NEVILLE, Henry (1562-1615), of Billingbear, Berks. and Mayfield, Suss.

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. 1562, 1st s. of Sir Henry Neville I by his 2nd w., and bro. of Edward Neville II. educ. Merton, Oxf. 1577. m. by 1588, Anne, da. of Henry Killigrew, 5s. 6da. suc. fa. 1593. Kntd. c.1597.1

Offices Held

Burgess, New Windsor 1584; j.p., commr. recusancy and dep. lt. Suss. from c.1591; j.p. Berks from c.1583, sheriff 1594-5, custos rot. 1596; steward of royal manors of Donnington and Sonning, bailiff of crown lands in Newbury 1593; high steward of Wokingham; ambassador to France and jt. teller of the Exchequer 1599-1601.2


Neville’s father was a leading figure in Berkshire and steward of royal lands around Windsor. He had influence in the borough during the absence in the Netherlands of the high steward, the Earl of Leicester; and, on Leicester’s death in 1588, succeeded to the high stewardship itself. On 25 Oct. 1584, his son, the subject of this biography, was sworn a burgess of the town and ‘brother assistant of the company of the guildhall’, and just one month later was returned as burgess for the Parliament.3

By 1588 Neville’s standing had been increased by his marriage to a niece of Lord Burghley. For the Parliament of 1589 he was able to secure election as a knight for Sussex, where he often resided during his father’s lifetime, on property left to his father in 1579 by his mother’s cousin, the celebrated Sir Thomas Gresham. He was next chosen, on 10 Oct. 1588, as burgess for New Windsor, but the town book records that on 24 Oct. his cousin Edward Neville I was chosen burgess ‘because Henry Neville is chosen knight of Sussex’. In 1593 Neville sat again for Windsor, but his father’s death in that year ended the family representation of the borough, the high stewardship being one of his father’s offices to which Neville did not succeed.4

In 1597 Neville gave up the last of his Sussex lands, sold to consolidate his Berkshire estates. He was not, however, strong enough to challenge a Norris or a Knollys for a Berkshire seat in the 1597 Parliament, and had to turn to the Cornish borough of Liskeard, of which his brother-in-law Jonathan Trelawny, in that year knight for Cornwall, was the steward: the two men were friendly, Trelawny appointing Neville a trustee of his lands in his will. As far as it is possible to tell, Neville did not speak in Parliament and served on committees only in the 1597 Parliament, considering the repeal of statutes imposing irksome and outdated military obligations (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.), poor relief (10 Nov.), horse stealing (16 Nov.), and abuses committed by the rude and licentious soldiery (27 Jan. 1598). He was presumably the Mr. ‘Nevill’ who was appointed to a committee concerning John Sharpe’s debts on 20 Jan. 1598.5

In 1598 the government decided to use Neville as a diplomat, a sphere in which his father-in-law had done good service. He tried to excuse himself, telling Cecil that he had sold his lands in Sussex to buy the Berkshire estates of (Sir) Henry Unton (who had just died), and was bound to pay £12,000 within three months, ‘impossible of accomplishment if he was employed’. At last, in the spring of 1599, he set out for France, where an observer described him as ‘a puritan and entirely Scottish ... he confers much with the Scottish ambassador’. He tried to arrange the return to England of the anti-Jesuit faction among the Catholic exiles; and he was commissioned to negotiate for a peace with Spain in the Netherlands, his attempt to this end resulting in little more than a wrangle with the Spanish ambassador over precedence.6

Perhaps he was too much a follower of Essex to be enthusiastic for peace with Spain. In January 1600, he hoped that the Queen would not ‘deprive herself of a servant so necessary [as Essex, though] I have little interest in his standing or falling except that I hold him a profitable instrument’. At the same time, he complained of the burden of hospitality he was bearing in Paris, and the lack of courtesy shown him there. His motto, he said, should soon be ‘fie upon honour that brings no profit’: he would return and live a hermit in Windsor forest, doing penance for his faults as ambassador. A plea of increasing deafness (a family weakness) secured him leave to come home in August 1600, and he showed ‘resolute resistance’ to attempts to send him back to his post.7

On his return to England, according to his own account, he was approached by Essex’s agent, Henry Cuffe, with the information that he would indeed be made to do penance for his faults as ambassador, particularly the fiasco of the Spanish negotiations: only through Essex, Cuffe suggested, would he obtain justice, and he might even become secretary of state under a new régime. Neville maintained that he resisted these overtures, and that, unwillingly drawn into the conference of Essex’s supporters on Candlemas day, he said that he would never be party to an attack on Cecil. He was certainly not at Essex House on the day of the rising.8

On 20 Feb., the day after his condemnation, Essex, resentful that Neville had not been more active in his behalf, named him as one privy to the plotting of the rebellion. Presumably anticipating this, Neville at last set off for France, only to be turned back at Dover, and placed in the custody of the lord admiral at Chelsea, and, from 1 May, in the Tower. For the next two years he sent appeal after appeal to Cecil, who seems to have been genuinely ‘grieved for him’, as one drawn to him both by ‘friendship and nature’. At the beginning of July he was sentenced to lose all his offices and pay a fine of £10,000. He thanked Cecil for saving his life, and bent his energies to getting his fine reduced. But none of the many arrangements he proposed was accepted, and he was released only on the accession of James I. He died in July 1615.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. DNB; C142/240/95; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 181; Misc. Gen. et Her. (n.s.), ii. 317.
  • 2. APC, xii. 93; xxv. 424; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 297; Cath. Rec. Soc. xvii. 329, 331; PRO Index 16674, f. 34; VCH Berks. iii. 227; HMC Hatfield, xi. 274; xiv. 279.
  • 3. PCC 1 Nevell; VCH Berks. iii. 178-80; Berks. RO, Neville ms O. 15; Bodl. Ashmole 1126, f. 50.
  • 4. Horsfield, Suss. ii. 417; CP; Bodl. Ashmole 1126, f. 50.
  • 5. Suss. Arch. Colls. ii. 245; xxi. 8; DNB (Killigrew, Sir Henry); PCC 101 Harte; D’Ewes, 553, 555, 558, 589; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 103, 121.
  • 6. HMC 1st Rep. 32; HMC Hatfield, viii. 158; ix. 72; x. 145-6, 166; CSP Dom. 1597-1601, pp. 221, 356; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 51, 65.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1597-1601, pp. 152, 379; HMC Hatfield, x. 261, 371; Chamberlain Letters, i. 110-11.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1601-3, pp. 2, 6, 15; HMC Rutland, i. 370.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1597-1601, p. 59; 1601-3, pp. 16, 91; Birch, Mems. ii. 479, 494-5; HMC Hatfield, xi. 76, 110, 145, 176, 193, 273, 300, 321, 526, 570; xii. 6, 43, 72, 80, 113, 152, 268, 589; HMC Buccleuch, i. 31; Chamberlain Letters, i. 145, 192.