HATTON, Christopher I (c.1540-91), of Holdenby and Kirby Hall, Northants.

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

b. c.1540, 2nd s. of William Hatton (d.1547) of Holdenby by his 2nd w. Alice, da. of Lawrence Saunders of Harrington. educ. St. Mary Hall, Oxf; I. Temple 1560. unm. ?1da. illegit. suc. bro. Francis 1564. Kntd. 1577; KG 1588.

Offices Held

Gent. pens. 1564; gent. of privy chamber and capt. of guard 1572-87; vice-chamberlain 12 Nov. 1577-87; PC from 12. Nov. 1577; receiver of first fruits and tenths 1578; ld. chancellor 1587.

High steward, Camb. Univ.; chancellor, Oxf. Univ. 1588.

J.p. Northants. from 1569; lt. and v.-adm. Isle of Purbeck and constable of Corfe castle from c.1571; clerk of council of duchy of Lancaster May 1571-?Jan. 1572; steward, manor of Wellingborough 1572; receiver of duchy of Lancaster lands in Northants. from 1572; steward, Higham Ferrers from 1572, of Daventry; keeper of Eltham park, Kent and of Horne park, Surr. ?1572; j.p. Dorset, Kent. Leics., Mdx., Warws. from 1579, many other counties from 1584; ld. lt. Northants. from 12 Sept. 1586; high steward, Salisbury 1590-d.


The Hattons came originally from Cheshire, one branch settling in Northamptonshire by the time of Hatton’s own great-grandfather, who married Elizabeth, sister and eventually heiress of William Holdenby of Holdenby (d.1498). A series of conveyances and settlements finally brought the estate into the possession of Hatton’s father. Hatton began to build the house about 1578, but his attendance at court precluded a personal visit. In August 1579 he asked Burghley to report on the building progress:

I humbly beseech you, my honourable lord, for your opinion to the surveyor of such lacks and faults as shall appear to you. ... Your Lordship will pardon my lack of presence to attend you, because you know my leave cannot be gotten.

This complaint was common, but it is a fact that from 1564 to 1587 Hatton was in almost daily attendance upon the Queen. An analysis of his activities during 1579, for which his letter book is well dated, shows that only between the 4th and the 18th of January, when his whereabouts are unknown, can he have been away from the court for longer than a week. In this context an entry in the 1586 parliamentary journals is of interest. On 22 Nov.

Mr. Vice Chamberlain showed that he cannot be with them at the committee neither yet at this House before tomorrow at ten of the clock at the soonest, but of necessity must both attend her Majesty’s good pleasure for answer and also lodge at the court all night.1

As a leading courtier Hatton was concerned with many of the most important decisions of the reign. He opposed the French marriage, sat on the commission for the Babington trial and took part in the examination of the Duke of Norfolk, who nevertheless referred to him as ‘a marvellous, constant friend, one that I have been much beholden unto’. He was one of those responsible for sending Beale with the warrant for Mary’s immediate execution and had to face the Queen’s anger when she heard that Mary was dead. Quite early in his career he was heavily in debt—by 1575 he estimated his liabilities at £10,000—and his financial position steadily worsened in spite of moderate subventions from the Queen, and a successful investment in Drake’s circumnavigation, during which the Pelican was renamed Golden Hind, after Hatton’s coat of arms. By 1591 his debts totalled over £40,000, and he was unable to settle his accounts as receiver of first fruits and tenths.2

Nothing is known of any activities by Hatton in his first Parliament, to which he was returned for both Boston and Higham Ferrers. He chose the constituency in his own county. During the next Parliament he began to make a mark on the journals. He was appointed to the conference with the Lords in May 1572 on ‘the great matter touching the Queen of Scots’, and delivered his first reported message from the Queen on this same matter, on 6 June. That October he complained to her that

these late great causes that most displeased your nobles, as of the Duke of Norfolk and Queen of Scots, the Acts of Parliament for religion and other strange courses in these things taken were all laid on my weak shoulders.

No doubt this is a reference to the Queen’s veto on the discussion of the bill for rites and ceremonies, a prohibition which Hatton probably had to announce to the House.

During the 1576 session he was appointed to committees concerning the subsidy (10 Feb.), ports (13 Feb.), the coinage (15 Feb.), reciprocal treatment of foreigners (24 Feb.), letters patent (25 Feb.), fraudulent conveyances made by the northern rebels (25 Feb.), the dean and chapter of Norwich (2 Mar.), fines and recoveries (7 Mar.), private bills (8 Mar.), justices of the forests (8 Mar.), excess of apparel (10 Mar.), the Queen’s marriage (12 Mar.), Lord Stourton’s bill (13 Mar.) and wharves and quays (13 Mar.). On 8 Feb. he was one of those appointed to examine Peter Wentworth, and on 12 Mar. he delivered the Queen’s message that Wentworth was to be released from the Tower. He spoke several times during this session on the Arthur Hall privilege case. Before the next session Hatton was a Privy Councillor and vice-chamberlain. He delivered the Queen’s message to the House forbidding further discussion of Wentworth’s bill for a public fast on 24 Jan., brought news of Wentworth’s pardon and successfully urged the House to submit to the Queen’s authority. Next day he reported the Queen’s acceptance of the Commons’ submission. His committees included counterfeit seals (26 Jan. reported by him 16 Feb.), the statute staple (28 Jan.), slanderous libels (3 Feb.), sheriffs (4 Feb.) and aliens (7 Feb.). On 8 Feb. he suggested and took part in a conference with the Lords on religion. Appointed to examine Arthur Hall (4 Feb.), he reported the committee’s findings on 14 Feb. and was appointed to a further committee on the subject on 18 Mar. He was appointed to committees on a private bill (20 Feb.), heretics (27 Feb.), merchant adventurers (2 Mar.) and seditious practices (1 Feb., 17 Mar., reported by him on 17 Mar.). He attended the bishops on 3 Mar., and on 14 Mar. introduced the motion for and was appointed to the committee on the preservation of the Queen’s safety. As a Privy Councillor he was automatically on the committees for the subsidy (25 Jan.), a legal bill (4 Feb.), defence (25 Feb.) and Dover harbour (6 Mar.).

In the next two Parliaments Hatton showed his real stature as a parliamentary figure. His performance as government spokesman on 28 Nov. 1584 made a deep impression on the House, but the text of his speech on the danger from Spain, lasting ‘above two hours’, has not survived. He ‘pressed and moved the House so far’ as to reject a puritan measure on 14 Dec. but failed in a last ditch attempt to protect government policy on the Wednesday fish bill in March 1585.

He managed the bills concerning the Queen’s safety, frequently acted as the Queen’s spokesman, and adjourned the Parliament in her name for Christmas on 21 Dec., when he led the Commons in a prayer for her safety and preservation. He supervised the examination and trial of William Parry, acted as intermediary between the Queen, Lords and Commons, and on 24 Feb. 1585 made ‘a very exact and elaborate speech’ containing the official account of Parry’s life and crimes, later to be published by the government. His committees were on the following subjects: navigation (4 Dec.), legal matters (5 Dec., 2 Mar. 1585), cloth (7 Dec., 13 Feb. 1585), procedure (8 Dec.), informers (9 Dec., reported by him 15 Dec.), religious bills (10, 14 Dec., 18 Feb. 1585, 17 Mar.), the continuation of statutes (19 Dec., reported by him 5 Mar. 1585), amendments to bills (3 Mar.), idle and incontinent life (5 Mar.), the government of the city of Westminster (8 Mar.), the increase of game (17 Mar.), fraudulent conveyances (18 Feb., 17 Mar.), tellers and receivers (18 Mar.), draining the fens (18 Mar.) and a private bill (24 Mar.). He spoke on several occasions concerning the organization of the committee work. As Privy Councillor he was on committees concerning the penal laws (21 Dec.), the subsidy (24 Feb. 1585), Jesuits (9 Mar.) and recusancy (16 Mar.). Privy Councillors headed two delegations to the Queen concerning a message of loyalty from the Commons (19 Dec.) and the execution of Dr. Parry (23 Feb.).

On numerous occasions during the Parliament of 1586-7, Queen and Privy Council had reason to be grateful for Hatton’s grasp of affairs and his ability to sense the mood of a difficult assembly. He was responsible in the first session for steering through the Commons the proceedings against Mary Queen of Scots, and it was he who persuaded Mary to plead before the court at Fotheringay. On 3 Nov. he told the House of new evidence that had come to light at her trial. On 22 Feb. 1587 he made a wide ranging speech on foreign affairs to support a proposed special payment to finance the war in the Netherlands, reinforced at the committee two days later:

Then is your own property at stake when your neighbour’s house is on fire. Neglect them and we lose dominion of the narrow seas. ... Then he [the King of Spain] can carry silver from the Indies and we shall be held up in our trading and be suffocated by our commodities here. See how mighty he is in Germany now;3 whither shall we carry our commodities if he has the Low Countries? It has been his policy by the loss of them to stop our vent of cloth. He wants to sell his wools in the Low Countries where ours are sent. He wants to stifle us by sending his into the same places that ours go to, for Spain is richer in wool than England is. This proves that these countries are our profit, since to defend them, people and country, is to maintain the open market and a good and quick return: to lose them is to lose all.

A conservative in religion and a supporter of Whitgift, he was by inclination on the side of the government against the extremists in this Parliament. On 4 Mar. he attempted to placate the House after the imprisonment of Cope and Wentworth:

If the gentlemen were committed for matter within the compass of the privilege of this House, then there might be a petition; but if not then we should give occasion of her Majesty’s further displeasure.

He attended a committee on 13 Mar. concerning these Members in the Tower. His other committees concerned letters patent (11 Mar.), writs of error (15 Mar.) and a private bill (17 Mar.). As a Privy Councillor he served on committees concerning attainder (25 Feb.), purveyors (3 Mar.), the reform of the ministry (8 Mar.) and the subsidy (11 Mar.). On 4 Mar. 1587 Hatton made the leading speech for the government against ‘the bill and the book exhibited in the Parliament ... for a further reformation of the church’. Purporting to dismiss questions of dogma and religious belief, and to be concerning himself only with what ‘cometh within the compass of my profession, touching matters of state ... only with that part which toucheth the government’ he found

a shameful sleight and cunning point smoothly passed over in this book exhibited. It is well known that some ringleaders in this schism have taught that it was unlawful to have a prescript form of service in the church: but now their fellows have framed us one. Belike they meant every kind of service to be unlawful except it were of their own making. But in good earnest: do ye mean indeed as ye would seem? Shall we have a book of common prayer to be usually read and observed in our churches so as the common people who cannot read, by often hearing one form of prayer, may learn the same to their great comfort elsewhere? What meaneth the book then, when in the rubric before your chapter of public exercises, such an order is there prescribed as doth never permit the chief part thereof, that is the confession in the first chapter, to be read in the church?

The proposed reforms threatened the laity, the clergy and the Crown. The danger to the laity was to their pockets, for who was to pay these new pastors, deacons and doctors?

... neither bill nor book do speak one word with what livings or how these officers shall be maintained. Wherein there is a piece of cunning used: supposing that plain dealing would have hindered their purpose. For indeed their meaning is to draw from us, maugre our heads, our impropriations; and if the spoil of the bishops and cathedral churches will not serve their turns (as certainly they cannot, their number being so great) then do they set it down that we are bound to surrender out of our hands our abbey lands and such other possessions as have at any time belonged to the church. It is wonderful to see how despitefully they write of this matter. They call us church robbers, devourers of holy things, cormorants etc., affirming that by the law of God things once consecrated to God for the service of his church belong unto him for ever, and that we keep such goods and livings contrary to our own consciences. ... For my own part I have some impropriations etc. and I thank God I keep them with a good conscience ...

The overthrow of the ecclesiastical hierarchy threatened the fabric of Elizabethan society:

... in my conscience I do see the necessity of those dignities and authorities for avoiding of contention and the better regulation of their callings, as to the same purpose we have in the civil state noblemen and gentlemen, and do verily hold that part of the bill as a lewd untruth. This only I do judge, that hereby a great indignity is offered to the honour of this realm, in seeking to spoil the same of one essential part of the second estate, to alter the honour of our parliaments and to bring into it a barbarous equality.
But to come to that which most of all should touch us, her Majesty’s estate, I find this platform injurious to her supremacy, to her strength and to her person ... all circumstances considered there never was moved in any Parliament ... a matter of greater inconvenience and michief. For ... wherein differ these men in this cause from the papists? The Pope denieth the supremacy of princes, so do in effect these. The Pope ... doth abrogate all such laws as any prince hath made in church matters to his dislike, and so would these men do with all the laws, canons, constitutions and orders heretofore made in the church ...4

Within a few weeks of the end of the Parliament Hatton, to the fury of the lawyers, was made lord chancellor, thus ending his career in the Commons. At one time or another he nominated a number of his friends and servants: Francis Flower, Richard Swale, Samuel Cox, Robert Colshill, Henry Macwilliam and Bartholomew Tate. He controlled the patronage at Corfe Castle, where he was constable and owned the manor, and in 1588 he supported the candidature of Sir Walter Mildmay and Sir Richard Knightley in the Northamptonshire county election.

As chancellor it fell to him to deliver the opening speech of the ensuing Parliament, in which he surveyed the state of the nation following the victory over the Armada. His closing speech on 29 Mar. 1589 is lost, but Francis Alford reported:

I have ever honoured his Lordship for the great wisdom and natural excellency of speech that was in him; but in this conclusion I did wonder at him—wherein he surpassed himself and the best-learned man that ever I heard in that place—perhaps a reference to the resentment his appointment had aroused. Hatton had admitted his inexperience at the time:
I have not been acquainted with the course of the law, although in my youth I spent some time in the study thereof ... I am placed through her Majesty’s goodness in this place, being unworthy. But by her gracious favour, I will be an assistant and servant unto you in all your good proceedings.

Camden thought that ‘what he wanted in knowledge of the law he laboured to make good by equity and justice’. Hatton died at his London home on 20 Nov. 1591. During his last illness the Queen paid him several visits, and is said to have fed him with her own hands. He was buried with great pomp in St. Paul’s cathedral, as typical a courtier of the high Elizabethan period as can be found.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


H. Nicolas, Mems. Life and Times Sir C. Hatton and E. St. John Brooks, Sir C. Hatton are the two main authorities for the life of Hatton, upon which much of this biography rests.

  • 1. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xviii), 115; Bridges, Northants. i. 529; SP12/34/33; CPR, 1566-9, p. 228; C142/165/145; Lansd. 28, f. 140; 47, f. 41; 59, f. 43; APC, x. 85; Campbell, Lives of the Ld. Chancellors, ii; HMC Rutland, i. 248; HMC Var. iv. 229; Add. 5845, p. 455; Somerville, Duchy, i. 415, 587, 589, 590, 591; Northants Ltcy. Pprs (Northants Rec. Soc. xxvii), 1; Add. Charters 21975, 21977; D’Ewes, 405. The analysis of the letter book was made by Miss N. M. Fuidge.
  • 2. Lansd. 18, f. 202; 20, f. 144; 25, f. 14.
  • 3. This rather unexpected reference to Germany is probably to the Hamburgers’ rejection, in August 1586, as it was believed at the request of the King of Spain and the Duke of Parma, of Elizabeth’s petition for trading concessions on behalf of the merchant adventurers. The Hamburgers were thought to be attending ‘the success of matters between her Majesty and the King of Spain’ and ‘if they be not plain enemies, yet are but hard and subtle friends towards this realm.’ They were supposed to be using the power and authority of Spain to terrify the Stoaders and to be rejoicing at English reverses. As late as 26 Nov. 1587 an agent wrote to Walsingham ‘I never thought to find at Hamburg men so addicted to the Spaniards’. CSP For. 1586-8, pp. 427, 456, 457, 458, 459.
  • 4. CJ, i. 95, 104, 105, 106, 108, 109, 110, 112, 114, 115, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 127, 128, 130, 134, 135; D’Ewes, 206, 241, 247, 248, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 258, 259, 260, 262, 284, 285, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 295, 298, 299, 300, 301, 302, 305, 306, 307, 309, 335, 336, 337, 338, 339, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 349, 352, 353, 355, 356, 361, 362, 363, 364, 365, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 394, 395, 397, 398, 399, 400, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416; SP Dom. Eliz. 199/1; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl., f. 130; Bodl. Tanner, 393, anon. jnl. f. 62; Bodl. Tanner, 78; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/10, ff. 53-4; Harl. 6845, ff. 36-7.
  • 5. HMC Montagu, 21; Camden, Eliz. (1688), pp. 401 seq., 458.