He was born about 1500, son of William Layton of Dalemain in Cumberland, one of a very large family. He was kinsman of Robert Aske, leader of the northern rebellion, and of George Joye, a prebendary of Ripon. He was educated at Cambridge, where he proceeded B.C.L. in 1522, and afterwards LL.D., and he took holy orders. According to Gilbert Burnet he was in the service of Thomas Wolsey at the same time as Cromwell.
In 1522 Layton received the sinecure rectory of Stepney; on 9 May 1523 he became prebendary of Kentish Town; he was admitted an advocate 5 June 1531. On 4 July 1531 he seems to have been living at East Farnham in Hampshire, but on 1 September 1533, became dean of the collegiate church of Chester-le-Street, County Durham. He was made chaplain of St. Peter's in the Tower of London 15 March 1534, but this preferment required residence, and he resigned it in 1535. He was installed archdeacon of Buckingham 27 October 1534; but continued to live in London and had difficulties with his bishop, John Longland. In 1535 Layton became rector of Sedgefield in Durham, and soon afterwards rector of Brington, Northamptonshire, a clerk in chancery, and clerk to the privy council. On 1 April 1535 he had lodgings in Paternoster Row.
Meanwhile Cromwell had used Layton as an agent in executing his ecclesiastical reforms. He was employed at Syon Abbey in December 1533, and he administered interrogatories to Thomas More and John Fisher in 1535, but he was more ambitious. Directly after the execution of More in July 1535 he was sent with John ap Rice to make a visitation of the university of Oxford. They only stayed a few weeks in July, but returned for a few days in September, and effected changes in the order of studies and discipline of the university, founding new lecturerships and noting down non-resident clergymen who (they thought) were better at their parsonages than in Oxford. They were favourable to the new learning and against scholasticism.
On 1 August 1535 Layton and Thomas Legh began visiting monasteries at Evesham Abbey, and then passed to Bath (7 August) and the west. At first Legh found Layton lenient, but he grew stricter in the administration of the oaths of the royal supremacy. He passed to Bruton Abbey, Glastonbury Abbey, and Bristol, back to Oxford (12 September) On 26 September 1535 he was at Waverley in Sussex, and proceeded to Chichester, Arundel, Lewes, and Battle, and entering Kent, reached Allingborne on 1 October. On 23 October he was at Canterbury, and was nearly burnt to death in a fire at St Augustine's Abbey. After returning to his lodgings in Paternoster Row, he was ordered, at his own request, to visit the northern houses. On the way he visited monasteries in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire. He collected confessions of every kind of iniquity, while enriching himself. On 22 December 1535 he met Legh at Lichfield, reached York 11 January, and proceeded to the visitation of the Yorkshire houses. Layton afterwards traversed Northumberland, and came back to London by way of Chester. The reports of Layton and his companions, submitted with other similar material to the parliament which met 4 February 1536, sealed the fate of the smaller houses. The punishment of Layton was one of the demands of the Pilgrimage of Grace.
In May 1536 Layton took part in the trial of Anne Boleyn; through the autumn he was busy assisting in the repression of the northern rebels; and when the rising was over he was a commissioner to hear confessions. From December 1536 till the end of April 1537 he sat to try the prisoners. On 24 March 1537 he and Starkey received a summons from the king to confer with the bishops on the morrow (Palm Sunday) on theological points. Layton in 1537 was a commissioner to take surrenders of abbeys, and the work occupied him in the east and south of England during the year. Layton on 19 July 1537 asked Thomas Wriothesley to recommend him for the registrarship of the Garter. On 21 July 1537 he was collated to the rectory of Harrow-on-the-Hill, where his recreations were hawking and growing pears.
He was appointed on 20 June 1539 to the prebend of Ulleskelf at York, and on 23 July 1539 to the deanery of York. At York he destroyed the silver shrine of St. William. With Richard Pollard and Thomas Moyle he conducted the examination of Richard Whiting, abbot of Glastonbury in September 1539, and in the same year he interceded for the continuance of the sanctuary at Bewley. In 1540 he was one of the divines appointed to examine the validity of the king's marriage with Anne of Cleves.
Some time in 1543 he was employed in unravelling the conspiracy against Thomas Cranmer, and in the same year was appointed to succeed William Paget as English ambassador at Paris. The expectation of war with France, however, led to his transference to Brussels, where he arrived 10 December 1543. While at Ghent in February 1544 his health began to fail. He died at Brussels some time in June 1544. After his death it was found that he had pawned plate belonging to the chapter at York, and the chapter had to redeem it.
- "Layton, Richard (LTN522R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Layton, Richard". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.