HIGFORD, Robert (c.1530-72).

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.1530, ?yr. s. of William Higford of Dixton, Glos. (d.1545) by Dorothy, da. of Robert Vampage of Glos.; bro. of John. educ. L. Inn 1556.2

Offices Held

Servant of the Duke of Norfolk by July 1565.


Whatever his origins, Higford was brought in for Aldeburgh through the patronage of his master the Duke of Norfolk, who was responsible for the borough’s enfranchisement in 1571. Higford was in fact one of the trustees on whom Norfolk settled the manor of Aldeburgh.3

In October 1569, when the Duke was first arrested, Higford was imprisoned in the Tower and interrogated about a large sum of money which he was accused of having delivered to the bishop of Ross’s servants. His answers have been preserved among the Hatfield manuscripts, with a note from him, ‘scribbled this 21st of October at 9 of the clock at night’, retracting a statement he had made earlier in the day about £300 changed from silver into gold by a Cheapside goldsmith. Higford claim that he was ‘a man of simple wit ... not worthy to bear the name of secretary’ is amusing in view of his employment as a decipherer of letters, a job he continued to do while Norfolk was in the Tower in 1570, though Higford had apparently made his peace with the authorities. In August of that year the Duke was allowed to return to Howard House in London, where Higford remained in his service, keeping in touch with Lawrence Banester and the Duke’s other agents. It was his clumsiness that finally revealed Norfolk’s continued contact with Mary Stuart. At the end of August 1571 he gave a bag of gold, subscribed by Mary’s supporters in France, to a Shrewsbury draper, Thomas Browne, to take to Banester, telling him that it contained £50 of Banester’s own money. Since, among other suspicious circumstances, the weight of the bag made this unlikely, Browne became suspicious and handed over his charge to the government. The personal letters which Higford had enclosed were innocuous—court gossip about the Anjou marriage project and the Queen’s impending visit to Audley End, with complaints about the writer’s poor health and inability to live the ‘quiet life’ he desired—but Higford was arrested, together with William Barker and others of Norfolk’s servants and from 2 Sept. was constantly interrogated, mainly by Sir Thomas Smith and Thomas Wilson. Under threat of torture he revealed a great deal including the hiding place of the key to decipher Mary Stuart’s letters at Howard House. Finally, after being caught out in a number of lies, he wrote on 28 Sept. a full confession, reiterating that he knew of nothing intended against Elizabeth’s person, nor of any scheme to cause civil strife. If the purpose was to save himself at Norfolk’s expense, it failed. Early in February 1572 Higford appeared before Lord Chief Justice Catlyn, and pleaded guilty to the whole indictment against him, although he still maintained that he had never intended sedition. Cadyn described the prisoner as ‘a gentleman wise and well learned’, who had been drawn into treasonable activities by his master. In his final speech Higford claimed that he had tried to leave Norfolk’s service after the Duke’s release from his first imprisonment, but had been forbidden to do so. He repeated several times during the trial that ‘he knew under how merciful a prince he lived, however much his conscience might accuse him’, and when sentence of death was passed on 9 Feb. he declared that ‘this little time that I have left I will spend in prayer for her preservation’. He was still in the Tower in June, and presumably either died naturally or was executed later that year.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. HMC Var. iv. 303; a transcription of the copy of the return at Aldeburgh styles him ‘gent.’, but de Tabley and Browne Willis (who calls him Thomas) have esquire.
  • 2. C142/74/76; LP Hen. VIII , xxi(2), p. 163; PCC 6 Stonard; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 71.
  • 3. NRA 15370; HMC Var. iv. 56; LP Hen. VIII, xv, p. 116; xxi(1), p. 350; xxi(2), p. 163; LC 2/2, f. 61v; PCC 6 Stonard.
  • 4. W. A. Copinger, Suff. Manors, iv. 56; v. 96; HMC Hatfield, i. 437-8, 511, 516, 520-5, 577; ii. 19, 551; N. Williams, 4th Duke of Norf. 190, 211-19; Howell, State Trials, i. 1042 seq.; Lansd. 14, f. 42; 117, ff. 103, 127.