GREY, Sir Henry (c.1583-1639), of Harrold Park, Beds.; later of Wrest Park, Flitton, Beds. and the Barbican, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1583,1 o.s. of Charles Grey, 6th/7th earl of Kent and Susan, da. of Sir Richard Cotton† of Warblington and Bedhampton, Hants.2 educ. ?Trin. Camb. 1598.3 m. 16 Nov. 1601, Elizabeth (d. 7 Dec. 1651), da. and coh. of Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, s.p.4 kntd. 21 Apr. 1603;5 styled Lord Grey of Ruthin 1615-23; suc. fa. as 7th/8th earl of Kent 1623.6 d. 20 Nov. 1639.7

Offices Held

J.p. Beds. 1615-26/7, 1628-d.;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1618-d, Midland circ. 1624-d.;9 ld. lt. Beds. (jt.) 1621-3, (sole) 1623-5, (jt.) 1625-7, 1629-d.;10 commr. subsidy, Beds. 1621-2, 1624, Forced Loan 1626, knighthood 1630-1.11


The Greys acquired their Bedfordshire estates in the thirteenth century, and sat in Parliament as lords Grey de Ruthin from 1290. Edmund, Lord Grey joined the Yorkists in 1460, and was elevated to the earldom of Kent five years later, but the family suffered from ‘the vain prodigality of Richard, [3rd] earl of Kent’,12 who assigned much of his estate to the Crown to pay off debts. His brother renounced the peerage and rebuilt the family’s finances, which allowed his grandson and heir Reynold Grey† to be reinstated as 4th/5th earl in 1572. In 1601 the family held 14,600 acres in Bedfordshire, 2,000 acres in Leicestershire and 500 acres in Buckinghamshire.13

Although his father only succeeded to the earldom of Kent upon the death of a childless elder brother in 1615, Grey was the heir presumptive from an early age. He was included in the family entail as such at his marriage in 1601, under the terms of which he gained present possession of part of the outlying manor of Harrold, Bedfordshire and two rectories, while his wife, a daughter of the 7th earl of Shrewsbury, brought him lands later valued at over £1,600 a year, and a reversionary interest in the vast Talbot estates in the north Midlands and the Welsh Marches.14 Lord Henry Howard considered the match ill-advised, partly because ‘the young gentleman is of my Lord Simple’s house, and as silly as his father-in-law is shrewd’.15 It is difficult to know how seriously to take this remark. Grey was not a lunatic, but slow-wittedness or immaturity might explain why his wife’s reluctance to consummate the marriage: it was not until September 1602 that the countess of Shrewsbury was informed that

my Lady Elizabeth did yield her willing consent to admit my cousin Grey to lodge in bed with her. The end and purpose thereof we all assure ourselves is acted. We cannot discover any defects to hinder it, for they do both accompany in very kind and familiar sort both in bed, at home and abroad.16

Grey’s marriage took place during the course of the 1601 Parliament, in which he sat as a burgess for Tavistock. He undoubtedly owed his seat to the 3rd earl of Bedford, whose Woburn estate lay only a few miles from the Greys’ main seat at Wrest Park.17

In April 1603 Grey was knighted by the new king at Shrewsbury’s house at Worksop, and in the following month Arbella Stuart, his wife’s cousin, briefly lodged at Wrest before being summoned to Court.18 During the early years of the reign his uncle, then earl of Kent, lobbied for the restoration of the lands assigned to the Crown to pay off the family’s debts nearly a century earlier.19 The earl, who was presumably considering a private Act for this purpose, raised the issue in the Lords in 1606,20 but as Grey was not returned to the Commons in 1604, he presumably felt that his nephew’s services would be of little use. In 1614 Grey sat as senior knight of Bedfordshire in place of his second cousin (Sir) Oliver St. John I, who had sat in the previous two parliaments. He left no trace on the records of the brief session and may only have been nominated to emphasize his family’s claim to pre-eminence within the shire. He probably chose not to stand again in December 1620, when the place went to another cousin, Sir Beauchamp St. John.21

From 1616 Grey’s most pressing concern was the settlement of his estates, which were subject to three significant lawsuits. In the first, his sister sued him to confirm a settlement made upon her after her marriage to one of her uncle’s servants, Michael Longville.22 The second involved his wife’s manor of Kingston, Nottinghamshire, encumbered by a jointure of £200 a year charged against the estate by the previous owners, the Babington family. When alternative arrangements to pay this annuity fell through in 1621 Grey sought compensation by seizing several manors the Babingtons had assigned as collateral, but these had in turn been sold to Sir Thomas Reresby, whose heirs sued Grey for restitution in the later 1620s.23

The most important dispute in which Grey was involved concerned the division of the Talbot estates following the death of his father-in-law in 1616. Shrewsbury had entailed the bulk of his estates upon Grey’s wife and her sisters, the countesses of Pembroke and Arundel, reserving a substantial jointure for his own wife, and leaving his remaining lands and goods to his executors, Sir Ralph Winwood* and Sir William Cavendish II*, to pay off his debts.24 The validity of these arrangements remained an open question at the earl’s death, when his daughters unsuccessfully contested the probate of the will, and in 1624 the Greys again pressed Cavendish for an account of his disbursements as executor.25 Meanwhile, in 1619, the countesses of Arundel and Pembroke secured a Crown lease of their mother’s jointure lands, which had been forfeited upon the dowager countess’s refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance. Lady Grey farmed part of this estate for £700 a year, but the lease gave her sisters a tactical advantage which they apparently used to force her to concede them a disproportionately large share of Shrewsbury’s estate. The dispute dragged on into the 1630s, and was only conclusively settled upon the death of all but one of the Talbot sisters without heirs.26 It is likely that Grey’s wife was the driving force behind these suits: she had a much more forceful personality than her husband, and better Court contacts through both her father and her own role as a member of Queen Anne’s Household from at least 1610, and first lady of the queen’s Bedchamber from 1617-19.27

Grey held the lieutenantcy of Bedfordshire from 1621, initially in conjunction with his father (whom he succeeded as earl of Kent in 1623) and subsequently with Thomas, 4th Lord Wentworth. Although active in the recruitment of forces for the expeditions to the Low Countries, Cadiz and La Rochelle, he was briefly removed from office in 1627-8, probably because of reluctance to contribute to the Forced Loan.28 Either for lack of ability or desire, he never wielded the local influence commensurate with his social and official status, and in the 1620s the balance of political power in the county passed to his St. John relatives, who monopolized the parliamentary representation of both shire and borough and led the local opposition to the Forced Loan in 1626-7.

Grey died in London on the night of 20 Nov. 1639. His widow secured administration of his estate on the following day, and he was buried in Bedfordshire a week later.29 The earldom and most of the estates passed to Anthony Grey, rector of Burbage, Leicestershire, a second cousin once removed, but the barony of Grey de Ruthin was awarded to the late earl’s nephew Charles Longville by the House of Lords in February 1641.30 The countess, although reportedly inconsolable at her husband’s death, took a lease of the Whitefriars in London and allegedly found comfort in the arms of John Selden*, the family lawyer.31 At her death in 1651 the estates she inherited from her father passed to her only surviving sister, Lady Arundel.32

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. C142/526/144.
  • 2. Beds. RO, L.31/34.
  • 3. Al. Cant.
  • 4. C142/526/144; Gent. Mag. 1821, i. 393.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 101.
  • 6. C142/526/144.
  • 7. Flitton ed. F.G. Emmison (Beds. par. reg. xviii), B64.
  • 8. C231/4, ff. 3, 261.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 315; 181/3, f. 117.
  • 10. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 11.
  • 11. C212/22/20-1, 23; T. Rymer, Foedera viii. pt. 2, p. 144; E178/5146, ff. 4, 10, 14.
  • 12. The phrase was used by his gt.-grandson, Henry, 5th/6th earl of Kent in PROB 11/125, f. 313.
  • 13. J. Godber, Hist. Beds. 84-5, 135-8, 174; C142/349/172.
  • 14. C142/349/172; C2/Jas.I/G15/53; 2/Jas.I/L16/23.
  • 15. Secret Corresp. of Cecil with Jas. VI ed. D. Dalrymple (1766), p. 15, misdated to 1607 in HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 53. We owe these refs. to Helen Payne.
  • 16. E. Lodge, Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ii. 571. Ref. from Helen Payne.
  • 17. Bedford nominated both Members in 1604: Beds. RO, R3/9.
  • 18. Shaw, ii. 101; HMC Hatfield, xv. 65, 82.
  • 19. Cal. Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho, 226-7, 235, 270, 276; Beds. RO, L.24/535, 542, 548.
  • 20. Cal. Talbot Pprs. 244.
  • 21. Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 2.
  • 22. C2/Jas.I/L16/23.
  • 23. C2/Jas.I/G15/53; C2/Chas.I/R33/38; 2/Chas.I/R60/6; 2/Chas.I/S18/60; 2/Chas.I/S46/51.
  • 24. C142/444/87; PROB 11/127, f. 399; M.F.S. Hervey, Life of Arundel, 93.
  • 25. PROB 11/128, ff. 307-8; C2/Chas.I/K8/66.
  • 26. C2/Chas.I/K2/58; 2/Chas.I/K3/3; 2/Chas.I/K8/66; 2/Chas.I/K27/110.
  • 27. HMC Downshire, ii. 317, 412; LC2/4/6; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 45, 102; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 464-5, 484, 515; Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxv), 171; Clifford Diaries ed. D.J.H. Clifford, 43-5, 57, 64. Correspondents often confused Lady Ruthin with Barbara, Lady Ruthven.
  • 28. Sainty, 11.
  • 29. PROB 6/17, f. 82; Flitton, B64.
  • 30. Beds. RO, L.31/34; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 390; LJ, iv. 152b.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 158; Ath. Ox. iii. 377-8. For Selden’s legal activities see C3/363/67; C2/Chas.I/C52/39; 2/Chas.I/K3/42; 2/Chas.I/K8/66; 2/Chas.I/K22/9; 2/Chas.I/R33/38; 2/Chas.I/T50/41.
  • 32. CSP Dom. 1648-9, p. 431; CCAM, 1259.