Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 48.djvu/130

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knowledge ever took you to be a man of such credit as either I or any other could vouchsafe to communicate with you in any matter of importance.’ Rich attempted to substantiate the accusation by calling Sir Richard Southwell [q. v.] and Palmer, who had attended him in the Tower; but they both professed to have been too busy removing More's books to listen to the conversation. More was condemned, and Rich reaped his reward by being appointed before the end of the year overseer of liveries of lands, and chirographer of common pleas.

Meanwhile the lesser monasteries had been dissolved, and to deal with their revenues there was formed the court of augmentations of the revenue of the crown. This court was a committee of the privy council, and Rich, who was probably at the same time sworn of the council, was made its first chancellor on 19 April 1536. He was returned probably as knight of the shire for Essex to the parliament which met on 8 June and was dissolved on 18 July 1536, and was elected speaker. In his opening speech he compared the king with Solomon for justice and prudence, with Samson for strength and fortitude, and with Absalom for beauty and comeliness, and in his oration at the close of the session he likened Henry to the sun which expels all noxious vapours and brings forth the seeds, plants, and fruits necessary for the support of human life. He was now perhaps, next to Cromwell, the most powerful and the most obnoxious of the king's ministers. When in the same year the northern rebellion broke out, the insurgents coupled his name with Cromwell's in their popular songs, and in the list of articles they drew up demanded his dismissal and punishment, describing him as a man of low birth and small reputation, a subverter of the good laws of the realm, a maintainer and inventor of heretics, and one who imposed taxes for his own advantage. The failure of the rebellion was followed by the suppression of the remaining religious houses, and Rich devoted himself zealously to the work, being described as the hammer, as Cromwell was the mall, of the monasteries. Occasionally he visited a monastery himself, but his chief occupation was the administration of their revenues, and it was natural that some of the enormous wealth which passed through his hands should stick to his fingers. In 1539 he was appointed, as groom of the privy chamber, to meet Anne of Cleves at Calais; but he deserted Cromwell in the disgrace which consequently overtook him, and was one of the chief witnesses against his friend and benefactor.

Cromwell's fall was followed by a reaction against the Reformation, and Rich took an active part in the persecution of the reformers, working with Gardiner, and being described by Foxe as one of the papists in Henry's council. He was constant in his attendance at the privy council, and in April 1541 one John Hillary was committed to the Marshalsea for accusing Rich of deceiving the king as to the possessions of the abbey of Keynsham. In 1544 he resigned the chancellorship of the court of augmentations, and in the same year was treasurer of the wars against France and Scotland, accompanying Henry to Boulogne, and assisting in the negotiation of a treaty with France. On 30 Dec. he was again returned to parliament as knight of the shire for Essex. In June 1546 he took part in the examination of Anne Askew [q. v.], and was present when she was tortured in the Tower; according to her own explicit statement, Wriothesley and Rich ‘took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was well nigh dead’ (Foxe, v. 547). The story has been much discussed but never disproved, and ‘is perhaps the darkest page in the history of any English statesman’ (Froude, iv. 208).

In spite of these proceedings, Rich's position was improved by the accession of Edward VI. Henry had appointed him an assistant executor of his will, bequeathed him 200l., and, according to Paget, left instructions that he should be made a peer. On 26 Feb. 1547–8 he was created Baron Rich of Leeze (Leighs), Essex. In March Wriothesley was deprived of the lord-chancellorship, owing, it is said, to Rich's intrigues, and on 23 Oct. Rich was appointed lord chancellor. He acquiesced in the violent religious changes made by Somerset, signing the orders in council for the administration of the communion in both kinds and for the abolition of private masses. In 1549 he took part in the proceedings against the Protector's brother, Lord Seymour of Sudeley; having obtained an opinion from the judges and council, he conducted the bill of attainder through parliament, and afterwards signed the warrant for his execution. On the outbreak of the rebellion in the same year he summoned the justices before him, and rated them for their neglect to preserve the peace in an harangue printed in Foxe (v. 72–5). In October he accompanied Somerset to Hampton Court when the young king was removed thither; but, finding the Protector's party was deserting him, he took the great seal and joined Warwick at Ely House, Holborn. There, on 6 Oct., he described