HILTON, Sir Thomas (by 1500-59), of Hilton, co. Dur.

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 1500, 1st s. of Sir William Hilton, de jure 9th Lord Hilton, by Sybil, da. of Thomas Lumley of Lumley. m. (1) by 29 Oct. 1521, Elizabeth (d. 15 Apr. 1543), da. and coh. of John Clervaux of Croft, Yorks.; (2) Anne, da. of Sir Clement Harleston of South Ockendon, Essex, wid. of Nicholas Lambert of Owlton, co. Dur.; (3) Elizabeth (d. Mar. 1545), da. and h. of Sir Henry Boynton of Sedbury, Yorks., wid. of Sir Henry Gascoigne of Sedbury; (4) Agnes, da. and h. of John Ifield, wid. of Matthew Baxter of Newcastle. Kntd. 25 Sept. 1523; suc. fa. as de jure 10th Lord by 1537.2

Offices Held

Sheriff, Dur. 1532-3, 1533-4, under sheriff 1557-8; sheriff, Northumb. 1543-4, 1549-50; steward, escheator and sheriff, Bedlingtonshire 1537; j.p. Northumb. 1538, Dur. in 1543; steward, Tynemouth in 1545, steward and captain 1549-d.; commr. chantries, Northumb., Newcastle-upon-Tyne and bpric. of Dur. 1548, relief from aliens, Northumb. and the bpric. of Dur. 1550, enclosure upon the middle march 1553, goods of churches and fraternities, bpric. of Dur. and Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1553.3


Sir Thomas Hilton was descended from a long established family of Durham, which may indeed have settled at Hilton before the Conquest. The Hiltons were titular barons by tenure-in-chief of the bishop of Durham, and as the liberties and franchises of the bishop grew the status of his tenants-in-chief was raised, so that in the late 13th and early 14th centuries the Hiltons had occasional summonses to Parliament: the title but not the status lingered into the 16th, and Sir Thomas Hilton was from time to time called the ‘baron’. His father, a knight of the body, entailed the considerable inheritance in Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire in 1526, and he took livery of it in 1540.4

Little is known of the early part of Hilton’s life. In 1521 he and his first wife Elizabeth, who had been a ward of his father, had livery of lands in ‘Escowton’ and Warlaby in Yorkshire. Although there is no mention of his military service at this time the fact that he was knighted at Jedburgh in 1523 implies that it was for service in the field. In 1533 he corresponded with Cromwell about deficiencies in the execution in his bailiwick of the proclamation concerning knighthood. From an undated Star Chamber case, which must belong to between 1528 and 1536, it seems that Hilton was then making violent claim to the stewardship of Tynemouth priory.5

Hilton appears to have tried not to become involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace. When the Durham host formed itself and advanced, he was probably with the bishop of Durham at Bishop Auckland, but the bishop soon fled to his more remote and secure castle at Norham and on 18 Oct. Hilton was at Newcastle, the obvious place of refuge for loyalists in the region. There he persuaded his cousin Lord Lumley to join him at Hilton castle, but after attempting to secure the fortress of Newcastle they set out with the host for York. Hilton shared command of the men of the bishopric in the advance to Doncaster and was one of those chosen to treat with the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In December 1536 Hilton was an agent, with Henry Anderson, in the controversial restoration of the Friars Observant at Newcastle, which was opposed by the mayor, Robert Brandling.6

In January 1537 Hilton informed Sir Thomas Clifford that he would be commanded to apprehend Sir Thomas and Sir Ingram Percy, and in the following August he was used by the Duke of Norfolk to discover and arrest those who had been plotting against the King aboard the French admiral’s ship off the Yorkshire coast. Norfolk’s confidence in Hilton was shown by his recommendation to Cromwell that Hilton should have the rule of Tynedale, a notorious trouble spot in Northumberland. Norfolk then described him as a man young and lusty, of good wit, and able to spend 500 marks a year, who was related to many gentlemen of Northumberland and had a lordship adjoining Tynedale from which he could call 100 to his aid. Although Norfolk’s suggestion was not adopted, Hilton was soon to realize one of his ambitions: in 1539 he was granted the site and property of Tynemouth priory for 21 years at an annual rent of £163. The worsening of relations with Scotland from 1541 and the recrudescence of border warfare brought Hilton to the fore: in 1545 the Privy Council was to write of him as ‘much traded in the wars of those parts’. In 1543 he was appointed by John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, the warden of the marches, to accompany the Lords of Scotland from Newcastle to Carlisle and was also commissioned by the Duke of Suffolk to redress the harm done both to and by persons assured to the crown. After being three times nominated for the shrievalty of Northumberland from 1539, he was pricked for the year 1543-4.7

When in March 1545 the crown was constructing Tynemouth fortress, Hilton solicited the Earl of Shrewsbury for its captaincy; the earl, supported by Bishop Tunstall and Lord Lisle, commended him to the crown as one who had been ‘very forward’ and who could serve at less charge than any other, but a month later the Privy Council called on Shrewsbury to send someone else to guard the fortress, Hilton being needed elsewhere on account of his experience of border warfare. After (Sir) Francis Leke was made captain, it was decided to provide for his maintenance by attaching to the post the more lucrative stewardship. Hilton’s refusal to give up this profitable grant without recompense brought from the Duke of Suffolk the comment that ‘Mr. Hilton is somewhat too strait-laced’, and the phrase recurred when in August the King ordered Sir William Paget to declare to Hilton that because the stewardship was so necessary for the captain of the castle he was to hand it over to Leke without delay and that he would be recompensed to his satisfaction. The Earl of Hertford, the military commander against the Scots, suggested this might be done by the gift of Sherburn hospital in Durham, and Hilton readily acceded to the King’s wish, placing the stewardship and all that he had at the King’s pleasure.8

It was perhaps a measure of his prominence in Northumberland, indeed in the north east generally, that Hilton was elected as senior knight of the shire to Edward VI’s first Parliament. He was known to Hertford, now Duke of Somerset, and favoured by the new regime, for in 1549 he became captain of Tynemouth and was pricked sheriff of Northumberland for the second time. He was momentarily in trouble in 1550 when he appeared before the Privy Council and confessed that he had intercepted and taken grain to relieve the distress of the neighbouring region, a step which had brought complaint from the mayor and town of Newcastle.9

Religious disaffection may help to explain Hilton’s lack of employment during the reign of Mary, but private embarrassments could also have contributed to this. In 1555 one John Cotton sued him in the common pleas for 40s. arrears of a yearly rent; for non-appearance Hilton was put in exigent and afterwards outlawed, but later surrendered himself to the Fleet and received pardon for the outlawry. He figured in a similar sequence for failure to appear concerning a debt of £200 and 40s. damages owing to Thomas Edmunds, a London grocer. Towards the end of the same year the Council had under consideration the request of Thomas Wharton I, 1st Baron Wharton, that Hilton should be appointed to the council in the north; the appointment was presumably not approved for there is no record of his sitting on the council. He applied for the renewal of his lease at Tynemouth, which was due to expire in 1560, but did not obtain it, for in 1557 the site was leased to Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland.10

Hilton was the patron of Dr. William Bullein, a physician of some note who had travelled much on the Continent, and in 1558 Bullein dedicated to him a treatise on Government of Health. It was shortly after Bullein’s departure for London that Hilton died of a fever, whereupon Hilton’s brother William accused the doctor of murder. William Hilton is said to have brought Bullein to trial before the 4th Duke of Norfolk, then lieutenant-general in the north, but failed to prove his charge, and the story ends with Bullein’s marrying Hilton’s widow.11

At his death Hilton possessed considerable estates in Durham as well as property in Northumberland for which there is no inquisition. Seemingly without children of his own, by agreement made shortly before his death he had settled the manor of Hilton on his nephew William Hilton and Anne his wife, and his lands in Grindon on this William’s father and namesake, his brother. His fourth and last wife was a stepdaughter of Sir Robert Brandling, with whom Hilton had quarrelled over the restoration of the Friars Observant and perhaps again over the grain controversy; these differences notwithstanding, Hilton transferred to Brandling 200 acres called Hilton Park and appointed him one of the three supervisors of his will, the others being John Baxter, Hilton’s own stepson, and Baron Wharton. Hilton named his wife his executrix and gave to her a life interest in half his goods, the lease of Tynemouth, and the residue after the payment of various sums to relations, friends and servants, and for such amenities as the two bridges of Hilton and a road at Barnston. The will was made on 8 Nov. 1558 and proved by the widow on 17 Jan. 1561. Hilton had asked for his body to be buried in the chapel of Hilton where his grandfather lay. He died in March 1559 and his inventory was taken in April of the same year. William Hilton, his brother, aged 50 years and more, was his heir.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. J. Taylor


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. CP, vii. 30-32; Surtees, Dur. ii. 27; Vis. of the North, i (Surtees Soc. cxxii), 45; ii(cxxxiii), 140; LP Hen. VIII , viii; Morant, Essex, i. 99; Vis. Northumb. ed. Foster, 20; C24/98.
  • 3. Arch. Ael. (ser. 4), xxii. 48; APC, i. 206; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xv, xviii, xx; Northumb. Co. Hist. viii. 159-60; W. S. Gibson, Tynemouth Mon. ii. 115; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 122; CPR, 1548-9 p. 137; 1550-3, p. 394; 1553, p. 365; Hodgson, Northumb., i. 360.
  • 4. Surtees, ii. 20-39; LP Hen. VIII, ii, xx; G. T. Lapsley, Co. Pal. of Dur. 63-67; Vis. Northern Counties (Surtees Soc. xli), 36-37; Hutchinson, Dur. i. 389, 401, 443-4.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, iii, vi; St.Ch.2/29/84; Northumb. Co. Hist. ix. 210-11.
  • 6. M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, i. 204, 262, 264-5, 284, 345-6; ii. 21, 38; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xviii, xx; Dodds, ii. 256; Gibson, i. 216-19; Northumb. Co. Hist. viii. 156-7, 230; HMC Bath, iv. 30-31, 43, 57, 59, 67, 70.
  • 8. Gibson, ii. 114-16; LP Hen. VIII, xx; APC, i. 206.
  • 9. HMC Bath, iv. 67; Surtees, ii. 32; APC, iii. 102; Arch. Ael. (ser. 3), vi. 88.
  • 10. CPR, 1555-7, pp. 139, 143; 1557-8, pp. 26-27; APC, v. 356; vi. 382; Northumb. Co. Hist. viii. 158-9.
  • 11. Reg. Bp. Tunstall (Surtees Soc. clxi), 102, 115, 119; Surtees, ii. 33; DNB (Bullein, William).
  • 12. DKR, xliv. 425; Wills and Inventories, i (Surtees Soc. ii), 181-4; Surtees, ii. 32-33; Archaeological Jnl. cxxxiii. 118-19.