Born: 1495

Died: 1579

Father: Thomas GARGRAVE of Wakefield

Mother: Elizabeth LEVETT

Married 1: Anne COTTON (dau. William Cotton and Margaret Culpepper)


1. Cotton GARGRAVE (Sir) (b. 1540 - d. 1588) (m.1 Bridget Fairfax - m.2 Anne Waterton)


Married 2: Jane APPLETON (dau. of Roger Appleton and Anne Sulyard) (w. of Sir John Wentworth of North Elmsall)

Sir Thomas Gargrave

oil on panel, unknown artist, 1570.

Gift to National Portrait Gallery, London, by Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum

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

Escheator, Yorks. 1519-20; steward, household of Thomas, Lord Darcy 1521-37; j.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) from 1542, (W. and N. Ridings) from 1547; custos rot. Yorks. from 1559; j.p. Cumb., co. Dur., Northumb., Westmld. from 1561; member, council in the north by Aug 1544, vice-pres. from 1557; treasurer, forces of Earl of Warwick against Scotland Jul 1547, in the north Jul 1557; Speaker of House of Commons 1559; commr. eccles. causes 1561, border causes 1561, musters, Yorks. 1569; dep. constable, Pontefract castle by 1556; steward, York minster 9 Jun 1557; sheriff, Yorks. 1565-6, 1569-70; steward, lordship and soke of Doncaster, Yorks. by 1571; receiver, Exchequer, Yorks. temp. Eliz.; master in Chancery temp. Eliz.; recorder, Kingston-upon-Hull.

Gargrave was the son of Thomas Gargrave of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of William Levett of Hooton Levitt and Normanton, West Yorkshire, and Margaret Culpepper of Oxon Hoath, Kent. Through his mother's Levett family, Gargrave was related to such Yorkshire clans as the Wickersleys and their descendants, the Swyfts (Swifts), the Reresbys, the Barnbys, the Wentworths, the Bosviles, the Mirfins and others. The Gargraves derived their name from the village of Gargrave in Craven, but the family, among whom were several lawyers, had been settled at Wakefield for almost half a century by the time Thomas himself was born at a house in the Pear Tree Acres at Wakefield, close to the Old Park which he was to receive from the Queen late in life. Married first, by 1540, Anne, dau. of William Cotton of Oxenhoath, Kent; and secondly, by 1549, Jane, dau. of Roger Appleton of Dartford, Kent, wid. of Sir John Wentworth of North Elmsall.

He received a legal education at either Gray's Inn or the Middle Temple, and by 1521 began his career as Steward of the Household of Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Darcy, where Gargrave's ambition and drive were immediately apparent. His legal career ended in 1544 on his becoming a member of the council in the north, a position he retained throughout the religious and political changes of the period.

Sir Thomas Gargrave was knighted in Scotland by the Earl of Warwick in 1547 probably at the request of the Earl of Shrewsbury to whom he here acknowledges his obligation for that honour He obtained very extensive grants of abbey lands in this reign particularly one of the Priory of Nostell in Yorkshire which he made his principal residence and in the years 1565 and 1569 served the office of High Sheriff of that county which he had represented in several parliaments.

With the help of Darcy's influence, Gargrave rose quickly, being knighted in 1549 and becoming Knight of the Shire for Yorkshire in 1553, 1554 and 1555 and again in 1563, 1571 and 1572, Deputy Constable for Pontefract Castle, Steward of York Minster, Receiver of the Exchequer for Yorkshire, Master in Chancery, and Recorder for Kingston upon Hull. Gargrave's rise was meteoric, from humble steward to Knight of the Realm and one of the most powerful men in England, serving frequently on Yorkshire business and at Court. He acquired extensive property, including Nostell priory, which he made his principal seat.

During the reign of Queen Mary, Gargrave was especially active on the Council of the North and he had to make frequent journeys to Newcastle Berwick and other places The Scots about this time were making great inroads on the Marches driving away cattle burning houses and taking prisoners The Council in consequence had their time well occupied in devising means to suppress this evil and especially in raising troops in the Northern counties This latter was by no means an easy task from the unwillingness of people to serve so unpopular a government.

Gargrave was elected speaker in Queen Elizabeth's first parliament in 1559, and widely known for his address to Parliament of 25 Jan 1559, and on 6 Feb 1559 ‘with the Council and thirty of this House’ he made the first of many formal requests from the Commons to Elizabeth asking her to marry. On 10 Feb he ‘declared the Queen’s Majesty’s answer’. The inadequate journals of the 1559 Parliament mention the Speaker so seldom that it is impossible to discover from them how Gargrave conducted himself. He put a question of privilege, 24 Feb, and, 3 Apr, adjourned the House so that Members could attend the debate between the bishops and the puritan divines — the ‘Englishmen that came from Geneva’ as the clerk called them. Again, on 22 Apr Gargrave adjourned the House ‘to hear the arraignment in Westminster Hall of the Lord Wentworth for the loss of Calais’. Finally, on 8 May, he ‘made a learned oration’ which was ‘praised and answered by the lord keeper’ and ‘this Parliament was dissolved’. Not a phrase of Gargrave’s own speeches is known to have survived.

Francis Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, was Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire and President of the Council of the North at this time and a letter of his dated from Ferry bridge on 17 Jan 1559/60 to Sir William Cecil states that he was about to take some troops to Newcastle and that he had appointed his verie loving freend Sir Thomas Gargrave Vice President in his absence who "I right well knowe bothe canne and will execute the same accordinglie and in as willinge and painfull wise as if myself werre present". In the following month Gargrave was commissioned to go into Holderness to raise as many soldiers there as he should think needful to furnish four ships then lying at Hull. A few months after this the Earl died, and it was necessary to supply his place as President of the Council. Cecil thought this a likely opportunity for making some change in the constitution of the Board or at any rate effecting some reduction of expenditure. He applied to Gargrave as the man whose opinion was best worth having on the subject.

In Dec 1562 Gargrave was chosen as MP for York if he should not be elected for the county, but in the event he was so elected. The only mention of him in the journals is to leave of absence being granted on 4 Mar 1563 for his ‘great affairs with the rest of the council on the north parts’, namely, the trouble on the frontier with Scotland. Gargrave served under five successive presidents of the Council in the north, and did more than any other individual to establish the supremacy of that body over the turbulent northern counties. It was he who ensured administrative continuity, so that the Duke of Norfolk, for example, when appointed lieutenant-general in the north, 1559/60, was instructed to consult Gargrave in civil matters. Shrewsbury habitually left the council signet in his keeping during vacations.

In 1566 there was a second session of the 1563 Parliament, and Gargrave was appointed to committees on under-sheriffs (21 Oct), the succession question (31 Oct), letters patent (committed to him 28 Nov), and a bill about wool in the north of England (committed to him 3 Dec). He was one of the 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov 1566 to hear the Queen’s message on the succession. In 1571 Gargrave was elected for York but again, when it came to the point, represented Yorkshire, writing to 'his very loving friends the lord mayor and his brethren the aldermen of the city of York':

"... I do most heartily thank you that it pleased you to elect me one of your burgesses for the Parliament, and do take myself therefore besides many other your gentleness much bounden unto you, and I shall be willing and ready as occasion may serve to do you every of you that pleasure I can. And for that I am now, as I am sure ye hear, chosen knight for the shire, I cannot serve both the rooms, and am therefore sorry I have thus troubled you..."

He was appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire for 1565 and 1569. In 1567 he acquired Nostell Priory from James Blount, Lord Mountjoy, for £3560. In Aug 1568, Gargrave was named supervisor of the estate of William Swyfte of Rotherham, brother of Robert Swyfte, Esq., of Broom Hall, Sheffield. He had a grant from Bess of Hardwick, of the Old Park, Wakefield.

Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, was appointed President of this Council in the year 1568 having previously filled the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He chose Sir Thomas Gargrave as his Vice President and other leading members were Sir Nicholas Fairfax, Sir Henry Gate, John Vaughan, William Tankard and Henry Savile. Thomas Eynns was the Secretary. All these counsellors received fees for their attendance the President was paid 1,000 marks or 666 13s 4d per annum, but he was bound to entertain the members of the Council during the sittings at York as well as their servants the number of which latter was proportionate to the dignity of the master. The fee of the Vice President was 100 marks per annum with an allowance for 'horse meat'.

Another task given to Gargrave about this time was to prepare the removal of Mary, Queen of Scots, from Bolton to Tutbury in Jan 1569, a journey which she accomplished 'with an evil will and much ado'. The following summer he warned Cecil of Mary's increasing popularity among the simple people by whom she was reputed to be 'wise, virtuous, eloquent and, according to her power, liberal'. He added that if the regent in Scotland were overthrown, which seemed possible, Mary's presence would be a great danger. Besides this, 'religion', he said, 'waxes cold, and is going backward'. Gargrave himself, despite the offices he had held in Mary Tudor's reign, including that of steward of York minister, was, by 1564, classed as a 'favourer' of the Elizabethan church settlement. In Jan 1570, soon after the rebellion, he told Cecil that he thought there was need for stricter religious laws. A few months later he wrote again that although he did not wish for bloody laws or death in matters of conscience, nevertheless he remembered that, during the reign of Henry VIII, sharp laws kept the evil quiet.

"... I wish it might be experimented whether ... they that refuse the service and sacrament would abide imprisonment, with loss of their livings during life ... and enemies will hardly by gentleness become assured friends..."

From Oct 1570, when Sussex retired from the presidency of the council in the north, until Aug 1572, when the Earl of Huntingdon was appointed, Gargrave, as vice-president, ruled alone. During these years he encountered difficulties in raising subsidies, and was hindered in this work by having to go to York several times in connexion with the execution of the Earl of Northumberland. In answer to a request from Burghley, he conferred with the Archbishop of York 'touching persons meet to be councillors in these parts'.  It was upon this occasion that he compiled a list of the principal and lesser gentlemen of the East, West and North Ridings, classifying 43 as protestants; 18 as the worst sort [of Catholic]; 22 as the mean or less evil sort and 39 as doubtful or neuter.

In 1572 he complained to Burghley of the lack of persons on the council with any knowledge of the law, ‘for that little I had is forgotten, because it is 28 years since I left the study of the law and so long have I remained here of this council’.

He was again elected knight of the shire for Yorkshire in 1572, and was presumably the Sir 'John' Gargrave who spoke against the interests of the minstrels 30 May that year, on the proposal to bring them within the provisions of the Act against vagabonds. His son Cotton was also an MP in both 1571 and 1572, and the Mr. Gargrave who was named to some committees in the latter years is, from the low position of the name on the lists, more likely to be the son than the father. One of these committees, dealing with fraudulent conveyances made by the northern rebels, was, however, on a subject close to Sir Thomas Gargrave, who, with other members of the council in the north had been concerned with attaining the rebels and confiscating their lands and goods. He was anxious not to apply measures so harsh that many places would be left 'naked of inhabitants', preferring to make a few examples and to pardon the rest. Still, many were arrested, including Richard Norton, the sheriff of Yorkshire, whose place Gargrave was chosen to fill, thereby becoming sheriff, as he complained to Cecil for the second time within four years. He now begged, unsuccessfully, for financial help, receiving instead the Queen's thanks and vague promise of future reward. Again and again his correspondence reverts to the general state of impoverishment of the north, and it was to counteract 'the decay' of the city of York that, in 1560, he had recommended the permanent establishment of the council there, and the founding of a mint to overcome a shortage of small change. In 1570, he suggested that the lord president be made lieutenant in the north, so that he could raise help from other countries.

Gargrave was not to live to see the last session of the 1572 Parliament. He died on 28 Mar 1579, having made his will the day before. He was buried where he wished, in the parish church of Wragby, and on the day of his funeral small sums of money were distributed to the inhabitants of several parishes, and wheat and rye bread to the poor. Bequests pf varying sums went to the poor of seven parishes. He provided for his wife, who was 'decayed in sight and hearing', and for two maids and a manservant to look after her, and he charged his only son and heir Cotton, the executor, already mentioned in the context of the 1572 Parliament, to be 'gentle and good unto her'.

A monument on his tomb states: "Here lyeth Sir Thomas Gargrave, knight, who dyed the 28 of March, 1579, who served sundry times in the wars and as counsellor at Yorke xxxv yeare. He maryed Anne Cotton of Kent and Jane Appleton, widow of Sir John Wentworth of Elmesall. He had yssue only by Anne Cotton, tow sonnes, Cotton and John, which John dyed att his byrth." On Gargrave's tomb are incised the family's coat-of-arms: "On the plate, lozengy ar. and sa. on a bend sa. 3 crescents of the first."

Sir Thomas Gargrave appears as a character in the William Shakespeare play Henry VI, Part 1.

The story of the Gargraves became an oft-cited tale of the rise – and fall – of ambition. Of the Gargraves, it is said, the poet Byron was moved to write: "'Twere long to tell, and sad to trace, Each step from splendour to disgrace." In Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, author Joseph Tilley sums up the Gargrave legacy as follows: "The Gargraves were a knightly house, who came in for extensive grants of Abbey lands in Yorkshire, but who, within a century afterwards, sank into obscurity". Sir Bernard Burke, in his Vicissitudes of Families, was moved by the Gargraves' precipitous fall. He wrote in the nineteenth century. "For full two centuries or more, scarcely a family in Yorkshire enjoyed a higher position". Subsequently Sir Cotton Gargrave's oldest son was hanged at York for murder of a servant boy; his half-brother Sir Richard Gargrave of Nostell Priory, once High Sheriff of Yorkshire, later wasted his estate, and was reduced to gambling for a cup of ale, plunging his family into penury. Sir Richard had married Catherine Danvers, daughter of Sir John Danvers of Danby Castle and had two daughters. He was eventually found dead in in an old inn with his head on a pack saddle. "Not many years since," Burke wrote, "a Mr. Gargrave, believed to be one of them, filled the mean employment of parish clerk at Kippax".

The bulk of the Gargrave properties passed to Thomas Gargrave, eldest son of Sir Cotton Gargrave, who left them to his only daughter, who broke with the family's Royalist sympathies by marrying Dr. Richard Berry, physician to Oliver Cromwell. Berry "contrived to make himself master of their fortune, and the whole family sunk into obscurity".

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