ONSLOW, Richard (1527/28-71), of Blackfriars, London.
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Family and Education
b. 1527/28, yr. s. of Roger Onslow of Shrewsbury, Salop by his 1st w. Margaret, da. of Thomas Poyner of Salop. educ. I. Temple, adm. 1545. m. 7 Aug. 1559, Catherine, da. and coh. of William Harding of Knowle in Cranleigh, Surr., 2s. 5da.1
Bencher, I. Temple 1559, Autumn reader 1562, gov. 1564-6.
Member, council in the marches of Wales by 1560-d.; clerk of council, duchy of Lancaster 1561-d.; eccles. commr. 1562; j.p.q. Salop from 1562, Mdx. 1564; recorder, London by 13 June 1563-June 1566; solicitor-gen. 27 June 1566-Mar. 1569; attorney, ct. of wards from 12 Mar. 1569.2
Speaker of House of Commons 1566.
The Onslows had been in Shropshire since the thirteenth century and were connected with the Corbets, Devereux and Dudleys. As the younger son of a younger son Onslow had to make his own way, and an admission was arranged for him at the Inner Temple, from which body he was expelled, with seven others, for making an affray in 1556. After a period in the Fleet and an apology, the malefactors were pardoned and re-admitted. Onslow was ‘lord chancellor’ at the Inner Temple Christmas festivities of 1562-3, presided over by Sir Robert Dudley, and it may have been on this occasion that he was first noticed by the Queen. By this time he had already given one reading (a second was excused in 1566 as he was Speaker) and had begun to practise in the duchy of Lancaster court. He had also sat twice in Parliament, once for Steyning at the end of Mary’s reign, and in 1559 for Aldborough, presumably on the nomination of Sir Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who appointed him an overseer of his will.3
In 1563 he was again returned to Parliament for Steyning, no doubt through one of his Inner Temple connexions. Surprisingly for an up and coming lawyer, Onslow, as far as is known, made no speeches and was appointed to no committees in the 1563 session. Though the journals are defective, the complete absence of his name creates a doubt as to whether he was present, but there is no evidence that he was not. Onslow was made recorder of London after the end of the session, and was expected to represent the City in Parliament, in accordance with custom. Two of the later Crown Office lists for this Parliament actually give his name as one of the London Members. However, Onslow resigned the recordership, on becoming solicitor-general, before the 1566 session of Parliament began. As solicitor-general his proper place was in the Lords, with a writ of assistance. Such a writ was issued (possibly the fact that he was MP for Steyning was overlooked), but when Speaker Williams died and the government wished Onslow to succeed him he reappeared in the Lower House, still MP for Steyning. On the motion of the comptroller of the Household, the Commons went through the form of asking the Lords to restore Onslow to their House, and he was duly nominated Speaker. Normally the disabling speech made by a Speaker-elect on his nomination was purely formal, but Onslow himself raised the substantial objection that his oath as solicitor-general was incompatible with the office of Speaker and his election was agreed to only after a division 82, for, 70 against. A division on the election of a Speaker was rare, so rare that the Spanish ambassador mistakenly took it to mean that two candidates had been nominated. When on the next day Onslow was formally presented to the Queen as Speaker-elect, he again mentioned the difficulty arising from his office.
Much ink has been expended in describing the difficult session of 1566 over which Onslow presided, with the Queen and Commons at odds over the marriage and the succession, and a vocal element insisting on debating religion instead of government business. Though his own inclinations may have been towards the puritans, Onslow kept control, warning James Dalton, for example, not to offend the Queen by raising the matter of James VI’s title to the English crown, and preventing extremists getting control of the delegation which saw Elizabeth about her marriage and the succession. At the closing of Parliament on 2 Jan. 1567 he made ‘an excellent oration of two hours long’, deriding the Pope while eulogising hereditary as opposed to elective monarchy, and supporting the puritans by declaring that a sovereign’s duty towards the church was to put away ‘all hurtful or unprofitable ceremonies in any wise contrary to God’s word’. The common law of England was ‘grounded on God’s laws and nature’. The sovereign’s prerogative was limited:
Although thereby for the Prince is provided many princely prerogatives and royalties, yet is it not such as the Prince can take money or other things or do as he will at his own pleasure without order.
The Queen’s promise to marry was noted:
God grant, as your Majesty hath defended the faith of Abraham, you may have the like desire of issue with him, and for that purpose that you would most shortly embrace the holy state of matrimony.
All in all not a subservient speech for a man whose future depended on government patronage. The Queen replied, in the words of the journal, ‘in a most excellent phrase of speech and sentence that she seemed not pleased with the doings of the Commons, for busying themselves, in this session, with matters which did not appertain at this time’. For all that, Onslow’s outspokenness did him no damage. He was given the lucrative attorneyship of the court of wards a year or two later and sat on many ad hoc commissions, from inquiring into crimes committed within the ‘verge of the Household’ to mustering and viewing horses in Middlesex. It is unlikely that he had much time for his duties as a Shropshire justice of the peace, or as a member of the council in the marches of Wales, but it was while visiting his uncle Humphrey at Shrewsbury, perhaps after a visit to the council headquarters at Ludlow, that he caught a ‘pestilential fever’ and died within a week, on 2 Apr. 1571, aged only 43 or 44. Perhaps he knew of an outbreak of plague. At any rate he had made his long and complex will, when in good health, on 20 Mar., wishing to settle his affairs so that if he should be visited by mortal sickness
my whole heart and mind may be occupied and employed in godly and heavenly things touching mine earnest repentance of my former sinful life and my spiritual comfort and consolation in my God by His merciful promises of forgiveness of my sins and free gift unto me of everlasting inheritance in heaven through the precious death and bloodshedding of Jesus Christ, mine only Saviour and Redeemer.
He appointed his ‘entirely beloved wife’ executrix (she afterwards married Richard Browne I), as the elder son Robert was only ten. Kinsmen and servants were to receive black gowns, and all who had been in his employment for a year, a year’s wages. The Earl of Leicester (to whom he was ‘most bounden’) and lord Burghley (his ‘especial good lord’) were respectively to have ‘my best standing cup with a cover’ and a gilt bowl. Peter Osborne, John Marshe William Leighton were the overseers. Probate was granted on 25 Apr. 1571. Onslow was buried at St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury on 7 Apr., his body being brought from Harnage, some miles outside the town, where he had been lying ill. An inscription on his ‘fair raised tomb’ gives the dates of his life and offices, and describes him as of good stature, agreeable mien, and grave voice. In 1742 Arthur Onslow, one of the two later Speakers of the House of Commons in the Onslow family, had the monument repaired.
Only scattered references to Onslow’s private and domestic life survive. His wife’s father had died in 1549, when she was only a child, and Onslow presumably came into possession of her property in 1561, at which date she and her elder sister, already a widow, received livery of their lands. He also managed his sister-in-law’s share of the estates, and he was one of the feoffees appointed in 1562 for assurance of the jointure of Lady Mary Sidney, Sir Robert Dudley’s sister. Onslow’s own landed property was not extensive. In addition to his Blackfriars house he owned a little land in Buckinghamshire, and a year before his death leased the chapel of St. Nicholas, Shrewsbury. Some years earlier he had received a royal grant, in fee simple, of the ‘site of the late castle of Shrewsbury’, and he bought property at Much Wenlock and elsewhere in Shropshire from John Dudley. Onslow’s heir, Robert, died unmarried, and the family was continued by the other son, Sir Edward, who married Isabel, daughter of (Sir) Thomas Shirley I, of Wiston, Sussex, and was the ancestor of the earls of Onslow.4