CHAMBERLAIN, Sir Ralph (by 1523-70 or later), of Shirburn, 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

Family and Education

b. by 1523, 3rd s. of Sir Edward Chamberlain, and bro. of Edward Chamberlain II and Sir Leonard. m. by 1544, a da. of Philip Scudamore of Burnham, Bucks. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.1

Offices Held

?Servant of Sir John Russell, Baron Russell in 1541; gent. porter, the Tower of London from 1533; ?esquire of the body from 1553; ?lt. of Calais castle 1554-8; bailiff of the lordship of Leominster, Herefs. from 1559.2


The Chamberlains of Shirburn are sometimes difficult to distinguish from those of Gedding, Suffolk. Like Sir Edward Chamberlain of Shirburn, Sir Edward of Gedding left sons called Leonard and Ralph. Both Ralph Chamberlains were knighted and it is generally assumed that the one knighted on 2 Oct. 1553, at the same time as Leonard Chamberlain of Shirburn, was of the Oxfordshire family; the Member for New Woodstock appears as a knight on the return, although Sir Leonard gave Ralph no such title in his will. Sir Ralph of Gedding, knighted at some time between 1548 and 1554, was more active, at least in local affairs, than his namesake. There can, however, be no real doubt that the Member for New Woodstock was of the family otherwise connected with the borough.3

Chamberlain’s father and eldest brother Leonard were lieutenants of Woodstock and the latter was presumably responsible for the revival of parliamentary representation there. The Official Return gives Sir John Chamberlain as the Member returned to the Parliament of October 1553 and this is almost certainly the faded name on the original document. The indenture, however, was wrongly filled in, since the name of the first Member, William Cooke, had to be written in over an erasure, and it is possible that both John and Ralph were on it originally and that John Chamberlain’s name was the one which should have been erased. Ralph appears instead of John in the list of Members of the Parliament and also in that of its successor, when his election for New Woodstock is undisputed.4

When Philip Scudamore made his will on 19 July 1544 he named his son-in-law Ralph Chamberlain as an executor and Ralph’s brother Leonard as overseer. After Scudamore’s death the two brothers were pardoned in 1546 for having acquired his manor of Burnham without royal licence. The Scudamores came from Herefordshire and Philip in his will had authorized Ralph and Leonard to draw 10 marks a year from his manor of Rowlstone in that county. The Member for New Woodstock therefore had an interest in Herefordshire and is likely to have been the Ralph Chamberlain who became gentleman porter of the Tower on 20 Mar. 1553, for in 1559 the same man was appointed bailiff of the lordship of Leominster, with an annuity of £12. On 11 Dec. 1565 the Privy Council ordered an inquiry into the scope of his office as a porter of the Tower, and five years later he received a lease of lands in Faversham, Kent, for his service as porter.5

Other references to bearers of the name are less easy to allot. A Ralph Chamberlain was in the service of Admiral Russell in 1541 and was probably the commander of one of the King’s ships in 1548 and the recipient of naval instructions from the Privy Council during 1551 and 1552. His next command seems to have been that of vice-admiral in 1557-8 with the task of keeping the Channel free for the passage of reinforcements to Calais; this duty is unlikely to have been assigned to the Sir Ralph Chamberlain who had been lieutenant of the castle at Calais since 1554 and who surrendered the castle to the Duke of Guise at the fall of the town. The Chamberlain who was porter of the Tower was confirmed in his office a week before Mary’s death, after unspecified accusations had been brought against him, and his position was renewed on 20 Jan. 1559, when he also became bailiff of Leominster. The former lieutenant of Calais, however, was sentenced to death late in 1559 for his part in the surrender, being pardoned in 1560 and restored in blood by Act of 1563 (5 Eliz. no. 42). During the lieutenant’s disgrace there is no mention of the naval captain, who reappears only in October 1563 when commanding three ships in the North Sea.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from marriage. Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 236-7; PCC 7 Bucke.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xvi; CPR, 1553, p. 150; 1554-5, pp. 161, 187-8; P. T. J. Morgan, ‘The govt. of Calais, 1485-1558’ (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1966), 298.
  • 3. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 71; CPR, 1547-8, p. 278; 1553-4, p. 24.
  • 4. C219/21/120, 121; Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 5. PCC 7 Bucke; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; Vis. Herefs. ed. Weaver, 63; CPR, 1553, p. 150; 1558-60, p. 59; 1569-72, p. 53; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 52; APC, vii. 307.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xvi; APC, ii. 218; iii. 508; iv. 140, 144, 184; vi. 102, 104, 222, 227, 248, 427; vii. 138; CPR, 1554-5, p. 188; 1558-60, p. 462; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 104; CSP Dom. Add. 1547-65, pp. 502-3; CJ, i. 67, 69.