LEE (LEGH, LEIGH), Thomas I (by 1511-45), of London.

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 1511. educ. Camb. BCL 1527, DCL 1531; adv. Doctors’ Commons 7 Oct. 1531. m. by 1537, Joan, da. of William Cotton of Oxenhoath, Kent, 1 da. Kntd. 11 May 1544.3

Offices Held

Visitor and commr. for suppression of monasteries 1535-9; master, Sherburn hospital, co. Dur. Sept. 1535-d.; master in Chancery 1537.4


The imperial envoy Chapuys’s description of Thomas Lee as ‘a doctor of low quality’ was undeserved, for its subject came of a cadet branch of the long-established and well-connected Cumberland family of Isel. Lee’s father has not been identified but he was a brother of William Lee of Frizington, Cumberland, and he once said that his father’s lands lay three miles from Calder abbey. Sir James Leyburn was his kinsman and godfather and he seems to have owed his education and early advancement to another ‘cousin’, Rowland Lee, afterwards bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, whom he followed at Cambridge, perhaps at St. Nicholas’s hostel, the hospitium juristarum attended by Dr. John Rokeby, Thomas Lee’s companion from childhood. Lee is to be distinguished from a slightly older namesake who had gone up to Cambridge from Eton.5

From 1532 Lee found employment in the matter of the King’s divorce, having doubtless been brought to Cromwell’s notice by Rowland Lee. In December 1532 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Denmark and north Germany and on his return it was he who cited Queen Catherine to appear before Archbishop Cranmer’s court at Dunstable. After attending to such matters as the election of Cromwell’s nominee as abbot of Malmesbury, he was again sent overseas early in 1534, but he was launched on the work for which he is best known by Richard Layton, a Cumberland man also trained in civil law at Cambridge, who in June 1534 urged Cromwell to employ himself and Lee in a visitation of the northern monasteries; both of them, Layton pointed out, were entirely beholden to Cromwell and both had friends within a dozen miles of every religious house and kinsfolk ready to support them in the event of opposition. A year later Lee was still in London, examining a servant of Bishop Fisher, but by August 1535 he had begun the visitation, although not of the northern houses and not with Layton but with the Oxford civilian John Price.6

Characterized by a modern historian as ‘a humourless, overbearing man, colder but more incisive of mind than Layton’, Lee was to bring lasting discredit upon the visitors by behaviour which some of them deplored. In October 1535, apparently in answer to a letter in which Cromwell had upbraided him for keeping quiet about Lee’s conduct, Price himself described Lee as ‘very insolent and pompatique’, of a ‘satrapic countenance’ and ‘excessive in taking’, while recommending leniency towards faults which could largely be attributed to youth and ‘high courage’ and which to punish severely would compromise government policy. After visiting the south and Cambridge university, Lee joined Layton at Lichfield in December 1535 for a tour of the north. While in Durham he took possession of Sherburn hospital to which he had been collated in the previous September. He was in London by March 1536 but was in Lincolnshire when the rising took place there in October. Chapuys reported that the first act of the rebels was to hang Lee’s cook, and he was named with Layton, Rowland Lee and Cromwell himself among those whose punishment was called for. Lee survived to take part in the examination of captured rebels.7

By then Lee may already have appeared in the Commons. In a list of boroughs and nominees seemingly prepared by Cromwell for the Parliament of 1536 his name is coupled with Ralph Sadler’s for Hindon. The three boroughs mentioned belonged to the see of Winchester and one of Lee’s namesakes, who was to sit for the city of Winchester in 1539, was probably a servant of Bishop Gardiner; but Gardiner was abroad in 1536 and those named were men of standing, and most of them, like Sadler, were closely linked with the minister. Owing to the loss of so many names it is not possible to say whether, like Sadler, Lee was re-elected to the next two Parliaments before being returned for Wilton. In October 1536 Lee shared with Sadler and his own brother William in a grant of the next presentation to the wardenship of St. Buryan’s chapel, Cornwall, and in the following March he received the reversion to the mastership of the hospital of Burton Lazars, Leicestershire. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk, as founder, opposed this grant on the formal ground that Lee was disqualified by marriage but added, ‘Alas! What a pity it were that such a vicious man should have the governance of that honest house’.8

During the next three years Lee was busy taking the surrender of religious houses throughout the country, including that of Holme Cultram, Cumberland, which he sought to obtain for himself and his brother: instead, in July 1538, he was granted a lease of Calder abbey. He was in trouble with Cromwell in 1538 for what Bishop Lee called his ‘fickle dealing’ but once again managed to clear himself. He survived the minister’s fall and while no longer needed as a monastic visitor was regularly employed in positions of trust until the year of his death. In 1542 he was included on a commission for the Scottish borders and in July 1543 he was appointed to accompany the treasurer in the army for the Netherlands and at the same time entrusted with £2,000 for the Duke of Suffolk’s forces in the north. When Cranmer was accused of heresy and in effect made judge in his own cause, Lee was named to assist his inquiry. He accompanied the army which invaded Scotland under the Earl of Hertford and was knighted at Leith on 11 May 1544. Hertford, who reported to the King that Lee had served ‘honestly and willingly’, may have had a hand in his return for Wilton on 28 Jan. 1545, as may Cranmer, but his distant relationship with the Parrs could have been a sufficient recommendation to the patron of Wilton, (Sir) William Herbert I. Lee’s last public service was to take the surrender of the see of Oxford in May 1545 and he died on the following 25 Nov. His death had been reported in August, so that he had probably been ill for some months and could scarcely have taken his seat in the Parliament which opened on 23 Nov. No evidence has been found of a by-election to replace him.9

Lee had acquired leases of other monastic property besides Calder, including the priory of St. Bees, Cumberland, the Yorkshire priories of Guisborough and Nostell, and property in Shoreditch, formerly of Haliwell priory, where he made his home while in London. He had made his will on 9 Mar. 1544 as of Haggerston, Middlesex, the London ward which included Shoreditch, and had asked to be buried there ‘if it chance me to die on this side the sea’: a brass was erected to his memory in St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch. He assigned a third of his lands to the crown for the wardship of his only child Catherine, later the wife of James Blount, 6th Lord Mountjoy, left another third to his wife Joan for life and set aside most of the remainder for the payment of debts and the performance of legacies. Calder, however, was to go to his nephew Thomas Lee III who was also to succeed to two thirds of the lands left to the widow should Lee’s hopes for a son be disappointed; if there was a son, this nephew was to share his custody with Joan Lee’s brother-in-law Thomas Gargrave. The widow was named executrix, with the testator’s ‘especial kinsman and friend’ (Sir) Edward North, Gargrave and the younger Thomas Lee as substitutes should she die before the grant of probate. Cranmer, Chancellor Wriothesley, Sir Richard Rich, Dr. Rokeby and Thomas Cotton were named supervisors. The will was proved on 23 Dec. 1545. Joan Lee took as her second husband (Sir) Thomas Chaloner.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, x. 40(ii) citing Cott. Otho C10, f. 218.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from first employment. LP Hen. VIII, xii; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxiv), 42; DNB; G. D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 27, 146.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, ix-xiv; VCH Durham, ii. 116.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, v, vi, ix, xii, add; Trans. Cumb. and westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxv. 138-9, 242.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, v-ix; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 203-5, 518.
  • 7. D. Knowles, Rel. Orders in Eng. iii. 272; LP Hen. VIII, ix-xii; Elton, Reform and Renewal, 32-33.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii.
  • 9. Ibid. xi, xiii, xvii-xx; VCH Cumb. ii. 177; APC. i. 12; C142/74/73.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII, xvi-xxi; VCH Cumb. ii. 182; VCH Yorks. ii. 347; CPR, 1550-3, p. 10; PCC 45 Pynnyng; Mill Stephenson, Mon. Brasses, 317.