LEE (LEIGH), John I (by 1491-1542 or later), of Isel, Cumb.

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 1491, 1st s. of Sir John Lee of Isel. m. Mabel, da. of Hugh Lowther by Anne Threlkeld, at least 1s. John II suc. fa. by 1516.1

Offices Held

Constable, Carlisle castle by 1512-24 or later; dep. or assistant in west marches in 1533, 1537; escheator, Cumb. and Westmld. 1539-40; j.p. Cumb. 1540-2.2


John Lee is not easily distinguishable from his many contemporary namesakes. He came of a family said to have been established in Cumberland in the early 14th century by Sir William de Legh, a younger son in the Cheshire house of Knutsford Booths, and three of his forbears had represented the shire in 15th-century Parliaments. He had succeeded his father by 1516, that being the latest year in which he could have sued, as his deceased father’s heir, for the title deeds of the manor of Frizington, the defendant, Margaret Lee widow, being perhaps his mother: he was holding the manor in 1534-5.3

The greater part of Lee’s career was bound up with his service to the Lords Dacre of Gilsland. In October 1524, after a subpoena against Lee had been obtained by Roger Tempest, the 3rd Lord Dacre told Wolsey that he could not spare Lee, who had been constable of Carlisle under him for 12 years. Lee went on to serve the next Lord Dacre, and his return to the Parliament of 1529 as second knight of the shire, with Dacre’s brother Sir Christopher as his fellow, bespoke both the family’s power in Cumberland and Lee’s standing with it. So did his recurrent nomination over the next decade for the shrievalty, although his failure to secure the office perhaps reflected his master’s shaky position at court. Membership of Parliament, however, helped to give Lee access to a more strategically placed figure, Thomas Cromwell. On 8 Jan. 1531, a week before the opening of the second session, he wrote to Cromwell on behalf of a kinsman, Anthony Highmore, and in October 1532, after being summoned (for what reason is unknown) to appear before Cromwell, now in high favour, he begged the minister to save him from the King’s displeasure and to help him become sheriff. This letter he followed up, two weeks later, with another in which he repeated his request about the shrievalty and, in the mistaken belief that Cromwell was master of the wards, offered himself as ‘a substantial feodary’ within that jurisdiction. His gratitude for Cromwell’s kindness to his ‘cousins’ Rowland Lee and Thomas Lee I, and his description of the minister as his ‘special friend and lover’, were both disingenuous and futile, for a week later he learned that he had been fined £10, a decision which, as he told Cromwell, he found ‘very sore’.4

The Dacres survived their trials for treason in 1534, but they emerged weakened for the time being as a political force and they only partially recovered their position by their loyalty in 1536-7. Of Lee’s role in these crises only glimpses are to be caught. He was accused of neglect during the rebellions but countered with criticism of the sheriffs, (Sir) Thomas Wharton I and Sir Thomas Curwen: it was probably this dispute which came into court in 1538, when Thomas Lee solicited Cromwell in John Lee’s favour, although after the risings Lee had been appointed one of Wharton’s assistants in the west marches at a fee of £6 13s. 4d. a year.5

The end of John Lee is obscured by the emergence of his son, another John, and by the doings of other, probably unrelated, namesakes. It was almost certainly he who was named to the commissions of the peace in 1540 and 1542, but although it may have been his son who served in Scotland in the early 1540s, neither father nor son was the man knighted at Leith in May 1544, this being seemingly one of the Cheshire family. One or other of them appears on a list of those who were to be distrained for knighthood on the accession of Edward VI and whichever it was had not redeemed the distraint when Elizabeth came to the throne. No will survives to indicate when either of them died.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xl. bet. pp. 48-49.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, iv, vi, xii, xvi, xvii, xxi; DKR, x. 19.
  • 3. Ormerod, Chester, i. 409; Trans. Cumb, and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxv. 186.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, iv-vii, ix, xi, xii, xv; Elton, Tudor Rev. in Govt. 428.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii.
  • 6. Ibid. xvii-xix; H. H. Leonard, ‘Knights and knighthood in Tudor Eng.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 55.