Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burley, Simon

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BURLEY, Sir SIMON (1336–1388), warrior and favourite, was born in 1336 (Nicolas, Scrope and Grosvernor, p. 206), of a Herefordshire family. His parentage is uncertain, but he appears to have been a younger brother rather than a son of the Sir John Burley who received the Garter at the accession of Richard II. Introduced at court by his relative Walter Burley [q. v.], he first served in the fleet which destroyed the Spanish corsairs in 1350. In 1355 he took part in Edward‘s abortive expedition from Calais, and in 1364 he appears in attendance on the Black Prince in Aquitaine, By him he was sent on the embassy to Pedro of Castilla in 1366, and shared in his restoration and the victory of Najara in 1367 (Froissart). On the war being renewed in 1369, he was attacked near Lusignan, when with a detached force, and made prisoner by the French, to the grief of the Black Prince, who had a high esteem for him (ib.) On the release of the Duchess of Bourbon he was exchanged (1370) and rejoined the Black Prince at Limoges. To him chiefly the prince bequeathed the education of his son Richard, on whose accession Burley at once obtained promotion and power, He came to London as the young king’s envoy, and bore the sword before him on the occasion of his visiting the city (Wals. i. 330, 339. He was also made governor of Windsor astle, and obtained grants of lands (Rot. Vasc. 1 Ric. II, m. 15, Pat. 2 Ric. II. p. 1, m. 42). He was made master of the kings falcons at ‘the Mews,’ constable of Guildford and Wigmore, and was given a residence in Thames Street, by Baynard's Castle (Strow, Annals). On 12 June 1380 (Fœdera), the king being then fourteen, he was chosen as his tutor, and, being a skilful negotiator (Froissart), as one of the commissioners to treat for his marriage, being then styled ‘knight of the kings chamber’ (Fœdera). Six months later he was definitely appointed to negotiate for the hand of Anne of Bohemia (ib) He went to her at Prague, and having obtained her consent (20 Feb. 1381), and concluded a treaty with her uncle, Wenceslaus of Brabant, returned successful to England, and was rewarded with the Garter 28 May 1381. These dates dispose of Stow’s assertion (Annals, p. 28-1) that he was guilty of encouraging the Wat Tyler rising (January 1381). He was then despatched afresh to escort Anne to England as under-chamberlain of the household, ‘travelling with a great equipage’ (Foissart). He brought her from Brussels to Calais, whence they crossed in December (Issue Roll, Mich. 5, Ric. II 21 Dec.) Froissart says that he had urged the Bohemian as against the Lancastrian match on Richard, and he thus became an ally of the queen. He was present at the reception of the Flemish envoys by Richard in 1382 (Froissart), and on 24 Jan. 1383 he was appointed constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports. He took part in the Scottish campaign of 1385, at the head of twenty men-at-arms and thirty archers (Archæologia), and clung to Richard’s cause when assailed in 1386. At the close of that year he was rewarded by being chosen as one of Richard's advisers in his struggle for absolute power. At the same time (30 Dec. 1386) he appeared as a witness in the Scrope and Grosvenor controversy. The Earl of Arundel acquiring popularity by a naval victory this year, Burley opposed him with special jealousy (Wals. ii. 150). At the approach of the reaction (November 1387) he was inclined to flee, but having been persuaded by De Vere to stand firm (Froissart) was seized and sent to Nottingham Castle (Knighton, 2705; Issue Rolls, 20 Dec. 1387), whence he was brought to London to be impeached by the commons, with three other nights (12 March 1388). The impeachment printed in ‘Rot. Perl.' iii. 241-3, accuses him of sundry misuses of power, but the article on which he was convicted was the eighth, charging him with leading Richard in his youth to form a corrupt court. Froissart contends that malversation was the plea on which he was ruined; but this would seem to apply to previous complaints. He was accused of having raised his income from 20 marks to 3,000 in a few years (Knighton, 2727), and was even suspected by the people of wishing to sell Dover to the French (Wals. ii. 174). Derby was anxious to save his life, but was overruled by Gloucester and Arundel (ib.), the latter of whom was bent on his death, and even insulted the queen when she pleaded on her knees for him (Chronicque), as he was reminded by Richard in 1397. Gloucester also insisted ‘if he wished to be king,’ Burley must suffer (Rot. Parl. iii. 431). He was accordingly sentenced in parliament, 5 May 1388, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, which was commuted by the king, On the plea of his services, to beheading. He suffered the same day on Tower Hill (ib. iii. 243), Stow asserting that he was first led through the city, his hands bound behind him (Chron. p. 204). His sentence was formally reversed 22 March 1399. The king and queen were enraged at his death, and Froissart grieved for him as a friend and as a wise and gentle knight. It is probable, from a list of his books, twenty-one in number, extracted from an inventory of his goods (8 Nov. 1387) ‘at the Mews and Baynard’s Castle,’ and preserved in manuscript (Add. MS. 25459, p. 206), that he was a man of some culture. His taste for romances of chivalry accounts for his intimacy with Froissart, and suggests that his ideas were those of the later days of Edward III, and that he owed his ruin to the extravagant tastes of the school in which he had been reared. There is a curious description in the ‘Issue Rolls’ of his bed (among his forfeited chattels) as ‘of green Tarteryn embroidered with ships and birds.’

[Rolls of Parliament; Chronicque de la Traison (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series); Froissart’s Chronicle; Knighton’s Chronicle; Stow’s Annals; Devon’s Issues of the Exchequer; Beltz's Memorials of the Garter; Nicolas’s Scrope and Grosvenor Controversy; Stow’s Chronicle; Rymer’s Fœdera; Archæologia, vol. xxii.; Stubbs’s Constitutional History; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 413; Add. MSS. (Brit. Mus.)]

J. H. R.