Sir Thomas CORNWALLIS of Brome Hall

Born: 1518, Brome Hall Near Eye, Suffolk, England

Died: 24 Dec 1604

Father: John CORNWALLIS of Brome Hall (Sir)

Mother: Mary SULYARD

Married: Anne JERNINGHAM BEF 1540, Somerlaytown, Suffolk, England


1. William CORNWALLIS of Brome Hall (Sir Knight) (See his Biography)

2. Charles CORNWALLIS (Sir) (b. ABT 1547 - d. ABT 1610) (m.1 Elizabeth Farnham - m.2 Anne Barrow)

3. Elizabeth CORNWALLIS (b. 1547 - d. 12 Aug 1628) (m. Sir Thomas Kytson)

4. Anne CORNWALLIS (m. William Halse)

5. Alice CORNWALLIS (m. Richard Southwell)

6. Mary CORNWALLIS (d. 1627) (m. William Bourchier, 3º E. Bath)

Sir Thomas Cornwallis

by George Gower

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

First son of Sir John Cornwallis, and brother of Henry. Educated L. Inn, adm. 1539. Married, by 1540, Anne, dau. of Sir John Jerningham of Somerleyton, Suff. Suceeded family 22 Apr 1544. Kntd. 1 Dec 1548. J.p. Suff. 1547, q. 1554; commr. relief 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1550-68; sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 1552/3; PC Aug 1553; treasurer, Calais Apr 1554 - Dec 1557; comptroller of the Household Dec 1557 - Nov 1558.

The Cornwallis family had been established at Brome since the early 15th century and Thomas Cornwallis succeeded to considerable estates in Norfolk and Suffolk on the death of his father, steward of the household to Prince Edward. Cornwallis himself does not seem to have held any post in Edward's household but on the prince's accession he was named to the Suffolk bench and in 1548 he was knighted at Westminster.

He was related to the Throckmortons, through the daughter of his sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth Blennerhasset, married Sir Lionel Throckmorton.

In 1549 Cornwallis helped the Marquess of Northampton to recover Norwich briefly from Robert Ket, but was later taken prisoner by the rebels and held until the city was relieved. In the autumn of 1552 he was pricked sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk and thus became involved in the succession crisis which followed the death of Edward VI. According to a list made by Cecil, Cornwallis was one of the Suffolk knights called upon to assist Lady Jane Grey, but on 15 Jul 1553 he swore allegiance to Mary and throughout her reign he was to be employed in posts of increasing responsibility. By the middle of Aug 1553 he had become a member of the Privy Council, and his wife, Anne Jerningham, had joined Mary's household as a lady of the privy chamber. In Oct Cornwallis was sent with Sir Robert Bowes to settle border matters with the Scottish commissioners and in the early months of the following year he played a leading part in the suppression of Wyatt's rebellion. About this time he was one of those responsible for bringing Princess Elizabeth from Ashridge to London. At the subsequent Council meeting at which it was proposed to send the princess out of England, Cornwallis was among those Catholics who sided with the Protestants in opposition and he was also to align himself with that party on the Council which was reported to have openly combined to fight bills on religion introduced in Parliament without its foreknowledge.

Anne Jerningham, lady Cornwallis

by Hans Eworth

English Heritage, Audley End HouseSince


In Feb 1554 the responsibilities of the Council were shared among its members in order to make it more effective, and Cornwallis was one of the group charged with garrison-maintenance, while he himself was made treasurer of Calais under his cousin, Sir Thomas Wentworth, 2nd Lord Wentworth. His duties kept him fully occupied in France and he appeared infrequently at the Council except during the spring of 1555 when affairs of Calais were under review. In Jul 1557 he informed the Queen of the inadequacy of its defences. Later in the year he was recalled to take up the comptroller-ship of the Household following the death of Sir Robert Rochester, but he retained his interest in Calais until its surrender early in 1558. When in the spring the Count of Feria advised King Felipe to try to negotiate for the return of Calais he suggested that Cornwallis should be one of the negotiators, ‘although he always makes difficulties about everything’. While trying to re-establish the staple in the Netherlands, Cornwallis promoted his own interests, in Oct 1558 obtaining a licence to export wool for six years.

Cornwallis's parliamentary career had begun in Jan 1552 with the by-election following the succession to the peerage of his cousin Wentworth: the Council had instructed that ‘grave and wise men’ should be elected to fill vacancies in the final session of that Parliament and the choice of Cornwallis indicates the confidence placed in him. His shrievalty may have debarred him from Membership of the Parliament of Mar 1553 but before his term of office had expired he was returned to Mary's first Parliament for Gatton, a borough owned by the Copley family. As Cornwallis is not known to have had ties with the Copleys he was presumably elected there in response to official prompting, perhaps exercised through the sheriff, Sir Anthony Browne. On the list of Members for this Parliament Cornwallis was surprisingly, and perhaps mistakenly, included among those ‘who stood for the true religion’, that is, for Protestantism. In Apr 1554 a seat was found for him at Grampound, a duchy of Cornwall borough, following Thomas Prideaux's decision to sit for Newport iuxta Launceston rather than Bodmin or Grampound where he had also been elected: Cornwallis's kinsman John Sulyard replaced Prideaux at Bodmin. For the next three years Cornwallis was preoccupied with Calais and he was not to reappear in Parliament again until, following his appointment as comptroller of the Household, he was chosen knight of his own shire with the Speaker-designate, William Cordell. He played an active part in the House during the first session of the Parliament of 1558. The bill modifying regulations for the manufacture of cloth failed after its committal to him on 31 Jan but two more significant bills committed to him on 25 Feb, for armour and for musters, were enacted. He was also a frequent bearer of bills to the Lords.

At the accession of Elizabeth, Cornwallis was dismissed from office and retired to spend the remaining years of his long life at Brome Hall which he rebuilt. He was not left entirely undisturbed, being first made a ‘prisoner for matter of religion’ after the fall of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, whose feoffee he had been named in 1569 and of whose family his own had long been clients. On this occasion he conformed after conference with the dean of Westminster but within a few years he was again a recusant. He still enjoyed some favour at court, profiting especially from his long-standing friendship with Cecil, to whom from 1570 he was also related by marriage. After being confined in the home of his son-in-law Sir Thomas Kytson at the time of the Armada he was allowed to remain at home in Suffolk as a very old man who, except in matters of religion, had ‘not been known to have intermeddled in causes of the state’ and in 1600 he was given leave to receive into his household his brother William, a seminary priest who had been imprisoned in the Clink. Cornwallis made his will on 26 Mar 1604, added a codicil on the following 6 Nov and died on 27 Dec. He was buried in Brome church where a monument to his memory was erected near that of his parents.

His younger son, Sir Charles, born ABT 1547, married first Elizabeth Farnham, ABT 1572; secondly Anne Barrow, ABT 1597; and thirdly Dorothy Vaughan, 1620. Charles died ABT 1610 and was buried in St. Giles Fields, London, Middlesex. His daughter Alice, married Richard Southwell, Anne married William Halse and Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Kytson. Mary, who was probably the one painted by Nicholas Hilliard, was married (perhaps not legally) to William Bourchier, third Earl of Bath.

Mary Cornwallis secretly married, on 15 Dec 1578, William Bourchier, Earl of Bath, though the connivance of her brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Kytson, who was the young earl's uncle. The marriage was later repudiated, according to some sources because the earl's mother, Frances Kytson, by then remarried to William Barnaby, would not consent to the match. A trial over the matter was instituted in May 1590 and the marriage was annulled on 28 Apr 1581. In 1582, Bourchier married Elizabeth Russell, daughter of the Earl of Bedford. Mary, however, did not accept this turn of events. She continued to style herself countess of Bath for the rest of her life and to stir up controversy over the matter. It was still a hot button issue in 1600, when poet Francis Davison, who had a connection to the Russell family, published his "Answer to Mrs. Mary Cornwallis". Included in Davison's account of the affair were charges that Mary had "lived an incontinent and lewd life" and had borne a child to her lover, one Francis Southwell, before she seduced William Bourchier into agreeing to marry her. On the other side of the argument, Sir Thomas Kyston left his sister-in-law £300 in his will in Jun 1601 and included in it a statement of his belief that she was the rightful Countess of Bath.

Tombs of the Cornwallis dominate the interior of St. Mary's Church.  The finest is that of Sir John Cornwallis and his wife, Mary, in the chancel. It is a cenotaph armorial altar tomb with recumbent effigies bearing the inscription "Iohannes Cornwaleis Miles Willmi Cornwaleis Armigeri filius in Domo Principis Edowardi oeconomus: et uxor eiusdem Maria Edowardi Suliarde de Eassex Armigeri filia, qui quid Iohannes, 23 Aprils Anno Domini 1544 obiit Astrugie incomitatu Buckingham cum ibidem Princeps Edovardus versaretur". A cenotaph is an empty tomb erected in honor of the deceased who is buried elsewhere. The tomb of Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Lady Anne, is an armorial altar tomb with their effigies, the inscription reading "Sr. Thomas Cornwaleys Soone of Sr. Ihon was of Queen Mary her Prevy Councell and Treasurer of Caleys after Comptroller of her houshold in special Grace and trusts of his Mrs. Who Untimely lousing her Life retired him self to this Towne wher he spent the rest of his own priviately and loyally all the rayne of Queen Elizabeth her sister and died heer the second yeer of King Iames the 26 of December 1604 in the 86 yeer of his age".

Charles Cornwallis

by Robert Peake the Elder

Cornwallis,Elizabeth01.jpg (179967 bytes)

Elizabeth Cornwallis, Lady Kytson

by George Gower, 1573


Cornwallis,Mary01.jpg (68663 bytes)

Mary Cornwallis, Countess of Bath

by George Gower, 1580



P. McGrath and J. Rowe, ‘The recusancy of Sir Thomas Cornwallis’ Procs. Suff. Inst. Arch. xxviii. 226-71;

Dictionary of Natinal Biography

Machyn's Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 162; APC, iv, vi passim.

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