Henry VIII’s Tyrant Lawyer’s Falconry Tag Discovered On Essex Farm and To Be Sold At Bonhams

Lord Richard Rich: The 16th Century’s ‘Worst Briton’ Silver Varvel, c.1550, £1,000 -1,500

A rare silver varvel, or falcon’s tag, that belonged to the powerful and oppressive lawyer Richard Rich (1496 – 1567) is to be sold at Bonhams in July. It was discovered by a farmer on his land at Ingatestone in Essex in the 1950s, and is being sold by his family now. It is expected to fetch between £1,000 – 1,500 at Bonhams’ Sale of Fine Silver on 4 July 2007 at 101 New Bond Street, London.

Richard Rich was a notorious and unpopular figure, and was immortalised by John Hurt in the film, A Man for All Seasons. He was lawyer to Henry VIII and was the executor of the king’s will, during which time he was controversially made Baron Rich of Leez. Having been instrumental in carrying out the dissolution of the monasteries, Rich accumulated for himself Leez (or Leighs) Priory, about 100 manors in Essex – which explains the farmer’s find centuries later – and the real estate and holdings of the Priory of St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield, London.

Rich went on to hold the post of Lord Chancellor during the reign of the young Edward VI, and was famed for his role in the prosecution of Thomas Cromwell and many of the bishops who came under attack during the reign of ‘Bloody Mary.’ He retired from the chancellorship on the grounds of ill-health at the end of 1551.

In 2006, Rich was selected by the BBC History Magazine as the 16th Century’s “Worst Briton.”

A ‘varvel’ is a falconry term for a tag attached to the jess. This silver tag is of shield form with one side engraved “Lord Rich” above a nave bird figure, and the reverse features his family crest. It measures just 1.8cm long, and is thought to date from c. 1550.