WILBRAHAM, Sir Roger (1553-1616), of St. John's Gateway, Clerkenwell, London; later of Ludgraves, Monken Hadley, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Nov. 1553,1 2nd s. of Richard Wilbraham (d.1612) of Nantwich, Cheshire, and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Maisterson of Nantwich.2 educ. Shrewsbury sch., Salop 1570;3 St. John’s, Camb. 1573;4 G. Inn 1576, called 1583.5 m. by 1601, Mary, da. of Edward Baber†, sjt.-at-law, of Aldwick, Som., 3da.6 kntd. 20 May 1603.7 d. 31 July 1616.8 sig. Roger Wilbraham.
Ancient, G. Inn 1586, bencher 1595, Lent reader 1598.15
Commr. oyer and terminer, Marshalsea 1601, London 1601-at least 1615, Mdx. 1603-d., Verge 1604-at least 1615,21 piracy, Eng. 1601,22 gaol delivery, Newgate, London 1601-d.,23 sewers, London 1606-at least 1615, Mdx. 1606, 1611,24 determine limits of Tower of London 1608,25 annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613,26 subsidy, Mdx. 1608.27
Wilbraham’s ancestors were resident in Cheshire from at least the thirteenth century. The Nantwich branch of the family, established by the late 1400s, first achieved prominence through Wilbraham’s uncle Thomas†, a distinguished lawyer who became recorder of London and attorney of the Court of Wards.28 This success must have inspired Wilbraham himself, who, as a younger son, needed to seek his own fortune. Following a spell at Shrewsbury school with his cousin Ranulphe Crewe*, he attended Cambridge university, and then pursued a legal career at Gray’s Inn, where he was on close terms with (Sir) Francis Bacon* and his brother Anthony†.29
Only two years after being called to the bar, Wilbraham became Ireland’s solicitor general. As he later admitted, he hoped that conspicuous service in Ireland would lead to preferment in England, and he pursued his new duties vigorously, particularly with regard to improving the Crown’s finances and implementing the plantation of Munster. By 1593 he could claim that he had helped to increase revenues by between £4,000 and £5,000, despite sustained local opposition, and his ‘painfulness and good endeavour in the advancement of such matters’ won him the government’s lasting esteem.30 When Ireland’s attorney-general, Charles Calthorpe†, was suspended in 1591-3, Wilbraham stepped into the breach, and in 1597 he was suggested as a potential chief justice of Common Pleas in Ireland.31 Financially he also prospered. As one anonymous critic observed around 1597, ‘he may praise God for coming into Ireland, for that hath been better to him than Gray’s Inn would have been in many years’. While the Crown apparently ignored complaints that he exploited his position to accumulate wardships and took fees due to other officials, he certainly found the means to acquire several Cheshire manors during this period.32
Despite the material benefits gained from service in Ireland, Wilbraham persisted in his pursuit of English office. Although his requests for revocation in 1591 and 1595 were rejected, the government allowed him increasing amounts of time in England to pursue both official business and his own affairs, and the first entry in his journal was a description of the 1593 Parliament. This enabled him to maintain his ties with Gray’s Inn, which made him a bencher in 1595.33 In the following year, Wilbraham redoubled his efforts to return home, soliciting the patronage of Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) and appealing to Sir Robert Cecil†, who already employed one of Wilbraham’s brothers. Although the results were slow to materialize, this strategy ultimately paid off. In early 1598 he obtained leave to deliver the Lent reading at Gray’s Inn, and for his remaining five years as solicitor general he was permitted to perform his duties without again setting foot in Ireland.34 Initially, Wilbraham concentrated on rebuilding his legal practice, while in 1599 he helped Francis Bacon to redesign the gardens at Gray’s Inn. However, his appointment in 1600 as a master of Requests, presumably through Cecil influence, finally brought him a role in the English government, and further advancement followed. In 1602 he secured the keepership of the records in the Tower, though he surrendered this post in the following year in return for an annuity of £100. Wilbraham’s fears about his career prospects following the queen’s death proved groundless, and James I both knighted him and confirmed his mastership. Although his patent as Ireland’s solicitor general was revoked in September 1603, he was, to all intents and purposes, compensated by being made chancellor to Queen Anne. If anything, he was starting to feel overburdened, for as he commented sourly in his journal, James I’s accession was accompanied by a rush of people seeking the king’s favours, generating a heavier work-load for the masters.35
In 1604 Wilbraham was elected to Parliament for Callington, almost certainly on the nomination of his patron Robert, now Lord Cecil, whose kinsman Sir Jonathan Trelawny enjoyed influence over the borough.36 Appropriately, his first appointment was to a committee to consider relief for English officers who had recently served in Ireland (26 March). As both a lawyer and an attendant on James I, Wilbraham was also in demand during the proceedings of Goodwin’s Case. He was named to committees both to prepare for the initial audience with the king, and to summarize the Commons’ resolutions on the topic (27 and 30 Mar.), and he was among the messengers sent to the Lords on 3 Apr. to explain the delay in presenting those resolutions. He was also included on the committees which scrutinized the bill to prevent outlaws from becoming MPs in future, and which would have represented the Commons in the planned debate with the judges (31 Mar. and 5 April).37 Discussion of the proposed Union also brought Wilbraham to the fore. On 14 Apr. he was named to the very first conference between the Commons and the Lords on the subject, while five days later he was again sent to the Lords to present the Commons’ excuses for the latest delay in communications. On 1 June he was appointed to the committee to consider the bishop of Bristol’s book about the Union and to prepare for a conference about it. His experience of government finance and administration explains his selection on 26 Mar. for a conference on wardship, and his nomination to the committee stage of the Tunnage and Poundage bill (30 May).38 As a member of High Commission, Wilbraham was an obvious choice for inclusion on the committee to examine Bryan Bridger, who had been imprisoned for his extreme opposition to bishops, and indeed he acted as secretary during Bridger’s interview. On 16 Apr. he was named to the committee to consider confirmation of the established Church and the king’s unwelcome proposal for a conference with Convocation. He was also appointed to the legislative committee concerned with popish books (6 June).39 On 26 Mar. he was named to the committee to deliberate on Sir Henry Neville I’s motion about treason and royal grants, and on 2 Apr. to consider bills for the restitution of the earls of Southampton, Essex and Arundel, for which Neville had helped to pave the way. Predictably, Wilbraham was nominated to several bill committees covering legal issues, including process in the Court of Exchequer, and abuses relating to penal statutes (4 Apr. and 1 June). More surprisingly for someone of his standing in government, he made no recorded speeches during this session.40
In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, Wilbraham was responsible for examining some of the lesser witnesses.41 During the 1605-6 session he was named to the committee to scrutinize the bill to attaint the plotters (30 Apr. 1606). However, Wilbraham was starting to take a less prominent role in the Commons’ business overall. The notes on this session in his journal suggest a jaundiced observer rather than an active participant: ‘for 7 weeks nothing done for any public bill, nor no private bill passed both Houses within that time, the time most while spent in invectives against purveyors’. Wilbraham apparently attended the conferences with the Lords about purveyance on 14 and 19 Feb., and he was clearly intrigued by the legal question of whether this aspect of the royal prerogative could be modified by statute.42 Nevertheless, he seems not to have spoken on this or any other issue, unless his status as first-named Member on the bill committee for the relief of Skinners can be taken to imply that he gave a speech, now lost, in the preceding debate (2 May). The bulk of the remaining business with which he was linked was fairly routine, apart from a committee to devise a strategy for improving clerical standards (22 January). He evidently took an interest in the bill for relief of John Holditch, which was concerned with land law. Nominated to the committee stage on 16 May, he was chosen as one of Holditch’s representatives when the case was sent to arbitration seven days later.43 However, it is difficult to determine the scale of his involvement in any of his remaining 14 legislative committees, whose subjects ranged across such matters as non-resident clergy, property assigned to charitable uses, the sale of firewood, and the paving of Drury Lane, Westminster (5 and 19 Mar., 8 April).44
Wilbraham’s contribution to the 1606-7 session was even more limited, which is surprising because he enthusiastically favoured the Union, the principal subject under discussion. His reticence during the Union debates may partly have stemmed from his naïve belief that the necessary changes could be implemented by exercise of the royal prerogative, and his failure to grasp why the king chose to act instead through Parliament. His only known contribution occurred when he was accused by William Barwick on 3 Dec. 1606 of suppressing a petition to the king about livestock confiscated from English merchants in Scotland. Hastily reassuring the Commons that James was aware of the problem, he confirmed on 8 Dec. that compensation would be forthcoming, and Barwick duly received a Privy Seal two days later.45 It may be that Wilbraham was more effective in committee than in the House, as his name headed three bill committee lists that session. The topics covered were MPs’ attendance, jointure lands and merchants’ debts (26 Feb., 28 May and 5 June 1607). He was also named on 12 Mar. to a committee to address the physical discomfort of members during conferences with the Lords.46 However, he received only five other legislative committee appointments. As a Clerkenwell resident he had a personal interest in the bill about buildings in the London suburbs (8 Dec.), and he will doubtless have had views on the proposals to reform High Commission (26 June). He must also have known Sir Roger Aston, a courtier and then knight of the shire for Cheshire, whose bill sought confirmation of a patent (13 Dec.). The remaining two bills dealt with mariners and non-resident clergy (4 Mar. and 1 May).47
Outside Parliament, Wilbraham was still frequently consulted on Irish affairs, and played a leading role in the establishment of the Ulster plantation, although in 1606 he found himself in trouble over his failure to build a castle on his property in Co. Monaghan.48 His success in retaining the patronage of Robert Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, was demonstrated most visibly in 1607, when he obtained the surveyorship of the Court of Wards.49 However, if Salisbury expected a public show of support from Wilbraham for his proposals in the first parliamentary session of 1610, he was to be disappointed. Wilbraham’s journal confirms that he understood the issues at stake in the Great Contract negotiations, but he was also acutely aware of the Commons’ scepticism about the scheme and the significance of impositions as a stumbling block in the discussions. Although nominated on 15 Feb. to the initial conference on supply, he otherwise apparently contributed nothing to the debates on this vital issue.50 On 22 Mar. he was named to the committee for discussing religious grievances, while on 26 May he was chosen to help request the king’s leave for the presentation of the Commons’ petition on recusancy laws. He was also appointed to help present two petitions of grievance to James, one temporal, the other ecclesiastical (7 July). Beyond this, he received just five bill committee nominations, relating to pluralism, the nonresidence of provosts, exports, private contracts and a Chancery decree (19 Feb., 16 Mar., 2, 16 and 19 April).51 No record of his contribution to the final session of this Parliament survives, and his private account of its proceedings is a gloomy memorial of the Great Contract’s acrimonious rejection, ending thus: ‘no act concluded or resolved in 9 weeks’ session: neither His Majesty nor Commons satisfied in their expectations’.52
Salisbury’s death in 1612 deprived Wilbraham of his principal patron, and he failed in his bid to succeed Sir George Carew II* as master of the Wards in November of that year.53 Nevertheless, his Irish expertise continued to stand him in good stead, and he was appointed in 1613 to help investigate the allegations of corruption surrounding the current Dublin Parliament. Although now essentially a Middlesex resident, he had kept up his Cheshire connections, and the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth to her cousin Thomas Wilbraham of Woodhey in 1613 provided fresh kinship ties with several of the county’s leading gentry families. Moreover, on 8 Mar. 1614 Wilbraham was granted in reversion the office of constable of Chester Castle. These factors, combined with his continuing role at Court, account for his election to the 1614 Parliament as one of the knights for Cheshire.54 Even by his own standards, however, his contribution to the Commons’ proceedings was meagre. Once again he made no known speeches, and he received just three committee nominations, one to survey failed legislation and the others to scrutinize new bills about road repairs and clerical non-residence (8 Apr., 7 and 12 May). Still very much the detached observer, he neatly pinpointed in his journal the cause of the Parliament’s collapse. Although the earl of Northampton ‘was said to practise underhand the hindrance of the subsidy demanded, ... it rather seemed His Majesty’s denial to remit the late impositions upon merchandize ... did so dislike the Commons that no subsidy was granted’.55
In September 1614 Wilbraham was reportedly in the running to become chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, but he was passed over in favour of (Sir) John Dackombe*. As late as January 1616 he was still being consulted about Irish administration, and in May of that year he helped to preside over the trial of the earl and countess of Somerset.56 Wilbraham drew up his will on 7 July 1615. Lacking a male heir, he seems to have been particularly anxious to preserve the memory of his own name, and had already founded almshouses, called ‘Wilbraham’s hospitals’, at Nantwich and Monken Hadley, his birthplace and principal country estate respectively. He now bequeathed to his eldest child Mary, the wife of Thomas Pelham*, £100 in plate bearing his name or arms, which he specified should become a family heirloom. He also provided remembrance rings for over 40 of his friends, relatives and colleagues. His personal legacies were relatively small, as his wife and three daughters stood to benefit from trust arrangements which he had just finalized. He died in July 1616, leaving an estate allegedly worth £4,000 a year, and was buried at Monken Hadley. His funeral monument, which cost £80, was commissioned from the king’s mason, Nicholas Stone.57 His grandsons, Sir John Pelham and Sir Thomas Wilbraham, sat in Parliament in the later seventeenth century.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. G. Ormerod, Hist. Cheshire, ii. 137.
- 2. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 260.
- 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium comp. E. Calvert, 33.
- 4. Al. Cant.
- 5. PBG Inn, i. 26, 55.
- 6. Cass, 162; C142/354/136.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 109.
- 8. C142/354/136.
- 9. R. Lascelles, Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae, i. pt. 2, p. 75.
- 10. APC, 1591, p. 13; CSP Ire. 1592-6, p. 77.
- 11. CSP Ire. 1586-8, p. 148; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 1, p. 164.
- 12. CSP Ire. 1608-10, p. 171.
- 13. Ibid. 1611-14, p. 22.
- 14. APC, 1613-14, pp. 154-5.
- 15. PBG Inn, i. 71, 110, 135.
- 16. APC, 1599-1600, p. 282; Lansd. 273, f. 13v.
- 17. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 360; HMC Hatfield, xv. 224; xvi. 290.
- 18. C66/1570; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 15.
- 19. LR6/154/9; PROB 11/128, f. 343.
- 20. C66/1748.
- 21. C231/1, f. 101; C181/1, ff. 11, 43v, 93v; 181/2, f. 235v, 239v, 251.
- 22. Rymer, vii. pt. 2, p. 14.
- 23. C181/1, f. 11v; 181/2, f. 253.
- 24. Ibid. ff. 19v, 140v, 153, 243.
- 25. Ibid. f. 70.
- 26. C181/2, ff. 142, 199.
- 27. SP14/31/1.
- 28. Ormerod, iii. 58, 375, 440; Vis. Cheshire, 260.
- 29. Shrewsbury Sch. 33; PROB 11/128, f. 343; PBG Inn , i. 26, 55; L. Jardine and A. Stewart, Hostage to Fortune, 70-1, 78.
- 30. CSP Ire. 1586-8, pp. 98-9, 148, 216, 300, 396, 411; 1588-92, pp. 70, 412; 1592-6, pp. 73, 77; APC, 1587-8, pp. 44-5; 1591, p. 13.
- 31. CSP Ire. 1596-7, p. 368.
- 32. Ibid. 497-8; Ormerod, iii. 345.
- 33. APC, 1590-1, p. 253; CSP Ire. 1592-6, p. 304; Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham ed. H.S. Scott (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. iv), 3.
- 34. CSP Ire. 1596-7, p. 1; HMC Hatfield, vi. 231; viii. 293; x. 87; APC, 1599-1600, p. 262; Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham, 25.
- 35. Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham, 10, 20, 55, 57; PBG Inn, i. 145-6; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 15; HMC Hatfield, xii. 646.
- 36. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), iv. 20; C142/282/82.