John Haryngton – clerk to Richard III

Whilst reading the account of Richard III’s plans to set up a chantry chapel at York Minster, I noticed that the name of his clerk was John Haryington and I wondered what connections he had with the Harrington family of Hornby Castle whose story I tell in my novel By Loyalty Bound.

I knew that Sir James Harrington of Hornby had a son named John, so I went to check on the connections and found that James Harrington’s son, John, became an esquire in the household of Richard of Gloucester. A John Haryngton, esquire, was appointed as a feoffee (a trustee of land) by Richard, Duke of Gloucester in 1475. This was probably James’ son. And it’s clear that he’s not the same person as Richard’s clerk.

So who was John, the clerk, and was he a member of the same family?

In his article Richard III and the Origins of the Court of Requests, written for The Ricardian (volume 17 2007), Hannes Kleineke says that John Haryngton was born in Eastrington near Howden in East Yorkshire. His father was described as ‘a poor gentilman born’ although he was descended from the Harrington family of Badsworth. If this is true then yes, he was related to Sir James Harrington and Sir Robert Harrington – although I’ve been unable to discover exactly how.

What else do we know about him?

  • John Haryngton was a Cambridge graduate and held the degree of bachelor of civil law.
  • He worked for Sir John Conyers of Hornby as a clerk and a secretary. (I wonder if Richard first met him at Hornby Castle in 1471 during discussions about the law surrounding the inheritance of the Harrington lands after the battle of Wakefield.)
  • He was employed in the service of the See of York as registrar of the consistory court and was a legal agent of William Poteman.
  •  In 1478 he was one of the members of the group appointed by Richard to oversee the setting up of a college at the church at Middleham.
  • John Harygton was the second clerk of the council to Richard’s Court of Requests. He was appointed in December 1483 to a branch of the council sitting in the White Hall. The duty of that council was to hear ‘the bills, requests and supplications of poor persons’. It seems that he may have previously carried out similar duties, perhaps in a junior capacity, as he was granted an annuity of £20 ‘ for his good service before the lords and others of the council…’
  • On 19th May 1484, Richard III appointed John Haryngton to the role of clerk of the city of York.
  • About this time he was given the important role of the custodian of the records of Richard’s proposed chantry chapel at York Minster.
  • After the Battle of Bosworth it may have been he, with the mayor of York, Nicholas Lancaster, who agreed the wording of the much quoted statement:

‘that King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northfolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie’.

John Haryngton remained as the clerk to York after Bosworth, serving under Henry VII until 1490. The only trouble he appears to have had was quashing a rumour begun by one Thomas Wharfe that he was Scottish by birth. Amongst the testimonials he produced to prove that this was untrue was one from Sir Robert Harrington – which tells us two things: John Haryngton, clerk, did have a connection with Sir Robert Harrington – and Sir Robert survived the battle of Bosworth.

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