PELHAM, Nicholas (by 1513-60), of Laughton, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1513, 1st s. of Sir William Pelham of Laughton by Mary, da. of Sir Richard Carew of Beddington, Surr.; half-bro. of Edmund Pelham. m. by 1537, Anne, da. of John Sackville I of Withyham and Chiddingly, Suss., 5s. inc. John and Thomas 3da. suc. fa. 1538/39. Kntd. 17 Nov. 1549.1

Offices Held

Commr. musters, Suss. 1543, benevolence 1544/45, relief 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, loan 1557; j.p. 1544-d.; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1549-50.2


The fortunes of the Sussex branch of the Pelhams, a family originating in Cambridgeshire, were established in the early 15th century by Sir John Pelham, treasurer of England under Henry IV, and were enlarged by his son, another Sir John, who became chamberlain to Queen Catherine of Valois. Their descendants were men of substance, active in local affairs and at court. Sir William Pelham followed in this tradition, as the inclusion of his name on the Sussex bench and his second marriage to a daughter of William, 1st Lord Sandys, testify. So did his son Nicholas, although the execution of the younger Pelham’s uncle Sir Nicholas Carew, after whom he was presumably named, may have estranged him from the court, to which he was summoned only on occasions such as the French admiral’s reception in 1546, and led him to pass his life mainly in his county.3

Pelham’s marriage to the daughter of a local gentleman strengthened his Sussex connexions, particularly with the earls of Arundel, with whom his family had long been associated. His relations with his neighbours seem to have been smooth, although it was the accidental killing of one of his gamekeepers by Thomas Fiennes, 9th Lord Dacre of the South, in the spring of 1541 that first brought him into the public eye: Dacre and his companions were caught poaching in Pelham’s park at Laughton and for fatally wounding one of their pursuers Dacre was executed. Three years later Pelham was named to the bench, but it was not as a justice that he was next to commend himself: when in 1545 the French raided the Sussex coast between Newhaven and Brighton, their attacks were met by the local militia under Pelham’s command. This affair gave him a reputation for leadership in the field: in Mary’s reign he was to be described as ‘a gentleman of a good experience in the wars’ and his prowess was commemorated on his tomb.4

The reign of Edward VI saw a fluctuation in Pelham’s fortunes. In the autumn of 1547 he made what was probably his first appearance in Parliament as a Member for Arundel. The nearest borough to Pelham’s home at Laughton was Lewes, which on this occasion returned two officials, Sir Walter Mildmay and Sir Anthony Cooke, and it was perhaps as an alternative that he turned to Arundel: in securing the necessary assistance of the 12th Earl, he was doubtless helped both by his father-in-law, who was sheriff, and by his stepfather John Palmer, himself one of the knights of the shire, while among Pelham’s other kinsmen who sat with him were two of his brothers-in-law, John Sackville II and Richard Sackville II. Nothing is known of his part in the proceedings but in the autumn of 1549 he was pricked sheriff and a few days later knighted: as these marks of favour coincided with the Earl of Warwick’s distribution of honours after his overthrow of the Protector Somerset they imply that Pelham had not sided with Somerset, and they were to be followed by a valuable grant of recently forfeited lands in Sussex. Yet two years later Pelham was to be imprisoned in the Tower with the ex-Protector and the Earl of Arundel: that the ‘Pellam’ then held ‘for the conspiracy of the duke’ was Nicholas and not his younger brother William, later lord justice of Ireland, is borne out by the will which he made on 21 Jan. 1552, the day before Somerset’s execution. The will, which he wrote himself, provided for his daughters, sons, brothers and a sister and ended:

This for lack of learning I make to be my last will, and where it is not formable I will mine executors done (sic) make it according to the law changing no purpose, the residue of all my goods, my debts paid, I will to mine executors to bury me according to their discretion, whom I will shall be Anne Pelham, my wife.
by me Nycholas Pelham

Several of Pelham’s fellow-prisoners were lawyers, but he may not have had access to them. How long he was kept in custody is not known, but he must have missed the opening of the fourth session of Parliament on 23 Jan. and may not have reappeared before the dissolution. Not surprisingly, he was not returned to the Parliament of March 1553, although two of his kinsmen, Thomas Palmer and Thomas Morley, sat in it for Arundel.5

Pelham may have looked for better times under Mary, when the Earl of Arundel stood high in favour, but although he was retained on the local bench he was not to sit in Parliament until the last year of the reign. The delay may perhaps be accounted for by his own inclination towards Protestantism and his brother William’s involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion, whereas in 1558 the threat of invasion doubtless put a premium on his military reputation and helped him to gain the knighthood of the shire with his second cousin, Sir Robert Oxenbridge. It must therefore have been the more galling when in the summer he refused to supply men for the war; his remissness earned for him first a rebuke from a Sussex magnate, Anthony Browne I, 1st Viscount Montagu, and then a brief spell in the Fleet in the company of Thomas Morley. He was released on 5 Aug. upon promising to supply horsemen.6

Although not a leading landowner in Sussex, Pelham was a substantial one around Lewes, with an interest in rearing sheep for their wool. During the 1550s he purchased a house called the White Hart at Lewes, in 1557 the site for the future family mansion at Halland, and in 1558 lands in Hartfield from his brother-in-law Christopher Sackville. There is no indication that he profited directly from the dissolution either of the monasteries or of the chantries. On 6 Feb. 1560 he made a new will in which he divided his property, goods and livestock between his wife and children. He named his eldest son John residuary legatee and executor and George Goring, William Morley and John Leigh overseers. He did not die until the following 15 Sept. and he was buried in St. Michael’s church, Lewes.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 21; LP Hen. VIII, xiv; Add. 33137, f. 5; PCC 23 Dyngeley.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1550-3, p. 142; 1553, pp. 359, 415; 1553-4, pp. 359, 415; 1553-4, pp. 24, 28, 37; 1555-7, p. 124.
  • 3. E. G. Pelham and D. Maclean, Some Early Pelhams, 57 seq.; Suss. Arch. Colls. lxix, 53 seq.; J. E. Mousley, ‘Suss. country gentry in the reign of Eliz.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1956), 650; LP Hen. VIII, xx.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, vii, xvi; Mousley, 651; Suss. Arch. Colls. vii. 88; SP11/2/17.
  • 5. Add. 33137, ff. 7, 9-10v; APC, iii. 35; CPR, 1550-3, p. 14; SP10/19, f. 31; DNB (Pelham, Sir William); Harl. 249, f. 43.
  • 6. D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 60, 111; SP11/2/17; APC, vi. 354, 358, 363-4.
  • 7. Suss. Rec. Soc. iii. 19-21; Suss. Arch. Colls. xciii. 6; Mousley, 651; CPR, 1557-8, p. 345. PCC 9 Streat; R. B. Manning, Rel. and Soc. in Eliz. Suss., 264; Add. 33137, f. 11; Nairn and Pevsner, Suss., 553.