SHIRLEY, Thomas (by 1489-1544), of West Grinstead, 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 1489, yr. s. of Ralph Shirley of Wiston, and bro. of Sir Richard. m. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Marmaduke Gorges alias Russell of Gloucester, Glos., 2s. inc. Francis 4da.1

Offices Held

J.p. Suss. 1524-d.; commr. subsidy 1524, sewers 1534, tenths of spiritualities 1535; collector of customs, Southampton by 1542-d.2


Thomas Shirley, who inherited lands in Buckinghamshire as well as at Beeding and Broadwater in Sussex, founded a branch of the family at West Grinstead. In 1510 he acquired the wardship and marriage of Elizabeth and Maud Gorges, and he afterwards married Elizabeth. Nine years later he shared the wardship and marriage of Francis Dawtrey, heir of Sir John Dawtrey, Shirley’s predecessor in his customs post. For the subsidy of 1524 he was assessed at £40 in lands and £66 13s.4d. in goods.3

Shirley’s Membership of the Parliament of 1529 was doubtless the work of his elder brother Sir Richard, whose home was not far from Steyning and who in 1529 obtained his own election as one of the knights for Sussex. The names of both appear on a list compiled by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of Members connected, perhaps as a committee, with the treasons bill then on its passage through Parliament. Shirley was probably re-elected in 1536, in accordance with the King’s general request for the return of the previous Members, and he may have been so again in 1539, when the names of the Members for Steyning are lost.4

On 26 Oct. 1535 he and Thomas Michell obtained a 60-year lease of lands belonging to Rusper priory. Shortly before his death Shirley bought some former monastic property in Grinstead, Shoreham, Steyning and Wiston. He made his will on 21 Sept. 1534, some two weeks before the opening of the seventh session of the Parliament of 1529. After several small bequests to local churches, he provided for his wife, children, kinsmen and servants and named his wife executrix and Sir Edward Bray, his ‘son’ Henry Browne and Richard Lister supervisors. Almost ten years later, on 28 Apr. 1544, he added a codicil devising his recently acquired property on his two sons and died the same day. His widow suppressed the will and took all his goods (valued at £600) into her hands. She also refused to honour his debts, including one of £52 owed to John Michell II from the profits taken of his lands during his minority. In August 1557 Elizabeth Shirley died intestate and William, her second son, was appointed to administer his father’s will and his mother’s estate, itself valued at £200. Thus Thomas Shirley’s will was not proved until September 1557.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Comber, Suss. Genealogies (Lewes), 260.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, vii, viii, xix; E122/209/3; Suss. Rec. Soc. lvi. 59.
  • 3. D. W. Davies, Elizabethans Errant, 1-3; Suss. Arch. Colls. v. 10 seq.; LP Hen. VIII, i-iii; Suss. Rec. Soc. lvi. 59.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v.
  • 5. Ibid. x, xii, xvii; PCC 34 Wrastley; Suss. Rec. Soc. xvi. 91-92; C1/1142/84; 142/75/67.