Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roper, William
ROPER, WILLIAM (1496–1578) biographer of Sir Thomas More, was eldest son of John Roper, by his wife Jane, daughter of Sir John Fineux, chief justice of the king's bench. The father, who had property both at Eltham in Kent and in St. Dunstan's parish, Canterbury, was sheriff of Kent in 1521, and long held the office of clerk of the pleas or prothonotary of the court of king's bench; he was buried in the Roper vault in the chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan's Church, Canterbury, on 7 April 1524. He made his will on 27 Jan. 1523, and it is printed at length in ‘Archæologia Cantiana’ (ii. 153–74). The provisions, which ignored the Kentish custom of gavelkind, were so complicated that an act of parliament, which was passed in 1529, was needed to give effect to them. John Roper's widow Jane wrote to Thomas Cromwell on 16 Nov. 1539 begging him to bestow the post of attorney to Anne of Cleves (about to become queen of England) on John Pilborough, husband of her second daughter, Elizabeth; the letter is in the public record office (cf. Archæologia Cant. iv. 237–8). The elder Roper's youngest son, Christopher (d. 1558–9), of Lynsted Lodge, Kent, was escheator for the county in 1550; he married Elizabeth, daughter of Christopher Blore of Teynham, Kent, and was grandfather of Sir John Roper, who was created Baron Teynham on 9 July 1616; the peerage is still held by a descendant.
William, the eldest son, was, according to Wood, educated at one of the universities. Under his father's will he inherited the larger part of the family property, including estates at Eltham and St. Dunstan's, Canterbury. In 1523, when his father made his will, William held jointly with him the office of clerk of the pleas or prothonotary of the court of king's bench. This post he subsequently held alone for life. His legal duties apparently brought him to the notice of Sir Thomas More, and about 1525 he married More's accomplished eldest daughter, Margaret (for an account of her see art. More, Sir Thomas). More showed much affection for Roper. After his father-in-law's execution in 1535, Roper compiled a charmingly sympathetic life of More, which is the earliest of More's biographies and the chief source of information respecting More's personal history. It was first published at Paris in 1626 under the title ‘The Life, Arraignement, and Death of that Mirrour of all true Honour and Vertue, Syr Thomas More’ [for bibliography see art. More, Sir Thomas, ad fin.].
Roper was an ardent catholic to the last, and during Queen Mary's reign took a part in public life. He had previously sat for Bramber (1529), Rochester (1545), and Winchester (1553), and he was returned in 1554 to Mary's second and third parliaments as member for Rochester. In Mary's last two parliaments (October 1555 and January 1557–8) he sat for Canterbury. He did not re-enter the House of Commons after Queen Mary's death. As a catholic he fell under the suspicion of Queen Elizabeth's privy council. On 8 July 1568 he was summoned before it for having relieved with money certain persons who had fled the country, and had printed books against the queen's government. He made his submission, and on 25 Nov. 1569 entered into a bond to be of good behaviour and to appear before the council when summoned (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, pp. 311, 347). Roper and Sir William Cordell, master of the rolls, were nominated by Sir Thomas Whyte visitors of his new foundation of St. John's College, Oxford, during life. The validity of their appointment was disputed in July 1571 by Robert Horne, bishop of Winchester (ib. p. 417). After fifty-four years of tenure of his post of prothonotary of the king's bench, he resigned it in 1577 to his eldest son Thomas. He died on 4 Jan. 1577–8, and was buried in St. Dunstan's Church, Canterbury. His wife Margaret had died in 1544. By her he left two sons, Thomas and Anthony, and three daughters. Thomas, the elder son, who succeeded to the property at Eltham, was buried on 26 Feb. 1597–8 in St. Dunstan's Church, where there is an elaborate inscription to his memory; he left issue by his wife Lucy, youngest daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, and sister of the first viscount Montagu. William Roper's family died out in the male line at the end of the seventeenth century, when Elizabeth Roper, wife of Edward Henshaw of Hampshire, became sole heiress of the Eltham and St. Dunstan's estates.[Hasted's Hist. of Kent, ed. Drake, pt. i. (Hundred of Blackheath), 1886, pp. 189 sq.; Sprott's Chronicle, ed. Hearne, p. 330; J. M. Cowper's Reg. of St. Dunstan's Church, Canterbury, 1887; Foster's Peerage; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss; Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More; art. Sir Thomas More.]