WYNDHAM, Francis (d.1592), of Norwich, Beeston and Pentney, Norf.

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

2nd s. of Sir Edmund Wyndham of Felbrigg by Susan, da. of Sir Roger Townshend of Raynham. educ. Camb. prob. Corpus Christi; L. Inn by 1554, called 1560. m. 1570, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Nicholas Bacon, s.p.

Offices Held

Of counsel to Norwich 1563-70, steward 1570-5, recorder 1575-80; bencher of L. Inn 1569, Autumn and Lent reader 1571, 1572, treasurer 1575; serjeant-at-law 1577; j.c.p. 1579-d. 2

J.p. Norf. from c.1573, many other counties from 1577.


Both Wyndham’s parents were from Norfolk county families, and his own marriage to the lord keeper’s daughter must have raised his prestige still further. As his career shows, he identified himself with the puritan party which was strong in Norfolk.3

In the House of Commons he was recorded as serving on committees concerning alehouses, 17 Feb. 1576; dilapidations, 24 Feb.; grants by the dean and chapter of Norwich, 2 Mar.; and taking away the benefit of clergy from rapists, 7 Mar. Before the next session he had been made a judge, and as such was a receiver of petitions in the Lords for the Parliaments of 1584, 1586 and 1589.4

Most of the surviving information about Wyndham concerns his legal career. He was a leading member of his inn, holding all the major offices there, and in addition acting as keeper of the ‘Black Book’ of record for a year from November 1573. His promotion in his profession was relatively fast, and in 1579 he was chosen, against strong competition, to succeed Sir Roger Manwood as justice of the common pleas. Chief Justice Dyer’s list of possible successors for Manwood included, besides Wyndham, Edmund Anderson, Francis Gawdy and John Popham.5

With the city of Norwich Wyndham had been closely connected since 1563, when he was retained as of counsel to the corporation at an annual fee of 20s. In September 1570, when he was appointed steward, the fee was doubled. From 3 May 1575 until 1580—when he was succeeded by Edmund Flowerdew who had already followed him as steward—he was recorder of the city. He seems to have been on intimate terms with Flowerdew: in 1586 they were colleagues on the same circuit, and the writer Geoffrey Whitney addressed two of his Emblemes jointly to them both.6

Wyndham was an active and conscientious official, whose name appears on a large number of commissions. Some years before his promotion to the bench he was appointed to a special commission of oyer and terminer in Norfolk, and a little later, in 1575, served as arbitrator in a controversy between Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports. With Popham as his colleague, he went on the Oxford circuit in 1578. He officiated at two important treason trials, those of John Somerville in 1583, and William Parry two years later. Although he was consulted about the trial of Mary Stuart, he was not a commissioner at Fotheringay. In November 1591, after the death of Sir Christopher Hatton, he was one of the commissioners appointed to hear cases in Chancery, continuing to act until the following April, when Sir John Puckering was appointed lord keeper.7

On at least one occasion he ran into serious trouble at court, largely through his puritan convictions. He strongly disapproved of the use by the bishops’ courts of examination under the ex officio oath, and spoke in open sessions against the procedure. This angered Whitgift, and at about the same time (probably late in 1588) Wyndham made an enemy of Lord Hunsdon, the lord chamberlain and lord lieutenant of Norfolk. Writing to his brother-in-law Nathaniel Bacon in November 1587, Wyndham had complained of the inadequate preparations made in East Anglia to repel a possible invasion by Parma’s army, and in September 1588 he wrote directly to Burghley, asking for an inquiry into the way money raised for defence in Norfolk had been spent, suggesting that people would pay their current subsidy assessment more readily if they were satisfied on this matter. Those who had handled any of the money should not be put in charge of the inquiry, ‘for accountants are never fit auditors’.

Not unnaturally, Hunsdon resented what he considered a slight on his administration, and raised the matter with Wyndham when some time later the judges were summoned to a Privy Council meeting at the lord chancellor’s house and ordered, among other injunctions, to take strong action against anyone found to be connected with the Martin Marprelate tracts. The Queen believed that some of the judges favoured the Martinists, ‘which if she knew she would remove from their places’. Wyndham came under special censure for his opposition to the ex officio procedure, being told that his charge had ‘bred a scruple to all the bishops in England that they doubt how to proceed’ in their jurisdiction. Burghley, who was generally favourably disposed to Wyndham, was absent through illness, and Hunsdon took the opportunity, when the main meeting was over, to make a strong attack on the offender. He referred to attempts Wyndham had made to ‘discountenance’ him in his lieutenancy, and also raised various minor causes of dispute (some of them concerned with the conduct of Francis’s elder brother Roger), as well as other more serious matters. When dinner was announced Hunsdon declared that he had at least twenty further charges to raise, but he apparently let them drop. ‘All this while’, wrote Wyndham to Nathaniel Bacon, ‘the lords let us both alone, and said nothing to us’. However, the two men quarrelled again about the repairing of Norfolk highways—a longstanding dispute which caused serious friction in the county, and in which Hunsdon supported Sir Arthur Heveningham against the puritan group. In 1591 the Privy Council had to intervene to ‘restore good feeling and love, friendship and good responding’ between them.8

Burghley seems to have respected Wyndham’s judgment, and at least one letter survives in which Wyndham gave his opinion on suggested legal appointments. His comments emphasise the streak of puritanism which led him to oppose Whitgift and the bishops. Candidates were described as ‘backward’ or ‘not thought forward’ in religion, and Wyndham opposed the promotion of Thomas Walmesley as serjeant, claiming that he was suspected of Catholicism.9

With his relatives the Bacons, Wyndham seems to have been on terms of close intimacy. Sir Nicholas, the lord keeper, employed him to negotiate the purchase of Stiffkey from the Banyard family, and the Stiffkey papers have a number of references to him. He himself bought considerable property in Norfolk, including Pentney priory, with the manors of Ashwood, Pentney and West Bilney, which the Mildmay family had acquired at the dissolution of the monasteries. Other branches of the Wyndhams also bought or were granted former monastic estates, and a contemporary rhyme noted that

Horner, Popham, Wyndham and Thynne, When the abbot went out, then they came in.

Wyndham also acquired a large dwelling house near St. Giles gate, Norwich, called the Committee House. It had originally been Lady Morley’s, and later had belonged to his maternal grandfather, Sir Roger Townshend.

He died on 18 June 1592, and a monument was set up to him, with an effigy in judge’s robes, in St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich. He left to his widow all the Norfolk property, including the site of the dissolved monastery of Pentney, with its manors, mill and lands, which he had bought from Sir Thomas Mildmay. To ensure payment of a—£400 debt to his brother and heir, Dr. Thomas Wyndham, he gave instructions that his house at Norwich was to be offered for sale, first to Nathaniel Bacon for—£400, then to Sir Nicholas Bacon for £500, and finally to Sir Edward Coke also for £500. If none of the suggested purchasers wished to buy, the house was to go to Dr. Wyndham in settlement of the debt. Plate inscribed with the Wyndham arms was left to the mayor of Norwich in perpetuity. Nathaniel Bacon was an executor, and Justice Gawdy, who received a gilt cup weighing twenty ounces, an overseer. The will was proved on 8 July 1592, but a dispute arose between Elizabeth Wyndham and the executors over the validity of a nuncupative codicil, drawn up on the day Wyndham died, leaving extra property to the widow and adding various small legacies. The codicil was declared valid in November 1594. The widow married as her second husband Sir Robert ‘Mansfield’ or Mansell.10

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 324; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 311, 314, 329, 364, 380, 388, 397, 462; Norwich assembly bk. 1568-85, f. 115; Foss, Judges, v. 551; H. A. Wyndham, Fam. Hist. 1410-1688, pp. 128-40 et passim.
  • 3. Wyndham, loc. cit.; R. W. K. Cremer, Felbrigg: the Story of a House, 27.
  • 4. CJ, i. 106, 108, 110, 111; D’Ewes, 254, 312, 378, 420.
  • 5. Black Bk. i. 388; Lansd. 27, f. 98.
  • 6. Norwich assembly bk. 1568-85, ff. 30, 115, 192; Chamberlain’s acct. bk. 1551-67, f. 271; DNB.
  • 7. DNB; APC, x. 291.
  • 8. APC, xxi. 244-6; Wyndham, 134-8; HMC Townshend, 9-10; Stiffkey Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxvi), 186. The HMC and Cam. Soc. volumes give different dates, both impossible, for Wyndham’s letter. It has been dated between 30 Dec. 1590 and 19 Feb. 1591 by P. Collinson, ‘The Puritan Classical Movement’ (PhD thesis, London, 1957), 1059, n. 1, and A. H. Smith, ‘Eliz. Gentry of Norfolk’ (PhD thesis, London, 1959), 246-7 and n. The Smith thesis, pp. 159, 160, 220, 222-3, 244, 247, has other references to Wyndham’s part in county faction.
  • 9. Lansd. 57, f. 115; Wyndham, 132.
  • 10. Wyndham, 128-30, 139; Blomefield, Norf. viii. 114; C142/234/74; PCC 61 Harrington, 82 Dixy.