Thomas Barowe – Richard III’s Master of the Rolls: Part I

Thomas Barowe – 

Richard III’s Master of the Rolls,

churchman, administrator,

and bound by loyalty

Part I:  Early Years

Thomas Barowe was Richard III’s Master of the Rolls. It is a great pity that to most historians of the late middle ages, he remains a nondescript footnote, not warranting any further details.[i]

Richard III chose as his motto ‘Loyalty Binds Me’.  Obviously, he felt bound by loyalty to those around him, but it would also be fair to say that he appreciated the loyalty of others in return.  One man who remained loyal to Richard until his own death – 14 years after the Battle of Bosworth – was Master Thomas Barowe.  The following is an attempt to find out more about this man and to show him as an integral part of Richard’s closely interconnected affinity.

1. Background and education

We do not know exactly when Thomas Barowe was born[ii], but to judge from his later career it probably was in the 1430s.  He came from Winthorpe in Lincolnshire, just north of Skegness, where his family can be traced from the 14th century onwards.  Both his brother Richard and nephew Thomas, Richard’s son, were merchants of the staple of Calais, which might give us some indication to his family background.  There was another branch of the family in Wiltshire.

The first extant record of Thomas Barowe is that in approx. 1451 he became a King’s Scholar of Eton College, founded 11 years previously by Henry VI.

In 1456, the provost of Eton, William Westbury, nominated him to King’s Hall, Cambridge.  The college had been founded by Edward III to train administrators for the royal court[iii] – considering Barowe’s future career, he was at the right place.

Thomas Barowe – Richard III's Master of the Rolls: Part I

The Great Gate of what used to be King’s Hall (now Trinity College), Cambridge

Though originally the crown had the exclusive right to nominate students, Henry VI had transferred his right to the provosts of his two recent foundations, Eton and King’s College, in effect making King’s Hall subordinate to the other two.[iv]  That is why Thomas Barowe was nominated by Westbury.  He became a fellow of King’s Hall a year after joining the college (1457-8).

King’s Hall does not exist anymore.  In 1546, Henry VIII wanted to found his own college.  Instead of buying new land, he amalgamated King’s Hall and Michaelhouse and seven former hostels into Trinity College.[v]

During the early 1460s, one of his contemporaries at Cambridge was Thomas Langton, a fellow of Pembroke Hall from 1461 to 1464.  Langton later became bishop of St David’s and later Salisbury.

Barowe was admitted as a bachelor of civil law on 18 May 1460, obtained a master’s degree in civil law in 1469–70, and became a licentiate in 1475.  In 1477-78 he was granted a dispensation that qualified him for inception in canon law.

2. Thomas Barowe’s first appointment

His first appointment was to the vicarage in Chesterton, Cambridgeshire, in September 1468.  He was presented by his college, King’s Hall, which had held the advowson of Chesterton since 1440.  They invariably nominated their own fellows to this living.

During the time of Barowe’s appointment, the warden of King’s Hall was John Gunthorpe (30 September 1467 to December 1473), known as an eminent humanist, who had spent a long time in Italy.  He had close connections to the court of Edward IV, was on the council, and the king’s chaplain, as well as secretary and chaplain to the queen, Elizabeth Woodville.  It is worthwhile keeping this early connection between Thomas Barowe and John Gunthorpe in mind, as the further paths of the two will meet again and again.

3. How did Thomas Barowe come to the attention of Richard, duke of Gloucester – a mystery

The earliest record for an association between Barowe and Richard of Gloucester is in October 1471. This was only six months after Edward IV’s and Richard’s return from exile in Burgundy during the readeption of Henry VI.  On 28 October 1471, Thomas Barowe received his first presentation from Richard:  he was appointed rector of the church of Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire.   Castle Camps[vi] was on de Vere land, which Richard was to receive by formal grant only in December 1471, but as this appointment shows, he seems to have exerted influence there before this date.[vii]

At this stage Barowe was still rector of Chesterton, but the Papal Register shows that on 24 October 1469, “Thomas Barowe, perpetual vicar of the parish church of Chestyrton in the diocese of Ely, B.C.L. [was granted] Dispensation to receive and retain for life, together with the said vicarage (value not expressed) any one other benefice, or if he resign the said vicarage any two other benefices”.[viii]

It is interesting that the papal dispensation was granted as early as 1469.  Could this mean that there had been earlier hopes for advancement, whether by Richard or others, which were dashed by the political situation?

Richard and Thomas Barowe must have met prior to this presentation.  As there is only a six months’ window between Richard’s return and this appointment, it might be likely that they got to know each other before Richard’s departure in October 1470.  This led Sutton and Visser-Fuchs to speculate whether Barowe might even have shared Richard’s exile.

Various secondary sources state that Barowe had been associated with George Neville, archbishop of York (since 1465), and that it was through this association that he came to the attention of Richard.[ix]  Some of these sources suggest that he was one of George Neville’s principal officials, perhaps one of his chaplains, along with Edmund Chaderton and John Shirwood, who also would continue later in Richard III’s service.  However, most of Neville’s protégés, like Shirwood, had an Oxford background, [x] which explains their association.  Neville was Chancellor of Oxford University 1453 to 1457, and again 1461 to 1472, though was then no longer expected to be resident.

Where would Barowe fit into this?  He had no connection to Oxford.  How would someone with a Cambridge degree and an early career in Cambridgeshire have come to Neville’s attention?

At that stage, Barowe did not have any connection to the York diocese either.  He only received his first benefice there in 1472 – more than a year after receiving Castle Camps in 1471.

Actually, it might have been the other way round that it was Richard’s influence rather than Neville’s which secured any position for Barowe in Yorkshire.  Neville’s power of patronage in his see had diminished by 1472, due to his involvement in the readeption of Henry VI (1470-71).  This left a void which seems to have been increasingly filled by Richard of Gloucester.[xi]

Of course, Barowe could have been the odd one out among Neville’s Oxford connections, there is, however, an alternative.  I would like to suggest that Barowe came to Richard’s attention through someone much closer to home.  Few would have been in a better position to recognise the young cleric’s abilities than the warden of his college, King’s Hall – John Gunthorpe.  There can be little doubt that with his close connections to the court, he would have been known to Richard.  He would later become keeper of the privy seal for Richard III.

Incidentally, Gunthorpe spent the period of the readeption of Henry VI on a diplomatic mission in Castile.  After Edward’s return, Gunthorpe was made clerk of parliament on 21 June 1471.

4. Thomas Barowe and the York diocese

Barowe received several valuable benefices in the York diocese in the early 1470s, at a time when Richard’s influence in the former Neville heartland was rising. The first benefice was Cottingham, where he was instituted as rector on 29 December 1472.  He now resigned from Chesterton, as the papal dispensation only allowed him two benefices.

At the time of obtaining the parish of Cottingham, he also vacated the fellowship of King’s Hall.  Possibly this had to do with the Statutes of King’s Hall of 1380, which stipulated that a member could not hold a benefice worth more than 10 marks per year.[xii]

Barowe received this benefice on the king’s presentation, who at that stage held the manor of Cottingham. It is not possible to say, whether Edward IV knew Barowe personally or who might have influenced his decision.  His younger brother comes to mind, though Gunthorpe’s patronage would not have done any damage to Edward’s opinion of Barowe either.

Richard would obtain the manor of Cottingham two years later by exchanging some land with his brother Edward.  In 1484, Richard granted the advowson of Cottingham to the vicars choral of York Minster[xiii], obviously aided by the rector of Cottingham, Thomas Barowe.  At the same time, Thomas Lynom, later Richard’s solicitor general, was made receiver of Cottingham.   Unfortunately, with Richard’s death, York Minster lost this source of income, as Cottingham went to Margaret Beaufort, who gave it to her husband[xiv].  However, Thomas retained his position till his death in 1499, no doubt helped by the fact that he would later build a relationship with this indomitable lady.

From here on, Barowe’s career took off.   There is a curious interlude in January 1475: Barowe received two positions:  the sacrist’s prebend at Southwell Minster, which was not endowed with any land, and a stall in St Sepulchre chapel in York, which seems to have been a rather lucrative position.  He resigned from both just two months later, in March.[xv]   Why, is not clear, though the reason might simply have been that a better offer came along:  He was appointed canon of Beverley as prebendary of St Stephen’s altar[xvi] on 4 March 1475.

How Thomas Barowe’s career took off under Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III, and beyond will be dealt with in Part II and Part III.


[i] An exception is the article by A. F. Sutton and L. Visser-Fuchs, ‘”As dear to him as the Trojans were to Hector:” Richard III and the University of Cambridge’, , in:  L. Visser-Fuchs, ed, Richard III and East Anglia:  Magnates, Gilds and Learned Men.  Richard III Society, 2010, pp.105-142

[ii] All biographical information for Thomas Barowe and others is based on:

A.B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1963 (various entries)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (various entries) – [accessed online]

Ian Rogers’ directory at

Edward Foss, ‘Barowe, Thomas’, in:  Biographia Juridica:  A Biographical Dictionary of the Judges of England from the Conquest to the Present Time, 1066-1870.  The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 1999 (originally published 1870), p.56

A.F. Sutton and L. Visser-Fuchs, ‘”As dear to him as the Trojans were to Hector:”…’

Testamenta Eboracensia:  A Selection of Wills at the Registry of York, Vol. IV.  Andrews and Co., Durham, 1869, p.117 n

Edward Trollope, ‘Places visited from Spilsby on the 5th and 6th of July, 1865:  Winthorpe’, Reports and Papers Read at the Meetings of the Architectural Society of the Diocese of Lincoln, Vol. VIII. Part 1. Brookes & Vibert, Lincoln, 1865, pp.72-76.  Available at URL: [last accessed 7 Nov. 2016

[iii] Carola Hicks, The King’s Glass:  A Story of Tudor Power and Secret Art. Chatto & Windus, London, 2007, p.15

[iv] This situation lasted from 1447 to 1462, when Edward IV restored King’s Hall’s independence, ‘The colleges and halls: King’s’, in: A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, ed. J P C Roach (London, 1959), pp. 376-408.  URL: [last accessed 12 November 2016]

[v] ‘The colleges and halls: Trinity College’, in: A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, ed. J.P.C. Roach (London, 1959), pp. 456-473. URL: [last accessed 7 Nov. 2016]

[vi] The advowson of that parish had descended with the manor since 1263.  Actually, the manor had belonged to Richard for a short while at an earlier stage, between 1462 and 1463, but as he was then only 10 years old, it would be safe to say that he did not exert any personal influence during this time. Adrienne B. Rosen, Susan M. Keeling and C.A.F. Meekings, ‘Parishes: Castle Camps’, in: A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, Volume 6, ed. A.P.M. Wright (London, 1978), pp. 36-48. URL: [last accessed 7 November 2016]

[vii] R. Horrox, Richard III: A Study of Service, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp.72-73 + note p.163

[viii] ‘Lateran Regesta 697: 1470’, in: Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland: Volume 12, 1458-1471, ed. J.A. Twemlow (London, 1933), pp. 759-763. URL:  [last accessed 7 Nov. 2016

[ix] Secondary sources assuming a connection between Barowe and George Neville are e.g. G. I. Keir, The ecclesiastical career of George Neville 1432 – 1476, B.Litt. Thesis, Oxford (1970), p.180, who states that Barowe was an associate of George Neville, but does not give a source.

Hughes in his entry on Barowe in the ODNB, and Ross, Richard III, Yale English Monarchs, Yale University Press, 1999, Reprinted 2005, p.134, think it possible as Barowe held benefices in the York diocese in the 1470s.  However, Barowe’s association with Gloucester predates his appointments in the York diocese.  Therefore, this is not convincing.

Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, ‘‘’As dear to him as the Trojans were to Hector”…’, p.130, quote Keir and Emden, who gives Neville’s Register as the source for his 1472 appointment.  They also cite R. B. Dobson, ‘Richard III and the Church of York’, in: Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages, ed. by R. A. Griffiths and J. Sherborne.  Sutton, Gloucester, 1986, and Alan B. Cobban, The King’s Hall within the University of Cambridge in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 1969, but neither author says anything about an association between Barowe and Neville.

[x] Keir, p.176-179, with Cambridge graduates showing mainly after December 1474 up to June 1476

[xi] Dobson, pp.133-134

[xii] ‘The colleges and halls: Trinity College’

[xiii] R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond, eds, British Library Harleian Manuscript 433, 4 vols, Richard III Society & Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., Gloucester, 1979, Vol.1, p.202 + 245

[xiv] Anne F. Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, Livia, with Hannes Kleineke, ‘The Children in the Care of Richard III:  New References. A Lawsuit between Peter Courteys, Keeper of Richard III’s Great Wardrobe, and Thomas Lynom, Solicitor of Richard III, 1495-1501’, The Ricardian, Vol. XXIV (2014), p.56;

George Oliver, The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley in the County of York.  M. Turner, 1829, pp. 462-463 n.32

[xv] ‘Colleges: The collegiate church of Southwell’, in: A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1910), pp. 152-161. URL: [last accessed 11 Nov. 2016]

‘Collegiate churches: York (including York Minster)’, in:  A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (1974), pp. 375-386URL: [last accessed 7 Nov. 2016]

[xvi] Each of the canons was known by one of the altars in the church:  ‘Collegiate churches: St John the Evangelist, Beverley’, in:  A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (1974), pp. 353-359. URL: [last accessed 7 Nov. 2016]



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