LYTTELTON, John (1561-1601), of Frankley, Worcs.

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. 1561, 1st s. of Gilbert Lyttelton by Elizabeth, da. of Humphrey Coningsby of Hampton Court, Herefs. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1576; I. Temple 1580. m. Muriel, da. of Thomas Bromley, 3s. 8da. suc. fa. 1599.1

Offices Held

J.p. Worcs. from c.1583, custos rot., dep. lt. 1600.2


In spite of his well-known Catholic sympathies Lyttelton was appointed a justice while both his father and grandfather were active on the commission of the peace. He was still only 23 when first elected knight of the shire, at a time when his father was sheriff of the county, and so precluded from sitting himself. He was entitled to attend the subsidy committee on 24 Feb. 1585, and he may in 1597 have attended the committees on enclosures (5 Nov.), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), the penal laws (8 Nov.), armour and weapons (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.) and the subsidy (15 Nov.). The antiquary Habington, in lines which he wished ‘were a tomb of brass to celebrate his memorial’, described him as ‘a gentleman of singular parts both of mind and body, a man of that undaunted spirit as he triumphed over all afflictions, scorning as dust his large revenues, and with that resignation and submission to Almighty God as he esteemed himself not a man but a worm’.3

Under a settlement of his grandfather, Sir John, who died in 1590, Lyttelton became possessed of a comfortable estate, which made him independent of his father. Nevertheless, he played an active part in his father’s quarrels with Lord Dudley, riding to London to press his father’s case on the lord treasurer. He had the measure of the world with which he was dealing, ‘the friendship and favours of this time and of great men’—as he wrote—‘being proportioned to the rewards and measured by the commodity themselves receive’. ‘If all other courses fail by law and peaceable manner to defend right, there must of necessity be recourse to the ancientest law, the law of nature, which teacheth to resist violence with force.’4

This doctrine Lyttelton was soon to put into action against his father, to whom he said: ‘Thou shalt find me such a scourge unto thee as never was any son to his father, and I will make thee weary of thy life, and thou shalt not have in quiet one hour’. In the upshot Lyttelton and his brothers were outlawed, though the county’s sympathies in the quarrel may be seen in John Lyttelton’s return as knight of the shire in 1597, before his outlawry had been reversed. The sheriff, indeed, wrote to ask him to nominate his fellow-Member. This, since his friend William Savage would not serve, Lyttelton declined to do, leaving it ‘to the free choice of the county to make election of the most worthy’, their first choice having fallen upon ‘shoulders so weak and ill able to bear it’. It is uncertain whether he took his seat, for he appears in a list of Members ‘not certified into the House, having been outlawed after judgment’. Later, (Sir) Edward Fitton, for a fee of £100, was instrumental in obtaining his pardon.5

After finally succeeding to his debt-encumbered inheritance in 1599, Lyttelton was in more—almost fatal—trouble through his friendship with the Earl of Essex. He was probably drawn into the abortive Essex rising at an early stage, being one of the committee of the Earl’s friends that met at Drury House to consider tactics. He was at Essex’s side throughout the affair and on 20 Feb. 1601 he was arraigned of high treason. While in prison, he attempted to make the best arrangements he could for his family from a forfeited estate, already wasted by his father, out of which many long-standing debts were still to be paid. His wife stood by him, and to her and to others among his friends, he wrote extraordinarily articulate letters defending his behaviour. Essex, he declared, had no disloyal thoughts but was constrained by his own dangers. Lyttelton did not credit that his own friends would believe that he would have made himself ‘one of an hundred naked hands, that should have declared against the Queen of England, nor have followed any enterprise against the state, armed only with a rapier and dagger’. His misfortunes he blamed on his ‘folly ... to have been over zealous and affectionate to the friends I professed to love and follow’. He was reprieved at the last minute, after the warrant for his execution had been issued. It has been said that he owed this to (Sir) Walter Ralegh in return for £10,000, but when he died, still in the Queen’s bench prison, later that year, Chamberlain, the letter-writer, reported that ‘Lord Thomas Howard had lost a good ransom’. However, he certainly wrote a dignified letter to Ralegh asking for help and reminding him ‘what it is to be truly noble, and how it agreeth not with generous hearts to delight to trample upon dejected fortunes’.6

His wife obtained a grant of his forfeited estates from James I, and under her prudent administration the family fortunes were in large measure restored.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 63.
  • 2. APC, xxx. 196.
  • 3. Habington’s Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 239; St. Ch. 5/P6/37; Nash, Worcs. i. 494-5; Bird, Mems. ii. 463, 495, 496, 497; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171; D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561.
  • 4. PCC 26 Drury; Nash, i. 494-5.
  • 5. Nash, i. 495, 498; St. Ch. 5/L2/20, L7/31, L23/9; Lansd. 79, f. 191 seq.; 83, f. 6 seq.; 88, HMC Hatfield, xi. 90; xiv. 25. See also LYTTELTON, Gilbert.
  • 6. Biog. Britannica, v 2980-1; Nash, i. 496-8; W. B. Devereux, Lives and Letters of the Devereux, Earls of Essex, ii. 137-8, 198; HMC Hatfield, xi. 44, 47, 62, 69, 78, 214; xiv. 171; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 545, 548, 579, 581, 587, 590, 598; 1601-3, pp. 2, 12, 22, 38, 84, 88, 89; APC, xxviii. 564; xxxi. 160, 164, 489; Howell, State Trials.
  • 7. Lyttelton Charters, ed. Jeayes, 109; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 422; Nash, i. 492; VCH Worcs. ii. 228.