ST. LEGER (SELLENGER), Sir Anthony (c.1496-1559), of Ulcombe and Leeds Castle, Kent.

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.1496, 1st s. of Ralph St. Leger of Ulcombe by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Haut of Kent. educ. Camb.; travelled France and Italy; G. Inn. m. Agnes or Anne, da. of Hugh Warham of Croydon and niece and h. of William Warham, abp. of Canterbury, at least 5s. inc. Nicholas 2da. suc. fa. 1518. Kntd. 1539; KG 1544.2

Offices Held

J.p. Kent by 1526, sheriff 1539-40; commr. to survey Calais 1535, 1552, to defend Kent coast 1539, heresy 1552; gent. privy chamber by 1538-c.53; ld. deputy, Ireland July 1540-48, Aug. 1550-May 1551, Oct. 1553-May 1556; PC 7 Aug. 1553-bef. 1558; envoy to France Aug. 1553.3


When twelve years of age [St. Leger] was sent for his grammar learning with his tutor into France, for his carriage into Italy, for his philosophy to Cambridge, for his law to Gray’s Inn, and for that which completed all, the government of himself, to court, where his debonairness and freedom took with the King, as his solidity and wisdom with the Cardinal.4

Though so carefully prepared, St. Leger was never a principal adviser to any of his sovereigns, being required instead to devote himself to the thankless task of trying to impose an alien government on the Irish. Recognizing that Ireland ‘is much easier won than kept’, as he put it, he concentrated on the area around Dublin, and endeavoured to win over the local leaders by grants of land, ‘small gifts’ and ‘honest persuasion’. At first successful, the end of his first period in office was marred by a quarrel with Ormond, the most powerful Irishman. Reappointed by Protector Somerset, St. Leger was given the impossible task of imposing the new prayer book. Somerset made no allowance for the differences between England and Ireland, and was warned by St. Leger that the Irish ‘should be handled with the more humanity lest they, by extremity, should adhere to other foreign powers’. By Mary’s reign money was short and St. Leger’s own standing had been undermined by accusations of corruption. John Hooker wrote

This man ruled and governed very justly and uprightly in a good conscience ... [yet] many slanderous informations were made and inveighed against him, which is a fatal destiny, and inevitable to every good governor in that land. For the more pains they take in tillage, the worse is their harvest; and the better be their services, the greater is the malice and envy against them, being not unlike to a fruitful apple tree, which the more apples he beareth, the more cudgels be hurled at him.

The truth of the matter will never be ascertained. His own attitude would no doubt have been the same as a statement he had made when similar accusations had been levelled against him in 1538: ‘I have too long abstained from bribery to begin now’. There is no doubt that Mary kept him short of money, and he was said to have left debts in Ireland of over £3,000. His return from Ireland in 1556 to face a Privy Council inquiry marked the end of his active career. The investigation was still in progress when Elizabeth succeeded, and, typically enough, far from dropping the charges, she renewed the inquiry into his accounts. Perhaps it was his vulnerability that led St. Leger, now in his sixties, to seek, for the first time, election to Parliament, or perhaps it was simply that he wished to serve at least once as knight of his shire, an honour his absences in Ireland had often denied him, though he could have sat in Mary’s last, where he might have been more at home. The vestigial journals of Elizabeth’s first Parliament do not mention his name, and St. Leger died during its course, with the Privy Council inquiry still in progress, on 26 Mar. 1559. He was buried at Ulcombe, his family seat for 450 years. His wife died eight days later, and was buried the day before his own elaborate funeral.

St. Leger must be classed as indifferent in religion. He was attached to both Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, though he should not be confused with a namesake, a Sussex priest, who was wholly committed to Cromwell. He served both Somerset and Mary, moderating as far as he could, the extremes of both regimes. When the protestant archbishop of Dublin chided him for conservatism he retorted, ‘Go to, your matters of religion will mar all’. When the Catholic Bishop Gardiner of Winchester was condemning a priest for conducting reformed services he intervened: ‘My good lord chancellor, trouble not yourself with this heretic. I think all the world is full of them’.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: M.R.P. / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Lloyd, State Worthies, i. 99; C. Wykeham Martin, Hist. Leeds Castle, table after p. 156; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 69; LP Hen. VIII, xix(1), p. 252. Material on St. Leger’s Irish policy can be found in LP Hen. VIII, vols. xiii-xxi; State Pprs. Hen. VIII, vols, ii and iii; R. Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors, vol. i; Cal. Carew Pprs. 1515-74; CSP Ire. 1509-73; R. D. Edwards, Church and State in Tudor Ireland, 92, 133-7, 161; W. A. Phillips, Hist. Church of Ire. ii. 248.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, iv(1), p. 901; ix. pp. 59-60; xiii(2), p. 534; xiv. p. 151; APC, iv. 313; CSP For. 1553-8, pp. 4-6; CPR, 1550-3, p. 355; Strype, Cranmer, i. 435. The Imperial ambassador in London confused St. Leger with Sir Thomas Chalenor, MP, which has led several subsequent writers to the belief that St. Leger was in France most of the year.
  • 4. Lloyd, i. 99.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiii(1), p. 88; xiv(1), pp. 158, 163; xv, pp. 417, 468, 469, 563; xvi, p. 721; xix(1), p. 619; CPR, 1549-51, pp. 366-8, 428-9; 1550-3, p. 326; Hasted, Kent, vols. iii. v-ix passim; HMC 15th Rep. 5; Strype, Annals, i(1), pp. 21, 34; Machyn Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 192, 372; PCC 25 Chaynay; Strype, Memorials, iii(1), pp. 105-6.