MICHELL, Humphrey (1526-98), of Dunton, Beds. and Old Windsor, Berks.

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. 1 Apr. 1526, 1st s. of William Michell, yeoman, of Dunton by his w. Katherine. m. (1) Katherine Hobbs, 1s.; (2) Frances, da. of Francis Waller, ?of Surr., 1s. 4da. suc. fa. Dec. 1536.2

Offices Held

Bailiff to Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon 1555; dep. receiver for south parts, duchy of Lancaster 1560; servant of 2nd Earl of Bedford by 1561; clerk of the works at Windsor castle c.1569-79; water bailiff, river Severn 1578-92; j.p. Isle of Ely from 1582.3


Michell was apparently in government employ soon after receiving livery of his lands in May 1547, for he is recorded in 1549 as taking wages to mercenaries employed against Kett. He served Sir Thomas Smith during Edward VI’s reign, and was entrusted by him with the financial affairs of Eton College. It may be that he had family connexions in the south-west of England, where Michell was a common name, for he entered the service of the Earl of Devon, to whom he later became deputy receiver of the duchy of Lancaster. By 1555 he was the bailiff of a Courtenay manor in Somerset, and in 1556 he ‘thought it his duty’, like Edmund Tremayne, to follow the Earl to Italy.4

After Courtenay’s death at Venice in September 1556, Michell, again like Tremayne, passed into the service of the 2nd Earl of Bedford. Bedford was clearly his patron when he was elected to Parliament in 1559 (the return describing him as of Dunton, Bedfordshire) though he is not recorded as in the Earl’s service till 1561. Michell’s puritan leanings are apparent in a remark of his eldest son Francis (himself secretary to (Sir) William Russell, Bedford’s son), who wrote of his father after his death that he had been ‘too much seduced’ by ‘brain-sick sectaries’.5

As clerk of the works at Windsor, where he may have settled when Sir Thomas Smith was provost of Eton, Michell must have enjoyed the patronage of the Earl of Leicester, constable of the castle and steward of the borough, and another patron favourable to puritan views. He was returned for Windsor in 1571, and again at a by-election in the next Parliament in the place of Richard Gallys, who died on 30 Nov. 1574. Perhaps Leicester’s failure to nominate him in 1572 is to be explained by one of the disputes arising from the great building activity which marked Michell’s time as clerk. Michell was assiduous in recommending new projects to Burghley. In November 1575 he summarized for him the work of the previous six years, during which £6,651 had been spent, complained of delays in obtaining funds and passing accounts, and asked to be relieved of his duties. The complaint achieved its purpose, and Leicester made regulations giving Michell control of expenditure, though excluding him from the supervision of the works. Michell concluded one of his letters to Burghley: ‘praying the living lord ... to increase daily your zeal to the furtherance of the building-up of the church of God’.6

When the repairs at Windsor were completed, Michell was not returned again for the borough, though he continued to reside nearby in Old Windsor. Despite his powerful connexions—along with Francis Walsingham and others he was party to the indenture by which Sir Thomas Smith settled his property just before his death in 1577—he did not secure another seat till 1593, and his patron on that occasion is not obvious, though the name of (Sir) William Peryam, the judge, suggests itself.7

In 1578 Michell was appointed water bailiff of the Severn: later in the reign the justices in the counties along the river were chided by the Privy Council for failing to assist him in keeping his official courts. Michell’s heir became Burghley’s secretary as well as Sir William Russell’s, and it was perhaps on this account that in 1579 Tremayne thanked Burghley for his kindness to Michell. On the other side of England from the Severn, Michell acquired a manor in the Isle of Ely, where he was sent with George Carleton in 1580 to prepare Wisbech castle for the arrival of the first recusants confined there; and with Carleton he embarked upon a project for draining the fens. He was granted arms in 1581 as being descended from ‘the Michells of Yorkshire’. In 1588 he was one of the officials in the mineral and battery works who were accused of taking profits for their own use. He was closely associated with Sir Richard Martyn in a number of the company’s transactions, including the Tintern wire works and the attempted manufacture of brass at Isleworth.8

Michell died 10 Oct. 1598 and was buried in Old Windsor church. In his will he expressed assurance of the pardon of all his sins and stipulated that there should be ‘no blacks or funeral pomp, neither ringing of bells, after my decease’. He left money for stock to provide work for the poor of Old Windsor, and to one of his daughters bequeathed the bed he lay in when in London. His ‘very good and honourable friend’ Sir William Peryam, and Robert Clayton were to decide any disputes over the will, and the latter was to have a gilt bowl given to Michell by the Countess of Warwick, Bedford’s daughter and the widow of Leicester’s brother.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. C142/60/57; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 38.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1547-80. pp. 72-3, 85; 1591-4, p. 201; Somerville, Duchy, i. 624; Add. 37999, f. 2; CPR, 1566-8, p. 399; 1569-72, p. 154; Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 181.
  • 4. CPR, 1553 and App. Edw. VI, p. 310; APC, ii. 316; M. Dewar, Sir Thomas Smith, 69; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 72, 73, 85; DNB (Tremayne, Edmund).
  • 5. DNB (Michell, Sir Francis); N. and Q. (ser. 9), vii. 144-5; Camb. Univ. Lib. Bb 10/18/3 (preface).
  • 6. W. H. St. John Hope, Windsor Castle, 266-74, 276, 278-80, 283-5.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 668; Strype, Smith, 158.
  • 8. Flenley, 181-3, 211, 221; APC, xii. 69, 157; xiii. 153; xxi. 123; HMC Hatfield, ix. 112; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 638, 681; VCH Cambs. and Ely, iv. 182; N. and Q. (ser. 9), vii. 145; Lansd. 56, f. 163; M. B. Donald, Elizabethan Monopolies, 21, 73-6, 119, 123, 181-2.
  • 9. E. Ashmole, Berks. iii. 43-5; PCC 58 Kidd.