FITZWILLIAM, Walter (c.1575-1654), of Dogsthorpe, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1575, 2nd s. of Sir William Fitzwilliam† (d.1618) of Milton, Northants. and Winifred, da. of Sir Walter Mildmay† of Apethorpe, Northants. chan. of exch. 1559-89; bro. of William, 1st Bar. Fitzwilliam of Liffer [I].1 educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1591; travelled abroad (Italy) 1606.2 prob. unm. bur. 7 Jan. 1654.3
Member, Virg. Co. 1610-c.1612.12
Fitzwilliam was descended from a Merchant Taylor of London who bought Milton, three-and-a-half miles from Peterborough, in 1502. One seat in the borough was held by the family in most parliaments of Elizabeth’s reign. This influence came to an end when Fitzwilliam’s grandfather, after two terms as lord deputy of Ireland, died in debt to the Crown in 1599. As a younger son, Fitzwilliam enjoyed an annuity of £100, which was doubled on his father’s death. However, this was insufficient to maintain the lifestyle to which he aspired, and his reliance on unscrupulous moneylenders further ruined his family’s fortunes.13
In April 1606 Fitzwilliam wrote to the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) from Florence, thanking him for his licence to travel abroad and promising to make good use of it. During his travels he visited Rome in the company of his cousin (Sir) Edward Barrett*.14 Back in England by 1608, he endeavoured to supplement his income with various projects, including proposals for a new post to examine bills of lading; and three years later he solicited a patent for registering conveyances by fine and recovery.15 He offered Salisbury £500 for the latter, explaining, ‘the lowness of my estate ... enforceth me both to seek, and in my search to give trouble’. However, these suits were all ignored, and by 1611 he was bankrupt; both he and his brother William who had insured his loans were imprisoned for debt for two-and-a-half years.16 His subscription of £75 to the Virginia Company, promised in 1610, was never paid. He did invest in the Company’s lottery, however, but this proved to be a bitter disappointment, and upon his release from gaol he initiated proceedings against the lottery manager in Star Chamber.17 The case was dismissed in 1615 for fear of undermining confidence in the plantation, and the king forbade criticism of the lottery.18 By this time Fitzwilliam had found protection from his creditors by obtaining a minor post at Court. The need for protection was presumably also the reason he sought election to Parliament in 1620, since he was still liable for hundreds of pounds of debts he was unable to repay.19 The family could claim a traditional interest at Peterborough, but as it was in abeyance during this period he probably owed his election in 1620 to his cousin Sir Francis Fane*. Fitzwilliam left no trace in the parliamentary records, though he may well have inspired the successful Commons petition against lotteries.20
Fitzwilliam’s financial position had improved sufficiently by 1630 to allow him to buy 500 acres of salt marshes in Lincolnshire.21 He solicited unsuccessfully for the post of surveyor of the customs in the outports in around 1637.22 Little more can be ascertained of his life thereafter; he was probably the ‘Walter Fitzwilliams’ buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster on 7 Jan. 1654, but no will has been found.23 His nephew William, returned for Peterborough at both elections in 1640, retained his seat until Pride’s Purge.24
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. M.E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix), 240.
- 2. Al. Cant.; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 102.
- 3. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 635.
- 4. C181/1, f. 118.
- 5. C181/2, ff. 3, 314v; 181/3, ff. 85, 115.
- 6. C181/2, ff. 84, 119v, 330v; 181/3, ff. 35v, 99, 217v.
- 7. C181/3, ff. 85, 155.
- 8. STAC 8/144/6.
- 9. Lansd. 273, f. 28.
- 10. LC2/6, f. 38; LC3/1, unfol.
- 11. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 363.
- 12. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 467, 546, 982; T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 292.
- 13. Finch, 118-9, 127, 196-7.
- 14. HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 147.
- 15. Ibid. xviii. 102; xx. 296; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 78.
- 16. SP14/66/43; C2/Jas.I/F1/34.
- 17. Brown, 467, 546, 982.
- 18. STAC 8/144/6; Collectanea Juridica ed. F. Hargrave, ii. 136.
- 19. C3/308/63.
- 20. CD 1621, ii. 135, 140-1; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 81.
- 21. C54/2857; 54/2988.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 99, 363.
- 23. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 635.