HARPUR, John (c.1546-1622), of Swarkeston, Derbys. and Longmoor, Staffs.

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.1546, o.s. of Richard Harpur of Swarkeston by Jane, da. of Sir George Finderne of Finderne, Derbys. educ. I. Temple 1564. m. (1) c.1567, Isabella, da. of Sir George Pierrepont of Holme Pierrepont, Notts., 7s. 4da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of (Sir) Andrew Noel of Brooke, Rutland. suc. fa. 1577. Kntd. 1603.

Offices Held

J.p. Derbys. c.1573-95, from 1602, capt. musters 1584, commr. to receive loan 1589, sheriff 1604-5, dep. lt. from 1605.2


In the fifteenth century the Harpur family resided at Rushall, Staffordshire. John Harpur, head of the family, represented Staffordshire and Stafford in Parliament. His grandson, Richard, father of the subject of this biography, made a fortunate marriage, through which he acquired the manor of Swarkeston and neighbouring Derbyshire estates. He also owned the manor of Christleton near Chester, which was conveyed to John Harpur on his marriage to Isabella Pierrepont.3

Harpur was closely associated in matters of county administration with the 6th and 7th Earls of Shrewsbury. He naturally took the 6th Earl’s side against his Countess, Bess of Hardwick, during their estrangement of the 1580s, and he canvassed the gentlemen of the county in favour of Henry Talbot and Henry Cavendish in November 1584. In return Shrewsbury intervened with Burghley in Harpur’s favour in a dispute over a lease on 9 Dec. that year. On 3 Feb. 1585 he complained of the ‘heavy burdens’ laid upon the people of Tutbury who were expected to supply both guards and provisions for Mary Stuart and troops for service in Ireland. On the 6th Earl’s death in 1590 the earldom passed to Gilbert Talbot, to whom Harpur was devoted ‘body and soul’. As his agent, Harpur was employed on every aspect of administration: collecting loans and subsidies, appearing at musters, raising troops for Ireland and distributing benevolences to soldiers wounded in the Netherlands. Harpur was particularly active against recusants, but this was to embarrass him, as a result of an incident early in 1595, at a time when, whether Harpur knew it or not, Shrewsbury was himself under suspicion for religion. The earl had sent him to the house of a Mrs. Williamson, whose husband was a fugitive, and it was alleged in particular that Harpur ignored treasonable writings there and in general that he warned recusants of impending searches. He was summoned to London, examined by the attorney-general, and imprisoned in the Fleet. In a series of pathetic letters to Burghley and Robert Cecil he pleaded that his wife was sick and that he had lost ‘that poor credit’ he held in the county. In a later effort, mentioning his 24 years of faithful service, he claimed to have been present at every indictment of recusants; to have prevented the indictment of three only, and then in the hope ‘to win them to conformity’; and furthermore, to have ‘conformed’ 40. He offered a testimonial from the archbishop of Canterbury as to his own conformity; denied fomenting quarrels between the Earl of Shrewsbury and his kinsmen, Sir Thomas Stanhope and Edward Talbot; and assured Burghley that he was not more devoted to the Earl than his duty to the Queen permitted, a reference to Shrewsbury’s own moderate disgrace at this period on account of these family disputes of which, it seems, Harpur was a victim. He remained in prison for more than nine weeks and was dropped from the commission of the peace for nearly seven years.4

All the same, Harpur was elected knight of the shire some two years later, no doubt with Shrewsbury’s backing. He was named to committees on monopolies (10 Nov. 1597) and the relief of mariners and soldiers (26 Jan. 1598). In addition, as a Derbyshire Member he could have attended committees on enclosures (5 Nov.), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), armour and weapons (8 Nov.), the penal laws (8 Nov.) and the subsidy (15 Nov.). The daughter of his fellow knight for Derbyshire, Thomas Gresley, was married to Harpur’s son. Towards the end of the century Harpur developed his mining interests, and in 1599 he purchased rectories from the commissioners for the sale of crown lands for the sum of £1,789 15s.2d. His second marriage related him to the Noels, Haringtons and Sidneys. He died 8 Oct. 1622.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: R.C.G.


  • 1. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. Wards 7/100/31; Glover, Derbys, ii(1), pp. 185, 187; HMC Rutland, i. 109, 405, 408, 464; PRO Index 4208, p. 264.
  • 3. Foss, Judges, v. 496-7; Wards 7/100/31.
  • 4. HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 130, 131 et passim; HMC Rutland, i. 168, 267, 276, 316-17, 322-3, 326-7, 341, 384; Endeswick’s Surv. Staffs. 533; PRO Index 6800, f. 526; CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 15, 130, 144; 1595-7, pp. 46, 50, 51, 52, 57; HMC Hatfield, v. 526 et passim.
  • 5. D’Ewes, 552, 555, 557, 561, 588; HMC Hatfield, ii. 523; vii. 341; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 245; HMC Rutland, i. 400; Wards 7/100/31.