SPENCER, Richard (1553-1624), of Offley, Herts.

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. 1553, 4th s. of Sir John Spencer of Althorp, and bro. of John and William. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. BA 1572, MA 1575; incorp. Camb. 1575. m. 1588, Helen, da. and coh. of John Brocket of Brocket Hall, 1s. 3da. Kntd. 7 May 1603.1

Offices Held

On mission to Duke of Parma 1588; j.p. Herts. From c.1592, sheriff 1597-8, provost marshal 1599; gent. of privy chamber to James I; commr. at The Hague 1607-8.2


Although a younger son, Spencer was not unprovided for. By good management and a prudent marriage, his father had improved and extended his estates in Northamptonshire, and was able to provide substantial dowries for his daughters and independence for his younger sons. He did this, not by dividing the family estates and so impoverishing his heirs, but by saving out of income and buying lands outside the county, and settling them upon his sons during his lifetime. Thus in 1554 he bought the manors of Offley and Cockernhoe in Hertfordshire, followed by further lands there in 1571. These were conveyed to Richard Spencer in 1577. On his father’s death he inherited a further £500 and a third part of £4,000. His marriage brought him more lands in Hertfordshire, his wife inheriting in 1598 the manors of Almshoe and Symond’s Hyde, and land in Sandridge, Stevenage and Ayot St. Peter.3

Before the life of a country gentleman was opened to him, Spencer spent some time travelling abroad. In June 1577 he sent a newsletter from Paris to Lord Burghley, whom he acknowledged as his patron, and who had commended him to Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador in France. He was in England again at the end of 1579, but by August 1581 was writing to Burghley from Padua:

When I think of your kindness, I think myself highly blessed by God, to have betaken myself to your service. What greater patron could I have to look after my interests?

In July 1582 he wrote a newsletter to Burghley from Augsburg, and in the following May he was again in Paris, described by Nicholas Faunt as ‘a gentleman of a good, open and kind disposition and well grounded in all humane learning’. He reached home in August via the Netherlands and Scotland. He remained in touch with Burghley, who brought him into the 1584 Parliament for East Looe. Early in 1588 the Earl of Derby, father-in-law of Spencer’s sister, was being sent on a mission to treat for peace with the Duke of Parma, and he asked Burghley to appoint Spencer one of the commissioners to accompany him on his ‘painful journey’. Spencer would be useful, he claimed, ‘both by his sundry languages and former experience’, and and it was Spencer who announced the arrival of the commissioners to Alexander of Parma, when they reached Ostend.4

Back in England in time for the 1588 election, Spencer was returned to Parliament for Bere Alston, presumably again relying upon the influence of Lord Burghley, exercised through Lord Mountjoy. There is no mention of Spencer in the known records of either of his Elizabethan Parliaments. He declined the post of ambassador to Spain in 1604, and except for a few months spent as commissioner at The Hague in 1607-8, served no more abroad. He built his house at Offley in 1600 and lived there until his death on 7 Mar. 1624.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 165; R. Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 107; Lansd. 58, f. 94.
  • 2. SP13/Case F/11, f. 16-17; HMC Hatfield, ix. 288; Lansd. 57, f. 68; R. Winwood, Mems. ii. 328.
  • 3. M. E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix), 57-8, 174-5; VCH Herts. ii. 64, 145, 434; iii. 26, 40-2; Clutterbuck, ii. 357, 361; iii. 63, 96, 97.
  • 4. CSP For. 1575-7, pp. 576, 600; 1579-80, p. 86; 1581-2, p. 307; 1588 (July-Dec.), p. 71; HMC Hatfield, ii. 507; T. Birch, Mems. of Queen Eliz. i. 35, 40; Lansd. 55, f. 118; 57, f. 68.