Thomas Rotherham

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The Right Reverend
Thomas Rotherham
Archbishop of York
Archbishop Thomas Rotherham.jpg
Portrait of Thomas Rotherham from "Historic Notices of Rotherham", by John Guest,1879
Appointed 7 July 1480
Installed unknown
Term ended 29 May 1500
Predecessor Lawrence Booth
Successor Thomas Savage
Other posts Bishop of Rochester
Bishop of Lincoln
Personal details
Born 24 August 1423
Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Died 29 May 1500
Cawood Castle
Buried York Minster
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic

Thomas Rotherham (24 August 1423 – 29 May 1500), also known as Thomas (Scot) de Rotherham, was an English cleric and statesman. He served as bishop of several dioceses, most notably as Archbishop of York and, on two occasions as Lord Chancellor. He is considered a venerable figure in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, his town of birth.



Thomas Rotherham was born 24 August 1423 in Rotherham, Yorkshire.[1] He is said to have been the eldest son of Sir Thomas Rotherham of Rotherham by his wife, Dame Alice. From the sixteenth century onwards he was also known by the alternate surname 'Scot', although that surname was not used by Rotherham himself or by his contemporaries. In his will, however, Rotherham does refer to his kinsman John Scott of Ecclesfield, Yorkshire, and it has been speculated that he was the son of Sir John Scott of Scot's Hall in Smeeth, Kent and Agnes Beaufitz.[2] However this claim is said to have been disproved.[3]


He was first educated as a young boy by a teacher of grammar, who came, according to Thomas, "I know not by what fate save it was the Grace of God". Afterwards he was sent to the newly founded Eton College to prepare for university entrance.

Appointments to office

Rotherham attended King's College, Cambridge, becoming a Bachelor of Divinity and a Fellow of King's,[4] and lectured on Grammar, Theology and Philosophy. After his ordination as a priest he served in many powerful positions in the Church, becoming prebendary of Lincoln in 1462 and of Salisbury in 1465. He was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1468,[5] Bishop of Lincoln in 1472,[6] and then Archbishop of York from 1480 to 1500.[7]

King Edward IV appointed Rotherham Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1467.[8] He became ambassador to France in 1468, joint ambassador to Burgundy in 1471 and in 1475 was entrusted with the office of Lord Chancellor.[9] Between 1477 and his death, Rotherham was the owner of Barnes Hall in South Yorkshire.[10]

Involvement in intrigue

When Edward IV died in April 1483, Rotherham was one of the celebrants of the funeral mass on 20 April 1483.[11] Immediately after Edward's death, Rotherham sided with dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville in her attempt to deprive Richard, Duke of Gloucester of his role as Lord Protector of the new King, her son Edward V. When Elizabeth sought sanctuary after Richard had taken charge of the king, Rotherham released the Great Seal to her. Though he later recovered it and handed it over to Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury,[12] his mishandling of the seal – indicative of questionable loyalty, led to his dismissal as Lord Chancellor. On 13 May he was replaced by John Russell, who earlier had also been his successor as Bishop of Lincoln.

On 13 June 1483, Rotherham was charged with being involved in a conspiracy between Lord Hastings and the Woodvilles against Richard and imprisoned in the Tower of London.[13] He was released in the middle of July.[14]


Once again appointed Lord Chancellor in 1485,[9] he was shortly afterwards dismissed by Henry VII. After this he retired from most public work.

Death and memorial

Rotherham died of the plague in Cawood near York on 29 May 1500.[7] His remains were transferred to a magnificent marble tomb in York Minster in 1506.


Rotherham built part of Lincoln College, Oxford University and increased its endowment;[15] at Cambridge, where he was four times Chancellor and Master of Pembroke Hall, he helped to build the University Library.

In 1480 Rotherham endowed a Chapel of Jesus within Rotherham parish church, with a priest to sing masses for the souls of his ancestors. He founded The College of Jesus in Rotherham as a memorial to his first teacher.[15] The foundations of the red brick College were laid at his birthplace in Brookgate in March 1482 and a licence was granted on 22 January 1483 "for the honour and glory of the name of Jesus Christ to found a perpetual College".

The statutes of the College were dated 1 February 1483. The College of Jesus was to consist of a Provost and three Fellows, all to be in Holy Orders, who must attend church on Sundays and Holy Days. The Fellows were to teach grammar and train the six choristers of Jesus in song and music. They were also to teach promising boys who did not aspire to the priesthood, reading, writing and reckoning, free of charge. If the boys continued to show merit they could learn the rudiments of grammar and music. The college was later dissolved around 1550 by Edward VI and all its possessions seized by the crown. Very little now remains of the original building, although the street is still known as College Street.

The teaching of grammar to boys continued at Rotherham after the 1550s. The Rotherham Grammar School looked upon Thomas Rotherham as its founder, took 1483 to be its year of origin, and adopted as its badge the armorial bearings of Thomas Rotherham. The school took its last intake of boys in September 1966 and was progressively phased-out over the following several years.

Rotherham is still remembered in the name of Thomas Rotherham College, which is the post-1967 descendant of Rotherham Grammar School for Boys.


  1. Horrox 2004.
  2. Berry, William, County Genealogies; Pedigrees of the Families of the County of Sussex, (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper), 1830 p. 310 Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  3. Bennett, Henry Leigh, Archbishop Rotherham, (Lincoln: J.W. Ruddock, 1901), pp. 6-7 Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  4. "Rotheram, Thomas (RTRN443T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Fryde et al. 1996, p. 268.
  6. Fryde et al. 1996, p. 256.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fryde et al. 1996, p. 282.
  8. Fryde et al. 1996, pp. 95–96.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fryde et al. 1996, p. 88.
  10. "Historic Hallamshire", David Hey, Landmark Collectors Library, ISBN 1 84306 049 3, pages 51 & 52, Details Rotherham owning Barnes Hall.
  11. Ross Edward IV, p. 417
  12. Ross Richard III, p. 76
  13. Ross Richard III, p. 42
  14. Davies 1995, p. 142.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ross Edward IV, p. 268


  • Davies, Richard G. (1995). "The Church and the Wars of the Roses". In Pollard, A. J. (ed.). The Wars of the Roses. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-12697-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Horrox, Rosemary (2004). "Rotherham , Thomas (1423–1500)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24155.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Ross, Charles (1974). Edward IV. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02781-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ross, Charles (1981). Richard III. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04589-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Stillington
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
John Hales
Preceded by
John Hales
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
John Russell
Preceded by
John Alcock
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
John Russell
Preceded by
John Russell
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
John Alcock
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Low
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
John Alcock
Preceded by
John Chadworth
Bishop of Lincoln
Succeeded by
John Russell
Preceded by
Lawrence Booth
Archbishop of York
Succeeded by
Thomas Savage
Academic offices
Preceded by
Laurence Booth
Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
George Fitzhugh