John Grygge

John Grygge D.Cn & C.L, Rector of Sutton c1500 - 1527, Church Lawyer and Diplomat, Absentee Incumbent.

In a letter to king Henry VIII written from Rome in 1518 (1) John Grygge describes himself as being born of "good parents" in Exeter. He records that he was brought up in the court of the king's mother, Elizabeth of York. She became queen on her marriage to Henry VII in 1486 and lived until the end of 1501. She had a reputation for being generous to her relations, her servants and benefactors and it was said about her that her income never covered her expenses. Grygge was probably born about 1470

Grygge probably would have brought into the queen's court through a connection with the Courtenay family. Queen Elizabeth's younger sister Katherine of York had married William Courtenay, the son of Edward Courtenay. He had fought for Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth was created Earl of Devon. The Courtenay home was Powderham Castle near Exeter.

In particular it is probably because of Peter Courtenay that John Grygge had the opening at Elizabeth's court. About June 14, 1478 Peter Courtenay was elected Bishop of Exeter and was consecrated on November 8, 1478.

Peter Courtenay was part of an attempt to raise a rebellion against Richard III in 1483. This failed and he fled to Brittany. Courtenay was restored to his dignities and estates in 1485 by Henry VII and was Keeper of the Privy Seal from 1485 to 1487. He was translated January 29, 1487 to the see of Winchester in succession to William Waynflete.

John Grygge would have followed Peter Courtenay from Exeter to Winchester.

Grygge was sent by the queen to Ferrara to study.(1) At the university Grygge would have been a near contemporary of scholars like William Latimer and Nicolaus Copernicus. The university offered courses in the Arts, Law and Theology. John Grygge like Nicolaus Copernicus studied canon law. After obtaining his doctorate (Legum Doctor) he probably returned to England and took holy orders (just as William Latimer did) before later travelling to the papal court at Rome as part of Christopher Bainbridge's retinue.

On Grygge's return to England he resumed service with Peter Courtenay the bishop of Winchester when at some point he became steward of the Court of Pavilion of the Bishop of Winchester (2).

Grygge was given the right on 2nd June 1492 (3) along with 2 others to nominate worthy "persona" whenever the living, of which the bishop of Winchester Peter Courtenay had the advowson fell vacant. This would have given John Grygge influence and as a likely recipient of gifts, more money. Courtenay was bishop of Winchester from 1487 to 1493.

"Inspeximus and ratification by the prior and convent of a grant of office (dated Wolvsey, 8th September 1492) in letters patent of Bishop Courtenay. For past and for future good and faithful service the bishop has names his servitor John Grygge clerk of the bishopric."

He was permitted to remain in office for life and allowed to employ a competent deputy to cover for his duties. Something that was essential considering that he absent.

John Grygge became at some point a member of entourage of Christopher Bainbridge, the Cardinal Archbishop of York. Christopher Bainbridge was Archbishop of York from September 1508 until his murder in July 1514.

Bainbridge granted Grygge dispensation to hold plural benefices. In 1505 Grygge was granted a license to unite the Rectory of Wolstanton in Staffordshire with one in Winchester diocese (4) (probably Sutton). William Kelet the Rector of Sutton had died at the end of 1500 creating a vacancy and it is possible that John Grygge had been given the living almost immediately. The patron of St Nicholas at that time was the King. The living of Sutton had often been the gift to up and coming lawyers who had access to royal patronage. Elizabeth of York was still alive in 1500 and may have been influential in securing St Nicholas for her protege. The wording of the grant to Grygge specifically released him from the oath of residence that he had made before the bishop on his admission to the livings in question. "No-one was henceforth to compel him to reside against his will". John Grygge is unlikely to have visited Wolstanton in Staffordshire, but the tithes would have been very welcome.

His career took him with his patron to Rome in 1509 where Christopher Bainbridge was Henry VIII ambassador to the Pope Julius II.

The study of the Law is a common thread in the careers of the Rectors of Sutton. It offered huge opportunities for advancement. It is worth pointing out that Christopher Bainbridge was master of the rolls between 1504 to 1508 a position that William Morland the Rector of Sutton had held some 33 years before.

The career of Christopher Bainbridge is worth mentioning as it illustrates the involvement in international politics to which John Grygge would have been exposed.

King Henry VIII appointed Bainbridge to be his ambassador to Pope Julius II in September 1509, a year after his elevation to York. Pope Julius had taken alarm at the invasion of Italy by Louis XII of France, and the support of England was therefore of great importance.

The Pope left Rome to relieve Bologna, and was nearly taken prisoner in the war. A group of pro-French cardinals summoned a council in opposition to him at Pisa, which Julius opposed by calling another council at Ravenna, in the course of which he created (in March 1511) several new Cardinals, of which Bainbridge was one, with the title of "Cardinal of St. Praxed's".

Cardinal Bainbridge was immediately sent with an army to lay siege to Ferrara. It is interesting to wonder whether John Grygge was with him to visit his old University. The creation of the Holy League relieved the papacy of some pressure by involving Spain against the French forces. Pope Julius II was succeeded on his death by Leo X, who was initially willing to grant the title of Christianissimus Rex (Most Christian King) to Henry, after Francis had automatically forfeited the title by waging war on the Pope. However, Henry's making peace with France in 1514 probably ended these hopes.

Bainbridge died on July 14, 1514, having been poisoned by one of his own chaplains, Rinaldo de Modena. Rinaldo was imprisoned and confessed to the crime. He also implicated Silvester de Giglis, then Bishop of Worcester, as the instigator of the plot. De Giglis was the resident English ambassador at Rome, and regarded Bainbridge as a threat to his position: he also had sufficient power and influence to make Rinaldo retract his confession and have him killed in prison.

Richard Pace and John Clerk, the cardinal's executors, were eager to prosecute De Giglis, but he maintained that the priest was a madman whom he had dismissed from his own service some years before in England, and his defence was accepted as sufficient.

John Grygge may have returned to England before Bainbridge's murder. At some point in 1513 he was admitted into Doctor's Commons as a Doctor of Civil and Canon Law. (5)

Doctors Commons, also called the College of Civilians, was a society of lawyers practising civil law in London. Like the Inns of Court of the common lawyers, the society had buildings with rooms where its members lived and worked and a big library. Court proceedings of the civil law courts were also held in Doctors' Commons.

The advocates practising in these courts were trained in Canon law and Roman law at the universities. The advocates had a role similar to that of barristers in the common law courts. The proctors, who were also associated with Doctors' Commons, can be compared to common law solicitors.

John Grygge was certainly in Rome later on. He corresponded with the court back in England were copies of his letters remain. He wrote to King Henry VIII on June 15th 1518 with his suspicions that his letters were being intercepted. (1)

He had continued with his connection with the Courtenay family. The Courtenay family had the gift of the six Prebends of Chulmleigh a collegiate Church in Devon, 23 miles North West of Exeter(6). At some point Grygge became Vicar of Milton Abbot in Dorset and was admitted on 20th May 1521 to be prebendary of Overhayne in Chulmleigh. (7)

It seems that Grygge in his later years retired to be closer to his childhood home.

The next Rector of Sutton, William Benet, also had a role in Rome.


(1) Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII published by the Public Record Office 1864.
(2) URL:
(3) The Register of the Common Seal of the Priory of St. Swithun, Winchester, Edited by Joan Greatrex, published 1978 by Hampshire County Council.
(4) The Last Generation of English Catholic Clergy, by Tim Cooper, Published: 1999, Boydell & Brewer
(5) Historical Research, Vol. 61 Issue 145 Page 151 June 1988: "Doctors' Commons in the Early Sixteenth Century: a Society of Many Talents" by F. Donald Logan.
(6) Historic collections, relating to the monasteries in Devon, by George Oliver published in 1820
(7) A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford, A.D. 1501 to 1540, by Alfred Brotherston Emden, Published in 1974