Legh, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Legh, Gerard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32
LEGH, Sir THOMAS (d. 1545), visitor of the monasteries, was probably a member of the family of Legh of Lyme in Cheshire. Rowland Lee [q. v.], bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, was his cousin (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, v. 1447), and he mentions that the Bardneys of Lancashire were his relations. He may be the Thomas Legh who was educated at Eton, was elected to King's College, Cambridge, in 1509, and is described as 'of a very bulky and gross habit of body.' He proceeded B.C.L. in 1527, and D.C.L. in 1531. On 26 April 1531 a Thomas Legh resigned the canonry of the rectory of St. Sepulchre's, York, but this is probably the Thomas Legh who was chaplain to the king and a prebendary of Bridgenorth in 1513. Thomas Legh the visitor became an advocate 7 Oct. 1531. In December 1532 he was appointed ambassador to the king of Denmark (ib. v. 1646); Chapuys, writing 3 Jan. 1532-3, calls him a 'doctor of low quality' (ib. vi. 19). He returned from Denmark in March 1532-3 (ib. vi. 296), and was employed in 1533 by his cousin the bishop (ib. vi. 676). He cited Catherine to appear before Cranmer and hear the final sentence in 1533 (ib. vi. 661), and in the same year also conducted an inquiry at Rievaulx Abbey which led to the resignation of the abbot (ib. vi. 985, 1513). In January 1553-4 he went on another embassy to the Low Countries, passing to Antwerp and Lubeck (ib. vi. 1558, vii. 14, 152, 167, 433). He returned to England in April, went again to Hamburg in May, and must have returned once more in the summer (ib. vii. 527, 716, 737, 871, 1249). In October he was engaged in obtaining from the abbey of St. Albans a lease for Cavendish, one of Cromwell's servants (ib. vii. 1250, cf. 1660).
On 4 June 1535 Layton wrote to Cromwell recommending Legh and himself as visitors for the northern religious houses on the ground of their local knowledge and their devotion to the king's cause (ib. viii. 822, cf. 955). Legh, however, was first sent with John ap Rice; in July 1535 they went to Worcester [cf. under Latimer, Hugh], and thence visited, 3 July Malvern, 20 Aug. Laycock (after Malmesbury, Bradstock, and Stanley), 23 Aug. Bruton, 3 Sept. Wilton, 11 Sept. Wherwell, 24 Sept. Witney, 25 Sept, Reading, 29 Sept. Haliwell, 17 Oct. Royston, 19 Oct. Walden. Legh made a large profit out of the visitation (cf. ib. ix. 497), and complaints of his conduct were numerous. In an interesting extant letter Legh (ib. ix. 621) accounted for his 'triumphant and sumptuous usage and gay apparel,' of which Cromwell had complained. Ap Rice, who thought his treatment of the monks needlessly severe (ib. ix. 139), describes his 'ruffling,' 'intolerable elation,' 'insolent and poinpalique' behaviour, and 'satrapique' countenance (ib. p. 622). Legh was always accompanied by fourteen men in livery and his brother, all of whom had to be rewarded (ib. ix. passim, cf. p. 652). To Legh's suggestion was due the suspension of the bishops' authority during the visitation. At Cambridge Legh's changes were few. There seems to have been a previous visitation, and he merely ordered (22 Oct. 1535) the charters to be sent up to London with a rental of the university possessions, tried to pacify the strife among the nations, and established a lecture in divinity (Dixon, Hist. of Church of Engl. i. 304). The Bishop of Ely wrote approvingly of his proceedings (Letters and Papers, ix. 743). Legh went on to Bury, 4 Nov.; Westacre, 11 Nov., after West Dereham; Norwich, 19 Nov., Ipswich, 27 Nov.; and meeting Richard Layton [q. v.] at Lichfield at Christmas 1535 he proceeded with him to the northern visitation (for the route taken see under Layton, Richard).
The mastership of the hospital of Sherburn in Durham was granted to Legh on 14 Sept. 1535; he seems to have wasted the property of the house (cf. Surthes, Durham, i. 130, 131, 140). He also acquired the advowson of Birmingham from the abbey of Guisborough in March 1535-6; Caldre in Cumberland, a Cistercian abbey, was granted to him in 1538-9, and Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, with its cell at Stowkirke, in 1439-40. A letter of May 1536 (ib. x. 883) to Æpinus shows that he was acquainted with Melanchthon and Oldenthorp. In 1536 he assisted at the trial of Anne Boleyn. With the pilgrims of grace in 1536 he was as unpopular as his colleague Layton; they sang ballads about him (Legh is one of the three L's—Layton and Longland, bishop of Lincoln, were the other two—in the ballad in the 'Salley Papers'), and they hanged his cook. He meanwhile was busy taking money to the forces, and when the rebellion was over he tried the prisoners. On 11 March 1536-7, after the Duke of Norfolk had heard that Legh was scheming to get the mastership of the hospital of Burton Lazars, Leicestershire, he wrote that Legh was married, and added, 'Alas! what pity it were that such a vicious man should have the governance of that honest house!' (ib. xii. 1. 185). In August 1536 he had made a tour through the archdeaconries of Coventry and Stafford, and was much distressed by the 'open adultery' of the country gentlemen, but in 1537 he found that the people only needed good instruction. Some time in the early part of 1537 he became a master in chancery, and throughout 1538, 1539, and 1540 he was engaged in suppressing religious houses (for his itinerary see Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, ii. 12, 13, 17, 50, 202). In 1543 Legh went from York to Canterbury to investigate the curious plot against Cranmer of that year [see under Cranmer, Thomas]. He was knighted at Leith by the Earl of Hertford, 11 May 1544, seemingly on the Scottish expedition. Legh died 25 Nov. 1545, and was buried in the church of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, London, where a fine tomb with a rhyming inscription was erected to his memory. His widow Joanna remarried Sir Thomas Chaloner the elder [q. v.], and died 11 Jan. 1556-7. Sir Thomas Legh is probably not identical with the Legh of Adlington whom Leland praises.[Authorities quoted; Surtees's Durham; Cooper's Athenae Cantabr. i. 33; Narratives of the Reformation, ed. Nichols (Camd. Soc.), pp. 253, 282; Newcourt's Repertorium, i. 1762, ii. 606, 620; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, i. 459; Wright's Three Chapters of Suppression Letters (Camd. Soc.) contains many of his letters; Wriothesley's Chron. (Camd. Soc.), i. 31; Metcalfe's Knights, p. 75; Froude's Hist. of Engl. vol. ii.; articles Layton, Richard, and authorities there quoted; Gasquet's Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, vol. i.]