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Sir Richard Lyster

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How many wives had Richard Lyster?

How Many Wives Had Sir Richard Lyster?

by Dr Cheryl Butler


Sir Richard Lyster, Lord Chief Justice of England under Henry VIII and Edward VI, after previously serving the law in the reign of Henry VII, witnessed most of the great events of the age. He attended the coronation of Anne Boleyn, the trials of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher, signed the protectorate document during the minority of Edward VI. His wife was drawn by the court artist Hans Holbein.[1] But which wife?

 It is universally agreed that Sir Richard Lyster married the widow of John Dawtrey, however some suggest she was his first wife, and some that he married again. However most biographies of Sir Richard connect him to the Jane widow of John Dawtrey of Petworth, rather than his actual wife the widow of John Dawtrey of Southampton.

The first question is perhaps, who were the wives of John Dawtrey of Southampton? From the information in Dawtrey’s will of 1517 he married first to Jane William.[2] Jane was the widow of Watkin William who was the owner of the tenement now known as Tudor House, Southampton. William died in 1483 and Jane inherited the house, she had re-married to John Dawtrey by 1485-6.[3] It is this Jane Dawtrey who is confused with the wife of John Dawtrey of Petworth, also called Jane. John Dawtrey of Petworth died in 1542, his wife Jane pre-deceased him and so could not have married Richard Lyster.

In 1491-2 John Dawtrey of Southampton began the remodelling of the medieval tenement into the building we recognise today as Tudor House; increasing its size by purchasing seven foot of ground in Bugle Street and a foot and a half in postern lane.[4] He was still married to Jane in 1502 when they were both referenced in a grant of tenements formerly owned by Thomas Holman.[5] When she died childless Dawtrey inherited Tudor House. Dawtrey remarried in 1509 to Isabel Shirley and in 1510 his son Francis was born. They also had a daughter Barbara. Dawtrey made his will in 1517 and probate was granted in 1518.[6]

The Dawtrey will refers to his former wife Jane and her former husband William, and to Dawtrey’s own late parents Andrew and Alison and his late brother Edward. His executor was his current wife Isabel and his cousin John Ernley, kings attorney. Isabel is recorded in the Southampton records as Lady Dawtrey and operated in her own right as a prominent widow up until 1531.[7]  It is possible that she married Sir Richard Lyster around 1532, when references to her start to disappear and Sir Richard Lysters links with Tudor House begin. In the Patent Rolls grants of July 1533 Francis Dawtry was staking his claim as the son and heir of Sir Richard Dawtrey and any reversions that would occur on the death of his mother Dame Isabella; it records her as the  late wife of John Dawtrey and now wife of Sir Richard Lyster, baron of the Exechequer. [8]

Richard Lyster himself is associated with Southampton from 1521-2 when he gave 20s towards the making of the town bulwarks, and in 1522 he was appointed commissioner of array for the war against France.[9] Lyster features in the lay subsidy for St Michaels & St Johns ward in 1524 assessed at £250.[10] This is the ward in which Tudor House sits, so perhaps the marriage to Isabel happened earlier but record keepers still called Isabel ‘lady Dawtrey’.

What is certain is that Richard Lyster already had a daughter in 1510 when Isabel was still married to Dawtrey. This daughter, Elizabeth, married at the age of sixteen. The marriage was celebrated in Southampton in 1526-7 when presents were given to her husband Richard Blount and guns were fired to celebrate the wedding.[11] Lyster also had a son Michael who pre-deceased his father by 1547,but also married and had children. The eldest of those children was over 21 when his grandfather made his will, so this suggests Michael was also the child of a previous marriage. It is possible that Richard’s first wife was called Elizabeth and, with the name Elizabeth also being inter-changeable with Isabel and his likely third wife also called Elizabeth that this adds to the marital confusion.

Lysters step-daughter Barbara married William Thorpe possibly about the time of her own mother’s marriage to Lyster, but certainly by at least 1535 given the number of surviving children when she was widowed in 1549. Her brother Francis married yet another widow, and yet another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Knight who had two children of her own: Richard and John. Barbara had several children: Isabel, Jane, Barbara, Dorothy, George, Nicholas and Swithun.[12] George should have been the common law heir to his uncle Francis Dawtrey but was in fact dis-inherited in favour of Francis’s stepsons.[13]

In 1536 Francis Dawtrey, his brother-in-law William Thorpe and his step-sisters husband Richard Blount were all made free burgesses of Southampton during the mayoralty of Thomas Lyster.[14] It is likely that Thomas Lyster was a relative of Richard Lyster, possibly a brother. In 1538 Francis Dawtrey purchased the manor of Portswood and other lands formerly of the priory of St Denys. This became his principle home.[15] It may be that around this time his mother died as there are no surviving mentions of her in records.

Sir Richard Lyster died in Southampton 1553, presumably at Tudor House where he resided with his wife. He was buried in St Michaels church Southampton, where a canopied memorial was built in 1567.[16] On the memorial it says it was erected by his widow Elizabeth. It is unlikely that this woman was Isabel who was likely to have been born sometime before 1493 [if she made an early marriage at sixteen in 1509] and therefore would have been at least 75 by this date. It is probable therefore that the widow was Lysters third wife.

Richard Lysters will made his late son Michael's sons, Richard and Charles his heirs. Sir Richard Blount and his wife Elizabeth, Lyster's daughter, are also mentioned. He also leaves bequests to his late nephew's children, that nephew being William Thorpe, who had died in 1549, but he left nothing to Francis Dawtrey. His executors were Sir Richard Blount and his grandson Richard Lyster, but there was no mention of a wife.[17] The wife who provided for the erection of his memorial. However this will was written in 1547 and Lyster did not die until 1553 so probably he married in the intervening six years but did not update that will. Lyster's memorial identifies his widow as Elizabeth. Most biographies of Lyster identify this woman Elizabeth Stoke.

It is certain that Richard Lyster married and had two children, Michael and Elizabeth, who were born in the early 1500s. At some point between the mid 1520s and mid 1530s he came to be living at Tudor House by marrying the widow Isabel Dawtrey. None of their various children inherited the house, all owning much more impressive lands and properties elsewhere. Lyster did not mention his widow in his will but after died in 1552 his widow Elizabeth provided a memorial in 1567.

By 1570 there was a new owner living in Tudor House, one Arthur Pitt, an important merchant but nowhere near as significant as Sir Richard Lyster, Lord Chief Justice of England who had even given his name to the lane which ran alongside the house: 'Lords Lane'.

Arthur Pitt sublet Tudor House to French protestant refugee families. By 1575 there were twenty three people packed into the once grand house.[18]



[1] Portrait in the collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

[2] PRO Prob 11.19 (12Ayloffe)

[3] PRO Prob. 11. 7 (15 Logg)

[4] C B Butler ed The Book of Fines: The Annual Accounts of the Mayors of Southampton 1488-1540 (Southampton Records Series 2007)  pp.21-2

[5] A B Wallis Chapman ed The Black Book of Southampton Vol I (Southampton Records Society 1915) pp. 12-13

[6] PRO Prob 11.19 (12 Ayloffe)

[7] B Chinchen transcriber The Southampton Stewards Books (Cope Collection, Hartly Library, University of Southampton)1521-2 p. 9, 1524-5 p. 9, 1525-6 p. 10, 1526-7 p. 8, 1530-1 p. 8

[8] Patent Rolls grants July 1533 [929(36)]

[9] Chinchen 1521-2 p. 14a; H W Gidden ed The Letters Patent of Southampton 1514 to 1612 Vol II (Southampton Records Society 1919) p. 105

[10] C Platt Medieval Southampton The port and trading community, AD 1000-1600 (London & Boston 1973) p. 249

[11] Chinchen 1526-7 p. 36

[12] Prob. 11.33. (14 Coode)

[13] Prob.11.78 (73 Sainberbe)

[14] Southampton Record Office SC/3/1/1-3 Southampton Burgess Book

[15] E O Blake The Cartulary of the Priory of St Denys near Southampton Vol I (Southampton Records Series 1981) p. l

[16] The memorial with inscription referring to its erection by his widow Elizabeth can be seen in St Michaels Church, St Michaels Square, Bugle Street, Southampton.

[17] PRO Prob.11.36 (F.30.Taske)

[18] SC6/1/1 Southampton Court Leet Stall & Art Lists 1575


9th Jan 2016 01:05


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