SKINNER, Ralph (1513/14-63), of Barnstaple, Devon.

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



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1513/14. educ. Winchester, adm. 1528; New Coll. Oxf. adm. 23 Dec. 1531, BA 1536, fellow 1531-8, MA by 1551. ?m. c.1538, Elizabeth, da. of one Ellis, s.p.2

Offices Held

Lay rector, Broughton Astley, Leics. 1550-3; pro-warden, New Coll. 1551-3; warden, Sherburn hosp. Durham 7 Nov. 1559-d.; dean of Durham 1 Mar. 1560-d.; chancellor and receiver-gen. palatinate of Durham c.1561; member, council in the north Jan. 1561-d.; commr. eccles. causes, province of York 1561; j.p.q. Yorks. (N. Riding) and diocese of Durham 1561-d.; rector, Sedgefield, co. Dur. 1562-d.3


Nothing is known of Ralph Skinner’s parentage. He came to Winchester from Feltham, Middlesex, and went on to Oxford in the customary way. It is not known why he vacated his fellowship in 1538; he may already have been showing signs of the Protestantism which he later adopted and have resigned or been dismissed on that account by Bishop Gardiner, the college visitor, or he may have departed on marriage, for a Ralph Skinner appears in the augmentations records in 1540 as the husband of Elizabeth Ellis.4

It was probably about this time that Skinner came under the patronage of Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, who was interested in scholarship, and Dorset’s influence is the most likely explanation of his first appearance in the Commons, where he sat for Leicester, a town with which he had no known personal tie. He presumably greeted with enthusiasm the progressively reformist legislation of that Parliament and during its lifetime he received preferment, being given in 1550—as a layman—the rectory of Broughton Astley and in the next year the office of pro-warden of New College, after Gardiner had been sent to the Tower. Of his role in the events of 1553 which led to the downfall of his patron, now Duke of Suffolk, nothing has been discovered; he did not sit in the Parliament of March 1553, which formed part of the prelude to those events, or seemingly find it prudent to sue out a pardon on Queen Mary’s accession. The change of regime did, however, cost him both his rectory and his pro-wardenship, which he resigned on Gardiner’s restoration.5

Skinner’s career under Mary is obscure save for his Membership of three of her Parliaments. In the first of these he was returned for Penryn, and almost certainly this result was repeated seven months later—he is known to have sat, and Penryn is one of the only two boroughs for which the names of the Members in this Parliament are unknown. He may have enjoyed the patronage of Ralph Couche I, lessee of the borough of Penryn. In 1555 Skinner sat for another Cornish borough, Bossiney; here he is likely to have benefited by the patronage of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, which was probably wielded at this time, while the earl was abroad, by Sir William Cecil.

Whatever uncertainty may attach to the means by which Skinner reached Westminster, the part he was to play there is more than ordinarily clear: he consistently opposed the Marian government. In the Parliament of October 1553 he was one of those who ‘stood for the true religion’, that is, against the initial measures towards reunion with Rome. In April 1554 he made a notable intervention in the debate on the bill declaring that the Queen enjoyed all the prerogatives of her masculine predecessors. Voicing the widespread suspicion in the Commons that the bill had a hidden meaning, he warned the House to look well to it, but despite his anxiety the measure was engrossed after the debate and passed and sent to the Lords the following day. Missing from the second Parliament to assemble that year, he returned in 1555 to be numbered among the 100 and more Members who, under the leadership of Sir Anthony Kingston, voted against another government bill. This was the limit of his parliamentary resistance, for he was not to sit in Parliament again until after Elizabeth’s accession.6

Although Skinner appears to have confined his displays of opposition to the parliamentary forum, his persistence in them suggests that he enjoyed the protection of a magnate similarly aligned, who may also indeed have furnished his livelihood; but who this was remains a matter of speculation. With Elizabeth’s accession, however, he could expect ampler provision, and it was soon forthcoming in the deanery of Durham, to which he was appointed on 20 Dec. 1560, having been ordained in the previous January. He did not long enjoy his preferment, for he died in January 1563 and was buried at Sedgefield, where he had become rector the year before.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. G. Burnet, Hist. Ref. ii. 447-8.
  • 2. Aged 14 on admission to Winchester. Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 518; LP Hen. VIII, xvii.
  • 3. Emden, 518; CPR, 1558-60, pp. 5, 390; 1560-3, pp. 61, 170-1, 341, 437; NRA 6229, no. 97; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 494.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xvii.
  • 5. Strype, Annals, ii(2), 497.
  • 6. Bodl. e Museo 17; Burnet, ii. 447-8; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.
  • 7. Strype, Grindal, 73; Parker, i. 173; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 161; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 341, 493; Le Neve, Fasti, ed. Hardy, iii. 299.