CHAMBERLAIN, Sir Leonard (by 1504-61), of Shirburn and Woodstock, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1504, 1st s. of Sir Edward Chamberlain, and bro. of Edward Chamberlain II and Sir Ralph. m. (1) by 1533, Dorothy, da. of John Newdigate of Harefield, Mdx., at least 2s. inc. George; (2) Dorothy Andrews of Woodstock; (3) by 29 Nov. 1554, Margery (d.1557), wid. of Henry Brinklow of London, Stephen Vaughan (d.1549) of London, and George Rolle (d.1552) of Stevenstone, Devon and London; (4) Anne, da. of Richard Blount of Iver, Bucks., wid. of Francis Conyers of Wakerley, Northants.; 2 others. at least 5da. suc. fa. 10 Sept. 1543. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.2

Offices Held

Esquire of the body by 1532; j.p. Oxon. 1541-7, 1554-d.; escheator, Oxon. and Berks. 1544-5; commr. musters, Oxon. 1546, relief 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 1546-7, 1552-3; jt. (with fa.) lt., Woodstock 1532-43, sole 1543-55, jt. (with s. Francis) 1555-d.; asst. to lt. of the Tower Oct.-Dec. 1549, Oct. 1551, marshal, army for relief of Boulogne 1549; gov. Guernsey 25 Sept. 1553-d.3


In 1525 Leonard Chamberlain and his father broke the entail on Reston manor in Lincolnshire and sold Reston to Thomas Heneage. A turbulent early life of ‘misrule and riot’ seems to have driven him into temporary exile and perhaps accounts for the pardon granted him in 1529. Within three years he had entered the Household and until the 1550s he was a regular attendant at court, being present at all the main state occasions. A quarrel with his father over the manor of Shirburn did not prevent the two from being joined in the lieutenancy of Woodstock in 1532: two years later Cromwell unsuccessfully attempted to persuade him to surrender the post. By 1539 he was beginning to take part in local affairs, being concerned in the apprehension of traitors and the suppression of a ‘malicious report’ about the crown, and in 1541 he was named to the Oxfordshire bench.4

Chamberlain served with the army in the Netherlands in 1543 and in France a year later. He is not named, as one would have expected of a capable soldier, among those who took part in the invasion of Scotland in 1547. He was active in maintaining order in the midlands in 1549, and following the downfall of the Protector the Council appointed him temporary assistant to the lieutenant of the Tower and two months later marshal of the army for the relief of Boulogne. In October 1551 he was ordered to inspect the defences of the Tower and to strengthen them if necessary. It is likely that he helped to provide a bodyguard for Edward VI during the closing years of the reign. At the succession crisis of 1553 Chamberlain, then sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, declared for Mary and raised troops in her name. On 22 July he was ordered to dismiss his soldiers and repair to the Queen, who commissioned him to provide her with a bodyguard. As sheriff he was debarred from returning himself in either Berkshire or Oxfordshire to the Parliament of October 1553, but it was doubtless with official support that he found a place at Scarborough with the civilian Sir John Tregonwell. His election as one of the knights for Oxfordshire to the two Parliaments of 1554 befitted his status as a leading Marian courtier, but thereafter he was apparently too concerned with the affairs of Guernsey to sit again. Similarly, at Woodstock, which had been incorporated in 1453 but which had then been exempted from sending burgesses to Parliament, returns were made in 1553 and 1554, evidently under Chamberlain’s control and presumably on his initiative, but were not made again until the next reign. Two of the five Members returned were Chamberlains and the others probably had some connexion with the family.5

Chamberlain guarded Princess Elizabeth during her imprisonment at Woodstock, but soon after her departure in April 1555 he left for Guernsey, where he had replaced Sir Peter Mewtas as governor at the beginning of the reign, and took part in the negotiations for the purchase of Sark, which had been taken from the French by a privateer in imperial service two years earlier. He then left his eldest son Francis, from 1555 joint governor of the island, in charge until August 1557. On his return to the Channel Islands he repelled an attack upon Alderney by the French. After Mary’s death (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton proposed his dismissal as governor, but Chamberlain wrote a congratulatory letter to Cecil in December 1558 which may have ensured his own and his son’s retention in office. In 1560 the inhabitants of Guernsey complained of his exercise of the right of pre-emption in the island.6

Chamberlain made his will on 22 May 1560. Its Catholic preamble is probably a true indication of the testator’s beliefs, for the Chamberlains were to be a recusant family. After asking for ‘solemn exequies to be sung and done for me according to the order of the holy Catholic Church’, he provided for his family and others, and named his sons George, John and William executors and his brother Sir Ralph and George Ferrers among the overseers. The will was proved on 29 Aug. 1561, but, according to Machyn, Chamberlain was not buried until the following October.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 236-7; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 135, 271; La Société Guernesiaise, xvi. 234; PCC 18 More, 33 Noodes, 51 Mellershe, 28 Loftes; C1/1339/16-20; W. C. Richardson, Stephen Vaughan, 22-23; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 13(1), f. 235.
  • 3. CPR, 1550-3, p. 395; 1553, pp. 357, 415; 1553-4, pp. 68, 207; 1554-5, p. 266; LP Hen. VIII, v, xxi; APC, ii. 332, 353, 356, 362.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, vii, viii, xiv, xv, xvii, xxi; St. Ch.2/17/234; C1/699/30,31.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xviii, xix; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(2), 300; APC, ii-iv passim; CPR, 1550-3, pp. 142, 395; 1553, pp. 357, 415.
  • 6. Norf. Arch. iv. 154, 199, 200; La Société Guernesiaise,, xvi. 224-67; EHR, lxv. 95; CSP Dom. 1601-3, Add. 1547-65, pp. 484, 506.
  • 7. PCC 28 Loftes; Machyn’s Diary, 271; H. Clifford, Jane Dormer, ed. Stevenson, 38; A. Davidson, ‘Catholicism in Oxon. 1580-1640’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 48, 99-124.