John Gunthorpe

John Gunthorpe (died 1498) was an English administrator, Keeper of the Privy Seal and Dean of Wells.

Education and career

He was a student at Cambridge University and he had already entered into clergyship and had received holy orders. By private appointment Gunthorpe served as a secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. By 1452 he was the master of the arts at Cambridge University and served as a junior proctor in 1454-5.[1] Gunthorpe traveled to Italy and was in Ferrara in August 1460. He had been attending lectures of Guarino on rhetoric at Ferrara. His teacher Guarino died at the end of 1460 and this may be why Gunthorpe moved on. In January 1462 Gunthorpe was formally taken into papal service. Pope Pius II examined Gunthorpe for fitness, and the pope appointed Gunthorpe as a papal chaplain and a minor penitentiary in St. Peter’s Basilica and in the Papal Curia. From 1460-1465 Gunthorpe went through a period of post-graduate study in Italy where he perfected his Latin rhetorical style. He also learned Greek and presumably Italian, and gained experience in the international arena of the papal court.

Service under the King

Gunthorpe returned to England in 1465 and became intimately integrated into the religious, diplomatic, financial, and political life of the court and government of Edward IV. Gunthorpe's involvement in Anglo-Castilian diplomacy concluded in 1470 when he was one of the ambassadors commissioned on 14 March by King Edward IV to embark upon an ultimately fruitless effort to persuade Enrique IV against the repudiation of the treaty between their kingdoms. Gunthorpe was in the royal household as a king’s chaplain by the summer of 1466.


In 1468, he returned to Cambridge University and was granted a baccalaureate in theology. On 9 December 1468, Gunthorpe became the king’s almoner. The almoner was the person who had charge of the king’s charities from gifts of money to the distribution of surplus food from the king’s table and the office can be traced back at least to the twelfth century. John Gunthorpe was the first person on record to have been called ‘King High Almoner’. Gunthorpe was also a warden.

In 1472, Gunthorpe became a monk at St. Stephen’s chapel and remained a monk of St. Stephen’s for the rest of his life. He was also a monk of many other chapels. However, even though he was a monk at all of these chapels, his place of residency was with the king. In 1476 Gunthorpe became dean of the king’s household chapel. The dean had supervisory authority over every aspect of the chapel’s function.

Later life

On 10 November 1481 a group of nine men, among whom Gunthorpe was named first, obtained a royal licence to found and endow a guild in the parish church of St. Mary in North Somercotes, Lincolnshire. In 1483 Gunthorpe’s patron and benefactor, while King Edward IV dies at Westminster Palace on 9 April. On 10 May 1483 Gunthorpe was appointed keeper of the privy seal under the authority of Richard of Gloucester. Richard had formally been named protector two days before and Richard as King reappointed Gunthorpe on 27 June The appointment was reiterated on 6 July, the day Richard III magnificent coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. John was the only keeper of the Privy seal to serve Richard III. He was not seen as a very smart choice of keeper since he was the former secretary of Queen Elizabeth and Richard was fearful of a Woodville faction in 1483.

While serving keeper of the privy seal, Gunthorpe served his king in Anglo-Scottish diplomacy by truce-making in Scotland, extension of a truce with Francis II, duke of Brittany, and he also helped work out a truce with the Tudor family in Brittany in October 1483 - it was extended to 1492

Why picked?

Gunthorpe's geographical origins might have recommended him to Richard in 1483 and Gunthorpe was a learned man. But it was because of the perennial enigma of Richard III that brings attention to Gunthorpe. In 1485, Richard III gave Gunthorpe a present- the swans in the waters of Somerset, the swans had a long association with royalty and chivalry.

Tudor Authority

Richard III died on 22 August 1485 and Gunthorpe went to service under Henry Tudor - Henry VII. Also soon after Richard III died Gunthorpe became the resident Dean of Wells. As the Dean of Wells, Gunthorpe’s interests extended into the judicial sphere though the court Christian within his authority.

He presided over many cases including the case of John Pope.

Last Years and Death

In the last year of his life, Gunthorpe found himself playing host to the king. Gunthorpe was a man of learning, a rhetorician and linguist, a priest and theologian, and an experienced diplomat and secretary. Gunthorpe is not survived by substantial literary remains. On 5 June 1498, John Gunthorpe died. He is buried in St. Katherine’s Chapel.

He answered the call of three kings to a wide variety of royal service, and moved smoothly in the highest circles of ecclesiastical and secular authority. [2]


  1. "Gunthorpe, John (GNTP467J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. Text from notes from Professor Reeves at Ohio University
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