ATYE, Sir Arthur (c.1542-1604), of Kilburn Priory , Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



5 Apr. 1583
1604 - 2 Dec. 1604

Family and Education

b. c.1542.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. by 1558, BA 1560, MA 1564, DCL 1574;2 M. Temple 1585.3 m. (1) 1583,4 Anne (admon. 4 Dec. 1583),5 da. of John Quarles of London, Draper and wid. of William Rickthorne (d. 10 Nov. 1582) of Canonbury, Islington, Mdx., s.p.; (2) by 1587, Judith, da. of Walter Hungerford of Cadnam, Wilts., 4s. 1da.6 kntd. 11 May 1603.7 d. 2 Dec. 1604.8

Offices Held

Member, embassy to Spain 1566-8.9

Fellow, Merton, Oxf. 1562-83; principal, St. Alban Hall, Oxf. 1569-81; proctor, Oxf. Univ. 1570-1, public orator 1572-82.10

Sec. to 1st earl of Leicester c.1574-at least 1587.11

Member, Barbary Co. 1585.12

Recvr.-gen. Alienations Office by 1589-d.13

Commr. i.p.m. of Robert Dudley†, earl of Leicester 1589;14 j.p. Mdx. c.1593-d.;15 commr. to search for highwaymen, Mdx. 1598,16 gaol delivery, Newgate, London 1603-d.,17 oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1603-d.,18 collector, Privy Seal loan c.July 1604-d.19


Atye probably hailed from Harrow, Middlesex; he left money to the parish in his will, and apparently had relatives there.20 Despite his obscure origins, he came to prominence through a successful academic career, in the course of which he accompanied the head of his college on a diplomatic mission to Spain in 1566-8. His role as public orator at Oxford doubtless drew him to the attention of the university’s chancellor, the earl of Leicester, who employed him as his principal secretary from around 1574. The earl arranged Atye’s first parliamentary seats in 1583-4, and influenced his membership of the Barbary Company. As farmer of the fines payable for alienation of lands held from the Crown, Leicester probably also provided him with the receivership of these sums.21 By 1583 Atye was wealthy enough to sever his last ties with Oxford and obtain a grant of arms. During the following decade he accumulated a sizeable estate in Middlesex, culminating in the purchase of Kilburn Priory in around 1597.22

Leicester’s death in 1588 deprived Atye of his only significant patron, and further preferment eluded him. After assisting with negotiations between England and the United Provinces in 1595, he applied unsuccessfully in the following year for the Latin secretaryship, but thereafter pursued a Court career only half-heartedly. By 1596 he had a peripheral role in the circle of the 2nd earl of Essex, Leicester’s stepson, who provided him with a seat at Dunwich in 1597.23 More significantly, he attached himself around this time to Charles Blount†, Lord Mountjoy, and in 1600 he was appointed to receive from the Exchequer £1,000 owed to Mountjoy as lord deputy of Ireland. Anthony Wood’s assertion that Atye was implicated in Essex’s rebellion in the following year is apparently unfounded.24 At the outset of the new reign Atye assumed a more prominent role in local government, and also obtained a knighthood, presumably through the influence of Mountjoy, now earl of Devonshire. In January 1604, acting as a trustee of his patron’s estates, he was party to a conveyance of property near Bere Alston. A month later he was returned for the borough as Devonshire’s nominee.25

By now something of a Commons’ veteran, Atye was appointed to 16 committees or conferences during the 1604 session, though his single recorded speech belied his earlier career as university orator and lecturer in rhetoric.26 Recognized as the lord deputy’s client, he was named on 26 Mar. to the select committee to consider relief measures for soldiers who had fought in Ireland. Probably in the same context, he was appointed to help scrutinize the bill to annul the attainders of the earls of Southampton and Essex, imposed after the 1601 rebellion (2 April). His receivership of alienation fines doubtless explains his nomination on 26 Mar. to the conference with the Lords about the Crown’s wardship powers. Similarly, his local administrative duties were reflected in his appointment to bill committees which dealt with gaol delivery and London housing (31 Mar., 27 April). Although not a member of the committee for privileges, he was nominated on 30 Mar. to help draft the Commons’ defence of their refusal to accept Sir John Fortescue* as knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire.27 Throughout the session, Atye was closely involved in the debates on Union, though his attitude towards it is difficult to assess. Appointed on 14 Apr. to the conference with the Lords when the sensitive issue of the king’s official title was first broached, he backed calls nine days later for a further conference to address this question. On 27 Apr. he was named to help prepare the Commons’ case on the Union’s likely impact abroad, and to manage debate on this topic at the next conference. He was also selected to discuss with the Lords the bill to establish a commission for treating with the Scots about the Union (4 May). When Bishop Thornborough of Bristol published a pamphlet attacking the Commons’ hesitancy over Union, Atye was appointed on 1 June to prepare for a conference on this issue. His final committee nomination, on 22 June, concerned the bill for the revival of statutes that had expired on the death of Queen Elizabeth.28

Atye drew up his will on 29 Nov. 1604, bequeathing his daughter a £1,000 dowry, and providing £40 annuities for his younger sons. He selected as overseers his patron Devonshire, Bishop Tobie Matthew, Sir Henry Cock†, cofferer of the Household, and an old Merton friend, Sir Henry Savile†. Atye died three days later, and was buried at St. Dunstan-in-the-West. At his request, Devonshire obtained the wardship of his eldest son, who was still a minor. None of his male descendants sat in Parliament, though one of his granddaughters married Sir William Roberts†.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Tim Venning / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Date estimated from probable admiss. to Oxf. in 1557.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; Reg. Oxf. Univ. ed. C.W. Boase, i. 243, 300.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Reg. Annal. Coll. Merton. 1567-1603, p. 160.
  • 5. PROB 11/66, f. 140v.
  • 6. Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 116, 153; The Gen. n.s. ix. 177; PROB 11/105, f. 48.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 8. The Gen. n.s. ix. 177.
  • 9. Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1521-67 (Oxf. Hist. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 261, 268; 1567-1603 (n.s. xxiv), 13; Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 255.
  • 10. Al. Ox.; Reg. Annal. Coll. Merton. 1567-1603, p. 160.
  • 11. S. Adams, Leicester and the Court, 291; E. Rosenberg, Leicester, Patron of Letters, 150.
  • 12. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 237.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xiii. 427; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 175.
  • 14. CPR, 1587-8 (L. and I. Soc. ccc), 95.
  • 15. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1620.
  • 16. APC, 1598-9, p. 141.
  • 17. C181/1, ff. 42v, 102v.
  • 18. Ibid. f. 66v.
  • 19. E401/2585, f. 1.
  • 20. PROB 11/105, f. 48; W.O. Hewlett, Harrow Par. Reg. i. 75, 77.
  • 21. Adams, 200, 203, 291; CPR, 1584-5 (L. and I. Soc. ccxciii), 130; AG.R. Smith, Servant of the Cecils, 131.
  • 22. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 8; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 5; D. Lysons, Environs of London, ii. 530-1.
  • 23. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 161; HMC Hatfield, vi. 84, 419; xiii. 570-1; P.E.J. Hammer, Polarization of Elizabethan Politics, 184; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 363-4.
  • 24. HMC Hatfield, viii. 207; APC, 1599-1600, pp. 123-4; A. Wood, Fasti Oxon, i. 165.
  • 25. E214/243.
  • 26. Reg. Annal. Coll. Merton 1521-67, p. 261.
  • 27. CJ, i. 153a, 154a, 160a-b, 162a, 188a.
  • 28. Ibid. 172a, 188b, 199a, 230a, 244b, 955b.
  • 29. PROB 11/105, ff. 47v-8v; GL, ms 10342, f. 69; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 39; Mdx. Peds. 153.