KILLIGREW, Sir William I (-d.1622), of Hanworth, Mdx. and St. Margaret Lothbury, London.

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




Family and Education

5th s. of John Killigrew (d.1567) of Arwennack, Cornw. and Elizabeth, da. of James Trewinard of St. Erth, Cornw.; bro. of Sir John† and Sir Henry†.1 m. by c.1579,2 Margery (bur. 18 May 1625),3 da. of Thomas Saunders of Uxbridge, Mdx. and wid. of Robert Wolman of London, Mercer (admon. 2 Feb. 1571) and John Leigh of Coldrey, Hants (d. 20 Jan. 1576), 1s. 2da.4 kntd. 7 May 1603;5 d. 23 Nov. 1622.6 sig. Will[ia]m Kyllygrewe.7

Offices Held

Groom of privy chamber by 1576-1603, gent. by 1606;8 farmer, seal office of k.b. and c.p. 1578-d.;9 commr. Spanish prize goods 1592, 1596;10 acting treas. of chamber 1595-6;11 chamberlain, Exch. 1606-8.12

Feodary and escheator, duchy of Cornw. and constable, Launceston Castle, Cornw. 1576-at least 1601;13 j.p. Cornw. by 1583-1587, 1604-d., Hants by 1583-1616, Mdx. by 1593-d., Devon 1604-d.;14 recvr. Crown lands, Devon and Cornw. 1583-93,15 feodary, Cornw. 1598-1603,16 surveyor, London and Mdx. 1603-6;17 commr. Crown lands, Syon, Mdx. 1603-4, swans, Home Counties 1605-9, oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1606.18

Steward, Stannary Ct. Cornw. from 1585.19


The Killigrews traced their pedigree back to the thirteenth century, and claimed bastard descent from Henry III’s brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall. Their name derived from the manor of Killigrew at St. Erme, Cornwall, but their home from the late fourteenth century was Arwennack, near Falmouth, acquired through marriage. Arwennack’s broad estates explain the family’s rise to local dominance, which reached its peak with Killigrew’s father John, builder and first captain of the royal castle of Pendennis, overlooking Falmouth Bay.20 Killigrew was probably born in the 1530s or early 1540s,21 and may have received a legal training, given his subsequent appointment to the Stannary courts. The youngest son of his family, he followed the example of his uncle Benet and brother Henry and attached himself to the Court, where he benefited from Henry’s government contacts.22 In 1561 Killigrew was running errands for Sir Nicholas Throckmorton†. Two years later he was carrying royal messages to the queen’s agents in France, where he was briefly imprisoned. He probably owed the post of groom of the privy chamber to Henry’s brother-in-law Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†), whom he approached in 1573.23 A position so near the centre of the queen’s Household brought numerous lucrative rewards, including the farm of the seal office and a grant of Hanworth manor and park.24 Reliant primarily on the Cecil faction, he was nevertheless content to do favours for the earl of Essex, and temporarily occupied the post of treasurer of the chamber as a neutral while Burghley and Essex fought over the permanent appointment.25 Elizabeth seems to have valued his discretion; in 1587 he brought her the news that Secretary William Davison† had dispatched Mary Queen of Scots’s death warrant, and on several occasions he carried her conciliatory messages to a petulant Essex. As a royal messenger he was inadvertently caught up in the opening stages of Essex’s 1601 rising, and subsequently gave evidence against Sir Christopher Blount†, a leading conspirator.26

By the 1590s the local standing of the Arwennack Killigrews had been seriously undermined by debt and persistent charges of piracy and corruption, and it was chiefly the presence of Killigrew and his brother Henry at Court which kept the family’s electoral interest alive in Cornwall. Killigrew was frequently approached with West Country concerns, and acquired an impressive reputation as a fixer. In 1594 Richard Carew† commented that he had ‘made his countrymen beholden to him beyond ability or possibility of requital’. At the next election he was returned as a Cornish knight of the shire, the first of his family to achieve this distinction despite owning little land in the county.27

By the turn of the century Killigrew was already relatively old. In 1601 he was reported to be trying to resign his privy chamber place to his son (Sir) Robert*, though in the event he retained the post until Elizabeth’s death, exchanging it for a lesser presence in James I’s Household.28 The role of Cornish feodary was surrendered in return for the more convenient surveyorship of London and Middlesex, while 1603 also brought him a knighthood, a royal visit to Hanworth, and renewal of his seal office farm.29 The 1604 parliamentary elections revealed no slackening of Killigrew’s prestige in Cornwall, where he was returned for Liskeard, probably with the backing of his niece’s husband Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, a major patron of the borough. Killigrew’s landholdings and perhaps also a continuing Duchy position at Launceston allowed him to place his heir Sir Robert at nearby Newport, while he may have been responsible for finding the courtier Sir Thomas Lake I a seat in Launceston itself. He also maintained his family’s traditional hold over boroughs in south-west Cornwall, successfully nominating his stepson Sir John Leigh at Helston, and presumably also Sir Richard Warburton, a Cecil client, at Penryn.30

Killigrew maintained his customary low profile in Parliament. He is not recorded as having spoken, and his committee appointments in the first session were rare. On 26 Mar. he was added to a conference with the Lords on wardship and purveyance. He was twice included in deputations to the king led by the Speaker in connection with Goodwin’s case (28 Mar. and 12 April). On 1 June he was named to the committee appointed to discuss the bishop of Bristol’s tract on the Union, which was held to have criticized the Commons. As a Cornish burgess he would also have been entitled to sit on a bill committee concerned with the pilchard trade (20 June).31 The end of the first session was overshadowed by Trelawny’s sudden death on 21 June. Trelawny’s debts were substantial enough to necessitate a private bill in the next session, in which Killigrew was named as a trustee for the sale of his estate.32

Like the first session, the second passed off quietly for Killigrew, who was named to just six committees. These dealt with the Spencer lands bill (7 Feb. 1606), church government (25 Feb. and 1 Apr.), the sale of butter and cheese (4 Apr.), relief of skinners (2 May), and the distribution of the House’s Benevolence.33 In the third session, Killigrew appears to have played an even smaller role, being named to just two committees, one of which (29 Nov. 1606) addressed the question of the Instrument of Union, while the other (25 Feb. 1607) touched upon the funding of a Devon school. However, he must also have attended closely to a bill which successfully completed its passage through the Lower House on 28 Feb., correcting flaws in the 1606 Trelawny Land sale Act.34

Outside Parliament, Killigrew successfully re-ordered his affairs. In March 1605 he secured the reversion of the seal office farm for his son Sir Robert, after buying off a rival applicant, and when he relinquished his London surveyorship in April 1606 it was granted to his long-time associate Walter Hickman*.35 1605 also brought him an improved grant of Hanworth Park, while in January 1606 he obtained the office of chamberlain of the Exchequer, a position admittedly of more show than substance, which he retained for two years.36 In 1609 he hosted a dinner for Viscount L’Isle (Robert Sidney†) and the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery (Sir Philip Herbert*), suggesting that, despite his age, he had adapted to a new generation of courtiers.37

In February 1610 Killigrew apparently arranged the return of the Cecil client, Sir William Maynard, in the Penryn by-election, but he himself made little mark on the fourth session. On 15 Feb. he was named to a conference with the Lords about supply. The only committee to which he was appointed by name (27 Apr.) was established to consider John Arundell* of Trerice’s land sale bill, a specifically Cornish issue, but Killigrew would also have been entitled, as a Cornish burgess, to sit on bill committees dealing with copyhold tenancies on Crown lands (31 Mar.), Exeter weirs (19 May) and timber supplies for shipping (25 June). Apart from a mention that he took the Oath of Supremacy on 5 June, in accordance with a recent Commons motion, his name appears in the record again only on 21 May, when the House ordered the suspension of a Chancery suit between Killigrew and fellow MP Sir Nicholas Saunders, the subject of which is unclear. He played no recorded role in the fifth session.38

In 1611 Killigrew’s virtual monopoly over the processing of writs from King’s Bench and Common Pleas was undermined when the privilege of preparing particular types of writ was granted to rival patentees, one of whom, John Murray*, he attempted to obstruct.39 By now Sir Robert was taking on the Killigrew mantle at Court, although his father was forced to come to his aid when he was briefly imprisoned in 1613 in connection with the Overbury affair. Killigrew shared the family’s electoral patronage with his son in the 1614 elections, when he was returned for Penryn, which he had first represented 30 years earlier.40 He does not appear by name in the records of this, his last Parliament, but he would have been eligible to sit on bill committees dealing with the export of iron ordnance (11 May), leases made by the Hele family of Devon (17 May), a new pier at Exmouth, Devon and weirs in general (both on 21 May) and extortions by port officials (25 May).41

Killigrew’s income in his final years was very comfortable. He contributed £100 to the 1614 Benevolence, while a subsidy assessment in May 1622 rated him at £50 in lands.42 However, he also took on the burden of bringing up several of his grandchildren following the early deaths of Sir John Leigh in 1612 and his son-in-law Sir Maurice Berkeley* in 1617, and was engaged in contentious legal disputes right up to his death. He apparently moved out of his house at Hanworth, which from 1620 was occupied by James, Viscount Doncaster, and perhaps settled instead with his son Sir Robert at nearby Kempton Park.43 Killigrew drew up his will in 1618, and left £100 for the costs of his funeral. Other bequests included an annual allowance of £200 to his wife from the profits of the seal office, with the residue going to clear his debts. The religious sentiments expressed in the will are disappointingly conventional, considering that in earlier life John Foxe and Robert Some had dedicated books to him. Chamberlain claimed that it was the very severe winter of 1622-3 that caused Killigrew’s death on 23 Nov. 1622. He was buried in St. Margaret Lothbury, close to the grave of his brother Henry.44

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268; R.N. North, ‘Killigrew fam.’, Jnl. Royal Inst. Cornw. iii. 272.
  • 2. Killigrew’s s. Robert was born c.1580: Al. Ox.
  • 3. GL, ms 4346/1, unfol.
  • 4. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268, 270; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 21; PROB 11/53, ff. 57-8; C142/175/82.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 104.
  • 6. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268.
  • 7. Lansd. 70, f. 66.
  • 8. CPR, 1575-8, p. 91; LC2/4/4, f. 48; 5/50, p. 185.
  • 9. Lansd. 25, ff. 136, 218; PROB 11/140, f. 271.
  • 10. APC, 1592, p. 181; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 264.
  • 11. E351/542, f. 212; E.K. Chambers, Eliz. Stage, i. 65.
  • 12. LC5/50, p. 185; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 436.
  • 13. SP40/1, p. 149; SC6/Eliz.I/393.
  • 14. Harl. 474, ff. 6v, 33v; Lansd. 121, f. 66; C231/4, f. 17; C66/1421; 66/1662.
  • 15. C66/1404.
  • 16. WARD 9/275, unfol.
  • 17. E315/310, ff. 5, 44v.
  • 18. C181/1, ff. 65, 89, 113v, 132; 181/2, ff. 3v, 89.
  • 19. CPR, 1584-5, p. 69.
  • 20. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 267; A.C. Miller, Sir Henry Killigrew, 3-5.
  • 21. No records survive, but his next eldest bro. is thought to have been born by c.1530, and Killigrew was old enough by 1562 to be entrusted with govt. messages abroad: Miller, 7; CSP For. 1562, p. 442.
  • 22. Miller, 1, 3, 6.
  • 23. CSP For. 1561-2, pp. 411, 433; 1563, pp. 326, 529; 1572-4, p. 279; Miller, 96.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 547.
  • 25. HMC Hatfield, vii. 333; Chambers, 64-5.
  • 26. HMC 4th Rep. 340; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 248; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 92; 1601-3, p. 10.
  • 27. Miller, 233-4; HMC Hatfield, vi. 322; P.L. Hull, ‘Richard Carew’s discourse’, Jnl. Royal Inst. Cornw. n.s. iv. pt. 2, pp. 216, 222; CPR, 1563-6, p. 163; 1580-2, p. 18.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 115. He is missing from the Household subsidy lists after 1603 despite his position as gent. of the privy chamber: E115/231/95; 179/70/122.
  • 29. Chambers, iv. 117; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 10.
  • 30. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 476; HMC Hatfield, xi. 405; E124/1, f. 420; E134/3 Jas.I/East. 11; HP Commons, 1558-1603 (Warburton).
  • 31. CJ, i. 154b, 157a, 169b, 230a, 243a.
  • 32. Ibid. 244b, 257b, 263b; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 40.
  • 33. CJ, i. 265a, 274a, 291b, 293b, 304a, 313b.
  • 34. Ibid. 326b, 340b, 345a.
  • 35. C54/1812; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 92; E315/310, f. 44v; VCH Hants, iii. 43.
  • 36. C66/1664; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 37, 131.
  • 37. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 161.
  • 38. CJ, i. 394a, 417a, 421b, 429b, 430a, 443a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 15.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 75, 80.
  • 40. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 451-2; W.H. Tregellas, Cornish Worthies, ii. 158.
  • 41. CJ, i. 480a, 487b, 492b, 496a.
  • 42. E351/1950; E115/233/29.
  • 43. PROB 11/119, f. 368; WARD 9/162, f. 270; Add. 38170, f. 146; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 466; D. Lysons, Mdx. Par. 95.
  • 44. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 467; PROB 11/140, ff. 271-2; 11/146, f. 63v; F.B. Williams, Index of Dedications, 111.