WILLIAMS, Richard (d.1601), of Blackfriars, London and Cobham, Kent.

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

Offices Held

Estate manager to the lords Cobham by 1584.


The date of Williams’s entry into the service of the Cobham family has not been traced, though it was presumably prior to 1584 when he owed his parliamentary seat to Lord Cobham’s nomination. By the late 1590s he exercised overall control of all the family’s estates, and most of the surviving references to him relate to this work.

The period from about 1582 until the early years of James I’s reign was important in the family’s history, for, as a result of the favour shown by Queen Elizabeth to the 10th Lord Cobham, they were able to rebuild Cobham Hall. Williams supervised much of this work, paying the workmen and keeping Cobham informed of progress when he was away from home. Letters exchanged between Williams and his master reveal his activity in connexion with building accounts and household expenses for all Cobham’s properties; revenues and timber sales; terms and conditions for tenant farmers; reclamation of marshlands; harvests and re-afforestation; supervision of bailiffs, and dealings with dishonest tenants. The 11th Lord Cobham’s sister, who was the widow of Sir Thomas Sondes of Throwlyey, also seems to have left the management of her estates to Williams and this involved him in disputes with (Sir) Michael Sondes, who was slow to pay the rent he owed his sister-in-law. Williams urged caution on Lord Cobham regarding the servants’ wages, but his own were a different matter:

My half year’s annuity, due last Michaelmas, is not paid me, and if you will give order for its payment, and have consideration of the sum wherewith I over-charged myself, I shall be encouraged to continue to deserve your favour.

His business tactics appear in a letter to Cobham in 1601:

I advise you to sell your woods, but to send down a surveyor, and seem unwilling to sell, so as to gain a larger price ... The trees are eighteen years’ growth, but it should not be known that they are under twenty, or people will fear to buy, because the parson can claim tithes of trees under twenty years.1

Williams was returned to Parliament for New Romney in 1584 as the nominee of Lord Cobham, who, as lord warden of the Cinque Ports, was asked by the Privy Council to see that suitable Members were chosen. He may have been the Mr. Williams who sat on the committee for a bill concerning apprentices and spoke against a wardship bill. Though Romney, like many other boroughs, usually declined to pay ‘foreigners’ who represented it in Parliament, Williams pressed hard for his money. Indeed he was still demanding payment when the next Parliament was summoned, and this may have contributed to Romney’s refusal to re-elect him, despite pressure from the Privy Council and the lord warden.2

That Williams appreciated the patronage of the Cobham family—as well he might, considering the wealth he amassed as estate manager—is clearly demonstrated in his will. He begged Henry, Lord Cobham, that he might be buried

at the feet of the right honourable William, late Lord Cobham, deceased, sometime my most honourable lord and master, in the church or chancel of Cobham in Kent, there to remain in Christian burial till the resurrection of all flesh which I believe and expect.

He had leased lands and tenements in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Kent from Lord Cobham and now returned them to him absolutely, save for a request that the tenants be protected. He estimated that the lands combined yielded £95 a year and could be sold for £600. He may have been the Richard Williams who leased Potton rectory manor, Bedford, from the Queen between 1579 and 1591.

His will, made 27 May 1601 and proved only two days later, provides what clues there are to his family background. It suggests that he came originally from Hereford: he referred to his ‘loving cousin’ James Smith, mayor of Hereford, and left £1,000 to the corporation to erect a hospital in the city for six poor people. The building, to be called the Williams hospital, was to be governed by Smith and two named aldermen of Hereford and, after their deaths, by the corporation. They were to draw up the rules for the foundation and buy land worth at least £50 a year. The necessary lands were soon purchased and the hospital constructed, but it fell into decay during the civil war and had to be rebuilt in 1675. Several men in Herefordshire and the adjoining Welsh counties were beneficiaries under the will, including Herbert Croft, one of the overseers, who may be the MP for the county, and Roland Vaughan of Breconshire. No immediate family is mentioned in the will. The principal benificiary was Robert Masters, who received £1,000 on condition that he paid his sister Maud a life annuity of £20, and also the residue of the testator’s lands and revenues after other bequests had been satisfied. Masters, who is called ‘my brother’, was the executor. The list of legatees is wide: the wife of Robert Knollys, probably of the prominent Oxfordshire family, who was forgiven a debt of £80, which was to be used to buy ‘a basin and ewer of silver, with my arms upon it, to be given as a remembrance of my goodwill to that house’; Robert Johnson, a Buckingham man, who was given £50 to act as overseer and whose wife received £20 to buy a gold chain ‘to wear for my sake’; and Henry Best, a Londoner, who also received £50 to serve as overseer. A codicil included legacies to two daughters of Francis Knollys, the mayor of Canterbury, the provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, towards the education of poor scholars, two London preachers, the poor of the parish of St. Anne, Blackfriars, in which his London house was situated, and two servants who received all his books and apparel. Nor did he forget Mrs. Frances Dudley, ‘who now keepeth me in this sickness’, Lord Cobham’s maid, or his own laundress. The legacies total nearly £3,500.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 255, 358; 1598-1601, pp. 170, 391, 431-3, 490, 511-15, 531; 1601-3, pp. 46, 121, 139, 274-5; C66/283/62; Arch. Cant. xi. p. lxv. seq.
  • 2. New Romney assembly bk. 1577-1622, ff. 25, 30; borough recs. bdle. 115; D’Ewes, 372; Lansd. 43; anon. jnl. f. 166.
  • 3. PCC 33 Woodhall; J. Duncumb, Herefs. i. 429; VCH Beds. ii. 239.