Nicholas St. LEGER of Beamstone

Died: ABT 1589

Father: Anthony St. LEGER (Sir Sheriff of Kent)

Mother: Agnes WARHAM

Married: Catherine MOYLE  (b. ABT 1529 - 9 Feb 1586/7) (dau. of Sir Thomas Moyle of Eastwell and Catherine Jordan) (w. of Sir Thomas Finch)

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

Third son of Sir Anthony St. Leger by Agnes Warham, niece and h. of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. Educ. I. Temple 1552. Married Catherine, dau. of Sir Thomas Moyle of Eastwell, wid. of Sir Thomas Finch of the Moat, nr. Canterbury and of Eastwell, s.p. Brother of Sir Warham St. Leger.

As a member of one of the leading local families St. Leger would have found no difficulty in securing a parliamentary seat at Maidstone. Indeed, the St. Legers could claim that they had occupied the same land at Ulcombe since Robert De Sancto Leodegario settled there in the reign of William I. No mention is made of Nicholas St. Leger in his father's will, so it is impossible to say how well he was provided for, but it is clear that his social and financial position was improved by his marriage, through which he became associated with two other Kent families, the Moyles and the Finches. He appears to have lived most of the time at Eastwell Place and at Beamstone, two manors which his wife had inherited from her father, and, in her right, he presented vicars to the livings of Eastling in 1574 and Eastwell in 1580. But she had only a life interest in the manors, which would revert to Moyle Finch, her son by her first marriage. St. Leger became involved in a legal dispute over Beamstone when his wife refused to accept her son's reversionary interest there. Sir Thomas Heneage, one of whose daughters had married Moyle Finch, took up his son-in-law's cause and persuaded St. Leger to abandon any claim, and to agree not to take any profits from the manors after his wife's death. Another Finch manor, Packmanston, had earlier passed permanently into St. Leger hands. Nicholas also bought Willingdon, or Wilmington, from the Duke of Norfolk.

St. Leger's religious views are of more than usual interest. The Archbishop of Canterbury's report to the Privy Council in 1564 provides the earliest clue to them. At the end of his list of those sound in religion the Archbishop mentions three men, including St. Leger, who were not yet justices but appear to have been suggested as suitable for the office. He says of these: which persons, though not of like zeal in religion, yet such as I must say that the furthest off in favourable affection towards the state of religion, be outwardly men conformable and not chargeable to my knowledge of any great extremities uttered by them in afflicting the honest and godly, or in maintaining the perverse and ungodly. It was not until more than a decade later that St. Leger's name first appears on the commission of the peace, suggesting that a very real doubt existed about his reliability, yet it was in that year, 1575, that he was appointed to a commission to examine certain ecclesiastical statutes.

Apart from his appointment to a Privy Council commission to investigate a case of slander in Maidstone, few links can be traced with the borough which returned St. Leger to Parliament. His only recorded activity in 1571 was his membership of the conference to consider the bill against fugitives (25 May), but in the long Parliament of 1572 his religious interests were well represented. His first reported speech, 16 May 1572, raised more issues than it answered. Was Arthur Hall, who had spoken in defence of the Duke of Norfolk, fit to remain in the House? For his part he thought Hall's malady so great and his leprosy so perilous as to be incurable: ‘Speech ought to be contained in bounds, cankers not to be suffered’. After St. Leger ‘divers men spake diversely’ on the question of freedom of speech. St. Leger was put on the rites and ceremonies committee, 20 May, and on the 22nd was the first to react to the Speaker's declaration that Elizabeth wanted to scrutinize any religious bills. St. Leger moved that ‘those which are to deliver the same to the Queen's Majesty’ should ensure ‘that there be no scanning of words, but the meaning of the bill to be only considered’. He returned to the charge on 30 May:

'Since the Queen's Majesty's will and pleasure is that we should not proceed nor deal with the first bill against the monstrous and huge dragon and mass of the earth, the Queen of Scots, yet my conscience urgeth and pricketh me to speak and move this House to be in hand with her Majesty with the execution of the roaring lion: I mean the Duke of Norfolk. And although her Majesty be lulled asleep and wrapped in the mantle of her own peril, yet for my part I cannot be silent in uttering of my conscience' and on 9 Jun he was added to the conference to discuss what action should be taken against the Scottish Queen. He was put on the committee for Tonbridge grammar school (28 May), took a message to the Lords on a privilege matter (6 Jun) and spoke (10 Jun) on the question of setting up a parish church at Liverpool instead of the existing chapel. He was against calling the church St. Paul's and he wanted proper provision for the incumbent. In 1576 he was on committees concerning the debts of William Isley on 14 and 27 Feb; and a committee on cloth (9 Mar) but is not known to have spoken. On 24 Jan 1581 he made another strong stand against royal influence after the Queen had expressed disapproval of the Commons’ suggestion for a public fast. Speaking with ‘discretion and moderation’ just after the comptroller of the Household, Sir James Croft, had ‘enforced the fault of the House with much violence’, he urged ‘the great fault and remissness of the bishops’ and wished the Queen and her subjects ‘would be ready to express their true repentance to God in humbling themselves in sackcloth and ashes’. He was appointed to committees on the subsidy (25 Jan); slanderous words and practices (1, 3 Feb); Arthur Hall (6 Feb), whose blood he had been after nine years before; corporations (11 Feb); the debts of Sir Thomas Gresham (20 Feb); Dover harbour (4 Mar); fraudulent conveyances (14 Mar); the Queen's safety (14 Mar) and Lord Zouche (17 Mar). It is a little strange that so active a Member did not sit again. However unpopular his views might have been with the authorities it is hard to imagine that he could not have found a borough seat if he had wished. He certainly continued active in the cause of his religion. In 1584 he was one of the 38 Kent gentlemen who petitioned the Council for the reinstatement of local ministers who had been suspended by Whitgift for failing to subscribe to his articles. A delegation came to London and had a stormy interview with the Archbishop. When he defended baptism by women, ‘divers of them muttered much’ and St. Leger said, ‘God forgive you’. We are told that all save one departed angrily, threatening Whitgift with social ostracism in Kent. Not long after this, about 1587, St. Leger's name was deleted from the commission of the peace. This might perhaps have been because of his death, the date of which is not known, but, as he is on a list of those to be removed from the commission, another reason is more likely, though this could as well have been his wife's death and the consequent loss of his estates as his religious views. It is likely that he was the Nicholas St. Leger ‘of Faversham’, administration of whose property was granted to Anthony St. Leger on 5 Jun 1589. Presumably he had moved there after his wife's death had forced him to vacate the Finch manors.


C. W. Martin, Hist. Leeds Castle

DNB (St. Leger, Sir Anthony)

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