STAFFORD, Edward II (1552-1605), of London.

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. 1552, 1st s. of Sir William Stafford of Chebsey, Staffs., Rochford, Essex, and London by his 2nd w. Dorothy, mistress of the robes to Queen Elizabeth, da. of Henry, 1st Baron Stafford; bro. of John. educ. St. John’s, Camb. (impubes), Pembroke, Camb. 1564. m. (1) a da. of Alexander Chapman of Norf., 1s. 2da.; (2) 1578, Douglas, da. of William, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham, wid. of John, 2nd Baron Sheffield, and of Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 2s. suc. fa. 1556. Kntd. 1583.

Offices Held

Gent. pens. by 1573-1603; ambassador to France 1583-91; master of the pipe office in the Exchequer 1591; remembrancer of first fruits and tenths in the Exchequer 1591.2


Edward Stafford possessed two qualifications important for success at the Elizabethan court: influential relatives and personal ability. He lacked a third—wealth. His mother, Dorothy, entered the Queen’s service about 1563 and, as her epitaph states, attended the Queen for 40 years, ‘lying in the bedchamber’. Through her mother, Dorothy Stafford was descended from George, Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother, and through her father from Edward, last Duke of Buckingham. Sir William Stafford, Edward’s father, had married as his first wife, Mary Boleyn, Elizabeth’s aunt. Edward, therefore, had some claim on Elizabeth’s patronage, and in his mother he had a suitor always able to gain the Queen’s attention. Sir William Stafford was a Marian exile, who left the country in 1555 with his whole household, arriving in Geneva in March, and becoming a member of the English congregation there on its formation in November of that year. Calvin himself was godfather to the Staffords’ third son, John, born at the end of 1555. Sir William died in May 1556, and his wife, after a dispute with Calvin over the custody of John, removed to Basle, remaining there until January 1559. As Dorothy Stafford entered the Queen’s service soon after her return, Edward Stafford probably spent the remainder of his youth close to the court, and as Burghley seems to have been his patron from the beginning of his career, it is not impossible that he was educated in Burghley’s household. On the first two occasions that he sat for Parliament Stafford was still under age. Mitchell provided seats for a number of officials in the first half of Elizabeth’s reign. It was no doubt through court influence—perhaps that of Burghley—that Stafford gained his seat there in 1571. At Heytesbury Sir John Thynne wielded considerable influence, and was presumably Stafford’s patron in 1572. Stafford is found on only one committee in his first two Parliaments, 27 Feb. 1581, for a bill dealing with the punishment of the Family of Love.3

Stafford’s first diplomatic mission came at the end of 1574, when he was only twenty-two. He was despatched to report on the situation in East Friesland, where there was a dispute between two earls, one of whom favoured a Spanish alliance. In May 1578 he was again on the Continent to protest to Catherine de Medici against Alençon’s intention of accepting the sovereignty of the Netherlands; and his association with France was continued when, in the following year he was chosen to carry out the negotiations for the marriage between Elizabeth and Alençon. Stafford seems to have been in favour of the match, believing that friendship between France and England would strengthen the position of the French Huguenots, and would present Spain with such a formidable alliance that she would bring the war with the Dutch to an end. On his arrival in London in 1581 Alençon stayed in Stafford’s house.4

From an early point in his career Stafford was in financial difficulties. In 1574 he sold the manor of Chebsey, part of the estate inherited from his father, thenceforward relying on royal favour for his maintenance. Indeed his marriage to Lady Douglas Sheffield in 1578 was possibly influenced by the fact that, her son being a minor, she was temporarily in control of the Sheffield estates. The Queen provided him with some financial reward for his services in the form of a grant of the revenue from the discovery of concealed benefices in July 1581, but a petition presented by a poor man in 1592 illustrates his continual need for ready money. The petitioner complained that 10 or 12 years previously Stafford and some others had borrowed his ready money and goods in order to wait upon the Queen who was on progress. They had since pretended, he alleged, that they were privileged by their service to use poor men’s goods at their pleasure, making repayment when they chose or not at all.5

It was probably Stafford’s precarious financial position that delayed his being chosen as ambassador to France. Writing to Burghley in June 1583, he stated the position frankly: ‘As for mine estate, truly (as her Majesty sayeth) it is poor’. He had served only the Queen, he added:

Yet do I live better contented, being satisfied in my conscience with my poverty, than if, in following of any course else, I had been able to purchase for my children. Yet, my lord, if I do stay any longer, truly I shall be poorer, for where now I have some half dozen of hundred pounds a year by my wife’s means to help rub it out in such a service, shortly the increase of my Lord Sheffield’s years will abate a round sum of that, and I quite unable to be employed after so well.

In addition he hoped that the Queen might lend him some money interest free. The suggestion that Stafford should succeed Sir Henry Brooke alias Cobham I* in France came from Sir Francis Walsingham, but Stafford, though he was undoubtedly anxious to be appointed, was unwilling to have any patron other than Burghley. He disliked Walsingham’s and Leicester’s policy of open alliance with protestant against Catholic Europe. Not unnaturally, he thought greater benefit could be won by diplomatic means, by playing off France against Spain. His relations with Walsingham, therefore, throughout his embassy, were not particularly amicable. He had a more personal reason for disliking Leicester, a former lover of his wife.6

The details of Stafford’s long embassy cannot be related here, though the accusation made by one historian, that he was guilty of treason, must be mentioned. There is now general agreement that Stafford’s dealings with the Spanish ambassador, though they involved selling information, sprang from a desire to gain the latter’s confidence in the hope of obtaining information useful to England.7

By 1590 Stafford’s financial affairs were desperate. He returned to England in the summer of that year and was unable to return to France without financial assistance. The Queen complained that she would not be ‘dallied with’, and that he must return immediately ‘or else she would lay him by the heels’. Stafford agreed to go, provided that the French ambassador be asked to dissuade a creditor from pressing for the return of £1,800. With this promise and £500 borrowed from Burghley he returned. After spending the autumn in Henry of Navarre’s camp outside Paris, he returned finally to England. A new ambassador was appointed in July 1591, and Stafford was allowed £3 6s.8d. for each day of his service, and a gratuity of £500. He also received some honorary recognition from Oxford and two of the inns of court, and two offices in the Exchequer. A rumoured secretaryship of state never materialized, nor did the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, though he did obtain a grant of land from James I in compensation, the office, as the grant noted, having been promised to him by Elizabeth.8

Stafford sat in each Parliament after his return from France until his death. His patron at Winchester in 1593 was probably the new high steward, Sir Thomas Heneage. In the last two Parliaments of Elizabeth’s reign he represented Stafford, where family influence was no doubt strong enough to secure his return. On 26 Feb. 1593 he spoke on the subsidy, and was appointed to the committee the same day. On 3 Mar. he negotiated with the Lords on the subject, and on 7 Mar., after the vice-chamberlain had reported the meeting with the Lords,

Sir Edward Stafford thought subsidies were not so fit a remedy for the danger we were in, but advised rather, there being 10,000 parishes in England, that it should be imposed on every parish to send so many men for the wars; and the richer parishes to help the poorer. And the allowance for every man yearly to be £12 After this he moved to have the Parliament prorogued.

He urged, 28 Feb., that the guardians for the children of Catholic families should not be chosen by one justice of the peace only, as he might be an enemy of the family in question; the choice should be made by two or three justices. Subjects of his committee work in this Parliament included alien merchants (6 Mar.), the poor law (12 Mar.), and the religious questions of this Parliament (28 Feb., 4 Apr.). In that of 1601 he was named to committees dealing with privileges and returns (31 Oct.), monopolies (20 Nov.), cloth (21 Nov.) and charitable uses (28 Nov.). Privilege matters he was concerned with included the Denbighshire election case and that concerning George Belgrave.9

Although he was passed over for the higher government appointments, Stafford took seriously his work in the pipe office. In a letter to Burghley of July 1596 he claimed that he had cut down the fees exacted by his underlings. But his debts in France still bothered him—he was, for example, dunned by a French jeweller, who substantiated a claim before Sir Robert Cecil. In August 1604 Baron Bruce of Kinlosse and Sir John Herbert were instructed to decide a suit of debt between Stafford and Paulo Lardo, the Venetian agent. This debt was still outstanding at his death, as was one to Diana, sister of Lady Burghley. He died early in February 1605, leaving a son William, and on 5 Feb. was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster.10

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A. M. Mimardière


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 296; Huntington Lib. Bull. ix. 15-26; Lansd. 31, f. 137.
  • 3. Nichols, Progresses Eliz. iii. 544; Garrett, 296; CJ, i. 130.
  • 4. CSP For. 1572-4, pp. 576, 579-80; C. Read, Burghley, 211-12, 387; M. Hume, Courtships of Q. Eliz. 222, 264.
  • 5. Al. Ox. 1404; Harl. 6993, f. 44; Lansd. 31, f. 137; SP12/159/37; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 269.
  • 6. Harl. 6993, f. 44; EHR, xliv. 216; Am. Hist. Rev. xx. 293; HL Bull. ix. 15-26.
  • 7. Am. Hist. Rev. xx. 292 seq.; xxxv. 560-6; EHR, xliv. 203 seq.
  • 8. CSP For. 1589, pp. 177-8, 209; Lansd. 64, f. 151; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 680; 1591-4, p. 97; 1597-1601, pp. 222, 481; 1601-3, pp. 63, 201; 1603-10, pp. 14, 139.
  • 9. D’Ewes, 471-2, 474, 477, 486, 489, 492, 499, 517, 622, 637, 647, 657, 686, 688; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 212, 327.
  • 10. SP12/259/63; HMC Hatfield, vi. 509, 525, 527; xvii. 357, 576; CSP For. 1589-90, p. 302; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 144; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 204; PCC 107 Byrde.