Sir Christopher DACRE
(Sheriff of Cumberland)
Born: 1470, Gillesland, Cumberland, England
Died: AFT Apr 1540
Father: Humphrey DACRE (1º B. Dacre of the North)
Mother: Mabel PARR (B. Dacre of the North)
The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.
Born ABT 1470, third son of Humphrey, 1st Lord Dacre of Gillesland, by Mabel, dau. of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal, Westmld. Kntd. 9 Sep 1513. Sheriff, Cumb. 1497-Dec. 1505, Feb.-Nov. 1522, Jan.-Nov. 1526, 1531-2, Norhamshire and Elandshire Mar. 1526-Jan. 1528, Northumb. 1520-Feb. 1522; j.p. Cumb. 1510-d., Northumb. 1512-d., Westmld. 1524-d., northern circuit 1540; commr. musters, Cumb. 1511, 1513, 1524, 1525, for wardenship 1522; dep. to William, 3rd Lord Dacre, steward of Hexham, capt. of Norham in 1526; dep. warden, east marches in 1526, west marches in 1528.
It has been said of the Dacres of Gillesland that under the Tudors they remained ‘essentially border chieftains’. In their saga of warfare, feud, intrigue and parley Christopher Dacre was for half a century the closest ally first of his brother Thomas, 2nd Lord Dacre, and then of his nephew William. The brothers fought at Flodden, where Christopher was knighted by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, and ten years later Surrey’s son, the third Duke of Norfolk, reported that they had done marvels against the Scots, although Lord Dacre’s disobedience had also cost 800 horses. Such behaviour was typical, and it won more enemies than friends. In Mar 1525 the prevalence of thieves in their territory was put down to their policy of demonstrating that they alone could keep it quiet. Their worst enemies were the Cliffords, earls of Cumberland: early in his term as sheriff in 1526 Sir Christopher Dacre forecast difficulty in discharging the office without protection from Cumberland. It was to Wolsey that he turned for support, and on this occasion, as on others, the Chancellor backed him.
As deputy warden Dacre had constant dealings with the Scots in settling disputes and negotiating truces. It was compromising traffic, and in the spring of 1534 he and his nephew William were accused by Sir William Musgrave of using their Scottish contacts to further their English feuds, promising the Scots immunity for raids on Musgrave and his tenants. Other nephew, Thomas, illegitimate son of his brother, was also implicated. They were committed to the Tower and some thought them in great danger. They were clearly suspected of much graver disloyalty, but evidence was hard to come by. Lord Dacre was tried by his peers and Christopher by the council in the north: although both were acquitted, Lord Dacre was fined and deprived of some offices. Sir Christopher Dacre received a general pardon on 4 Mar 1535.
This crisis in his life occurred while Dacre was senior knight of the shire for Cumberland in the Parliament summoned in 1529. He had first achieved that distinction in 1491 and had doubtless done so again in Parliaments for which the Members’ names are lost. In 1523 King Henry VIII had nominated him to represent the shire with his kinsman John Pennington, but his Thomas brother pointed out to Wolsey that the war with Scotland made him indispensable in the west marches and suggested that the Cardinal should name one of his own servants instead: if Dacre was returned he probably quitted the Parliament early to take part in the summer campaigning. His return in 1529, with his henchman John Lee, reflected the continuing pre-eminence of the Dacres and perhaps also the favour which they had acquired from theirentente with Wolsey. A few days after this Parliament met on 4 Nov Dacre’s name was one of the three submitted for the shrievalty of Cumberland: he was not pricked either on this occasion or 12 months later, but in Nov 1531 he was chosen for his fourth term in the office. The appointment of serving Members as sheriffs was not uncommon, and as usual there is no indication whether Dacre’s interfered with his attendance at Westminster: as sheriff in 1522 he had been slow in making his account at the Exchequer and either in 1533 or later he had to face a chancery suit arising out of this delay, so that his renewed shrieval duties may have sat lightly on him. One of the offences recounted in the indictment against him was his freeing of a Scottish prisoner on 16 Feb 1533: as the fifth session of Parliament had begun 12 days earlier he must have been late in his arrival for it.
It was perhaps by design that the Dacres’ imprisonment and trial took place while Parliament stood prorogued, although even if it had been sitting they would have had no legal protection against such proceedings. Sir Christopher Dacre’s acquittal left him free to resume his seat and there is reason to believe that he did so in the session which followed. It was probably in Dec 1534 that Cromwell jotted the names of a number of Members on the back of a letter of that date: the persons concerned are thought to have had a particular connexion with the treasons bill then passing through Parliament, a view which if correct would make it peculiarly apposite that Dacre’s name should be among those listed. He probably sat again in 1536, when the King asked for the re-election of the previous Members, but is unlikely to have done so in 1539 as on the eve of that Parliament his nephew Lord Dacre spoke of sending him to London to seek a settlement with Sir William Musgrave and the Earl of Cumberland.
When the threatened rebellion came in 1536 the Dacres remained loyal and Sir Christopher was instrumental in staying the commons from attacking Carlisle. The Duke of Norfolk, writing to him early in 1537, conjured him to live up to the Duke’s old view of him as a true knight to his sovereign lord, a hardy knight and a man of war: Norfolk was later to assure the King that Dacre had indeed shown himself such, taking 700 or 800 of the rebels at Carlisle. John Hussee made the anachronistic comment that Dacre had won his spurs and added that he had heard Cromwell say that if it lay with him he would make Dacre an earl.
Dacre was appointed to a special commission of the peace on the northern circuit in Apr 1540. He was then about 70 years of age and as no further reference has been found to him he may be presumed to have died shortly afterwards. Neither a will nor an inquisition has been found and it is not known whether he married.
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