Sir John Harington: Queen Elizabeth's Godson

D. McDonald reflects on the life of a courtier, author and master of art, popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet as well as a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I's court.

Sir John Harington by Hieronimo Custodis, c. 1590–93
Sir John Harington by Hieronimo Custodis, c. 1590–93
Among the lords who died fighting for the King on Bosworth Field, in 1485, was a certain Sir James Harington to whom had been granted, by Edward IV, in 1465, various manors in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Westmorland as a fitting reward for his capture of King Henry VI.

Those estates were forfeit to the Tudors and it remained for the grandson, John Harington, senior, to restore the fortunes of his house by gaining, on the strength of his wit and agreeable manners, the favour of Henry VIII.

So successfully did he apply himself to the task that he was appointed Treasurer of the King’s Camps and Buildings and was given in marriage the hand of Ethelreda Dobson, one of the King’s natural daughters, together with the forfeited Church lands of Kelston and Bath Easton in the county of Somerset.

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