MARKHAM, Thomas (by 1523-1607), of Ollerton, Notts. and Kirby Bellars, Leics.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1523, s. of Sir John Markham by his 3rd w.; bro. of William. m. by 1565, Mary, da. and h. of Sir Rice Griffin of Braybrooke and Dingley, Northants., 7s. 4da. in addition to 7ch. d. inf.1

Offices Held

Gent. waiter to 2nd Earl of Rutland by 1549; bailiff, manor of Mansfield, Notts. Nov. 1550, Clipston, Notts. 1568; keeper, Lyndhurst and Normanswood within Sherwood forest Nov. 1550, Sherwood forest 1564; member, household of Princess Elizabeth by 1558; gent. pens. and standard bearer 1559-73 j.p.q. Notts. 1561-91; steward, lordship of Newark, Notts. 1568; sheriff, Notts. 1577-8; commr. to administer oath of supremacy 1592.2


Ollerton, Markham’s main seat, came to him from his father, together with property at Elkesley and Bothamstall. He also owned Nottinghamshire estates, land at Chipping Warden, on the borders of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and part of a former monastic estate in Leicestershire. Some details of his early career are given in the dedicatory epistle to the Metamorphosis of Ajax, written in 1596 by his nephew Sir John Harington. This describes him as

Her Majesty’s servant extraordinary. Why, was he once ordinary? Yea, that he was, ask all old Hatfield men, and ask them quickly too, for they be almost all gone.

At the time of Queen Mary’s last illness Markham was commanding 300 foot soldiers at Berwick. Here he received a message from Thomas Parry to the effect that Elizabeth wished him to repair to Brocket Hall ‘with all convenient speed’ leaving his men under trustworthy captains. He duly reported to Elizabeth, bringing with him a testimonial signed by his captains professing their readiness to adventure their lives in her service. The new Queen made him a gentleman pensioner and his sister Isabella (afterwards Sir John Harington’s mother) a gentlewoman of her privy chamber, and the climate seemed set fair for Markham to enjoy a distinguished career at court.

Markham had already sat in the Commons under Queen Mary, voting against the government’s religious measures in the Parliament of October 1553. He did not sit again until Elizabeth’s first, when he was returned for Nottingham and his father for the county. He received promotion in the band of gentlemen pensioners in 1564, and valuable grants of land, but from the 1580s things began to go wrong. The trouble started with a bitter quarrel with the 3rd Earl of Rutland over the fees and profits Markham had taken as ‘steward, keeper, warden and chief justice’ of Sherwood forest during that nobleman’s minority. In the end the Queen heard the opinion of the judges, but took the case into her own hands, so that ‘her old servant’ should enjoy his privileges and fees ‘according to her free gift and meaning, which she is best able to expound’. The disputes continued, however, with successive earls, until at least 1597.3

In fact Markham was more country gentleman than courtier, and, according to Harington, resigned his job as standard bearer of the gentlemen pensioners because it demanded too much time at court. Perhaps there were other reasons: his epithet of ‘Black Markham’ referred as much to his stubborn character as to his swarthy countenance. Certainly most of the references found to him are concerned with local rather than national matters, though he was still recounting court gossip from Westminster in February 1590. From about this time, however, his position was undermined by the Catholicism of his wife, ‘a great persuader of weak women to popery’. Again the Queen intervened, through the Privy Council, to bar recusancy proceedings against her, as Markham was ‘one of her Majesty’s ancient servants, and well known ... to be of good credit and reputation’. Though Markham himself conformed—in 1592 he was administering the oath of supremacy in Nottinghamshire—his sons did not, and Markham wrote several letters to Burghley between 1592 and 1594 regretting the behaviour of, especially, Griffin, who finally was accused of treason. If he were guilty and deserved death, ‘let him have it. My humble [?prayer] is that he may be clear yet’. Griffin was let off this time, and so he was again in the next reign, when he was implicated with his brother Thomas in the so-called ‘Bye’ plot.4

It was at this very period that Markham stood in the disputed Nottinghamshire election of 1593 in harness with Sir Thomas Stanhope. It is not clear why he wished to represent the county for the first time when aged over 70. Perhaps the very fact that his fortunes were at a low ebb encouraged him to make the effort to be at the centre of affairs once more. Or perhaps it was a matter of Nottinghamshire politics. While his nephew Robert Markham of Cotham was in Shrewsbury’s camp, Thomas Markham’s mother had once been married to a Stanhope. The contest came to nothing, Stanhope and Thomas Markham ‘accompanied with none but their sons and servants’ being shut out of the poll through the partiality of the sheriff.5

In 1597 Markham was ill, and three years later rumours of his death circulated. About 1601 he became senile. ‘Old Markham dotes at home’ wrote Harington some two years later, adding that his wife had ‘cozened’ him out of 8,ooo marks. He was buried at Ollerton on 8 Mar. 1607 and administration of his property was granted at York on 30 Apr. following.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Vis. Notts. (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xiii), 21; Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 24; C. Brown, Newark, i. 41.
  • 2. HMC Rutland, i. 294; iv. 363; CPR, 1549-51, p. 210; 1563-6, pp. 73-4; 1566-9, pp. 127, 323; HMC Hatfield, iv. 189; E407/1/6; LC2/4/3, pp. 95-6; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 31.
  • 3. PCC 50 Chaynay; E. Young, Hist. Colston Bassett, Notts. 39; Bodl. e Museo 17; HMC Hatfield, iv. 189; vii. 302; CPR, 1563-6, p. 73; 1566-9, pp. 69, 313; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 22.
  • 4. CSP For. 1559-60, p. 600; 1560-1, p. 234; APC, x. 172, 246; xii. 357; xvi. 321, 364; xx. 242, 266; xxi. 187; xxii. 56, 63, 205; xxiii. 258; Nottingham Recs. iv. 141, 148; HMC Hatfield, iv. 113; v. 253; CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 25, 174; Strype, Annals, iv. 156-7; HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 262, 331.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vii. 302; x. 328; xv. 98, 312; York admon. act bk. 1607.