Sir Robert ROCHESTER, Knight

Born: ABT 1494

Died: 22 Nov 1557

Buried: Charterhouse of Sheen, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: John ROCHESTER

Mother: Griswold WRITTLE


The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born by 1494, younger son of John Rochester by Griswold, dau. and eventual coheiress of Walter Writtle of Bobbingworth and Joan Hende. Griswold sister, Eleanor, was the mother of Edmund Walsingham. Essex. Among non-clerical supporters of the Henrician Catholics, there are other names that can be cited: in addition to most of the Howard clan, we may properly include Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor and first Earl of Southampton, and Sir Robert Rochester and Sir Francis Englefield, close friends of Gardiner.

Member, council of 16th Earl of Oxford in 1542, receiver by 1542, supervisor 1546-7; member, household of Princess Mary by Apr 1547, comptroller by May 1550; commr. relief, Essex and household of Mary 1550, rebel fines 1553, marriage treaty 1554, sale of crown lands 1554, augmentations 1554; other commissions 1553-d.; comptroller, the Household 5 Aug 1553-d.; PC 1553-d.; Chancellor, duchy of Lancaster and constable, Pleshey castle, Essex by Sep 1553-d.; j.p. Essex and Suff. 1554; chief steward, crown lands, Essex May 1554; temporary keeper, privy seal 1555; under steward, Westminster Jan. 1555-d.; bailiff and under steward, St. Albanís liberty, Herts. Dec. 1556-d.; keeper, Beaulieu, Essex and bailiff, manors of Boreham, Essex and Hunsdon, Herts. Jul 1557-d.

The Rochester family had long been settled in Essex. Robert Rochesterís father died young and although his mother had taken a second husband, Thomas West, before the death of his grandfather and namesake in May 1508, and a third, Edward Waldegrave, by Jun 1509, it is possible that he was brought up in the household of the earls of Oxford. The elder Robert Rochester had been comptroller to the 13th Earl and in the late 1530s the 15th Earl gave the younger man land in Stapleford Abbots, Essex, which had belonged to Wivenhoe chantry. It was probably from the 16th Earl, whose receiver Rochester had become by 1542, that he received the bailiffship of Lavenham, Suffolk.

Rochester was supervisor of Oxfordís lands in 1546 but by the following Apr he had transferred to the service of Princess Mary. It may have been the Earl who persuaded the Council to agree, while Mary could be trusted to welcome the brother of John Rochester, the Carthusian martyr. Rochester may have been her comptroller from the outset and was certainly so by the summer of 1550, when he advised her not to try to escape overseas on the ground that whether the attempt succeeded or failed she would be compromised. The despatch of Sir John Gates to thwart the scheme was followed by a fresh effort to make Mary conform in which Rochester, his nephew Edward Waldegrave and Sir Francis Englefield were the hapless go-betweens. Their eventual refusal to compel her not to attend mass brought them in Aug 1551 to the Tower; they remained there, or in custody elsewhere, until Mar 1552, when they were allowed home, and in the following month they reesumed their places in Maryís household.

All that is known of Rochesterís role in the succession crisis of 1553 is that he conferred secretly with the imperial ambassadors, who reported that he was doing good and true service. The Queen made him a Knight of the Bath and Privy Councillor, comptroller of the Household and the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, but his lack of political acumen was to bring him close to retirement before the year was out. A supporter of Bishop Gardiner, who was to appoint him an executor, he favoured the Queenís marriage to Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, with whom his friendship had probably ripened while both were in the Tower, and although by Dec he realized that the Spanish marriage was inevitable he told Renard that the Queen no longer treated him with the same confidence as before. He added that if he had known of Maryís affection for Felipe he would have acted otherwise himself and would have countered the parliamentary opposition to the marriage. His conversion was symbolized by his membership of the commission to arrange the marriage treaty and rewarded by a Spanish pension of 1,000 crowns, the largest of them all save Secretary Petreís.

In Feb 1554 he was appointed with Sir William Drury and Sir Thomas Cornwallis to order victuals for Calais and Berwick.

Rochester was to have been one of an inner council of six members proposed early in 1554, and although excluded from a similar body envisaged later he was regular in his attendance at the Council until the late summer of 1556; thereafter attendance upon the Queen and perhaps declining health kept him away. After John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedfordís death in 1555 he acted as keeper of the privy seal, and the forced loan of the following year was raised through him as comptroller instead of through the treasurer. He was one of the four Councillors to whom the Queen first disclosed her resolve to restore church lands still in the hands of the crown, and his patronage of the Carthusians, whom he housed for a while in the hospital of the Savoy before enabling them to settle at Sheen, bespeaks his solicitude for Catholicism. It is less certain that he favoured a rigorous attitude towards religious or political dissent. In his official capacity he attended the execution of the first Protestant martyr John Rogers and served on the commission of inquiry into the Dudley conspiracy, but he is said to have argued for clemency after Wyattís rebellion and later to have intervened in favour of Courtenay and Princess Elizabeth. It is hard to say whether Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolkís naming of Rochester as an executor was a measure of the dukeís esteem or of his insensitiveness, for Norfolk had presided over the trial of John Rochester in 1537.

Rochesterís parliamentary career may have begun under Henry VIII. If the knighthoods of the shire for Essex in the later Henrician Parliaments appear to have been the preserve of Rich and Sir Thomas Darcy, a seat for Colchester in 1542 could have come his way as it did on other occasions for servants of the earls of Oxford. Excluded from the two Edwardian Parliaments by his allegiance to Mary, he was to be returned to the four Marian Parliaments summoned before his death, taking precedence each time over his fellow-Councillor Sir William Petre. He confirmed his position in Essex by acquiring land there, and not long before his death he made his principal residence at Stansted, of which he bought the freehold reversion for £1,634 in Nov 1556. He was also able to wield parliamentary patronage elsewhere, especially as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. The Journal provides occasional glimpses of the part he played in the Commons. He spoke in the debate on the bill for the repeal of the Treasons Act on 16 Oct 1553. With his fellow Petre he was among the 20 Members chosen Ďto devise articles for aid to the Queenís majestyí in Oct 1555 and, again with Petre, among the six ordered to confer with the Lords concerning the case of Gabriel Pleydell in the following Dec. On 12 Nov 1554 he helped conduct Clement Heigham to the Speakerís chair and on 7 Dec 1555 he announced the forthcoming dissolution of the Queenís fourth and his own last Parliament. He was often charged with the carrying of bills to the Lords.

Rochester was nominated a knight of the Garter on 23 Apr 1557 but he had not been installed before his death on the following 28 Nov. As he was unmarried, a third of his lands passed to his elder brother William, and by his will of 27 May 1557 he left the greater part of the remainder to the Carthusians at Sheen. He also made provision for the chantry at Terling for which he had recently received a licence and left annuities of £20 and £5 to the nuns of Langley and Syon. His nephew Waldegrave, who later succeeded him as chancellor of the duchy, was to have his bailiffship of Lavenham and he gave £100 to the Queen Ďas a poor witness of my humble heart duty and service to the sameí. His executors included Ralph Baynes, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Waldegrave and William Cordell, and his overseer was Chancellor Nicholas Heath. He was buried at Sheen on 4 Dec 1557, attended by Clarencieux and Lancaster heralds, and his will was proved on 13 Dec 1558.

Sources:

Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII

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