. Cooper, Cambridge Annals, i. 386.
  • 2. Ibid. i. 394, 396.
  • 3. Aged 35 in November 1529, St. Ch.2/26/178, no. xviii. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 83; PCC 9 Chayre; Req.2/16/60.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, ii, xii, xiii, xv; F. Blomefield, Coll. Cant. 244; Cooper, ii. 108, 110; CPR, 1553, p. 417; 1560-3, p. 406.
  • 5. St.Ch.2/26/178.
  • 6. Elton, St. Ch. Stories, 52-77.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, vii, viii, xiii; SP1/91, f. 184; Merriman, Letters of Thos. Cromwell, i. 408-9, 421-3, 431-2, 437-8; ii. 53-54, 74-76; Downing Coll. Camb. Bowtell mss Liber Rationalis 1510-60, 1537-8, acct. 31; Cooper, i. 430, 442; ii. 70, 97.
  • 8. PCC 9 Chayre, 11 Daughtry; VCH Herts. iii. 390.