Sunday, December 12, 2010

Question from Charli - Mr Colley and Mr Thorp and sumptuary laws

In the inventory of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey in 1546, there is an addition that 'a Robe with a hood of crymsen vellut' was delivered to Mr Colley and Mr Thorp by Sir John Gates.

I have hunted high and low for Mr Colley and Mr Thorp and I still can't find who they are. I was wondering if you knew who these people were!?

Also do you know what the earls could not wear under the sumptuary laws?

Thank you!


  1. Here is a very cautious conjecture regarding Messrs. Colley and Thorp.

    In the inventory where Colley and Thorp are listed as recipients of Surrey's clothing, there are a couple of other gentlemen mentioned - Fowler and Philpot. The Duke of Somerset and Sir Henry Seymour are mentioned as major beneficiaries of the distribution (the inventory is dated 1546 but Edward Seymour did not become Duke of Somerset until after 1547, so evidently the distribution took place after Henry VIII's death), so it is perhaps logical to conclude that Fowler, Philpot, Thorp and Colley are closely associated with either Somerset or his faction.

    A John Fowler and a John Philpot turn up in the records as grooms of Edward VI's privy chamber (Thomas Seymour tried to suborn them for his plot). Rootling around in Google books, I did come across a reference to "Richard, groom of the chamber to King Edward VI, died childless" in a discussion of the Colley family in the 1878 Cheshire Sheaf, (there is also a brother Humphrey Colley in Edward's service, listed as a footman in one source I looked at, and another brother William in Queen Elizabeth's service). So possibly it could be Richard or Humphrey Colley in the Surrey inventory reference; I would incline to Richard as the better bet, being a groom of Edward's privy chamber like Philpot and Fowler.

    Thorp is harder to find. I can find snippets of the Calendar of the Patent Rolls in Google Books, one of which refers to "Grant to the king's servant William Thorpe, a groom of the Privy Chamber, of the whole of the said term of 21 years yet remaining in the messuage called Skales Inne." I cannot access the precise date but it appears to be situated in Edward VI's reign. This might indicate another groom of the Privy Chamber, named Thorp/Thorpe, who could possibly be identified with the Thorp of the Surrey inventory. Another Patent Rolls snippet turned up "Licence for three years, for his service to Edward VI, Queen Mary and the present queen, William Thorpe, the queen's servant, to buy in England and export 120 tons of beer ..." dated July 4 [no year I can access but it's clearly in Elizabeth's reign].

    A further association between these grooms, Colley and Thorp(e), (suggested by the sharing of Surrey's vellut robe) can perhaps be identified in a final Patent Roll snippet dated August 4 (year unknown, I couldn't access it):

    "Grant for life to the king's servant William Thorpe, a groom of the Privy Chamber, of the office of controller of pleas, fines, amercements, redemptions and all other things before the justice of North Wales .. and also of all the charges of the chamberlain there, vice Richard Colley, groom of the privy chamber, deceased, with 8d. a day, from 10 July last, when Colley died." Vice means "in place of" and is a common annotation in the records for someone taking over another's position or emoluments.

    As I said, it's all highly conjectural. Tudor names can be spelled different ways, and a man may not appear under the same name in all the records.

  2. Thank you so much Foose! :)

  3. Great reply, Foose.

  4. I thought I would check Jessie Childs' "Henry VIII's Last Victim" (about Henry Howard) to see if they popped up, but no luck.

    I don't know off the top of my head of a good source of sumptuary laws at that time, but the Elizabethan ones can be found here:

    (If I remember correctly, the Elizabethan ones were more detailed than in her father's reign, so you might not be able to apply those to Henry Howard.)

  5. If the date of Colley's demise is correct (July 10), he could be the groom mentioned in Edward VI's Chronicle who perished that day in 1551, apparently of the sweating sickness:

    "At this time came the sweat into London, which was more vehement than the old sweat... for in London the 10. day [of July] ther died 70 in the liberties, and this day 120; and also one of my gentlemen, another of my gromes fell sike and died, that I removed to Ampton court with very few with me."

    It is not much of an epitaph from Colley's royal master, but as the sapient Phd historian once observed in response to another query, Edward's "journal" was not intended to be a repository of sentimental confidences but rather an impersonal record of the day-to-day events of his reign.

    Per the Tudor sumptuary laws, I did find a book called King Lear and Its Afterlife, by Peter Holland, which summarizes the sumptuary laws governing the upper ranks:

    "The Tudor sumptuary laws, which prevailed against all the violations that new fashions as well as social climbing introduced until James I abolished them in 1604, were most scrupulous and detailed in specifying what the different ranks of the aristocracy were allowed to wear. Only kings and dukes could wear crowns on their heads ... Earls wore a distinct costume, differentiated from dukes chiefly by the absence of gold, except for a single ornament on their velvet hats, although the rest of their clothing could be similar. 'Earls and above that rank ...' were permitted to wear 'cloth of gold, sylver tissued, silke of purple color.'"

    Interestingly, Surrey was charged at his trial for wearing "foreign clothes" among other crimes, and apparently one of his portraits shows him in Italian dress.

  6. It occurred to me that Holland's summary might reflect Elizabethan sumptuary laws, as Alison Weir in her book on Henry VIII's court reports that cloth of gold was not permitted to earls, nor the color purple. However, I consulted Maria Hayward's Rich Apparel, and actually there were at least three sumptuary laws passed in Henry VIII's reign, progressively loosening up some of the strictures, so that the 1533 act specified that "Earls could choose cloth of gold, silver or tinselled satin, or any silk or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver or sables ..."

    Of Surrey, Hayward says, "The earl of Surrey's clothing choices also emulated those of the king. While there were no purple garments in his wardrobe he did own outer garments made from cloth of gold ... matching suits of clothes ... and items in bright colours ..."

    It does look like purple was prohibited for earls and Surrey had just enough sense to stay away from it. Still, Hayward sees Surrey's clothing as coming close to "appropriating royal dress," a maneuver utilized by "a member of the nobility with aspirations to the crown."


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