SKEFFINGTON, Sir John (c.1584-1651), of Skeffington, Leics.; later of Fisherwick, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1584,1 1st s. of Sir William Skeffington, 1st bt. of Fisherwick, and Elizabeth (d. 16 Feb. 1635), da. of Richard Dering of Pluckley, Kent; bro. of Sir Richard*.2 educ. Jesus, Camb. 1603; M. Temple 1604.3 m. 8 Jan. 1614,4 Ursula (d. July 1658), da. of Thomas Skeffington† of Skeffington, 1s. kntd 19 Aug. 1624; suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 1635. bur. 20 Nov. 1651.5 sig. J[ohn] Skeffington.
Capt. militia horse, Leics. 1625-at least 1629;6 j.p. Leics. 1626-at least 1640, Staffs. 1642;7 dep. lt., Leics. 1626-42;8 sheriff, Staffs. 1637-8;9 commr. knighthood fines, Leics. 1631,10 array, Leics. and Staffs. 1642;11 accts. (roy.), Staffs. 1645.12
Gent. of privy chamber by 1639.13
The Skeffingtons took their name from a village ten miles east of Leicester, where they were settled by the mid-thirteenth century.14 The founder of the Staffordshire branch of the family, Sir John Skeffington, was a London alderman and wool merchant, who in 1521 purchased the manor of Fisherwick, three-and-a-half miles north-east of Lichfield.15 His grandson was elected for Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1559. Skeffington’s father, a prominent Staffordshire man, twice served as sheriff and secured a baronetcy in 1627.16
Skeffington spent more than two years at the Middle Temple, but not necessarily in study, being twice fined for missing readings and once for being absent at Christmas.17 His funeral monument nevertheless pays tribute to his learning and his skills in English, Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish.18 Towards the end of his life Skeffington translated El Héroe (1637), by the Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián Morales, which was published after his death with a preface by Izaak Walton.19
In November 1613 the Leicestershire branch of the family was threatened with extinction. Sir William Skeffington had died in 1605, leaving his estate to his brother John, who disliked the fact that Sir William’s widow, Lady Katherine, subsequently married her groom, Michael Bray. When John and Bray met at a tavern in 1613, they fought and killed each other.20 John’s estate, comprising the Leicestershire property and lands in Warwickshire and Lincolnshire, was reputedly worth £1,500 p.a., and was divided between John’s four surviving sisters, one of whom was unmarried. Although courted by a Mr. Palmer, she returned his ring and married the subject of this biography instead.21 Skeffington consequently settled in Leicestershire - he was described as being of Skeffington at his knighting in 1624 - but his bride did not make him especially wealthy, as Lady Katherine continued to draw an income from the Leicestershire estate. While Skeffington was assessed for the 1624 subsidy at £5 in lands, Lady Katherine was rated at £8. Nevertheless, Skeffington evidently exaggerated his poverty. In 1623 he claimed that he was unable to provide a light horse for the militia as his income was less than £100 p.a., but in 1627 he told Chancery that his estate was worth around £300 p.a. Skeffington’s portion of the estate must have been augmented when one of his sisters-in-law died without issue in the 1630s. Consequently, by the early 1650s he was able to put the income from his wife’s estate at £700 p.a., out of which £140 continued to be paid to Lady Katherine.22
Skeffington probably owed his election for Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1626 to his brother-in-law Sir William Bowyer II*. Sir William’s father, John Bowyer, had sat for the borough in 1597 and 1604, and the Bowyers were significant landowners in north-west Staffordshire, their holdings including property in Newcastle. Skeffington’s candidacy may also have been supported by Staffordshire’s lord lieutenant, the 3rd earl of Essex. Skeffington’s father was alleged to have been one of the ‘frequenters’ of the 2nd earl of Essex in 1601, and the 3rd earl may have been responsible for the election of Skeffington’s brother, Sir Richard, at Tamworth in 1625.23 As one of the Members for Staffordshire, Skeffington was entitled to attend the committee for the bill to annex Freeford prebend to the vicarage of St. Mary’s in Lichfield and make St. Mary’s a parish church. This measure may have been of interest to Skeffington given Fisherwick’s proximity to Lichfield, although the evidence for this committee’s attendance does not indicate that he showed up. He was also appointed by name to the committee for the bill to allow the sale of a Leicestershire manor belonging to Sir Brian Cave, a subject of interest to Skeffington as a Leicestershire landowner himself.24 On 15 May he was recorded as being sick, and therefore a Member of the House was sent to get his signature to the protestation concerning the words allegedly spoken by Sir Dudley Digges concerning the duke of Buckingham a week earlier. He took the protestation the following day.25
Skeffington seems to have become disillusioned with Parliament. In a letter, evidently written after 9 May, he reproached his kinsman Sir Edward Dering* for not warning him to avoid election, describing the Commons as a place ‘to please none, to displease all and bear all his own charges’.26 He viewed the proceedings against Buckingham with disfavour; described some of the managers of the impeachment as ‘curious to show their malicious learning’; and thought that the proceedings were endangering the liberties of Parliament.27 There is no evidence that his opposition to the impeachment stemmed from personal allegiance to the duke, although he later described himself as Buckingham’s ‘servant gotten and gained by his own free favours’. Indeed, in his letter to Dering, Skeffington described Buckingham as ‘your great friend and alliance’, suggesting that he himself was not yet a client of the duke.28
After the death of Francis Staresmore* on 8 May 1626, Skeffington took over the latter’s task of keeping the 5th earl of Huntingdon, the lord lieutenant of Liecestershire, informed of parliamentary proceedings.29 Huntingdon subsequently appointed Skeffington one of his deputy lieutenants in Staresmore’s place. At the end of the year Skeffington was also appointed to the Leicestershire bench.30
Skeffington declared himself Buckingham’s servant in an undated letter of thanks addressed to Sir Edward Dering and endorsed ‘about the baronetship’.31 This suggests that Dering intervened with Buckingham to procure the baronetcy for Skeffington’s father, granted in May 1627 without payment to the Exchequer, and that in so doing he won Skeffington’s allegiance to his patron.32 Skeffington’s connection with Buckingham probably explains why Huntingdon, who stood to lose the Leicestershire lieutenancy for his reluctance to pay the Forced Loan, employed him to intercede on his behalf with the Privy Council in June 1627.33 Skeffington himself was not a Forced Loan commissioner, but as a deputy lieutenant he co-operated with the collection of the Loan.34 In 1628 he again rallied to Huntingdon’s defence, when he was sworn a witness on behalf of the earl in the latter’s dispute with Sir Henry Shirley, who had accused Huntingdon of misappropriating militia funds.35 Skeffington himself was not without enemies. In 1631 Sir Arthur Hesilrige†, who had been replaced by Skeffington as captain of the Leicestershire horse militia in 1625, revealed that the Leicestershire clerk of the peace had reversed a decision of the bench concerning the licence of a cottage at Skeffington’s instigation.36 When Hesilrige was brought before the Council for refusing to pay the militia rates in 1632, he told Skeffington that ‘if such gentlemen as you shall be suffered to shark the country of their money, it will be a very pretty thing’. Hesilrige was forced to apologize after Skeffington complained.37
In 1635 Skeffington inherited his father’s Staffordshire estates, and was subsequently described as being of Fisherwick. This substantially increased his annual income, which in 1651 he put at £1,280.38 In 1637 he was pricked as sheriff of Staffordshire, and initially showed considerable enthusiasm for levying Ship Money, which he thought he could gather more efficiently than his predecessors.39 However, by the following August his enthusiasm seems to have waned, and the Council sent him a sharp letter blaming him for problems he had apparently raised.40
By January 1639 Skeffington was a gentleman of the privy chamber.41 In March 1641 he was granted the nomination of a baronetcy, which he offered to Walter Wrottesley, a Staffordshire gentleman, for £200.42 By this time Skeffington was worried about being accused of unspecified crimes by Hesilrige in Parliament.43 When the Civil War broke out he initially supported the king, agreeing to contribute six horsemen to the royalist army.44 However, by October 1642 he was beginning to have second thoughts and was negotiating with his Roundhead brother, Sir Richard, to defect.45 In the event he failed to switch sides, and as late as 1645 he was appointed to a royalist commission, though he never played an active role on the king’s behalf after the summer of 1642. The parliamentarians sequestered his estates, and in March 1650 he was allowed to compound for his Staffordshire properties at a sixth of their value. In July 1651 his fine was fixed at £1,616 18s. 8d., but there is no evidence that this sum was ever paid.46
Skeffington was buried at Skeffington on 20 Nov. 1651, where his funeral monument stands. He left no will and consequently administration was granted to his wife on 23 June 1652.47 His son William died unmarried in April 1652.48 The baronetcy then passed to Sir Richard Skeffington’s son, Sir John, who was elected to Richard Cromwell’s 1659 Parliament for counties Antrim, Down and Armagh.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Ben Coates
- 1. Date of birth calculated from his MI: Nichols, County of Leicester, iii. 444. However, at the 1619 herald’s visitation his age was given as 30: Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 111.
- 2. Nichols, iii. 449; C142/600/114.
- 3. Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss.
- 4. S. Shaw, Hist. and Antiqs. of Staffs. (1798), i. 341.
- 5. Nichols, iii. 449-50; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 186.
- 6. HEHL, HAM53/6, f. 125; SP16/152/37I.
- 7. Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry, 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv-vii), 59; C66/2858; C231/5, p. 536.
- 8. T. Cogswell, Home Divisions, 43, 293.
- 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 129.
- 10. E178/5404.
- 11. LJ, v. 147; Northants. RO, FH133.
- 12. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 264.
- 13. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 366.
- 14. S.H. Skillington, ‘Skeffingtons of Skeffington’, Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xvi. 77.
- 15. VCH Staffs. xiv. 241.
- 16. List of Sheriffs, 128-9; 47th DKR, 131.
- 17. MTR, 458, 461, 469
- 18. Nichols, iii. 444.
- 19. J. Skeffington, Heroe of Lorenzo (1652).
- 20. Skillington, 103.
- 21. Nicholls, iii. 445, n. 1.
- 22. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 486; HEHL, HA10877; C2/Chas.I/S92/19; 2/Chas.I/B49/3; Skillington, 124; Nichols, iii. 445, n. 1.
- 23. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 134, 271; HMC Hatfield, xi. 34.
- 24. Procs. 1626, ii. 69, 200.
- 25. Ibid. iii. 263, 265.
- 26. Cent. Kent. Stud., U350/C/2/8.
- 27. ‘Hastings 1621’, p. 42. Cent. Kent. Stud., U350/C/2/8.
- 28. Stowe 743, f. 66; Cent. Kent. Stud., U350/C/2/8.
- 29. ‘Hastings 1621’, pp. 41-3.
- 30. Cogswell, 43.
- 31. Stowe 743, f. 66.
- 32. SCL, EM 1284(b).
- 33. HEHL, HAM53/6, ff. 208v-9v.
- 34. SP16/79/84.
- 35. CD 1628, v. 448.
- 36. Cogswell, 94, 194; HEHL, HAM53/6, f. 125.
- 37. PC2/42, pp. 299-301.
- 38. Nichols, iii. 445, n. 1.
- 39. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 532.
- 40. PC2/49, p. 375.
- 41. Skeffington, preface.
- 42. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. G. Wrottesley (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. vi, pt. 2), p. 26.
- 43. Stowe 744, ff. 7, 17.
- 44. HMC Hastings, ii. 87.
- 45. Stowe 184, f. 51.
- 46. SP20/1, f. 92v; SP23/218, pp. 373-5, 380; CCC, 2207.
- 47. CB, ii. 14; PROB 6/27, f. 109.
- 48. Nichols, iii. 444.