WENNESLEY, Richard (d.1594), of Wennesley (now Wensley), Derbys. and London.

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

1st s. of Thomas Wennesley, prob. by his 1st w. Dorothy, da. of Hugh Teverey of Stampleford, Leics. but perhaps by his and w. Cecily Barrett or Garrett. educ. Clement’s Inn bef. Sept. 1553. m. (1) Lettice (?div. c.1564), da. of Otwell Needham of Snitterton, Derbys., 1 or 2da.; (2) bigamously by Jan. 1565.

Offices Held

J.p. Derbys. c.1573-9.


Of a family settled in Darley Dale, Derbyshire, since the reign of John, Wennesley was the first of its members to attain knight of the shire status. He added to his estates in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign by buying from Sir Edward Warner ex-monastic property, including the demesne lands of Snitterton priory, chantry land in Bonsall, Hognaston and Matlock, and the site of Calke priory. Though the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield recommended Wennesley’s inclusion on the commission of the peace in 1564, he was not so appointed until about 1573, and in 1575 it was noted ‘he is most resident at London’. Perhaps for this reason, his name does not appear on the commission after the 1570s. His private life also came to the notice of the Privy Council. About 1564 he was involved in a scandalous divorce case, his wife alleging that in order to get rid of her he had suborned witnesses to swear that she had murdered the baby of one Anne Gilbert. He was summoned before the Council in early 1565, but in December the case was still unsettled. Meanwhile, without waiting for his divorce, Wennesley went through a form of marriage with the lady for whom he had left his wife, and whose name remains undiscovered.

Wennesley was one of the eight nominees of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury in his ‘composition’ with the borough of Chesterfield about the town’s privileges in January 1568, by which Shrewsbury retained control of the borough despite a recent confirmation of its privileges from the Crown. Another nobleman with whom Wennesley was connected was John, 8th Baron Stourton, who in 1573 was committed to the custody of the archbishop of Canterbury for recusancy. In December Wennesley and Sir John St. Leger stood surety for him, in the sum of £2,000.

In 1575 Wennesley was also in trouble for illicit lead smelting. William Humfrey, who held a monopoly for certain methods of refining lead, complained to Lord Burghley in 1575, and again in August 1577, that Wennesley had persuaded Sir John Zouche to put up a ‘melting house’ at Codnor Castle, thus infringing Humfrey’s patent. Wennesley was also ‘the first causer of Mr. Cavendish to build his melting-house’. Other charges were that he had ‘invited’ men from him ‘by great wages’, and had attempted to monopolize the local supply of lead ore which Wennesley’s group in fact succeeded in doing after Humfrey’s death in July 1579, helped by the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Thomas Fitzherbert.

Wennesley died intestate in 1594, administration of the estate being granted to one William Dudley of London on 24 Feb.

Add. 28113, f. 1; Genealogist, n.s. viii. 177; CPR, 1553-4, p. 465; 1557-8, p. 214; J. C. Cox, Notes on Derbys. Churches, ii. 162, 165, 351, 490; iii. 347; APC, vii. 190, 197, 301-2; viii. 169; ‘J. T.’, Old Halls, Manors and Fams. of Derbys. i. 109-10; J. P. Yeatman, Feudal Hist. Derbys. ii(3), pp. 118-20; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 43; Egerton 2345, f. 10; Lansd. 737, f. 134; 24, ff. 123, 125; 31, ff. 162-3; SP12/104; M. B. Donald, Eliz. Monopolies, 150-9, 162, 170-3; PCC admon. act bk. 1594, f. 88.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge