Bishop Rowland Lee (c. 1487 – 28 January 1543) was an English administrator and bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.
He belonged to a Northumberland family and was educated at Cambridge. Having entered the Church he obtained several livings owing to the favour of Cardinal Wolsey; after Wolsey's fall he rose high in the esteem of Henry VIII and of Thomas Cromwell, serving both king and minister in the business of suppressing the monasteries, and he is said to have celebrated Henry's secret marriage with Anne Boleyn in January 1533. Whether this be so or not, Lee took part in preparing for the divorce proceedings against Catherine of Aragon, and in January 1534 he was elected Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, or Chester as the see was often called, taking at his consecration the new oath to the king as head of the English Church and not seeking confirmation from the pope. As bishop he remained in Henry's personal service, endeavouring to establish the legality of his marriage with Anne, until May 1534 when he was appointed lord president of the Council of Wales and the Marches.
As the lord president, on the direction of Thomas Cromwell, he set out to bring law and order to the Welsh regions.  What ensued was a reign of terror, in which Lee decided the best way to deal with the 'lawless' Welsh was to convict and hang with impunity. Lee claimed to have hanged 5000 Welshmen in his five years; possibly an exaggeration, but in any event indicates the character of the man described as a "great despiser of Welshmen" by Dafydd Jenkins.
Lee was also disliked by the gentry for his scant respect; he once boasted to have hanged "Five of the best blood in the county of Shropshire".
The "hanging Bishop" was said to be disappointed and incensed when the first Act of Union was enacted in 1536, as he believed the Welsh could not be trusted as part of England. He died at Shrewsbury, and was buried in St Chad's Church.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lee, Rowland". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Jones, Michael A. (2004). "Lee, Rowland". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16307. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
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