SNELL, Nicholas (d.1577), of Kington St. Michael, Wilts.

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

o.s. of Richard Snell of Kington St. Michael by Joan, da. of Nicholas Marsh of Easton. m. (1) bef. 1537, Alice, da. of John Pye of Rowdon, 3s. inc. John 5da.; (2) Mary, da. of William Cleveland of Wilts., s.p. suc. fa. 1547.2

Offices Held

?Servant to abbot of Glastonbury bef. 1540; servant to earl as of Pembroke from c. 1555-d.; commr. relief, Wilts. 1550, j.p. 1554-d., q. from 1561, sheriff 1566-7.3


Said by Aubrey to have been reeve to the abbot of Glastonbury, Snell is not to be found among Wiltshire contributors to the benevolence of 1545, for which his father, who was a yeoman of the Crown, was assessed at £5. Nicholas Snell was, however, already the owner of Kington St. Michael, a grange of Glastonbury which he had bought from the Crown for £800 in 1544. According. to the visitation of 1623 Alice Snell was a daughter of George Pye of Oxford, but no such person has been traced and there is reason to believe that Snell’s first father-in-law was John Pye of Rowdon, and that ‘Oxford’ is a misreading of ‘Hereford’, the Pyes’ native city. John Pye was both a neighbour and, as a yeoman of the Crown, a colleague of Richard Snell, who may indeed have introduced him to Wiltshire; it is also to be noted that Nicholas Snell was to have a daughter named Cicely and granddaughters named Cicely and Alice, which were the names of two of John Pye’s daughters.4

Between his father’s death in 1547 and the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Snell carved out an enviable position for himself in west Wiltshire, adding considerably to his own and to his father’s property, and, as steward to the 1st Earl of Pembroke, helping to administer the extensive Herbert lands. In the Elizabethan period he sat in every Parliament until his death, twice for Chippenham and twice for Malmesbury, some eight miles north of his seat at Kington St. Michael. In spite of his regular appearances, he made no mark in the journals of the House.5

In the course of his upward progress, Snell survived an episode which could have spelled disaster. One of his earliest investments had been the lease which he took with his father in 1536 of the manor or chantry of West Hatch. When, a quarter of a century later, the Crown came to grant this property to Cicely Pickerell, it relied for the valuation upon an inquisition, purporting to have been taken at Malmesbury on 30 Nov. 1561 before John Stumpe and Edward Pleydell, which returned the figure of 13s.4d. a year. It came to light, however, that no such inquisition had been taken and that the certificate in question was a forgery; an inquisition held on 7 Sept. 1564 before the sheriff, John Erneley, found that the manor was worth £11 11s. and 1 lb. of pepper a year and that Richard, Nicholas and John Snell had concealed this fact throughout their tenancy. Although the lessees’ complicity in the fraud could scarcely be doubted, it may have been difficult to prove that either Nicholas or his son John was guilty of the forgery; and this is perhaps why Nicholas escaped with no more than a demand for payment of the arrears under a recognizance of £500. His appointment as sheriff two years later shows that he was not thereafter a marked man.6

An indifferent supporter of the Elizabethan church settlement—he was classified ‘no hinderer of religion’ by his bishop in 1564—he had no cause to quarrel with state or society. His assessment of £20 in lands, involving a payment of 53s.4d. for the subsidy of 1576, was perhaps no more unrealistic than most, but it could have made a scarcely perceptible dent in the fortune which, on 20 Dec. of that year, Snell distributed in his will. To his ‘special good lord’ the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, the son of his first master, he bequeathed his best gelding, and his next best went to his ‘very friend’ Sir Edward Baynton. A debt of over £400 which Snell had lately recovered at law from Henry Baynton he left to his son-in-law Wallis (or Thomas) Baylie. He appointed as his executors his son John and his grandson Thomas, and as his overseer Richard Gore of Aldrington.7

The testator’s death on 31 Mar. 1577 was followed by a lawsuit over the will between the two younger sons Henry and Thomas. An inquisition, taken on 2 May following, showed how much there was to quarrel over: lands in Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Hampshire, as well as at Chisenbury, Uphaven, Box and Chippenham in Wiltshire.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 183; Genealogist, n.s. xii. 242; C142/179/99; PCC 27 Alen.
  • 3. CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 455; CPR, 1553, p. 359; 1553-4, p. 25; 1560-3, p. 443; 1563-6, pp. 28, 38, 39; 1569-72, p. 219; Egerton 2345/36; SP12/121/32.
  • 4. J. Aubrey, North Wilts. ed. Jackson, 133; LP Hen. VIII, vii. g.1601(32); xv. g.282(62); xix(1), g.442(31), 273, p. 155; xix(2), g.690(67); xx(1), g.465(77); xx(2), 1035, f. 28, p. 517; Two Taxation Lists (Wilts. Arch. Soc. recs. br. x), 26, 27; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 270; CPR, 1551-3, pp. 396, 415; Wilts. N. and Q. ii. 305, 368; iii. 126; viii. 109-111.
  • 5. Wilts. RO 473/12(58), 15(81), 41(228, 230); CPR, 1547-8, p. 53; 1553-4, pp. 288, 453; Wilts. N. and Q. iii. 373, 461, 558; iv. 120, 157, 213, 264, 266; v. 176.
  • 6. CPR, 1563-6, p. 250; 1566-9, p. 34; C3/136/18, 3/159/43, 3/172/30.
  • 7. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 38; Two Taxation Lists, 56; Wilts. N. and Q. vi. 406; PCC 17 Daughtry.
  • 8. Req. 2/90/37; C142/179/99, 221/122; Wilts, N. and Q. vi. 244-6.