CHALONER, Sir Thomas (?1564-1615), of Richmond Palace, Surr., Steeple Claydon, Bucks. and Clerkenwell, Mdx.

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. c.16 Nov. 1564,1 o.s. (illegit.) of Sir Thomas Chaloner† of Steeple Claydon and Clerkenwell and 2nd w. Audrey (Etheldreda), da. of Edward Frodsham of Elton, Cheshire.2 educ. St. Paul’s sch. ?1573-8; Magdalen, Oxf. 1579, aged 14, BA 1582, MA 1605; G. Inn 1583; vol. Low Countries 1585-6.3 m. (1) by 1586,4 Elizabeth (d. 22 Nov. 1603), da. of Sir William Fleetwood† of London and Great Missenden, Bucks., 7s. (3 d.v.p.), 4da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 10 July 1604, Judith (d. 30 June 1615) da. of Sir William Blount of London, wid. of John Gregory the yr. of Hull, Yorks. and Clerkenwell, 4s., 3da.5 suc. fa. Oct. 1565;6 kntd. c.Nov. 1591.7 d. 18 Nov. 1615.8 sig. Tho[mas] Chaloner.

Offices Held

J.p. Bucks. 1592, 1595-d., Berks. Herts. and Mdx. by 1604-d., Surr. 1604;9 high steward, Evesham, Worcs. 1605-d.;10 commr. sewers, London 1606, subsidy, Bucks. and Evesham 1608.11

Gent. Privy Chamber 1603;12 gov. Prince Henry’s Household 1603-10, chamberlain 1610-12.13

Commr. Union 1604-6.14

Patentee (jt.), alum farm 1606-9;15 cttee. Virg. Co. 1609;16 member, N.W. Passage Co. 1612;17 patentee (jt.), Guiana Co. 1613.18


Originally from Rhuddlan, Flintshire, the Chaloners were resident in Denbigh and Chester by the sixteenth century. Chaloner’s grandfather made his fortune as a London Mercer, and served as usher of the chamber to Henry VIII. His heir, Sir Thomas the elder, who obtained a grant of arms in 1548, pursued a career as a soldier and diplomat.19 The latter acquired the dissolved priory of St. Bees, Cumberland on his marriage to the widow of Sir Thomas Lee†, one of the surveyors of monastic lands. He later also secured the freehold of Guisborough Priory in Yorkshire, which Lee had leased from the Crown. Chaloner should not be confused with two namesakes, the first a Sussex gentleman,20 and the second a cousin, the son of John Chaloner, Irish secretary of state during the first half of Elizabeth’s reign. The latter spent his fortune prospecting for copper and alum in Ireland, but the only lasting monument to his efforts was a Short Discourse ... of Nitre (1584), the authorship of which is often wrongly attributed to the subject of this biography.21

As his first wife produced no heirs, Sir Thomas Chaloner the elder was keen to remarry, but his ambassadorial posting at Madrid, from 1561, made it difficult to find and legally marry a bride according to Protestant rites. The future MP was born out of wedlock in 1564 although Sir Thomas, who returned to England in poor health in the following spring, effectively legitimated his son by marrying the mother shortly before his death.22 This dismayed the late ambassador’s younger brother, who had stood to inherit half the family’s estates. Presumably to avoid any litigation, Sir Thomas the elder assigned most of his lands to a group of trustees headed by secretary of state Sir William Cecil†, who was appointed guardian to his eldest son.23

Chaloner spent his infancy in the custody of his mother, who married Edward Brockett of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire as her second husband;24 Cecil (by then lord treasurer Burghley) dispatched him to St. Paul’s School, where he received assistance in publishing his father’s Latin poem De Republica Anglorum Instauranda (1579). In the autumn of 1578 Burghley secured Chaloner a place at Magdalen College, Oxford,25 and the treasurer presumably also arranged his marriage to a daughter of his ally Sir William Fleetwood, recorder of London.26 Despite this patronage, Chaloner quickly gravitated towards the rival Court faction headed by the earl of Leicester (Sir Robert Dudley†), to whom he was linked via Henry Frodsham (presumably his uncle), a servant of Douglas, Lady Sheffield, and a witness to his mistress’s clandestine marriage to Leicester in May 1573.27 When Leicester went to the Low Countries as Elizabeth’s governor-general in the autumn of 1585, Chaloner accompanied him as a volunteer, and three years later, Chaloner was apparently appointed tutor to Robert Dudley, Leicester’s son by Lady Sheffield.28 He probably lost his post after Leicester’s death in September 1588, and may have gone to France in 1589-90 as an ensign under Sir John Brockett†, his step-uncle. At the siege of Rouen in 1591, where he served the diplomat Sir Henry Unton†, Chaloner was one of four Englishmen knighted by Henri IV of France. Elizabeth usually disapproved of foreign honours, but Henri told Unton that he had little else to bestow upon his supporters, and the recipients were allowed to use their titles.29

Chaloner probably attended Court on his return to England in the entourage of Leicester’s stepson Robert, 2nd earl of Essex, whom he would have met at Rouen. Essex secured him a passport in 1596, sending him to Tuscany to provide intelligence independent of the official diplomatic channels controlled by secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil†.30 Chaloner corresponded regularly (sometimes under the alias ‘Thomas Bentivolus’) with Anthony Bacon†, one of Essex’s closest associates, and clearly visited Rome, though claims that he sent workmen from the papal alum works to England are apparently unfounded.31 He moved to Paris in March 1598, where he reported on difficulties over the ratification of the edict of Nantes, and three months later, in Lyon, he forwarded news of Sir Anthony Sherley, another Rouen veteran then bound for Persia.32 Although doubtless back in England by February 1601, he was not implicated in Essex’s rebellion; it is possible that he, like his friend Francis Bacon*,33 had severed his ties with the earl after the latter’s return from Ireland in disgrace. Chaloner thereafter maintained a clandestine correspondence with James VI of Scotland.34

After Elizabeth’s death, Chaloner was among those who hastened to Holyrood Palace ‘as if it were nothing else but first come first served, or that preferment were a goal to be got by footmanship’. Said to be ‘in great favour’ with James, he wisely used this influence to further the interests of friends such as Francis Bacon, and possible patrons such as lord keeper Sir Thomas Egerton†.35 Several months of co-operation with Sir David Foulis, a Scottish courtier who subsequently married Chaloner’s wife’s sister, bore fruit in August 1603, when Chaloner succeeded the earl of Mar as governor to Prince Henry.36 This position conferred an enormous influence over the young prince and his Household, and Chaloner also accompanied Henry on all his official duties, most notably a visit to the Venetian embassy at the end of 1603.37 He was responsible for his master’s finances, which quickly spiralled out of control: his inquiry of 1607 reported that efforts to economize were undermined by warrants issued by the king’s Household, and he was subsequently given a veto over such appointments. He also drafted new Household regulations based on medieval precedents, which he researched with the help of Sir Robert Cotton* and Robert Bowyer*.38 However, as he predicted, expenditure on works of art, coins, masques and tournaments, increased the annual budget from £9,800 in 1605-6 to £33,300 in 1610-11.39

It is likely that Chaloner was partly responsible for the development of Prince Henry’s cultural tastes, which focused upon the Mannerist style exemplified by the Florentine and French Courts with which Chaloner was most familiar. In March 1610 he persuaded the Tuscan envoy in London to forward various books and copies of paintings from the Medici collection, which delighted the prince, and were hung in the specially refurbished long gallery at St. James’s Palace; Henry himself then requested reproductions of some Florentine bronzes then unknown in England. Chaloner also secured the services of an Italian gardener to complete the work on the gardens at Richmond Palace begun by Inigo Jones*.40 Given his background, it is not surprising that Chaloner supported Tuscan proposals of 1610-12 for a match between Prince Henry and the eldest daughter of Grand Duke Cosimo II. He promoted the scheme via his former pupil Sir Robert Dudley, whose inability to secure title to his English estates had prompted his flight to Tuscany in 1604.41 In 1608 Dudley, an amateur shipwright, attempted to ingratiate himself with Henry by sending Chaloner designs for two ships. The two men sustained informal contacts with the Medici until the abandonment of plans for a Spanish Match in the autumn of 1611 allowed Chaloner’s friend Sir Edward Cecil* to solicit a formal offer. However, the project quickly faltered over the question of the bride’s conversion to Protestantism, whereupon interest shifted to a rival offer from the duke of Savoy.42

Although Chaloner held an important administrative post, the modest record of his activities in Parliament suggests that he was not a major politician. Returned for Lostwithiel, the western administrative centre for the duchy of Cornwall, he was sufficiently well-known to be included in the ‘Parliament Fart’ poem in 1607, but made no recorded speeches.43 In the opening weeks of the first session, his local residence probably explains his inclusion on three of the committees investigating the Buckinghamshire election dispute (30 Mar., 2, 5 Apr. 1604), while his appointment as one of the commissioners for the Union (12 May 1604) was probably only a courtesy to Prince Henry: his personal interest in the project was apparently confined to a bill giving aliens born in England (such as Foulis’s children) the status of denizens (3 May 1604).44 Several of the bill committees to which Chaloner was named concerned the prince’s interests, including those for the restitution in blood of Henry’s companion Robert, 3rd earl of Essex (2 Apr. 1604), and another on behalf of Lord William Howard of Naworth (15 May 1604). He was the first named to the committee for the bill to naturalise the children of Sir Edward Conway I* (3 Apr. 1606), the prince’s military adviser, and he was included on another for the bill to naturalize Sir Robert Carr*, a member of the prince’s Household (20 Feb. 1610). Another nomination concerned a bill to repair the highways around Anne of Denmark’s palace at Nonsuch (2 Apr. 1606).45 Chaloner was probably included on the committee reviewing the recusancy laws (21 Jan. 1606) because of his efforts to capture the Jesuit Oswald Tesimond in the summer of 1604; but he had a more personal interest in bills to naturalize Sir David Foulis (18 Apr. 1606) and to confirm the endowment of the grammar school on his manor of St. Bees’, Cumberland (17 Mar. 1606).46 He gave no explicit support to the Great Contract in 1610, although was named to attend Salisbury’s initial address, which called for parliamentary supply to settle the king’s debts and the cost of Prince Henry’s impending creation as Prince of Wales (15 Feb. 1610). He and Sir William Fleetwood II clearly had a personal interest in the private bill for the estates of William Essex (16 Feb., 3 May 1610).47

If he achieved little in the Commons, Chaloner was tireless on his master’s behalf elsewhere. In 1610 he and Sir William Godolphin* investigated rival projects for extracting silver from lead ore, in which Henry was considering investing. Although he had no personal stake in the Virginia Company, he was named to the executive committee under the 1609 patent, presumably because Prince Henry had invested in the venture ‘so that he may some day, when he comes to the Crown, have a claim over the colony’.48 Chaloner was also a member of the North-West Passage Company, which funded Henry Hudson’s explorations in 1612; once again, his master was both a financial backer and ‘supreme protector’ of the project.49 Chaloner reaped considerable rewards from his position at Court. He secured three grants of Crown lands, worth over £130 a year, and Sir Edward Fisher allegedly married one of his daughters without any dowry, merely to secure his ‘favour and countenance’.50 He secured positions in the prince’s Household for his brother-in-law Edward Salter*, a carver, and for William Smethe, paymaster of the prince’s works, who was later one of the executors of his will.51 After much exertion, he also obtained compensation for Sir Robert Dudley, who sold Kenilworth Castle to the prince for £7,000; however, plans to include a pardon unravelled after Henry’s death.52 Chaloner’s appointment as high steward of Evesham, Worcestershire under a charter of 1605, probably arranged by the prince’s chaplain Lewis Bayly, included parliamentary patronage: Chaloner may have recommended Robert Bowyer in 1605, and he undoubtedly secured the return of Edward Salter in 1610.53 Finally, Chaloner’s Court position doubtless helped to further his most ambitious project, to establish an alum refinery on his Yorkshire estates. The potential of his alum shale deposits was noticed by his Irish cousin, and in 1606-7 he went into partnership with Foulis and his neighbours Lord Sheffield and Sir John Bourchier*, securing a 31-year monopoly of alum manufacture in the north. A consortium of London merchants who leased the concession invested £20,000 in a year for little yield, and German technical advisers also failed to staunch the losses. However, in 1609 lord treasurer Salisbury, acting on advice from Arthur Ingram* and Nicholas Salter (a cousin of Edward Salter), intervened to buy the patentees out in return for generous payments to be charged against future alum production.54

Chaloner’s Court career ended with the death of Prince Henry on 6 Nov. 1612.55 He did not seek a seat for himself at the parliamentary elections of 1614, nor does he appear to have made any nomination at Evesham, and a few months later, Sir Robert Dudley began addressing his pleas for assistance to Foulis, who remained active at Court.56 Chaloner encountered legal and financial problems in his final years. In 1610 he became embroiled in a lawsuit over the debts of his son-in-law Sir Edward Fisher, while the prince’s death left him personally liable for repayment of the purchase price for Kenilworth. In 1613 he was unable to pay £800 he owed the Crown in fee farm rents, and a year later he pawned the bulk of his silver plate for £650; he apparently defaulted on the interest payments, and forfeited his pledge.57 However, his will of 16 Nov. 1615 gives little hint of any serious distress. His main estates were entailed on the sons of his first marriage, but he assigned lands worth £400 a year to the children of his recently deceased second wife. Finally, two-thirds of the £1,500 annuity he was due to receive from the alum works was to be paid to Sir William Fleetwood II for distribution among the children of his first marriage.58

The scale of Chaloner’s financial problems only came to light after his death on 18 Nov. 1615. His brother-in-law Lewis Prowde* declined to serve as an executor because he stood to benefit from the estate, perhaps by the sale of the manor of St. Bees, which was not mentioned in Chaloner’s will or his inquisition post mortem. In 1616 Sir Edward Fisher sued for payment of his wife’s bequest, charged on the alum farm, but he probably gained little benefit, as the annuity was over £3,000 in arrears in 1638. Chaloner’s sons James and Thomas were both returned to the Long Parliament as recruiter MPs after the Civil War, but nevertheless, they failed to secure payment of the arrears due from the alum farm.59

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. For reasons suggested in R.B. Turton, Alum Farm, 23-4, 28.
  • 2. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 230-2.
  • 3. Regs. St. Paul’s Sch. ed. M. McDonnell, 66-7; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; R.C. Strong and J.A. van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph (Sir Thomas Browne Inst. spec. ser. ii), 113.
  • 4. Turton, 28.
  • 5. MI in D. Lysons, Environs of London, ii. 199; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 59-61.
  • 6. PROB 11/61, ff. 364v-5v.
  • 7. SP78/26, f. 166v.
  • 8. C142/375/73.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 192; C231/1, f. 3v; SP13/F/11; C66/1549, 1620.
  • 10. Evesham Bor. Recs. ed. S.K. Roberts (Worcs. Hist. Soc. n.s. xiv), xiii-xiv, 19.
  • 11. Lansd. 168, f. 151; SP14/31/1.
  • 12. Harl. 6166, f. 68v.
  • 13. C193/5/19; Autobiog. of Phineas Pett ed. W.G. Perrin (Navy Rec. Soc. li), 58; AO1/2021/1A, 3.
  • 14. CJ, i. 208b.
  • 15. Turton, 70-75; C66/1820/23.
  • 16. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 363, 369.
  • 17. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 239.
  • 18. C66/1986/5.
  • 19. Vis. Cheshire, 59-61; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 49.
  • 20. E351/264, unfol. See also Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 63-4, 166, neither of which mentions a Thomas Chaloner.
  • 21. Turton, 1, 9-17; Loan 16/1, f. 14v.
  • 22. Turton, 18-25.
  • 23. SP12/37/1; PROB 11/61, ff. 374v-5v; C54/689/1.
  • 24. PROB 11/61, f. 375; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 32.
  • 25. Turton, 35-8; Lansd. 27, f. 41.
  • 26. Strong and van Dorsten, 113. Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 55 records him as ‘Thomas Chatteret’.
  • 27. A.G. Lee, Son of Leicester, 23-4; Vis. Cheshire, 102.
  • 28. Strong and van Dorsten, 113; Al. Ox. (Robert Dudley); Ath. Ox., iii. 258.
  • 29. Turton, 28-9; SP78/26, f. 166v.
  • 30. SO3/1 unfol. (27 Nov. 1596).
  • 31. HMC Hatfield, vii. 10, 37-8, 101; Add. 4121-3, passim; SP14/31/66; Turton, 1, 28-30.
  • 32. HMC Hatfield, viii. 188-9; ix. 98-9.
  • 33. Add. 4121, f. 145.
  • 34. CSP Scot. 1593-5, pp. 365-6, 634-5; 1595-7, pp. 178. 184, 338; 1597-1603, pp. 226, 257, 413, 766-7, 889.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 189; HMC Hatfield, xv. 28; Sloane 3078, ff. 34-5; Egerton Pprs. ed. J.P. Collier (Cam. Soc. xii), 360-1, 363-4.
  • 36. HMC Hatfield, xv. 203-5; C66/1629; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 134.
  • 37. CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 119-20; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 134; E. Lodge, Illustrations of Brit. Hist. iii. 58-9, 96; Cal. Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho (Derbys. Arch. Soc. Rec. ser. iv), 230, 282.
  • 38. P.R. Seddon, ‘Household Reforms in the Reign of Jas. I’, BIHR, liii. 49; LS13/280, ff. 194-7, 242, 260-1; Cott. Julius C. III, ff. 83-4; HLRO, main pprs. 1610, ff. 81- 4.
  • 39. Seddon, 49.
  • 40. R. Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales, 27, 90-3, 190-6 and plates 93-4; R. Strong, Renaissance Garden in Eng. 83-5, 97-103.
  • 41. CSP Ven. 1607-10, p. 407; Lee, 100-130; G. Adlard, Amye Robsart and Earl of Leycester, 287
  • 42. Lee, 132, 145-8, 155-6; CSP Ven. 1610-13, pp. 327-8, 333, 375; R. Strong, ‘Eng. and Italy: the marriage of Henry, Prince of Wales’, For Veronica Wedgwood These ed. R. Ollard and P. Tudor-Craig, 67-74.
  • 43. Add. 34218, f. 20v.
  • 44. CJ, i. 160a, 161a, 166b, 197a, 208b.
  • 45. Ibid. 162a, 211a, 292a, 293a, 397b; Strong, Henry, 42.
  • 46. Ibid. 257b, 285b, 300a. For his investigation of Tesimond, see HMC Hatfield, xv. 393; xvi. 108, 118-19, 186, 400-1, 457; xviii. 41-4; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 99, 126- 7; HMC 11th Rep. vii. 280.
  • 47. CJ, i. 393b, 394b, 424b; LJ, ii. 550-1; CSP Ven. 1607-10, pp. 439-40.
  • 48. Recs. Virg. Co. iv. 363, 369; CSP Ven. 1607-10, p. 237.
  • 49. CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 333; CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 239.
  • 50. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 142, 169, 176; C66/1649; C2/Jas.I/F11/44, f. 4.
  • 51. SO3/4, unfol. (Feb. 1608/9); Govt. of Royal Household (Soc. Antiqs. 1790), p. 323; SP14/67/147; LS13/280, f. 209; PROB 11/126, f. 230v.
  • 52. Lee, 146-50, 154-9; Adlard, 311-12; LS13/280, ff. 211, 217.
  • 53. Evesham Bor. Recs. xiii-xiv; Vis. Bucks. 14, 107; Vis. Suss. 62.
  • 54. Add. 11402, f. 143; Turton, 76-87; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 271; C66/1820/23.
  • 55. Strong, Henry, 220-1; CSP Ven. 1610-13, pp. 468-9.
  • 56. Lee, 166-72.
  • 57. C2/Jas.I/W11/66; LS13/280, f. 217; BL, Royal C.17, xxxvi, f. 22v; STAC 8/103/3.
  • 58. PROB 11/126, ff. 230-1; C142/375/73; C66/1820/23.
  • 59. C2/Jas.I/F11/44; Turton, 32-3.