BISHOP, Thomas (by 1506-60), of Henfield, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1506. m. 1551/52, Elizabeth, illegit. da. of Sir Edward Belknap, wid. of Walter Scott of Stapleford Tawney, Essex, 1s. Thomas.1

Offices Held

Servant of William Shelley by 1527; prothonotary, sheriffs’ ct. London by 1528-33; attorney for Robert Sherborne, bp. of Chichester by 1536; clerk of the peace, Suss. 1535-55, 1559-d.; escheator, Surr. and Suss. 1554-5; j.p. Suss. 1556, q. 1558/59; commr. to survey impropriations, Chichester diocese 1559.2


Thomas Bishop’s parentage is unknown and his origin obscure, but his grant of arms implies that he was of sub-gentle stock. His grandson’s statement that Bishop’s father came from Yorkshire gains some colour from the fact that his sister married William Stapleton, of the Yorkshire family and father of Thomas Stapleton, the Catholic controversialist, and if the ‘cousin John Lee in London’ whom Bishop was to remember in his will was John Lee II of Isel, Cumberland, he could have been connected with both Lee and William Stapleton of Wighill, Yorkshire, through the family of Threlkeld. According to his own family’s pedigree Bishop was ‘first of Ayot, Hertfordshire’, and a link with that county is also reflected in his will, with its bequest to a relative at Tring and a reference to his own property there, while his brother John could have been the fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, who was born at Tring in 1496. Bishop was himself perhaps the Cambridge graduate of 1516/17 (but not an Oxford contemporary who went into the church), but his special admission to the Inner Temple in 1530 implies that he had not been formally trained in the law.3

First found in association with William Shelley in 1527, as one of the feoffees in a property transaction, Bishop was described as a former clerk to Shelley when in the following year he was admitted a freeman of London at Shelley’s request; the office of prothonotary of the sheriffs’ court which he then held Bishop must also have owed to Shelley, the city’s recorder until 1526, as he clearly did his admission to the Inner Temple, where Shelley was also a leading figure. Although Bishop was to evade such duties at the inn as he was liable to incur, he was elevated to the bench in 1554 and seems to have sat frequently, for his ‘parliament robe of crimson velvet in grain furred with minivers’, valued at 40 marks by his executors when they sued a London haberdasher for its return in 1562, was described by the defendant as ‘sore worn’ and worth but £6. Having resigned his city office in November 1533, Bishop transferred his interest to his master’s county of Sussex, where he had become attorney to the bishopric of Chichester and clerk of the peace; in 1542-3 he also received a fee of 13s.4d. from the city of Chichester. His choice of Henfield as his country residence may have been dictated by his episcopal service, for he held much of his property there from the bishop, but it also made him a neighbour of his brother-in-law Stapleton, with whom he was to remain in close association. Stapleton was the tenant of Drayton manor when Bishop bought it from the crown for £270 in 1544, and by his will Bishop left a contingent remainder in it to Stapleton’s son Thomas; it was Stapleton, too, who was clerk of the peace in 1555-7, presumably as Bishop’s deputy. The episcopal lands held by Bishop were valued both for subsidy in 1546 and in his inquisition post mortem at some £27 a year, and the rest of his landed property in the inquisition at close on £140.4

It is not clear whether Bishop was the man of his name included in a list, dating from about 1538, of Cromwell’s servants who were to appear in the minister’s household only when required, or the same (or another) who in May and July 1539 gave Cromwell receipts to a total of nearly £700 for goods sold at Lewes. There was also a Thomas Bishop who enjoyed an annuity of £25 from Henry VIII and who is probably to be identified with the recipient of one of the same value from Mary in May 1554 for services to herself and her two predecessors, but nothing suggests that this was Thomas Bishop of Henfield. The identity of the Member for Gatton in 1542 is, however, almost beyond dispute. As the dependent of Sir William Shelley, whose son-in-law Sir Roger Copley was described on the election indenture as ‘burgess and only inhabitant of the borough’, and as a future overseer of Copley’s will, Bishop was clearly in line for a nomination there, while his being joined with Thomas Saunders, another Inner Templar, points in the same direction; the fact that Bishop’s name appears on the indenture over an erased one (barely legible, but perhaps Oxley), while indicative of some confusion or change of mind, hardly affects this conclusion. It is possible, if unlikely, that Bishop had been returned for Gatton to the previous Parliament, but he was not to sit again; by what may have been no more than coincidence he was joined in the House by William Stapleton of Wighill, himself there, so far as is known, for the only time. Sir William Shelley sat as an assistant in the Lords.5

Bishop’s association with Shelley ended with the judge’s death in January 1549, two months after Shelley had appointed him a conditional executor. He had earlier acted as feoffee to Elizabeth, the illegitimate daughter of Shelley’s brother-in-law Sir Edward Belknap, and after her first husband’s death in 1551 she became his wife. It may have been under the influence of Shelley and Sherborne that Bishop was strengthened in the faith which led him to provide in his will, made a month after Elizabeth’s accession, for ‘a Catholic student of divinity at King’s College, Cambridge, towards his exhibition’, and which made his widow refuse the Anglican communion. By the will, made on 16 Dec. 1558, Bishop asked to be buried in the chapel of Henfield parish church ‘where I used to be in time of divine service’. He gave 20s. to the parish churches of Henfield, Seale and Tring, 40s. for the relief of the poor in these parishes and a total of £28 for his burial and the accompanying rites. His wife was to have 400 marks in cash, the plate which she brought to the marriage and a life interest in Henfield parsonage and park, and their young son Thomas the rest of the plate, £200 in cash and a stock of 1,000 sheep at Beeding and Henfield, and all the landed property except the manor of Hunston, near Chichester, left to his mother as recompense for her dower. She was appointed executor with William Stapleton and William Coleman, with the help of Bishop’s ‘especial good friend’ John Caryll. Bishop died on 6 Jan. 1560 and probate was granted on the following 24 Oct. There is a brass on the floor of the chapel in Henfield church.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first certain reference. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii) 74; C142/90/87, 127/50.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, iv; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 8, ff. 6-6v; 9, ff. 33v-34; Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxviii. 85; E. Stephens, Clerks of the Counties, 169; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 227, 455; 1560-3, p. 34.
  • 3. Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 24; Top. and Gen. iii. 365; H. de Candole, Henfield, 69 seq.; H. E. C. Stapylton, Stapeltons of Yorks. 161; PCC 50 Mellershe; Eton Coll. Reg. ed. Sterry, 36; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 49; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 95.
  • 4. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 455; LP Hen. VIII, iv. xiii, xix, xx; City of London RO, rep. 8, ff. 6-6v; 9, ff. 33v-34; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 95, 99, 151, 152, 161-3, 173, 175-6, 187, 202; C3/19/73; W. Suss. RO, acct. bks. bp. of Chichester, liber T, f. 99; Chichester corp. AE2; C142/127/50; Stephens, 169; E179/190/218, 225.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv; E405/115/8v; Add. 30198; CPR, 1553-4, p. 306; C219/18B/91; PCC 38 Populwell.
  • 6. PCC 25 Populwell, 50 Mellershe; C142/37/83, 90/87, 127/50; De Candole, 73; Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxviii. 85.