SECKFORD, Thomas I (1515 or 1516-87), of Woodbridge and Ipswich, Suff. and Clerkenwell, London.

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



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1515 or 1516, 2nd s. of Thomas Seckford by Margaret, da. of Sir John Wingfield of Letheringham, Suff. by Anne, da. of Lord Audley. educ. Camb.; G. Inn 1540, called 1542. m. Elizabeth (d. 28 Nov. 1586), da. of Thomas Harlowe, wid. of William Billingsley and of Sir Martin Bowes.2

Offices Held

Ancient, G. Inn, Lent reader 1556, treasurer 1565; dep. chief steward, duchy of Lancaster, northern parts 6 Sept. 1558-c.65; master of requests 9 Dec. 1558; steward of Marshalsea ct. by 1559-70; eccles. commr. 1559; j.p. Mdx. and Suff. from c.1559 Essex from c.1569; steward, bp. of Ely’s liberty, Suff. 1563; surveyor of ct. of wards 1579.3


Seckford, who had been at Gray’s Inn with Cecil (a relative of his mother’s), voted against a government bill in the Parliament of 1555, and, like Cecil, had to wait until the accession of Elizabeth to obtain a major office. He received £60 for his first year as master of requests, and £50 for the next six months, but the job carried perquisites and huge opportunities for gain from those whose petitions were in his hands awaiting presentation to the Queen. He was bombarded by letters even from the most eminent, seeking to gain his favour for friends and dependants over grants of land, leases, offices and similar suits, but the Queen was often inaccessible. There is a story that she once reproved Seckford for wearing stinking boots. ‘Madam’, he answered, ‘it is not my boots that stink, but the stale bills that I have kept so long’. Attendance on Elizabeth, wherever she might be, and the giving of legal advice, was an important aspect of his job, in respect of which he was granted an annuity of £100 for 1561. He had also formal duties in the court of requests.4

The amount of work undertaken by Seckford is impressive. In 1559, during the illness of (Sir) Nicholas Bacon, he was on the commission to perform the office of the Great Seal. He appeared regularly as an ecclesiastical commissioner and served on the commissions for felonies and robberies. He was employed in the examination of prisoners in the Tower and elsewhere, notably after the northern rebellion, and was occasionally appointed to hear cases of high treason, for example, that of William Parry. In addition, he took part in innumerable inquiries, hearings, arbitrations, references and settlements out of court. His appointment in 1579 as surveyor of the court of wards was another source of profit. His work in this court again brought him close to Cecil, now Lord Burghley, and the two men, both keen cartographers, supported Saxton, who was then surveying and engraving his maps of England and Wales, beginning with Norfolk in 1574. The proofs were delivered to Burghley as they came off the plates. Upon the maps appeared the royal arms, the name of the engraver, and Seckford’s arms with the motto ‘pestis patriae pigricies’, later changed to ‘industria naturam ornat’. Seckford also assisted William Harrison in ‘describing the rivers and streams of Britain’, and Harrison dedicated to him his ‘Description of Scotland’ printed in Holinshed’s Chronicles.5

In addition to his national appointments, Seckford was steward of the Suffolk liberty of St. Etheldreda, and in that capacity removed the sessions from Melton to Woodbridge, and built a new sessions hall for the liberty above an open hall which he had already built for the market belonging to his manor of Woodbridge Priory. His successors frequently paid for the repair of the building. Seckford had acquired this manor from the Crown in 1564, subject to the life interest of the widow of the former lessee, his grandfather Sir John Wingfield, and he seems to have completed the demolition of the old priory buildings and built himself a new house—the present ‘Abbey’ building—nearby. His arms and the date, 1564, are over the south porch. He was granted the rectory of Barnes, Suffolk in 1576, and leased the hundred of Looes, which he subsequently attempted to prove belonged to the dean and chapter of Ely. He built himself the ‘Great House’ (sometimes called ‘Seckford House’) at Ipswich and two houses at Clerkenwell, in one of which, named Woodbridge Hall, he detained his cousin, Lady Margaret Clifford, as prisoner on behalf of the Queen. The other house, on the south side of St. Mary’s Close, was his private London residence, close to that of his brother Sir Henry Seckford, a groom of the privy chamber.6

He was active in Suffolk affairs, was listed as a ‘favourer of religion’ in 1564, and served on a commission of piracy in 1577. He was returned for Ipswich through his own local standing, having first been made a freeman, and took a turn in the county seat in 1571. As might be expected, Seckford supported the official view in the Commons. Interrogating Wentworth in 1576 he remarked ‘Mr. Wentworth will never acknowledge himself to make a fault, nor say that he is sorry for anything that he doth speak. You shall hear none of these things come out of his mouth’. Again, 24 Jan. 1581, Seckford was for submitting to the Queen over Wentworth’s suggestion of a public fast. But in fact Seckford was not, so far as can be seen from the defective records of the early Parliaments of this period, a frequent speaker in debate, his only other interventions being as follows: asking for more time to consider a bill on fraudulent gifts and conveyances, 11 Apr. 1571; against changing the poor law, 20 May 1572 (‘experience will find out all mischiefs, which then may be remedied’); against confirming the grant of the hospital at Ledbury, Herefordshire (21 May 1572); and in favour of including minstrels within the provisions of the vagabonds bill (30 May 1572).

His committees were as follows: none recorded in 1559; one in 1563, about servants, 24 Feb. In 1566: fines and recoveries (19 Oct.), the Queen’s marriage and the succession (31 Oct.), the subsidy (27 Nov.), fraudulent gifts (9 Dec.) and informers (11 Dec.). In 1571: fraudulent gifts and conveyances (11 Apr.) and tellers and receivers (23 Apr.). In 1572: foreign artificers (24 May), corporations (30 May), fraudulent conveyances (3 June). In 1576: privileges and returns (9 Feb.), jeofails (15 Feb.), cloth (9 Mar.). In 1581: the preservation of game (18 Feb.) and errors in fines and recoveries (10 Mar.).7

After the death of his wife Seckford intended to retire to Woodbridge to plan the foundation of his almshouses for 13 poor men, but in the event he did not have time to do so. Shortly after his death the charity was given a royal licence, supported by his Clerkenwell estates. It has kept the family name prominent in Suffolk, and the governors of the Seckford trust still base their regulations upon the statutes drawn up by the founder. The governors also support from the Clerkenwell estate Woodbridge School, founded by the widow of the last of the Seckford line, the preparatory school that now occupies the ‘Abbey’ building, and the local free library. Seckford died at Clerkenwell on 19 Dec. 1587, and after temporary burial in St. James’s in that parish, was, in accordance with his instructions, re-interred at Woodbridge in the chapel on the north-east side of the church. He had made his will on 1 Aug. 1587, commending his soul to Almighty God, his creator, and to the Holy Ghost, his ‘fortifier and comforter’. Frequent reference is made to the almshouses, and his nephew and heir, Charles, was charged not to hinder the project in any way. Substantial bequests of property in London and Suffolk were made to Seckford’s brothers Henry and Humphrey. Other beneficiaries included a nephew, Henry, ‘the son of his late brother Thomas, and his loving friend and late son-in-law’ William Bowes, to help him educate Aubrey, ‘the son of my late brother John’. The poor of Clerkenwell, Woodbridge and Ipswich received £10 apiece. Apart from the houses at Clerkenwell, whose rents were to support the almshouses, another large house is mentioned for the use of the Seckford family whenever they should come to London, and other property in Clerkenwell, apparently occupied by the Countess of Derby. The will was proved 3 Jan. 1588.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603


  • 1. He was also returned for Orford, E371/402(1).
  • 2. Monument at Gt. Bealings Church; C142/175/69; paper on the Seckfords, read by P. Chandler before the Soc. of Antiquaries 2 June 1923; London Mar Licences, ed. Chester (Harl. Soc. xxv), 35; Wards 7/23/57; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 64.
  • 3. APC, vii. 17; CPR, 1558-60, pp. 19, 28, 118; Lansd. 104, f. 53; Exchequer deposition Mich. 44-5, Eliz. 39 at Woodbridge; J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, 224.
  • 4. Guildford Mus., Loseley 1331/2; W. J. Allsebrook ‘The Ct. of Requests in the reign of Eliz.’ (London MA thesis 1936), pp. 13-14; Lansd. 9, f. 30; 24, f. 76; 38, ff. 11, 17; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 347-50, 540-1, 552, 668; 1580-1625, pp. 45, 63, 139; APC, vii. 226; HMC Hatfield, ii. 58, 69, 80, 84, 130, 133, 134, 147, 156, 312, 502; xiii. 63, 120, 138, 144, 153, 154, 176, 193, 202, 231, 268; C. Monro, Acta Canc. 378; Select Cases in Ct. of Requests, ed. Leadam (Selden Soc. xii), p. xix.; CPR, 1560-3, p. 69; Neale, Essays in Eliz. Hist. 99.
  • 5. Prothero, Statutes and Const. Docs. 227, 233; Strype, Grindal, 310; Annals ii(1), p. 419; APC, vii. 7, 19, 84, 169, 216, 218, 409; viii. 67, 168; ix. 45-6, 84-5, 94; xi. 34, 115, 419-20; xiii. 89; HMC Hatfield, i. 544, 548, 551; ii. 76; 4th Rep. D.K. App. ii. 263, 268; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 337; 1580-1625, pp. 46, 180; H. E. Bell, Ct. of Wards and Liveries, 35; E. Lynham, Br. Maps and Map Makers, 17 seq.; Thoresby Soc. xxviii.(2), p. i; DNB.
  • 6. V. B. Redstone, Bygone Woodbridge, 32; Copinger, Suff. Manors, passim; Wards 7/23/57; Index Monasticus (Dioc. of Norwich 1821 ed.), 99; Tanner, Not. Mon. (1787), under Suffolk, Woodbridge; paper on history of present ‘Abbey’ building read by A. Welford to Ipswich and Dist. Hist. Soc.; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 137; Lansd. 56, f. 104; Ipswich borough lib. inset on plan of borough of Ipswich supplied by J. Ogilby 1674; PCC 4 Rutland; W. Pinks, Hist. Clerkenwell (2nd ed.), 176.
  • 7. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 60; Lansd. 166, f. 18; CJ, i. 66, 74, 78, 79, 84, 85, 97, 99, 100, 104, 106, 113, 119, 128, 133; HMC Lords, n.s. xi. 8; Neale, Parlts. i. 329, 381; D’Ewes, 124, 127, 131, 132, 160, 178, 214, 220, 221, 244, 248, 284; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 29, 34.
  • 8. Charity Commrs. Rep. (1835-9), xxxii. 484; L. J. Redstone, ‘Hist. of the Seckford Trust’ (T/S at office of Seckford Governors); Wards 7/23/57; Reg. St. James Clerkenwell; Woodbridge Reg. under 1587; J. Dallenger, Rec. of Woodbridge Parish Church (Woodbridge 1875); PCC 4 Rutland.