Richard Topcliffe

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Richard Topcliffe

Birthdate: (73)
Death: 1604 (72)
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Topcliffe and Margaret de Burgh

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Immediate Family

About Richard Topcliffe

Richard Topcliffe (14 November 1531 – late 1604)[1] was an investigator and torturer[1] during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. A landowner and Member of Parliament, he became notorious as a priest-hunter and torturer and was often referred to as the Queen's principal "interrogator".

Topcliffe entered the service of the Queen's secretary, William Cecil in the 1570s, and worked for Sir Francis Walsingham and the Privy Council. However, he regarded his authority as deriving directly from the Queen.

He represented Beverley in Parliament in 1572. He would later return to Parliament as MP for Old Sarum in 1584 and 1586. [2]

Topcliffe was a fanatical persecutor of Catholics and the Catholic Church, and was involved in the interrogation and torture of many priests and laity, at a time when all Catholics were accused of actively seeking to overthrow the ruling Anglican establishment of England in order to return England to Catholicism.

Topcliffe gained a reputation as a sadistic torturer who frequently played mind games with prisoners under interrogation.[3] He claimed that his own instruments and methods were better than the official ones, and was authorized to create a torture chamber in his home in London. He also involved himself directly in the execution of sentences of death upon Catholic recusants, which involved hanging, drawing and quartering.

Topcliffe's victims included the Jesuits Robert Southwell,[4] John Gerard, and Henry Garnet. Topcliffe features numerous times in Gerard's autobiography of his days as a hunted priest in Elizabethan England. In it he is described as, "old and hoary and a veteran in evil". He raped one of his prisoners, Anne Bellamy, until she helped him arrest the Jesuit priest Robert Southwell. When Bellamy became pregnant by him in 1592, she was forced to marry his servant to cover up the scandal.[


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Richard Topcliffe's Timeline

November 14, 1531
Age 72