WHARTON, Thomas I (c.1495-1568), of Wharton and Nateby, Westmld. and Healaugh, Yorks.

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



Family and Education

b. c.1495, 1st s. of Thomas Wharton of Wharton and Nateby by Agnes, da. of Reginald Warcop of Smardale, Westmld. m. (1) bef. 4 July 1518, Eleanor, da. of Sir Brian Stapleton of Wighill, Yorks., at least 2s. inc. Thomas II 2 da.; (2) 18 Nov. 1561, Anne, da. of Francis Talbot, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, wid. of John, 2nd Lord Bray. suc. fa. c.1520. Kntd. 1527/30 June 1531; cr. Baron Wharton of Wharton 18 Feb./5 Mar. 1544.1

Offices Held

Servant of 5th Earl of Northumberland; j.p. Westmld. 1524-d., Northumb. 1532-d., Yorks. (E. Riding) 1532, northern circuit 1540, Yorks. 1554-d.; sheriff, Cumb. 1529-30, 1535-6, 1539-40; comptroller under Earl of Northumberland in marches 1533; dep. warden, west marches, steward, Carlisle and Wetherall priories and Holme abbey 28 June 1537, warden, west marches 1 Feb. 1544-17 Apr. 1549, dep. warden, marches 31 July 1552, warden, middle marches, keeper, Redesdale and Tyndale, capt. Berwick-upon-Tweed, constable, Alnwick and chief steward, Hexham 30 July 1555, warden, east marches and steward, Rothbury 16 Dec. 1555, jt. warden, east and middle marches 2-9 Aug. 1557; gov. and capt.-gen. Carlisle 1541; member, council in the north c. Jan. 1545; steward, lands formerly of Furness abbey by Mar. 1545; jt. (with s. Thomas) steward, manor of Preston, Yorks. 20 Jan. 1546; commr. relief, Cumb., Westmld., Yorks. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, York 1553, border defences 1555, unlawful congregations, northern counties 1561, eccles. causes, province of York 1561; other commissions 1531-d.; keeper, Berwick-upon-Tweed 16 Aug. 1556-Dec. 1557; councillor assistant to lt.-gen. in north 1560.2


The Whartons were minor Westmorland gentry, tenants and followers of the Cliffords, but Thomas Wharton’s father had also served the crown. The date of his death is unknown but his son became a ward of the 10th Lord Clifford, who sold the wardship for 200 marks. The young Wharton next appears as a soldier, taking part in 1522 in a raid into Scotland, and then in the household of Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland. His service with Percy, perhaps a result of his marriage to a Stapleton, was to bring him vast rewards from a master who described him in 1534 as ‘mine one hand’. In May 1528 the earl appointed Wharton comptroller of his household and steward of the Percy lordships of Healaugh and Tadcaster in the West Riding, offices which Wharton held for life. They were followed in October 1530 by the stewardship of the lordships of Eskdale and Wasdale, the constableship of Egremont castle and the lieutenancy of Cockermouth. In granting Wharton these offices, which were to pass to his heirs, Northumberland transferred to him much of the Percy power in Cumberland: with them went several manors in that shire (all at a rent which was not only low in itself but was to be partly paid by the earl himself in the shape of an annuity out of it to Wharton of 100 marks) as well as several properties in Yorkshire. Northumberland’s liberality to Wharton and others, notably Sir Reynold Carnaby, has usually been regarded as feckless, but it has recently been suggested that he may have been seeking to perpetuate Percy influence in the face of the crown’s apparent intention to destroy the family. Although Wharton became increasingly a King’s man he did not break with the earl, who died in 1537, and he and his kinsman Carnaby remained friends, Wharton being supervisor of Carnaby’s will and obtaining the wardship of his daughters.3

Wharton’s entry into the service of the Percy family had not meant a break with the Cliffords and it was evidently to Henry Clifford, 1st Earl of Cumberland, who was Northumberland’s brother-in-law, that he owed his return in 1529 for Appleby, a borough for which three of his forbears had sat a century before. His election was straightway followed by his being pricked sheriff of Cumberland. Of his role in the Commons the only glimpse is provided by his inclusion in a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534: those listed are thought to have had a particular connexion, perhaps as a committee, with the treasons bill then on its passage through Parliament. Wharton was probably returned again in 1536, in accordance with the King’s general request for the reelection of the previous Members, and perhaps also in 1539, when the Members for Appleby are unknown. The return for Cumberland to the Parliament of 1542 survives, but in a damaged form: what is left of it suggests that both Wharton and his son, then barely of age, were returned for the shire.4

The northern rising of 1536 was a landmark in Wharton’s career. He did not join the rebels but as an opponent of the 3rd Lord Dacre became one of their targets. Yet he was not among those who vigorously opposed the rebels from the start: in effect, he went into hiding, either from fear or because he was torn in his loyalties between the crown and the Percys, and early in 1537 the Earl of Cumberland linked him with Sir Thomas Curwen and Sir William Musgrave as men who had been in jeopardy during the rising. He redeemed his reputation by bestirring himself in the final work of suppression, and in June 1537 he was appointed deputy warden of the west marches. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk had opposed any such appointment on the ground that only a nobleman was adequate to the task; Cumberland accordingly remained warden until 1542, but it was in name only, for the King met Norfolk’s argument with a flat refusal to accept the service of none but lords. (Some years later Norfolk’s grandson would also object to Wharton’s being made warden of the west marches, but this time it was because Wharton, albeit wise and experienced, was at deadly feud with the Master of Maxwell.) Wharton himself, writing to Cromwell in September 1537, claimed that whereas in the late Lord Dacre’s day the cry had been ‘A Dacre, a Dacre’, and afterwards ‘A Clifford, a Clifford’ and still ‘A Dacre, a Dacre’, now it was only ‘A King, a King’; six years later he suggested that the King should obtain, by exchange or otherwise, the border lordships of Burgh, Gilsland and Greystoke. Although he had owed his start to Northumberland, Wharton came to personify the Tudor hostility to the overmighty northern families, Cliffords, Dacres and Percys. He himself was closely linked with two other families similarly placed, the Curwens and the Musgraves. Sir Thomas Curwen, whom the Duke of Norfolk called Wharton’s greatest and most trusted friend, took as his second wife Wharton’s sister and in 1534 his son Henry was contracted to Wharton’s daughter Agnes: when that arrangement fell through Agnes married Sir Richard Musgrave, Wharton’s ward whose mother had been Elizabeth Curwen.5

Wharton had sometimes to take orders from a magnate like Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, or Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, but for the most part he was supreme in one or other of the marches. Bishop Holgate wrote of his good service and hoped that his neighbours’ disdain would not upset him. When, after his victory at Solway Moss, he became warden of the west marches Wharton was raised to the peerage along with his colleague Eure: their patents were delivered to them by Hertford at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 18 Mar. 1544, so that if Wharton was then knight of the shire for Cumberland he was an absentee during the third session of the Parliament. The northern nobility did not welcome the newcomer to their ranks. He ceased to stand well with the Cliffords and when in 1549 Richard Musgrave brought in a bill to deprive the Earl of Cumberland of his hereditary shrievalty of Westmorland it was said that this ‘could not be otherwise than by the procurement of the Lord Wharton’; later the Privy Council had to intervene annually to prevent Wharton and Cumberland quarrelling over the Kirkby Stephen fair. Dacre was another source of trouble, and although in 1551 the Council with great difficulty brought him and Wharton to shake hands they had to go through the ceremony again, this time with Cumberland present, three-and-a-half years later. In September 1557 Wharton reported to the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury that Cumberland had seized his goods at Wharton for debt and that he would prefer a formal complaint. The upshot was the introduction in Mary’s last Parliament of a bill to punish the ‘lewd misdemeanours of certain of the Earl of Cumberland’s servants and tenants towards my Lord Wharton’, which however did not get beyond its first reading in the Lords on 3 Feb. 1558. Wharton appears not to have sat in the Lords until the reign of Edward VI, being evidently unable or unwilling to delegate his authority on the borders. On 5 Oct.1547, and again a week later, he wrote asking whether he should leave his ‘weighty charge’ by obeying his writ of summons to the King’s first Parliament and was finally instructed by the Protector Somerset to stay in the north. He was present during the second and third sessions of this Parliament and thereafter attended as often as the duties of his various offices allowed. He was one of the peers who tried Somerset. His dissentient votes include two against measures allowing the marriage of priests and one against the bill for abolishing images but he did not, as is sometimes stated, vote against the second Act of Uniformity; this belonged to the fourth session, for which he had received licence to remain in the north and at which he appointed the Duke of Northumberland as his proxy.6

Wharton profited from service to the King as he had from service to the Earl of Northumberland. It has been estimated that at the height of his prosperity he was receiving between £600 and £700 a year in fees, although this total may have included the £100 which his son had as master of the Queen’s henchmen. He also received large grants of land, chiefly monastic but including some of the confiscated estates of Sir Francis Bigod. Ravenstonedale in Westmorland was one of these and Wharton later added to his unpopularity by emparking it: according to the family history he was so hated by the common people that he was forced to quit his Westmorland estates for Healaugh in Yorkshire.7

Wharton was a pillar of border government throughout the changes in religious policy: towards the end of his life he was even named to several commissions for enforcing the Elizabethan settlement, although he had ceased to attend the Lords. In 1559 he named as his proxies in the Lords, Edward North, 1st Lord North and Edward Hastings, Baron Hastings of Loughborough, and in 1563 and 1566 the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. His own sympathies seem to have been conservative, for in his will, made on 18 July 1568 and proved on 7 Apr. 1570, he invoked the prayers of ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the holy company in heaven’. As supervisors he appointed three earls, Pembroke, Shrewsbury and Sussex, and his cousin Sir George Bowes, a Puritan who had also married into the Talbot family, and as executors his son Thomas and Bowes’s brother Robert. His widow made her will in 1582, using the same religious formula and appointing the Catholic John Talbot of Grafton one of her executors. Wharton died on 23 Aug. 1568 and was buried, as he had asked to be, at Healaugh: there is also a monument to him and his two wives at Kirkby Stephen, where he had founded a school.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth given in CP. Vis. of the North, i (Surtees Soc. cxxii), 7; Vis. N. Counties (Surtees Soc. xli), 99; DNB.
  • 2. M. E. James, Change and Continuity in Tudor North (Borthwick Pprs. xxvii), passim; LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, vii-ix, xi-xx, add.; CPR, 1547-8 to 1563-6 passim; CSP Scot. 1547-63, p. 191; H. Pease, Ld. Wardens, 199; Somerville, Duchy, i. 510; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 19n, 116, 163, 173, 176.
  • 3. Nicolson and Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 557-9; M. E. James, Change and Continuity in Tudor North, passim, A Tudor Magnate and the Tudor State (Borthwick Pprs. xxx), 20n; LP Hen. VIII, iii, xii; J. M. W. Bean, Estates of Percy Fam. 66n, 146; Northumb. Co. Hist. x. 399, 401, 409.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, v; vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; C219/18B/15.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii, xviii; R. B. Smith, Land and Politics, 172-3; HMC Hatfield, i. 199-200, 229, 235; CSP Scot. 1547-63, p. 487.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xiv; CP, xii(2), App. D, 14-17; Clifford Letters (Surtees Soc. clxxii), 102; APC, ii. 553; iii. 499; iv. 56, 271; v. 13, 43, 86-87; vi. 18; vii. 10; LJ, 316 et passim; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), ii. 359-62; DKR, iv. app. ii. 230; HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 6-90 passim; HMC Bath. iv. 35-74 passim.
  • 7. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. ii. 400-1; E. R. Wharton, Whartons, 25, Arch. Jnl. cii. 134.
  • 8. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. iv. 206, 240-2; LJ, i. 541, 580, 624.