WINGFIELD, Sir Robert (c.1470-1539), of London and Calais.
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Family and Education
b. c.1470, ?7th s. of Sir John Wingfield of Letheringham, Suff. by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Lewis John of West Horndon, Essex; bro. of Humphrey and Thomas. m. (1) by 1497, Eleanor, da. of Sir William Raynsford of Bradfield, Essex; (2) lic. 4 July 1519, Joan, illegit. da. of Sir Edward Poynings of Westenhanger, Kent, wid. of Thomas Clinton alias Fiennes, 8th Lord Clinton (d. 7 Aug. 1517), s.p. Kntd. by 2 July 1509.2
Usher, the chamber by 1505; bailiff, honor of Eye, Suff., and constable of Eye castle 2 July 1509, bailiff, manors of Syleham and Veale, Suff. 10 Apr. 1510; knight of the body by 1511; Councillor in 1511; jt. marshal of Calais 6 Aug. 1513-20, lt. of the castle ?1523-6, dep. 1526-31, mayor in 1534.3
Robert Wingfield’s family had been seated at Letheringham since the 14th century, and by the late 15th had come to prominence in Suffolk, being linked by marriage with the Audleys, de la Poles, Waldegraves and Woodvilles. His father, a leading figure in central and local government, had 12 sons, of whom the best known, besides Robert, were Sir Humphrey and Sir Richard. Generally reckoned to have been the 7th son, Wingfield was brought up by Anne, Lady Scrope of Bolton, his aunt by her former marriage, and he doubtless followed her husband, the 5th Lord, in transferring his allegiance from the house of York to that of Tudor. In 1492 he and Scrope were included in the army raised for war with France, and in the troubled year 1497, while Scrope helped to raise the siege of Norham castle, Wingfield served with his brother Richard against the Cornish rebels. If he was the Robert Wingfield of London, gentleman, pardoned for nonappearance for debt in 1499 and put under bond to the King in 1501 he was by then domiciled in the capital.4
In March 1505 the two brothers arrived as pilgrims in Rome, perhaps on the journey which took Wingfield to Jerusalem and yielded him the title ‘knight of the Holy Sepulchre’. He was by then an usher of the chamber, being so styled while at Rome, and the English knighthood which he enjoyed by 1509 may have been given him by Henry VII. The ‘Wingfield’ who returned to England in January 1508 from a mission to the Emperor was probably his brother Edward who had been sent thither in the previous year, but Wingfield may have accompanied him, and before September 1509 he was himself despatched to the same court. In the previous July he had been granted for life a rent of £20 payable by William, 11th Lord Willoughby, from the castle, town and manor of Orford, with arrears from 1501, and on 6 Sept. he was made constable of Eye castle. It was between his return from this mission and his despatch to the Emperor again early in 1510 that Wingfield had his only known spell in the Commons. The circumstances of his nomination for Grimsby by Sir William Tyrwhitt are not wholly clear, but the choice of a borough relatively remote from his own territory implies that Wingfield was a royal nominee, with Tyrwhitt acting as the go-between.5
During the next 16 years Wingfield was employed almost continuously in diplomacy, for which he was qualified by linguistic and scholarly attainments but handicapped by defects of personality and outlook. In 1516 his credulity in dealing with Maximilian, his duplicity towards his colleague Richard Pace, and his ‘vainglorious’ and ‘undiscreet’ despatches drew stinging rebukes from both Wolsey and the King. His confidence that everything would turn out for the best if only England trusted the Emperor led to his being nicknamed ‘Summer shall be green’ in Pace’s despatches to Wolsey. His hatred of the French seems at times to have blinded him to all other considerations. In 1517 he published, under the title Nobilissima Disceptatio super dignitate et magnitudine Regnorum Britannici Gallici, the debates at the Council of Constance in 1416 when the French had maintained that the English were not a sufficient nation to be represented at the Council; the English reply, remarked Wingfield in his preface, made plain that ‘whether in arms or in faith ... the English nation always surpassed the French, nor could it be judged inferior in the dignity and antiquity of its inhabitants, the size and greatness of its lands, or the character and learning of its people’. The book was printed in Louvain by Theodoricus Martinus (Thierry Martens), Erasmus’s printer, who had just completed the first edition of More’s Utopia. Wingfield must have felt keen disappointment that he never attained his country’s highest honour: between 1523 and 1536 he was nominated six times for the Garter but without success.6
Wingfield’s closing years were passed chiefly at Calais. He had held office there since 1513, and in 1515 he was the King’s first choice as governor but was passed over. After serving for five years as deputy he became involved in protracted controversy with his successors the 2nd Lord Berners and Viscount Lisle. The issues included his lease of a large area outside the town which, formerly a marsh, he drained and built upon, thereby weakening the town’s defence. When Wingfield became mayor the dispute broadened into one between his and the deputy’s jurisdictions. It came before the Parliament of 1536 in the form of a bill for the revocation of Wingfield’s lease. This passed the Commons (in which his brother Thomas was a Member and another, Humphrey, the ex-Speaker, was almost certainly sitting) but was evidently dropped in favour of a settlement: on 25 July, shortly after the the dissolution, Wingfield surrendered his lease and seven months later was granted lands at Guisnes. He was to remain at odds with Lisle and the Calais administration until his death.7
Wingfield made his will on 25 Mar. 1538, and died on 18 Mar. 1539, the will being proved eight months later. He left no issue, but was survived by his wife Joan, to whom he left his house near the Boulogne gate, and other property at Calais. Wingfield had been an opponent of the Lutherans for most of his life, but less than a month before his death he wrote to Henry VIII praising the Reformation and stating that he would not for all the world have died in his former ignorance. In one of his many surviving letters and despatches, which mirror his wit, learning and goodwill, as well as his failings, he reviewed his many years of service and mused on his
white hairs, which I have gotten in the cold snowy mountains, which have the power to make all hares and partridges that dwell among them white, where my beard (which I have promised to bear to our Lady of Walsingham, an God give me the life) is wax so white, that whilst I shall wear it I need none other mean to cause women [to] rejoice little in my company.8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: T. M. Hofmann
- 1. Great Grimsby AO, oldest ct. bk. f. 224.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from family history. DNB; P. Buckland, ‘Sir Robert and Sir Richard Wingfield’ (Birmingham Univ. MA thesis, 1968); CP, iii. 317; M. E. Wingfield, Visct. Powerscourt, Muniments of Wingfield, 3.
- 3. Coll. Top. et Gen. v. 66; LP Hen. VIII, i-vii; P. T. J. Morgan, ‘The govt. of Calais, 1485-1558’ (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1966), 295, 298, 301.
- 4. Test. Vet. ed. Nicolas, 435-6; P. Vergil, Anglica Historia (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxxiv), 52n, 94n; CPR, 1494-1509, p. 183; CCR, 1500-9, no. 11.
- 5. Coll. Top. et Gen. v. 66-67; J. Anstis, Reg. Order of Garter, 229; LP Hen. VIII, i; B. Andreas, Historia Regis Henrici Septimi (Rolls ser. x), 108; Great Grimsby AO, oldest ct. bk. f. 224 indifferently summarised in HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 274.
- 6. LP Hen. VIII, i-iv; C. G. Cruickshank, Eng. Occupation of Tournai, 1513-19, pp. 3, 41; Anstis, 363-401 passim.
- 7. The King’s Works, iii. 345-6, 349, 373; LP Hen. VIII, ii, iv-xi.
- 8. HMC Bath, iv. 2, 24; PCC 33 Dyngeley; LP Hen. VIII, ii, xiv.