Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pope, Thomas (1507?-1559)
POPE, Sir THOMAS (1507?–1559), founder of Trinity College, Oxford, was elder son of William Pope, a small landowner at Deddington, near Banbury, by his second wife, Margaret (d. 1557), daughter of Edmund Yate of Standlake. The Pope family, originally of Kent, had been settled in North Oxfordshire from about 1400 (E. Marshall, North Oxf. Arch. Soc. 1878, pp. 14–17). Thomas was about sixteen at the time of his father's death on 16 March 1523 (see Will and Inquis. post mortem 15 Sept. 1523, in Warton, App. i. and ii.*). His mother afterwards married John Bustard of Adderbury (d. 1534).
Thomas was educated at Banbury school and at Eton College (see Statutes of Trin. Coll. c. vii.), was subsequently articled to Mr. Croke (? Richard, comptroller of the hanaper), and by 1532 was one of the lower officials in the court of chancery. He seems to have risen by favour of Lord-chancellor Thomas Audley [q. v.], in whose house he was domiciled in 1535, and is described as his ‘servant’ in a letter of 28 March 1536 (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, x. 223). He and Sir Edward North were Audley's executors and residuary legatees. Pope was also on terms of intimacy with Sir Thomas More, to whom, on 5 July 1535, he brought the news that he was to be beheaded on the following day (see Warton, pp. 33–4).
On 5 Oct. 1532 Pope received a grant of the office of clerk of briefs in the Star-chamber, and on 15 Oct. 1532 he was granted the reversion of the valuable clerkship of the crown in chancery (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, v. 642, xiii. ii. 115). He became warden of the mint, &c., in the Tower of London on 13 Nov. 1534, and held the post till 9 Nov. 1536 (ib. vii. 558, xi. 564). At the same time he came to know and to correspond with Cromwell, who in 1536 procured him a nomination to be burgess of Buckingham (ib. x. 384, xiii. i. 545–6, 550, 572, ii. 10, 38). Extensive landed property was reconfirmed to him by act of parliament on 4 Feb. 1536 (ib. x. 87). On 26 June 1535 he obtained a grant of arms (Warton, App. ii.), and he was knighted on 18 Oct. 1537.
Meanwhile, on 24 April 1536, on the establishment of the court of augmentations of the king's revenue to deal with the property of the smaller religious houses then suppressed, Pope was created second officer and treasurer of the court, with a salary of 120l. (Cal. State Papers, xiii. ii. 372) and large fees. About 1541 Pope was superseded by Sir Edward (afterwards Lord) North. In January 1547, on the reconstitution of the court, he became the fourth officer, and master of the woods of the court this side the Trent. He probably retained this office till the court was incorporated in the exchequer in 1553 (Warton, pp. 15–19). He had been a privy councillor before 21 March 1544, and was frequently employed by the privy council on important business (Acts of P. C. vii. 281, viii. 328, ix. 111, 142).
Pope was not a regular commissioner for the suppression of the monasteries, but he received the surrender of St. Albans from Richard Stevenache on 5 Dec. 1539, and had exceptional facilities for obtaining grants of the abbey lands disposed of by his office. Of the thirty manors, more or less, which he eventually possessed by grant or purchase, almost all had been monastic property. There were conveyed to Pope, on 11 Feb. 1537, for a valuable consideration, the site and demesnes of Wroxton Priory, the manor or grange of Holcombe (Dorchester Priory), and other abbey lands in Oxfordshire. The manors of Bermondsey (4 March 1545) and Deptford (30 May 1554); the house and manor of Tittenhanger (23 July 1547), formerly the country seat of the abbots of St. Albans; and a town house, formerly the nunnery of Clerkenwell, ultimately fell, with much other property, into his hands. He thus became one of the richest commoners of the time.
Under Edward VI his want of sympathy with the Reformation largely withdrew him from public life (but cf. Wriothesley, Chron. ii. 7, 27). On the accession of Mary he was sworn of the privy council on 4 Aug. 1553. He was sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1552 and 1557, and was associated with Bonner, Thirlby, and North in a commission for the suppression of heresy on 8 Feb. 1557 (Burnet, Ref. ii. ii, records, No. 32). Pope may perhaps at the beginning of the reign have been attached to the Princess Elizabeth's household (Warton, p. 80). On 8 July 1556 he was selected to reside as guardian in her house (cf. Burnet, l. c. No. 33), but that he long had charge of Elizabeth is improbable. He clearly possessed the confidence of both the sisters, and was sent by Mary on 26 April 1558 to broach to Elizabeth an offer of marriage from Eric of Sweden (Cotton MS. Vitellius C. xvi. f. 334, in Burnet, l.c. No. 37; Warton, pp. 99–103). The commonly accepted accounts of the festivities given in honour of Elizabeth, mainly ‘at the chardges of Sir Thomas Pope,’ during 1557 and 1558, rest on no trustworthy evidence. Warton says that he derived them from copies made for him by Francis Wise of Strype's alleged transcripts of the then unpublished ‘Machyn's Diary’ in the Cottonian Library. An examination of Machyn's manuscript, after all allowance is made for the injury it sustained in the fire of 1731, proves that these passages were not derived from the source alleged, and it is probable that they were fabricated by Warton himself (cf. Warton, pref. pp. x–xiii, and pp. 86–91; Wiesener, La Jeunesse d'Elisabeth d'Angleterre, 1878, Engl. transl. 1879, vol. ii. chap. xi. and xii.; an account of the forgeries in English Historical Review for April 1896).
Meanwhile, like Lord Rich, Sir William Petre, Audley, and others, Pope was prompted to devote some part of his vast wealth to a semi-religious purpose. On 20 Feb. 1554–5 he purchased from Dr. George Owen (d. 1558) [q. v.] and William Martyn, the grantees, the site and buildings at Oxford of Durham College, the Oxford house of the abbey of Durham. A royal charter, dated 8 March, empowered him to establish and endow a college ‘of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’ within the university, to consist of a president, twelve fellows, and eight scholars, and a ‘Jesus scolehouse,’ at Hooknorton, for which four additional scholarships were subsequently substituted. On 28 March he executed a deed of erection, conveying the site to Thomas Slythurst and eight fellows and four scholars, who took formal possession the same day (Warton, App. ix.–xii.). The original members of the foundation were nearly all drawn from other colleges, chiefly Exeter and Queen's.
During 1555–6 he was engaged in perfecting the details of his scheme, repairing the buildings, and supplying necessaries for the chapel, hall, and library (ib. App. xvi.–xviii.). The members were admitted on the eve of Trinity Sunday, 30 May 1556, by Robert Morwent [q. v.], president of Corpus. The estates selected for the endowment were handed over as from Lady-day 1556, and comprised lands at Wroxton and Holcombe, with about the same amount in tithe, mostly in Essex, part of which he specially purchased from Lord Rich and Sir Edward Waldegrave. The statutes, dated 1 May 1556, which resemble other codes of the period, were drawn up by Pope and Slythurst with the assistance of Arthur Yeldard. Slight alterations were made by an ‘additamentum’ of 10 Sept. 1557. The rectory of Garsington, granted by the crown on 22 June 1557, was added to the endowment of the presidency on 1 Dec. 1557 (see Statutes of Trin. Coll. Oxf., printed by the University Commissioners, 1855). Warton's quotations from a letter alleging interest on the part of Elizabeth (p. 92) and Pole (p. 236) are probably fabrications. If Pope, as Warton alleges (p. 132), founded an obit for himself at Great Waltham on 24 Dec. 1558, it is probable that he was about that time attacked by the epidemic which proved fatal that winter to so many of the upper classes. He died at Clerkenwell on 29 Jan. 1559; and, after lying in state at the parish church for a week, was buried on 6 Feb. 1559 with great pomp (Machyn, p. 188), according to his express directions, in St. Stephen's, Walbrook, where Stow (London, p. 245) saw the monument erected to him and his second wife. Their remains were removed before 1567 to a vault in the old chapel of Trinity College, over which his widow (his third wife) placed a handsome monument, with alabaster effigies of Pope and herself. It is now partly concealed by a wainscot case, put over it when the present chapel was built, but is clearly engraved by Skelton (Pietas Oxoniensis and Oxonia Antiqua Restaurata, vol. ii.; cf. Wood's Life, ed. Clark, iii. 364).
Pope was thrice married, but left no issue. From his first wife, Elizabeth Gunston, he was divorced, on 11 July 1536, by Dr. Richard Gwent, dean of arches (MSS. F. Wise in Coll. Trin. Misc. vol. i.) On 17 July 1536 he married Margaret (Townsend), widow of Sir Ralph Dodmer, knt., mercer, and lord mayor of London 1529. She died on 10 Jan. 1538, leaving a daughter Alice (b. 1537), who died young. His third wife, Elizabeth, was daughter of Walter Blount of Osbaston, Leicestershire, by Mary, daughter of John Sutton. She married, first, Anthony Basford (or Beresford) of Bentley, Derbyshire, who, dying on 1 March 1538, left her with a young son, John. On 1 Jan. 1540–1 (according to Wise; but possibly later) she married Pope, with whom she is afterwards associated in various grants, settlements, &c., as also in the rights and duties of foundress of Trinity College. She carried out the founder's injunctions to complete the house at Garsington. After Pope's death she married Sir Hugh Paulet [q. v.] She was suspected of recusancy (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Add. 1566–79 p. 551, 1581–90 p. 287), and established an almshouse at her native town of Burton. She died at Tittenhanger on 27 Oct. 1593, and was buried at Oxford on 2 Nov., both the university and the college celebrating her funeral with some pomp (Warton, pp. 202–4, and App. xxx.). A good portrait on panel, which was in the college before 1613, is now in the hall. At Tittenhanger there is one of a later date, representing her in a widow's cap.
By his will, dated 6 Feb. 1557, with a long codicil of 12 Dec. 1558, Pope bequeathed numerous legacies to churches, charities, prisons, and hospitals; his wife, her brother, William Blount, and (Sir) Nicholas Bacon, to whom, as his ‘most derely beloved frend,’ he leaves his dragon whistle, were executors. The will was proved on 6 May 1559. By the settlement of 1 April 1555 nearly the whole of his Oxfordshire estates passed to the family of John Pope of Wroxton, and some of these remain with the latter's representatives, Viscount Dillon and Lord North [see Pope, Thomas, second Earl of Downe]. The Tittenhanger, Clerkenwell, and Derbyshire properties seem to have been settled on his third wife with remainder to her son, who died young, and were thus inherited by Sir T. Pope Blount (son of Pope's niece, Alice Love), whose representative, the Earl of Caledon, still owns Tittenhanger.
Portraits of Pope, differing slightly in details, are at Wroxton and Tittenhanger; both are plausibly attributed to Holbein. Two early copies of the latter are now in the president's lodgings at Trinity; they were acquired before 1596 and 1634 respectively. Later copies are in the hall, common room, and Bodleian Gallery. The Wroxton portrait was engraved in line by J. Skelton in 1821. Of the Tittenhanger portrait there is a small scarce mezzotint by W. Robins, and another, by J. Faber, from the copy at Oxford. Both in the portraits and on the tomb Pope is represented as a middle-aged man, with sensible and not unpleasing, but rather characterless, features. For his motto he used the phrase ‘Quod tacitum velis, nemini dixeris.’[Authorities cited above, especially the Calendars of State Papers and other records from which it is possible to correct the minor inaccuracies of dates, &c., in Warton's Life of Sir Thomas Pope (1st edit. 1772; 2nd, 1780), which is expanded from an article in the Biogr. Brit. 1760. It is a most laborious work, and contains a vast amount of information on a great variety of cognate subjects derived from papers then unprinted. It is, however, full of serious, and in some cases intentional, inaccuracies. The remarkable series of fabricated extracts from Machyn is mentioned above (see Engl. Hist. Rev. April 1896). No fact which Warton states on his own authority or on that of ‘MSS. F. Wise,’ or ‘the late Sir Harry Pope Blount,’ can be accepted where not verifiable. Modern memoirs (Skelton, Clutterbuck, Chalmers, &c.) are derived entirely and uncritically from Warton. Mr. F. G. Kenyon, of the British Museum, has kindly examined the manuscripts of Machyn for the purposes of this article. All registers and original papers in the college archives, where fourteen of Pope's letters and others of his papers are still extant, have been carefully examined.]