Richard Smyth (sometimes spelt Smith), Abingdon’s mayor in 1564, was owed favours by some very powerful people.
He first enters the historical record in 1550, when he was granted a twenty-one year lease of the manor of Radley by its owner, the princess Elizabeth. The contract alludes to ‘good and faithful service done unto her grace’, but we do not know what this service was and the wording may be purely formal. It was four years later, with Mary on the throne and Elizabeth under house arrest at Woodstock, that Smyth made a public demonstration of where his allegiance lay. He entered the princess’s household as a ‘gentleman-usher’. Elizabeth’s survival was uncertain and the position into which he had put himself was hazardous, but Mary died of natural causes in 1558 and her sister succeeded peacefully to the throne.
At Cumnor in September 1560, Amy Robsart, wife of the queen’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester, was found at the bottom of a staircase with her neck broken. To this day, no one knows whether it was accident or murder, but the earl was certainly a prime suspect and both he and the queen moved fast to manage the crisis. A coroner’s jury was convened, with Richard Smyth as the foreman. Smyth was referred to as ‘the Queen’s man’, and he was in touch with Leicester throughout the proceedings. It still took almost a year for the jury to reach its verdict of accidental death. Many remained unconvinced.
The relationship between Smyth and Leicester continued. A few years later, there were valuable presents of cloth from Leicester to Smyth – still described as ‘the Queen’s man’ – and other members of the Abingdon élite, after which Leicester was accepted as Abingdon’s high steward.
It is not known when Smyth died; there are several Richard Smyths in the records and no way of identifying a particular one. If, as seems likely, the Thomas Smyth (d. 1597) who was mayor in 1583 was Richard’s son (or possibly a grandson – there was certainly a Thomas Smyth in the second generation), the connection persisted through several generations. Thomas’s son, also Thomas (c.1556–1609), enjoyed Leicester’s patronage throughout his university years, and began a short but brilliant political career as secretary to Leicester’s stepson, the Earl of Essex.
The eldest sons in Richard Smyth’s family were always named Richard. They continued in Abingdon until some time before 1634 when his great-grandson was living in London. His son, breaking with tradition, was named John. John had only daughters, and the direct male line became extinct with his death before 1688.
© AAAHS and contributors 2013