ELLERKER, Sir Ralph (by 1489-1546), of Risby, 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 1489, 1st s. of Sir Ralph Ellerker of Risby by Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Gower of Stittenham; bro. of Sir Robert. m. (1) settlement 20 Feb. 1506, Joan, da. of John Arden, 4s. 4da.; (2) settlement 20 Oct. 1539, Joan, da. of one Moseley. Kntd. 9 Sept. 1513. suc. fa. 22 Nov. 1539.1

Offices Held

?Capt. Mary James 1512, 1514; bailiff, escheator and coroner, Holderness, Yorks. 1522, jt. (with Henry, 5th Earl of Northumberland) steward 1532, esquire of the body 1528; j.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) 1529-d., (W. and N. Ridings) 1538-d.; sheriff 1529-30; commr. musters, borders 1533, Yorks. 1539, for peace with Scotland 1533, tenths of spiritualities, Yorks., York and Kingston-upon-Hull 1535, subsidy 1536; member, council in the north in 1537, steward, forfeited lands of Sir Robert Constable, Lincs., Yorks. 1538, Cottingham. and Rise, Yorks. by 1542; marshal, Calais by Aug. 1542, Boulogne by Sept. 1544.2


On 25 Mar. 1511 Archbishop Warham told the Yorkshire magnate Thomas, Lord Darcy, with whom the future MP was to be associated, ‘As to the deliverance of [Sir Ralph] Ellerker and his sons from the Fleet, as it is the King’s pleasure, every reasonable man must be contented.’ Sir Ralph Ellerker was released, and it was probably he and not his eldest son who in the following summer captained a ship in the Channel. When the Scots invaded in 1513 Sir Ralph Ellerker and his sons joined the army to repel them and after the victory at Flodden young Ralph Ellerker was knighted by Thomas, Lord Howard. In the following year Darcy, who held the captaincy of Berwick, reported that the two Sir Ralph Ellerkers were among the contenders for the deputyship under him. Father and son enjoyed a close relationship, so much so that in the eyes of contemporaries the younger Ellerker was treated more like a brother than a son, a situation which had its obverse in the meagre allowance he received. Their inseparability makes it difficult to ascribe the many references to one or the other, but there is no doubt that the younger man gradually assumed the more important role.3

Ellerker may have been introduced at court by his father, who attended Catherine of Aragon on ceremonial occasions. In 1515 he was given an annuity of £20 by the King, and in the next few years he was much in evidence, becoming a favourite at tournaments. His prowess in mock warfare was challenged by French and imperial courtiers at the meetings in 1520 with Francis I and Charles V, but on both occasions he emerged the victor. With the renewal of hostilities on the borders a year later his martial talents found more serious use. He earned the praise of Thomas, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, but a quarrel with Sir Robert Constable led the Earl of Surrey to send an unflattering report of him to Wolsey which, however, neither harmed his career nor damaged his relations with Surrey.4

Ellerker’s return to the Parliament of 1529 may be looked upon as a natural consequence of a burgeoning public career: in the same year he was brought on to the bench for his native Riding and pricked sheriff of Yorkshire. The conjunction makes it all but certain that he and not his father was the Member for Scarborough: by this time the elder man was stepping down in the younger one’s favour and he may have seen in the election an excuse not to increase his allowance. Neither of the Ellerkers could have looked for support to the sheriff, who was their old enemy Constable, but they were local landowners, several of their forbears had represented Scarborough, and if help were needed it would have been forthcoming from a magnate, Ellerker’s comrade-in-arms Surrey, now 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and from such powerful neighbours as Lord Darcy and the Earl of Northumberland. Whether he or his father had already sat in Parliament it is impossible to say, although the appointment of a Sir Ralph Ellerker as a commissioner for the subsidy of 1523 suggests that he may have been in the House which voted it, as does a proviso in the Act of the same year for the attainder of the Duke of Buckingham (14 and Hen. VIII, c.20) protecting the younger Ellerker’s interest in several of Buckingham’s offices. All that is known of Ellerker’s part in the Commons of 1529 is that he missed nearly the whole of the fifth session (1533) while helping to organize the border against the renewed Scottish threat. He doubtless sat for Scarborough again in the Parliament of 1536, when the King asked for the re-election of the previous Members, and may have done so in 1539, a Parliament for which the Scarborough names are lost.5

In the autumn of 1536, when the commons of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire rose in rebellion, Ellerker was in the north. Early in October Darcy reported to the King that Ellerker ‘who dwells on the other side of the Humber from the rebels’, had sent him word of the rising and was ‘ready to ride to your grace’; Darcy advised him ‘to tarry and stay the East Riding’. Refusing to join the rebels, ‘for he was sworn to the King’, Ellerker escaped to Hull and tried to defend it, an effort which earned him the King’s thanks. When he was taken prisoner he agreed to act with Robert Bowes, whose position was more equivocal than his own, on a mission from the rebels to the King. The Duke of Norfolk was at first doubtful whether to receive them but having established their loyalty he sent them back with an answer and awaited their return. They did not come and on 27 Nov. the King rebuked Ellerker for his ‘great slackness’ and for his apparent sympathy with the rebels, several of whom, Robert Aske included, were his kinsmen. Whatever suspicions his conduct had aroused— and in the autumn he was passed over as sheriff— were to be dispelled by his exemplary conduct in the face of Sir Francis Bigod’s rising early in the next year. He sat on the special commission to try the insurgents and was appointed to the reconstituted council in the north. Despite John Gostwick’s allegations against him or his father of being prejudiced against Cromwell he soon became one of its most active members.6

On the death of his father Ellerker became head of his family, and it was doubtless his personal and public standing which accounted for his election, with his old companion Bowes, as knight of the shire to the Parliament of 1542. He travelled down for its opening and presumably attended its first session during the spring but his appointment soon afterwards as marshal of Calais prevented him from attending the second session (1543) and perhaps the third (1544). He was prominent in the attack upon Boulogne, and after the town’s fall he was made its marshal. He may have been returned again for Yorkshire to the Parliament of 1545, for which the names of the knights of that shire are unknown: he was on business in London when it opened on 23 Nov. 1545, although within two weeks he had returned to Calais. He was again at court early in January 1546 to support the Earl of Surrey’s request to be recalled: in this he was more successful than others had been, and when two months later Surrey came home Boulogne was left in Ellerker’s charge pending the arrival of William, 13th Lord Grey of Wilton. Before Grey arrived Ellerker was dead, killed in an ambush on 26 Apr. His death was reckoned a grievous loss although it was foolhardiness that had led him into the trap. He had made his will in the previous year on 16 June 1545, providing for his wife, children and servants. As executors he appointed his wife and eldest son, and as supervisors two of his brothers and his kinsman Francis Aislabie. Ellerker’s will was proved at York on 14 Aug. 1546.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/61/59. Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 109; DNB; C142/74/52.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i-xx; Lansd. 1(62), f. 201; NRA 10952, p. 51; Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xlviii. 21-119 passim.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, i-xiv; G. Oliver, Beverley, 508.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, i-iii; HMC Bath, iv. 2.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, iii-vi.
  • 6. Ibid. xi-xii; M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, i. 48; Elton, Policy and Police, 7, 315; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 491.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, xiv-xxi; Chron. Calais (Cam. Soc. xxxv), 26, 42; APC, i. 273; York wills 29, 159.