CONINGSBY, Sir Thomas (1550-1625), of Hampton Court, Herefs. and the Black Friars, Hereford.
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Family and Education
b. 9 Oct. 1550,1 yr. s. of Humphrey Coningsby I of Hampton Court by Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Englefield of Englefield, Berks. m. Philippa, da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam II of Milton, nr. Peterborough, Northants., 6s. 5da. suc. bro. Edward 1561. Kntd. 1591.2
J.P Herefs by 1580 sheriff 1582-3, 1598-9, dep. lt. by 1590, commr. musters; recorder, Leominster bef. 1584, dep. steward 1591, steward c. Mar. 1601; steward of Marden, Herefs. by 1588, of Ewyas, Herefs. 1597; jt. (with Herbert Croft) steward of crown lands, Herefs. 1604; gent. pens. 1591/3-1603; 1591/3-1603; member, council in the marches of Wales 1617.3
Hon. adm. G. Inn Feb. 1584; hon. MA Oxf. 27 Sept. 1592.
Coningsby was one of the major landowners in the Welsh border country throughout most of the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. Following the death in quick succession of his father and elder brother he inherited, as a boy, extensive estates, which, supplemented by later purchases, comprised the Herefordshire manors of Hampton Court, Bodenham and Pencombe, the site of the Black Friars at Hereford, lands at Orleton and elsewhere in Herefordshire; and estates in Brecon, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. This landed wealth enabled him to play a leading part in border politics, especially when his fortunes became linked to those of the Earl of Essex, and it was obviously just a matter of time before he came up against the other leading border family, the Crofts, and especially against Sir James Croft, comptroller of the Queen’s household, who had been for 20 years the dominant figure in Herefordshire politics.4
It was only when he had reached the age of about 30 that Coningsby began to challenge Croft’s supremacy. Earlier, he had been visiting Italy with Philip Sidney. The long-standing friendship between the Coningsbys and the Sidneys was severely strained on their journey when Sidney charged his companion with robbery, but it was resumed and strengthened by Coningsby’s marriage to one of Sidney’s cousins. The first evidence of Coningsby’s awakening interest in Herefordshire affairs occurs in 1577 when he complained to Walsingham about the appointment of William Rudhall as sheriff. Next he acquired the recordership of Leominster, despite Croft’s nomination of his stepson, Thomas Wigmore. One of Wigmore’s servants then caused an affray with a Coningsby follower in the town, which in turn set off outbreaks of violence lasting intermittently for several years, during the course of which at least one man was killed. Coningsby, who was prosecuted in the Star Chamber by the attorney-general, no doubt at Croft’s request, maintained that his servants were merely defending themselves. Twice he wrote to Wigmore in ‘neighbourly and friendly sort’, or so he claimed, asking for an end to the violence, but each time the reply came back ‘very sharply’ and in abusive language. What seems to have angered Coningsby above all was being called ‘an Italianate knave’ in Leominster market place. Clashes took place in other towns in the county—in Kington and in Hereford itself—itself and even in London. According to Wigmore, ‘sixty or more’ of Coningsby’s men attacked five or six of his at Hereford and Coningsby himself threatened judge Roger Manwood, who was conducting the assizes, with a pistol. In 1590 the balance shifted in Coningsby’s favour with the death of Sir James Croft, and Coningsby’s own attachment to the Earl of Essex, the new steward of Leominster, whose deputy Coningsby now became. He accompanied Essex to Normandy in 1591, where he acted part of the time as muster master to the English detachment, and he wrote an account of the siege of Rouen, where he was knighted by Essex. Referring to the expedition in his will, he mentioned that ‘promised me a treasurership, but was not able to perform with me’. He describes several meetings with the King of France; returning from one he was involved in the fighting near Rouen when he could ‘sensibly feel the wind of the bullets in my face’.5
Coningsby’s hard-won prominence in Herefordshire is reflected in his election as senior knight of the shire for Elizabeth’s last three Parliaments. In 1593 he served on two committees concerned with the subsidy (28 Feb., 1 Mar.) and on three others—disabled soldiers (30 Mar.), to take fresh water to Stonehouse town (26 Mar.), and cloth (15 Mar.). In 1597-8 he spoke at least twice on matters affecting the border counties. He opposed (12 Dec.) building a new bridge over the Wye at Ross on three grounds: the poverty of the country, the existing heavy taxation and the repeated damage done to the existing bridge. He disagreed (17 Dec.) with the proposal that Shropshire should be brought within the statute to encourage the growth of corn, hoping that ‘as Herefordshire and the other counties adjoining were the barns for the corn, so this shire might and would be the dairy house to the whole realm’. He was named to committees concerned with armour and weapons (8 Nov.), defence (12, 16 Jan. 1598), excess apparel (19 Jan.), and mariners and soldiers (26 Jan.), and as knight of the shire was eligible to attend committees concerning enclosures (5 Nov.), poor law (5, 22 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.) and the subsidy (15 Nov.). The county election of 1601 was hotly contested, but Coningsby still wrote to Cecil that he had been chosen against his will, ‘being altogether unable to mount a horse’. A contemporary wrote about this contest:
It is thought that there will be at the least 10,000 men at Hereford at the election, and this I can assure you of, they shall be sworn and told by poll to the last man, which imagine you what time it will require.
Coningsby was named to a committee on Nov. 1601, concerning the shortening of the Michaelmas law term. As knight for Herefordshire he was eligible to attend two committees: the order of business (3 Nov.) and monopolies (23 Nov.).6
Coningsby’s office at Leominster gave him some parliamentary patronage there, and he twice returned relatives. On the fall of Essex (‘that Lord of most honour’) he succeeded him as steward, in the face of Cecil’s recommendation of Herbert Croft, with whom Coningsby’s rivalry now became almost as desperate as it had been with Croft’s grandfather. His delight in forcing Croft to share his job as steward of crown lands in Herefordshire is apparent in a letter he wrote to Robert Sidney:
Had your lordship been but present to have observed the alteration of his countenance ... I think you would have judged with me that it was a thing very displeasing unto him to be offered a colleague in place wherein a chief part of his greatness and unjust profit hath long accrued.7
Coningsby, who is thought to have been the prototype of Sir Puntarvolo in Ben Jonson’s Everyman in His Humour, became more difficult as he grew older. Hardly a year passed when he was not involved in legal proceedings. He quarrelled incessantly with his only surviving son and demanded impossible terms for the hand of his daughter Anne, the negotiations for whose marriage to Sir Robert Harley continued intermittently throughout 1603 and 1604. By early 1605 Harley’s patience was exhausted. In a final letter, he expressed the hope that Coningsby would ‘deal with others better than you have done with me, or else you will hardly get a good husband for your daughter’.8
Coningsby remained active throughout much of James’s reign, being appointed a member of the council in the marches of Wales in 1617. His name had been suggested as early as 1591 and again in 1604, but he must then have been considered unsuitable. Following his work in Parliament for disabled soldiers, he founded a hospital for them in Hereford in 1614, and when he made his will on 10 Aug. 1616 he increased his provision for the hospital. The will, to which several codicils were added, is a lengthy document. He recorded that he was old in years, ‘accidentally lame of legs, but far from dotage’, for which he gave ‘glory to God on high’. He provided for four of his daughters but not for Anne, who was ‘not to be disappointed’. The sums involved—£3,000 to one daughter, £2,000 to another—testify to his wealth. His son Fitzwilliam’s debts caused him concern but, after frequently changing his mind, he appointed him sole executor in a final codicil dated 2 July 1623. He left him lands worth £500 a year, ‘all procured by myself’, ‘my plate worth £1,000—and I began with six dishes when I went into Normandy’, valuable household goods, and much else besides, urging him to spend no more than £1,000 a year. The final codicil also provided for his son’s children by his marriage to Cecily, daughter of Lord Bergavenny’s heir. Coningsby died at Hampton Court on 30 May 1625, aged 74, and was buried at Hope Church next to his wife.9
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. His brother’s i.p.m. dates Thomas’s birth precisely: the feast of St. Dionysius before 1 p.m., E150/452/6.
- 2. DNB; C. J. Robinson, Herefs, Mansions, 149; Cam. Misc. i(4), passim.
- 3. APC, xi. 425, 453, 455; xx. 38; xxi. 462; xxii. 275; CSP Dom 1581-90, p. 155; HMC Hatfield, iv. 94; viii. 82; xi. 114; Collins, Sidney Pprs. ii. 306; E407/1/20, 21 23, 24; Lansd. 68, f. 95.
- 4. C142/424/93, 124/221; PCC 45 Chaynay; Trans. Salop. Arch. Soc. xlvii. 143; Lansd. 3, f. 43.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 579; 1581-90, p. 155 et passim; APC, xvi. 248, 258, 275, 291; xvii. 85; xx. 67; St. Ch. 5/C19/13, C43/36, C70/13, C73/10, A9/36, A16/2, W64/36; SP12/167/45, 46; SP12/213/81; SP12/216/45, 46, 47; PCC 38 Hele; HMC Hatfield, iv. 94, 150, 170; Cam. Misc. i(4), p. 40.
- 6. D’Ewes, 474, 478, 481, 486, 496, 501, 510, 512, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 578, 581, 583, 588, 624, 635, 649, 657; Bull. IHR, xii. 15, 16; Salop RO, Watkins-Pitchford, mss; HMC Hatfield, xi. 441.
- 7. HMC Hatfield, iv. 94; xi. 114, 160-1; xvi. 66; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 541; HMC De L’isle and Dudley, iii. 99-100; Collins, Sidney Pprs. ii. 306.
- 8. G. Townshend, Hist. Leominster, 88; HMC Rutland, iii. 1-4.
- 9. HMC Hatfield, iv. 296; xiii. 457; xv. 392; Lansd. 68, f. 95; J. Price, Hist. Hereford, 213-31; J. Duncumb, Herefs. i. 405-6; PCC 38 Hele; C142/424/93.