Roper, William

views updated


Biographer of St. Thomas more; b. c. 1495; d. Jan. 4, 1578. He was the eldest son of John Roper of Eltham, Kent, a prothonotary of the King's Bench and a friend of Sir John More, father of Sir Thomas.

William entered Lincoln's Inn in 1518 and came to live with the Mores in Bucklersbury. Three years later William married Margaret, the eldest and favorite daughter of Thomas More. About this time Roper became a Lutheran but later returned to the Catholic faith. When his father died in 1524, William succeeded him as prothonotary. He was called to the Bar in 1525. By then the Ropers had moved with the Mores to Chelsea. After More resigned as Lord Chancellor in 1532, he made a gift to the Ropers of a portion of his Chelsea estate known as But-close. William and Margaret took the Oath to the Succession, but were not present at More's trial on July 1, 1535. William's account of the last meeting between Margaret and her father is so vivid that it suggests he was there. Margaret was present at her father's burial and she retrieved his head from London Bridge. The Council questioned her about her father's papers but took no further action.

A dispute in 1541 between Roper and Dame Alice More about Sir Thomas's lands in Battersea was settled by arbitration. His name is found in the reports of the opposition in Kent about 1542 to Cranmer but he escaped trouble. He was in the Tower for a period in 1543 for having aided an opponent of the supremacy, but he was released on paying a fine and resumed his position as prothonotary. Margaret died at Christmas 1544 and was buried at Chelsea. William did not marry again. He gave up Butclose in 1547 and with William rastell took the tenancy of Crosby Place in London.

During the reign of Edward VI Roper remained in England but sent his eldest son, Thomas, to Louvain University. After the accession of Mary Tudor, Roper became sheriff of Kent and a member of Parliament for Rochester in 1554. In the following year, he and William Rastell were made freemen of Canterbury, which they represented in Parliament in 1555 and 1558. While Rastell was editing the English Works of Thomas More, Roper helped financially with the publication in 1557. He also wrote down his recollections of More as an aid to Nicholas Harpsfield, who was writing a full biography. The small book by Roper is an imperishable portrait without which we should lack much of our knowledge of More as a person. It is also a tribute to Margaret Roper for she plays a leading part in the narrative. The book was first published with the title The Mirrour of Vertue in Worldly Greatness; it bore the imprint of Paris but was printed at the English College, St. Omer.

Among Roper's friends was Sir Thomas White who founded the College of St. John Baptist at Oxford in 1555; he appointed Roper one of the life visitors.

Roper was a generous man. He made an endowment for the relief of prisoners; he supported Nicholas Harpsfield during his 12 years in prison under Elizabeth; he contributed to the cost of publishing books by the Catholic exiles in defense of their religion; for this he was summoned before the Council in 1568 and was reprimanded. He also supported financially the English College founded at douai in 1568. The first record of his recusancy is dated 1569 when he was reported for not attending his parish church, and a return of the Inns of Court in 1577 names him and his two sons for not receiving Communion. His official position no doubt protected him but he must have taken the oath to Elizabeth. In 1577 he attempted to relieve Bl. Thomas Sherwood in the Tower. He was a shrewd man of business for, at his death, he left property in six counties. His wish to be buried at Chelsea with his wife was not observed; he was buried in the Roper vault at St. Dunstan's, Canterbury, where the head of Thomas More rests.

Bibliography: w. roper, Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, Knighte, ed. e. v. hitchcock (Early English Text Society 197; London 1935). e. e. reynolds, Margaret Roper (New York 1960); Saint Thomas More (New York 1953); Trial of St. Thomas More (New York 1964). r. w. chambers, Thomas More (Westminster, MD 1949).

[e. e. reynolds]