GRAFTON, Richard (c.1507-73), of London.

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



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. c.1507, s. of Nicholas Grafton of Shrewsbury, Salop. m. (1) Anne Crome (d.1560), of Salisbury, Wilts., 4s. inc. Richard 1da.; (2) 5 Jan. 1562, Alice, da. of Sir John Ayliffe (Olyffe), at least 2s. suc. fa. 1525 or later.1

Offices Held

Warden, Grocers’ Co. 1555-6, master 1564; printer to Prince Edward by 1545, to the King 1547-53; master, Bridewell hospital 1559, 1560.2


Richard Grafton’s father was a London skinner who came up to the City from Shrewsbury, where Graftons had been prominent since the end of the 14th century, their coat of arms being once included in the Jesse window of St. Mary’s church. Apprenticed in 1526 to John Blagge, a grocer in Cheapside, Grafton was made free of the Grocers’ Company on 16 Dec. 1534. Blagge may have helped to form Grafton’s religious views, for in 1541 he was presented ‘for not coming to his parish church, not confessing nor receiving’ while Grafton himself was ‘suspected not to have been confessed’: if Grafton’s first wife Anne Crome was related to Edward Crome, the rector of St. Mary Aldermary, he would also have moved in Protestant circles as a young husband. His exchange of the grocer’s trade for printing may similarly have owed something to his fellow-grocer Edward Hall I, who was also of Shropshire descent and had Grafton’s relative John Onley as his colleague in the office of under sheriff of London.3

Grafton’s first venture was the publication of the Bible in English. The so-called Matthew Bible, a version of Coverdale’s and Tyndale’s translations corrected for the press by John Rogers, was printed abroad, almost certainly at Antwerp, for distribution in England by Grafton, who had 1,500 copies of it ready by the autumn of 1537. Thanking Cromwell for his assistance in obtaining the King’s licence, he asked for a monopoly until all of them were sold, which he thought would take three years: his further suggestion that every curate should be required to buy one copy and every abbey six, met with some response in the order issued early in 1538 instructing justices of the peace to see the English Bible used in their counties.4

The Matthew Bible was speedily entrusted to Coverdale for revision, and as it was thought that no English press could produce the new version Coverdale and Grafton went to Paris to supervise its printing under the French King’s licence. In the summer of 1538 they were reporting good progress but in December, with the work nearly complete, the inquisition stepped in and they had to flee. Grafton returned to Paris in 1539, presumably to rescue what he could of the impression, and when Cromwell’s negotiations for the return of the confiscated type succeeded the first edition of the Great Bible was ready before the end of the year 1539 according to the old reckoning. Twelve months later it was reissued, with a prologue by Cranmer, as the Bible appointed for use in all churches.5

It was probably with the presses and types brought to England in 1539 that Richard Grafton set up his own printing house within the precinct of the late Grey Friars at Newgate. The fall of Cromwell does not seem to have checked his progress and the next decade saw primer and psalter, proclamation and statute stream from his press. He survived some crises. In January 1541, when he confessed to printing some mutual invective composed by Thomas Smith and William Grey II and to owning an epistle of Melanchthon in English, he was put in the Fleet. He was sent there again in April 1543, with his partner Edward Whitchurch and six others, for printing books forbidden by proclamation, but on 2 May he and Whitchurch were released on the King’s orders and they continued to enjoy their seven-year monopoly of printing ‘the mass book, the grail, the antiphoner, the hymnal, the portas and the primer’. On the succession of Edward VI they received a similar grant in survivorship and Grafton was appointed royal printer for life.6

To his official publications Grafton added a wide-ranging general list. Classical authors were represented by a translation (by John Hales I) of The Preceptes of ... Plutarche, in 1543, The Ethiques of Aristotle in 1547 and the Preceptes of Cato in 1553. An Epitome of the Title that the Kynges Majestie of Englande hath to the Sovereigntie of Scotlande by Nicholas Adams alias Bodrugan and William Patten’s Expedicion into Scotlande both appeared in 1548, a Latin life of the two children of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, by Thomas Wilson in 1551 and Wilson’s Arte of Rhetorique in 1553. Grafton also printed Hardyng’s Chronicle (with a continuation by himself), An Abridgement of the notable woorke of P. Vergile, and in 1548, following Hall’s bequest to him of the ‘Chronicle late made, trusting that he will set it forward’, the first complete edition of Hall.7

This phase of Grafton’s career came to a sudden end with the accession of Mary. His printing of the proclamation of Queen Jane cost him his royal appointment, although on the day after he surrendered his patent he received a general pardon. Instead of continuing as a private printer he turned to writing: his Abridgement of the Chronicles of England, dedicated to Sir Robert Dudley, was published in 1562 by his son-in-law Richard Tottel, and his Chronicle at Large of 1568 was dedicated to Sir William Cecil. His literary labours he diversified by his activity as governor and treasurer of Christ’s Hospital, founded on the site of the Grey Friars where he had formerly plied his craft, and by his Membership of two of Mary’s Parliaments and one of Elizabeth’s. His Chronicle, which ends with a eulogy of Elizabeth at her accession, mentions briefly all but the last Parliament called by Mary, and his account of the reception of Cardinal Pole in Parliament in 1554 is clearly that of an eye-witness, although he omits Sir Ralph Bagnall’s refusal to accept the papal absolution and his summary of the rest of the Parliament is perfunctory. In February 1558 he was appointed with three others by the Commons to examine the claim of Walter Ralegh for privilege, and a month later he played a decisive part in saving the controversial musters bill when he, Sir Edward Rogers and George St. Poll proposed an amendment acceptable to both Houses.8

Grafton died in 1573 and was buried in Christ Church, Newgate. Administration of his goods was granted to his son Edward on 16 May 1573.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Aged 45 ‘or thereabouts’ in 1552, St.Ch.3/4/49. This biography rests on DNB, J. A. Kingdon, Thomas Poyntz and Richard Grafton, and Richard Grafton, Citizen and Grocer of London. Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xliii), 236; Reg. Christ Church, Newgate Street, 19, 192; PCC 26 Ketchyn.
  • 2. Wardens of the Grocers’ Co. ed. Grantham, 19-20; CPR, 1547-8, p. 187.
  • 3. Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 443-4.
  • 4. Recs. the Eng. Bible, ed. Pollard, 14-15, 218-22; Wriothesley’s Chron. i (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 74.
  • 5. Recs. the Eng. Bible, 17-21, 232-40, 243-56.
  • 6. C. J. Sisson, Grafton and the London Grey Friars, 148; PPC, vii. 105-7; APC, i. 107, 125; LP Hen. VIII, xviii; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 100, 187.
  • 7. PCC 36 Alen.
  • 8. CPR, 1547-8, p. 187; 1553-4, p. 53; R. Steele, Tudor and Stuart Proclamations, i. 44; R. Grafton, Chron. at Large (1809), 537, 544, 548-53; CJ, i. 48, 51; C. G. Ericson, ‘Parlt. as a legislative institution in the reigns of Edw. VI and Mary’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1973), 280-1, 518. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 13(2), ff. 330, 491v.
  • 9. PCC admon. act bk. 1573, f. 29; Reg. Christ Church, Newgate Street, 271 (gives Grafton as being buried on 14 May 1575).