FISHER, Thomas (1515/16-77), of Warwick.
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Family and Education
Steward and bailiff, Kibworth Beauchamp, Leics. May 1542; servant of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and later Duke of Somerset by 1544, sec. by 1547; constable, Warwick castle July 1545-53; bailiff, Warwick manor ?1547-53; keeper, Banbury castle, Oxon. and bailiff, Banbury hundred ?1550-68 or later; ?bailiff, Egremont, Cumb. Dec. 1554; commr. chantries, Leics., Warws. and Coventry 1548, relief, Warws. 1550; j.p.q. Warws. 1554, 1558/59; escheator, Warws. and Leics. 1559-60; receiver, Exchequer, Leics., Warws. and Coventry 8 Sept. 1559-72 or later.2
Thomas Fisher is said to have been the son of a retail fishmonger and the addition to his surname Hawkins of the alias Fisher to have reflected this occupation. During his early career Fisher was often to use, or be given, both names, but usually in the order Fisher alias Hawkins, and the virtual disappearance of the second from about 1550 must reflect his preference for the first. The style ‘esquire’ which he began to acquire at about the same time probably betokened no more than his affluence and his nearness to the great, although it may have owed something to a legal education of which there appears to be no trace.3
Fisher was to attain prominence as the servant of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset, but he had first attached himself to John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, who in May 1542 rewarded his ‘good and faithful service’ with the stewardship of Kibworth Beauchamp. Before the close of the following year, while at court with Lisle, he was already acting for Hertford, whom he accompanied on campaigns in Scotland and France and whose secretary he became by 1547. When Seymour, by then Duke of Somerset and Protector, summoned the Parliament of that year Fisher was found a seat at Wycombe, probably with the help of Sir Edmund Peckham. Nothing is known of his role in the Commons, but he presumably acted as one of Somerset’s agents there.4
Fisher had fought bravely at Pinkie and in 1548 Somerset sent him north again to campaign with the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury. He probably wintered in the south and attended the second session of the Parliament, but in the following spring he and Sir John Luttrell were charged with preparing a negotiation with the Earl of Argyll on the future of Mary Queen of Scots and he spent the summer with the force attempting the relief of Haddington. It was there that he encountered such hostility towards Somerset and support for Lisle, by then Earl of Warwick, that he wrote to the Protector through John Walpole urging him to conciliate Warwick, one of whose grievances had been Somerset’s bestowal on Fisher of offices at Kenilworth and Warwick which the earl wanted for Ambrose Dudley. Such at least is the version found in a retrospective account of the overthrow of Somerset which, written by one ‘then in the Duke of Somerset’s house’, may be thought, both in respect of its viewpoint and by reason of the prominence which it gives to Fisher, to have been of his own composing. (He could have been encouraged to write it by Cecil, with whom he was to remain on close terms throughout his life.) Although Fisher was in touch with Warwick in the summer of 1549 their relationship did not save him from punishment after Somerset’s surrender and eventual fall. Held in prison until February 1550 and fined £1,000 (one of his sureties being William Wigston), he was pardoned in March 1551 but again imprisoned in the following October, to be released only in May 1552.5
Although in later years Fisher was to enjoy high favour with the Dudleys, the tradition enshrined in Dugdale that he regained Warwick’s (by then Northumberland’s) confidence to the point of being entrusted with the funds required to put Jane Grey on the throne is not easy to reconcile with his fortunes under Mary or with his description as an ‘adversary of true religion’ in 1564. He lost the constableship of Warwick castle to Robert Throckmorton, but he does not seem to have sued out a pardon. He was appointed to the Warwickshire bench and received other marks of confidence; he also sat in all but one of the Queen’s Parliaments without compromising himself either by being absent at the call of the House early in 1555 or (probably) by voting against one of the government’s bills later in the year. It was while the first of these Parliaments was sitting that the town of Warwick had its charter confirmed, a transaction in which Fisher doubtless had a personal as well as public interest: he himself had given impetus to the demand for clarification of the town’s rights by his attempt to take over the former guildhall. Although in this and other ways he was a nuisance to the corporation, he was sufficiently entrenched to be re-elected without a break until 1559. Following his purchase of the dissolved priory of St. Sepulchre, which he converted into a house, he had accumulated country properties on a large scale; they included lands sold to him by the bishop of Lichfield and the manor of Bishops Itchington where his programme of enclosure met with resistance. He also married successively into two armigerous families, his first wife being sister to Thomas Holte, Member for Warwick in 1529.6
Fisher’s fortunes under Elizabeth, although not untroubled, were enhanced by the patronage of the Dudley family and by the Queen’s visit to St. Sepulchre’s in 1572. He died on 12 Jan. 1577, leaving his son to dissipate the inheritance.
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. M. Thorpe
- 1. Aged 33 in 1549, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Archer ms 35, f. 1; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 20; St. Nicholas, Warwick, churchwardens’ accts. 3 and 4 to 4 and 5 Phil. and Mary; C142/183/94; DNB.
- 2. LP Hen. VIII , xx; CPR, 1548-9, p. 135; 1553, p. 360; 1553-4, pp. 25, 29; 1558-60, pp. 27, 146; E. G. Tibbits, Anct. Recs. Warwick (Dugdale Soc. Occasional Pprs. v), 9.
- 3. Dugdale, Warws. i. 349, 442, 457-8; F. L. Colvile, Warws. Worthies , 287.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII , xx, xxi; HMC Bath , iv. 70-89 passim, 116, 118, 123, 338.
- 5. W. Pattern, Expedition into Scotland , in Tudor Tracts , ed. Pollard, 142; M. L. Bush, Govt. Pol. Somerset , 17, 32; APC , ii. 221, 323, 393, 398; iii. 274; Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary , i. 117-19; ii. 108-9; EHR , lxx. 600-9; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI , i. 501; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 28; CPR , 1550-3, p. 8; 1553, p. 408; B. L. Beer, Northumberland , 78.
- 6. Cam. Misc. ix(3), 7-8; CPR , 1548-9, pp. 189-91, 342-5, 403; 1549-51, pp. 19-20, 58, 194; 1553, p. 337; 1553-4, pp. 59, 298; Warwick accts. 1546-69, mm. 16v. 22, 24, 24v, 59v; C142/183/94; St.Ch.2/17/214; VCH Warws. iii. 103; v. 31; vi. 104; vii. 375; viii. 91, 192, 438, 440, 469, 471, 491, 536; VCH Oxon. x. 3, 49, 73, 105, 181, 249, 496.