MOLYNEUX, John I (d.1588), of Thorpe, Notts.
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Family and Education
Escheator, Notts. and Derbys. 1563-4; j.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) from c.1569, Notts. from c.1579.
By Elizabeth’s reign the Molyneux family of Lancashire and Nottinghamshire was declining in importance. The Nottinghamshire branch was descended from Sir Richard Molyneux of Sefton, one of the heroes of Agincourt. The 1563 MP’s grandfather was a counsellor of Yorkist and Tudor kings, and his father, a follower of Protector Somerset, was a judge. With John Molyneux and the generations which followed him, however, the family horizon rarely extended beyond Nottinghamshire.3
Molyneux himself inherited property along the river Trent between Newark and Nottingham, together with lands in Lincolnshire, in Swaledale, Yorkshire, and in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. He added the manors of Carlton Kingston and Carlton Baron, received from the Queen, together with other lands formerly held by Thomas, Lord Dacre; Gonerby manor, Lincolnshire, bought from Thomas Stanhope in 1561; and, probably, Shipton manor, Shropshire, acquired from a London goldsmith. He was thus able to secure election as knight of the shire in Elizabeth’s second Parliament, but it was not until the eighteenth century that the Nottinghamshire branches of the family won a county seat again.4
A Member named Molyneux made a significant contribution to a debate on the succession question on 18 8 Oct. 1566. John Molyneux’s cousin Richard Molyneux I is known to have been present, but the likelihood is that the Nottinghamshire Member is meant. The clerk of the House recorded: ‘A motion, made by Mr. Molyneux, for the reviving of the suit for succession and to proceed with the subsidy, was very well allowed of the House’. This early example of the linking of the two topics, which was clearly part of an organized attempt to withhold the grant of money until the Queen could be induced to name a successor—and a protestant successor at that—earned Molyneux a place, as ‘Molyneux the mover’, in a contemporary lampoon styling forty-three of the more vociferous Members as a rebellious ‘choir’. However, it would be dangerous to assume from this that, like the majority of these men, he was inclined to puritanism, for the evidence on his religious views points, if anywhere, in the other direction. Several branches of the Molyneux family, particularly those in Lancashire, adhered to the old faith, and at some date in the mid-1580s a Catholic, Henry Slater, revealed on examination that a priest named Robinson had been sheltered by John Molyneux at Thorpe. Furthermore, at least two of Molyneux’s children were recusants. Nor does his appointment to the commission of the peace necessarily contradict the view that he was conservative in religion: many gentlemen with similar views were so employed in the northern counties, especially in the first half of the reign. His name disappears from the commission lists by the mid-1580s. It seems likely, therefore, that his anxiety over the succession was the only point of contact he had with the puritan opposition in Parliament. If he had been of more use to them, a seat would surely have been found for him in later Parliaments.5
Private letters, Privy Council and other government records, and above all Star Chamber proceedings, confirm that Molyneux was argumentative and litigious, not averse from disturbing the peace of the county by the use of force in settling quarrels with his neighbours. Some of these disputes seem to have been family feuds lasting for many years, particularly with the Markhams and the Stanhopes. The fact that the Markhams could count on the support of the powerful earls of Rutland and other leading local families did not deter Molyneux from openly demonstrating his hostility. The bitterness usually expressed itself in skirmishes between servants, seizure of livestock, breaking down of fences and other minor incidents. Several times Molyneux brought Star Chamber cases for redress of his grievances. On the whole, however, the Markham feud was not as serious as that with Sir Thomas Stanhope, a contest which was brought to the notice of the Privy Council. In December 1578, for example, Molyneux complained to the Council that Stanhope had defaced the parish church, enclosed the common and committed other offences in the parish of Saxondale, where Molyneux was lord of the manor and owner of the advowson. The Council’s investigation made it clear that both parties had shown equal disregard for the law, and they were ordered to put up £200 as surety for future good behaviour. Later, Molyneux asserted that Stanhope, having broken the peace between them at the county assizes, should forfeit his surety. The Council, who were not convinced that Molyneux’s charges were of ‘sufficient validity’, re-imposed the surety on both men. Other neighbours, including Robert Fletcher, Molyneux’s brother-in-law; Anthony Forster, steward of the manor of Newark; John Arnold, Lawrence Wright, Richard Peele and Sir Gervase Clifton are known to have been involved in quarrels with him, usually involving the seizure of land or livestock. Altogether, Molyneux had to find the money for at least sixteen Star Chamber cases on disputes of this nature.6
The paucity of local records makes it difficult to judge the extent of Molyneux’s political and military duties in his own county. He certainly played a leading part in the organization of the local musters in 1570, when he led three hundred soldiers from the county to fight against the northern rebels. Soon after the expedition, he was charged with detaining ‘in his hands certain armour belonging to the county and the money due for wages to the soldiers’. The matter was investigated by the Earl of Shrewsbury, who sent complete details of the money and armour collected in Nottinghamshire to the Privy Council. Molyneux strenuously denied the charge, claiming that some of the signatures of local gentlemen on the document which contained the accusation were forged. The Earl of Rutland also became involved in the inquiry, and as a result of his report Molyneux was ordered by the Council to ‘answer to the soldiers and the country for wages and armour’. This dispute may have further exacerbated the hostility between him and some of his neighbours.
Because of his extensive land holdings in the remote area around Upper Swaledale, Molyneux was also a justice of the peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire, though it is not clear how active he was in that county. In 1574 the Earl of Huntingdon wrote to him and another Yorkshire justice to search out ‘fugitive traitors’ who were bringing messages to the Queen of Scott under the guise of horse trading. ‘Let diligent regard be had for their apprehension’, the letter ends.7
Molyneux died on 15 July 1588. In the York registry are to be found ‘certain notes and remembrances of the speeches of Mr. John Molyneux, esq., deceased, spoken upon his deathbed’. His eldest son, Edmund, reminded him that he had provided for all his children except ‘my brother John’. He answered that John should have 1,000 marks, but then altered it to £500 and told Simon Buck to put it into writing. The executors were Simon Buck and ‘my brother Fretchwell’. The inquisition post mortem contains long identures by which he had settled lands on all his other children.8
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. His name does not appear in the G. Inn Adm. Reg., but he is called ‘of Gray’s Inn, Middlesex’ in 1559, CPR 1558-60, p. 204.
- 2. Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 73-4; DNB (Molyneux, Sir Edmund).
- 3. CPR 1563-6, p. 38; Egerton 2345; f. 15.
- 4. PCC 31 Powell, printed in G. Molineux, Hist. Fam. of Molyneux, 41, 103-12; CPR, 1553 App. Ed. VI, p. 4; 1560-3, pp. 203, 204; J. T. Godfrey, Notes on Churches of Notts, Bingham Hundred, 280.
- 5. CJ, i. 74; D’Ewes, 124, 127; Neale, Parlts. i. 137-8; SP12/185/70; C. Brown, Newark, ii. 20.
- 6. St. Ch. 4/M1/32, M2/1, 2, 3; St. Ch. 5/M6/35, M28/3, M44/17; HMC Rutland, i. 92, 217; APC, x. 412; xi. 97, 291; xii. 6-7; Thoroton, Notts. ed. Throsby, i. 352; Brown, ii. 156.
- 7. SP12/70/1; APC, vii. 379; HMC 12th Rep. IV, p. 90; HMC Rutland, i. 90; Molineux, 41; Coll. of Arms, Talbot mss, transcribed by G. R. Batho, E. f. 249; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 241; F. of Fines, Tudor Period, pt. ii (Yorks. Arch. and Top. Soc. rec. ser. v), 134.
- 8. York prob. reg. 24, f. 304; C142/273/103.