UNDERHILL, Edward (1512-76 or later), of Hunningham and Baginton, Warws. and Limehouse, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. 1512, 1st s. of Thomas Underhill (d. Sept. 1518/June 1520) of Hunningham by Anne, da. of Robert Winter of Huddington, Worcs. m.lic. 17 Nov. 1546, Joan, da. of Thomas Peryns or Speryn of London, wid. of Richard Downes (d.1545) of Greenwich, Kent, 5s. 7da. suc. ?gdfa. 29 Nov. 1518.1

Offices Held

Gent.-at-arms 1544-54, 1558-?d.2

Biography

Man-at-arms and ‘hot gospeller’, Edward Underhill achieved earthly immortality by leaving a sparkling account of the most hazardous phase of his career. That he emerged so little damaged was due in no small part to his advantages of birth and connexion. The uncle who in 1527 obtained his wardship was William Underhill, a former clerk of the Commons, and his mother’s father took as his second wife a daughter of Sir George Throckmorton. When Underhill was before the Privy Council he could remind Secretary Bourne that Bourne’s father ‘was beholden unto my uncle Winter’; his cousin Gilbert Winter was a gentleman usher to Princess Elizabeth; and he owed his release from Newgate to another cousin, John Throckmorton I.3

Gravitating to the court, Underhill at first led a dissolute life as one of the gambling set which included Sir Ralph Bagnall; this probably explains the sale of much of his inheritance, although he denied Bourne’s accusation to that effect, ascribing his impoverishment to the cost of his service with the crown. He was not, as he himelf claimed, one of the original band of gentlemen pensioners formed in 1540, nor did he ever achieve that prestigious status; he was one of the gentlemen-at-arms added to the corps during the French war. It was on the recommendation of (Sir) Richard Cromwell alias Williams*, with whom he served in 1543, that in the following year Underhill joined the King’s personal troop and took part in the Boulogne campaign. He was to return to that town in 1549, when he was comptroller of ordnance in the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon’s expedition for its relief.4

Underhill’s description of his lute-playing for Huntingdon at Calais, interspersed with religious argumentation with the earl’s brother Sir Edward Hastings, shows that he was by then imbued with both the radical views and the proselytizing zeal for which he became notorious. ‘Even in King Edward’s time’, he was afterwards to write, ‘I became odious unto most men, and many times in danger of my life amongst them’, but until 1553 not only was the religious tide with him but he had powerful protectors from the Duke of Northumberland downwards. Among these were Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, and his son Francis, Lord Russell, whom, from his home at Limehouse, Underhill had helped to save from drowning in the Thames. It was without doubt the Russells who procured Underhill a seat for Tavistock in the Parliament of March 1553, although the fact that Sir Edward Rogers, who preceded him there, had been his commanding officer in 1544 must also have told in his favour. Regrettably, Underhill has nothing to say of his brief Membership of the Commons, in which it is hard to believe that he held his tongue.

Underhill stood close to Northumberland—the Earl of Arundel said that he was ‘always tutting’ in the duke’s ear—and it was during her brief reign that Jane Grey was one of the godparents of his newborn son. Although he did not bear arms against Mary, he rashly published a ballad against popery on the day after she was proclaimed in London. Arrested at Limehouse on 3 Aug. by Sir William Garrard, he was brought before the Privy Council and underwent the examination so vividly, if partially, recounted in his narrative. Of the 11 Councillors present the Earl of Bedford, who presided, and the 2nd Earl of Sussex, whose son Sir Humphrey Radcliffe was lieutenant of the pensioners, could be expected to sympathize with Underhill, while the 12th Earl of Arundel and the secretary were clearly hostile. Two days later he was sent to Newgate, where he remained until 5 Sept., the order for his release having apparently taken two weeks to produce that result. Francis Russell sent him money while he was in prison.5

Upon the approach of Wyatt’s rebels in February 1554 Underhill succeeded, after one rebuff, in taking his place alongside the gentlemen pensioners. He did so despite the fact that on the previous 4 Oct. his place as a gentleman-at-arms had been given to another. He even succeeded in serving at the royal marriage in the following July, but with the onset of persecution he withdrew with his family to Warwickshire after having had his books bricked up at Limehouse. He appears to have incurred no further trouble for his opinions. In 1555-7 he received considerable property under the wills of his brother Ralph and his aunt Jane Winter: this included Stoneleigh grange, which he sold, and Baginton, which he made his home and where, after being licensed to alienate lands and the advowson there in 1568, he is last mentioned in 1576. Included as a gentleman-at-arms in a list of Elizabeth’s household compiled in 1558, he was assessed as a member of the household for the subsidy of 1566 but is not known to have returned to court.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe