NEWDIGATE, Francis (1519-82), of Hanworth, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 25 Oct. 1519, 5th s. of John Newdigate of Moor Hall, Harefield, Mdx. and Arbury, Warws. by Anne, da. of Nicholas Hilton of Cambridge; bro. of John†, Nicholas† and Robert I m. 1558, Anne, da. of Sir Edward Stanhope, wid. of Edward, Duke of Somerset, s.p.1
Gent. of household of Edward, Duke of Somerset to 1552; servant of Duchess of Somerset 1552-8; j.p. Mdx. from c.1573.2
The Newdigate family was well represented in the Tudor House of Commons. Francis Newdigate’s father is not known to have sat there, but his uncle William had represented Bedwyn in the early sessions of the Reformation Parliament, his eldest brother John was knight of the shire for Middlesex four times between 1547 and 1558, and another brother, Nicholas, had sat in Mary’s last Parliament for Westminster.
The turning point in Francis Newdigate’s life was his marriage to the Duchess of Somerset. Until then his career had been that of a servant to nobility. His uncle Nicholas and brother John were both at Eton and King’s, but his own name is not to be found in the register of either college, and it is probable that his education took the form of service with a leading family. It is not known how soon he entered the Seymour household, but he seems to have risen with his master, and he was sufficiently close to the Protector to be implicated in his fall, when he suffered the confiscation of his property. Nine months after Somerset’s execution Newdigate was pardoned and had his lands and goods restored. During the Duchess’s imprisonment in the Tower, which seems to have lasted until the accession of Mary, he was doubtless active in salvaging the family fortunes, and his knowledge of what went on was later to be drawn upon by the commission set up in 1555 to trace the disposal of the dead Duke’s property. His devotion to her service was presumably a principal reason for the Duchess’s acceptance of him as her second husband in a marriage which could have appeared a disparagement. Whether he suffered from her ‘haughty stomach’ does not appear, and there is no suggestion of any marital discord.3
Shortly before the marriage, and perhaps in preparation for it, the Duchess obtained from the Crown a grant of the manor of Hanworth, Middlesex, and it was as ‘of Hanworth’ that a few months later Newdigate sued out his general pardon. The manor, a royal property, had formerly been held and occupied by Catherine Parr, and it was in the manor house that the Princess Elizabeth had passed some of her early years. Of that house, which was to remain the couple’s principal residence for the remainder of their lives, parts of the walls and two large fireplaces alone survived a fire in 1797; but it must have been an imposing one and have reflected Newdigate’s dignity as a leading gentleman of the shire. He also had some property of his own in Middlesex, including the waste called Ashford Marsh which was the scene of a depredation in 1562.4
Within a few months of his marriage Newdigate made his first appearance in the House of Commons, having been returned for Great Bedwyn to the first Parliament of the new reign. Both the choice of borough, which was a Seymour preserve, and the fact that he was the only Newdigate to sit in this Parliament bespeak the Duchess’s influence. Even before the next crisis in the Seymour fortunes, it would clearly be advantageous as well as honorific for the young Earl of Hertford to have a henchman in the Lower House. Of any part played by Newdigate in the important transactions of this Parliament there is, however, no trace.
It is otherwise with the next Parliament, that of 1563. On this occasion Francis Newdigate sat for Chippenham, a borough also amenable to the Duchess’s influence, since she had a lease of the manor of Monkton Farleigh there; and he was joined by his brother Robert, who was returned for Buckingham. Two episodes were to bring Francis Newdigate into prominence during the lifetime of this House. The first was the affair of Gabriel Pleydell, whom Newdigate accused during the session of 1563 of forgery in connexion with a lawsuit. Since the suit itself concerned the Duchess’s lease of Monkton Farleigh, the matter was of keen personal interest to both her and Newdigate, as well as to the borough which had returned him.5
The second episode was a much weightier one: it was the secret marriage between Hertford and Catherine Grey. This union, with its grave implications for the succession to the Crown, had come to light before Parliament sat, and throughout the session the offending pair were incarcerated in the Tower. That their friends in Parliament were exercised about their misfortune is known, and that there may have been some campaigning done for them is probable: and we may be sure that the Earl’s stepfather would have been in the centre of the picture. Not until the following year, however, is evidence forthcoming of his involvement. Then, after the revelation of John Hales I’s tract on the succession, the government began to investigate, and Francis Newdigate was one of those questioned. In late April and early May 1564 he was twice interrogated about the marriage, and also had to defend himself against the misreporting by Sir Thomas Smith of his part in an alleged plan of Somerset’s to ally himself with the Swedish royal house. Whether Newdigate came near to sharing the imprisonment which befell Hales, or even the ‘house arrest’ imposed on Hertford himself, we cannot say: but he evidently got off scot-free, and unlike Hales was in the Commons for the session of 1566, during which he was named to the succession committee (31 Oct.). When, in the course of that session, the Queen condemned public discussion of the succession on the ground that kinsfolk, servants and tenants of the various claimants would support their masters and mistresses, she might well have had in mind such Members as Newdigate. For him, however, the question was soon to lose its family interest, since the death of Catherine Grey in 1568 put an end to Hertford’s dynastic importance, and with it his kinsman’s obligations to support his claim.6
Newdigate’s parliamentary career reached its apogee in 1571, when he and his nephew John were returned as knights of the shire for Middlesex, Francis taking the senior place. But it was his brother Robert, sitting again for Buckingham, who left his mark on the records of this Parliament, as he was to do again in the next. Whether Francis sought election we do not know, but his absence from the long-lived Parliament of 1572 was to mean that he would not sit again. In any case, his place in the history of the Commons owed more to his having been caught up in affairs of moment than to any gifts of his own.
His declining years seem to have been occupied with domestic and local affairs. The Duchess, now a septuagenarian, may well have absorbed the greater part of them; but if so she was still in return his resolute protectrix, as when in 1574 she complained to Cecil of an affront given to him, apparently by the lord chamberlain, the 3rd Earl of Sussex. His own family also gave him some trouble; in 1581 he was instructed by the Privy Council to compose a dispute between his brothers Robert and Thomas. He continued to engage in land transactions almost up to his death.7
Francis Newdigate made his will 31 May 1580. Declaring that he had received all his preferment by his marriage to the Duchess, he bequeathed to her all his property, real and personal. The former consisted of a house in Canon Row, Westminster, which he had bought of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon; the Bull inn at Isleworth; and the manors of Littleton, Middlesex, and Little Ashtead, Surrey. He made his wife sole executrix. During the 18 months which were to separate this will from the testator’s death on 26 Jan