GILBERT, Adrian (c.1541-1628), of Sandridge, Dartmouth, Devon.

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.1541, 3rd s. of Otho or Otes Gilbert of Compton, by Katherine, da. of Sir Philip Champernown; bro. of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and half-bro. of Carew and Walter Ralegh. educ. M. Temple 1562-6. m. Eleanor Markham (d.1598) of Devon, wid. of a s. of Sir John Fulford.

Offices Held

Constable of Sherborne castle ?1599-1603.


According to John Aubrey, who could not have known him, Adrian Gilbert was ‘a man of great parts, but the greatest buffoon in England; cared not what he said to man or woman of what quality soever’. Among the Devon men with him at the Middle Temple were John and William Peryam; Henry Bayly, Roger Kemys, Edward Stafford, Robert Moyle, all later servants of Sir Walter Ralegh; William Medley, later associated with Humphrey Gilbert in a mining venture; and Thomas Harris, Henry Somaster and John Hender. For perhaps 30 years, Gilbert was an agent for his half-brother Ralegh, supplying him with £10 when he first went to court, and performing many services for him; Ralegh owned a ship called the Adrian, and employed Gilbert on his Sherborne estate from 1595-1603. It was here that Gilbert became involved in a quarrel with John Mere, the bailiff, who described Gilbert as an aged [sic] and corpulent man, and accused him of ‘great fury’ and ‘savage cruelty’. It was said that ‘he should not live with a nose in his face in Sherborne that durst find fault with anything that he [Gilbert] did there’. It was doubtless through the influence of Ralegh that Gilbert was elected to his parliamentary seat for Bridport. He sat on the committee for the bill concerning armour and weapons (8 Nov.) before being licensed to absent himself to visit Ralegh because of the latter’s sickness on 21 Nov.

Gilbert’s estate at Sandridge belonged to his wife, held in trust by his close friend and neighbour, John Davis the explorer, and others until 1584 when the property was conveyed to him. His interest in commerce and voyages of exploration was paramount. When Humphrey Gilbert was lost in his attempt to find the north-west passage, Adrian Gilbert and John Dee took over the rights of his grant, being backed by Ralegh, Walsingham and John Peryam. Gilbert owned a ship, the Elizabeth, of 70 tons and carrying 60 men, and supplied a vessel for the 1591-2 expedition in which Thomas Cavendish lost his life. He was instrumental in operating a silver mine at Combe Martin, North Devon, from which he reaped £8,000 profit in a few years. He had some reputation as an alchemist, farmer, and, especially, as a landscape gardener. In 1602 he was employed by Cecil to construct a water course at Theobalds, a project Gilbert discussed in half a dozen lengthy and humorous letters. It is possible that after this date he went to live at Wilton. Certainly he became a ‘great favourite of Mary, Countess of Pembroke’ and, sharing her interest in alchemy, became her laboratory assistant.1

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


This biography is based upon the Roberts thesis. The assistance of Mr. Henry Manisty is gratefully acknowledged.

  • 1. J. Fowler, Medieval Sherborne, 336; C. F. Smith, John Dee, 89, 94; C. Monro, Acta Canc. 176 seq.; SP9/55/14; Gent. Mag. xl. 441, 439; D’Ewes, 553, 559; A. H. Markham, Voyages of Davis (Hak, Soc. lix); W. G. Hoskins, Devon, 537; J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Clark, i. 262.