FITZWILLIAM, Sir William II (1526-99), of Gaynes Park, Essex; later of Milton, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. 1526, 1st s. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Gaynes Park and Milton, and bro. of John. m. settlement 4 Jan 1543, Anne, da. of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, Kent, 2s. inc. William 3da. suc. fa. by 31 Oct. 1552. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.
Keeper, King’s bench prison temp. Edward VI and Mary; jt. (with bro.) bailiff and steward Fotheringay manor from 4 Nov. 1553, sole from 1568; j.p. Northants. from c.1559, Essex c.1559, 1583-d.; treasurer at the wars, vice-treasurer and receiver gen. in Ireland 1559-4 Mar. 1571, ld. justice 1560-1, 1567, 1571, ld. dep. 11 Dec. 1572-5, 1588-94.2
Fitzwilliam’s mother, who had a life interest in the manors of Milton, Marholm and Castor, Northamptonshire, was related to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, who introduced the young man into government service. Though Fitzwilliam ‘stood for the true religion’ in Mary’s first Parliament, and in 1555, as keeper of the Queen’s bench prison, was fined ten marks for allowing the escape of a prisoner convicted of heresy, he took no part in plots against Mary, and may even have begun his Irish employment during her reign: his movements between 1555 and the accession of Elizabeth are poorly documented. Since he was related to two leading officials in Ireland, the Earl of Sussex and Sir Henry Sidney, it is not surprising that he spent so many years there. After serving as treasurer, and for a first period as lord justice, Fitzwilliam may have returned to England for a time before being reappointed as lord justice in 1567, despite his protests that the position had previously cost him £2,000 and considerable opprobrium. His new tenure of office brought further criticism, including strictures from the Queen herself. He was relieved by Sidney’s appointment as lord deputy, but was again given the office of lord justice in 1571. Once again he pleaded ill-health and impoverishment, but on 11 Dec. 1572 his patent was issued as lord deputy of Ireland. On 6 Oct. 1572 he was pardoned £1,000 of a debt of nearly £4,000 ‘in consideration of his 14 years’ service in Ireland’. He was given ten years to pay the rest of what he owed the Queen ‘from the moneys which have come into his hand by virtue of his offices’. This period in office, marked by the usual complaints about shortage of money, was largely occupied with trying to unravel the complications of the plantation system in Ulster, and in forcing the Earl of Desmond to submit. He was relieved of his post in September 1575, when he was thought to be on the point of death. Despite his complaints of poverty, he bought more land in Northamptonshire and entertained the Queen on 19 Sept. 1578. During this period of residence in England, he was for a short time responsible, as keeper of Fotheringay, for the custody of Mary Queen of Scots, winning her gratitude by his courtesy and consideration. He was returned at a by-election in time to attend the 1581 session of the 1572 Parliament, being named to committees concerning slanderous words and practices (1, 3 Feb.), the Arthur Hall privilege case (4 Feb.) and the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.). His constituency is not named, but presumably was Peterborough, which he had represented before, and where the death of Robert Wingfield in 1580 had left a vacancy.3
In 1588 he was reappointed lord deputy in place of Sir John Perrot. Sir George Carew praised the appointment because of Fitzwilliam’s wisdom, experience and, in particular, religious beliefs. On this point the Queen had different ideas, fearing that he was ‘too forward in dealing with matters of religion’. As lord deputy, he had to cope with the opening stages of Maguire’s revolt and a mutiny amongst the English soldiers. His government was fiercely criticised by many people, including Thomas Lee, a follower of the Earl of Essex.4
At the close of his life, Fitzwilliam was driven to sell property which had been assured to his wife on their marriage. Yet he forfeited no mortgages, and it seems that his debts were not ruinous. The drain on his financial resources may have been due as much to the extravagance of his eldest son William as to Fitzwilliam’s service in Ireland. He died, after a long illness, 22 June 1599. His will, drawn up in March the previous year, spoke of his blindness and bodily weakness:
It hath pleased God to take away from me the sight of all things in this world, and to afflict my body with sundry infirmities, all which I do take to be but preparation of the separation that shall be of my soul and inward man from this earthly body, and to be summons unto me to go the way of all flesh.
He thanked the Queen for allowing him to retire to his ‘native soil’, where he could enjoy her ‘peaceable government’. He requested a simple burial, warned his wife not to trust William, and left her apparel, ornaments, plate and jewels.