Sir Robert TYRWHITT of Leighton, Knight

Born: ABT 1500, Kettelby, Lincolnshire, England

Died: 10 May 1572, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire, England

Father: Robert TYRWHITT of Kettelby (Sir Knight)

Mother: Maud TALBOYS

Married 1: Bridget WILTSHIRE (dau. and heiress of Sir John Wiltshire of Stone Castle and Isabella Clothall) (w.1 of Sir Richard Wingfield of Kimbolton - w.2 of Sir Nicholas Harvey of Ickworth)

¿Married 2: Elizabeth BOROUGH?

Married 3: Elizabeth OXENBRIDGE (b. 1519 - d. Apr 1578) (dau. of Goddard Oxenbridge and Anne Fiennes) 4 Aug 1539


1. Catherine TYRWHITT



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

Second son of Sir William Tyrwhitt, and brother of Phillip. Married firstly Bridget, dau. and heiress of Sir John Wiltshire of Stone Castle, Kent, widow of Sir Richard Wingfield of Kimbolton, and of Sir Nicholas Harvey of Ickworth (d. 1532), lady of the bedchamber to Queen Anne Boleyn; and secondly, by 1540, Elizabeth, dau. of Sir Goddard Oxenbridge of Brede (b. 1465- d. 10 Feb 1531) and his second wife, Anne Fiennes. Kntd. 1543. Esquire of the body by 1525; chamberlain, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. 13 Sep 1525; j.p. Hunts. 1536, 1544, 1554-d., Lincs. (Lindsey) 1538, Northants. 1554, Beds. 1558/59-d.; keeper, manor of Dytton, Bucks. 1536; sheriff, Lincs. 1540-1, Cambs. and Hunts. 1557-8; master of the hunt, Mortlake, Surr. 1540; gent. the privy chamber by 1540; commr. ordnance 1541, 1553, benevolence, Surr. 1544/45, relief, Hunts., Northants. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Hunts. 1553, subsidy, Hunts. 1563, eccles. causes, dioceses of Lincoln and Peterborough 1571; servant, household of Queen Catherine Parr Jul 1543-8, master of the horse by 1544, steward by 1547; constable, Kimbolton castle, Hunts. 1544; steward, duchy of  Lancaster, Higham Ferrers, Northants. by 1546; steward, unknown property for Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley by 1548; jt. (with Thomas Audley) ld. lt. Hunts. in 1551; numerous other minor offices.

Of old Lincolnshire stock, Robert Tyrwhitt inherited a tradition of service to the crown: his grandfather had been a knight of the body and his father, who received his knighthood at Tournai, was an outstanding figure in his shire. Through his grand-mother Tyrwhitt could claim to be linked by marriage with Henry VIII's mistress Elizabeth Blount and their son the Duke of Richmond.

Tyrwhitt was brought up at court. An esquire of the body by 1525, he was an early and large recipient of monastic lands, especially in his own shire: between 1536 and 1547 he acquired some two dozen grants and leases from the augmentations. His first acquisition had been the dissolved monastery of Stainfield in Lincolnshire, which was suppressed on the orders of the King despite a recent decision in favour of its exemption. It was such episodes which provoked the Lincolnshire rebellion. Tyrwhitt's father was one of the subsidy commissioners first attacked by the rebels, and as soon as news reached the court he himself was despatched with orders for John Hussey, Lord Hussey. His part in the suppression of the rebellion and of the Pilgrimage of Grace is scarcely to be disentangled from that of his many namesakes. The dissolution of Stainfield was promptly carried through, and after leasing them in 1537 Tyrwhitt was granted the house, site and 662 acres of land in fee in the following year.
In 1536 Bardney Abbey was threatened with closure and forfeiture of all assets by King Henry VIII, a fate to be met by all the abbeys and priories in the country around this time. Six monks from Bardney, implicated in the rebellion, were hanged, drawn and quartered at Lincoln in Mar 1537. After the Lincolnshire Rising, the monastery surrendered to the King and was dissolved in 1538. Following the Dissolution the land was acquired by Sir Robert Tyrwhitt. He demolished the church and used the stone to convert the other monastic buildings into a fine house for himself and his family. He moved into the abbot's lodgings and converted the cloister into a walled garden. The rest, he left to fall into ruin.

By 1540 Tyrwhitt's advance at court saw him promoted to be a gentleman of the privy chamber and acting vice-chamberlain on the King's side. He survived a rebuke by the Privy Council in Sep 1540 for being one of those guilty of causing a disturbance in the presence chamber, and he was given custody of several royal properties previously under Cromwell's charge. In 1542 he obtained, jointly with Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland, a grant of the priory of Belvoir, and also of Egle in Lincolnshire, which had been a commandery of the Knights Templars, who had it of the grant of well Haughe, King Stephen; and from whom it had passed to the Hospitalars.

The Manor of Wyken was acquired by William Wightman after the Dissolution of the monasteries. From the ancient records it would appear that a substantial portion, if not the whole, was tenanted for some time before the purchase, by William Wightman and his ancestors. It is recorded that on 12 May 1543, a Licence was granted to Edward Fiennes, Lord Clinton, and Robert Tyrwhitt, to alienate 2 messuages and lands in Wyken, Co., Leicester, in the tenures of Wyghtman and Robert Byrehley to the said William and the heirs of his body.

Among the royal properties given to him, was the house at Mortlake, Surrey, where he and his wife were later to reside. His late wife was Elizabeth Oxenbridge was the daughter of Goddard Oxenbridge of Brede. She was at court in the household of Queen Jane Seymour in 1537 and after the Queen's death resided with Mary Arundell, Countess of Sussex. She played an active role in attempting to place one of her sisters, Mary Oxenbridge, in the Calais household of Honor Grenville, Viscountess Lisle. Mary thwarted the plan by eloping with a gentleman from Kent. Elizabeth was married to Sir Robert Tyrwhitt of Leighton Bromswold by 4 Aug 1539, when she and several other gentlewomen wrote a letter to King Henry from Portsmouth, where they had gone to view the royal fleet. She signed it "Elizabeth Tyrwhyt". When Catherine Howard became Queen, Elizabeth was a gentlewoman of the privy chamber and during Anne Parr Herbert’s absence from court to have a child, temporarily took over her duties as keeper of the Queen’s jewels. She was also a lady of the privy chamber to Catherine Parr and shared the Queen’s views on religion. She bore at least three children, two who died young and a daughter, Catherine, who married Sir Henry Darcy.

Tyrwhitt position was greatly strengthened when his cousin by marriage became Henry VIII's last Queen: it was about this time that he was knighted and by 1544 he was Catherine's master of the horse. Some sources says that his wife was a daughter of Catherine first husband Lord Borough, so it's possible that he had had as second wife Elizabeth Borough. In that year he had charge of the transportation of ordnance for the campaign in France, where he served with Sir Edward Bayntun who remembered him with a legacy. Tyrwhitt was himself an executor of the will which John Hasilwood made early in the same year.

Tyrwhitt was elected first knight for Lincolnshire to the Parliament of 1545, being styled ‘junior’ on the return to distinguish him from his father who was to die in 1548. His father had probably preceded him in the House, being one of three Lincolnshire men suggested in 1532 or 1533 to fill two vacancies there and one of the two apparently preferred by Cromwell. It was, however, in Huntingdonshire that Tyrwhitt was to settle. In 1548 he bought Leighton Bromswold, a prebendal manor of Lincoln cathedral, with 2,400 acres of land, pasture and marsh, and thereafter he added further property in Huntingdonshire while disposing of much of his monastic land in Lincolnshire and elsewhere; thus in 1550 he sold part of the Thornton college property to his nephew, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, and five years later bought over 5,000 acres at Woodwalton, Huntingdonshire. When in 1553 he was sued by some of his tenants for enclosing he agreed to their demand, saying that ‘as he was a true Christian man and knight’, he would ‘help to pluck up [the hedges] with his own hands’. He was also the defendant in property disputes before the Star Chamber and the court of the duchy of Lancaster.

Tyrwhitt and his wife remained in attendance on Catherine Parr after the death of Henry VIII and so became involved with her new husband Thomas Seymour. Lady Tyrwhitt witnessed Seymour's neglect of Catherine during the last year of her life, and after her death told the story to the Privy Council. Thus in Jan 1549 the Council, alarmed at Seymour's wooing of Princess Elizabeth, sent the Tyrwhitts to Hatfield as overseers to the Princess in place of Catherine Ashley and Thomas Parry, who were suspected of promoting Seymour's cause. At the Council's direction Tyrwhitt questioned Elizabeth about Seymour while Lady Tyrwhitt plied her with ‘good advices ... especially in such matters as [the Council] appointed’.

Tyrwhitt had a keen mind and one well trained to cope with any other's wit in this sort of cross-examination. Elizabeth was only a girl of fifteen, yet she was a match for the accomplished courtier in diplomacy and quick retort. He was sent down to worm out of her everything that she knew. Threats and flattery and forged letters and false confessions were tried on her; but they were tried in vain. She would tell nothing of importance. She denied everything. She sulked, she cried, she availed herself of a woman's favorite defense in suddenly attacking those who had attacked her. She brought counter charges against Tyrwhitt, and put her enemies on their own defense. Not a compromising word could they wring out of her.

She bitterly complained of the imprisonment of her governess, Mrs. Ashley, and cried out: "I have not so behaved that you need put more mistresses upon me!"

Altogether, she was too much for Sir Robert, and he was wise enough to recognize her cleverness: "She hath a very good wit", said he, shrewdly; "and nothing is to be gotten of her except by great policy". And he added: "If I had to say my fancy, I think it more meet that she should have two governesses than one".

After the two servants of the Princess had been examined and had told nothing very serious they found that they had been wise in remaining friends of the royal girl. No sooner had Elizabeth become Queen than she knighted the man Parry and made him treasurer of the household, while Mrs. Ashley, the governess, was treated with great consideration. Thus, very naturally, they had probably kept back far more than they told. Even Tyrwhitt believed that there was a secret compact between them, for he said, quaintly: "They all sing one song, and she hath set the note for them".

Although the Tyrwhitts treated her gently Elizabeth never forgave them their part in the affair. Lady Tyrwhitt was a devout woman of Puritan tendencies who may have been unwelcome to the young Princess on several grounds. Her husband once told Thomas Seymour that she was ‘not sane [sound] in divinity, but she was half a Scripture woman’.
When Elizabeth was in the Tower, Lady Tyrwhitt sent her a copy of the book of prayers later printed as 'Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhitt’s Morning and Evening Prayers' (1574). In 1577, the Puritan printer John Field dedicated his translation of Jean de L'Espine's “Excellent treatise of Christian righteousness” to Lady Tyrwhitt.

Shortly after the interlude at Hatfield House, Tyrwhitt was appointed joint lord lieutenant of Huntingdonshire. He may have been elected senior knight for Huntingdonshire in the Parliament of Mar 1553. The original return is torn and the name of the senior knight lost, but the circumstances point to his election. Since 1544 he had controlled the wardship of Kimbolton, the traditional stronghold of electoral power in the county, and after his purchase of Leighton Bromswold in 1548 he was a leading landowner; he was one of the lords lieutenant and there was no one of his stature to oppose him; and lastly, his co-lieutenant Audley took the junior seat and his client Simon Throckmorton heads the list of electors on the indenture.

It is not known what part Tyrwhitt played in the succession crisis of Jul 1553, but at the end of that year he and Audley took the field against the rebels in Kent, presumably in their capacity as lieutenants, although only Audley, a soldier by profession, was given a reward. Although Sir Robert continued as master of horse under Mary Tudor, his wife Elizabeth seems to have stayed at home. Tyrwhitt sat in only one of Mary's Parliaments, that of Apr 1554. He may have thought it prudent not to court embarrassment. When in Easter term 1555 his brother Phillip Tyrwhitt was informed against in the King's bench for having left Parliament without leave, Tyrwhitt stood surety for him. In the following year Tyrwhitt's lease of Mortlake was revoked by the crown and the house was handed over to Cardinal Pole. The shrievalty which he began in Nov 1557 could have been intended both to discipline him and perhaps to make it difficult for him to sit in the Parliament which was summoned immediately afterwards.

The accession of Elizabeth did not herald Tyrwhitt's return to favour by reason of the Queen's grudge against him. After sitting in her first Parliament he led a retired life at Leighton Bromswold, where he died on 10 May 1572. Sir Robert's will in 1572 left the bulk of his estate to his "deare and wellbeloved wife". Some genealogies give her a second husband, Roger Fynes. Elizabeth died in her home in St. John's Lane, Clerkenwell.
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