CORNWALLIS, Sir William (c.1549-1611), of Brome Hall, Suff. and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1549, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Cornwallis of Brome Hall by Anne, da. of John Jerningham of Somerleyton; bro. of Sir Charles. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1560, Trinity Hall by 1564. m. (1) Lucy (d. 30 Apr. 1608), da. and coh. of John Neville, 4th Lord Latimer, 2s. 4da.; (2) 1608, Jane (d.1659), da. of Hercules Mewtas of West Ham, Essex, 1s. Frederick. Kntd. by 1594; suc. fa. 1604.

Offices Held

J.p. Mdx. from 1601.


The Cornwallis family had held the manor of Brome since the middle of the fifteenth century. Cornwallis’s father, Queen Mary’s comptroller of the household, was a Catholic, and retired to his estates on the accession of Queen Elizabeth.

Cornwallis was related to the Cecils through the marriage of his sister-in-law, Dorothy Neville, to Thomas Cecil, later 1st Earl of Exeter, a connexion on which he traded heavily. By his own account he first went to court in 1570, when he would have been about 21, and lost his youth and £20,000 in service there. He was married by 1578 when his father wrote to Burghley disapproving of his daughter-in-law and of the young couple ‘living about this city’ instead of leading a country life. Next Cornwallis incurred the Queen’s displeasure for leaving court in a ‘foolish fit of discontent’. Neither the date of his knighthood, nor the reason for it has been ascertained, and in 1594 he was again in disgrace for quarrelling with a Surrey recusant named Charles Arundel over cards and wine, an incident which almost ended on Islington fields. In the mid 1590s he withdrew from court again, and offered his Highgate house to Sir Robert Cecil at bargain price, praying his constant favour, good opinion, regard and remembrance if he saw any door open ‘of place or profit for me to enter of’. In 1597 he claimed to have deputized as groom porter for the last 16 years, during the illness and old age of a relative, and asked for the reversion of the place. Thus

I may have a poor chamber in court, and a fire, and a title to bring ... cards into the privy chamber at 10 o’clock at night. So that I may be about her Majesty, I care not to be groom of the scullery.

He did not get the job, but for some reason Cecil went to some trouble to bring him into that year’s Parliament, first thinking of Ripon, then, on a re-arrangement of seats at his disposal, for a Cornish borough. To his credit Cornwallis was no passenger in the House of Commons. He was appointed to committees on monopolies (10 Nov., 8 Dec.), the lands of Sir Henry Unton (21 Nov.), the poor law (22 Nov. 1597, 12 Jan. 1598), lands of Norwich diocese (5 Dec. 1597 and 16 Jan. 1598), the painter stainers (12 Dec.) and the lands of two brothers named Culpepper (20 Jan.). He took part in a conference with the Lords on defence, 12 Jan. 1598.

Towards the end of the reign Cecil obtained for him some small office, which Cornwallis later declared was never ‘worth the wax’. He hoped, vainly as it turned out, that in the new reign James I would restore his estate, ‘shrunk and shaken with so many years’ service to a prince, utterly without reward’, and, doubtless, with as many years frequenting the taverns and card tables which feature in his correspondence. He hoped that King James would send him to Venice, on the mission which was entrusted to Anthony Standen, but, again disappointed, he informed Cecil in 1605 that he was too poor to go to court and was therefore obliged to leave the King’s service. He made his will 20 Oct. 1611, desiring to be buried in the chancel of the parish church of Orley, near Brome. He left debts amounting to nearly £4,000, to pay which five manors were to be sold. His wife Jane and infant son were named executors, and Sir John Hobart supervisor. Cornwallis died 13 Nov. 1611. He was the uncle of his namesake the essayist.

Add. 19124; W. A. Copinger, Suff. Manors, iii. 235-9; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 429; HMC Hatfield, ii. 204; iii. 376, 377; iv. 181, 578; v. 4, 30; vii. 86, 404, 477; ix. 103; xv. 176; xvii. 564; D’Ewes, 555, 560, 561, 568, 570, 571, 578, 579, 584; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 107, 115, 119, PCC 93 Wood; C142/329/185.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.