SKEFFINGTON, Sir William (by 1467-1535), of Skeffington and Groby, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. by 1467, 1st s. of Thomas Skeffington of Skeffington by w. Mary. m. (1) Anne, da. of Sir Everard Digby of Tilton, Leics. and Stoke Dry, Rutland, 3s. 2da.; (2) Anne, da. of Sir John Digby of Kettleby, Leics. 2s. 3da. suc. fa. by 1496. Kntd. May 1509/14.2
J.p. Leics. 1501-d., commr. subsidy 1514, 1515; sheriff, Warws. and Leics. 1515-16, 1521-2; master of the ordnance 1515-34; ld. dep. [I] 1530-2, 1534-d.3
William Skeffington is first mentioned in two cases concerning landed rights in Skeffington and Keythorp in 1488 and 1496. A supporter of the Greys, he was an executor of the will of the 1st Marquess of Dorset, who died in 1501. He may have served with Dorset in France, as he was to do with the 2nd Marquess, when he was given command of the ordnance. It was thus as an experienced artilleryman that he replaced Sir Sampson Norton as master of the ordnance in 1515. With the return of peace the work may have been at first less demanding, and by 1522 Skeffington had served twice as sheriff and had discharged various other local duties; but when in 1526 he testified in the dispute between Dorset and Sir Richard Sacheverell he admitted that he had not been in his county for four years. As well as performing ceremonial duties he had served on various commissions relating to Calais and had spent most of his time either there or at the Tower, the two principal ordnance depots. In 1523 he had also been charged with supplying victuals to the army in the field, and his frequent voyages between Calais and London also made him a useful liaison officer. His admission to the Inner Temple in 1523 was evidently honorific.4
Skeffington was a natural choice for the knighthood of the shire in 1529; to the local support of the Greys he could add the prestige of his position at court. As both these conditions had already been present in 1523, he may well have been returned to that Parliament (for which the names are lost) as was the case with his fellow-knight of 1529, Sir Richard Sacheverell. Skeffington’s attendance in the Commons must, however, have been intermittent. In July 1529, shortly before the Parliament was summoned, he had been appointed deputy to the Duke of Richmond, newly created lieutenant of Ireland. As his patent was not issued until May 1530 and he did not reach Ireland until early in the following August, he could have been present for the first session in 1529, but he missed those of 1531-2 and although in England when the fifth and sixth sessions were held early in 1533 and 1534 he had left again for Ireland before the seventh opened in the following November. His death left a vacancy for the final session, but whether or by whom it was filled is not known unless it was by William Ashby.5
Skeffington was to achieve great military, but little political, success in Ireland. The resentment of the 9th Earl of Kildare at his own supersession as lord deputy was not assuaged by Skeffington’s adherence to the Grey family, into which Kildare had married; from the first he treated Skeffington as a subordinate and in 1532 he crossed to England and induced the King to renew his own patent. Skeffington’s convocation of an Irish Parliament in 1531 to strengthen the country’s laws had come to nothing in the face of Kildare’s intransigence. When, after Kildare had overreached himself and re-entered the Tower, Skeffington was preferred to the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, with whom he was at odds, as the man to put down the ensuing Geraldine rebellion, it was with Cromwell’s backing but also at the price of having to take several of Cromwell’s servants with him as well as Lord Leonard Grey, another former associate turned enemy. Not surprisingly Skeffington, now elderly and in uncertain health, was less than enthusiastic to be gone; he made the most of his difficulties in collecting troops, guns and supplies, and only a peremptory order from the King finally sent him across in October 1534. Once in the field, however, he again proved himself a vigorous and ruthless commander and in two campaigns he brought the rebels to submission. His success outweighed the complaints brought against him, notably by his marshal Leonard Grey, and the King had resolved to maintain him as deputy when a second Irish winter overcame him. He died at Kilmainham on 31 Dec. 1535 and was buried in St. Patrick’s cathedral.6
Skeffington died in debt, and it is likely that he had long been in financial difficulty. His salary as master of the ordnance was not large, even when augmented by an annuity of equal value. It was for debts to the crown that he gave bonds to Sir John Dauntesey and Sir Brian Tuke in 1526, and later ones to Robert Amadas appear to relate to further debts. True, Skeffington was granted wardships and lands, including part of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham’s estates, and Cromwell helped him to acquire further lands in Skeffington, but these were apparently insufficient to meet his outgoings. The resulting situation helps to explain the repeated accusations of covetousness levelled at him and the frequency of lawsuits over property in which he was involved. The number of claims for debt brought against his widow as his executrix may account for the stay of execution of the will (dated 1 June 1522) ordered by Cromwell; for her part she had great trouble in recovering outstanding dues from the crown, and was evidently frustrated and acrimonious. Skeffington died possessed of considerable estates in the east midlands and Kent, and his arrangements for the endowment and marriage of his younger children appear to have been carried out.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. M. Thorpe
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 7; St.Ch.1/1/7; Arch. Cant. x. 39-45; LP Hen. VIII, i.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, ii, iv-vii; Statutes, iii. 115, 168.
- 4. KB 23/906, m. 252; G. F. Farnham, Leics. Med. Peds. 40.; LP Hen. VIII, i-iv; CP40/1016, r. 333; Leics. Recs. ed. Bateson, iii. 13; St.Ch.2/12/266.
- 5. R. Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors, i. 153 seq.; Elton, Reform and Reformation, 207-8.
- 6. LP Hen. VIII, iii-x.
- 7. Ibid. ii, iii; C1/1060/27-32; St.Ch.2/21/222, 23/50, 55, 26/183; Req.2/3/244, 7/84; PCC 10 Dyngeley.