SPENCER, John (c.1549-1600), of Newnham, Warws. and Althorp, Northants.

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.1549, 1st s. of Sir John Spencer of Althorp by Katherine, da. of Sir Thomas Kitson of Hengrave, Suff.; bro. of Richard and William. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1561, M. Temple 1564. m. 1566, Mary, da. and h. of Sir Robert Catlin, 1s. Robert. suc. fa. 1586. Kntd. 1588.1

Offices Held

J.p. Beds. from c.1577, Northants. from c.1584; sheriff, Northants. 1578-9, 1590-1, commr. musters by 1593-7; steward of Higham Ferrers, Daventry, Long Buckby and Passenham from 1592.2


The Spencers’ administration of their Northamptonshire and Warwickshire estates was admired and often emulated by gentlemen all over England. Sheep from their pastures were purchased for breeding and it is probable that the family’s success as farmers was rarely equalled in the century. Spencer himself, however, in the years before his father’s death was frequently in debt, perhaps because he had been over-ambitious in his purchases of land, or because of too lavish hospitality. The estate was not freed from the burdens of his debts and his father’s legacies until 1590.3

The family was well-known to most of the important men of the day. Three of Spencer’s sisters married noblemen: George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon, the Queen’s cousin; Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby; William Stanley, 3rd Baron Monteagle. His father refers to the honourable favour shown to him and his family by Burghley and Sir Walter Mildmay. A man so powerfully connected might come into Parliament for a neighbouring borough more or less when he liked, and the reason for Spencer’s having himself returned is probably to be found in the subject of his only recorded participation in the business of the House, when he managed in committee a bill to assure certain lands his father had sold to (Sir) Christopher Hatton I, 14 Feb. 1576. Spencer did not bother to sit in later Parliaments, though his two younger brothers and his son did. Spencer obtained no court or central government appointments, and in comparison with such men as Sir Richard Knightley and Sir Edward Montagu he played a minor role in county life.4

Spencer died on 9 Jan. 1600. His main contribution to the expansion of the estates to a size which was to support an earldom in his grandson’s time, came through his marriage. Mary Catlin brought him the vast estates in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire which her father had built up from the profits of a successful legal career. Besides these, his own purchase of the manor of Sandys and the rectory of Dunton in Bedfordshire were insignificant. As he had only one child, his will is mainly concerned with small legacies to his servants, to those who had cared for him in his last sickness, which may have been of some length, and to his minister Thomas Campion. He was buried, as he had requested, in Brington church.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. C142/215/258; Baker, Northants. i. 109; M. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix) ped. ii.
  • 2. Harl. 5968, no. 139; Musters, Beacons and Subsidies ed. Wake (Northants. Rec. Soc. iii), 34, 35; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 33; HMC Montagu, 25; Somerville, Duchy, i. 587, 591.
  • 3. J. H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Fam. Hist. 281; H. R. Trevor Roper, The Gentry 1540-1640 (Econ. Hist. Rev. Supp. 1), 12; Finch, 38, 51-2 seq.
  • 4. PCC 1 Spencer; CJ, i. 105; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 207; 1595-7, p. 210; APC, xxii. 123, 442, 546; xxiii. 258, 286; xxiv. 454; xxv. 157, 392; xxviii. 47; HMC Montagu, 24, 25; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 33, 36, 39, 48, 49, 50-4.
  • 5. Finch, 50-1, app. iv; C142/262/129; PCC 95 Kidd; Baker, Northants. i. 97.