CURWEN, Henry (1528-96), of Workington, Cumb.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. May 1528, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Curwen of Workington by Agnes, da. of Sir Walter Strickland of Sizergh, Westmld. m. (1) 1548, Mary, da. of Sir Nicholas Fairfax of Gilling Castle and Walton, Yorks., 1s. Nicholas 3da.; (2) Janet, da. of one Crosby, rector of Camerton, Cumb., 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 4 Dec. 1543. Kntd. 28 Aug. 1570.1

Offices Held

Commr. relief from aliens, Cumb. 1550, to survey Carlisle and west marches 1563, for piracy 1565, to survey castles and take musters, west marches 1580, to take oaths 1592; j.p. Cumb. 1554-d., Westmld. 1583/86-d.; sheriff, Cumb. Mar.-Nov. 1562, 1570-1, 1580-1, 1589-90.2


The Curwens of Workington, a family of great antiquity, had supplied knights of the shire for Cumberland since the 14th century. They had held Workington of the earls of Northumberland and in 1619 another Sir Henry Curwen could write that his ancestors ‘always have been employed in service in that noble house of Northumberland’. Under the early Tudors, however, with the waning of the Percys and other magnates, the family had taken its place among the border gentry which looked for support to the crown. Foremost among the new agents of royal power were the Whartons, with whom the Curwens forged a firm alliance. Sir Thomas Curwen, described in 1537 as the most trusted friend of Sir Thomas Wharton I, took as his second wife Wharton’s sister Florence, and Henry Curwen’s marriage was originally designed to strengthen the alliance. On 2 Oct. 1534 the dean of the Earl of Northumberland’s chapel was licensed to marry him in Topcliffe chapel, ‘ad contemplationem ejusdem comitis’, to Wharton’s daughter Agnes, but after his father’s death this union of two infants was set aside, Agnes becoming the wife of Richard Musgrave and Curwen marrying Mary Fairfax: both bridegrooms had been Wharton’s wards. Musgrave’s uncle and heir male Simon Musgrave was later to challenge his nephew’s marriage on the ground of the previous one, but the later marriages were evidently both upheld.3

Curwen entered upon his inheritance, by a grant of ouster-le-main, on 8 July 1552, and within eight months he was elected to his first Parliament. As his fellow-knight was Richard Musgrave, his successor as Agnes Wharton’s husband, the decisive influence must have come from Wharton, a firm supporter of the Duke of Northumberland and his deputy in the north. In 1555 Wharton’s power was less pervasive, but with Musgrave as sheriff Curwen was well-placed for re-election, although this time he took second place to a nominee of Lord Dacre. He had been brought on to the commission of the peace by the Marian government and he did not oppose one of its measures in this Parliament.4

Curwen was to remain active in public life until shortly before his death on 25 Dec. 1596.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s. i.p.m., C142/68/23. Vis. Cumb. (Harl. Soc. vii), 30; J. F. Curwen, House of Curwen, 106 seq.; W. Jackson, Pprs. and Peds. (Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc.), i. 288-370; Biog. Studies (now Recusant History ), iii. 84.
  • 2. CPR, 1553, p. 364; 1553-4, p. 18; 1554-5, p. 106; 1560-3, pp. 435, 485; 1563-6, p. 20; 1569-72, p. 223; APC, vii. 284; xxiii. 257.
  • 3. M. E. James, Change and Continuity in Tudor North (Borthwick Pprs. xxvii), 10, 11, 19, 36, 47; A Tudor Magnate and the Tudor State (ibid. xxx), 7, 17, 20n; LP Hen. VIII, xii, xxi; Surtees Soc. xxvi. 44-46; liii. 341; CPR, 1563-6, p. 487.
  • 4. CPR, 1553, p. 381; 1555-7, p. 287; 1563-6, p. 142; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 50, 79; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii. 117; VCH Cumb. ii. 77.
  • 5. C142/248/18; York wills 27, f. 151.