UNTON, Edward (c.1556-89), of Wadley, Berks. and Langley, Oxon.

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.1556, 1st s. of Sir Edward Unton by Anne (d.1588), da. of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset; bro. of Henry. educ. Oriel, Oxf. by 1572, BA 1573. m. (1) Dorothy, da. of Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley, Northants., s.p.; (2) 1579, Catherine, da. of Sir George Hastings, s.p. suc. fa. 1582.1

Offices Held

J.p. Berks. and Oxon. from c.1583; member, council of Munster 1587; capt. of Berkshire militia 1588; capt. on Portugal expedition 1589.


Unton was grandson of the Duke of Somerset; his mother was the widow of John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Leicester’s elder brother. With such friends as Leicester and Walsingham, and two fortunate marriages before he was 30, Unton might have seemed set for a brilliant career at court. His mother shared with Leicester the Dudley lands in Oxfordshire and Unton was himself heir to large estates in Berkshire, so that he might well have been a leading figure in both counties. What actually happened was that his father preferred the younger son Henry, his mother went mad, and Unton himself was ruined through a disastrous journey to Italy undertaken just at the time of his father’s death. In 1583 he fell into the hands of the Inquisition. On receiving the news that ‘Edward Unton, a man of 6,000 crowns income and a kinsman of the Queen’, had been arrested in Milan, Leicester threatened reprisals against the Spanish ambassador, and Henry travelled to Lyons to negotiate a ransom. Eventually this was agreed at 10,000 crowns provided Unton remained in Milan, and it was not until the spring of 1584 that he was allowed to return to England. By this time the strands of intrigue surrounding him had become so tangled that he was suspected of returning as a Catholic agent, with ‘a most sickly body and melancholy mind’. Nevertheless twice elected knight of the shire for Berkshire, Unton is not named as contributing to the business of either Parliament, though as a county Member he was entitled to serve on the subsidy committees of 24 Feb. 1585 and 22 Feb. 1587. He had to sell land to repay Henry’s expenses incurred over the ransom, and in 1587 he went to try his fortunes in the colonization of Munster, from which he was recalled by the threat of the Armada.a.a.a.2

Besides giving him responsible military appointments in both Berkshire and Oxfordshire, the Privy Council issued instructions that Unton was not to be arrested for debt, and commended those of his creditors who had granted him respite till ‘he should recover his decayed estate’. Next he went on the Portugal expedition led by his Berkshire neighbour, Sir John Norris. Laid low by wounds or disease, he returned to Plymouth to die intestate on 27 June 1589. Henry Unton was the heir to what was left of the estates. His widow married Sir Walter Chetwynd of Staffordshire.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. C142/203/61; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 222; J. G. Nichols, Unton Inventories, pp. xl-l.
  • 2. Archaeologia, xcix. 58-61; Nichols, pp. xlv, lxxxii; CSP For. 1582, p. 87; 1583, pp. 145, 161, 213, 261, 280, 382, 385, 388, 390; 1583-4, pp. 75, 340, 476, 481; 1584-5, p. 193; CSP Span. 1580-6, pp. 443, 554; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171; D’Ewes, 409; APC, xiv. 191; CSP Ire. 1586-8, pp. 51, 77, 313.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 384, 438; APC, xv. 344; xvi. 202; Nichols, p. xlix; C142/227/222.