LITTLETON, Edward (by 1489-1558), of Pillaton, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. by 1489, 1st s. of Richard Littleton of Pillaton by Alice (d. 1 May 1528), da. and h. of William Wynnesbury of Pillaton. m. (1). by 1527, Helen, da. of Humphrey Swynnerton of Swynnerton, 2s. 2da.; (2) by Apr. 1533, Isabel, da. of one Wood, wid. of Ralph Egerton of Wrinehill and of Sir John Draycott (d. 5 May 1522) of Painsley in Draycott. suc. fa. 18 May 1517. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.4
Escheator, Staffs. 1517-18; gent. usher by 1522; constable, Stafford castle 1522-31/32; keeper, Stafford park 1522-31/32; bailiff, Forebridge, Staffs. 1522-31/32; sheriff, Staffs. 1523-4, 1539-40, 1550-1; j.p. 1531-d.; commr. for tenths of spiritualities 1535, musters 1539, chantries, Salop, Staffs. and Shrewsbury 1546, goods of churches and fraternities, Staffs. 1553; forester, Cannock forest by 1554.5
Edward Littleton’s father Richard, a younger son of the celebrated judge, had inherited Baxterley, Warwickshire, and other property in tail from his father and more extensive lands in Shropshire from his mother: he married the heiress of a minor Staffordshire gentleman and so established himself and his descendants in that county. Until his death he was the surveyor of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham’s property in Staffordshire.6
Edward Littleton was probably educated at the Inner Temple, which had been the judge’s inn and which was to admit several more of the family. In 1513 he served as a captain in the Tournai campaign during which his Staffordshire neighbour, Sir John Giffard, distinguished himself. It was probably Giffard who favoured him for an appointment at court and for others in Staffordshire after the attainder of Buckingham. Shortly after his father’s death Littleton was chosen escheator and thus began to play a part in the government of his native shire: it was not, however, until he entered upon his inheritance from his mother that he became a figure of any prominence. His election as one of the knights for Staffordshire in 1529 was probably the first general recognition of his new status in the county. It was doubtless assisted by Giffard, who was returned as the senior knight: Littleton was incorrectly styled ‘miles’ on the list of Members revised in 1532. Both men were listed by Cromwell among those believed to have been opposed on religious or economic grounds to the bill in restraint of appeals enacted during the fifth session of the Parliament. It is likely that Littleton was returned again, as the King wished, to the Parliament of 1536. During the northern rising later that summer he received instructions to aid in its suppression.7
On the dissolution of Black Ladies priory, Brewood, both Littleton and Thomas Giffard petitioned the King for the right to purchase it, and both apparently received his consent. The problem was referred to Cromwell who decided in favour of Giffard despite Bishop Lee’s support of Littleton: Lee subsequently supported Littleton in his petition for the purchase of Haughmond abbey, Shropshire. Their rivalry for Black Ladies appears to have bred no ill feeling between Littleton and Giffard: the long-standing association between their two families continued to flourish, and after Sir John Giffard’s, retirement from public life Littleton and Thomas Giffard served as fellow-knights in three Parliaments, Littleton taking the senior seat on the first occasion (1539). In 1540 he and Sir John Giffard appeared together as whifflers at the reception of Anne of Cleves on Blackheath. Six years later he testified with Sir Hugh Calverley against George Blagge when Blagge was accused of heresy.8
During these and the following years Littleton both consolidated his title to his various properties and added to them out of former monastic lands. He was not infrequently involved in litigation. In one chancery action brought against him by Sampson Erdeswick’s son he was described, perhaps not altogether conventionally, as ‘a man of great lands [who] beareth all the rule in those parts of the shire, and is greatly friended and allied’. The fishing rights upon the water of Dunston brought Littleton up against Buckingham’s heir, Henry, 1st Baron Stafford, with whom he had previously been on good terms and to whom he had surrendered the constableship of Stafford castle and other offices in return for an annuity: Stafford believed that John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was used as a ‘buckler’ in this dispute, but after Northumberland’s fall Littleton remained a formidable opponent.9
At the beginning of Mary’s reign Littleton contested the second seat for the shire at the election held at Stafford on 7 Sept. 1553. Baron Stafford had expected to see his son Henry returned unopposed, and had entrusted the management of the business to his friends Sir George Griffith and Humphrey Welles. At the election Sir Thomas Giffard ‘was chosen by every man’s voice’ and Henry Stafford, according to his father, ‘with as many voices or more’. Littleton had a different version:
when it was perceived the voices of the shire were against the said Master Stafford, then the said Lord Stafford began to find fault and pick quarrel by means of one Sir George Griffin, knight, and Humphrey Welles who did as much as they could to have made sedition in that great assembly.
He therefore challenged the young Stafford’s election. Brushing aside Baron Stafford’s complaint that his presence was a breach of manners—’it has not been seen afore this time that any man should be there at the time of his election’—Littleton demanded a poll and persuaded Sir George Blount, the sheriff, to have the scrutiny begin with Stafford’s supporters. He appreciated that Stafford could not afford a long drawn-out contest, which would have cost him £20 or £30 in expenses, and so delayed matters and threatened the opposition that it began to melt away. When Littleton saw that Stafford’s servants had gone, ‘then he caused his company to be sworn’ and was carried to victory by 248 votes. Griffith and Welles urged Stafford to obtain an order from the Privy Council for the return of the younger Stafford, but Littleton referred his case to Chancellor Gardiner and kept the seat. Later Stafford met Littleton, who ‘after his ... dissembling fashion offered to have taken me by his hand and I told him he should neither have hand or heart of me for his evil, false and untrue report of me ... to the lord chancellor’. At the Queen’s coronation, three days before the opening of Parliament, both Littleton and Henry Stafford were knighted, but no reconciliation was effected and the feud continued until Littleton’s death.10
Littleton appears to have acquiesced in the Marian Restoration. He was not among those who opposed the reintroduction of Catholicism in the autumn of 1553, but his attitude did not secure him a place in the following Parliament, in the spring of 1554. He reappeared at Westminster for the second Parliament of that year, this time with his stepson Sir Philip Draycott, and he evidently heeded the chancellor’s remarks on attendance as he was not one of those afterwards informed against in the King’s bench for leaving the Parliament early without permission. In 1555 he sat for the last time and again proved his attachment to the regime by not joining the opposition organized by Sir Anthony Kingston.
Littleton died on 10 Oct. 1558 at Pillaton, leaving as his heir his son Edward, aged 30 years and more, and was buried at Penkridge, where a tomb was erected to the memory of himself and his wives. His will, now missing, was proved at Lichfield on 23 Apr. 1559 by his son, the other executor, Sir Thomas Giffard, renouncing the duty.11