Sir Richard CHOLMELEY of Thornton-on-the-Hill

Born: 1460, Pickering Castle, England

Died: 1521, St. Katherines In The Tower, London, England

Buried: Tower of London, London, England


Mother: Joan EYTON

Married: Elizabeth PENNINGTON (d. 1546) (dau. of Sir John Pennington of Muncaster and Isabel Broughton)(w. of Sir Walter Strickland of Sizergh - m.3 Sir William Gascoigne of Cardington - m.4 Son Salkeld) Aug / Sep 1508

Associated with: ?



Sir Richard Cholmondeley or Cholmeley was an English farmer and soldier, who served as Lieutenant of the Tower of London from 1513 to 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII. Cholmeley is remembered because of his tomb at the Tower of London and because he is fictionalized as a character in Gilbert and Sullivan's darkly comic opera, "The Yeomen of the Guard". Cholmeley's name is frequently misspelled as Cholmondeley, which is the name of another branch of his family.

Cholmeley's family can be traced back to the 12th century Robert de Chelmundelegh, second son of William le Belward, who inherited parts of the Barony of Malpas (for which Malpas is named), including Cholmondeley, Cheshire, previously held by Robert Fitzhugh. Over the centuries, the family name was spelled in many variants as middle-English developed away from French influences. Different branches of the family spell the name differently, and Cholmeley's most famous cousins, of Cholmondeley, Cheshire, spell the name "Cholmondeley". At some point after the Cholmondeley branch became the more highly titled branch of the family, Sir Richard Cholmeley, Lieutenant of the Tower, was confused with his cousin, Richard Cholmondeley of Cholmondeley, Cheshire or one of the five knights named Richard Cholmondeley, Chomondley or Cholmeley living around the same time

Cholmeley (in either case, pronounced "Chumley") was born at Chorley, a small settlement approximately six miles south west of Nantwich, Cheshire near Cholmondeley, the eldest son of John Cholmeley and Joan Eyton, wealthy sheep farmers and land owners. While Richard was very young, his family moved to East Yorkshire, where his maternal grandfather held extensive estates.

Knighted in 1497 for valor in battle against the Scots, Cholmeley continued to serve as a soldier until 1513, becoming entrusted with many positions of responsibility for security of castles and fortifications in England. He was successful as a farmer and a shrewd investor in land, much increasing his family wealth. As Lieutenant of the Tower of London, he drew criticism for his reaction to the Evil May Day riots of 1517. He was also responsible for the rebuilding of the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower.

Cholmeley appointed to the office of Bailiff in York in 1492. In 1495, Cholmeley was appointed Sheriff of Northumberland. In 1497, he served under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, to repel a Scots assault at Norham Castle, a stronghold of the Bishopric of Durham. For his service, Cholmeley was knighted in the field at Ayton by Lord Surrey as representative of King Henry VII. In the same year, he was appointed Lieutenant of Berwick upon Tweed and Governor of Kingston upon Hull. In 1499, Cholmeley and his younger brother Roger were appointed Constables of Pickering Castle, North Yorkshire and Stewards of the Honour and Foresters of the Royal Forest. While Roger settled in the constable's lodgings at the castle, Sir Richard purchased a small estate and house at nearby Thornton on the Hill (now part of Thornton-le-Dale). In 1506, Cholmeley was appointed Collector of the Great Custom in the Port of London. He married in 1508 Elizabeth Pennington, dau. of John Pennington and Isabel Broughton, widow of Sir Walter Strickland of Sizergh.

In 1513, the Scots invaded England to meet their treaty obligations to France under the Auld Alliance. At the Battle of Flodden Field, the English, including a Cheshire levy under Cholmeley's command, successfully repelled the Scots. He had brought with him the Citizen Yeomenry of Hull. With English victory, Lord Surrey was restored as Duke of Norfolk, and in Oct of that year, Cholmeley was appointed Lieutenant of The Tower of London and Supervisor General of Richmond Castle and eleven other Yorkshire castles and manors.

There was no suitable house for Cholmeley and his family within the Tower precincts, and so he purchased a house in nearby Barking, where he lived while serving as Lieutenant of the Tower. The duties of the Lieutenant included defence, maintenance, and escorting prisoners of note to trial at Westminster Hall which, at that time, housed the courts of law. Cholmeley's maintenance works included the complete rebuilding of the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of the Tower of London, which had been largely destroyed by fire in 1512. The construction was carried out in 151920.

Cholmeley lost some favour with the City of London authorities because of his reaction to the Evil May Day riots of 1517. During the riots, he furiously ordered the firing of some of the Tower's artillery at the city during rioting by gangs of young Londoners, who attacked foreigners, especially the wealthy foreign merchants and bankers of Lombard Street, London and who took control of London for several days. In 1520, he resigned his post at the Tower due to ill health. He died in Mar 1521 (1522 by the modern calendar system).

Cholmeley became very wealthy by inheritance and shrewd property investments. At the time of his death, he held extensive estates in Northumberland, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Middlesex, Kent and Calais, along with several properties in London. By his will dated 26 Dec 1521, he left the bulk of his estate to his widow Elizabeth, with bequests to his only issue, his illegitimate son, also named Roger. Cholmeley willed specific items of value to his younger brother Roger. Cholmeley's widow, Elizabeth, later married her third husband, Sir William Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedfordshire.

Cholmeley's brother, Roger, had a son whom he named Richard, whose descendants are the Cholmeleys of Roxby, Bramston and Whitby. Cholmeley's cousin, Richard Cholmondeley of Cholmondeley, Cheshire, was married to Elizabeth Brereton of Malpas, whose brother, William Brereton, was executed in 1536 on suspicion of being Anne Boleyn's lover. That branch of the family's descendants included the Marquesses and Earls of Cholmondeley.

In 1522, after the rebuilding of St. Peter ad Vincula, a tomb was built in the church covered by effigies of Cholmeley and his wife. The monument is one of the oldest in the chapel, where many famous people who were executed at the Tower are buried. Today, the alabaster effigies lie fenced in ironwork under the central arcade.

However, Cholmeley is not buried in this tomb. In his will, he requests that he be buried "within the Chapel of our blessed Lady of Barking beside the Tower of London" (now called "All Hallows, Barking") and that if the Masters and Wardens would not agree, then "my body be buried in the Church of the Crutched Friars beside the Tower of London" (now called "St. Olaf's"). All Hallows was almost totally destroyed during the blitz of London during World War II, and so it is not known whether he was buried there or at St. Olaf's. There is some evidence that he may have been buried in one of the tombs of the Cholmondeley, Cheshire branch of his family.

In Victorian times, Sir Richard's tomb in St. Peter ad Vincula was relocated and had a new name panel fitted. The panel states that the Lieutenant of the Tower was named "Richard Cholmondeley". Thus, Gilbert and Sullivan called him "Sir Richard Cholmondeley". However, Sir Richard's father was John Cholmeley, his grandfather was William Cholmeley, and brother was Roger Cholmeley. His will is signed Richard Cholmeley and his illegitimate son was Sir Roger Cholmley.

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