1645, William Ryley, record-keeper at the Tower of London, petitions for his arrears of pay

William Ryley, Lancaster Herald, and one of the clerks of the records in the Tower. SP 16/507 f. 15 (1645)

To the honourable the committee for his majesties revenue

The humble peticion of William Ryley Lancaster Herald, and one of the clerkes of the records in the Tower.


That the petitioner hath diligently attended the service of the Parliament, and hath had noe support or maintenance at all (but from this honourable committee) for these three yeares last past. And that there is due to your petitioner as Lancaster Herald the somme of 13 pounds – 6 shillings – 8 pence for halfe a yeares wages from Midsommer till Christmas last.

The petitioner humbly praieth that you would be pleased to order that he may receave the said halfe yeares wages, he being not otherwise able to provide bread for his wife and seaven small children, nor to subsist in the performance of the service of the state.

And he shall daily pray etc

[paratext:] xio April 1645 / Ordered / Petition to the Committee of Revenue for halfe a yeares wages being 13 pounds – 6 shillings – 8 pence for William Ryley Lancaster Herald.

Report by Graham Camfield

The petitioner, William Riley, sought arrears of pay as clerk of the records of the Tower of London and Lancaster Herald.

William Ryley and the Tower Records

William Ryley’s petition of 11 April 1645 was, it seems, successful,[1] but ongoing payments for his services were far from consistent. In 1648 Parliament ordered “that the Sum of Two Hundred Pounds be advanced, for the present Subsistence of William Ryley Esquire, Clerk of the Records in The Tower…for the Service of the said William Ryley to the Parliament, in keeping the Records in The Tower” and a further fifty pounds “for repairing the Books of Records and Repertories, and mending the Windows of the Rooms where the Records lie.”[2]

Tower Of London
Wenceslaus Hollar, The Tower of London (1625-1677), https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/361561

Under the Commonwealth he was paid a half yearly remuneration of £100,[3] even so he evidently continued to feel that he was missing out on some of the benefits of state service. In 1662 he made the following petition:

“William Ryley, deputy keeper of the Tower records. Has served 28 years in his place, which his late father held 48 years, with little profit since the dissolution of the Court of Wards; has been at great charge about carriage and transcript of records for Parliament, &c., and received no benefit for 12 years past. Requests a grant of the old brick tower, some decayed wood, and two ruined houses, in the Tilt Yard, Greenwich.”[4]

His long service under Crown and Commonwealth is detailed further below.

The Life of William Ryley

William Ryley, the elder (d. 1667), herald and archivist, a native of Lancashire, was the son of William Ryley, who held the office of Rouge Rose pursuivant-extraordinary from 1630 till his death about 1634. His family may have been settled at Accrington. Thomas Ryley, a king’s scholar at Westminster School, who was elected to Cambridge in 1625, and afterwards became a fellow and tutor of Trinity College, has been identified as a brother.

William received a legal education, being entered at the Middle Temple. He soon acquired a taste for antiquarian research, and about 1620 he entered the Tower as clerk of the records, under Sir John Borough, Garter king of arms, the keeper of those archives. His employment in that office extended over forty-seven years. On 4 Sept. 1633 he was appointed Bluemantle pursuivant of arms, and on 11 Nov. 1641 Lancaster herald. He, with the other heralds, followed Charles I to Oxford, but on 31 July 1643 he obtained the royal warrant to return to London, in order to protect the records in the Tower during the absence of Sir J. Borough, who remained at court.

Ryley soon came to be regarded as a zealous parliamentarian. He was assessed for 20l., being the tax known as the ‘twentieth part,’ and his friends in the House of Commons procured the remission of the assessment, on the ground of his good service to the parliament. Afterwards his political conduct was vacillating and suspected, and it is said that he was committed to prison in January 1643–4, for ‘intelligence with Oxford’. He was accused before the committee of examinations at Westminster of being with Sir Basil Brooke, the chief agent, in a plot ‘to make a difference between the parliament and the city, to divert the Scots advancing hither, and to raise a general combustion under the pretence of peace.’ After a few weeks’ imprisonment he was released, and, when Sir J. Borough died in April 1644, he was appointed by the Parliament to succeed him as keeper of the records.

In September 1646 Ryley was one of three kings of arms appointed by Parliament to conduct the state burial on 22 Oct. in Westminster Abbey of the Earl of Essex. Two days before he was created Norroy King of Arms. His employments were, however, to use his own words: ‘places of quality rather than of profit,’ and in 1648 he petitioned parliament to settle upon him a competency, on the ground that he had for seven years received no remuneration. £200 was advanced to him, and his salary as clerk of the records was fixed at £100 per annum by Cromwell, whom Ryley cordially supported. About 1650 Ryley removed his household to Acton, Middlesex. The old charge of ‘intelligence with Oxford’ was in 1653 renewed against him in the committee of indemnity, and he was further accused of having been in actual arms for the King, but by the act of oblivion ‘he was dispensed withall.’

He was agent to the commission for the sale of the royal forests, and on 19 April 1654 he wrote to Secretary Thurloe to solicit that his appointment might be changed from agent to commissioner. He assisted Norroy at the funeral of the Protector Oliver, and at the installation as Protector of Richard Cromwell, who on 25 Feb. 1658–9 created him Clarenceux king of arms.

When the king’s return became imminent, Ryley’s loyalty revived, and he was one of the three heralds who proclaimed Charles II at Westminster Hall gate on 8 May 1660, in obedience to the commands of both houses of parliament. On the Restoration Ryley was reduced to his former rank as Lancaster herald, though the chapter of the college of arms showed their appreciation of his services by making him their registrar on 13 Dec 1660. The place of keeper of the records was given to William Prynne, with a salary of 500l. per annum; but Ryley and his son remained in the office as his deputies. Prynne speaks disparagingly of Ryley’s abilities and research, but he can hardly be regarded as an impartial critic. Pepys, writing on 13 May 1664, says: ‘I saw old Ryley, the herald, and his son, and spoke to his son, who told me in very bad words concerning Mr. Prin, that the King had given him an office of keeping the Records; but that he never comes thither, nor had been there these six months; so that I perceive they expect to get his employment from him’.

Ryley was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey on 25 July 1667.[5]


[1] ‘Charles I – volume 507: April 1645’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1644-5, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1890), pp. 379-445. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1644-5/pp379-445.

[2] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 10: 17 August 1648’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 10, 1648-1649 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 443-445. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol10/pp443-445

[3] ‘State Papers, 1658: Receipts and disbursements, 1656-8’, in A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 7, March 1658 – May 1660, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), pp. 471-488. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol7/pp471-488

[4] ‘Charles II – volume 66: Undated 1662’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1661-2, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1861), pp. 610-632. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1661-2/pp610-632

[5] This biographical account has been extracted from the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900), Vol 50 (Russen – Scobell), https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ryley,_William_(DNB00). For further accounts of his life see also: John E. Bailey, The Troubles of William Ryley, Lancaster Herald, and his son, Clerks of the Records in the Tower (reprinted, with additions and corrections from the Leigh Chronicle. Leigh, Lancashire: The Chronicle, 1879), and R.E.C. Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley, Vol. 1, (1878), pp.174-181; Handley, Stuart. “Ryley, William (d. 1667), herald and writer”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 Sep. 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24423.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.