Layton, Richard (DNB00)
|←Layton, Henry||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32
LAYTON, RICHARD (1500?–1544), dean of York and chief agent in the suppression of the monasteries, seems to have been born about 1500. He was son of William Layton of Dalemain in Cumberland, and is said to have had thirty-two brothers and sisters (Harl. Soc. Publ. xvi. 262). Only Cromwell's patronage, he wrote, saved him from becoming a 'basket-bearer,' but he was kinsman of Robert Aske [q. v.], leader of the northern rebellion (Letters and Papers of Hen. VIII, ed. Gairdner, 1537, i. 9 n.), and of George Joye, a prebendary of Ripon (ib. ii. 851). He was educated at Cambridge, where he proceeded B.C.L. in 1522, and afterwards LL.D., and he took holy orders. According to Burnet he was in the service of Wolsey at the same time as Cromwell, who noted him 'as a dextrous and diligent man.' In 1522 Layton received the sinecure rectory of Stepney; on 9 May 1523 he became prebendary of Kentish Town; he was admitted an advocate 5 June 1531. On 4 July 1531 he seems to have been living at East Farnham in Hampshire, but on 1 Sept. 1533, became dean of the collegiate church of Chester-le-Street, Durham. He was made chaplain of St. Peter's in the Tower of London 15 March 1534, but, probably because this preferment required residence, he resigned it in 1535. He was installed archdeacon of Buckinghamshire 27 Oct. 1534; but continued to live in London and had difficulties with his bishop, John Longland [q. v.] In 1535 Layton became rector of Sedgefield in Durham, and soon afterwards rector of Brington, Northamptonshire, a clerk in chancery, and clerk to the privy council. On 1 April 1535 he had lodgings in Paternoster Row.
Meanwhile Cromwell had made trial of Layton as an agent in executing his ecclesiastical reforms. He was employed at Sion in December 1533, and he administered interrogatories to More and Fisher in 1535, but he was ambitious of more profitable employment. On 4 June 1535 he wrote to Cromwell, 'You will never know what I can do till you try me' (Gasquet, Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, i. 258), and directly after the execution of More in July 1535 he was sent with John ap Rice [q. v.] to make a visitation of the university of Oxford. They only stayed a few weeks in July, but returned for a few days in September, and effected vast changes in the order of studies and discipline of the university, founding new lecturerships and noting down such non-resident clergymen as they thought were better at their parsonages than in Oxford (cf. Froude, ii. 310-15, corrected by Dixon, Hist. of the Church of England, i. 303, 304, 304 n.) They were especially favourable to the new learning. 'We have sett Dunce [Duns Scotus] in Bocardo,' he informed Cromwell, 'and have utterly banished hym Oxforde for ever, with all his blinde glosses, and is nowe made a comon servant to evere man, faste nailede up upon postes in all comon howses of easement: id quod oculis meis vidi' (Wright, Three Chapters of Suppression Letters, Camd. Soc., p. 71).
On 1 Aug. 1535 Layton and Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Legh [q. v.] began visiting monasteries at Evesham, and thence passed to Bath (7 Aug.) and the west. At first Legh saw ground to complain of his colleague's leniency. But Layton grew stricter as the work progressed, and saw clearly how pressure could be put upon the houses by a firm administration of the oaths of the royal supremacy. He passed to Bruton, Glastonbury, and Bristol, back to Oxford (12 Sept.) On 26 Sept. 1535 he was at Waverley in Sussex, whence he proceeded to Chichester, Arundel, Lewes, and Battle, and entering Kent, reached Allingborne on 1 Oct. On 23 Oct. he was at Canterbury, and was nearly burnt to death in a fire at St. Augustine's monastery. After returning to his lodgings in Paternoster Row, he was ordered, at his own request, to visit the northern houses. On the way he visited monasteries in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire. Confessions of every kind of iniquity were extorted, and Layton acquired openly, and apparently with the consent of his superiors, no small profits for himself. On 22 Dec. 1535 he met Legh at Lichfield, reached York 11 Jan., and proceeded to the visitation of the Yorkshire houses. Layton afterwards traversed Northumberland, and came back to London by way of Chester. The report of Layton and his companions, submitted with others of a like kind to the parliament which met 4 Feb. 1536, sealed the fate of the smaller houses. John Dakyn, rector of Kirkby Ravensworth, alleged, after the northern rising, that he was in danger of death at the hands of the populace for entertaining Layton and Legh; and the punishment of Layton was one of the demands of the pilgrims of grace.
In May 1536 Layton took part in the trial of Anne Boleyn; through the autumn he was busy assisting in the repression of the northern rebels; and when the rising was over he was a commissioner to hear confessions. From December 1536 till the end of April 1537 he sat to try the prisoners. On 24 March 1537 he and Starkey received a summons from the king to confer with the bishops on the morrow (Palm Sunday) 'de sanctis invocandis, de purgatorio, de celibatu sacerdotum, et de satisfactione.' Layton in 1537 was a commissioner to take surrenders of abbeys, and the work occupied him in the east and south of England during the year (cf. Dixon, Hist. of Church of England, ii. 24). In the winter of 1539-40 he dissolved various abbeys in the north.
Always anxious for increased preferment, Layton on 19 July 1537 begged Wriothesley to recommend him for the registrarship of the Garter. On 21 July 1537 he was collated to the rectory of Harrow-on-the-Hill, where he amused himself, when not employed elsewhere, with hawking and growing pears, and was able to offer Cromwell a dozen beds in his parsonage. In 1538 he became a master in chancery.
The statement that in February 1538-9 Layton was arrested in the Low Countries for conniving at the escape of one Henry Phillips (Athenae Cantabr. i. 535) is difficult to reconcile with his appointments on 20 June 1539 to the prebend of Ulleskelf at York, and on 23 July 1539 to the deanery of York. At York he showed his reforming zeal by destroying the silver shrine of St. William. With Pollard and Moyle he conducted the examination of the abbot of Glastonbury in September 1539, and in the same year he interceded for the continuance of the sanctuary at Bewley (Froude, iii. 228). In 1540 he was one of the divines appointed to examine into the validity of the king's marriage with Anne of Cleves.
Some time in 1543 he was employed in unravelling the conspiracy against Cranmer, and in the same year was appointed to succeed Paget as English ambassador at Paris. The expectation of war with France, however, led to his transference to Brussels, where he arrived 10 Dec. 1543. While at Ghent in February 1543-4 his health began to fail. At the close of May 1544 the king learned from Paget that his life was threatened by 'the worst kynde of a dropsye' (State Papers, ix. 681). He died at Brussels some time in June 1544. After his death it was found that he had pawned plate belonging to the chapter at York, and the chapter had to redeem it. Many or Layton's letters are extant in the 'Cromwell Correspondence' in the Record Office and the Cotton MSS. All are lively and readable; they breathe throughout the spirit of loyalty to the throne characteristic of the Tudor period, but fully display the heartless and unscrupulous character of the writer (cf. Froude, Hist. ii. 310, for a more favourable estimate of Layton).
[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr.; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England; Gasquet's Henry VIII and the English Monasteries; Letters and Papers Hen. VIII, ed. Gairdner; State Papers Hen. VIII; Three Chaps. of Suppression Letters (Camden Soc.), ed. Wright; Fuller's Church History; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation; Speed's Hist.; Le Neve's Fasti; Strype's Annals; Froude's Hist. of Engl.; Narratives of the Reformation (Camden Soc.), ed. Nichols; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, Pref.; Cotton MS. Cleop. E. iv.]