GILBERT, Sir Humphrey (c.1537-83), of Compton, Devon.

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



Family and Education

b. c.1537, 2nd s. of Otho or Otes Gilbert (d.1547), of Compton and Greenway by Katherine, da. of Sir Philip Champernown of Modbury; bro. of Adrian Gilbert and half-bro. of Carew and Walter Ralegh. educ. Eton and Oxf. m. Anne, da. and h. of John Archer, Ager or Aucher of Otterden, Kent, issue. Kntd. 1570.

Offices Held

Ld. pres. Munster 1569; j.p. Devon from c.1575; freeman, Southampton 1582.


Wounded in the French wars while serving under the Earl of Warwick at Le Havre in 1563, Gilbert afterwards soldiered in Ireland under Sir Henry Sidney. Unsuccessful in his petition to be allowed to fit out an expedition to attempt the discovery of the north-west passage, and also in his effort to found a colony in Ireland, he visited England in 1568, a sick man, afterwards returning to Ireland to govern Munster.

Gilbert was a nephew of Sir Arthur Champernown, vice-admiral of Devon, whose headquarters were at Plymouth. The burgesses there must have been happy to return Parliament in 1571 a Devon man, in the Queen’s favour, with influential relations in the town, and whose brother Sir John Gilbert was one of the 2nd Earl of Bedford’s deputy lieutenants. On 20 Apr. 1571 Gilbert was epitomized in the House by Peter Wentworth as ‘a flatterer, a liar and a naughty man’ for delivering a prepared speech in defence of the royal prerogative. Wentworth ‘noted his disposition to flatter and pander the prince, comparing him to the chameleon, which can change himself into all colours saving white’. Gilbert could ‘change himself to all fashions but honesty’. Attempting to defend himself, he was thrice shouted down by the House. He was appointed to two committees in 1571: tellers and receivers (26 May) and reports of corruption in the House of Commons (28 May). In the next Parliament Gilbert was returned for Queenborough (near his wife’s family estates) at a by-election for the third session. He was named to committees concerned with statutes of the staple (28 Jan. 1581), and London merchant adventurers (2 Mar. 1581).

Gilbert’s activities were largely dictated by his need for capital for his colonising ventures and voyages of discovery, not one of which, despite his great abilities and courage, was successful. Some of the money for his last expedition came from the merchants of Southampton, and most of the remainder from Devon merchants. He set out on 11 June 1583, and reaching Newfoundland, planted the first English colony in North America. He perished at sea on the return voyage, September 1583. He had made his will 28 Aug. 1582, leaving his widow (and executrix) £1,000 and his children £2,000, all owed by Sir Edward Hoby for the purchase of Gilbert’s manor of Minster. The will was proved 20 Oct. 1584.

DNB; Voyages of Sir H. Gilbert, ed. Quinn (Hak. Soc.), i. 3, 212; Roberts thesis; PCC 38 Alen, 27 Watson; HMC 11th Rep. III, 21; Neale, Parlts. i. 221-3; CJ, i. 93, 120, 130; D’Ewes, 168, 175, 189; Trinity, Dublin, anon jnl. ff. 24, 33; HMC Hatfield, ii. 218.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.