Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wingfield, Robert
WINGFIELD, Sir ROBERT (1464?–1539), diplomatist, born about 1464, was the seventh son of Sir John Wingfield of Letheringham, Suffolk. His brothers Sir Humphrey [q. v.] and Sir Richard (1469?–1525) [q. v.] are separately noticed. He was brought up by Anne, lady Scrope, his stepmother (Blomefield, Norfolk, i. 321). He first rose to favour under Henry VII, to whose aid he came, together with his brother Richard, against the Cornish rebels in 1497 (Grafton, Chron. p. 575; Polydore Vergil, p. 760). On 9 March 1505 he arrived at Rome on a pilgrimage (Collect. Top. v. 66). He was employed by Henry VII on a mission to the Emperor Maximilian before 1508, in January of which year he is mentioned as returning to England (Bernard Andr. p. 108). On 2 July 1509 he is mentioned as a knight, the occasion being a grant to him by Henry VIII of a rent of 20l. from the castle and town of Orford and the manor of Orford, and of the patronage of the Augustinian friars there, all being part of the forfeitures of Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk [q. v.] Further grants followed, and on 10 Feb. 1511 he is styled ‘councillor and knight of the body.’
In the same month Wingfield was despatched again on a mission to Maximilian, and in August following he and Silvester de Giglis [q. v.], bishop of Worcester, were nominated ambassadors to a council convoked by Julius II at the Lateran. The ultimate intention of the pope was to form a ‘holy league’ against France, to which Henry signified his adhesion on 17 Nov. The council was not actually opened till May 1512 (Creighton, iv. 150). Wingfield remained with the emperor at Brussels and elsewhere, and does not appear to have attended its sittings. On 30 Sept. Maximilian, hearing that Julius II was ill, appointed Wingfield and the bishop of Gurk his envoys to support the candidature of his nominee at Rome; but, exasperated at being left without means, Wingfield unceremoniously disappeared from the court of Brussels, ostensibly on a pilgrimage, but in reality to join his brother Sir Richard at Calais. Meanwhile he had been ordered to repair to the emperor, then in Germany, and on 9 March 1513 he was at the imperial court at Worms. On 18 April 1513 he was again at Brussels, whence he was on that day despatched back to the emperor at Augsburg to secure his adhesion to Henry VIII's scheme of a general confederacy against France. As a reward for his services he had already (14 July) received a joint grant in survivorship with his brother Sir Richard of the office of marshal of the town and marches of Calais. During the early autumn of 1513 he paid a brief visit to England, but in May 1514 he was at Vienna, whence he despatched repeated but generally vain appeals for money and for his recall. The success of the French arms in Italy in 1515 had, however, aroused the jealous resentment of Henry, who became yet more eager to unite Maximilian in a confederacy against France. Maximilian on his part was ready to sell himself to the highest bidder, while Wingfield, with whom hatred of the French was a master passion, was always persuaded that the emperor was devoted to the English interest. Wolsey, perceiving that the ambassador was duped by Maximilian, sent Richard Pace [q. v.] to act as a check upon Wingfield's credulous indiscretion. An acrimonious correspondence ensued between Wolsey and Wingfield. Pace, too, ridiculed Wingfield's credulity, a circumstance which Wingfield discovered by opening Pace's correspondence during the latter's illness. He also feigned Pace's signature and seal to a receipt for money sent to Pace, by which device he obtained sole control of its distribution. He was perhaps reckoning for condonation of this audacious act on a splendid offer which the emperor commissioned him to lay before Henry. This was the creation of Henry as Duke of Milan and the resignation of the empire in his favour. Maximilian's real intention was to obtain supplies from Henry and to plunder the duchy of Milan in his name. Pace's insight prevented Henry falling into the trap. Henry in reply refused to provide any more money, and expressed his displeasure with Wingfield for having advanced sixty thousand florins to the emperor on his own responsibility. In the summer of 1516 Henry himself wrote to Wingfield an extraordinary letter of censure upon his credulous confidence in the emperor and his ‘envy and malice’ towards Pace, whom he had accused of betraying the secret of Maximilian's offer. A treaty was, however, drawn up between Henry and the emperor, dated 29 Oct. 1516, providing, inter alia, for the advance of forty thousand crowns by Henry, in return for the offer of the imperial crown, to be formally made by Wingfield and the cardinal of Sion. Wingfield received the emperor's oath on 8 Dec. 1516 with much self-gratulation on his success. Yet the ink was scarcely dry when Wingfield heard rumours that Maximilian had secretly subscribed to the obnoxious treaty of Noyon.
Wolsey, however, continued to employ Wingfield, and despatched him, together with Tunstall and the Earl of Worcester, to Brussels to negotiate with Charles (afterwards Charles V) a policy favourable to English interests. The mission succeeded in obtaining from Charles on 11 May 1517 a ratification of Henry's treaty with the emperor of the previous October. Wingfield left Brussels on 16 March to return to the imperial court, then in the Netherlands. On 5 June, having received instructions from Henry to follow Maximilian back to Germany, Wingfield wrote to the king a point-blank refusal. He was unpaid, his servants refused to remain with him, and he was under vows to make pilgrimages in England. On 18 Aug. he was at Wenham Hall, Suffolk. Exasperation and gout had made him reckless. ‘Infamy,’ he wrote to Wolsey, ‘would hang over’ the king and cardinal if a merchant who had advanced money on his guarantee as ambassador were not satisfied. The arrears of Wingfield's salary, amounting to 224l. for seven weeks, were paid in the following December.
During the next two and a half years Wingfield appears to have remained in retirement in England. The first sign of the king's returning favour is a grant, in which he is recited to be ‘a king's councillor,’ of an annuity of a hundred marks out of the tonnage and poundage in the port of London, on 14 Aug. 1519. In November 1520 he vacated his post of joint-deputy of Calais (Chron. of Calais, p. xxxviii), and apparently in December 1521 was appointed ambassador at Charles V's court. He was now not only a king's councillor but ‘of the privy council’ and vice-chamberlain. He arrived at Brussels on 8 Feb. 1521–2. He apparently accompanied Charles to England in July. But on 14 Aug. he again crossed the Channel as an ambassador, on this occasion to the court of Margaret of Savoy at Brussels. His instructions were to induce Margaret to lend active assistance to the projected operations of Charles and Henry against France. He returned to England in May 1523, but in August was appointed to a command in the Duke of Suffolk's army for the invasion of France. He seems to have taken no part in the campaign, remaining apparently in Calais, of the castle of which he was appointed lieutenant by the influence of Wolsey.
After the battle of Pavia (23 Feb. 1525) preparations were made by Henry for an invasion of France. Wingfield was nominated (11 April) upon the council of war under the Duke of Norfolk, and was at the same time despatched, together with Sir William Fitzwilliam, to the court of Brussels to concert measures with the regent of the Netherlands. A series of evasive negotiations followed, and when Henry's projects of a joint invasion of France had given place to an alliance with that power (30 Aug.), it fell to Wingfield to extenuate the change of policy by dilating on the necessity of international peace for the extirpation of Lutheranism, the spread of which gave him great concern. In May 1526 he returned to Calais, of which place he was appointed deputy on 1 Oct. 1526. He appears to have remodelled the municipality by introducing into it, as the representatives of the crown, the military officers who supervised its defences; this oligarchical change was made on instructions from home, and subsequently led to much dissatisfaction, into which Wingfield was in 1533 one of the commissioners appointed to inquire. In the autumn and winter of 1530–1 he largely added to the defences. His successor, Lord Berners, was appointed deputy of Calais on 27 March 1531 upon the terms that he should pay Wingfield a hundred marks yearly during his tenure of office. He continued to reside in Calais, of which he became mayor in 1534. He had a valuable property in the outskirts of the town, four thousand acres in extent, which he had rented of the crown since 1530 for 20l. per annum. It had been a marsh, which Wingfield drained, thereby impairing the defences of the town. Upon the adverse report of a commission on the matter, the houses Wingfield had built were destroyed and the sea let in. Wingfield's grievance against Lord Lisle, who had succeeded Berners as deputy, culminated in a quarrel in December 1535 as to the relative rights of the mayor and deputy. The king supported Lisle, and Wingfield was threatened with expulsion from the council. This was followed in July 1536 by the introduction of a bill into parliament for the revocation of Wingfield's grant. The bill passed the commons, but with difficulty, and was withdrawn, Wingfield being persuaded to surrender his patent to the king on 25 July. In return for this, and as a very inadequate compensation for his losses, Wingfield received a grant on 1 Feb. 1537 of lands in the neighbourhood of Guisnes of the yearly rental value of 56l. Wingfield, however, now brought an action at Guisnes against the minor officials concerned in the destruction of his property. Lisle stayed the proceedings, and Wingfield retaliated by procuring the election of Lisle's enemy, Lord Edmund Howard, as mayor of Calais. Howard was, however, displaced, and Wingfield in January 1538 renewed his action before the courts at Westminster.
Wingfield died on 18 March 1539. His will, dated 25 March 1538, was proved on 12 Nov. 1539. Its provisions are set out in Anstis (ii. 229). He married Joan, widow of Thomas Clinton, lord Clinton and Say, who survived him, but left no issue.
Wingfield's credulity, pedantry, pride, and contentiousness are graphically described by Brewer. He was, like his brothers, a man of superior education and proficient in French as well as in German. He is said by Anstis to have caused to be printed at Louvain about 1513 a book entitled ‘Disceptatio super dignitate et magnitudine Regnorum Britannici et Gallici habita ab utriusque Oratoribus et Legatis in Concilio Constantiensi.’ He was patron of the college of Rushworth or Rushford, Norfolk. In 1520 he was specially admitted at Lincoln's Inn (Registers, i. 39). During the greater part of his life he was a strenuous opponent of Lutheranism, but on 25 Feb. 1539, shortly before his death, he wrote Henry a letter extolling his ecclesiastical policy and lamenting his own ‘former ignorance.’[Brewer and Gairdner's Cal. of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, contains hundreds of despatches to and from Wingfield and other references to him. See also Cal. State Papers, Spanish and Venetian series; Grafton's Chron., ed. H. Ellis, 1812; Chron. of Calais (Camden Soc.), 1846; Bernardi Andreæ Annales Hen. VII (Rolls Ser.), 1858; Polydore Vergil's Historiæ Anglicæ (Leyden), 1651; Ashmole's Institution of the Garter, 1672; Anstis's Register of the Garter, 1724, 2 vols.; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, 1789, vol. v.; Collectanea Topographica, 1837 vol. iv., 1838 vol. v.; Visitation of Huntingdonshire (Camden Soc.), 1849; State Papers of Henry VIII (1830–52), vols. i. ii. vii. viii.; Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII, 1884, 2 vols.; Creighton's Hist. of the Papacy, 1887, vol. iv.; Powerscourt's Wingfield Muniments.]