Born: ABT 1520, Windham Manor, Norfolk, England

Died: 26 Oct 1559

Buried: Mereworth, Kent, England

Father: Francis SOUTHWELL

Mother: Dorothy TENDRING

Married: Margaret NEVILLE 1 May 1536, Mereworth, Kent, England



2. Francis SOUTHWELL (b. 14 Dec 1538)



5. Dorothy SOUTHWELL

6. Henry SOUTHWELL (b. 4 Sep 1543)


Second son of Francis Southwell by Dorothy, dau. and coh. of William Tendring of Little Birch, Essex; bro. of Francis and Richard. educ. M. Temple, called. Married 1535, Margaret, dau. and h. of Sir Thomas Neville of Mereworth, 4s. 3da. Kntd. 16 Jan. 1542.

Autumn reader, M. Temple 1540.Common serjeant, London 1535-6; solicitor, ct. augmentations 1536-7, attorney 1537-40; j.p. Kent, Norf. 1538-54, Surr. 1541-d., Suff. 1544- d., Suss. 1544-d., Essex 1547-54; Councillor 1540; master of requests 1540; master of rolls 1541-50; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1542, 1545 and 1547; various commissions, largely in Kent 1550-6; sheriff, Kent 1553-4.

Robert Southwell was still a boy when his father died and in 1517 or the following year his wardship was sold for £66 13s.4d. to Sir Robert Wingham; the wardship of his elder brother Richard, heir to a considerable fortune, had been secured by their aunt in 1515 for over £330.

He was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of King's Lynn in 1529, 1536 and 1539. He was knighted in 1537.

Early in 1535 Richard Southwell was acting as tutor to Gregory Cromwell and Robert was in Thomas Cromwell’s service. When the negotiation for Gregory Cromwell’s marriage to the only child of Sir Thomas Neville broke down it was Robert Southwell who with Cromwell’s approval secured the heiress. On 1 May 1536 he married Margaret Neville; she was then 15 and their first son was born in Dec 1535. The marriage brought Southwell the house called Jotes Place in Mereworth, Kent, which he made his chief residence after the death of his father-in-law in 1542. It was probably at Cromwell’s request that on 1 Jun 1535 King Henry VIII wrote to the mayor and aldermen of London asking for Southwell’s election as common serjeant, an office which the King declared him well suited to ‘both for his learning, discretion and other his good qualities’: he was elected on the following day. To Cromwell, too, he doubtless owed his entry to the House of Commons: on 15 Oct 1535 he was elected by the mayor and corporation of Lynn ‘in lieu and place of Richard Bewcher’. The town must have been well pleased to have his support in its suit to the crown for a new grant of liberties, and he was to be twice re-elected one of its Members.

In Apr 1536 Southwell entered the service of the crown, giving up his office in London to become solicitor of the court of augmentations. The financial loss which, as he told Cromwell, he suffered by this change he made the ground of his suit for the dissolved priory of Rochester. He also pointed out, this time to Ralph Sadler, that he now needed a London house, his living quarters in the Temple being a good mile from where the chancellor of augmentations was, with a consequent wastage of time every day in travelling: he coveted a little house formerly belonging to Elsingspittle priory, and as it was already let he offered £30 to redeem the lease, hoping at the cost of 100 marks to have it ready for himself and his wife before the winter. In Sep 1536 he joined his colleague Thomas Pope in support of charges of profiteering brought by Christopher Lascelles against Sir Richard Rich. Southwell’s duties were not confined to London: he undertook a number of tasks elsewhere, notably in surveying monasteries and taking their surrender. In Jul 1537 he was in Lancashire and in 1538 successively in Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Kent; in Nov 1538 he was commissioned to take surrenders in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, whence in Jan 1540 he moved into Worcestershire, finishing his business there on 27 Jan at Evesham.

Robert Southwell became a lawyer: there is no record of his admission to any inn of court but in 1547 he was described as late of the Middle Temple and he was undoubtedly the ‘Mr. Southwell’ who gave the autumn reading there in 1540. He served at the Court of Augmentations, making a fortune through speculation in former monastery lands. In 1543 he was granted the manor of Hoxne in Suffolk, which was later inherited by his son, Thomas. He temporarily controlled estates at Leveland, Ditton, West Peckham and Swanton Hall near Mereworth. Southwell supported his brother Richard in his rivalry with the Howards; after their fall Southwell was rewarded with lands in Badlesmere, Kent.

He gained "some influence" in Kent through his marriage connection. It was customary to have at least one high-ranking judge permanently living in Kent. Edmund Walsingham also increased his inheritance in Kent, notably by acquiring from Sir Robert Southwell the manors of Swanton Court, West Peckham and Yokes, all adjacent to the Scadbury estate.

Southwell surrendered his augmentations office in Mar 1540. A few days afterwards a warrant was delivered into Chancery for the payment to him of an annuity of £100 ‘for his office last given him’, with the further endorsement, ‘Mr. Robert Southwell to be admitted of the Council in Mr. Hare[’s] room with the fee of £100’. Southwell thus became a member of the King’s ‘Ordinary Council’ and replaced Sir Nicholas Hare as one of the masters of requests. Almost immediately he was sent up to the sessions in York to assist the president and council in the north. While he was away the death of Christopher Hales made vacant the mastership of the rolls, to which Southwell was appointed in Jul 1541; on surrendering his patent for this office in Dec 1550 he retired from regular government service. In Sep 1541 he and Sir John Baker were instructed to survey lands at Calais; on 3 Nov their report was read to the Council.

As master of the rolls Southwell received a writ of assistance to the Parliaments of 1542, 1545 and 1547, in all three of which he acted as a receiver of petitions in the Lords. In 1542 and 1547 (and probably in 1545, a Parliament for which the names are incomplete) he was also returned to the House of Commons. His knighthood of the shire for Surrey in 1542 he may have owed to his fellow-Member Sir Anthony Browne, with whom he could claim distant kinship through his wife, or to Henry Neville, fourth Baron Abergavenny, his wife’s first cousin: it was signalized by his being knighted by the King on the first day of the Parliament. During the third session he was joined by Sir John Baker and Sir Richard Rich in the delegation from the Commons to the Lords to ask for a conference on the King’s style. Southwell’s return in 1547 for Southampton, a town which normally confined its representation to residents, also presupposes powerful patronage, presumably that of his friend Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, and governor of the castle there. In the last session of this Parliament two bills, one concerning ‘affrays in churches or churchyards’ and the other for rearing calves, were committed to Southwell after their second reading in the Commons, and he was one of those nominated to investigate the legal situation governing the lands of the late Protector Somerset, bringing ‘copies and notes’ before the House on 12 Mar.

During his years in government service Southwell accumulated a considerable landed estate. Before 1540 he obtained large grants of monastic property in Kent, London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex, some of which he disposed of during the 1540s. In 1543 he paid over £1,500 for the lordship, manor and hundred of Hoxne, Suffolk, formerly owned by the bishop of Norwich. Other property which he acquired between 1544 and 1550, much of it for re-sale, included the manors of Chippenham and Rowden, Wiltshire, former monastic manors in Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, and two Essex manors by exchange with the crown.

Although Southwell resigned the mastership of the rolls in 1550 it was apparently not because of any dissension between him and the Edwardian regime. He continued to be named on local commissions and on 11 Nov 1551 the Privy Council wrote asking him to come up to court as quickly as he could ‘for such causes as wherein the King mindeth to use his service’. His election to the Parliament of Mar 1553 bespeaks official patronage, but he was no stranger to Westminster, where he had property in his wife’s right. If the Duke of Northumberland had a hand in Southwell’s return on this occasion he was supporting one who was to forsake him during the succession crisis a few months later. Sir Robert Southwell, like his fellow-Member Arthur Stourton, was to avoid implication in the succession crisis. Although Southwell witnessed the device vesting the succession in Jane Grey, he quickly gave his allegiance to Mary, signing the letter of 19 Jul in her support subscribed by a number of Kent gentry. The ‘Mr. Southwell’ to whom two bills had been committed in Mar 1553, one for tanning and the other for artificers, was probably Sir Robert rather than his nephew Richard Southwell alias Darcy, but the ‘Sir R. Southwell’ who was appointed to the committee to inquire into the eligibility for Membership of Alexander Nowell and John Foster in Oct 1553, and to whom a bill was committed in the following month, is more likely to have been his elder brother Richard, then a Privy Councillor.

In the first year of the reign of Queen Mary Southwell was appointed High Sheriff of Kent. According to Froude, he was a vocal opponent of the proposed Spanish marriage of Mary and Felipe II. This made him and his faithful in-law Henry Neville, Lord Abergavenny, valuable potential assets to Thomas Wyatt the younger and his conspiracy circle. Whether Southwell and Abergavenny would join the revolt remained uncertain until it broke out in earnest on 25 Jan 1554. According to D. M. Loades, Southwell remained unconditionally loyal to Mary. He was not aware of the rebel's council held at Allington Castle on 22 Jan, but had other signals of the brewing revolt and actively spied upon the rebel Henry Isley. On 24 Jan, one day before the revolt, Southwell and Abergavenny began recruitment of the loyalist forces, although with little success. Eastern Kent countryside, influenced by loyalist families, remained largely unaffected by Wyatt’s Rebellion, but the larger towns leaned to Wyatt. On 26 Jan Wyatt declared Southwell and Abergavenny "traitors to God, the Crown and the Commonwealth" for "stirring up the Queen's most loyal subjects of the realm".

On 25 Jan Abergavenny raised two thousand men and attacked rebel Henry Isley at Wrotham. Abergavenny's men prevailed over the rebels and then deserted to Wyatt's army. On 25 Jan Southwell reported to the Council in London that recruitment made only "some headway" and advised that the Queen must leave London for a safer place. By 27 Jan the loyalists's position improved, and their combined forces in Kent matched the numbers of Wyatt's force in Rochester, at around two thousand men on each side. However, the loyalists were scattered, and Wyatt could rely on additional forces held by the Isleys in nearby Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. Southwell and Abergavenny with six hundred men blocked the road from Tonbridge to Rochester to prevent consolidation of the rebels. On 27 Jan Southwell realised that the townsfolks stood for Wyatt and did not dare to engage the rebels. On the next day Henry Isley marched from Sevenoaks to Rochester. This time, Southwell was compelled to fight, and managed to defeat Isley's company at Wrotham, taking around sixty prisoners.

On the same 28 Jan Duke of Norfolk boldly led his unstable army into Kent. He did not notify Southwell and Abergavenny of his plans, and his forces deserted to Wyatt at the earliest convenience. After the defeat of Norfolk at Rochester Southwell fled to London. Wyatt marched to London himself with around three thousand men, but lost the initiative; Southwell and Thomas Cheney managed to raise another loyalist company in his rear. On 4 Feb Southwell and Abergavenny marched to Greenwich. Londoners rumoured that their force reached three thousand men (actual strength of the loyalists is unknown). Wyatt was cut off from his base in Kent, and could not count on reinforcements while the loyalists' forces gained strength every day.

By 7 Feb Wyatt's army disintegrated. Southwell was dispatched to mop up the rebels remaining in Kent and on 10 Feb set up his headquarters in Wyatt's Allington Castle. His men, supported by Earl of Pembroke's cavalry, tracked the rebels and soon filled the local jails to the point "that serious disruption was threatened to the life of the county". He interrogated the prisoners himself and reported their statements and his own opinions to Stephen Gardiner in London. He requested the formation of a special court for speedy handling of his prisoners. This court, the Kent Commission, was formed on 24 Feb. Of 230 prisoners indicted before the Kent Commission, only 42 were convicted. D. M. Loades wrote that the blunt of Marian justice mostly hit Londoners: 45 of 76 convicted Londoners were sentenced to death, compared to 30 out of 350 for the Kentish men. Southwell was obliged to execute the rebels convicted in London and sent to die in their home county. The first group of 18 men was executed on 18 Feb, followed by two on 24 Feb and eight (including the Isley brothers) on 28 Feb. More "transfers to Southwell" followed until the middle of Mar.

On 12 Feb, half an hour after Lady Jane's head had fallen in the straw, Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon was brought into the Tower of London, where soon afterwards he underwent five examinations by Sir Robert Southwell on behalf of the Council.

On the occasion of the marriage of Mary and Felipe II, Southwell was rewarded with a pension of five hundred pounds per annum.

For his ‘great expenses and labours’ in the Queen’s service during the rebellion he and his wife were granted the lordship of Aylesford in Kent and all its lands, except the site of the priory, forfeited by Wyatt on his attainder. Southwell nevertheless sued out a pardon for all treasons committed between 10 Jan and 1 Apr 1554, all heresies and murders, and all omissions in the performance of his duties as sheriff. The inclusion of heresy among the derelictions of which he might be accused probably means little: in Apr 1556 he was included in a commission to investigate cases of heresy in the diocese of Canterbury, although admittedly the fact that he had been given a similar commission by Edward VI argues some flexibility in his religious position.

Southwell was twice knight of the shire for Kent during the reign of Mary and in her last Parliament he sat for Preston, a borough belonging to the duchy of Lancaster; on this occasion his name is one of those missing from a copy of the Crown Office list. Whether he sought a place in Elizabeth’s first Parliament is not known but if so he did not obtain one. He died on 26 Oct 1559. Making his will on the previous 24 Aug, he bequeathed to his eldest son Thomas the goblet which Henry VIII, ‘mine old master’, had given him as his last New Year’s gift, and the manors of Chickering and Hoxne in Suffolk. He made provision for his younger sons and gave £500 each to his two unmarried daughters. His goshawk he left to Sir Henry Jerningham and rings to Sir Henry Bedingfield and Sir Edmund Wyndham. The executors were his eldest son Thomas, his brother Sir Richard and John Thruston of Hoxne, and the supervisors his wife and Sir Nicholas Bacon. Southwell was buried in Kent, presumably at Mereworth, on 8 Nov 1559: his widow married William Plumbe of Middlesex.


Miller, Helen:  SOUTHWELL, Robert (c.1506-59), of London and Mereworth, Kent.

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