GARGRAVE, Sir Thomas (c.1495-1579), of North Elmsall, Kinsley and Nostell Priory, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



? Mar. 1553
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. c.1495,2 s. of Thomas Gargrave of Wakefield by Elizabeth, da. of William Levett of Normanton. educ. ?G. Inn or M. Temple. m. (1) by 1540, Anne, da. of William Cotton of Oxenhoath, Kent, 1s. Cotton; (2) by 1549, Jane, da. of Roger Appleton of Dartford, Kent, wid. of John Wentworth of North Elmsall, s.p. Kntd. (?3 Mar.) 1549.3

Offices Held

?Escheator, Yorks. 1519-20; steward, household of Thomas, Lord Darcy 1521-37; j.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) from 1542, (W. and N. Ridings) from 1547; custos rot. Yorks. from 1559; j.p. Cumb., co. Dur., Northumb., Westmld. from 1561; member, council in the north by Aug. 1544, vice-pres. from 1557; treasurer, forces of Earl of Warwick against Scotland July 1547, in the north July 1557; commr. eccles. causes 1561, border causes 1561, musters, Yorks. 1569; dep. constable, Pontefract castle by 1556; steward, York minster 9 June 1557; sheriff, Yorks. 1565-6, 1569-70; steward, lordship and soke of Doncaster, Yorks. by 1571; receiver, Exchequer, Yorks. temp. Eliz.; master in Chancery temp. Eliz.; recorder, Kingston-upon-Hull.4

Speaker of House of Commons 1559.


The Gargraves derived their name from the village of Gargrave in Craven, but the family, among whom were several lawyers, had been settled at Wakefield for almost half a century by the time Gargrave himself was born at a house in the Pear Tree Acres at Wakefield, close to the Old Park which he was to receive from the Queen late in life. He acquired extensive property in the district, including Nostell priory, which he made his principal seat. His legal career ended in 1544 on his becoming a member of the council in the north, a position he retained throughout the religious and political changes of the period. In 1572 he complained to Burghley of the lack of persons on the council with any knowledge of the law, ‘for that little I had is forgotten, because it is 28 years since I left the study of the law and so long have I remained here of this council’.5

By the accession of Queen Elizabeth Gargrave was a person of standing and (if the Yorkshire return, C219/20/44, dated 20 Feb. 1553, where the surname is missing, be taken as referring to him), had thrice been knight of the shire. Chosen Speaker of Elizabeth’s first Parliament, he made a ‘notable oration touching partly the decays of the realm’ (25 Jan. 1559) and on 6 Feb. 1559 ‘with the Council and thirty of this House’ made the first of many formal requests from the Commons to the Queen asking her to marry. On 10 Feb. he ‘declared the Queen’s Majesty’s answer’. The inadequate journals of the 1559 Parliament mention the Speaker so seldom that it is impossible to discover from them how Gargrave conducted himself. He put a question of privilege, 24 Feb., and, 3 Apr., adjourned the House so that Members could attend the debate between the bishops and the puritan divines — the ‘Englishmen that came from Geneva’ as the clerk called them. Again, on 22 Apr. Gargrave adjourned the House ‘to hear the arraignment in Westminster Hall of the Lord Wentworth for the loss of Calais’. Finally, on 8 May, he ‘made a learned oration’ which was ‘praised and answered by the lord keeper’ and ‘this Parliament was dissolved’. Not a phrase of Gargrave’s own speeches is known to have survived.6

His having served as Speaker in one Parliament did not disqualify him from sitting as a private Member thereafter, and in December 1562 Gargrave was chosen as MP for York if he should not be elected for the county, but in the event he was so elected. The only mention of him in the journals is to leave of absence being granted on 4 Mar. 1563 for his ‘great affairs with the rest of the council on the north parts’, namely, the trouble on the frontier with Scotland. Gargrave served under five successive presidents of the council in the north, and did more than any other individual to establish the supremacy of that body over the turbulent northern counties. It was he who ensured administrative continuity, so that the 4th Duke of Norfolk, for example, when appointed lieutenant-general in the north, 1559-60, was instructed to consult Gargrave in civil matters. Shrewsbury, Gargrave’s first president, habitually left the council signet in his keeping during vacations, and in January 1560, when leaving him in charge, ‘right well’ knew that he ‘both can and will execute the same [office] accordingly, and in as willing and painful wise as if myself were present’. As vice-president, Gargrave received 100 marks a year plus an allowance for ‘horse meat’.7

In 1566 there was a second session of the 1563 Parliament, and Gargrave was appointed to committees on under-sheriffs (21 Oct.), the succession question (31 Oct.), letters patent (committed to him 28 Nov.), and a bill about wool in the north of England (committed to him 3 Dec.). He was one of the 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov. 1566 to hear the Queen’s message on the succession. It is mildly surprising to find Gargrave described in the journals as ‘Mr.’ when he had been knighted for 17 years, but, as D’Ewes put it, ‘It is usual in this journal of the House of Commons ... to style knights by the term "Mr." prefixed only be their surnames', which is slightly overstating the case. No confusion arises over Gargrave's committees in 1566 as he was the only man of that name in the House. In 1571 Gargrave was elected for York but again, when it came to the point, represented Yorkshire, writing to 'his very loving friends the lord mayor and his brethren the aldermen of the city of York':

I do most heartily thank you that it pleased you to elect me one of your burgesses for the Parliament, and do take myself therefore besides many other your gentleness much bounden unto you, and I shall be willing and ready as occasion may serve to do you every of you that pleasure I can. And for that I am now, as I am sure ye hear, chosen knight for the shire, I cannot serve both the rooms, and am therefore sorry I have thus troubled you.

No record of any activity by Gargrave in this Parliament has been found. He was again elected knight of the shire for Yorkshire in 1572, and was presumably the Sir 'John' Gargrave who spoke against the interests of the minstrels 30 May that year, on the proposal to bring them within the provisions of the Act against vagabonds. His son Cotton was also an MP in both 1571 and 1572, and the Mr. Gargrave who was named to some committees in the latter years is, from the low position of the name on the lists, more likely to be the son than the father. One of these committees, dealing with fraudulent conveyances made by the northern rebels, was, however, on a subject close to Sir Thomas Gargrave, who, with other members of the council in the north had been concerned with attaining the rebels and confiscating their lands and goods. He was anxious not to apply measures so harsh that many places would be left 'naked of inhabitants', preferring to make a few examples and to pardon the rest. Still, many were arrested, including Richard Norton, the sheriff of Yorkshire, whose place Gargrave was chosen to fill, thereby becoming sheriff, as he complained to Cecil for the second time within four years. He now begged, unsuccessfully, for financial help, receiving instead the Queen's thanks and vague promise of future reward. Again and again his correspondence reverts to the general state of impoverishment of the north, and it was to counteract 'the decay' of the city of York that, in 1560, he had recommended the permanent establishment of the council there, and the founding of a mint to overcome a shortage of small change. In 1570, he suggested that the lord president be made lieutenant in the north, so that he could raise help from other countries.8

Another task given to Gargrave about this time was to prepare the removal of Mary Queen of Scots from Bolton to Tutbury in January 1569, a journey which she accomplished 'with an evil will and much ado'. The following summer he warned Cecil of Mary's increasing popularity among the simple people by whom she was reputed to be 'wise, virtuous, eloquent and, according to her power, liberal'. He added that if the regent in Scotland were overthrown, which seemed possible, Mary's presence would be a great danger. Besides this, 'religion', he said, 'waxes cold, and is going backward'. Gargrave himself, despite the offices he had held in Mary Tudor's reign, including that of steward of York minister, was, by 1564, classed as a 'favourer' of the Elizabethan church settlement. In January 1570, soon after the rebellion, he told Cecil that he thought there was need for stricter religious laws. A few months later he wrote again that although he did not wish for bloody laws or death in matters of conscience, nevertheless he remembered that, during the reign of Henry VIII, sharp laws kept the evil quiet.

I wish it might be experimented whether ... they that refuse the service and sacrament would abide imprisonment, with loss of their livings during life ... and enemies will hardly by gentleness become assured friends.

From October 1570, when Sussex retired from the presidency of the council in the north, until August 1572, when the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon was appointed, Gargrave, as vice-president, ruled alone. During these years he encountered difficulties in raising subsidies, and was hindered in this work by having to go to York several times in connexion with the execution of the Earl of Northumberland. In answer to a request from Burghley, he conferred with the archbishop of York 'touching persons meet to be councillors in these parts'.  It was upon this occasion that he compiled a list of the principal and lesser gentlemen of the East, West and North Ridings, classifying 43 as protestants; 18 as the worst sort [of Catholic]; 22 as the mean or less evil sort and 39 as doubtful or neuter.9

Gargrave was not to live to see the last session of the 1572 Parliament. He died on 28 Mar. 1579, having made his will the day before. He was buried where he wished, in the parish church of Wragby, and on the day of his funeral small sums of money were distributed to the inhabitants of several parishes, and wheat and rye bread to the poor. Bequests pf varying sums went to the poor of seven parishes. He provided for his wife, who was 'decayed in sight and hearing', and for two maids and a manservant to look after her, and he charged his only son and heir Cotton, the executor, already mentioned in the context of the 1572 Parliament, to be 'gentle and good unto her'.10

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: N.M.S. / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. R. C. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 126.
  • 3. DNB; Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 133, 341; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 69; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxiv), 42; J. J. Cartwright, Chapters in Yorks. Hist. 2-3; J. Hunter, S. Yorks. ii. 214; CPR, 1548-9, p. 196; 1553-4, p. 410; C142/185/84, 223/80.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, passim; CPR, 1548-9 to 1572-5, passim; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 336; Add. 1566-79, pp. 318, 424, 521; J. H. Gleason, JPs in Eng. 1558-1640, p. 224; APC, vi. 123, 147, 197; Reid, Council of the North, 169, 183-4, 337, 492; Somerville, Duchy, i. 515; York chapter archives Wb, ff. 86v 87, ex inf. D. M. Palliser; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 125; Doncaster Recs. ii. 220; HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, i. 47.
  • 5. Whitaker, Craven, 234; M. T. Recs. i. 122; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 424.
  • 6. CJ, i. 53, 54, 55, 59, 60, 61.
  • 7. York Civic Recs. vi. 47-8; CJ, i. 67; Cartwright, Reid, passim.
  • 8. CJ, i. 75, 78, 108; D'Ewes, 126, 131, 132; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34, p. 209; York Civic Recs. vii. 22-3; HMC Lords, xi. 8; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 218, 228-9, 233, 280; Cartwright, 10-12.
  • 9. CSP Scot. ii. 601, 611; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 52, 304, 425; Cam Misc. ix(3), p. 70; Cartwright, 64, 75, 66.
  • 10. Cartwright, 76-9.