LEIGH, Henry (c.1555-?c.1606), of Rockcliffe Castle, Cumb.

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.1555, o.s. of Thomas Leigh of St. Bees and Calder Abbey by Frances, da. of Sir Thomas Wyatt. m. Elizabeth, 1s. 4da. suc. fa. 21 Aug. 1556. ?Kntd 1603.

Offices Held

Steward, barony of Burgh by 1584 to at least 1595; dep. warden of west march Sept. 1597; ?capt. Carlisle castle 1604; ?border commr. 1606.


The Leighs acquired Calder abbey at the dissolution of the monasteries. Leigh himself was a baby when his father died and in 1560 he became the ward of the gentleman pensioner Thomas Warcop, who was, as Leigh became, a follower of Henry, 9th Lord Scrope of Bolton, warden of the middle march. Leigh was knight of the shire for Cumberland while Warcop was representing Westmorland. No record of any parliamentary activity has been found for Leigh, though as a county Member he could have attended the subsidy committee appointed 24 Feb. 1585. This service in Parliament may have been part of, certainly the timing fitted in with, a scheme Leigh had to go to court to obtain advancement from the Queen. He had just parted with Calder abbey and if his residence was thenceforth Rockcliffe castle, as it probably was, this was even more expensive to maintain. Leigh had done good service in a number of border raids, but his later (1594) claim that he had spent his patrimony worth £5,000 on the Queen’s service was, at the least, an exaggeration, and not an argument calculated to appeal to Elizabeth, who, after much delay, awarded him a pension of 30s. p.a. instead of the 5s. a day that he asked for, and this after repeated appeals from the 9th Lord Scrope who wrote on Leigh’s behalf to Walsingham, recommending his ‘good service and sufficiency’ and who commended his suit to the Queen. Leigh at first retained the favour of the 10th Lord Scrope, who succeeded to the peerage in 1592 and became warden of the west march in the following year. In 1596 that magnate sent Leigh on business to London, and in 1597 when Scrope wished to attend Parliament, he appointed Leigh his deputy warden, perhaps in a well-meant effort to improve Leigh’s finances, for it appears that for this Leigh received £40 a year allowance. Naturally this annoyed other more substantial candidates on the border, and it also alienated Robert Cecil who ‘much misliked’ it, ‘considering the quality of the man and the disposition of his life’. Next, Leigh requested permission to leave his post and come to court, at which the Queen ‘grew in ... a rage’ and complained that whenever there was trouble on the border Leigh was to be found in London. Leigh now saw his career in ruins and his family likely to be left ‘without one groat’. Even so it is remarkable that he should have been foolish enough (March 1600) to cross the frontier to talk to James of Scotland, whom, he said later, he had already met in September 1599. By April 1600 he was imprisoned in the Gatehouse, ‘this place of small pleasure’, writing desperate appeals to Cecil, saying disobliging things about Scrope (whose ‘countenance’, not surprisingly, had ‘declined’ towards him) and protesting his loyalty to the Queen: ‘Though life be sweet and naturally dear, yet honesty and innocency surmount all worldly joys’. He was again telling Cecil of his ‘miseries’ in May, and it might be thought he was fortunate to be released on bonds that August, thanks to Scrope’s intervention. On thanking Cecil for his release, 9 Aug. 1600, he had to ask for immediate protection from his creditors, and it was no doubt his chronic penury that caused him to become involved in ‘matter of treasonable practice’ the next July. In fairness to Leigh one must wonder what his career would have been, had he ever possessed enough to live on. At one time the Privy Council had suggested that the border families of the west march should contribute towards their defence (and so provide Leigh with an income and expenses), but of course they would not. It is even possible that, as he maintained, his foray into Scotland was to try to work out some sort of deal with James for the protection of his family. Leigh is next heard of in 1602 living alone in a ‘pretty little house’ in a Lancashire forest, wearing a false beard, claiming to be a spy, and on the run from Scrope, to whom an informant offered to betray Leigh for £200. Scrope is reported as thinking that the charge was too high. Possibly Leigh died in obscurity about this time, but it is also possible that he was the Sir Henry Leigh appointed a provost marshal (at 6s.8d. per day), who was suppressing tumults on the border when he was made captain of Carlisle castle in 1605, and, next year, a border commissioner. This man was ‘infirm’ in April 1606 and dead by 3 June that year. The only difficulty in reconciling the two identities is the knighthood. James’s liking for dubbing knights is well known, and it would make a neat story if Leigh’s knighthood could be seen as a reward for his earlier negotiations with James. Unfortunately there is only one recorded knighthood of a man of this name (including its variant spellings) early in James’s reign, and this was conferred not by the King but by the lord deputy of Ireland at Dublin on 20 Apr. 1603. Henry Leigh the deputy warden had no known connexion with Ireland, and Dublin is a long way from the Lancashire woodland idyll, but with such a man anything is possible. He may have gone to Ireland (he had apparently thought of going there in March 1600 before his excursion to Scotland) and returned in 1605, or indeed have been knighted by James on the borders, the records of this having been lost, or the 1605 man may have been another Henry Leigh. It would, however, be against the odds for another man to have taken over a namesake’s territory. Whatever the answer, it has no bearing on the identity of the 1586 Cumberland MP.

Wards 9/368/83; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxv. 135-8; Border Pprs. passim; Nicolson and Burn, Hist. Cumb. ii. 28; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171; CPR, 1558-60, p. 327; HMC Hatfield, v. 65-6, 443; viii. 130-1; viii. 130-1; x. 65, 66, 94, 134, 158, 168-9, 173, 223, 233, 270; xi. 277, 301; xiii. 517-18; CSP Dom.1598-1601, p. 439; 1603-10, pp. 201, 204, 319.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: B.D. / P. W. Hasler