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

Thomas Barowe – 

Richard III’s Master of the Rolls,

churchman, administrator,

and bound by loyalty

Part II:  Richard’s Man

While Part I dealt with Thomas Barowe’s family background and early career, Part II will look at him as Richard’s man from 1475 onwards.

1. Richard of Gloucester’s man

Gloucester’s patronage was not limited to Yorkshire.  On 15 March 1475, Barowe received the rectory of Olney in Buckinghamshire.  Olney was a Beauchamp property which belonged to Richard’s mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp, duchess of Warwick.  In the division of her property after her husband’s death between her two sons-in-law in 1474, Olney went to Gloucester.  At the time, the advowson followed the descent of the manor, but in the spring of 1483, Richard and Anne conveyed it to the dean and canons of the chapel of St. George, Windsor, though this arrangement never seems to have become reality.[i]

On 6 January 1477, Thomas Barowe and his heirs were granted arms for his many years of service to Richard, Duke of Gloucester[ii].  This marks a turning point in the type of references we find for Barowe.  In the early years, we could follow his association with Gloucester virtually exclusively through records of grants of benifices.  However, from 1477 onwards, we also find records of Barowe in administrative services, though as the text of the grant of arms indicates, he had probably been fulfilled this function before.  This is a by no means an unusual career, as “the class of ecclesiastics might well be considered for the greater part as a class of officials”[iii].

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

Queens’ College, Cambridge

The earliest example is Richard’s patronage of Queens’ College, Cambridge.  In 1477, Richard granted the manor of Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, and its church to Queens’ College, his first gift to that college.  In this transaction, Barowe was one of the feoffees.  Barowe has been credited with persuading Richard to become a benefactor to Cambridge University.[iv]

Like Castle Camps, Fowlmere had belonged to the Countess of Oxford.  In return for this gift, Queens’ was to admit four priests, the “four priests of the Duke of Gloucester’s Foundation”.  They were to pray for the souls of Richard and his family, the duke’s friends who had been killed at Barnet and Tewkesbury, as well as John, 12th earl of Oxford, and his wife Elizabeth (the former owner of the property, who herself had died in December 1473).   They were also to pray for “special benefactors of the said college”,[v] among them Thomas Barowe.  Unfortunately for the college, Henry VII restored the manor to John de Vere, 13th earl of Oxford, son of the 12th earl and his wife.[vi]

This grant has to be seen in connection with Richard’s college at Middleham.  The statutes for that church state that the dean should be either one of the six chaplains, but should none of them be suitable, it was to be one of these four priests of Queens’ College, Cambridge.

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

Collegiate Church of St Mary and St Alkelda, Middleham

It would be fair to assume that Barowe continued to be used by Gloucester as his contact to the University of Cambridge.  In June 1483, the university wrote a letter to Richard as protector to ask him to show mercy to the university’s chancellor, Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and former Chancellor of England. In this letter, they thank him for his “bountefull and gracious charite” brought to the university by Thomas Barowe, who was “to his moder the universite a gret and ffathfull lover”[vii].

2. Further career in church and state

In 1478, Barowe received two more important church appointments:  on 7 March as canon of York with the prebend of Langtoft and, on 22 May, canon of Lichfield with the prebend of Curborough.

His contact to Edward IV, which we first saw in his appointment to Cottingham, continued.  On the occasion of the funeral of George, the eighth child and third son of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville, on 22 March 1479, he was granted a yard of black cloth[viii].  And in May 1482 he was on the king’s council[ix].

When on 10 February 1480, Elizabeth Beauchamp, widow of first George Neville, Lord Latimer, and second of Thomas Wake of Blisworth, released her rights to a long list of properties in a quitclaim to Richard, the document also mentions “Thomas Barrow, clerk”[x].

In February 1482, Barowe was appointed by Archbishop Thomas Rotherham to serve as examiner of witnesses in the archdiocesan court of York, which was presided over by William Poteman, the most influential of the three residentiary canons of York.  Also in 1482, he was made a canon of Lincoln as prebendary of Louth.

3. The king’s man

Shortly after Richard’s coronation, on 16 July 1483, Barowe received the prebend and canonry of St Stephen’s in the old palace of Westminster.  He seems to have been particularly attached to St Stephen’s, as he would request to be buried there[xi].  Incidentally one of the other canons of St Stephen’s was John Gunthorpe.

On 18 July 1483, Barowe was elevated to become archdeacon of Colchester, which was then one of four archdeacons in the Diocese of London.

He was also made Warden of the House of Converts in 1483, a position which had earlier been held by John Morton and then Robert Morton, John’s nephew.[xii]  Here Barowe might have met another man who played a role during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III:  Sir Edward Brampton, a converted Jew, who might possibly have been an inmate of the place in 1468-1472.[xiii]

Barowe also got more administrative responsibilities once Richard assumed the crown in the summer of 1483.  Barowe had already been recorded as his chancellor previously.  On 22 September 1483, Richard also replaced Robert Morton with Barowe as Master of the Rolls.[xiv]   The Master of the Rolls was responsible for the safe-keeping of charters, patents, and records of important court judgments.  These were written on parchment rolls, which is where the title comes from.[xv]  This was the only change Richard made to the judiciary after becoming king.  On 6 December that year, the holder of this position was granted a tun or two pipes of wine per year for the first time.  This grant existed at least to the 1870s.[xvi]  One tun was 950 to 960 litres, a pipe was 1/2 tun.

As Master of the Rolls, Barowe was a member of the king’s council.  Quite a few of the councillors had been – like Barowe – in Richard’s affinity before he became king.  This seems to have been a rather close knit group and Barowe was to keep his links to them in the future.  One was his old friend John Gunthorpe (Keeper of the Privy Seal).  Another councillor was Thomas Langton (Bishop of St David’s and then of Salisbury), who had been Barowe’s contemporary at Cambridge.

Then there was John Kendall, who had been Richard’s secretary at least since 1474 and would probably have been known to Barowe as well.  Others were the lawyers Morgan Kidwelly and Thomas Lynom.  Kidwelly had, like Barowe, been in Richard’s service since 1471.  He came from a family of professional administrators and was first the Duke of Gloucester’s attorney and then the King’s Attorney General. Lynom had worked for Richard in 1480 and acted as his secretary in 1481.  As we have seen, he was also Richard’s receiver for Cottingham, a living Barowe had held since 1471. From 26 June 1483, he was the King’s Solicitor General. [xvii]  Others who had continued in the new king’s affinity were Sir James Tyrell and Sir Robert Brackenbury[xviii].

Soon after Richard’s accession, Richard Pottyer became his Attorney of the Duchy of Lancaster in chancery, a role which he might have held already for Richard as duke of Gloucester.  Richard, Pottyer and Thomas Lynom had been gifted the goods and chattels of Sir Thomas Greenfield in 1482, which confirms that he was in Richard’s affinity before the accession.  Pottyer features in Thomas More’s tale as the man, who, on hearing of Edward IV’s death, has the foresight to say that then his “master …  will be king”[xix].

An example of the interaction between the councillors is a document from 1 July 1484 concerning the transfer of the manor of Mawedelyne, Herts, from John and Joan Forster and Thomas and Edith Holbache to Robert Brackenbury, Thomas Barowe, and Morgan Kidwelly.[xx]  This property was probably Maudeleyns in Northchurch near Berkhamsted.

In January 1484, Barowe attended Richard’s first Parliament, where he was appointed Receiver of Petitions of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  This means he was right there at the forefront of the judicial innovations which occurred during Richard’s reign.  The statutes of the 1484 parliament were the first to be printed and the first to be published in English.  It was probably Barowe and the Clerk of Parliament, Thomas Hutton[xxi], who made up the statutes from the public acts.  Copies of these statutes were then distributed so that the population would be informed of the king’s laws.  Another innovation during Richard’s reign was that the Year Books were written in Latin instead of the law French dialect – and Latin was definitely more widely understood.[xxii]

Richard used Barowe as envoy for peace negotiations with Scotland in September 1484 – another envoy was John Gunthorpe.

At approx. the same time, Richard granted Thomas and his brother Richard Barowe an annuity of 70 shilling from “the ferme of Meles in Skignes in the Countie of Lincoln”.[xxiii]  The word “farm” at this time referred to a fixed annual amount (not a piece of land like today), while “Meles” is a local term for the sand dunes along the coast, which were used as pasture and there were also rabbit warrens[xxiv].

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

A replica of Richard III’s great seal

When Richard learned that Henry Tudor was set to invade England, he sent Barowe to Bishop Russell to fetch the Great Seal from him.  Barowe handed it to Richard on 1 August 1485 at seven in the evening in the chapel of Nottingham Castle in the presence of various dignitaries.  Richard gave it back to Barowe appointing him keeper “then and there”[xxv] until the Battle of Bosworth.   This was to be the rather short-lived pinnacle of his administrative career.

The later years of Thomas Barowe’s career during the reign of Henry Tudor will be discussed in Part III.


[i] ‘Parishes: Olney with Warrington’, in:  A History of the County of Buckingham, vol. 4, ed. W. Page. London, 1927, pp. 429-439. British History Online URL: [last accessed online 7 Nov. 2016]

[ii] An illustration of the grant can be seen at: ‘Fifteenth Century English Patents of Arms’.  URL:  [last accessed 7 Nov 2016]

[iii] Lander, J.R., ‘Council, Administration and Councillors, 1461 to 1485’, Historical Research, vol. 32, issue 86 (1959), p. 158

[iv] Dobson, R.B., Church and Society in the Medieval North of England.  The Hambledon Press, 1996, p. 240

[v] Hammond, P.W. & A.F. Sutton, Richard III:  The road to Bosworth Field.  Guild Publishing, London, 1985, pp. 67-68

[vi] Baggs, A.P., S.M. Keeling & C.A.F. Meekings, ‘Parishes: Fowlmere’, in: A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, vol. 8, ed. A.P.M Wright. London, 1982, pp. 155-164. British History Online URL: [last accessed online 8 Nov. 2016]

[vii] Letter quoted in: Sutton, A.F. & L. Visser-Fuchs, ‘Richard III, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Two Turbulent Priests’, The Ricardian, vol. XIX (2009), p. 98

[viii] Extracts from the Great Wardrobe Accounts, from 12 April 1478 to 12 April 1479.  Princeton MS 101, quoted in:  Griffiths, R.A., ‘The Funeral of Prince George, 22 March 1479’, in: The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor, ed. A.F. Sutton & L. Visser-Fuchs with R.A. Griffiths. The Richard III Society, 2005, p. 56

[ix] Baldwin, J.F., The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages. Oxford, 1913, pp. 434-435

[x] Hampton, W.E., ‘Roger Wake of Blisworth’, in: Richard III:  Crown and People, ed. J Petre. Richard III Society, 1985, p. 156

[xi] ‘Colleges: Royal Free Chapel of St Stephen, Westminster’, in: A History of the County of London, vol. 1: London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark, ed. W. Page. London, 1909, pp. 566-571. British History Online URL: [last accessed online 13 Nov. 2016]

The medieval heart of the chapel would be ripped out during restorations in 1707.  It eventually became a victim of the fire of 16 October 1834. Riding, J., ‘St Stephen’s Chapel: From the Crown to the People’, BBC (2 April 2005).  URL: [last accessed 9 Nov. 2016]

[xii] ‘Hospitals: Domus conversorum’, in: A History of the County of London, vol. 1: London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark, ed. W. Page. London, 1909, pp. 551-554. British History Online URL: [last accessed online 9 Nov. 2016]

[xiii] Roth, C., ‘Sir Edward Brampton:  An Ango-Jewish Adventurer During the Wars of the Roses’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, vol. 16 (1945-1951), pp. 121-127

[xiv] John Morton himself had held that position from 1472 to 1479, then his nephew succeeded him.  ‘Masters of the rolls (1286–2012)’, Oxford DNB (online 23 Sept. 2004) [last accessed online 9 Nov. 2016]

[xv] ‘Judicial Profiles – Master of the Rolls’, Judiciary of England and Wales.  URL: [last accessed 9 Nov. 2016]

[xvi] Foss

[xvii] Horrox, Richard III: A Study of Service, p. 86; Sutton & Visser-Fuchs with Kleineke, ‘The Children in the Care of Richard III…’, pp. 51-58, though they are incorrect when stating that Barowe came from Wiltshire, ibid., p. 66 n. 71

[xviii] Kendall, P.M., Richard III. W.W.Norton & Company, 2002 (first published 1955), pp. 375-376

[xix] Horrox, R., ‘Richard Pottyer’, The Ricardian, vol. V, no. 71 (1980), pp. 284-285.  For quote:  More, T., The History of King Richard III. Hesperus Classics, 2005, p. 8

[xx] ‘Feet of Fines: CP 25/1/91/121, number 7’, Some Notes on Medieval English Genealogy.  URL: [last accessed 9 Nov. 2016]

[xxi] For more on Hutton’s career see Kleineke, H., ‘Thomas Hutton, Clerk to the Parliaments to Richard III’, The Ricardian, vol. XXVI (2016), pp. 19-30

[xxii] Sutton, A.F., ‘The Administration of Justice Whereunto We Be Professed’, in:  Richard III:  Crown and People, ed. J. Petre. Richard III Society, 1985, pp. 364-365

[xxiii] British Library Harleian Manuscript 433, p. 220

[xxiv] Gardner, R. & P. Masters, ‘Archaeological Desk Based Assessment and Geophysical Survey:  St Clements College, Skegness, Lincolnshire’, Pre-Construct Archaeology, Lincoln, June 2005, p. 6.  Online URL:  [last accessed online 9 Nov. 2016]

[xxv] Hammond & Sutton, Richard III:  The road to Bosworth Field, pp. 211-212

Read more on Thomas Barowe – Richard III’s Master of the Rolls, churchman, administrator, and bound by loyalty:

Part I:  Early Years

Part III:  the Later Years

2 thoughts on “Thomas Barowe – Richard III’s Master of the Rolls: Part II

  1. Pingback: Thomas Barowe – Richard III’s Master of the Rolls: Part III | Dottie Tales

  2. Pingback: Thomas Barowe – Richard III’s Master of the Rolls: Part I | Dottie Tales

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