Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ryley, William
RYLEY, WILLIAM, the elder (d. 1667), herald and archivist, a native of Lancashire, was the son of William Ryley, who held the office of Rouge Rose pursuivant-extraordinary from 1630 till his death about 1634. His family may have been settled at Accrington. Thomas Ryley, a king's scholar at Westminster School, who was elected to Cambridge in 1625, and afterwards became a fellow and tutor of Trinity College, has been identified as a brother. William received a legal education, being entered at the Middle Temple. He soon acquired a taste for antiquarian research, and about 1620 he entered the Tower as clerk of the records, under Sir John Borough [q. v.], Garter king of arms, the keeper of those archives. His employment in that office extended over forty-seven years. On 4 Sept. 1633 he was appointed Bluemantle pursuivant of arms, and on 11 Nov. 1641 Lancaster herald. He, with the other heralds, followed Charles I to Oxford, but on 31 July 1643 he obtained the royal warrant to return to London, in order to protect the records in the Tower during the absence of Sir J. Borough, who remained at court.
Ryley soon came to be regarded as a zealous parliamentarian. He was assessed for 20l., being the tax known as the ‘twentieth part,’ and his friends in the House of Commons procured the remission of the assessment, on the ground of his good service to the parliament. Afterwards his political conduct was vacillating and suspected, and it is said that he was committed to prison in January 1643–4, for ‘intelligence with Oxford’ (Whitelocke, Memorials, edit. 1732, p. 79). He was accused before the committee of examinations at Westminster of being with Sir Basil Brooke, the chief agent, in a plot ‘to make a difference between the parliament and the city, to divert the Scots advancing hither, and to raise a general combustion under the pretence of peace.’ After a few weeks' imprisonment he was released, and, when Sir J. Borough died in April 1644, he was appointed by the parliament to succeed him as keeper of the records.
In September 1646 Ryley was one of three kings of arms appointed by parliament to conduct the state burial on 22 Oct. in Westminster Abbey of the Earl of Essex. Two days before he was created Norroy king of arms. His employments were, however, to use his own words, ‘places of quality rather than of profit,’ and in 1648 he petitioned parliament to settle upon him a competency, on the ground that he had for seven years received no remuneration (Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, 1779, lib. ix. p. 384); 200l. was advanced to him, and his salary as clerk of the records was fixed at 100l. per annum by Cromwell, whom Ryley cordially supported. About 1650 Ryley removed his household to Acton, Middlesex. The old charge of ‘intelligence with Oxford’ was in 1653 renewed against him in the committee of indemnity, and he was further accused of having been in actual arms for the king, but by the act of oblivion ‘he was dispensed withall.’
He was agent to the commission for the sale of the royal forests, and on 19 April 1654 he wrote to Secretary Thurloe to solicit that his appointment might be changed from agent to commissioner (Thurloe, State Papers, ii. 232). He assisted as Norroy at the funeral of the Protector Oliver, and at the installation as Protector of Richard Cromwell, who on 25 Feb. 1658–9 created him Clarenceux king of arms (Fourth Report of Dep.-Keeper of Public Records, p. 199).
When the king's return became imminent, Ryley's loyalty revived, and he was one of the three heralds who proclaimed Charles II at Westminster Hall gate on 8 May 1660, in obedience to the commands of both houses of parliament. On the Restoration Ryley was reduced to his former rank as Lancaster herald, though the chapter of the college of arms showed their appreciation of his services by making him their registrar on 13 Dec. 1660. The place of keeper of the records was given to William Prynne, with a salary of 500l. per annum; but Ryley and his son remained in the office as his deputies. Prynne speaks disparagingly of Ryley's abilities and research, but he can hardly be regarded as an impartial critic. Pepys, writing on 13 May 1664, says: ‘I saw old Ryley, the herald, and his son, and spoke to his son, who told me in very bad words concerning Mr. Prin, that the king had given him an office of keeping the Records; but that he never comes thither, nor had been there these six months; so that I perceive they expect to get his employment from him’ (Diary, 3rd edit. ii. 325).
Ryley was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey on 25 July 1667 (Chester, Registers of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, p. 166).
His children were William Ryley the younger (see below); John; Philip, buried at Acton on 20 Oct. 1671; Charles, captain of a merchant ship, Hope, who died at sea, unmarried, in 1666; Dorothy, wife of George Barkham of Acton, Lancaster herald; and Ann, who went to Virginia.
He was associated with his son in the production of a book entitled ‘Placita Parliamentaria. Or Pleadings in Parliament, with Judgments thereon in the Reign of Edward the First and Edward the Second … Containing … Statutes, Ordinances, Provisions, Inhibitions, Forms of Writs on several occasions, Prohibitions, Proclamations, with the Confirmation of Magna Charta and Charta de Foresta. As also of some other Records taken out of the Tower of London which prove the Homage anciently due to the Kings of England from Scotland, and the Establishment of Ireland under the Laws of England,’ London, 1661, fol. It was published in June 1661, and in September the same year another edition, with a slightly altered title-page, appeared under the son's name (Kennett, Register and Chronicle, pp. 478, 542). Ryley's ‘Collection of Arguments in several Cases of Heraldry,’ written in Latin, 1646, is in the Harleian MS. 4991. ‘The Visitation of Oxfordshire,’ taken by John Philpot [q. v.] and Ryley in 1634, was published by the Harleian Society, vol. v. (1871), and ‘The Visitation of Middlesex,’ begun by Ryley and Dethick in 1663, was printed at Salisbury, 1820, fol. The eldest son,
William Ryley (d. 1675), claims, in a draft petition in the state paper office, to have been educated under Busby at Westminster, whence he went to Christ Church, Oxford, and graduated M.A. (Thirtieth Report of the Dep.-Keeper of Public Records, p. 249). A scholar of Westminster he certainly was not, though he may have been a town-boy, neither is there any record of his matriculation or graduation at Oxford (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, iii. 1295). He was admitted a student of the Inner Temple in November 1651, and he had then been for some time employed in the record office under his father (Cooke, Students admitted to the Inner Temple, 1547–1660). He was not called to the bar till 12 Feb. 1664–5. Before the Restoration he married Elizabeth, fifth daughter of Sir Anthony Chester, bart., of Chicheley, and this alliance with a family of approved loyalty and some influence at court enabled him and his father to remain at the record office under the new keeper, William Prynne. Ryley was intimately associated with his father in all his literary pursuits and undertakings, and assisted him in the compilation of ‘Placita Parliamentaria.’ He sent in a petition for a grant in reversion of the office of keeper of the records, but his hopes were disappointed, and after Prynne's death the post was given to Sir Algernon May in February 1669–70. The rest of his life is only known by a series of petitions setting forth his services and embarrassments. In one of these documents, drawn up shortly before his death, he says: ‘I have lost all preferments to attend to the study of the records, wherein I took my delight, and now, after all my endeavours and constant services to his Majesty, must by sad experience die a beggar.’ He was buried in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, near the Tower, on 12 Nov. 1675.
Philip Ryley (d. 1733), his son and heir, was from an early age until 1702, and again from 1706, serjeant-at-arms, attending the lord treasurer of England; was subsequently agent of the exchequer; from 1698 a commissioner of excise; from 30 May 1711 a commissioner for collecting the duties on hides; and for many years surveyor of the royal woods and forests. He was knighted by George II on 26 April 1728. His possession through life of many lucrative offices enabled him to acquire considerable wealth, and he purchased the manor of Great Hockham, near Thetford, Norfolk, where he resided in his later years. He died at Norwich on 25 Jan. 1733 (Gent. Mag. 1733, p. 47).
[The Troubles of William Ryley, Lancaster Herald, and of his Son, Clerks of the Records in the Tower, by John E. Bailey, F.S.A., privately printed at Leigh, Lancashire, 1879, 8vo; Waters's Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Chester of Chicheley, i. 174; Noble's Coll. of Arms, pp. 240, 248, 251, 253, 261, 262, 264, 289; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 2160.]