BULKELEY (BULKLEY), Sir Richard (1535/41-1621), of Henblas, Beaumaris and Baron Hill, Llanfaes, Anglesey; Cannon Row, Westminster; Lewisham, Kent; Cheadle and Whatcroft, Cheshire.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. Sept. 1535 or c.1541,1 1st s. of Sir Richard Bulkeley† of Baron Hill and 1st w. Margaret, da. of Sir John Savage of Rock Savage, Clifton, Cheshire.2 educ. household of Bp. Bonner; L. Inn 1558.3 m. (1) 28 Apr. 1560 (with 1,200 marks) Catherine (d. 19 Oct. 1573), da. of Sir William Davenport of Bramhall, Cheshire, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. 7 other ch. d.v.p.;4 (2) 18 Feb. 1577, Mary (d. aft. 1632), da. of William, 4th Bar. Burgh of Gainsborough, 2s. 5da.5 suc. fa. 1572;6 kntd. 17 Feb. 1577.7 d. 28 June 1621.8 sig. Rich[ard] Bulkeley.

Offices Held

Constable, Beaumaris castle 1561-d.;9 mayor, Beaumaris 1561-2;10 v. adm., Anglesey 1567-at least 1571, N. Wales 1577-at least 1584;11 j.p. Anglesey (custos rot.) by 1573-d., Caern. by 1584-d., Cheshire c.1584-at least 1596, by 1604-d.;12 dep. lt. Anglesey 1587-d.;13 commr. subsidy, Anglesey 1599-1602, 1608, Caern. 1608, 1621;14 member, Council in the Marches 1602-d.;15 commr. sewers, River Dee 1607, Denb. 1609, aid, Anglesey 1609, 1612;16 collector aid, Anglesey 1612;17 feoffee, Beaumaris free sch. 1609-d.18

Farmer prise wines, Chester, Cheshire and outports 1561-d.19

Gent. pens. 1568-c.80/82.20

Commr. Union 1604-6.21


William Bulkeley, a courtier from a Cheshire family, acquired an estate in north Wales under the Yorkists, by purchase at Beaumaris, where he was deputy constable of the castle, and by inheritance, through marriage into the powerful Griffith family of Penrhyn. His grandson exploited factional rivalries at Henry VIII’s Court to secure local office as constable of Beaumaris and chamberlain to the principality of North Wales.22 The latter’s grandson, the subject of this biography, consolidated the family estates, both on the island of Anglesey and within the Creuddyn and Arllechwedd commotes of Caernarvonshire, which brought Bulkeley into conflict with his neighbours, particularly Sir John Wynn†, then expanding his estates down the Conway valley. This conflict was apparently resolved in the 1590s, and, while subsequent relations were not always cordial, Bulkeley’s lawyer, William Jones I*, later recommended a match between one of Bulkeley’s daughters and Wynn’s eldest son.23 Bulkeley reserved his bitterest animosity for a feud with Lewis Owen ap Meurig† and Owen Wood†, which culminated in Bulkeley’s censure by Star Chamber in 1591. He was, however, released from custody to organize the defence of Anglesey against a threatened Spanish invasion, which earned him a favourable review of his case.24

Bulkeley’s religious sympathies also came under official scrutiny. He was educated in the household of the Catholic Bishop Bonner of London, and under Elizabeth it was claimed that ‘all the Bulkeleys are Catho[lic]’. Another report accused his first wife’s family of Catholicism and recommended his removal as a Cheshire magistrate, as he and several others were ‘not known to be of any religion and therefore suspected to be papists’.25 Owen and Wood were probably behind an accusation of 1588 that he had been an accomplice in the Babington Plot. The charge was not taken seriously, as Bulkeley was merely exhorted ‘to give better example in frequenting the church and receiving the communion’.26 It was perhaps to exonerate himself from such suspicions that he later detained the bishop of Man, when on a visit to Wales, on suspicion of failing to attend church!27 Bulkeley was certainly keen to project an image of political loyalty. During an invasion scare in 1599, he melodramatically informed Sir John Wynn ‘I may not come out of this isle [Anglesey], which with God’s help I will keep or make it my grave’, while he wished the 2nd earl of Essex ‘God speed’ against the Irish rebels.28 His loyalty was clearly taken for granted after 1603, as he was named to two of the committees for bills tightening the recusancy laws in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot (22 Jan., 3 Feb. 1606).29 However, his actual beliefs remain obscure; a number of his surviving letters include news of the religious wars on the continent, but it is impossible to distinguish his opinion of the events he was describing.30

Like his forbears, Bulkeley secured his position in local affairs through connections at Westminster. He was returned to Parliament only once during Elizabeth’s reign, in 1563, though he secured the return of relatives, friends and clients for both county and borough seats at every election from 1584. He may have felt no need to stand after his appointment as a gentleman pensioner in 1568 gave him regular access to Court circles. His status was undoubtedly enhanced by his second marriage to one of the queen’s maids of honour, whose grandfather, lord admiral Lincoln, was said to be ‘in great favour’. The queen knighted him on the eve of this marriage, and, according to Sir John Wynn, insisted that the wedding take place at Court, ‘affirming [tha]t the world [sh]all know what was her affection to those her [serv]ants’. He apparently remained in favour as late as 1602, when Elizabeth came ‘a-maying’ to his house at Lewisham.31

With impeccable connections, and a rental income of over £1,500 in 1580, it is difficult to see why Bulkeley did not achieve high office during Elizabeth’s reign. This may have been due to lack of political ambition, but his volatile temper, mentioned in the ‘Parliament Fart’ poem, was perhaps also a problem:

... Sir Richard Bulkeley that Anglesey lad

Rose up in a fury and rose up half mad.

Among numerous examples, he bullied witnesses when one of his servants was tried for murder at quarter sessions, and even briefly dared to defy the Privy Council when ordered to answer to the 4th earl of Derby for an assault he had committed at the bishop of Chester’s house.32 Bulkeley was also notorious for his harsh treatment of his own family: he accused his stepmother of poisoning his father, intending ‘to defraud her of her living’.33 Family settlements invariably included a clause of revocation, and in 1585 he broke an earlier entail in order to settle the estate upon his second wife’s sons.34 His second wife fared little better: he had to be pressured into providing a jointure estate, and failed to honour a promise to augment her income.35 In July 1604, when the Privy Council belatedly ordered an investigation of his eldest son’s disinheritance, Bulkeley dishonestly claimed that he had cut him off for marrying ‘a poor cottager’s daughter’. He attempted to sway the 6th earl of Shrewsbury, deputed to investigate the case, by reminding him that ‘my wife is your kinswoman’.36

Bulkeley’s decision to stand for Parliament in 1604 may have been designed to demonstrate his loyalty to the new monarch. He was included on the commission established to negotiate the terms of the Union with Scotland (12 May 1604), but played little part in the Union debates of 1606-7; his nomination to the commission may have been designed to deny membership to Sir William Maurice*, an ardent supporter of the Union project.37 This is not to say that he was uncritical of government policy: he was one of those prepared to testify to the local abuses of purveyance (7 May 1604); and on 23 May 1614 he was appointed to the committee discussing the report of his son-in-law, Sir Edwin Sandys*, about the grievances arising from the creation of baronetcies.38 Bulkeley was perhaps equally concerned to further his own interests in Parliament: his nomination to the committee for the weirs bill (7 Feb. 1606) may have been prompted by a suit he was then pursuing with his nephew Thomas Holland† over drainage at Lledwigan, Anglesey.39 Other nominations to committees for bills regulating the importation and pricing of wines (7 Mar., 8 Apr. 1606) related to his farm of wine prisage at Chester and its outports (including Beaumaris), which he later defended in prolonged litigation with Sir Charles Somerset, the patentee for Welsh prisage dues.40 He also furthered a number of local interests: at the second reading of the subsidy bill on 16 Apr. 1606, he added a proviso to allow the Welsh to delay payment of their contribution until the mise being levied for the creation of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales was collected; while he was probably the originator of a proviso exempting Anglesey from the 1606 ‘sea-fish’ bill forbidding the erection of weirs within five miles of the sea, which would have deprived the island of most of its watermills.41

Bulkeley’s domestic problems multiplied in his later years. In 1607 his second son, ‘a wild, effeminate and unthrifty man’, killed the under-sheriff of Kent while resisting arrest for debt. Bulkeley allegedly bought off the widow with £1,500, and secured a pardon for his son, who was then cut out of the family entail.42 This did not mean that his eldest son returned to favour: though the Privy Council’s intervention secured the latter a £40 annuity in 1604, this was in arrears by 1617, when Bulkeley first denied he had ever agreed to pay, then claimed his son was a bastard.43 The Council reprimanded him for ‘unworthy and uncharitable carriage towards your deceased wife, in laying so foul and scandalous an infamy upon her so long after her death’, but when his son was murdered by highwaymen, Bulkeley callously hoped ‘that all the business concerning him that called himself my son had been ended with his life’; he only paid the arrears he owed when threatened with arrest.44

Bulkeley’s local importance remained undiminished by his domestic troubles, and in the autumn of 1620 Sir William Thomas canvassed his support for the re-election of Sir Richard Wynn* for Caernarvonshire. Though Bulkeley apparently consented, Thomas feared that ‘some of them have been laboured, and some revolted’. Enough changed sides to convince Sir John Wynn that Bulkeley, ‘ever envying my prosperity’, had been secretly supporting John Griffith III*, his great-nephew. It is certainly true that Bulkeley’s interests were better served by the election of a relative whose lands lay at the far end of the county than that of the heir of his ambitious neighbour along the Conway valley.45 Bulkeley probably intended to stand for the Anglesey seat once more in January 1621, but he fell seriously ill a few days before the election, whereupon he almost certainly sanctioned the choice of Richard Williams, a minor landowner who was married to one of his nieces, as his replacement.46

Bulkeley did not recover his health, and in June he settled control of his Anglesey estates upon trustees for his grandson, Richard Bulkeley*, whom he had designated as heir in his will of 1614.47 Rumours of these arrangements precipitated bitter recriminations among his family: his wife, convinced that she was about to be disinherited, convinced her younger son, Thomas, that he would lose his maintenance, which provoked the latter to seize the relevant deeds as his father lay dying; Beaumaris descended into uproar for several days after his death on 28 June 1621. The extensive litigation which broke out among his descendants seriously weakened the family’s local influence for the next five years. 48

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. NLW, 9080E, p. 69; C142/168/14.
  • 2. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 42.
  • 3. NLW, 9080E, p. 12; LI Admiss.
  • 4. UCNW, Baron Hill 12; SP14/104/24; 14/107/14; Dwnn, Vis. Wales ed. S.R. Meyrick, ii. 135.
  • 5. NLW, 9080E, p. 69; UCNW, Baron Hill 285, 310-11; Griffith, 42.
  • 6. C142/168/14.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 78.
  • 8. STAC 8/76/3.
  • 9. CPR, 1560-3, p. 130; E315/14, unfol.; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 443.
  • 10. CPR, 1560-3, p. 347.
  • 11. HCA 14/11/85; UCNW, Baron Hill 19; NLW, Bodewryd 98.
  • 12. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 2-9, 20-6; Lansd. 737, f. 162; SP13/F/11, f. 5v; C66/1620, 66/1988.
  • 13. UCNW, Baron Hill 26B; NLW, Carreglwyd I/1810.
  • 14. E179/219/17A; 179/219/70; 179/219/18; UCNW, Plas Coch 169; SP14/31/1; NLW, Brogyntyn 3329.
  • 15. Cott. Vitellius C.1, f. 100v; NLW, 9056E/809.
  • 16. C181/2, ff. 46v, 102; SP14/43/107; Harl. 354, f. 69.
  • 17. E179/220/152.
  • 18. Anglesey RO, David Hughes Charity mss box 5 (Hughes’s will, 30 Dec. 1609); box 16 (28 Sept. 1619, 28 Sept. 1621).
  • 19. Apparently a sinecure belonging to the constabulary of Beaumaris, see UCNW, Baron Hill 684-91, 695; NLW, 1515D; E134/24 Eliz./Hil.3; 134/35 Eliz./Hil.9; 134/36-7 Eliz./Mich.4; 134/16 Jac.I/Hil.13.
  • 20. E407/1/4, 13; UCNW, Baron Hill 1290.
  • 21. CJ, i. 208b.
  • 22. G. Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 648-52; iii. 627-8; D.C. Jones ‘The Bulkeleys of Beaumaris, 1440-1547’, Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1961), pp. 1-5, 10-11; UCNW, Baron Hill 465-524.
  • 23. T. Richards, ‘Sources of Caern. Hist.’, Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. (1940), p. 87; UCNW, Baron Hill 2524); NLW, 9052E/290; 9053E/385, 493; 465E/521.
  • 24. APC, 1591, pp. 132, 137, 139; 1591-2, pp. 568-9.
  • 25. Misc. VIII (Cath. Rec. Soc. xiii), 109; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 35.
  • 26. APC, 1587-8, pp. 375, 383-5; 1588, pp. 23-5, 310, 413-4.
  • 27. APC, 1588, p. 245. Bp. John Meyrick was apparently unrelated to Lewis Owen.
  • 28. NLW, 9052E/205.
  • 29. CJ, i. 258a, 263a.
  • 30. NLW, 9051E/126; 9052E/202; STAC 8/76/3, f. 3.
  • 31. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 78; NLW, 464E/80; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 145.
  • 32. UCNW, Baron Hill 4691; Add. 34218, f. 21v; APC, 1592, p. 249, 359; 1592-3, p. 11; 1595-6, p. 503.
  • 33. NLW, 9051E/45A; 9080E, pp.12-13.
  • 34. UCNW, Baron Hill 14, 20, 22, 294.
  • 35. Ibid. 20, 29, 285, 294; HLRO, main pprs. 8 Apr. 1624 (Lady Bulkeley’s bill).
  • 36. SP14/8/105. Bulkeley’s real objection to his son’s marriage may have been that his daughter-in-law was related to his despised stepmother, see Griffith, 42.
  • 37. CJ, i. 208b, 381b.
  • 38. Ibid. 202a; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 322.
  • 39. CJ, i. 265a; E112/58/49; E124/1, f.20; E134/1 Jas.I/Mich.20, Hil.5; 134/3 Jas.I/Mich.38-9; E178/5051; E124/2, f. 17.
  • 40. CJ, i. 279a, 295a; UCNW, Baron Hill 684-91, 695.
  • 41. CJ, i. 299b; SR, iv. 1088, 1126.
  • 42. HMC Hatfield, xix. 257; NLW, 9080E, p. 35; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 59; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 442; UCNW, Baron Hill 34; PROB 11/138, f. 9.
  • 43. APC, 1618-19, pp. 304-5; SP14/104/24.
  • 44. APC, 1618-19, pp. 402, 429, 452, 459; 1619-21, pp. 33-4, 63, 81; SP14/110/141, 152.
  • 45. NLW, 466E/1000; 9057E/921; Trans. Anglesey Arch. Soc. (1940), p. 88.
  • 46. STAC 8/76/3, ff. 4-5; Griffith, 42, 114.
  • 47. STAC 8/76/3, ff. 4-5; PROB 11/138, f. 9.
  • 48. STAC 8/76/3, ff. 1, 4-5; NLW, 9057E/963.