KILLIGREW, Sir William (1606-95), of Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



9 Apr. 1664

Family and Education

bap. 28 May 1606, 1st s. of Sir Robert Killigrew of Kempton Park, Sunbury, Mdx. by Mary, da. of Sir Henry Woodhouse of Hickling, Norf. educ. St. John’s Oxf. 1623, travelled abroad c.1626-8. m. c.1625, Mary, da. of John Hill of Honiley, Warws., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. Kntd. 12 May 1626; suc. fa. 1633.1

Offices Held

Col. W. Cornw. militia ?1628-35; commr. for recusants, Yorks. (W. Riding) 1675.2

Gov. Pendennis Castle 1633-5; capt. of horse gds. (royalist) 1642.3

Gent. usher of the privy chamber by 1640-6, May 1660-2; v.-chamberlain to Queen Catherine of Braganza 1662-85.4


Killigrew’s grandfather, a younger son of the Arwennack family, served Elizabeth as groom of the privy chamber, and his father was vice-chamberlain to Henrietta Maria. Killigrew himself, ‘a person of much honesty and very good ability’, has to be distinguished from the younger brother of Sir Peter Killigrew, a professional soldier who after long service in the Danish and Dutch armies was created a baronet at the Restoration, and commanded the Duke of York’s regiment till his death in 1665. A courtier like so many of his family, Killigrew exhausted his resources in an attempt to drain the Lindsey level for the Earl of Lindsey in partnership with Robert Long and others. After a riot in 1641 he was never able to regain possession of his property there. During the Civil War he commanded the servants’ troop of the royal bodyguard. He compounded for his delinquency in 1649 on the Oxford articles with the nominal fine of £3 6s.8d. After his sale of Kempton Park in 1651 he wrote: ‘my wants do drive me live wherever I am welcome’, and he had to live apart from his wife after 30 years of marriage with ‘never one discontent or anger between us’. The republican general John Lambert sheltered him from his creditors on the former crown property at Nonsuch, and another Yorkshire officer, Adam Baynes, though an entire stranger, contributed to his relief. In April 1660 he advised Charles II to accept the ‘golden fetters’ of a restoration on terms.5

Killigrew’s brother Thomas, who had lived in exile throughout the Interregnum, became manager of Drury Lane under patent when the theatres reopened, and Killigrew himself enjoyed some success as a playwright. He regained his position at Court, and petitioned the Lords for reinstatement in his Lincolnshire estate. He was recommended for Penryn by the Duke of York at the general election of 1661, but without effect. On the King’s marriage he was appointed to the post held by his father under Charles I, and his wife also became one of the Queen’s servants. Their combined salary was £800 p.a., but off-duty life at Whitehall may not have been altogether congenial to a respectable middle-aged couple, and they appear to have resided with another brother, Henry, who was a canon of Westminster. In 1663 two rival bills for drainage of the Lindsey level were introduced in the Commons, which on 6 May resolved in Killigrew’s favour. But the judicial clauses gave trouble, and the bill foundered in committee. Killigrew may have acquired some acquaintance in Yorkshire through his benefactors Lambert and Baynes; but it was probably on the Wandesford interest that he was returned for Richmond at a by-election in 1664. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 53 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in eight sessions, and made five speeches. The bulk of his parliamentary activity was directed towards the regaining of his rights in the Lindsey level, with the support of the 3rd Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie I). He served on committees for settling reclaimed marshlands in both sessions of 1664, and acted as teller against the bill on 18 Feb. 1665. He was named to the committee for Falmouth church, built by his cousin, on 9 May. He first brought in his own Lindsey level bill on 28 Nov. 1666, and a week later it was ordered to be read ‘the first bill after his Majesty’s business is dispatched’, but it made no progress this session. One of the few items of constituency interest in which Killigrew is known to have concerned himself was the bill to enable the bishop of Durham to lease certain lead mines to Humphrey Wharton for three lives.6

Killigrew displayed little interest in the proceedings against Clarendon. On 14 Nov. 1667 ’an ancient bill was revived and brought in for the draining of the Lindsey level, ... mainly opposed by Sir Robert Carr, and as stoutly maintained by Sir William Killigrew and others; it was laid aside for the present‘, but given a first reading on the following Saturday, and committed on 28 Nov., though adverse comment was aroused by the reservation of 114,000 acres for Killigrew and his partner, Sir Henry Heron of Cressey Hall. After the Christmas recess Killigrew was added to the committee to report on business depending, and five days later the House resolved to agree with the committee to hear the matter the following week. On 28 Mar. 1668 Carr secured a fortnight’s adjournment in a thin House on the Speaker’s casting vote, but Killigrew succeeded in reducing this to ten days after ‘a great stir and stiff debate about it’. However the need to hear the evidence at the bar of the House retarded progress. He was named to the committee to receive information about seditious conventicles in 1669, and again served on the committee for bills depending on this and the following sessions. His bill was again committed on 1 Mar. 1670, but with both Killigrew and Carr serving on the committee it is hardly surprising that it was never reported. Killigrew and his partners succeeded in buying up their opponents’ counsel, a breach of professional etiquette which the House refused to consider a disqualification. On 21 Feb. 1671 it was resolved to give a month’s notice to possible objectors through the high constables of four wapentakes and the incumbents of 21 parishes. Hearings began promptly, and on 27 Mar. all parties and persons were discharged from further attendance. Nothing more was heard of the bill, though Killigrew was included on both lists of government supporters as a court dependant.7

Killigrew was again given leave to bring in a bill for settling Lindsey level on 11 Feb. 1673, but it advanced no further than first reading. Its prospects were scarcely enhanced by his speech against the test bill, though it must have been recognized that he spoke of the Queen’s household only as in duty bound. ‘You will bring in more Portuguese if the English Papists be turned out, and they will never understand one another how to serve the Queen’, he concluded, rather feebly. He was named on the Paston list in 1673-4 and the list of officials in 1675. Nevertheless, on 21 May he was appointed to his most important committee, on the bill to hinder Roman Catholics from sitting in Parliament. His perennial bill appeared again in the autumn session, and notice was again given to local objectors, but two days later Parliament was prorogued. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘thrice vile’ in 1677, but the Lindsey level bill made steady progress until it came up for hearing on 13 Mar. 1678, with a passionate statement of Killigrew’s wrongs printed and circulated to Members. Two days later a motion to hear counsel for the ‘country’ was defeated by 138 votes to 108, and the bill was killed by the prorogation of 13 May. Its indefatigable promoter sought leave to reintroduce it on the second day of the next session, which was granted by a mere nine votes on a division. It was read on 7 June, and the House resolved in favour of a second reading, but no date was fixed, and no more was heard of it. Killigrew was included in the government list of court supporters, and on 21 Nov. in the debate on excluding the Duke of York from the House of Lords he made his last and shortest speech. ‘I dread taking the Duke from the King’, he began, and burst into tears. In the closing days of the Parliament he was ordered, together with the officers of the green cloth, to prepare a list of Papists resident in the royal palaces.8

Although not blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, Killigrew is unlikely to have stood again. In 1684 he published anonymously The Artless Midnight Thoughts of a Gentleman at Court, in which he described himself as having ‘for many years built on sand, which every blast of cross fortune has defaced’; but now he had laid new foundations on the rock of his salvation. His continued interest in the Lincolnshire fens was, he assured (Sir) Stephen Fox, for the King’s benefit, not his own. In 1685 Killigrew and Heron, who had married Long’s great-grand-niece, petitioned the Commons and leave was once again given to bring in a bill for the draining of the Lindsey level. By now his importunity had become a standing joke in the House. ‘It used to be jestingly said: ’The session is not long-lived, for Sir William Killigrew’s bill is come in’.‘ On second reading it was rejected by a vast margin. Killigrew was buried in the Savoy Chapel, of which his brother Henry was master, on 17 Oct. 1695. Little seems to be known of his direct descendants, though his nephew Henry had become an admiral after the Restoration, and sat as a Tory under Queen Anne.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: P. A. Bolton / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 270; Wood, Athenae, iv. 691; Add. 21423, f. 193.
  • 2. Wood, iv. 691.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 31; 1635, p. 72; Clarendon, Rebellion, ii. 348; Merc. Aul. 14 July 1643.
  • 4. Wood, iv. 691; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 583.
  • 5. Boase and Courtney, Bibl. Cornub. 296-7; Carte, Ormond, vi. 305; F. J. G. ten Raa and F. de Bas, Het Staatsche Leger, iv. 242; v. 96, 481; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 35; W. H. Wheeler, Fens of S. Lincs. 142-3, 252-3; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1557-8; VCH Mdx. iii. 55; Add. 21423, ff. 80, 85; 21425, f. 173; Thurloe, vii. 888-90.
  • 6. DNB; HMC 7th Rep. 129, 130; Adm. 2/1745, f. 39; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 690, 691; CJ, viii. 477, 605, 652, 658; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 142.
  • 7. Milward, 128, 140, 238, 246, 254-5; CJ, ix. 20, 21, 27, 51, 70, 206-7, 222, 224; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 489.
  • 8. Grey, ii. 141; vi. 243; CJ, ix. 363, 381, 453, 455, 482, 490, 564; CSP Dom. 1678, pp. 142-5.
  • 9. Add. 51319, f. 61; CJ, ix. 725, 739; North, Lives, iii. 185.