HOLINSHED, Lawrence.

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

3rd s. of Hugh Holinshed of Bosley, Cheshire. educ. ?Christ’s, Camb. 1544. m. a da. of John Smith, merchant taylor of London.

Offices Held

Searcher at Calais by 1557; clerk of the court of Castle Chamber, Dublin c.1580.


Holinshed, a cousin of the chronicler, was a spy. In 1557 he was on his third assignment in France, a mission which ended in discovery and imprisonment, from which he was released in April 1559, after pretending, if his story is to be believed, to favour the claims of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne. In 1569 he was carrying Huguenot letters between Plymouth and La Rochelle and acting as intermediary between the Cardinal of Châtillon on the one hand and Sir William Cecil and Edward, Lord Clinton, the lord admiral, on the other. Some time before the fall of Calais it is probable that Holinshed first became known to his subsequent patron, Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, who had been born near, and had campaigned in, England’s last continental possession. Grey, who lived at Whaddon near Buckingham, doubtless used his influence to secure Holinshed’s return for the borough. In Parliament, during the first session, Holinshed was licensed to depart on 24 May on grounds of ‘great and weighty business’. He went to Paris whence, in July, he carried letters concerning affairs of state from Walsingham to Sir Thomas Smith at St. Albans, for which he was paid £15 out of the Exchequer.

Holinshed was back for the second session of the Parliament, serving on one committee concerning unlawful weapons (2 Mar. 1576). At this time he was involved in litigation over his father-in-law’s estate. Two years later, Lord Grey asked Burghley to recommend him to the authorities of Cambridge University, where Holinshed had been brought up, so that he might ‘bestow his time in teaching ... and such knowledge as he hath in arms, armoury and genealogies: hoping thereby to relieve his family’. This request apparently led to nothing, but Holinshed was more fortunate than many aging ex-agents in being made clerk of the court of Castle Chamber in Ireland, presumably at the time of Grey’s appointment as lord deputy in July 1580. In February 1581 he wrote from Dublin to Walsingham asking to be excused attendance at the third session of the Parliament on the ground of ill-health. He was still in Ireland in 1584, two years after his patron had ceased to be lord deputy; and nothing further has been ascertained about him.

Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 130-1; CSP For. 1558-9, pp. 228-32; Procs. Huguenot Soc. London, iii. 211; CP, vi. 186; E351/541, f. 138v; Lansd. 117, f. 180; CJ, i. 98, 110; APC, ix. 249, 272-4, 337-8; x. 376-7; HMC Hatfield, ii. 199; HMC Egmont, i. 14, 15, 17; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 4.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.