Thorpe, Thomas (d.1461) (DNB00)

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THORPE, THOMAS (d. 1461), speaker of the House of Commons, seems to have been brought up in the royal service. He can hardly be the man of his name who was elected member of parliament for Rutland, although not returned by the sheriff in 1403; but he was certainly chosen for Northamptonshire in 1449. He was an officer of the exchequer in 1442, and remembrancer of the exchequer by 1452. In that year he was, probably on the ground of his Lancastrian sympathies, dismissed by John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q. v.], when the latter became treasurer on 15 April 1452 (Ramsay, Lancaster and York, ii. 152, 160). He is stated (ib. p. 160) to have become a baron of the exchequer before he was speaker, and this his wife's funeral inscription seems conclusively to prove, but other accounts put his appointment later (the circumstances under which he became third baron are detailed in Rot. Parl. v. 342). In the parliament of 1452–3, a Lancastrian parliament, he was chosen speaker; he became a member of the privy council the same year. As a prominent member of the weaker party he was marked for attack, and the occasion was found in his taking possession, probably under the king's orders, of some arms belonging to the Duke of York, which were in London. He was then committed to the Fleet. The king was at this time incapable, and when early in 1454 the Duke of York opened parliament the speaker was still in gaol. ‘Thorpe of th' escheker,’ wrote a correspondent of the day (Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner, i. 264), ‘articuleth fast ayenst the Duke of York.’ The case came before the lords on 15 Feb. 1454, and the lords asked advice from the judges. They, however, avoided responsibility, and declared by Sir John Fortescue that it was not their place to determine the privileges of parliament, adding the suggestion that Thorpe was entitled to his release (May, Parliamentary Practice, pp. 102, 130). None the less, the lords decided that Thorpe should remain in prison, and the commons proceeded to elect another speaker. This decision, which was afterwards said to have been ‘begotten by the iniquity of the times,’ was, it has been pointed out, really of little importance (Fortescue, Governance of England, ed. Plummer, pp. 45, 51, 53). Thorpe was a strong party man, and it was as such doubtless, and not as speaker or member of the House of Commons, that he was attacked.

Thorpe remained in prison, it is said, till he had paid 1,000l. and 10l. costs; he was free before 16 April 1455. He was present at the first battle of St. Albans, from which he fled away. In the Yorkist vindication which followed, Thorpe was one on whom the blame of the troubles was laid. His punishment was demanded in parliament. He seems to have escaped for the time owing to the king's favour. He became second baron of the exchequer on 30 Nov. 1458, and in 1459 he had the reversion granted to him of the office of chancellor of the exchequer. He took an active part in the parliament of Coventry held in December 1459, drawing up the Yorkist attainders. When the Yorkist lords landed in Kent in 1460 and came to London, Thorpe was one of those who went with Scales and Hungerford into the Tower (Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles, Camd. Soc. pp. 73, 75, 103), and hence cannot have been, as is sometimes said, captured at Northampton. He was in any case taken prisoner, and, after some time, attempted to escape from the Marshalsea, or wherever he was confined, disguised as a monk ‘with a newe shave crowne,’ and on 17 Feb. 1460–1 he was beheaded by the mob at Haringay.

Thorpe's wife, whose name was Joanna, died on 23 June 1453, and was buried at the church of St. John Zacharies, London. Their son Roger was in the service of the crown, was M.P. for Truro in the parliament of 1452–3, and was at Guisnes under Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset [q. v.], while his father was in trouble about the Duke of York's case. He fought at Wakefield, was prosecuted by a Yorkist named Colt, and, like his father, was some time in prison, and had to pay a very large sum of money (2,000l.) He lost some of his lands in Essex in consequence. These proceedings were declared void in the first parliament of Henry VII's reign (cf. Campbell, Materials for the History of Henry VII, Rolls Ser. i. 127–9).

[Manning's Speakers of the House of Commons, p. 101; Rolls of Parliament, v. 199, vi. 294; Ramsay's Lancaster and York; Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Foss's Judges of England, p. 658; Return of Members of Parliament, i. 265, 342, 346, 347; Weever's Funeral Monuments, p. 391; Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas, v. 186, vi. 143 &c.; Stubbs's Constitutional History, iii. 168, 169, 266, 471.]

W. A. J. A.