FITZHERBERT, Thomas (c.1550-1600), of Norbury, Derbys.
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Family and Education
b. c.1550, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of John Fitzherbert by Catherine, da. of Edward Fleetwood. educ. G. Inn 1571. m. Elizabeth, da. of John Westby of Mowbrick Hall, Lancs., s.p. suc. fa. 1590.1
Of a Catholic family in trouble throughout the Elizabethan period, Fitzherbert, as the price of his own freedom, betrayed his father’s hiding-place during the aftermath of the Babington conspiracy. His father was fined £10,000 and died in prison, leaving Fitzherbert himself heir to his childless uncle Sir Thomas†, a prisoner in the Tower. However, between uncle and nephew there were ‘divers suits and controversies’ depending and before his death in 1591 Sir Thomas finally disinherited Fitzherbert who, with the aid of the notorious Richard Topcliffe, persuaded Whitgift to nullify the will. Letters of administration were thereupon granted to Fitzherbert, whose high-handedness in dealing with the estate soon elicited the comment that he presumed ‘on a protection from her Majesty whereby he supposeth himself to be exempt from suit of law’. In November 1592 he was apprehended and brought before the Privy Council. By the time of the elections for the 1593 Parliament he owed the Queen £1,400, others a total of £4,000, and had been outlawed after 22 judgments against him for debt. In this situation he was neither the first nor the last to think of the House of Commons as a refuge from his creditors, and he was returned at Newcastle-under-Lyme, probably through a connexion with the duchy of Lancaster, of which some of his family had been officials. On the morning of his election, whether before or after is not clear, he was arrested by his cousin William Bassett, sheriff of Derbyshire, and held in custody, first in Derbyshire and later, after the House had obtained a writ of habeas corpus, in London. On 17 Mar. he, Bassett and Richard Topcliffe were brought to the bar. In the end, though held to have been duly elected, he was denied parliamentary privilege.2
A feature of his alliance with Topcliffe had been a bond he had entered into, to pay £5,000 if Topcliffe would contrive to persecute to death Fitzherbert’s father, uncle and cousin Bassett. By November 1594, Topcliffe was suing him for the money. Fitzherbert claimed that his father and uncle had died natural deaths and that Bassett was alive and well. At this stage, it was decided to conduct the case in camera . Probably Fitzherbert had to pay up, for Topcliffe obtained Fitzherbert’s manor of Padley.
Further complaints against Fitzherbert came before the Privy Council in 1598, and he sought sanctuary in the city of London. He was still at large in February 1599, and died intestate in 1600. His younger brothers were, according to Topcliffe, ‘Nicholas at Rome’, guilty of ‘horrible treasons’; ‘Francis, a friar; George, a Jesuit; and Anthony, a traitorous felon’.3