WILLYS, (WILLIS), Sir Thomas, 1st Bt. (1612-1701), of Fen Ditton, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

bap. 6 Sept. 1612, 1st s. of Richard Willis, counsellor at law, of the Inner Temple and Fen Ditton by Jane, da. and h. of William Henmarsh of Balls Park, Herts. educ. St. John’s, Hertford (Mr Frisney); Christ’s, Camb. 1629; G. Inn 1631. m. c.1633, Anne (d. 20 Oct. 1685) da. and coh. of Sir John Wilde of Mystole, Kent, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 7da. suc. fa. 1626; cr. Bt. 15 Dec. 1641.1

Offices Held

J.p. Cambs. 1650-80, commr. for assessment 1650-2, 1657, Jan. 1660-80, 1689-90, militia 1659, Mar. 1660, sewers, Bedford level 1662-3, conservator 1669-89, bailiff 1689-d.; sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1665-6; commr. for recusants, Cambs. 1675.2


Willys’s ancestors had resided in Cambridgeshire in Elizabethan times, but it was not until the succeeding reign that they had a grant of the crown manor of Fen Ditton, two miles from Cambridge. Unlike his brother Richard, who fought with distinction for the King, Willys took no known part in the Civil War, and held local office throughout the Interregnum, which may have facilitated his brother’s notorious betrayal of the Sealed Knot to the Protectorate Government. In 1659 he became the first of the family to sit in Parliament.3

Willys expected to be re-elected for the county in 1660, but his refusal to commit himself to an unconditional Restoration led to his defeat. Nevertheless, he was returned for the borough. An inactive Member of the Convention, he made no recorded speeches and was appointed to only five committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and those to settle the establishment of Dunkirk and to draw up instructions for disbanding the army. Although doubtless in opposition, he was proposed as a knight of the Royal Oak with an income of £1,000 p.a. He is unlikely to have stood in 1661, though two years later Samuel Pepys, then just embarked on his career in the Navy Office, thought it worth his while to ‘confute and disabuse’ his allegations of ‘errors and corruption’ in the navy and the ‘great expense thereof’.4

Willys stood for Cambridge again as a country candidate at the first general election of 1679. Though he was defeated and his petition never reported, Shaftesbury marked him ‘honest’. As an exclusionist he was removed from the commission of the peace in 1680, and thenceforth seems to have withdrawn from public life. He died on 17 Nov. 1701, aged 89, and was buried at Fen Ditton. His grandson, the sixth and last baronet, sat from 1727 to 1732 as a government supporter.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / E. R. Edwards / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 184.
  • 2. S. Wells, Drainage of the Bedford Level, i. 350, 459-73.
  • 3. Clutterbuck, ii. 184; Lysons, Cambs. 164; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 195-200.
  • 4. Pepys Diary, 20 Apr. 1660, 8 Feb. 1663; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 657.
  • 5. C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 477; CJ, ix. 579.