STRELLEY, Robert (by 1518-54), of Great Bowden, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. by 1518, poss. s. of Sir Nicholas Strelley of Strelley, Notts. by 2nd w. Ellen, da. of Thomas Gresley. m. Frideswide, da. of John Knight of Spaldington, Yorks., s.p.1
Prob. steward, duchy of Lancaster, Essex, Herts., Mdx. bef. 1540; member, household of Princess Mary by 1553; chamberlain, the Exchequer 2 Nov. 1553-d.2
It is surprising, in view of the abundant genealogical information contained in Robert Strelley’s will, that there should be a doubt about his own parentage. He does not appear in any of the Strelley pedigrees, which are in any case confused. In the pardon roll of 1548 he is styled ‘alias Tebbe late of Linby, gentleman’, a description which would fit a base son of Sir Nicholas Strelley of Linby, Nottinghamshire, whose heirs were his sisters; such an origin would also account for Robert Strelley’s acquisition, in the last year of his life, of an augmented coat of arms. Against this must be set the mention in his will of ‘brothers’ who can be identified as sons of Sir Nicholas Strelley of Strelley by his third wife, a description compatible with Robert’s being this Sir Nicholas’s son by an earlier wife and his omission from the pedigrees because he had died without issue in his father’s lifetime. The circumstance that Robert Strelley died not only without issue but without heirs could be explained by the non-inheritance of the half blood, for Sir Nicholas appears to have had no relatives of the full blood for four generations and Frideswide Strelley’s relatives of the full blood would have been almost equally distant. The augmentation of arms was to be effected by the addition of a border representing part of the arms of Gresley, the family from which Sir Nicholas’s second wife descended. Finally, Robert Strelley’s acquisition of lands in Linby may have been due solely to family solidarity, enhanced perhaps by his early residence with his cousins.3
Strelley was to spend most of his life in Mary’s household, and hence the scarcity of references to him in the records of the time, except in connexion with his land transactions: it was, however, probably he who before 1540 was steward for the duchy of Lancaster of lands in Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex. In 1539 he received a crown lease of five watermills in Northampton; in 1545 he began to add to the quarter manor in Great Bowden which he had received from Sir Nicholas Strelley of Strelley and which, thus increased, he left at his death to his wife Frideswide; in 1547 he acquired the manor of West Langton. Frideswide was one of Princess Mary’s favourite ladies-in-waiting, and upon the marriage the crown settled on the pair further lands in Great Bowden and Harborough, and the site of the abbey of Egglestone in Yorkshire. Under Edward VI Strelley added to his holdings in Bowden the third part of the manor which had belonged to Laurence Asshe, another portion from Ralph Rolston and William Skeffington, and property formerly belonging to Nicholas Purfrey. At the beginning of Mary’s reign, therefore, he was a substantial gentleman whose service to the Queen at Framlingham and close attachment to her person would make him a suitable nominee for the knighthood of the shire.4
Their mistress’s accession promised Robert and Frideswide Strelley a brilliant future and brought Robert notable early advancement. Without royal intervention he could not have secured the senior knighthood for Leicestershire in the first Parliament of the reign, especially when it conferred precedence over Sir Thomas Hastings. Both the achievement and the hopes were to prove short-lived: before the Parliament ended Strelley was a sick man—he is marked ‘infirmus’ on the Crown Office list for this Parliament—and he died on 23 Jan. 1554. By his will of 17 Jan. 1554 Strelley made bequests to various members of his family besides his wife, who by a codicil of 23 Jan. was appointed sole executrix. William Cordell, Sir Edmund Peckham, and others previously appointed executors, were asked to assist her. She received a grant of that part of the property which should have escheated to the crown and remained in the Queen’s service, attending her funeral as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber.5