CAVE, Sir Ambrose (by 1503-68), of Duddeston, Nuneaton and Kingsbury, Warws.; Stanford, Northants. and Rothley, Leics.

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. by 1503, s. of Richard Cave of Stanford by his 2nd w. Margaret, da. of John or Thomas Saxby of Northants.; bro. of Francis. m. Margaret, da. and coh. of William Willington of Barcheston, Warws., wid. of Thomas Holte (d.1546) of Duddeston, 1da. Kntd. 1525.1

Offices Held

J.p. Leics. 1547, q. from c.1558; j.p. Warws. from 1554, custos rot. from c.1559; j.p. Lancs. from c.1561; sheriff, Leics. and Warws. ?1548-9; PC from Nov. 1558; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster from Dec. 1558; jt. (with Sir Robert Dudley) ld. lt. Warws. from 1559.2


At the accession of Elizabeth, Cave was one of the small group who met at Hatfield and signed the first official documents of the reign as Privy Councillors. A friend and relative of Sir William Cecil, he must have been in touch with Elizabeth during the last few weeks of her sister’s life. After Mary’s death he was given her great seal to place in the new Queen’s private chamber. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton suggested him as treasurer of the chamber, but as usual his advice was ignored and before the end of the year Elizabeth appointed him chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Since his patent was not granted until December, he was, unusually for the period, a Privy Councillor for some weeks without holding major office.3

Cave was first and foremost an administrator. He began his career as an official of the knights of St. John of Jerusalem, but when the order was dissolved and he received his pension he quickly accepted the reformation. He had another potential source of income in the family wool business. There were numerous Cave brothers, and the landowners and merchants among them combined with those in the royal service, and with other relatives and neighbours, in a consortium which covered almost all stages in the manufacture and sale of cloth. Though Cave had land, and held local offices in Leicestershire and Warwickshire, his duchy of Lancaster post lifted him from relative obscurity to a leading position in the country. The appointment was no sinecure. Much of the duchy property in the north was decayed. During 1561 he spent two months surveying duchy lands before recommending a number of administrative changes which, three years later, a conference of Privy Councillors and duchy officials was still discussing. Cave’s efficient management of duchy property increased its value above the 1561 figure of £14,000 a year, and he naturally used his position to grant favourable leases to his friends and servants, which the Crown tried later to revoke.4

As chancellor Cave had opportunities for exercising parliamentary patronage, though not on the scale of his successors in the office. In January 1559 his hand is obvious at Preston and Higham Ferrers, and at Liverpool he went so far as to alter the return after the election. In 1563 two of the crown office lists show signs of his interference. At least eight of the duchy Members in 1563 were probably nominated by the chancellor. In the Commons Cave ranked about fourth in seniority among the Privy Councillors. He had reservations about the prayer book of 1559, which he wished (4 Mar.) ‘to be well considered’. He was named to a privilege committee on 3 Mar. 1559, and two bills concerning customs regulations and London clothworkers were committed to him (17 Mar. 1559, 6 Nov. 1566). He spoke in support of Cecil’s statement that the Queen was ‘by God’s providence moved to marriage’ on 19 Oct. 1566 and on 31 Oct. was named to the conference with the Lords concerning the succession question. He was one of 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov. 1566 to hear the Queen’s message on the succession. As Privy Councillor he was appointed to the major committees dealing with the petition to her Majesty to marry (6 Feb. 1559), the petition concerning the succession (6 Jan., 12 Feb. 1563), and two subsidy bills (25 Jan. 1563, 17 Oct. 1566).5

Cave sat on a number of royal commissions, for such subjects as ‘the care of the north parts’, the state of armour and munitions in the Tower, the issue of a new coinage and measures to combat plague in Westminster. He was visitor for a number of midland dioceses, and in April 1559 he and Sir Richard Sackville were made responsible for examining the houses of ‘popish bishops’ in London, reporting on books and writings found in their studies, and consulting with their officers about the ‘surety and stay’ of their goods. One of the latest references to him shows his interest in the radical wing of the English church: with the earls of Leicester, Warwick and Huntingdon, and others, he took out letters patent of incorporation as ‘governors of the possessions of the preachers of the gospel’ in Warwickshire.6

Little is known about Cave’s private life. As a courtier he was accomplished. A portrait shows him wearing on his left arm a yellow garter, said to have been dropped by Elizabeth while dancing, and which he had sworn to ‘wear as long as he lived’. The wedding of his 17 year-old daughter Margaret to Henry Knollys was celebrated in 1565 with such magnificence that the Spanish ambassador included an account of it in his despatches to Philip II. The Queen attended the supper and the French ambassador, expected for dinner only, then wished to stay, causing Cave to ask the Spaniard to withdraw his acceptance. He would ‘certainly not stay at home for the sake of the French ambassador’, and complained to the Queen, who had to smooth things over. It may have been the expense of these celebrations, and the large marriage settlement, that forced Cave to sell his manor of Rothley to the Babingtons.7

Cave died 2 Apr. 1568. His funeral, at which Sir Francis Knollys was a chief mourner, took place at the Savoy chapel on the 10th. The body was later taken to Stanford, where a memorial was erected in the church. His will, drawn up a week before he died, has a long religious preamble, stressing his desire to see Christ, his only Saviour, ‘and hear Him pronounce the long thirsted-for sentence of all His elect and chosen, the members of His holy catholic church, of which church I do faithfully and without doubt believe and perfectly know that I am one of the lively members by God’s only mercy’. Cave made detailed bequests to the poor of various parishes, but insisted that there should be ‘no other dole to priests or clerks’, except in the parish where he was buried. The list of bequests to friends shows his close connexion with many of the leading statesmen and courtiers of the time—to Cecil a piece of plate ‘well worth £10’, to Sir Francis Knollys ‘my best gown’, to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, a silver flagon, and to Sir Edward Saunders, chief baron of the Exchequer, another £10 worth of plate. These four, with Richard Onslow and Miles Sandys, were asked to act as overseers to the executors, Francis and Brian Cave, Henry Knollys and Cave’s servants John Cade and Edward Williams. The last named, for his ‘expert keeping’ of his master’s books, reckonings and inventories, was to have £20, a gelding and a mare. There were also generous and detailed bequests to other friends, relatives and servants, as well as charitable legacies, including money to support four poor scholars to study divinity, two at each university. The residuary legatees were Cave’s daughter and her husband.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 126; Vis. Northants. ed. Metcalfe, 11-12; C142/75/84; E. W. Badger, Mon. Brasses Warws. 4.
  • 2. APC, vii. 3; Somerville, Duchy, i. 320 et passim; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 129.
  • 3. Strype, Annals, i(1) p. 8; i(2), p. 390; EHR, lxv. 96; W. J. Jones, Eliz. Ct. of Chancery, 30; Bridges, Northants. ii. 592.
  • 4. Lansd. 10, if. 79-80; Somerville, 320-1, 395; SP15/16; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 174.
  • 5. D’Ewes, 45, 52, 79, 80, 84, 95, 103, 120, 124, 126, 133, 134; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34, p. 209; CJ, i. 56, 58, 73; Neale, Parlts. i. 140.
  • 6. APC, vii. 27; Strype, Annals, i(1), pp. 34, 139, 247; CPR, 1558-60, p. 66; Lansd. 7, ff. 46-7; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 304.
  • 7. Nichols, Leics. ii. 826; CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 446, 450-2; Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xii. 52; C142/148/4; CPR, 1560-3, p. 102.
  • 8. Nichols, iv. 350; PCC 9 Daper.