WRAY, Christopher (c.1522-92), of Glentworth, Lincs.

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



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. c.1522, 3rd s. of Thomas Wray of Coverham Abbey, Yorks. by Joan, da. of Robert Jackson of Gatenby, Bedale, Yorks. educ. Buckingham (Magdalene), Camb.; L. Inn 1545, called 1550. m. Anne, da. of Nicholas Girlington of Normanby, Yorks., wid. of Robert Brocklesby (d. 3 Apr. 1557), of Glentworth, 1s. William 4da. Kntd. 6 Nov. 1574.1

Offices Held

Steward of Wetherby, Yorks. from Jan. 1559-63; j.p. Lincs (Lindsey) from 1559, (Kesteven) from 1562, (Holland) from 1569; commr. eccles. causes, diocese of Lincoln 1575, to visit Oxf. Univ. 1577; custos rot. Hunts. from 1579; eccles. commr. 1589.2

Of counsel to Lincoln c.1559, to Henry Neville, 5th Earl of Westmorland by 1562; Lent reader, L. Inn 1563, 1567, treasurer 1565-6; serjeant-at-law Easter 1567, Queen’s serjeant 18 June 1567; justice of assize, Yorks. 31 May 1570; 2nd justice of Lancaster 13 June 1570; j. Queen’s bench 14 May 1572 and j.p. many northern counties, Mdx. and Norf.; l.c.j. 8 Nov. 1574.3

Speaker of House of Commons 1571.


Wray’s career until 1558 was typical of that of a rising lawyer in private practice. A native of Yorkshire, he spent some time at Cambridge, apparently without taking a degree, and then trained at Lincoln’s Inn before marrying the widow of the squire of Gentworth, ten miles north of Lincoln. Rising in his profession he soon found himself absorbed into the legal service of the Crown, despite his own Catholic sympathies and his marriage into a Catholic family, which caused him to be classified ‘indifferent’ in the 1564 bishops’ returns. His reliability, however, was never in question: in 1565 he was assigned as counsel to Bonner, and in 1569-70 he dealt with the northern rebels at the York, Carlisle and Durham assizes. Among the submissions he received were those of his brother Thomas and his nephew John Gower. He was also engaged in various legal inquiries, one of them into the privileges of the mineral and battery works.4

After repeated elections for Boroughbridge, Wray missed the first Parliament of Elizabeth’s reign. In 1563 he was returned for Grimsby (a seat earlier under the control of the earls of Westmorland), following a peremptory demand to the borough from Sir Francis Ayscough, intimating that Wray’s election would be pleasing to the Earl. It is during the second session of this Parliament that his name first appears in its proceedings: he had an informers bill committed to him 26 Oct. 1566, and was one of those appointed to confer with the Lords on the Queen’s marriage and the succession, 31 Oct. Wray had no known connexion with Wiltshire, unless it was through his fellow of Lincoln’s Inn, Richard Kingsmill, and his return for Ludgershall in 1571 was obviously a case of finding a seat for the Speaker-designate. As a justice of assize he would not normally have been returned to the Commons.5

Elected to the Chair on the opening day of the session, Wray was presented to, and confirmed by, the Queen on 4 Apr. His oration included an historical defence of the royal supremacy and a discourse on the administration of justice in the course of which he praised Elizabeth for allowing this to take its proper course. His concluding petition for the customary privileges of the House was answered by the lord keeper, in the Queen’s name, with a denial of the Commons’ right to ‘freedom of speech’ save on matters of commonwealth and such matters of state as should be propounded to them. It was an inauspicious beginning to both speakership and Parliament, and the session was to generate much friction and some dangerous moments. With so many eloquent puritans in the House trouble was inevitable, but Wray’s chairmanship lacked the astuteness and grasp which might have contained it. He early lost the initiative, and had later to be goaded by Burghley into regaining it. When his closing oration called forth from the lord keeper a denunciation of the dissident minority, Wray must have regarded the whole experience as thankless.6

Wray was not to sit in the Commons again. As an assistant in the House of Lords, he is mentioned in the journals of both Houses. In April 1577 he was a member of the committee which investigated the election of John Underhill as rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. In 1587 he and two fellow chief justices were instructed by the Council to postpone the assizes so that they might be free to attend in the Lords. As chief justice for more than 17 years Wray is remembered for the state trials over which he presided, including those of John Stubbe, Edmund Campion and William Lord Vaux and the conspirators John Somerville and William Parry. Wray was a member of the commission which attainted William Shelley and condemned Babington and his associates, and he was present as an assessor at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. He presided at the Star Chamber inquest on the Earl of Northumberland and later in the same court, deputizing for Sir Thomas Bromley, he censured the zeal of Secretary Davison before sentencing him. His last state trial was that of Sir John Perrot in April 1592. His other public duties are reflected in the Privy Council proceedings and state papers of the period. In 1581 he and the master of the rolls gave a ruling on the rival claims of the merchant adventurers of Chester and the Spanish Company, and about 1590 he arbitrated between the city of London and the dean and chapter about legal jurisdiction over St. Paul’s churchyard. In 1577 he reported to the Privy Council on recusants in Serjeants’ Inn, and in 1582 to Burghley on similar offenders in various shires. At a conference held in Michaelmas term 1590 he initiated the revision of the form of commissions of the peace.7

Wray added considerably to his properties in Lincolnshire, while retaining his patrimony in Yorkshire. He had a fine house at Glentworth, of which part survives in the later mansion, a grant of the profits of the mint, and received many gifts. Both his surviving daughters married well, and remarried better: the elder, Isabel, married successively a gentleman, Godfrey Foljambe, a knight, Sir William Bowes, and a peer, John, Baron Darcy of Aston; and the younger, after the death of her first husband, Sir George St. Poll, who had been knighted at Wray’s request, married Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick.8

Wray died on 7 May 1592 and was buried, as he had directed, at Glentworth, where he has a splendid monument in the chancel, with the punning inscription, ‘re justus, nomine verus’. By his will, made three years earlier, he had provided, in addition to some local benefactions, a bequest for a fellowship at his old college, and one for plate to Serjeants’ Inn. He left silver to his daughters and also remembered relatives in the families of Heneage and Tyrwhitt. His wife was given a life interest in much of his property, and his son William, named sole executor, received the remainder and residue. The supervisors were Lord Burghley and the solicitor-general Egerton. By a codicil added on the day of his death Wray remitted a number of debts. His widow survived him for 18 months. Among her bequests were two in favour of Magdalene, the first for scholarships, the second for books.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 176; (lv), 1322; Req. 2/42/62; C. Dalton, Wrays of Glentworth, i. 1-64.
  • 2. CPR, 1560-3, pp. 439, 574; 1563-6, pp. 24, 40, 42; 1572-5, pp. 551-2; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 543.
  • 3. J. W. F. Hill, Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, 70; Grimsby AO, letter of Francis Ayscough 1562; CPR, 1566-9, p. 70; 1569-72, p. 65; 1572-5, p. 289; Somerville, Duchy, i. 473.
  • 4. CPR, 1558-60, p. 188; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 27; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 261; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 249; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 307; APC, vii. 379.
  • 5. Grimsby AO, ut supra; HMC Hastings, i. 315; CJ, i. 75-6; LJ, i. 640; D’Ewes, 127.
  • 6. Neale, Parlts. i. 187-240.
  • 7. LJ, ii. 61, 113, 145 et passim; D’Ewes, 198, 199, 201; APC, xiv. 314; xvii. 373; xxiii. 16; Lansd. 38, f. 162; 99, f. 92; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 567; 1581-90, pp. 19, 32, 606, 645; HMC Hatfield, ii. 509; iv. 460; xiii. 240; G. Elton, Tudor Constitution, 454, 460-2.
  • 8. HMC Rutland, iv. 388; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 208-552; 1563-6, pp. 47, 137, 143, 307; 1566-9, p. 402; C142/233/114; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 207; APC, xiv. 242, 301, 303; xv. 231-2; xix. 220-1, 364-5; xxvi. 57-8; Lansd. 69, f. 77.
  • 9. PCC 47 Harrington, 3 Dixy.