CHOLMLEY, Sir Richard (by 1516-83), of Roxby, Thornton-on-the-Hill and Whitby, Yorks.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1516, 1st s. of Sir Roger Cholmley of Roxby and Thornton-on-the-Hill by Catherine, da. of Sir Robert Constable of Flamborough. m. (1) by 1537, Margaret, da. of William, 1st Lord Conyers of Hornby, 3s. at least 3da.; (2) by 1556, Catherine, da. of Henry Clifford, 1st Earl of Cumberland, wid. of John, 8th Lord Scrope of Bolton (d. 22 June 1549), at least 1s. Henry 2da. suc. fa. 28 Apr. 1538. Kntd. 11 May 1544.1

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) 1545-54, 1561, 1569-?d.; sheriff, Yorks. 1547-8, 1556-7; commr. chantries, Yorks. 1548, relief (N. Riding) 1550, goods of churches and fraternities (N. Riding) 1553, castles and enclosure of borders 1555; constable, Scarborough castle, Yorks. 3 Apr. 1548-?d.2


Richard Cholmley’s father, a younger son of a cadet branch of the Cheshire family, had acquired Roxby by 1519. Shortly afterwards he inherited, subject to the widow’s interest, Thornton-on-the- Hill from his brother Sir Richard, treasurer of Berwick-upon-Tweed and lieutenant of the Tower, who died in 1521 leaving only an illegitimate son, Roger Cholmley, later lord chief justice. Roger Cholmley evidently bore his father’s heir no grudge, for in 1537 he wrote to Cromwell in support of Richard Cholmley’s claim to be deputy to the Earl of Rutland in the stewardship of Pickering.3

In April 1538, a few days before his father’s death, Cholmley himself approached Cromwell with a suggestion for the appointment of some honest man to keep the courts in the liberty of Whitby Strand, which he himself was afterwards to acquire. In March 1540, as Richard Cholmley of Kingthorpe in Pickering Lythe, he obtained a lease of Whitby abbey, the first of the additions to his Yorkshire property made by this ‘great improver of his estate’, as his great-grandson, Sir Hugh Cholmley, was to call him: it was followed by the priory of Grosmont in February 1545, the manor of Eskdaleside, formerly the property of Whitby, for £333 in March 1546, and further ex-Whitby lands for £1,120 in April 1565. It was the width of his estates, as well as his height and complexion, which made Cholmley ‘the great black knight of the north’. His chief residence was at Roxby, ‘where he lived in great port, having a very great family, at least 50 or 60 men servants, about his house’, and he never travelled to London ‘that he was not attended with less than 30, sometimes 40 men servants’.4

Cholmley served as captain of 100 men in the Scottish war of 1544 and was knighted at Leith by the Earl of Hertford. Later in the same year he was so much engaged with the Scottish ships which threatened the Yorkshire coast that the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury and others asked the Privy Council for a respite of his summons to appear before the general surveyors. It was ostensibly for his services to Henry VIII that in April 1548 he was appointed constable of Scarborough castle and granted the manor of Northstead at a rent of £24, both grants being for life. As constable, Cholmley probably had a say in the choice of Members for Scarborough, although they do not seem to have included anyone closely connected with him. The office may also have impinged upon his own Membership of the Parliament of 1558. On 30 Jan. of that year he was instructed either to reside in the castle himself or to send his son there. The order was perhaps prompted by the recollection of Thomas Stafford’s attack on the town in the previous April, an episode in which, perhaps significantly, Cholmley is not known to have figured, and the option to send his son may have been a concession to Cholmley’s duty to attend a Parliament which had opened ten days earlier. It was probably not to him, but to Sir Roger Cholmley, that a bill concerning exigents and proclamations was committed on 27 Jan., so that he may or may not have gone north before the session ended, but he was there soon afterwards, being one of those thanked by the Privy Council for the burning of Coldingham.5

Cholmley’s later career was clouded by his Catholicism, his dangerous connexions and his alleged misbehaviour. Omitted from the archbishop of York’s return of 1564 because he had already been dropped from the North Riding bench, he was described by the archbishop in the following year as ‘obstinate in religion’: (Sir) Thomas Gargrave, however, judged him a Catholic of the ‘mean or less evil sort’, and he certainly yielded in staunchness to his second wife, Catherine Clifford, to whom he was in any case consistently unfaithful. Of his political attachments the most compromising was that to the Earl and Countess of Lennox, whose servants included Cholmley’s brother Roger and son Richard: it was to Lennox’s son Darnley that, according to one William Rogers in 1567, Cholmley and his eldest son were prepared to deliver Scarborough castle.6

In spite of his religious and political allegiances, including a link with the 6th Earl of Westmorland, whose father had married two of Cholmley’s sisters, he held aloof from the rebellion of 1569 and felt secure enough to appeal to the 3rd Earl of Sussex early in the following year for a young kinsman, ‘the Earl of Northumberland’s man’, who had done no more than follow his master ‘in this his evil enterprise’. During the rebellion (Sir) Henry Gates seems to have made himself responsible for the safety of Scarborough castle, but nothing has been found to confirm the statement that in 1568 Cholmley was deprived of the constableship: it was not until after his death that Gates secured the office for his son Edward Gates. Not all Cholmley’s troubles sprang from religion and politics. He was accused of various abuses and peculations in the lordship of Pickering and in particular of demolishing part of the Queen’s castle of Pickering to build his own house at Roxby. In 1577 the Privy Council ordered the council in the north to examine a complaint brought against him for enclosure.7

Cholmley died on 17 May 1583 and was buried at Thornton-le-Dale. His son and heir Francis was then aged 46 and more. Under a settlement of 31 Oct. 1579 Francis would be succeeded by his half-brother Henry.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: L. M. Kirk / Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 53; Glover’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 219; R. W. Jeffery, Thornton-le-Dale, 268-71; Gooder, Parlty. Rep. Yorks. ii. 17-19; LP Hen. VIII, xix.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 92; 1548-9, pp. 133, 136; 1550-3, p. 394; 1553, pp. 354, 414; 1553-4, p. 26; 1554-5, p. 110; 1555-7, p. 54; 1569-72, p. 224.
  • 3. NRA 14941 (N. Riding RO, ZPK/2); VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 20, 406; Somerville, Duchy, i. 534; LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiv.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xv, xx, xxi; CPR, 1554-5, pp. 257-8; 1563-6, p. 206; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 503; H. Cholmley, Cholmley Mems. (1787), 6-9, 11; J. T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry, 14, 108, 112.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xix, xxi; HMC Bath, iv. 58, 60, 66, 72; CPR, 1548-9, p. 133; APC, vi. 254, 396; Scarborough, ed. Rowntree, 215-16; CJ, i. 47.
  • 6. CSP For. 1562, pp. 5, 33; APC, vii. 231, 233, 301; SP15/12/68, i and ii, calendared CSP Dom. 1601-3, Add. 1547-65, p. 567; J. J. Cartwright, Chaps. Yorks. Hist. 67; H. Aveling, Northern Catholics, 72, 96, 105; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxv. 176; CSP Scot. ii. 159-60, 165, 310.
  • 7. C. Sharp, Memorials of the Rebellion of 1569, p. 129 and n; Scarborough, ed. Rowntree, 219; J. B. Baker, Scarborough, 97; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 109; N. Riding Rec. Soc. n.s. i. 205, 207 seq.; APC, ix. 382.
  • 8. C142/214/157; NRA 14941 (N. Riding RO, ZPK/4).