Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harper, William (1496?-1573)

HARPER, Sir WILLIAM (1496?–1573), lord mayor of London, son of William Harper of Bedford, was born at Bedford, probably in 1496, as he is stated to have been seventy-seven years old at his death. He came to London, and, having served his apprenticeship, was admitted a freeman of the Merchant Taylors' Company in 1533. After passing through the various grades of office, he became master of the company in July 1553. On Midsummer day 1552 he was excused serving the office of sheriff, to which the lord mayor. Sir George Barne, nominated him, because 'his substance and goodes were out of his handes,' but he promised to undertake the office another time, if elected (Wriothhesley, Diary, Camden Soc., new ser. xx. 73-4). He succeeded Sir John Ayloffe on 14 Nov. 1553 as (second) alderman of the ward of Bridge Without, which then comprised the borough of Southwark, and on 12 Nov. 1556 he removed to Dowgate ward (City Records, Rep. 13, ff. 95 b, 447 b). He was elected sheriff for the second time on Midsummer day 1557. On 29 Sept. 1561 he was chosen lord mayor ; the Merchant Taylors' Company celebrated his entry into office on 29 Oct. with a costly pageant, of which a detailed description exists in a contemporary manuscript preserved among the company's records. The land pageant, made by John Shute at a cost of 12l., represented, in reference to the lord mayor's name, David surrounded by Orpheus, Amphion, Arion, and Iopas. Among the 'wifflers' appointed to protect the pageant was John Stow, the historian. Nine short poetical addresses, of unknown authorship, prepared for the pageant are printed by Mr. Clode in his 'Early History of the Guild of Merchant Taylors' (ii. 267-9). On 1 Nov. the feast of All Saints, Harper went in state to St. Paul's to hear a sermon by Grindal, bishop of London (Machyn, p. 271). In January the young Duke of Norfolk came ta Guildhall to be made free of the Fishmongers' Company, and was entertained by the lord mayor (ib.) Harper was knighted by the queen on 15 Feb. at Westminster (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 118). Towards the end of July he raised a band of soldiers for service in Normandy. Harper helped to found the Merchant Taylors' School, which was established during his mayoralty, chiefly through the liberality of Richard Hilles. He contributed in 1565 10l. to the purchase of a site for Gresham's Exchange.

On 22 April 1566 Harper and his wife Alice granted by indenture to the mayor and corporation of his native city of Bedford a piece of land with school buildings upon it. For the support of the school and other charitable objects he left thirteen acres and one rood of meadow land in the parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, which is now covered with houses and yielded in 1861-3 a rental of 13,211l. 5s. 3d. per annum (Fourteenth Report of the Charity Commissioners). The funds provide free education for Bedford children of both sexes and of every social and educational grade, together with exhibitions to the universities.

Harper died on 27 Feb. 1573 and was buried, in accordance with the directions of his will, in the chancel of St. Paul's Church, Bedford. A table monument, with brass figures of himself in armour, worn beneath his alderman's gown, and of his widow, was erected to his memory in the south of the chancel (cf. drawing by Fisher in his 'Collections for Bedfordshire,' copied by Nichols in his biography of Harper, London and Middl. Arch. Society's Trans, iv. 86). By direction of the act of parliament (4 Geo. Ill) which regulates the Harper charity, another monument of marble with a rambling inscription was erected in the chancel of the church, and a statue placed in a niche over the doorway of the school-house. His will, dated 27 Oct. 1573, was proved in the P. C. C. on 6 April 1574 (Martyn, 14), and is printed by Nichols (Biography, pp. 91-2). He made his widow sole executrix, and left a cup to the Merchant Taylors' Company, besides several small legacies to friends and servants. Harper lived in Lombard Street, in a mansion formerly belonging to Sir John Percival, who devised it to the company for the use of those of their members who were likely to reach the highest municipal honours. The only known portrait of Harper is one engraved by Richardson from a unique volume of portraits of lord mayors of Elizabeth's reign, published in 1601. It is in the possession of Sir John St. Aubyn. It is doubtful, however, if the likeness be genuine, as many of the heads, according to Granger (Biog. Hist, of England, i. 299), served several times for various lord mayors.

Harper married, first, by license dated 18 Nov. 1547, Alice Chauntrell, widow (Chester, Marriage Licenses, ed. Foster, col. 627), who is, however, described in the visitation of London in 1568 as the widow of - Harison of Shropshire. She died on 10 Oct. 1569, and was buried on the 15th in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth. A daughter, Beatrice, by her first marriage lived in Harper's house with her husband, Prest wood. After Lady Harper's death, Harper disputed the validity of an alleged gift made by her to her daughter, and on 26 Jan. 1569 petitioned the court of aldermen to decide the controversy. A compromise was finally arranged (City Records, Rep. xvi. 512, xvii. 18, 31, 54, 57, 59, 69, 124). Harper married, secondly, by license dated 13 Sept. 1570, Margaret Leedare (or Lethers, according to the spelling in his will), who survived him. He had no issue by either wife. After his death Lady Harper refused to give up the house belonging to the Merchant Taylors' Company. The company eventually proceeded against her in the lord mayor's court, but did not regain possession of their property until August 1575.

[Nichols's Account of Sir William Harper. Trans, of the London and Middl. Arch. Society, vol. iv.; Clode's Memorials of the Merchant Taylors' Company, and Early History of the Merchant Taylors' Company; Wyatt's Bedford Schools and Charities; Lysons's Bedfordshire, 1813, pp. 51-2 ; Visitation of London, 1568, London and Middl. Arch. Society's Trans, vol. iii. ad fin. pp. 16-17 ; Granger's Biog. Hist, of England, i. 299; Carlisle's Endowed Grammar Schools, i. 1-26; Brooke and Hallen's St. Mary Woolnoth, pp. xxiv, 190; Waller's Monumental Effigies.]

C. W-h.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.147
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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429 i 19 f.e. Harper, Sir William: after St. Aubyn insert (Lord St. Levan)