Bedingfield, Henry (1509?-1583) (DNB00)

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BEDINGFIELD or BENIFIELD, Sir HENRY (1509?–1583), of Oxborough, in Norfolk, supporter of Queen Mary, was born about 1509. He was the son of Sir Edmund Benifield, likewise of Oxborough, who was knighted by Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, on the fall of Montdidier in 1523 (Holinshed, ii. 830), and was later appointed steward, or rather gaoler, of Lady Katharine of Arragon during the last years of her life, when living in retirement at Kimbolton. In this capacity he seems to have treated her with something of the harshness used by his son towards Lady Elizabeth. Sir Henry succeeded to the estates of his father in the year 1553. He was one of the very earliest to acknowledge Mary as queen on the death of Edward VI, and is said to have rallied round her with 140 fully armed men. In reward for his services on this occasion he was made a privy councillor, and his name aippears at the head of several orders in council for the year 1553 {Burghley Papers, vol. i.) He is also said to have received a pension of 100l. a year, and to have been enfeoffed in part of the forfeited estates of Sir Thomas Wyatt (Blomefield, History of Norfolk, 178).

In March 1554 the Princess Elizabeth was committed to the Tower on a charge of complicity in Sir Thomas Wyatt's rebellion. On 5 May the constable of the Tower was replaced by Sir Henry Bedingfield, with a special guard of 100 soldiers, in blue liveries; and, according to Foxe, Elizabeth was in constant fear of murder at the hands of her new gaolers. But in this she did her keeper wrong, who was merely taking the steps necessary for carrying out his orders to conduct her to Woodstock. The journey was commenced under Bedingfield's charge on 19 May, on which day 'with a company of rakehells' she was conveyed by water to Richmond, and thence to Woodstock. Sir Henry Bedingfield's conduct is said by both Foxe and Holinshed to have been extremely harsh, not only on the way but also during the full year during which she was under his care. He is even charged with the impertinence of himself sitting down after a long journey to have his boots pulled off in a chair of state that had been specially prepared for his royal prisoner. But at least he may be allowed the credit of his own apology, 'that if the case were hers he would as willingly serve her grace as now he did the queen's [Mary] majesty.' For he was a careful guardian of Elizabeth's life, and, according to Foxe (viii. 678), it was only owing to the strict injunctions left behind him against the admittance of any one — even with the queen's orders — to Elizabeth's presence during his absence, that she was not made away with by Gardiner's creature Basett. Sir Henry was released from his charge in June 1555. During the years 1553, 1554, and 1557, he sat in parliament as one of the knights of the shire for Norfolk, but was not returned after Elizabeth's accession. In 1553-4 his name appears as one of two commissioners appointed to receive the payments in compoundment of knighthood throughout England (Herald and Genealogist, v. 18, 19). On Elizabeth's accession, according to Foxe, Sir Henry Bedingfield once more made his appearance at court, with apologies for his previous conduct; and the common story runs that the queen contented herself with discouraging his attendance there, and 'with a nipping word:' 'If we have any prisoner whom we would have sharply and straitly kept, we will send for you!' (Foxe, vi. 554). She even appears to have visited, or at least to have purposed to visit him at Oxborough in one of her royal progresses (1578).

For the rest of his life Sir Henry Bedingfield seems to have lived quietly as a country gentleman. His name occurs every now and then in the State papers, as one of the disaffected and an adherent of the old religion; as, for example, in vol. lx. (357) where the justices of Suffolk write to Cecil that bonds have been taken from Sir Henry Bedingfield for his good behaviour and appearance before the privy council, in company with several others who would not subscribe to the Act of Uniformity (Dec. 1569). In 1578 he was excused appearance before the same body on account of sickness; and, later, in 1581, one Thomas Scot writes to Leicester that 'being a preacher, a christian, and an Englishman, he thinks it right to disclose that the papists are favoured by Sir Henry Bedingfield' (State Papers, cxl. 12).

Sir Henry Bedingfield died in the year 1583, shortly after the death of his wife, being, apparently, still an adherent of the old religion. He was buried at Oxborough, where a fine monument was erected commemorating his virtues. In his later years the family of which he was the head seems to have been gradually making its peace with the government; for his second son Thomas [q. v.] was one of Elizabeth's pensioners, and his great-grandson, who succeeded to the estates in 1590 while still an infant, was certainly described as a 'schismatic,' that is a protestant, by his Jesuit cousin Edward in 1614. He had probably been educated in the new religion, to which faith the elder descendants of Sir Henry Bedingfield seem henceforth to have adhered, while the younger branch, the Bedingfields of Redlington, continued for more than a century to furnish members to the Society of Jesus.

[Foxe; Strickland, under Katharine of Arragon, Mary, and Elizabeth; Blomefield's History of Norfolk; Haynes's Burghley State Papers; Sir Harris Nicolas's Proceedings of Privy Council, vii. 344; Bethel's Baronetage, ii. 196, &c.; Froude's History of England; Foley's Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, v. 571. &c.; and authorities cited above].

T. A. A.