TAVERNER, Richard (1505/6-75), of London, Norbiton, Surr. and Wood Eaton, Oxon.

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



Family and Education

b. 1505/6, 1st s. of John Taverner of North Elmham, Norf. by Alice, da. of Robert Silvester of North Elmham; bro. of Robert and Roger. educ. Corpus Christi, Camb. adm. 1520; Cardinal, Oxf. adm by 1527, BA 21 June 1527, determined 1528; Gonville, Camb. incorp. 1529-30, MA 1529-30, pens. 1530-2; Strand Inn, adm. 1533; I. Temple, adm. 1534. m. (1) Aug. 1537, Margaret (bur. 31 Jan. 1563) da. of Walter Lambert of Chertsey, Surr. 4s. 3da., (2) Mary, da. of Sir John Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt, Oxon. and Ellenhall, Staffs. 1s. 1da.2

Offices Held

Marshal, I. Temple 1553-4.

Lecturer in Greek, Camb. ?1531-2; commr. relief, Surr. 1550; clerk of the signet by 1537-53; j.p. Surr. 1547, Oxon. 1558/59-d.; reeve, borough of Lydford, Devon by 1553-5 or later; sheriff, Oxon. 1569-70.3


According to his great-grandson the antiquary Anthony Wood, Richard Taverner was born at Brisley in Norfolk where the Taverners had property. After showing early promise at Cambridge he transferred to Oxford and obtained a petty canonry at Cardinal College before graduating. As against the possibility that Wolsey, anxious to attract talent to his foundation, engineered the move it may be suggested that Taverner joined the college because his Lincolnshire kinsman John Taverner had become master of the choristers there; Taverner shared the choirmaster’s Protestantism and after his kinsmen’s detention for owning heretical works he first returned to Cambridge and then went abroad to study. The death of an (unknown) benefactor in 1530 left him penniless but his appeal to Cromwell led to his being mentioned to the King and given a pension by the 3rd Duke of Norfolk; in return Taverner dedicated to Cromwell his translation of Erasmus’s Encomium Matrimonii published under the minister’s ‘noble protection’. Two years later another of Erasmus’s translators suggested that Cromwell should refer his work to Taverner for appraisal. Soon after this Taverner left Cambridge for London, where he studied at Strand Inn before entering the Middle Temple. After working privately for Cromwell he was recommended in 1536 for the King’s service and within a year was made one of the clerks of the signet.4

It was ‘at the impulsion and commandment’ of Cromwell that Taverner undertook a series of translations designed to promote reform. The confessyon of the fayth of the Germaynes exhibited to the most victorious Emperour Charles the V in the council of Augusta 1530 (1539) was followed by Commonplaces of Scripture orderely set forth (1538), The new testament in Englysshe(1539), The most sacred bible newly recognized by R. Taverner (1539), An epitome of the psalmes (1539), A catechisms or institution of the christen religion(1539), three volumes of The garden of wysdome (1539), Mimi Publiani(1539), Flores aliquot sententiarum ex variis collecti scriptoribus (1540) and Catonis disticha moralia ex castigatione D. Erasmi (1540). This spate of writings ended with Cromwell’s downfall.5

Late in 1541 Taverner was briefly imprisoned in the Tower for failing to pass on a report that Anne of Cleves was with child by the King after their divorce, but he did not forfeit his clerkship. In 1544 he both served in the French campaign and acquired, besides the manor of Wood Eaton in Oxfordshire, various properties near Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, including a house at Norbiton; he strengthened his title to the manor of Hartington in Kingston by a series of conveyances with the Earl of Hertford. He also joined his younger brothers Robert and Roger in the speculative land market; during 1544-5 they sold property to Sir Thomas Seymour II.6

Taverner appears as a Member of only one Parliament, and then in circumstances which are far from clear. On the Crown Office list of the Parliament of 1547, as revised for the last session (1552) he is named as one of the Members for Liverpool, his partner being Thomas Stanley. Since the indenture of 1547 gives the names of Stanley and Francis Cave for Liverpool, it is natural to infer that Taverner had replaced Cave. Yet Cave had neither died nor, so far as is known, done anything to incur expulsion, so that his replacement by Taverner during the life of the Parliament would be hard to account for. (By a gratuitous complication Stanley is marked on the list as ‘mortuus’, but he no more than Cave had qualified for the adjective in 1552 and it was not he whom Taverner replaced.) It is less difficult to imagine that, despite the appearance of his name on the indenture, Cave had not become a Member in 1547 but had been supplanted by Taverner. There is certainly no lack of explanation of Taverner’s claim to a seat at this time. His record as a Protestant publicist could not have failed to commend him and he enjoyed many valuable connexions. He was known to the brothers Seymour as well as to the Earl of Warwick, and as a clerk of the signet he was a former colleague of Sir William Paget, whose chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster carried a share in the patronage of Liverpool with the Stanley earls of Derby. One of Taverner’s current colleagues, William Honing, sat in this House for Winchester, and Honing’s father-in-law Nicholas Cutler had done so in its precursor for Liverpool. It appears that Cave himself had been intruded into the place previously given to another, and Taverner would have been an eminently suitable beneficiary of a similar change at the last minute. Unfortunately, there is no mention of Taverner in the Journal such as would clinch the matter.

After the dissolution in 1552 Taverner received a licence to preach and he did so several times before Edward VI. As a government official known to Northumberland he may have been returned to the Parliament of March 1553, for which many returns are missing. Nothing has come to light about his part in the succession crisis. He welcomed Mary’s accession with ‘An Oration gratulory’ but she dismissed him from the signet office and removed him from the Surrey bench. In the first Parliament of the new reign he and another exhibited a bill preserving their interest in some lands while the measure repealing the attainder of the Duke of Norfolk was under review in the Commons, and after securing a copy of it the two were ordered to appear with their counsel to argue the matter on the following day.7

During the 1550s Taverner lived mainly at Norbiton while rebuilding the house at Wood Eaton, but with the work complete he settled in Oxfordshire. Named to the Oxfordshire bench by Elizabeth but declining a knighthood from her, he was active in local administration until his death on 14 July 1575. By a will made a month earlier he asked to be buried beside his first wife at Wood Eaton, provided for his family and named three of his sons executors. His widow Mary married Cromwell Lee.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth given by his great-grandson, A. Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 419-23. DNB; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 280; Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 159, 175, 179, 308; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 557-8.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, vi. xii; Elton, Tudor Rev. in Govt. 305-6; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1553, p. 357; 1560-3, p. 441; 1563-6, p. 25; Duchy of Cornw. RO, 128/25; 227/2; Stowe 571, f. 21.
  • 4. Ath. Ox. i. 419-23; G. Zeeveld, Foundations of Tudor Policy, 28, 73, 74; LP Hen. VIII, v, vi; Elton, Reform and Renewal, 18, 61-62; Tudor Rev. in Govt. 305-6.
  • 5. Elton, Reform and Renewal, 35; Policy and Police, 424; Zeeveld, 148, 152.
  • 6. APC, i. 279; LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xix-xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 3, 222; 1548-9, p. 369; 1549-51, pp. 65, 169, 229, 351; 1553-4, pp. 266, 373; 1554-5, pp. 164, 254; E210/D4819, 9789, 9958, 10499.
  • 7. Hatfield 207; Ath. Ox. i. 424; CJ, i. 32.
  • 8. PCC 32 Pyckering; C142/175/9; Req. 2/97/26.