THROCKMORTON, Sir George (by 1489-1552), of Coughton, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. by 1489, 1st s. of Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton by Catherine, da. of William Marrow of London. educ. M. Temple, adm. 1 May 1505. m. by 1512, Catherine, da. of Sir Nicholas Vaux, 1st Lord Vaux of Harrowden, 8s. inc. Anthony†, Clement, George, John I, Kenelm, Nicholas and Robert 11da. suc. fa. 1519. Kntd. 1523.1
J.p. Warws. 1510-d., Bucks. 1525-32, Worcs. 1531-44; esquire of the body by 1511, knight by 1533; commr. subsidy, Warws. 1512, 1523, Worcs. 1512, 1514, Bucks. 1524, loan, Warws. 1542, benevolence, Warws. and Coventry 1544/45, musters, Warws. 1546, relief, Warws., Worcs. and Coventry 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Warws., Worcs. and Coventry 1553; other commissions 1523-d., steward or keeper, Brandon, Warws. 1512-d., Yardley, Worcs. 1512, Berkswell, Claverdon, Lighthorne, Moreton, Warws. by 1513-45, Harlington, Newton Closenfield, Bucks. 1514-d., Evesham abbey 1527, Halton and Haseley, Warws. 1529, Tamworth, Warws. 1530-44, Maxstoke, Wroxall, Warws. 1535-d., Balsall, Warws. 1539-d.; King’s spear by 1513; sheriff, Warws. and Leics. 1526-7, 1543-4, Worcs. 1542-3; steward, lands of bpric. of Worcester in Warws. and Worcs. 1528-40, for Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, unknown property by 1548; custos rot. Warws. in 1547.2
The Throckmortons took their name from a manor in the parish of Fladbury, Worcestershire, where in the 12th century they were tenants of the bishop of Worcester: they acquired Coughton, Warwickshire, by marriage in the early 15th. George Throckmorton was born in Worcestershire and was to claim when seeking office there that the greater part of his inheritance lay in that shire, but his father seems to have made Coughton the family seat and George was to be the first of his line to sit in Parliament as knight of the shire for Warwickshire; his grandfather and great-grandfather had done so for Worcestershire. Sir Robert Throckmorton, soldier, courtier and Councillor to Henry VII, sent his eldest son to the Middle Temple, which George entered on the same day as a Northamptonshire kinsman, Edmund Knightley; before his death in Italy while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Sir Robert had seen his son launched at court and in local government and in enjoyment of numerous leases and stewardships. This early advancement may have owed something to Throckmorton’s marriage to a daughter of another courtier, Sir Nicholas Vaux, whose stepson Sir Thomas Parr, comptroller of the Household to Henry VIII, was further related to him by marriage. Throckmorton served with his father in the French war of 1513 as captain of the Great New Spaniard. Seven years later he was present at the Field of Cloth of Gold, which had been in part devised by his father-in-law. Vaux appointed Throckmorton one of his executors and as such in September 1523 he was commissioned to deliver Guisnes to the 1st Baron Sandys.3
During the 1520s Throckmorton seems to have attached himself to Wolsey although the first notice of their connexion does not suggest a happy relationship; in July 1524 Throckmorton, styled of Olney, Buckinghamshire, was bound in £100 to appear before the Council and to pay whatever fine the cardinal should impose. The connexion may have been made through his uncle Dr. William Throckmorton, a trusted servant of the cardinal whose name appears on important papers relating to embassies and treaties and who was a master in Chancery by 1528. The younger Throckmorton engaged in some land transactions with Wolsey. Thus when in 1525 Wolsey had licence to dissolve several small and decayed monasteries in order to endow his new college at Oxford, one of them, the Buckinghamshire priory of Ravenstone (three miles from Olney), passed on a 100-year lease to Throckmorton for a rent of 100 marks. As Wolsey was seeking further land and Throckmorton a reorganization of his estates—in particular he had his eye on Sir William Gascoigne’s manor of Oversley, Warwickshire—he suggested to the cardinal an exchange of several manors, including Ravenstone, for Oversley and some neighbouring manors: the plan did not materialise, but in May 1528 Throckmorton sold Ravenstone to Wolsey at 20 years purchase. He evidently felt that he had deserved well of the cardinal, for in April 1528 on the death of Sir Giles Greville—and, curiously, at a time when his own imminent death was rumoured—he asked for Greville’s office of comptroller to Princess Mary, and three months later, on the death of Sir William Compton, he sought to become sheriff and custos rotulorum of Worcestershire, steward of the see of Worcester and (as his great-grandfather Sir John Throckmorton had been) under treasurer of England. Although the shrievalty went to Sir Edward Ferrers, later Throckmorton’s fellow-knight for Warwickshire, he was successful in respect of the stewardship.4
Wolsey also employed Throckmorton to deal with local disputes. When the prior of the Knights of St. John disputed a lease of the commandery of Balsall made by his predecessor Thomas Dowcra to his brother Martin Dowcra, Wolsey empowered Throckmorton to seize the property pending a settlement. According to Throckmorton this was easier said than done, for when on 7 Oct. 1529 he and his servants arrived to occupy the property Dowcra fortified the house and manned it with ‘sanctuary men’ who were thieves and murderers. Throckmorton then set a watch on the house and later captured most of these men, whom he sent to Warwick gaol. As Wolsey had not instituted proceedings against Dowcra in Chancery or elsewhere, this was high-handed behaviour and it was to form one of the charges against the cardinal on his downfall; Dowcra also pursued Throckmorton for it in the Star Chamber and Chancery. It may, indeed, have been because he was involved that the commandery was so bitterly disputed, for his father had once leased and later fortified it against the order’s attempts at repossession. Neither this episode nor his other relations with Wolsey were to implicate Throckmorton in the cardinal’s fall: he served on the Warwickshire commission of enquiry into Wolsey’s goods.5
Throckmorton’s election in 1529 as senior knight of his shire answered to his standing there and at court: he may well have sat previously, the names of the Warwickshire knights in the earlier Parliaments of the reign being unknown. Of his role in the Commons there is but one glimpse in the documentation of the Parliament itself: this is his appearance at the head of a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell early in 1533 and thought to be of those opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals. But his imprisonment in October 1537 called forth a detailed, if not wholly lucid, confession of his part in the Catholic opposition. In the course of this he related how, before the Parliament began, he had been sent for to Lambeth by his cousin William Peto, the Observant Franciscan and future cardinal, with whom he had a long conversation about the King’s proposed marriage to Anne Boleyn. Peto alleged that the King had ‘meddled’ with both Anne’s mother and her sister and advised him if he were in the parliament house ‘to stick to that matter as I would have my soul saved’.6
Throckmorton’s next revelation was more confused. Shortly after the beginning of the Parliament, when he had, he said, ‘reasoned to’ the bill in restraint of appeals (a statement which gives colour to the interpretation of the list mentioned above), he was summoned by Chancellor More to a private meeting in the parliament chamber. More then said:
I am very glad to have the good report that goeth of you and that you be so good a catholic man as you be; if you do continue in the same way that you began and be not afraid to say your conscience, you shall deserve great reward of God and thanks of the King’s grace at length, and much worship to yourself.
However faithfully he may have recalled these words—and he himself added the rider, ‘or words much like to these’—the circumstances of the conversation cannot be as he described them, since More was no longer chancellor when the appeals bill was debated and was thus unlikely to have had the use of parliamentary premises: even if Throckmorton confused that measure with the annates bill, that itself had been debated in the third session and not shortly after the opening of the Parliament. Similarly, it cannot have been, as he says it was, ‘shortly after’ receiving this tribute from More that he discussed the Acts of Annates, Appeals and Supremacy, and the Petrine claims, with Bishop Fisher, who referred him to Nicholas Wilson, once the King’s confessor, although it may well have been after the Act of Supremacy (26 Hen. VIII, c.1) that he made his own confession to Richard Reynolds, ‘the Angel of Syon’. (Throckmorton had at least one other connexion with the Bridgettines, his kinswoman Clemence Tresham, sister of Sir Thomas, having entered the order by 1518.) Both Fisher and Wilson conceded that if he were sure nothing was to be gained by his speaking out in Parliament, ‘then I might hold my peace and not offend’, but Reynolds added that he could not know beforehand whether others might not follow his example if he should ‘stick in the right way’.7
It was, however, his conversation with Sir Thomas Dingley, a Knight of St. John, which was eventually to prompt Throckmorton’s confession. Again, he ascribed this to a period six or seven years before October 1537, yet it related to the passage of the Act in restraint of appeals (24 Hen. VIII, c.12) in April 1533. When Dingley marvelled at the easy passage of such Acts, Throckmorton replied:
that it was no marvel, for that the Common House was much advertised by my lord privy seal [Cromwell, who was holding that office in 1537], and that few men there would displease him. And the said Sir Thomas said, "I hear say ye have spoken much in divers matters". And I said, "True it is, I have spoken something in the Acts of Appeals, whereupon the King's grace did send for me and spake with me in divers matters".
He had, so he told Dingley, repeated Friar Peto's insinuation about the female Boleyns to the King, who replied 'Never with the mother' to which Cromwell, who was present, added 'Nor never with the daughter either'. Throckmorton also admitted to reporting this conversation to his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Englefield at Serjeant's Inn as well as, he believed, to Sir William Barentyne and Sir William Essex. He had been in the habit of meeting with Barentyne, Essex and other Members, including Sir Marmaduke Constable I and Sir John Giffard (whose son Thomas* married Throckmorton's sister Ursula), at the Queen's Head to discuss parliamentary affairs.8
Throckmorton's experiences were to be recalled in the House half a century later. When in the Parliament of 1586 another Thomas Cromwell led the Commons' protest against the imprisonment of Peter Wentworth and four other Members for challenging Queen Elizabeth's veto on their discussion of church reform, he collected a series of precedents designed to prove that the crown had no right to imprison Members for their words or actions in the House. One of these precedents ran thus:
It is reported that Sir George Throckmorton in the Lower House impugned a bill which the King was desirous to have pass. The King sent for him and shewed him the reasons which moved him to desire the passing of the said bill but could get no other answer from him than that it became him not to argue with the King in that place; but the next day without making mention of the King he opened all those reasons in the House and answered them in such sort. And yet was not committed or misliked of the King for so doing.
To this Robert Beale, clerk of the Privy Council, added a marginal note on his copy of Cromwell's document, 'I have heard that the cause was touching the denouncing of Queen Catherine Dowager first wife to King Henry the 8th'. It is interesting to speculate the source of Cromwell's (and Beale's) knowledge of the episode. During the interval of 50 years no less than a dozen of Throckmorton's descendants sat in the Commons, although only one of them, his grandson Job Throckmorton, was a Member in 1586. At the time of Cromwell's intervention Job Throckmorton was himself in deep trouble for having maligned James VI of Scotland in a speech to the House, a misfortune which could well have revived the memory of his grandfather's brush with an earlier monarch. There was even one Member in 1586, Sir Francis Knollys, whose career in the Commons had begun in the Parliament of 1529 (to which he had been by-elected by 1533) and who could have remembered the episode. Whatever its source, Cromwell's reference to the affair is not surprisingly unspecific and Beale's gloss hardly less so, but for what they are worth they seem to point to the Appeals Act.9
His revelations of what took place in the spring of 1533 explain Throckmorton's letter of the following October to Cromwell advising the minister that, as Parliament was prorogued, he would nt come to London unless to speak with Cromwell and promising to follow his advice to 'stay at home and meddle little in politics'. The two had known each other since before the Parliament, and though they came into conflict over lands their relationship may at first have helped to protect Throckmorton from worse things. Whether Throckmorton obeyed the summons to the corporation of Anne Boleyn we do not know; he appears to have missed the next (sixth) session of Parliament, but he was there for the seventh, when he doubtless helped to oppose the treasons bill, although his name does not appear on a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of those with a particular, but unknown, connexion with that measure. Early in the following year he heard that the King was again displeased with him and asked Sir Francis Bryan* to procure an audience for him, according to a promise the King had given at the last prorogation. Whatever the outcome, he was obliged in the following autumn to defend himself to Cromwell for not attending the King during his progress in the midlands: this Cromwell regarded as a sign of disaffection in spite of Throckmorton's protest that he had never found himself within 50 miles of the King and had been much occupied with the tithes commission. What is clear is that, besides local administration, quarrels with his neighbours had absorbed his attention: in particular his involvement in the affairs of the Knightleys can have done little to commend him to the minister. In the circumstances, it would be of special interest to know (which it is unlikely we ever shall) whether Throckmorton sat in the Parliament of 1536, in accordance with the King's general request for the return of the previous Members: Cromwell's desire to be rid of a trouble-maker may have been offset by his certainty that Throckmorton would yield to none in his rejoicing at the fate of Anne Boleyn. If he did reappear, it was probably for the last time: he was not re-elected for any shire and is unlikely to have been so for a borough.10
Before 1536 was out, however, Throckmorton was in worse trouble. He had come to London in November to transact legal business and falling in with an old friend, Sir John Clarke, had rashly discussed the demands of the rebels in the north; whereas Throckmorton had only seen the printed answer to the Lincolnshire rebels. Clarke had a manuscript account of Aske's new demands and sent Throckmorton a copy of it. Throckmorton next met Sir William Essex at the Queen's Head and lent him the demands so that he might take a further copy: this was a blunder, for Essex's servant Geoffrey Gunter, unknown to his master, took yet another copy for himself which he later circulated amongst a circle of disaffected priests at Reading. While on the way to keep an appointment with Sir Anthony Hungerford* at Essex's home in Berkshire, Throckmorton met Thomas Vachell I* who convinced him of the danger of possessing the document, which he thereupon burned at Reading. Passing the night at Englefield, he received a further warning and then went on to Essex's house where he learned the full story of Gunter's foolhardiness. Both he and Essex were soon in the Tower.11
Cromwell set himself to collect all possible evidence of their treasonable behaviour. The distribution of Aske's demands was a good start, but it was followed by an accusation that Throckmorton had failed the King against the nortern rebels by declaring that if the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury joined them he would follow suit, a step which two of his soldiers had actually taken. To this charge Throckmorton replied that at the first insurrection he had come with 300 men to Ampthill and that the lenders there had discharged 200 of them. For a while both his life and Essex's hung in the balance: on 14 Jan. 1537 John Hussee reported as much to Viscount Lisle, and one of Throckmorton's family was later to write that his foes 'gaped to joint his neck'. But on 25 Jan. both were released, presumably because the charges could not be sustained. The threat lingered, however, as Cromwell was to show in the following October, when he was provoked by the defection of Throckmorton's younger brother Michael, who had been sent to spy on Cardinal Pole but had instead become a loyal servant. Cromwell then wrote to warn him that 'the least suspicion' thereafter should be 'enough to undo the greatest' of his family at home. Next Sir Thomas Dingley, whose execution two years later makes him accounted a Catholic martyr, revealed that Throckmorton had told him of earlier episodes. When Throckmorton was again taken into custody, his wife appealed for advice to her half-brother Sir William Parr*, who may have persuaded him to make a confession. Declaring that he had perceived his errors through reading the New Testament and The Institution of a Christian Man, he claimed that at Grafton the King had given him a full pardon for his behaviour in Parliament. He remained in prison for some weeks but by the end of the year his release was at least under consideration. What saved him is a matter of guesswork: he had many influential relations but there is no hint that he made any such abject bargain with the crown as was later to rescue (Sir) Geoffrey Pole*. Nor did his brush with death, as did Pole's, mark the virtual end of his career. As early as July 1538 his kinsman Richard Rich could suggest that he should receive building materials from the dissolved abbey of Bordesley, Worcestershire; a year-and-a-half later he was summoned to attend the reception of Anne of Cleves, in the early 1540s he was twice pricked sheriff, and he was mustered for the French campaign of 1544. The King's marriage to Catherine Parr in 1543, greatly as it was to the advantage of his sons, came too late to explain of his own return to favour. His part in the toppling of Cromwell in 1540 is too obscure, and may have been too small, to be given much weight: it is glimpsed only in the fallen minister's protest to the King that he
never spoke with the chancellor of the augumentations [Rich] and Throckmorton together at one time. But if I did I am sure I spoke never of any such matter and your grace knoweth what manner of man Throckmorton hath ever been towards your grace and your proceedings.
More important was the change in the religious climate, which not only Throckmorton, but his old comrades of the opposition found refreshingly congenial: not until closing years did the wind of doctrine begin to blow chill.12
The fall of Cromwell did enable Throckmorton to acquire several properties which he had long coveted, including Oversley, and so to continue the consolidation of his estates which had been one of his principal concerns since his succession. He also built up extensive leasehold interests and acquired several valuable wardships, inlcuding that of Richard Archer whose execution for murder gave Throckmorton the opportunity to buy from the crown his most valuable property, Tamworth.13
Throckmorton lived to see some of his younger sons occupy high office in the state and others comfortably established. During his lifetime he settled small freehold estates on most of his younger sons and by his will of 20 July 1552 he left Kenelm an annunity of £40, Nicholas and Clement annities of £20 each, and Clement a further £400 for land purchase. The eldest son Robert had control of part of his inheritence, the manors of Sheldon and Solihull, from his second marriage in 1542, and by the will he obtained a full third of the estate and the reversion of two manors after the executors had held them for three years for the payment of debts: the residue was settled on the widow for life. At his death Throckmorton is said to have had 116 living descendants, including among his grandsons such diverse figures as Job Throckmorton and William Gifford, Archbishop of Rheims and the first Peer of France.14
Throckmorton died on 6 Aug. 1552 and was buried in the stately marble tomb which he had prepared for himself in Coughton church. The most impressive monument which he left, however, was the gatehouse of Coughton court. Throckmorton spent most of his life rebuilding the house: in 1535 he wrote to Cromwell that he and his wife had lived in Buckinghamshire for most of the year, 'for great part of my house here is taken down'. In 1549, when he was planning the windows in the great hall, he asked his son Nicholas to obtain from the heralds the correct trickling of the arms of his ancestors' wives and his own cousin by marriage Queen Catherine Parr. The costly recusancy of Robert Throckmorton and his heirs kept down later rebuilding, so that much of the house still stands largely as he left it.15
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. M. Thorpe
- 1. Date of birth estimated from first commission. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 87; C142/33/14, 43, 46, 47.
- 2. LP Hen. VIII, i-v, vii, viii, xii, xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1550-3, pp. 396-7; 1553, pp. 360-1; Statutes, iii. 85, 86, 112; Coughton Ct. mss boxes 1-33, no. App. 188; box 59; Worcs. RO, 009:1