CHOLMLEY, Sir Roger (bef.1495-1565), of London and Highgate, Mdx.

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



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. bef. 1495, illegit. s. of Sir Richard Cholmley (d.1521) of Thornton-on-the-Hill, Yorks. educ. L. Inn, adm. bef. 1509, called by Nov. 1518. m. c. 22 May 1518, Christiana Hurst (d.1558), wid., 2da. Kntd. by 30 Jan. 1535.4

Offices Held

Bencher, L. Inn 1520, Lent reader 1524, 1529, Autumn reader 1531, treasurer Nov. 1529, gov. 1530.

Common pleader, London 1518-35, recorder 1535-45; j.p. Mdx. 1522-d., Essex 1528-47, liberty of St. Alban’s 1538-40, Herts., Kent, Surr., Suss. 1547, Surr. 1562-d.; commr. subsidy, Mdx. 1524, benevolence 1544/45, musters 1546, chantries, London, Westminster, Mdx. 1546, 1548, contribution, Mdx. 1546, of Admiralty in Nov. 1547, relief, London, Westminster, Mdx. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, loan, Mdx. 1562; other commissions 1530-d.; serjeant-at-law 1531; bailiff, duchy of Cornw., Newport, Essex 1533-40; chief baron, Exchequer 1545-52; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1545, 1547, Mar. 1553; custos rot. Mdx. 1547; jt. ld. lt. 1552, 1553; c.j.K.B. 1552-3.5


By his will of 26 Dec. 1521 Sir Richard Cholmley bequeathed to his bastard son lands in Essex and Middlesex, but the family’s estates in Yorkshire and Cumberland went to the heir, Roger Cholmley’s uncle. Cholmley had earlier been promised lands worth £20 a year, evidently a more generous provision, for his father specially enjoined him ‘to be with this my bequest contented, whatsoever I have spoken or said before’. The support which he later gave his cousin Richard Cholmley in his bid for the deputy stewardship of Pickering suggests that he was satisfied with this disposition.6

By this time Cholmley was established at Lincoln’s Inn. The date of his first admission is not known, but he appears to have been readmitted in 1509. At first he seems to have been a rather unruly member, but when in later years he was reminded that he had been ‘a good fellow’ in his younger days, he advised other rowdy young men to ‘follow not my example in youth, but follow my counsel in age, if ever you think to come to this place or to these years that I am come unto; lest you meet either with poverty or Tyburn in the way’. None the less, his ability was quickly recognized and he was called to be serjeant-at-law when probably still in his thirties. Richard Morison in his treatise on law reform, arguing the necessity of a wider education for lawyers, exempted him from his strictures: ‘How shall a lawyer, Mr. Cholmley excepted, be able to make an oration ... without the knowledge of rhetoric?’7

Although as a serjeant Cholmley was technically disqualified from becoming recorder of London, he had been one of the common pleaders of London since 1518, he was ‘greatly friended amongst the attorneys and such other as be learned in the laws within the City’, and he had the support of both the King and Cromwell. True, Cholmley had reproached the minister a year earlier for being his ‘heavy master’ over his fine for avoiding knighthood, an honour which he was soon afterwards obliged to accept, but in general their relationship seems to have been amicable: Sir William Gascoigne, who had married Sir Richard Cholmley’s widow, was a friend of Cromwell. It was ‘at the petition and request’ of the minister that the City’s rule was waived and Cholmley elected recorder on 17 June 1535. As recorder he was to be involved in the treason trials of 1538 and 1539. He was also engaged in a series of negotiations with the government on behalf of the City over such matters as the boundaries of the sanctuary of St. Martin’s, the liberties of the City within the borough of Southwark, the right claimed by the King to appoint the keeper of Blackwell hall, the jurisdiction of the mayor over Thames fishermen, and the payment of tithes.8

Some of these issues were also raised in Parliament. The recorder was normally one of London’s four Members. Indeed, his election may have become obligatory: so at least the recorder of Gloucester, Richard Pate, was to argue in 1572, when he reminded William Cecil, Lord Burghley, that after Gloucester’s refusal to elect him to Parliament in the previous year he had written to Burghley and other lords, who had ‘caused a precedent to be searched for, which was found 27 Henry VIII, being a supersedeas for the discharge of a like election in London of two knights of the Parliament because Sir Roger Cholmley then recorder there was left out and not elected for one of them’. If Pate remembered the date correctly, the occasion can only have been a by-election to the Parliament of 1529, and its timing would fit the replacement of Sir Thomas Seymour I, who offered to vacate his seat on 2 Dec. 1535 and died soon after, and John Baker I, Cholmley’s precursor as recorder. However that may be, Cholmley was elected in time to take his seat in the last session of this Parliament, for an Act then passed (27 Hen. VIII, c.43) was signed by him and three other lawyers, probably acting as a committee of the Commons.9

Although there is no record of Cholmley’s election to the next Parliament, that of June 1536, evidence for his Membership is found on the dorse of two Acts which it passed, one for depriving abjurors in certain cases of their clergy and the other for continuing expiring laws, where among a series of lawyers’ names (including Sir William Gascoigne’s) there appears ‘Mr. Recorder’. He was certainly a Member of the Parliament of 1539, for by the Subsidy Act of its second session (32 Hen. VIII, c.50) the appointment of collectors of fifteenths and tenths was vested in the Members and Cholmley was one of those who appointed collectors in London. Moreover, he had taken advantage of his Membership to ensure the inclusion of his name in the preamble to the Act for changing the custom of gavelkind (31 Hen. VIII, c.3). Two days before Parliament met, the City’s counsel had been ordered by the court of aldermen to ‘draw a bill unto the Parliament house for to limit how far the bounds of the pretenced sanctuary of St. Martin’s shall extend’, but no such Act was passed.10

In the first session of the next Parliament the City planned to put in a bill defining its liberties within Southwark, and Cholmley was sent to ask the ‘lawful favour’ of Sir John Gage, King’s steward of Southwark; during the next session, a year later, he was again sent to Gage, this time to give him a copy of the act of common council for the assize of wood ‘to cause thereby an Act of Parliament to be drawn for the good and true making and assizing of ... wood throughout the realm’. The first of these bills came to nothing but the second was probably the basis of the Act for the assize of wood and coal (33 Hen. VIII, c.3). Other bills of the first session also concerned the City. On 16 Mar. 1542 Cholmley asked the court of aldermen whether ‘he should move that there might be an especial proviso made for the city of London for shooting in handguns ... as there is a bill put into the Parliament house for the taking away and restraint of shooting in the same’: the court decided that he should ‘suffer the same bill to pass as it is drawn, without any contradiction’. Five days later the aldermen had a long debate on the tithes question and finally agreed ‘that Mr. Recorder shall answer the matter in the Parliament house as he shall think good, not confessing any authority to be given unto him therein by this house’. During the second session, on 8 May 1543, Cholmley reported to the court of aldermen that ‘this day a bill concerning the punishment of fishermen upon the river Thames, much beneficial for the City, is passed the Common House’; he therefore asked for ‘suit to be made to the Lords for their favour in the furtherance of the same’, but the session ended four days later and the bill did not become law.11

In the third and last session of this Parliament the City feared legislation against its interests and a week before Parliament reassembled the recorder and all the legal counsel were called to meet regularly ‘for the staying of such matters as may chance to be moved to the hindrance of the said City at the Parliament’. Two bills were later specified by the aldermen: on 31 Jan. 1544 Cholmley and the common serjeant, Robert Broke, were asked ‘to endeavour themselves to the best of their powers for the staying of the bill put into the Parliament house against merchants for buying of steel and other merchandises’, and on 21 Feb. it was agreed that all the City’s Members should be specially asked to oppose ‘a bill drawn to be put into the Parliament house against merchants for packing of woollen cloths, the surmise whereof is that they do usually pack money, both silver and gold, in their said cloths’. On the other hand Cholmley reported on 11 Mar. ‘that he had moved the lords of the Council especially for their favours for the preferment of the bill in the Parliament house concerning the river of Thames’—probably the bill of the previous session— ‘and that they gently agreed to further it as much as they lawfully might do’. None of these bills, welcome or unwelcome in London, passed the Commons.12

Cholmley was again elected to Parliament by the City on 19 Jan. 1545, but before its delayed opening on 23 Nov. he was appointed chief baron of the Exchequer and resigned his office of recorder: on 17 Nov. 1545 the new recorder, Robert Broke, was elected to Parliament in his place. As chief baron and, later, chief justice of the King’s bench, Cholmley was summoned to an advisory place in the House of Lords, where he was a receiver of petitions in 1545, 1547 and March 1553: he also served on a number of committees. With other judges he signed the letters patent of 21 June 1553 for the succession to the crown of Lady Jane, although he did not subscribe the promise ‘never to vary or swerve’ from the succession so established and was not employed in drawing up the instrument. Nevertheless, with the triumph of Mary he was imprisoned in the Tower on 26 July, and was only released on 6 Sept. ‘with a great fine’: on 4 Oct. 1553 his office of chief justice was committed to (Sir) Thomas Bromley I. He was, however, quickly back in practice. On 2 Dec. as one of the counsel for those who had received grants of lands formerly belonging to the attainted 3rd Duke of Norfolk, he asked the House of Commons to hear him in connexion with the bill to reverse the attainder: he was so far successful on his clients’ behalf as to secure a compromise settlement.13

Cholmley remained a justice of the peace, but in Middlesex only. He was also named a commissioner for the treason trials of 1554 and 1555; Princess Elizabeth stayed at his Highgate house on her way to London in 1554, and Catherine, wife of John Astley and the princess’s companion, was for some time in his charge; and in 1557 he was appointed to a commission to inquire into heresies and seditious books. Evidently his loyalty was not in question, although he was never again given legal office. He probably lived in semi-retirement either at his mansion in the Old Bailey, in the parish of St. Martin’s, Ludgate, or at Highgate. It was this last residence which qualified him to sit as a knight of the shire for Middlesex in Mary’s last three Parliaments and in the first Parliament of Elizabeth. In each of the Marian Parliaments he had bills committed to him, two in her third, one in her fourth and, assuming that the Member concerned was not his cousin Sir Richard Cholmley, one in her fifth.14

Cholmley had greatly increased his patrimony and also held lands in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Kent, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. In 1557 he gave his manors of Over Strensham, Worcestershire, and Broad Campden, Gloucestershire, to his daughter Frances and her husband (Sir) Thomas Russell. Early in the reign of Elizabeth, he founded a free grammar school at Highgate. He died on 21 June 1565, having made his will in the previous April, and was buried in St. Martin’s, Ludgate, on 2 July.15

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; SP12/86/23; House of Lords RO, Original Acts 27 Hen. VIII, no. 53.
  • 2. House of Lords RO, Original Acts 28 Hen. VIII, nos. 1, 9.
  • 3. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from education. PCC 22 Maynwaryng; DNB; Foster, Yorks. Peds. N. and E. Riding unpaginated; NRA 10733 (Essex RO, Mildmav (Moulsham) mss D/DM/T43/1); LP Hen. VII, viii.
  • 5. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 3, f. 207; 9, ff. 112v-13; 11, f. 244; Dugdale, Chronica Ser. 83, 86, 88; LP Hen. VIII, iv-vi, viii, xi-xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8 to 1569-72 passim; Lansd. 2(10), f. 32; HCA 14/2; Osborn coll. Yale Univ. Lib. 71-6-41; information from G. Haslam; LJ, i. 267, 293, 430; APC, iv. 50, 277; HCA 14/2.
  • 6. PCC 22 Maynwaryng.
  • 7. Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 181, 188, 210, 230; R. Ascham, Works. ed. Giles, iii. 137; LP Hen. VIII, xvii.
  • 8. City of London RO, Liber Dunthorne, f. 459v; rep. 3, f. 207; 9, ff. 112v-13, 135, 138; 10, ff. 87, 180v, 242v, 251; C1/520/11; LP Hen. VIII, iv, vii, viii, xii, xiii.
  • 9. SP12/86/23; House of Lords RO, Original Acts 27 Hen. VIII, no. 53.
  • 10. House of Lords RO, Original Acts 28 Hen. VIII, nos. 1, 9; City of London RO, jnl. 14, f. 238; rep. 10, f. 97.
  • 11. City of London RO, rep. 10, ff. 242v, 251v, 252, 305v, 330v.
  • 12. Ibid. rep. 11, ff. 20, 34, 38, 44.
  • 13. Wriothesley’s Chron. i (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 102; C218/1; LJ, i. 267, 293, 298-9, 301, 342, 360, 376, 430, 435, 438-9; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 99; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 38, 43; CPR, 1553-4, p. 65; CJ, i. 32.
  • 14. DKR, iv(2), 244, 245, 248-50; Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, ii. 428; APC, v. 129; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 281-2; C1/483/15, 17; CJ, i. 38, 40, 45, 47.
  • 15. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xv, xvi, xix, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 228, 327; 1548-9, p. 61; 1557-8, p. 337; 1563-6, pp. 207-8; VCH Mdx. i. 302; PCC 24 Morrison; C142/144/85; Machyn’s Diary, 369.