Steward, Robert (DNB00)
|←Steward, Richard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
STEWARD, STYWARD, or Wells, ROBERT (d. 1557), first dean of Ely, born, it is said, at Wells in Norfolk, was the eldest son of Simeon Steward and his wife Joan, daughter and heiress of Edward Besteney of Soham, Cambridgeshire. According to a pedigree which the dean says he extracted from the heralds' rolls (it is printed in Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 686-8, from a manuscript at Lambeth; cf. Todd, Cat. p. 25), the family, of which Elizabeth Steward, Oliver Cromwell's mother, was a later member, descended from a Sir John Steward (d. 1448), a kinsman of the royal house of Scotland, who came to England in Henry V's reign. Apparently, however, the Stewards of Norfolk were settled there long before the arrival of the somewhat fabulous Sir John, who is presumably meant to be Sir John Stuart or Stewart (1365?-1429) [q. v.], and the name was usually spelt Styward (Genealogist, 1884, pp. 150-57, where Mr. Walter Rye prints an anonymous pedigree similar to the dean's, with a critical examination of it in ib. 1885, pp. 34 et seq.) Among the dean's brothers were Simeon Steward, grandfather of Sir Simeon Steward [q. v.]; Thomas Steward (d. 1568), who was pastor of the English church at Frankfurt during Mary's reign, and canon of Ely from 1560 till his death; Edmund Steward (d. 1559), who was chancellor of the diocese of Norwich until 1528, and afterwards chancellor and dean of Winchester under Gardiner (Cooper, Athenae Cantabr. i. 205, 263, 555); and Nicholas Steward or Styward (fl. 1560), who was recommended by Andrew Perne (1519?-1589) [q. v.] as his successor in the chancellorship of Norwich (Strype, Parker, ii. 362, 398, 433, Whitgift, ii. 32, iii. 235; Parker Corresp., Parker Soc. pp. 460, 476).
Robert became a monk at Ely, when he adopted as his name the place of his birth. He graduated B.A. at Cambridge in 1516 and M.A. in 1520, but must probably be distinguished from the Dr. Steward who was chaplain to Wolsey, and afterwards a member of Thomas Cromwell's household (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. iv. App. art. 230). About 1522 he was elected prior of Ely, and in that capacity took the chief part in the election of Thomas Goodrich [q. v.] as bishop of that see in 1534. In the convocation of 1529 he maintained the validity of Henry's marriage with Catherine of Aragon; but he found reason to change his views, and became one of Henry's instruments in persuading monasteries to surrender to the king (cf. Letters and Papers, XIII. ii. 320; but it is possible that the Dr. Robert Steward there mentioned was not the prior of Ely). In 1536 he was nominated a candidate for the suffragan-bishopric of Colchester, but the king appointed William More (d. 1540) [q. v.] On 18 Nov. 1539 he surrendered the monastery at Ely to the king, and, perhaps as a reward for his compliance, received the considerable pension of 120l., and on 10 Sept. 1541, when the see was refounded, he was appointed its first dean. He then resumed his family name of Steward. He complied with the religious changes under Edward VI and Mary, retaining his deanery until his death on 22 Sept. 1557. He was buried in Ely Cathedral, and his memorial inscription is printed in Bentham's 'Ely' and Cooper's 'Athenae Cantabrigienses.'
Besides the genealogy mentioned above, Steward continued the 'Historia Eliensis' from 1486 to 1554. The manuscript was formerly preserved at Lambeth, and was printed in Wharton's 'Anglia Sacra' (i. 675-7).[Todd's Cat. Lambeth MSS., pp. 25, 57; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, vol. i. pp. xlvi-xlvii, 675-7, 686-8; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 692; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Wright's Letters relating to Suppression of Monasteries (Camd. Soc.), p. 4; Bentham's Ely, pp. 224 et seq., with Stevenson's Supplement, pp. 121, 143; Dugdale's Mon. Angl. ed. Caley, Ellis, and Bandinel, i. 468-9; Fiddes's Life of Wolsey, p. 202; Egerton MS. 2599, f. 5 (for his nephew Robert's will).]