Open main menu


EMPSON or EMSON, Sir RICHARD (d. 1510), statesman and lawyer, was son of Peter Empson of Towcester, Northamptonshire, and Elizabeth, his wife. The father, who died in 1473, is invariably described as a sievemaker in order to emphasise the son's humble origin; but Peter Empson was clearly a person of wealth and influence in Towcester, whatever his occupation. Richard was educated for the bar and rapidly distinguished himself as a common lawyer. As early as 1476 he purchased estates in Northamptonshire. He not only represented his county in the parliament that met 17 Oct. 1491, but was chosen speaker and served the office till the dissolution in the following March. His name appears among the collectors of the subsidy of 1491 for Lindsey, Lincolnshire (Rymer, Fœdera, xii. 448). He was recorder of Coventry, was knighted 18 Feb. 1503–4, and in 1504 was nominated high steward of Cambridge University and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. On 5 Aug. 1507 he was granted land and tenements in the parish of St. Bride in Fleet Street (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 13). From the opening of the reign of Henry VII Empson was associated with Edmund Dudley [q. v.] in the exaction of taxes and penalties due from offenders to the crown, and his zeal and rigour raised up a host of enemies. Henry VII always treated him with special favour, and made him an executor under his will; but the death of Henry VII left him without a protector, and Henry VIII, yielding to popular clamour, committed him and Dudley to the Tower. First brought before the council and charged with tyrannising over the king's subjects as collector of taxes and fines, Empson defended himself in a temperate speech, insisting that his conduct was legal throughout (Herbert). A charge of constructive treason was subsequently drawn up against him and Dudley. It was asserted that they had compassed Henry VIII's death, because their friends had been under arms during Henry VII's illness. Empson was tried and convicted at Northampton 1 Oct. 1509; was attainted by parliament 21 Jan. 1509–10, and was executed with Dudley on Tower Hill 17 Aug. 1510. He was buried in the church of Whitefriars. Bacon describes Empson as brutal in his manners. Camden tells the story that Empson, while chaffing a blind man, reputed to be a sure prognosticator of changes of weather, asked ‘When doth the sun change?’ The blind man replied, ‘When such a wicked lawyer as you goeth to heaven’ (Camden, Remains, 1870, p. 296). His wife Jane survived him. To his elder son, Thomas, his father's estates were restored by act of parliament 4 Hen. VIII. A younger son was named John. Of four daughters Elizabeth married (1) George Catesby, (2) Sir Thomas Lucy; Joan married (1) Henry Sothill, and (2) Sir William Pierrepoint; a third daughter became the wife of a gentleman named Tyrrell; and Jane married (1) John Pinshon, and (2) Sir Thomas Wilson, Queen Elizabeth's well-known secretary of state. Empson is stated by Stow to have resided in St. Swithin's Lane in the house adjoining Dudley's, and communicating with Dudley's residence through the garden.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 14, 523; Manning's Speakers; Herbert's Henry VIII; Bacon's Henry VII; Baker's Northamptonshire; Metcalfe's Knights, p. 39; Stow's Survey of London; State Trials, i. 283–8; Brewer's Henry VIII, i. 69–70; art. supra ‘Edmund Dudley.’]

S. L. L.