GAWDY, Francis (d.1605), of Wallington and Shouldham, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

s. of Thomas Gawdy of Harleston by his 3rd w. Elizabeth, da. of Oliver (or Thomas) Shires. educ. I. Temple 1549, called, bencher by 1558. m. 1563, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Christopher Coningsby of Wellington, 1da.1 Kntd. 23 July 1603.

Offices Held

J.p.q. Norf. from c.1564; serjeant-at-law 1577; Queen’s serjeant 1582; recorder, King’s Lynn 1586-9;2 j. Queen’s bench 1588; commr. for Chancery cases 1591;3 l.c.j. common pleas 1605.4


Gawdy had apparently no personal connexion with Morpeth, which belonged to Lord Dacre. In 1571 Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk, the guardian of George, 5th Lord Dacre during his minority, had the patronage, and nominated Gawdy, a London lawyer with property in Norfolk and Suffolk. There is no mention of him in the Commons Journals for 1571, but after he became a serjeant, and later a judge, there are references to him as an assistant to House of Lords committees, as a receiver of petitions, and as a messenger to the Commons from the Lords. As Queen’s serjeant and later as a judge (an office he seems to have wished to avoid), Gawdy officiated at the trials of Mary Stuart (1586), William Davison (1587) and Sir John Perrot (1592). In June 1600 he was one of the special commissioners for the examination of the 2nd Earl of Essex, and acted as adviser to the peers at the Earl’s trial in the following February. There is a story that on his deathbed he referred to his last famous case, that of Sir Walter Ralegh in November 1603, saying that ‘the justice of England was never so depraved and injured’ as by Ralegh’s condemnation. From about 1584 he was also regularly employed as a justice of assize, generally on the home or eastern circuit. In July 1597 business at the Sussex assizes had to be re-arranged because of his illness.5

A few references to Gawdy’s private life have survived. He was a relatively wealthy man, able to lend Philip, Earl of Arundel nearly £200. His wife went mad, ‘to him for many years a perpetual affliction’, according to Spelman, who thought it a judgment on him for his family’s having speculated in monastic property at Shouldham priory and elsewhere. The only child of the marriage, a daughter Elizabeth, married Sir William Hatton (formerly Newport), nephew and heir of (Sir) Christopher Hatton I Christopher Hatton I to whom, as lord chancellor, Gawdy probably owed his appointment as a judge. In June 1589 Hatton led the dancing at the wedding celebrations at Holdenby. Local gentlemen who quarrelled with Gawdy found him ready to go to law. Nicholas Hare wrote to Bassingbourne Gawdy I in June 1579 that his dispute with Serjeant Gawdy was to be heard at the next assizes, adding that if the serjeant had been ‘as reasonable as he is learned, or as a great many be of his kindred’, the case need never have come to court. In the event Chancery intervened to stop the assize proceedings. Gawdy was knighted before James I’s coronation, having previously said he would decline the honour. On 28 Oct. 1603 he had an audience of the King, who said that he ‘wished him not to be discontented in regard of the place of lord chief baron [of the Exchequer] which was partly promised him, for he meant to reserve him for a better place when it should happen’. He bought the ‘better place’, that of lord chief justice of the common pleas, in August 1605 ‘at a dear rate’, but had exercised it for only a few months when on 15 or 16 Dec. he died suddenly of apoplexy at Serjeants’ Inn. He had probably suffered from high blood pressure for some time; as early as 1585 he had complained of being troubled with ‘thundering in my head’. His body was carried to Norfolk and buried at Runcton. He left no will and, as his only daughter had died earlier, administration of his property was granted to Sir Robert Rich, husband of Gawdy’s granddaughter and heiress Frances, who was only 15. Gawdy appears to have disliked this marriage, which brought to Rich ‘the greatest estate any woman had done for many years to a family’. The details of the extensive lands concerned, mainly in Norfolk, are given in Gawdy’s inquisition post mortem, which was taken at King’s Lynn in September 1606.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Wards 7/39/2a; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 125-6; Norf. Arch. xxvii. 79, 81-2, 84.
  • 2. King’s Lynn congregation bk. 1569-91, f. 316v; 1591-1611, f. 385v.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 311.
  • 4. Foss, Judges, vi. 158 seq.
  • 5. J. Wallis, Nat. Hist. Northumb. ii. 299; PCC 16 Ketchyn; D’Ewes, 316, 317, 319, 321, 322, 337, 338, 342, 343, 363, 374, 406, 407, 413, 414, 418, 525, 531, 533, 536, 600, 604, 617; T. B. Howell, State Trials, i. cols. 1173, 1233, 1315, 1334 seq.; J. Spedding, Letters and Life of Sir Francis Bacon, vi. 366; E163/14/8; HMC Hatfield, vii. 294.
  • 6. Lansd. 45, f. 208 seq.; H. Spelman, Hist. Sacrilege (1698), p. 141; H. Nicolas, Hatton, 478; HMC Gawdy, 9-10, 24; HMC 7th Rep. 528a; Wards 7/39/21; PCC admon. act bk. 1605, f. 24; Blomefield, Norf. vii. 408; CP, xii(2), p. 410 n.