RYTHER, James (1536-95), of Harewood, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1536, o.s. of William Ryther of Canterbury, Kent, and Harewood by Mary, da. of Sir James Hales, l.c.j. common pleas. m. c.1570, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Atherton of Harewood, 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 1563.

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) by 1587, q. 1595.1


By his own account Ryther was born in Kent and brought up in Northamptonshire. In 1563 he succeeded to the moiety of the manor and castle of Harewood which his father had inherited on the death of a distant cousin, and eventually moved back to Yorkshire. He was descended from Thomas, son of Sir Thomas Ryther (or Ryder) of Ryther in the West Riding, and related through the descendants of Thomas’s brother Sir Ralph to the Constables of Flamborough and the Ashes of Aughton, who in turn were related to the Cliffords, earls of Cumberland, the nominal patrons of the borough of Appleby. That he owed his election directly to his kinship with the 3rd Earl is not unlikely, but he was also known to several members of the Russell family and to Lord Burghley.2

In a short sequence of letters beginning in 1587 when he had lived in Yorkshire for 20 years and was one of its justices of the peace, Ryther described to Burghley the condition of the county and the district around Kendal. York was very badly governed; the poor committed great disorders which might be prevented if gentlemen were forbidden to dismiss their servants; there was too much engrossing of corn; the number of alehouses had increased because the justices’ clerks were making money out of licensing them; the justices were inadequate and too few; and the common people, though courteous and tractable, were attached to custom and not readily disposed to accept the high authority of Parliament; the only northern gentleman worthy of his calling was the Earl of Cumberland; the further north one went, ‘the less the truth’; the borderers sold horses to our ‘back friends’ the Scots; Scottish faults were spreading into England, and so on. In one letter, dated 7 Apr. 1588 but endorsed 7 Apr. 1589, he enjoins Burghley to bear with Christian fortitude the death of the ‘late weak lady’ who had been lent to him by divine providence for longer than human reason could have expected. Though always respectful, these letters from Ryther to Burghley seem to claim a degree of acquaintance bordering on the familiar; they suggest that Burghley had known him for some years, as indeed he would have done if, as has been asserted, Ryther had been an esquire of the body to the Queen as his father had been to Queen Mary.3

A very different picture of Ryther was given by Archbishop Sandys in his report of September 1587 on Yorkshire justices. To the archbishop he was ‘a sour and subtle papist’, who had been put into the commission for that very reason, ‘ready to hinder any matter that shall touch any papist’, ‘a man unprofitable for the commonwealth and full of contention’, dependent on Sir Thomas Fairfax ‘to make good his evil causes’. To another he was ‘a man profoundly studied in Macchiavelli’. He remained in the commission, but his unpopularity in the county contributed to a curious change in his fortunes. In January 1592 he was petitioning Burghley, ‘his singular good lord and patron’, to secure his release from Newgate, whither he had been sent by order of the court of wards because of a debt to the Queen which he claimed he had paid. It was being said of him that he was ‘a troublesome man’ to the gentlemen of the county, which was untrue, and that ‘I will pay no man his due, a thing far from me’. He was ‘a gentleman not meanly descended, a poor servant to her Majesty’, to whom he had given good service in his county and who had promised to protect him. As for the allegation that he was at variance with the Fairfaxes, the fact was that he was very closely tied to them by blood and friendship. The end of this affair is not known.4

By mid-July 1594 he was a prisoner again, this time in the Fleet. The Countess of Cumberland, writing to an unnamed correspondent, begged him to move Sir Robert Cecil on Ryther’s behalf; she herself had spoken in his favour to the Queen. He was still confined on 17 Dec., when Stanwardine Passy, servant to the keeper of the Gatehouse, reported in French to Richard Topcliffe that there was ‘no news but a letter from Mr. Ryder in the Fleet’. A later letter, to Archibald Douglas, the Scotch ambassador in England, from ‘you know who’, tells more: ‘Mr. Rydder was loosed out of prison yesternight and is to be troubled with strait watching which hinders all his business’. The writer had given him £80 and had agreed ‘to pleasure’ him with £65 more.5

Ryther died 4 Sept. 1595. Four years after his death his heir was compelled to sell Harewood to pay his debts.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: Irene Cassidy / E.L.C.M.


  • 1. Vis. Yorks. 1585, ed. Foster, 303; Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 367; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 841; Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 456; Whittaker, Leodis and Elmet, 166, 168; CPR, 1560-3, p. 567.
  • 2. Lansd. 57, f. 50; Whittaker, Hist. Craven, 335.
  • 3. Lansd. 54, ff. 141, 154, 184; 57, f. 50; 59, f. 20; 61, ff. 116, 182; 119, f. 108; Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 456.
  • 4. Lansd. 52, f. 184; 69, ff. 105, 109.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, iv. 563; v. 39; xiii. 520.
  • 6. C142/245/81; J. Parker, ‘Lords of Harewood Castle’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxii. 158.