Sir Lawrence Tanfield
Sir Lawrence Tanfield (c.1551-1625) was a prominent lawyer and politician who established a country seat at Burford in the 1580s. Having bought an estate there in 1583, he soon after built Burford Priory on the site of the dissolved medieval hospital. He subsequently rose to become Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and from 1617 was lord of Burford manor. Relations with the townspeople were not good, however, and in the 1620s he was involved in a series of acrimonious disputes with the corporation over town administration. His and his wife’s reputation for rapaciousness remained embedded in Burford folklore into modern times.
Probably born in Huntingdonshire, Tanfield was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1569. In 1584 he became MP for New Woodstock, and in 1604 he was returned for the county of Oxford and knighted by James I. The king had earlier stayed at Burford Priory as Tanfield’s guest, during his royal progress to London in September 1603. Tanfield became Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1607, and remained so for the rest of his life.
As a lawyer he enjoyed a good reputation and amassed considerable wealth. There were, however, accusations of corruption and overbearingness. The inhabitants of Great Tew (where he had another estate) claimed during a dispute that both he and his wife ‘saith that we are more worthy to be ground to powder than to have any favour showed to us, and that she will play the very devil among us’. At Burford, he stripped the vicarage of much of its endowment following a dubious settlement with the vicar. He died at Burford on 30 April 1625 and was buried in Burford church, under an elaborate tomb in the north chapel.
Read more about Tanfield’s house at Burford Priory and his tomb in Burford church. A fuller account of his life is in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.