SOUTHWELL, Richard (1502/3-64), of London and Wood Rising, Norf.

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



? 1542
Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1502/3, 1st s. of Francis Southwell by Dorothy, da. and coh. of William Tendring of Little Birch, Essex; bro. of Francis and Robert. educ. L. Inn, adm. 3 Feb. 1526. m. (1) Thomasin, da. of Roger Darcy of Danbury, Essex, 1da.; (2) Mary (d. by July 1561), da. of Thomas Darcy of Danbury, wid. of Robert Leeche of Norwich, Norf., 1da. also 2s. illegit. inc. Richard Southwell alias Darcy 2da. illegit. bef. m. suc.fa. 2 Sept. 1512; uncle 30 Mar. 1514. Kntd. Feb./Aug. 1540.4

Offices Held

J.p. Norf. 1531-54; sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 1534-5; receiver, ct. augmentations, Norf. and Suff. 24 Apr. 1536-17 Jan. 1542; commr. for survey of monasteries, Norf. and Suff. 1537, for suppression 1539, of Admiralty in Nov 1547, relief, Norf. and Norwich 1550; other commissions from 1535; custos rot. Norf. by Feb. 1537; gen. surveyor, office of gen. surveyors by Feb. 1542; second gen. surveyor, ct. gen. surveyors of the King’s lands 16 Nov. 1542-7; v.-treasurer of the wars July 1544, treasurer Aug. 1544; PC 12 Mar. 1547, Aug. 1553-Nov. 1558; steward, duchy of Lancaster, Cambs., Norf. and Suff. 1553-58/59; keeper of the armoury, Greenwich and Tower 19 Sept. 1553-31 July 1559; master, the Ordnance 11 May 1554-31 July 1559.5


Of Suffolk origin, the Southwells acquired Wood Rising through the marriage of Richard Southwell’s grandfather and namesake, Member for Yarmouth in 1455. His father, an auditor of the Exchequer, was a younger son, but on the death of his uncle Sir Robert Southwell, a friend and servant of Henry VII, Southwell succeeded to a considerable estate. Early in 1515 his wardship was sold to Sir Robert’s widow and William Wotton, but four years later it passed to Sir Thomas Wyndham who presumably arranged the marriage of his ward to his stepdaughter, a sister of Sir Thomas Darcy, later 1st Baron Darcy of Chiche. Nothing further is known of Southwell’s education and upbringing until his entry into Lincoln’s Inn (where he retained chambers as late as 1545) when already of age, but his family had long been clients of the dukes of Norfolk and it is possible that he was brought up in the ducal household. He seems to have been well educated for when put in charge of Cromwell’s son he is said to have personally instructed the young man in pronunciation and etymology.6

Southwell was placed on the commission of the peace in 1531 but in the same year he was involved with two of his brothers in the murder of Sir William Pennington and in 1532 he was obliged to pay £1,000 for a pardon which was later confirmed by Act of Parliament (25 Hen. VIII, c.32). Cromwell seems to have helped Southwell in this affair and by 1535 he was one of the minister’s trusted agents in East Anglia. It was to Cromwell’s patronage that Southwell and his younger brother Robert owed their advancement in augmentations. Southwell was particularly active in the Dissolution, although his conservative sympathies appear in his appeal of March 1536 on behalf of Pentney priory. During the Pilgrimage of Grace the Earl of Surrey reported to his father the 3rd Duke of Norfolk that he had taken counsel from ‘my friend Mr. Southwell’ in the raising of forces in Norfolk.7

Southwell’s career in the Commons may have begun with the Parliament of 1536, when he would have been a likely successor to Sir James Boleyn as one of the knights for Norfolk if the disgrace of Anne Boleyn had involved her uncle’s exclusion from the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members. At the next election Southwell and Edmund Wyndham were returned for the shire on the strength of a royal nomination, although not without a challenge from Sir Edmund Knyvet; the resulting quarrel brought both Knyvet and Southwell before the Star Chamber and led Southwell to complain to Cromwell at being made to suffer for doing his duty to the King. In the event both men seem to have been consoled, Knyvet by being pricked sheriff in 1539 and Southwell by his knighthood. The damaged state of the return for Norfolk in 1542 leaves one of the names illegible, but as Southwell was a signatory of the Act for an exchange of lands between the King and the Duke of Norfolk he was probably the knight concerned; if so, he again sat with his younger brother Robert, returned for Surrey and knighted at the opening of the Parliament, as he had done in 1539 and perhaps in 1536. After the close of the first session Southwell was sent to view the fortifications of Berwick and his appointment to an embassy to Scotland in January 1543 probably made him miss at least part of the second session. Neither brother is known to have sat in Henry VIII’s last Parliament, although one or both may have done so for a borough whose Members’ names are lost; that Richard Southwell was passed over for Norfolk could have reflected the county’s desire for a change.8

Between the close of Henry VIII’s reign and the accession of Mary, Southwell’s propensity for time-serving brought him little reward. His part in the destruction of the Earl of Surrey may have owed something to the personal friction between them during their service at Boulogne, but it was essentially a move to ingratiate himself with the King and the rising house of Seymour, to which he was related by marriage. Named by Henry one of the assistants to the executors of his will, Southwell was brought on to the Privy Council by the Protector Somerset on 12 Mar. 1547. As a Catholic and a sheepmaster, however, he had little sympathy with the Protector’s religious and social policies: by July 1548 he had been put off the full Council, being bracketed with the ‘assistants’, and in the following year he joined other conservatives in an alliance with the Earl of Warwick to overthrow the Protector. Southwell did not long maintain his restored position and when Warwick turned on the conservative party he was committed to the Tower and fined £500 ‘for certain bills of sedition written with his hand’. He sat in neither of Edward VI’s Parliaments but as a Privy Councillor he signed Acts for the restitution of (Sir) William Hussey II and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset during the third session of the Parliament of 1547.9

Southwell also signed the limitation of the crown in favour of Jane Grey and his name appears on a list thought to be of those expected to support her, but in the event he rallied to Mary who gave him charge of her armoury and restored him to the Privy Council. He attended its sittings regularly until December 1555 after which he seems to have retired into Norfolk until early in 1557 when he resumed attendance. A supporter of Bishop Gardiner, he was described by Renard as the prime mover of the plan to marry the Queen to the Earl of Devon, and (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton was to recall at his trial hearing Southwell (one of his judges) speak against the Spanish marriage in the Commons. He was returned for Norfolk to the first three Parliaments of the reign, taking precedence over his fellow-Councillors Sir Henry Bedingfield and Sir John Shelton. As a Councillor, it was probably he rather than his younger brother who was the ‘Sir R. Southwell’ appointed to the committee to determine whether John Foster II and Alexander Nowell were eligible to sit in the Parliament of October 1553 and to whom on 28 Nov. 1553 the bill for the confirmation of letters patent was committed on its second reading. A year later, on 26 Nov., the bill for seditious rumours was committed to him and at about the same time, when the Queen was supposedly pregnant, he is said to have burst out in the Lords, ‘Tush, my masters, what talk ye of these matters? I would have you take some order for our young master that is now coming into the world apace, lest he find us unprovided’. He carried two bills to the Lords on 17 Dec. 1554. His subsequent disappearance from the Commons may have been due to ill health or to a loss of favour at court or of influence in his shire, where both the knights in 1555 were men of Protestant sympathies.10

Southwell was not reappointed to the Privy Council on the accession of Elizabeth and in July 1559 he surrendered his offices in exchange for an annuity of £165. He had added considerably to his inheritance, making full use of his opportunities as a surveyor and receiver, and by 1546 held over 30 manors in Norfolk alone. The succession to his property was complicated since most of his children, including his two sons, were born before his marriage to their mother, a kinswoman of his first wife, and while she was married to the Norwich alderman Robert Leeche: the heir male was thus Thomas, son of Sir Robert Southwell. Southwell had settled lands on his elder son as early as 1545 and in his will of 24 July 1561 he made no distinction between his children on the score of legitimacy. The only child of his first marriage, Elizabeth, was married to George Heneage and the only child born after his second, Catherine, was then the wife of Thomas Audley of Berechurch, Essex. Southwell bequeathed over 10,000 sheep to members of his family and left his personal armour to his ‘cousin and friend’ Sir Henry Bedingfield and other armour to the young 4th Duke of Norfolk, whom he named an executor: despite his betrayal of Surrey the 3rd Duke had appointed Southwell an executor of his will of 1554. Although he had not had the strength to sign his name in 1561, Southwell survived until 11 Jan. 1564 and his will, to which he had added a codicil on the day of his death, was proved on 22 June by Norfolk, Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Francis Gawdy. Several portraits of Southwell survive.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, xiv(1), 808 citing SP1/150/160-1; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich.r.[1-2].
  • 2. House of Lords RO, Original Acts 35 Hen. VIII, no. 22.
  • 3. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs. supplies the full name, which is barely legible on the return, C219/23/89.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/79/183, and that given on portrait of 1536. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 259-61; PCC 19 Stevenson; C142/29/15; LP Hen. VIII, xv; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2]; DNB.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, v, viii, xii-xvii, xix-xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 87, 97; 1553, p. 356; 1553-4, pp. 22, 108, 199; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 50; Rep. R. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. of Brit. Hist. and Culture iii), 14; APC, ii. 71; iv-vi passim; Somerville, Duchy, i. 595; A. H. Smith, County and Ct. 65; HCA 14/2.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, ii, iii, viii; Index 10217(1), f. 1; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 186; PCC 3 Bodfelde; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 271.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, v, viii-xii, xiv; Elton, Policy and Police, 144-6, 410, 414; Richardson, 12.
  • 8. SP1/146/242, 274, 150/155, 160; LP Hen. VIII, xvii; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 35 Hen. VIII, no. 22.
  • 9. APC, i. 239; ii. 19; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; N. Williams, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, 14-15; CPR, 1547-8, p. 97; 1549-51, p. 297; D. E. Hoak, King’s Council in the Reign of Edw. VI, 49 (where it is argued that Southwell was not made a full councillor at this time), 246-7; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 72 and n, 79-80 and n, 507 and n; ii. 28, 31; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, 232n, 246; House of Lords RO, Original Acts 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 30, 31.
  • 10. Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100; Lansd. 103, ff. 1-2; APC, iv. 314; CSP Span. 1553, pp. 310, 312, 399, 471; 1554, pp. 151, 220; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 94 and n; State Trials, ed. Howell, i. 875; CJ, i. 27, 31, 38, 39; Foxe, Acts and Mons. vi. 580.
  • 11. CPR, 1547-8, pp. 72, 73, 222, 373; 1553-4, p. 63; 1558-60, p. 279; LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xix-xxi; Blomefield, Norf. ii. 343, 359; vi. 108; Add. 5947; Stowe 775; CSP Span. 1554, pp. 295, 316; H. Spelman, Hist. of Sacrilege (1895 ed.), 152-4; PCC 19 Stevenson; C. Devlin, Robert Southwell, 7-9; C142/140/142; Holbein (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 1978-9), 54.