Docwra, Thomas (DNB00)

DOCWRA, Sir THOMAS (d. 1527), prior of the knights of St. John of Jerusalem in England, was descended from an old Westmoreland family, the Docwras of Docwra Hall in Kendal; but he came of a younger branch which had been for some generations settled in Hertfordshire. According to an old pedigree his father's name was Richard, and his mother was Alice, daughter of Thomas Green of Gresingham, presumably Gressingham in Lancashire. He succeeded Sir John Kendal as prior of the knights of St. John at Clerkenwell on 1 May 1502 (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 799, Caley's edit. 1817). That he had property at this time in Hertfordshire is shown by a sculptured stone still preserved in some buildings of a later date at Highdown, the old family seat near Hitchin, bearing the arms of the family with the inscription ‘Thomas Docwra, miles, 1504’ (Cussans, Hertfordshire, ii. 18). Shortly after this we begin to meet with notices of him as engaged in diplomatic missions. He was one of the commissioners employed by Henry VII to negotiate with Philip, king of Castile in 1506, during the period of Philip's enforced stay in England, when he was driven by tempest on the coast, that treaty of commercial intercourse with the Low Countries which the merchants there stigmatised as the ‘intercursus malus.’ He also negotiated at the same time a treaty for the English king's marriage with Margaret of Savoy (Rymer, xiii. 132; Bergenroth, Spanish Cal. i. 455). Next year he was one of a body of commissioners who went over to Calais in the end of September, and were met there by a great embassy from Flanders to settle the terms of an alliance with Philip, and a treaty for the marriage of Charles, prince of Castile (afterwards the emperor Charles V), with Mary, the king of England's daughter. They returned just before Christmas, having concluded both treaties at Calais on 21 Dec. (Rymer, xiii. 173, 189, 201). In February following (1508) it is mentioned that he paid visits of courtesy to Fuensalida, the newly arrived ambassador from Spain. After Henry VIII's accession he and Nicholas West were sent to France (20 June 1510), and on 23 July they received from Louis XII a formal acknowledgment of the sum in which he stood indebted to the king of England for arrears of tribute (Cal. Henry VIII, vol. i. Nos. 1104, 1182). While on this mission he received ‘diets’ or allowances at the rate of forty shillings a day (ib. ii. 1446).

About this time his services were very much desired at Rhodes by the grand-master, the head of his order, in consequence of their danger from the Turks; but the king of England could not spare him for such a distant expedition (ib. vol. i. Nos. 540, 4562). As prior of St. John's his name appears in numerous commissions in the early years of Henry VIII, among which is one of gaol delivery for Newgate (ib. No. 1942); one to inquire of alleged extortions by preceding masters of the mint (No. 3006); several of sewers for Lincolnshire, where the order had important interests (Nos. 663, 1716, 1979, 3137, 5691); and one for the Thames from Greenwich to Lambeth (No. 4701). On 4 Feb. 1512 he was appointed one of the king's ambassadors to the council to be held at the Lateran on 19 April following (Nos. 2085, 3108). But he certainly could not have gone thither, and indeed the appointment seems to have been superseded by a new commission to the Bishop of Worcester and Sir Robert Wingfield only (No. 3109). On 2 May following he was one of those appointed to review and certify the numbers of the force sent to Spain under Dorset for the invasion of Guienne (No. 3173). Next year (1513) on 22 Feb. he received a summons to be ready before April to attend the king with three hundred men (No. 3942). He crossed with the army to Calais in May, and on 6 June entered the French territory with 205 men under the Earl of Shrewsbury (Nos. 3277, 4070; the former of these two documents is clearly placed a year too early). In a catalogue of the badges borne in the standards in that expedition we read: ‘The lord of St. John's’ (i.e. the prior) ‘beareth gold half a lion sable gotted gold ramping out of a wrayth gules and sable, with a platte between his feet voided; the same platte gules par pale’ (Cotton MS. Cleop. C. v. 59). In some naval accounts of this time we find mention made of ‘my lord of St. John's ship’ of two hundred tons burden, commanded by Lord Edmund Howard (Cal. i. 553, vol. iii. No. 2488). This was probably a ship belonging to the order put in requisition for service in the war.

That Docwra was a man of valour we may take for granted from the position which he filled, and from the desire repeatedly expressed by the grand-master for his presence at Rhodes (ib. vol. ii. Nos. 1138, 3607, vol. iii. No. 2324); but we do not hear of any special actions by which he distinguished himself in this war. It was soon over, however; and in August of next year, on the conclusion of peace, he, with the Earl of Worcester and Dr. Nicholas West, afterwards bishop of Ely, was sent over to France to obtain the ratification of Louis XII, and witness his marriage to Henry VIII's sister Mary (ib. vol. i. Nos. 5335, 5379, 5391, 5441, &c.) They also remained to witness her coronation at St. Denis on 5 Nov. (ib. No. 5560). In February 1515, on the meeting of parliament, Docwra was made a trier of petitions from Gascony (ib. vol. ii. No. 119). Next month it was again proposed to send him, with Fisher, bishop of Rochester, Sir Edward Poynings, and Dr. Taylor, to Rome. 10 March was fixed as the date of their departure, and, what is still more extraordinary, large sums are entered in ‘the king's book of payments’ for their costs, paid in advance (800l. apiece to Fisher, Docwra, and Poynings, and 266l. 13s. 4d. to Dr. Taylor), when this embassy also was stopped, evidently, as Polydore Vergil expected that it would be, by Wolsey's interference (ib. No. 215, and pp. 1466–7); for on 1 May following we find, from a letter of the Venetian ambassador Pasqualigo, that Docwra dined with the king at Greenwich (No. 411). In November he was among those present at Westminster Abbey when Wolsey received his cardinal's hat (No. 1153). On 21 Feb. 1516 he obtained for himself and the hospital a license to hold the prebend of Blewbury, Berkshire, in mortmain (No. 1575). In May 1516 he is mentioned as attending on the Scotch ambassadors (No. 1870), and also as acting as interpreter in an interview between the Venetian ambassador and the Duke of Suffolk (Venet. Cal. vol. ii. No. 730). In the end of April 1517 he seems to have been at Terouenne, on a commission which he had along with others to settle mercantile disputes with the French (Cal. Henry VIII, vol. ii. Nos. 3197, 3861). 40l. was paid by the king for his expenses on this occasion (ib. p. 1475). In September 1518, on the arrival of a French embassy in England, he was one of the lords appointed to meet with them (No. 4409). Next month he was one of a return embassy sent to France charged to take the oath of Francis I to the new treaty of alliance, by which the dauphin was to marry the Princess Mary (Nos. 4529, 4564). They crossed from Dover to Calais in twenty-six ships in November (ib. vol. iii. No. 101), and received the French king's oath at Notre Dame on 14 Dec. (vol. ii. No. 4649). The ‘diets’ allowed to Docwra on this occasion were 100l. for fifty days (ib. pp. 1479–80). He was also one of the commissioners who redelivered Tournay to the French in February 1519 on receipt of fifty thousand francs from Francis I (ib. vol. iii. Nos. 58, 64, 71).

On 8 July 1519 a search was ordered to be made for suspicious characters in London and the suburbs, the districts in and about the city being parcelled out among different commissioners appointed to conduct it. The prior of St. John's was made responsible for the work in Islington, Holloway, St. John Street, Cowcross, Trille Mylle Street (now Turnmill Street), and Charterhouse Lane. The search was actually made on Sunday night, 17 July, and led only in this district to the apprehension of two persons at Islington, and eleven in places nearer the city (ib. No. 365 (1, 6)). Docwra's name also occurs about this time in a list of councillors appointed by Wolsey to sit at Whitehall and hear causes of poor men who had suits in the Star-chamber.

In 1520 he went over with Henry VIII to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and was appointed ‘to ride with the king of England at the embracing of the two kings’ (ib. p. 236). Thence he accompanied Henry to Gravelines to his meeting with the emperor (No. 906). In 1521 he was one of the peers by whom the unfortunate Duke of Buckingham was found guilty of treason (ib. p. 493). In August of the same year he went with Wolsey to Calais, where the cardinal sat as umpire between the French and the imperialists, and afterwards was despatched by him along with Sir Thomas Boleyn to the emperor at Oudenarde, where they kept up a correspondence with the Earl of Worcester and West, bishop of Ely, in France, with a view to arranging a truce (ib. Nos. 1669, 1693–4, 1705–1706). Their efforts in this being unsuccessful, they took leave of the emperor in November, and Docwra fell ill at Bruges on his return (No. 1778). Next year he went in the king's company to meet the emperor on his visit to England between Dover and Calais (No. 2288). A little later he was appointed one of the commissioners for raising a forced loan in the county of Middlesex (ib. No. 2485, iv. 82), which was a regular assessment upon property; and he himself was assessed at 1,000l.

In the parliament which met in April 1523 he was once more appointed a trier of petitions from Gascony—rather a sinecure, probably, when Gascony had been for seventy years lost to the English crown (No. 2956). On 2 Nov. following he was appointed one of the commissioners for the subsidy granted in that parliament (No. 3504). On 25 May 1524, having received a commission from the king for the purpose, he drew up, with the imperial ambassador De Praet, a treaty for a joint invasion of France (vol. iv. Nos. 363, 365). On 12 Feb. 1525 he was again appointed to conduct a search for suspicious characters in the north of London (No. 1082). The next we hear of him is that in the beginning of April 1527 he had fallen dangerously ill (Nos. 3035–3036), and it is probable that he died within the month; for by 30 June Sir William Weston, at Corneto in Italy, had received intelligence not only of his decease but of his own election as his successor (No. 3208).

That he was a man of proved capacity is certain even from the fact of his having been prior of St. John's, and gence not only of his decease but of his own election as his successor (No. 3208).

That he was a man of proved capacity is certain even from the fact of his having been prior of St. John's, and it is confirmed by the frequent use made of his services by two successive kings. But beyond this we know nothing of his mental characteristics.

A seal of Docwra is preserved in the French archives, appended to the receipt given by the king's commissioners to Francis I for the money agreed on for the surrender of Tournay. It is in the form of a shield bearing the device of a lion issant holding a pomegranate, with the initials ‘T. D.’ (‘Collection de Sceaux,’ par M. Douet d'Arcq, No. 10252, in Inventaires et Documents publiés par ordre de l'Empereur, vol. iii., 1868).

[Besides the authorities cited in the text, see Chauncy's Hertfordshire, p. 406; Cambridgeshire Visitation, ed. Phillipps, p. 13; Memorials of Henry VII, pp. 100, 103, 110 (Rolls Series); Venetian Calendar, vols. i. ii.]

J. G.