RADCLIFFE, Sir John (1582-1627), of Ordsall, Lancs. and Westminster

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

b. 22 Feb. 1582,1 3rd s. of (Sir) John Ratcliffe† (d.1590) of Ordsall and Anne, da. and h. of Thomas Asshawe of Chorley, Lancs.2 educ. embassy, France 1598;3 travelled abroad (Low Countries, France) 1606-10. m. by 1607, Alice (d.1657), da. of Sir John Byron† of Clayton and Newstead Abbey, Notts., 1s. 3da.4 suc. bro. Sir Alexander 1599; kntd. 24 Sept. 1599.5 d. 5 Nov. 1627.6

Offices Held

Vol. [I] 1599; capt. horse, Dutch army 1606-15;7 capt. ft. by 1624,8 lt.-col. 1625, col. 8 Sept. 1627-d.9

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.10

Commr. inquiry, safety of buildings near Tower of London 1615;11 j.p. Lancs. 1626-d.;12 commr. Forced Loan, Lancs. 1627.13


Radcliffe’s ancestors had held Ordsall since about 1330, and first sat for Lancashire in 1334.14 His father, an adherent of the Stanleys, was regarded as a ‘dangerous temporizer’ in religion, but Radcliffe himself apparently conformed. In 1598 Radcliffe, then aged just 16, together with his eldest brother Sir Alexander, accompanied Sir Robert Cecil† on his unsuccessful mission to dissuade Henri IV from making peace with Spain; and the next year they were with Essex in Ireland, where another brother had recently been killed.15 Not long after, Sir Alexander was slain with Sir Conyers Clifford† in the Curlew mountains,16 whereupon Essex wrote to the Queen:

If Your Majesty be not gracious to poor Jack Radcliffe in bestowing his wardship upon him, he that is heir to a brave race and hath lost his two elder brothers in your Majesty’s service is utterly undone. His last worthy brother ... hath so impaired the estate that without your Majesty’s goodness it is irrecoverable.17

Elizabeth was likely to have been receptive to this plea, since Sir Alexander’s twin sister Margaret, who died of grief later in the year, was her favourite maid of honour;18 but in fact Essex took matters into his own hands by knighting Radcliffe only seven weeks after he had succeeded to extensive estates in five counties.19

In around 1606 financial troubles forced Radcliffe to sell some of his lands, including Sandbach in Cheshire, to (Sir) Ranulphe Crewe*.20 At about the same time, Cecil (now earl of Salisbury) put diplomatic pressure on the States to enable Radcliffe, whose two remaining brothers had died of camp-fever in the Low Countries, to buy a commission under Prince Maurice.21 During the frequent truces he pursued his ‘many occasions of law business’ in England, and invested in the Virginia Company.22 Lord Chandos (Grey Brydges†), who had married the coheir of the 5th earl of Derby, quartered with Radcliffe at the siege of Jülich in 1610, after which they proceeded to Paris.23 With the backing of Sir Thomas Overbury, Radcliffe hoped to succeed Sir Edward Cecil* as governor of Brill in 1612, but in the event lost out to Sir Horace Vere.24

Radcliffe was elected for Tewkesbury on Chandos’ interest in 1614, and was named to committees for the bills to naturalize Sir Horace Vere’s children (17 May) and satisfy the creditors of Sir Robert Wroth II* (25 May).25 He was back on active service by 4 Sept., writing to William Trumbull* in Brussels from Maurice’s camp in the Rhineland.26 He returned to England for the winter, and on 19 Feb. 1615 was among those ordered to survey buildings erected near the Tower moat.27 Later in the year his troop was transferred to Sir Robert Carey*. He was sufficiently well-known in London society to figure in Jonson’s Epigrams, published in the following year, and to be a pall-bearer at Queen Anne’s funeral.28

Having put away his wife on account of her adultery with a neighbour, Radcliffe assumed sole responsibility for his children’s marriages, with indifferent success.29 By paying half of his eldest daughter’s portion of £1,000 in advance, he believed that he had secured for her the hand of an elderly widower, Sir John Ferrers*; but he lost his money when she changed her mind and, aided by the countess of Huntingdon, with whom she was living, instead married Sir John Stanhope II*.30 No disastrous consequences, except perhaps financial, attended the marriage arranged for his heir (Sir) Alexander*, with the illegitimate daughter of the 5th earl of Sussex. On the contrary, the match probably attached him to Buckingham’s clientage.

Radcliffe sat for Lancashire in the next three parliaments with the backing of William, 6th earl of Derby, who also recommended him as a deputy lieutenant, though he never took up the latter office.31 In 1621 he was named to consider bills for Sir Francis Hollyngham’s estates (8 May) and to regulate perpetuanas (12 May), and on 3 Dec. he was ordered to attend the informers bill conference with the Lords.32 Before the next Parliament Radcliffe resumed his military career, as a false rumour of his death in the Low Countries in January 1624 caused his 17 year-old heir’s patrons the earls of Sussex and Pembroke to petition the Court of Wards for livery of his lands.33 During the 1624 assembly he was appointed to bill committees to change the trustees of the Catholic Viscount Montagu (5 Apr.) and to naturalize three Scotsmen, Sir William Anstruther, Walter Balcanquall, and Patrick Abercromby (4 May).34 On 27 Apr. he presented Lord Morley, Sir Thomas Gerrard, 2nd bt.*, and five other officeholders in Lancashire as known or suspected papists.35 When the 18th earl of Oxford assumed command of the English volunteers to aid the Palatinate on 10 June 1624, he proposed to retain Radcliffe as a captain of foot. Radcliffe was promoted to lieutenant-colonel before returning to England for the first Parliament of Charles’s reign.36 He was named to no committees in 1625, but attended the first of two meetings concerning the Macclesfield tenants’ bill on 23 June with his fellow knight of the shire, Sir Richard Molyneux II.37

At the general election of 1626 Radcliffe yielded the representation of Lancashire to Derby’s younger son Sir Robert Stanley, and found himself a seat at Tavistock through Chandos’ distant relation Sir Francis Russell*. He took no known part in the second Caroline Parliament. Radcliffe was given a regiment for the expedition to La Rochelle under Buckingham’s command in the following year, but died intestate in the rout at the embarkation from the Ile de Ré on 5 Nov. 1627.38 His widow renounced administration, which, during his son’s minority, was granted to a cousin and creditor, William Radcliffe of Foxdenton.39 On 2 Aug. 1628 the latter complained to Buckingham that he had been hauled out of his house by a sheriff’s posse and imprisoned in the county gaol until he paid a debt of Radcliffe’s for which he had stood surety.40 Sued in the Exchequer for other debts, William claimed over £450 in back pay due for service in the Low Countries and Cadiz; but £68 was stopped for the benefit of a poor widow to whom Radcliffe had been indebted for many years before his decease.41 Radcliffe’s estranged wife returned to Nottinghamshire during her long widowhood, and in a final gesture of alienation from her royalist kin made the regicide John Hutchinson† her executor and universal legatee. Sir Alexander Radcliffe sat for Lancashire in 1628.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. DL7/17/35.
  • 2. Lancs. and Cheshire Wills (Chetham Soc. li), 68.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 22.
  • 4. C.P. Hampson, Bk. of the Radclyffes, 163-4.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 98.
  • 6. DL7/25/6.
  • 7. F.J.G. ten Raa and F. de Bas, Het Staatsche Leger, ii. 125; iii. 154.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 272.
  • 9. APC, 1627, p. 189; 1627-8, p. 15.
  • 10. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 13, 43, 332.
  • 11. APC, 1615-16, p. 54.
  • 12. Lancs. RO, QSC5.
  • 13. C193/12/2, f. 29v.
  • 14. VCH Lancs. iv. 210, 212.
  • 15. Lancs. and Cheshire Fun. Certs. (Chetham Soc. lxxv), 35-37.
  • 16. HMC Hatfield, ix. 343.
  • 17. W.B. Devereux, Lives of the Earls of Essex, ii. 56.
  • 18. HMC 7th Rep. 525-6.
  • 19. Manchester Court Leet Recs. ed. J.P. Earwaker, ii. 153.
  • 20. G. Ormerod, Hist. Cheshire, i. 418; iii. 97.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 155; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 46.
  • 22. HMC Buccleuch, i. 64, 67, 69.
  • 23. J.W. Stoye, Eng. Travellers Abroad, 32; HMC Downshire, ii. 400; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 219.
  • 24. HMC Buccleuch, i. 116, 118.
  • 25. CJ, i. 487b, 496a.
  • 26. HMC Downshire, v. 6.
  • 27. APC, 1615-16, p. 54.
  • 28. B. Jonson, Poems ed. I. Donaldson, p. 49; LC2/5, f. 32.
  • 29. Hampson, 162-3.
  • 30. C2/Jas.I/R10/62.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 405.
  • 32. CJ, i. 615a, 619a, 654b.
  • 33. WARD 10/24, unfol.
  • 34. CJ, i. 755a, 783b.
  • 35. Ibid. 776a.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 272; Harl. 3638, f. 125.
  • 37. C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 227.
  • 38. VCH Lancs. iv. 212-3; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 290.
  • 39. PROB 6/13, f. 5.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 243.
  • 41. Ibid. 1629-31, pp. 432, 460, 504; APC, 1629-30, pp. 70-1.