KILLIGREW, Henry (c.1528-1603), of Lothbury, London; Hendon, Mdx. and Truro, Cornw.

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.1528, 4th s. of John Killigrew of Arwennack by Elizabeth, da. of James Trewennard of St. Erth; bro. of John I and William. educ. ?Camb. bef. 1541. m. (1) 4 Nov. 1565, Catherine (d.1583), da. of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall, Essex, 4da.; (2) 7 Nov. 1590, Jaél de Peigne, 3s. 1da. Kntd. 1591.2

Offices Held

Havener, duchy of Cornw.; bailiff, manor of Helston 1552-c.53; envoy to Germany Dec. 1558-Feb. 1559, to France Feb.-Mar. 1559, May 1559-Apr. 1560, to Scotland Apr.-May 1560; teller of the Exchequer 1561-1602; served in the Rouen expedition 1562-3; envoy to Germany 1569, to France 1571-2, to Scotland 1572-3, 1574, 1575; receiver of piracy fines c.1577; surveyor of the armoury 1580; j.p.q. Cornw. from c.1579-87; member, council of state in the Netherlands 1585-6, 1587-9; treasurer of the ordnance c.1587; on mission to France 1591.3



Killigrew’s frequent absences abroad left him little time to serve in Parliament early in Elizabeth’s reign, and in later life he showed no desire to sit in the Commons. His return at Saltash for the second session of the Parliament was probably arranged by the Carew family, and Killigrew twice came in for Truro on his own family influence. There is no record of his speaking in the House, and his name appears on only two other occasions, both in the 1572 Parliament. One was his appointment to confer with the Lords over Mary Queen of Scots (12 May 1572), the other his appointment to a committee for a bill against the Family of Love (16 Feb. 1581).4

A consistent protestant, Killigrew was in exile during Mary’s reign, and became fluent in Italian and French. Like Thomas Randolph and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, he was in touch with Elizabeth before she succeeded to the throne. When she did, his experience abroad, natural ability and religious outlook entirely fitted him for employment as a diplomat. Convinced that Elizabeth’s survival depended upon supporting the protestants in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland against the machinations of the Guises and Philip II, he took an active part in the Anglo-Huguenot expedition to relieve Rouen. He was wounded in the foot (and lame thereafter), captured, and not released until May 1563. A letter he wrote to Cecil after the successful entry into Rouen reads in part:

The Queen’s Majesty is bound in honour; a penny spent now will save three. You have a good and true foundation to work upon. God prosper you as He has begun, and inspire her Majesty to build up the temple of Jerusalem. Her fame is great, and if her good will be to her power ... no doubt it lieth within her hand to banish idolatry out of this realm ... you will think me over holy for a soldier; indeed, I received the communion this day amongst a great number of Christian soldiers who be of that opinion.5

Killigrew never became a favourite with Elizabeth, who found him ‘dull’, but she appreciated the persistence he brought to his diplomatic work, and he was entrusted with some of the most difficult assignments of the time. At home he had constantly to exercise diplomacy on his own behalf to retain the good will of the great courtiers, navigating carefully between the Scylla of his early patron Sir Robert Dudley and the Charybdis of his brother-in-law Cecil, who had decidedly objected to Killigrew’s marriage to Catherine Cooke. In April 1566 Killigrew was noted by Cecil as one of 18 ‘own particular friends’ of Leicester who would be given offices or lands if the Earl married Elizabeth. His loyalty to Leicester never faltered. After Amy Robsart’s death he wrote to Throckmorton in France:

I cannot imagine what rumours they be you hear there, as you write so strange, unless such as were here on the death of my Lady Dudley; for that she brake her neck down a pair of stairs, which I protest to you was done only by the hand of God to my knowledge ...,

and over the Earl’s failure in the Netherlands, to Burghley:

... in my judgment [he] hath carried himself very honourably among them, while they have in no measure answered, but rather the contrary, which might have tried any man, yes the most patient ...

How he gradually won Burghley’s respect can be seen from their voluminous surviving correspondence.

His removal from the Cornish commission of the peace in 1587 was no doubt for non-residence. He kept in close touch with his disreputable relatives there, lending money to his eldest brother John and to his nephew, all of which he had written off by the mid 1590s. About 1598 he retired to Cornwall himself, Carew, the antiquary, writing

after embassies and messages, and many other employments of peace and war in his Prince’s service, to the good of his country, [he] hath made choice of a retired estate, and reverently regarded by all sorts, placeth his principal contentment in himself, which to a life so well acted, can no way be wanting.

Killigrew intervened on behalf of his son-in-law Henry Neville, who was in trouble for dabbling in the Essex plot early in 1601, and that summer he applied for his second wife’s naturalization, though he himself was too sick to come to court. Sir Thomas Windebank wrote to tell Lady Killigrew, a French Huguenot, that Elizabeth had signed ‘quickly and with many gracious words’, the ‘letter to make you an English lady’. ‘When your husband’s health permits’, he added, ‘he should thank the Queen in person’.6

Killigrew died shortly before Elizabeth, on a Mar. 1603. His widow was sole executrix of his will, proved at the end of April. This shows that his lengthy official career brought no great wealth, though his complaints of poverty can be rejected. The tellership of the Exchequer was lucrative, and at least one valuable wardship, that of Jonathan Trelawny, who married Killigrew’s second daughter Elizabeth, was granted to him in 1572. There were charitable bequests to five Cornish parishes, to servants who had been in his household for two years and to the French Huguenot church in London. Killigrew reminded his mother-in-law that she had never paid him 2,000 crowns promised at his marriage. A codicil came into effect in 1617, when Killigrew’s widow married George Downham, bishop of Derry.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


This biography is based upon A. C. Miller, Sir Henry Killigrew.

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 268; N. and Q. (ser. 2), xi. 17.
  • 3. CPR, 1553-4, p. 513; 1560-3, p. 127; HMC Hatfield, i. 406; ii. 23, 126, 359; Read, Cecil, 249; Lansd. 11, f. 104; 121, f. 66; APC, xi. 38-9, 46, 81, 174; xii. 81; CSP For. 1585-6, p. 146 et passim; 1587, p. 375; 1588, p. 394 et passim.
  • 4. CJ, i. 95, 127.
  • 5. Cam. Misc. x(2), p. 11; Lansd. 106, f. 132; SP70/42, f. 571.
  • 6. Carew’s Surv. Cornw. ed. Halliday, 132-3; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 17, 59; 1602-3, p. 50.
  • 7. PCC 26 Bolein.