Sir Richard SOUTHWELL, Knight

Born: ABT 1518, Windham Manor, Norfolk, England

Died: 1564

Father: Francis SOUTHWELL

Mother: Dorothy TENDRING

Married 1: Thomasine DARCY 1540, Danbury, Essex, England


1. Elizabeth SOUTHWELL

Married 2: Mary DARCY ABT 1543, Danbury, Essex, England


2. Dorothy SOUTHWELL


4. Richard SOUTHWELL (Sir Knight)


6. Catherine SOUTHWELL

Sir Richard Southwell

by Hans Holbein, the Younger, 1536

Oil on Wood

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born ABT 1518/9, first son of Francis Southwell by Dorothy, dau. and coheiress of William Tendring of Little Birch, Essex; brother of Francis and Robert. Educ. L. Inn, adm. 3 Feb 1526. Married first Thomasine, dau. of Roger Darcy of Danbury, Essex; and secondly Mary, dau. of Thomas Darcy of Danbury, widow of Robert Leeche of Norwich. Succeeded family 2 Sep 1512; uncle 30 Mar 1514. Kntd. Feb/Aug 1540. J.p. Norf. 1531-54; sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 1534-5; receiver, ct. augmentations, Norf. and Suff. 24 Apr 1536-17 Jan 1542; commr. for survey of monasteries, Norf. and Suff. 1537, for suppression 1539, of Admiralty in Nov 1547, relief, Norf. and Norwich 1550; other commissions from 1535; custos rot. Norf. by Feb 1537; gen. surveyor, office of gen. surveyors by Feb 1542; second gen. surveyor, ct. gen. surveyors of the King's lands 16 Nov 1542-7; v.-treasurer of the wars Jul 1544, treasurer Aug 1544; PC 12 Mar 1547, Aug 1553-Nov 1558; steward, duchy of Lancaster, Cambs., Norf. and Suff. 1553-58/59; keeper of the armoury, Greenwich and Tower 19 Sep 1553-31 Jul 1559; master, the Ordnance 11 May 1554-31 Jul 1559.

Of Suffolk origin, the Southwells acquired Wood Rising through the marriage of Richard Southwell's grandfather and namesake, Member for Yarmouth in 1455. His father, an auditor of the Exchequer, was a younger son, but on the death of his uncle Sir Robert Southwell, a friend and servant of Henry VII, Southwell succeeded to a considerable estate. Early in 1515 his wardship was sold to Sir Robert's widow, Ursula Bohun, and William Wotton, but four years later it passed to Sir Thomas Wyndham who presumably arranged the marriage of his ward to his stepdaughter, a sister of Thomas Darcy, later 1st Baron Darcy of Chiche.

In the later part of this time of his wardship he lived with the family of his cousin, Henry Howard. In 1534 and 1535, through the influence of the Howards, Sir Richard served as Sheriff of Norfolk. Nothing further is known of Southwell's education and upbringing until his entry into Lincoln's Inn, where he retained chambers as late as 1545, when already of age, but his family had long been clients of the dukes of Norfolk and it is possible that he was brought up in the ducal household. He seems to have been well educated for when put in charge of Cromwell's son he is said to have personally instructed the young man in pronunciation and etymology.
Southwell was placed on the commission of the peace in 1531 but in the same year he was involved with two of his brothers in the murder of Sir William Pennington and in 1532 he was obliged to pay £1,000 for a pardon which was later confirmedby Act of Parliament (25 Hen. VIII, c.32). Cromwell seems to have helped Southwell in this affair and by 1535 he was one of the minister's trusted agents in East Anglia. It was to Cromwell's patronage that Southwell and his younger brother Robert owed their advancement in augmentations. Southwell was particularly active in the Dissolution, although his conservative sympathies appear in his appeal of Mar 1536 on behalf of Pentney priory. During the Pilgrimage of Grace the Earl of Surrey reported to his father the 3rd Duke of Norfolk that he had taken counsel from ‘my friend Mr. Southwell’ in the raising of forces in Norfolk.

Southwell's career in the Commons may have begun with the Parliament of 1536, when he would have been a likely successor to Sir James Boleyn as one of the knights for Norfolk if the disgrace of Anne Boleyn had involved her uncle's exclusion from the King's general request for the re-election of the previous Members. At the next election Southwell and Edmund Wyndham were returned for the shire on the strength of a royal nomination, although not without a challenge from Sir Edmund Knyvett; the resulting quarrel brought both Knyvett and Southwell before the Star Chamber and led Southwell to complain to Cromwell at being made to suffer for doing his duty to the King. In the event both men seem to have been consoled, Knyvett by being pricked sheriff in 1539 and Southwell by his knighthood. The damaged state of the return for Norfolk in 1542 leaves one of the names illegible, but as Southwell was a signatory of the Act for an exchange of lands between the King and the Duke of Norfolk he was probably the knight concerned; if so, he again sat with his younger brother Robert, returned for Surrey and knighted at the opening of the Parliament, as he had done in 1539 and perhaps in 1536. After the close of the first session Southwell was sent to view the fortifications of Berwick and his appointment to an embassy to Scotland in Jan 1543 probably made him miss at least part of the second session. Neither brother is known to have sat in Henry VIII's last Parliament, although one or both may have done so for a borough whose Members’ names are lost; that Richard Southwell was passed over for Norfolk could have reflected the county's desire for a change.

Between the close of Henry VIII's reign and the accession of Mary, Southwell's propensity for time-serving brought him little reward. His part in the destruction of the Earl of Surrey may have owed something to the personal friction between them during their service at Boulogne, but it was essentially a move to ingratiate himself with the King and the rising house of Seymour, to which he was related by marriage. Named by Henry one of the assistants to the executors of his will, Southwell was brought on to the Privy Council by the Protector Somerset on 12 Mar 1547. As a Catholic and a sheepmaster, however, he had little sympathy with the Protector's religious and social policies: by Jul 1548 he had been put off the full Council, being bracketed with the ‘assistants’, and in the following year he joined other conservatives in an alliance with the Earl of Warwick to overthrow the Protector. Southwell did not long maintain his restored position and when Warwick turned on the conservative party he was committed to the Tower and fined £500 ‘for certain bills of sedition written with his hand’. He sat in neither of Edward VI's Parliaments but as a Privy Councillor he signed Acts for the restitution of Sir William Hussey and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset during the third session of the Parliament of 1547.

Southwell also signed the device for the succession of King Edward, who gave the crown to Jane Grey and his name appears on a list thought to be of those expected to support her, but in the event he rallied to Mary who gave him charge of her armoury and restored him to the Privy Council.

He attended its sittings regularly until Dec 1555 after which he seems to have retired into Norfolk until early in 1557 when he resumed attendance. A supporter of Bishop Gardiner, he was described by Renard as the prime mover of the plan to marry the Queen to the Earl of Devon, and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was to recall at his trial hearing Southwell (one of his judges) speak against the Spanish marriage in the Commons. He was returned for Norfolk to the first three Parliaments of the reign, taking precedence over his fellow-Councillors Sir Henry Bedingfield and Sir John Shelton. As a Councillor, it was probably he rather than his younger brother who was the ‘Sir R. Southwell’ appointed to the committee to determine whether John Foster and Alexander Nowell were eligible to sit in the Parliament of Oct 1553 and to whom on 28 Nov 1553 the bill for the confirmation of letters patent was committed on its second reading. A year later, on 26 Nov, the bill for seditious rumours was committed to him and at about the same time, when the Queen was supposedly pregnant, he is said to have burst out in the Lords:

‘Tush, my masters, what talk ye of these matters? I would have you take some order for our young master that is now coming into the world apace, lest he find us unprovided’.

He carried two bills to the Lords on 17 Dec 1554. His subsequent disappearance from the Commons may have been due to ill health or to a loss of favour at court or of influence in his shire, where both the knights in 1555 were men of Protestant sympathies.

Southwell was not reappointed to the Privy Council on the accession of Elizabeth and in Jul 1559 he surrendered his offices in exchange for an annuity of £165. He had added considerably to his inheritance, making full use of his opportunities as a surveyor and receiver, and by 1546 held over 30 manors in Norfolk alone.

The succession to his property was complicated since Sir Richard was to father two children by Mary Darcy, while still married to Thomasine Darcy, her aunt, and while she was married to the Norwich alderman Robert Leeche. It was not an uncommon practice for men of power to keep a mistress, and Sir Richard was a man of power. If Sir Richard was a friend of Henry VIII, renown for his philandering ways, we can presume they may have had similar ideas. Sir Richard, did, however, marry Mary following the death of his first wife. This is suggestive that the first marriage was an arranged, loveless union, and that he and Mary were in love.  Following their marriage the couple had at least three more children.

The heir male was thus Thomas, son of Sir Robert Southwell. Southwell had settled lands on his elder son Sir Richard, as early as 1545 and in his will of 24 Jul 1561 he made no distinction between his children on the score of legitimacy. The only child of his first marriage, Elizabeth, was married to George Heneage and the only child born after his second, Catherine, was then the wife of Thomas Audley of Berechurch, Essex. Southwell bequeathed over 10,000 sheep to members of his family and left his personal armour to his ‘cousin and friend’ Sir Henry Bedingfield and other armour to the young 4th Duke of Norfolk, whom he named an executor: despite his betrayal of Surrey the 3rd Duke had appointed Southwell an executor of his will of 1554. Although he had not had the strength to sign his name in 1561, Southwell survived until 11 Jan 1564 and his will, to which he had added a codicil on the day of his death, was proved on 22 Jun by Norfolk, Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Francis Gawdy. Several portraits of Southwell survive.

It appears by the account of Ambrose Jermyn, Esq. in the 37th of Henry VIII, that he was lord of the following manors: Woodrising, Cranworth, Butler's, or Boteteur's in Letton; Whinburgh cum membris; Westfield, Skoultom, Carbroke, Woodhall, Carbroke Magna, or the preceptory manor, with the impropriate rectory, &c. Saham Toney, Insoken, and Outsoken, Cressingham Parva, Tottington, Campsey, and Mortimer's, Thexton, Morton cum Ringland, Kypton in Wesenham, West Rudham, Tofts, Bircham, Burnham, Lexham's, Geyton, Brancaster, Burnham Thorp, alias Wymondham's, Horsham, and Walsoken, Popinhoe in Norfolk.


N. Williams, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies
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