STANHOPE, Sir Thomas (c.1540-96), of Shelford, Notts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1540, 1st s. of Sir Michael Stanhope† and bro. of Edward Stanhope I, Edward Stanhope II, John Stanhope and Michael Stanhope. m. Margaret, 3rd da. and coh. of Sir John Porte of Etwall, Derbys. by Elizabeth, o. da. of Sir Thomas Gifford of Chillington, Staffs., 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1552. Kntd. 1575.
J.p.q. Notts. from c.1561, sheriff 1562-3, 1574-5, 1587-8, dep. lt. by 1591, custos rot. from c.1594; j.p.q. Derbys. from c.1561, sheriff 1562-3.1
After the execution of Stanhope’s father a small portion of his estates was leased to his widow, and in 1555 Queen Mary confirmed the manors in fee to the family. Further large grants in fee of manors in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire were made at the time to Lady Stanhope with remainder to her eldest son Thomas, who also received an immediate grant of the manors of Gonwardby and Manthorpe in Lincolnshire. When Lady Stanhope died in 1588, Thomas was living at Shelford, the principal seat of the family, his mother probably having given him the control of the property long before her death.
These extensive estates, and the protection of Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, would have allowed Stanhope to have indulged himself in a career at court had he wished. He was related to Burghley’s second wife, Mildred, the daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke. Sending Burghley a New Year’s gift in December 1579, he acknowledged he had received ‘more good and grave counsel and advice from you in my time than from any other man (good Sir Anthony Cooke except), I mean when I was very young. I have had more commodity by your free gift than of all persons now living’. Though he remained a country gentleman Stanhope solicited occasional favours from Burghley, such as the wardship of his nephew Thomas Cooper in 1570. He was appointed to a number of local commissions and was active against suspected Roman Catholics. Sir Gervase Clifton, who had been described as a good subject ‘and necessary for service in [his] country but in religion very cold’ in the bishops’ letters of 1564, wrote in May 1584 to the 3rd Earl of Rutland, complaining that Stanhope had threatened to ‘come to Clifton, and he would have me and all my whole house, man, woman and child at the church’.
Though Stanhope could clearly have maintained an independent position in Nottinghamshire, he chose rather to associate himself with the earls of Rutland. He loaned the 4th Earl £200 in June 1587, was among the chief mourners at his funeral in 1588, and invited the young 5th Earl to the wedding of his daughter in April 1591. It is not surprising, therefore, that when he decided to stand for Nottinghamshire in 1586 he should have asked for support from the Earl of Rutland. In the House he is known to have been a member of only one committee, that to decide on the motion to be made to Elizabeth regarding Mary Queen of Scots, 4 Nov. At the time of the 1588 elections Stanhope was sheriff; he stood for the county unsuccessfully in 1593 in the following circumstances.2
The death of the 3rd Earl of Rutland in 1587 and of his brother in the following year, left an heir who was only eleven. Into this vacuum moved, in 1590, Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, an irascible man with several family quarrels already to his discredit. Stanhope had a similar reputation. In 1577, for example, he had been engaged in a quarrel with Sir John Zouche, who accused Stanhope in Star Chamber of attacking his followers in Derby. At the beginning of Michaelmas term 1577 the two parties were called before the Privy Council, and with their mutual agreement the case was removed from the Star Chamber to be settled by the Council, where Stanhope came off second best. In 1578 Stanhope quarrelled with another local gentleman, Henry Sacheverell, and between 1578 and 1580 with John Molyneux of Thorpe, Northamptonshire, the two being bound in bonds of £200 in April 1579 to keep the peace. It may have been because of one of these disputes that Stanhope was committed to the Fleet by the Council in June 1578.3
Thus it was predictable that Shrewsbury, as the most powerful nobleman in the county, should quarrel with Stanhope, the principal supporter of a family in eclipse. One occasion for recrimination between them was the marriage in 1591 of Stanhope’s daughter to John Holles. There had been an understanding between Sir William Holles and George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, that John should marry a kinswoman of the Earl, but after Sir William’s death Holles chose Stanhope’s daughter instead, ‘which the Earl took as the greatest affront in the world’, and described Stanhope as ‘one of the most ambitious, proud, covetous, and subtle persons that ever I was acquainted with’. Things began to heat up in 1592 over a weir Stanhope had built about 15 years earlier on the Trent at Shelford, to provide power for his corn mills. Shrewsbury organized a petition signed by 500 of the villagers living close to the river, which Stanhope countered with a paper signed by Shrewsbury himself, by his father, and other gentry of the county, testifying to the necessity for the weir. The Privy Council decided that the matter should be settled by the commission of sewers, and instructed the lord keeper to have particular care in appointing the commissioners to decide the matter. At this moment the writs were issued for the 1593 parliamentary election. The details of this campaign appear elsewhere, but the upshot was that Shrewsbury won, and determined to finish off Stanhope and his weir in a carefully planned commando operation just before Easter 1593. Twelve of Shrewsbury’s henchmen erected on his own ground at one end of the weir a prefabricated ‘timber house in manner of a fort’, which they manned and equipped with armour and weapons so as to cover the building of a trench 60 yards long to divert the Trent and render the weir useless. Stanhope’s faction called a special sessions at Nottingham to punish the offenders, but the sheriff, Shrewsbury’s man, refused to attend and convened the other justices at Newark, where Stanhope’s weir was presented as a nuisance. The Queen refused to allow Stanhope to prosecute Shrewsbury, but 13 of those who had actually taken part in the weir’s destruction were fined. In October of the same year Shrewsbury’s forces pulled down the wall of Stanhope’s park at Horsley, Derbyshire.4
Stanhope died ‘after many years worshipfully spent’ at his house in East Stoke on 3 Aug. 1596, and was buried at Shelford on 27 Sept. His he