SWINBURNE (WYNBORNE), John (by 1526-77 or later), of Chopwell, co. Dur.

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



Apr. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1526, s. of John Swinburne of Chopwell by Anne, da. of Sir John Clavering of Callaley, Northumb., wid. of Sir Robert Raymes of Shortflat, Northumb. m. Anne, da. of George Smith of Nunstainton, co. Dur., 2s. suc. fa. c.1546.1

Offices Held

J.p. Northumb. 1547-64; escheator 1548-9, 1553-4; commr. enclosure upon the middle marches 1552/53; servant of Henry Neville, 5th Earl of Westmorland, by 1555; steward, baronies of Bolbec and Bywell for 5th and 6th Earls of Westmorland by 1562-9.2


On the list of Members for Mary’s second Parliament both the knights returned for Northumberland are styled ‘miles’. As neither John Swinburne nor Robert Horsley is known to have been knighted, the suffix was perhaps an error made in the compilation of the list. In the absence of the return it cannot be determined if the compiler had repeated a mistake on that document.3

The Swinburnes had been prominent in the northeast since the 13th century and under the Tudors were described as ‘gentlemen of great friendship, kindred and alliance with most of the honourable and worshipful in Northumberland’. Of the two John Swinburnes who can be traced in the region during the 1550s the son of George Swinburne of Edlingham was the less distinguished, although he belonged to a senior branch of the family and his sister Marion was married to George Heron who sat for the shire in 1555. The knight of the shire of April 1554 was almost certainly not John Swinburne of Edlingham but his better known namesake in local administration who lived at Chopwell on the border of Durham with Northumberland. John Swinburne of Chopwell obtained a grant of arms in 1551 and the freehold of the manor of Chopwell from John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, a year later. His father and namesake had been a servant of the 4th Earl of Westmorland and he himself became steward to the 5th and 6th Earls. His single experience of Parliament was presumably favoured by the 5th Earl, who although not a considerable landowner in Northumberland could through kinship with the Percys draw on their traditional support in the county; two months before the election the earl let his lands near Hexham to Swinburne. A dispute between Swinburne and the earl’s brother-in-law Sir Roger Cholmley, referred to the council in the north early in 1555, seems to have strained his relationship with the earl for several months and may account for his failure to be re-elected to the second Parliament of 1554.4

Swinburne was perhaps an experienced soldier by the beginning of Mary’s Scottish war. (The captain of his name taken prisoner by the Scots and ransomed in 1546 was probably his father, who died not long after making his will on 20 Sept. 1545.) He helped to victual the Protector’s army against Scotland and the forts erected during 1547 and 1548, and when he assisted Westmorland and Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, in the defence of the borders his reports were forwarded to the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury. After the accession of Elizabeth he loaned Northumberland £23 and served on the commission to survey his property in the county. Swinburne’s connexions with the Percys were not always happy: he quarrelled with several of their followers and in 1568 with the earl’s brother (Sir) Henry Percy. Disagreements with the bishop of Durham and others gave rise to litigation and to judge from his opponents’ remarks he was a detested figure. It was not, however, his personal shortcomings but his Catholicism which led to his removal from the bench. Bishop Pilkington informed the Council in 1564 that Swinburne had been fined for keeping a priest in his house to say mass and five years later Cecil received information about his being ‘evil in religion’. Swinburne was one of the few ‘gentlemen of value’ in the north who joined the rising of 1569 in favour of Mary Queen of Scots. After its failure he escaped to the Netherlands with the 6th Earl of Westmorland, with whom he was attainted by the Parliament of 1571. Philip II granted him a pension on his arrival in Madrid in 1573, but he seems not to have settled in Spain and it is as a refugee in Namur during 1577 that he is last glimpsed.

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. J. Taylor


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. of the North, i (Surtees Soc. cxxii), 53, 182-5; Surtees, Dur. ii. 278.
  • 2. CPR, 1547-8, p. 87; 1553, p. 327; 1553-4 p. 22; 1560-3, p. 441; 1563-6, p. 25; Hodgson, Northumb. i. 360; Northumb. Co. Hist. vi. 82, 229.
  • 3. C193/32/1, f. 4v.
  • 4. Northumb. Co. Hist. vi. passim; vii. 132-3; Arch. Ael. (ser. 4), xii. 128; Vis. of the North, i. 53; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 247; CPR, 1550-3, p. 231; HMC Talbot and Shrewsbury, i. 28.