CHOLMLEY, Sir Richard (1580-1631), of Whitby, Yorks.

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. Oct. 1580, 1st s. of Sir Henry Cholmley† of Whitby and Roxby, Yorks. and Margaret, da. of Sir William Babthorpe of Osgodby, Yorks.1 educ. Trin. Coll. Camb. 1595.2 m. (1) 29 Nov. 1596 (with £2,000), Susannah (d.1611), da. of John Legard, merchant of London and Ganton, Yorks., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. (d.v.p.); (2) 22 Nov. 1613 (with £2,000) Margaret, da. of William Cobb, merchant of London, 4s. (2 d.v.p.).3 kntd. 9 July 1603;4 suc. fa. 1616. d. 23 Sept. 1631.5 sig. Richard Cholmeley.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Yorks. (N. Riding) by 1604-d.,6 j.p. c.1604-c.1614, 1622-d.,7 dep. lt. 1623,8 collector (jt.), tenths 1624,9 commr. subsidy 1624, oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1625-d.;10 sheriff, Yorks. 1624-5;11 member, Council in the North 1625-d.12


A cadet branch of the Cheshire Cholmondleys, the Cholmleys acquired lands in Yorkshire by marriage at the start of the sixteenth century. Sir Richard Cholmley†, the first of the family to sit in Parliament, bought the Whitby Abbey estate in 1555; suspecting his first wife of infidelity, he left most of his lands to Sir Henry†, eldest son of his second wife, Lady Scrope.13 Although a Catholic, Lady Scrope’s Clifford lineage spared her from prosecution; Sir Henry was ‘a little then in his heart inclining that way, though he went to church’, but his wife and sister, both recusants, were imprisoned in 1593 until they conformed. The authorities at York monitored the family because their remote location on the Yorkshire coast provided an ideal landfall for Catholic priests. Their godly neighbour Sir Thomas Hoby* considered the area among ‘the most dangerous parts of Yorkshire for hollow hearts, for popery’, and in 1599 John Ferne* organized a raid on the Cholmley property of Grosmont Abbey, ‘a place famous for priests’.14

In his son’s memoirs, Sir Richard Cholmley was remembered as ‘no great scholar, yet understood Latin, and [was] well read in history ... naturally choleric, though he could well bridle it when any might take advantage thereby’.15 In August 1600 he joined a hunting party led by the Catholic William Eure†, which spent a riotous night as guests at Hoby’s house, drinking, gambling, disrupting family prayers and questioning Lady Hoby’s fidelity. The visitors were prosecuted in Star Chamber, although the case against Chomley comprised little more than drunken words and an allegation of recusancy which was refuted by testimony from local ministers and churchwardens. However, while in London Cholmley joined the 2nd earl of Essex’s rebellion, which Hoby attributed to ‘his father’s desperate estate, who doth owe more than he can pay, his backwardness in religion and to embrace civil government’. Although pardoned and fined a modest £200 for his part in the rising, Cholmley then compounded his previous errors by striking a man during his Star Chamber hearing, for which offence it was said ‘he should have lost his hand, but that good friends and money brought him off’. His son later claimed that these troubles had cost the family £3,000, a total he presumably calculated from a combination of fines, fees and bribes.16

In the aftermath of these disasters, the family altered its priorities: Cholmley was sent to live with his wife’s family; his father sold land to pay off his debts; and the family conformed more strictly to the established Church. Cholmley was knighted at the beginning of the new reign, apparently at the behest of his uncle George, 3rd earl of Cumberland.17 Appointed to the commission of the peace shortly thereafter, he asked Hoby to forget ‘all former unkindnesses’, but their mutual resentment continued, and Hoby subsequently claimed that Cholmley actually ‘held a course to provoke him ... to quarrel’, filing another Star Chamber case against his adversary in 1609. The charges comprised a series of minor quarrels, (accurately) accusing Cholmley of ‘bearing inward love and affection to such as are obstinate popish recusants and having many obstinate popish recusants that depend on him’, and protesting that Cholmley had licensed a company of actors whose plays contained ‘much popery and abuse of the law and justice’. This suit, resting more upon prejudice than evidence, was quickly dropped, but Hoby won a concurrent dispute in the Exchequer concerning the Cholmleys’ claim to manorial jurisdiction over Hackness.18 In 1615 Hoby filed another Star Chamber suit against many of the East Riding bench: Cholmley, called as a witness, claimed that Hoby had condemned the 1614 Benevolence as being ‘against the law’. This slander, later suppressed as evidence, may have brought about Cholmley’s removal from the bench, while Hoby retaliated against Cholmley by indicting his steward for running an unlicensed alehouse at Whitby.19

Cholmley spent several years indulging his passion for horse-breeding. Indeed, his son later recalled ‘I was so entered in hunting, hawking and horse races that I could not easily put them out of my mind when, by riper years, I saw the vanity of them’. In 1619, following the appointment of his cousin Lord Scrope as president of the Council in the North, Cholmley aspired to public office once again, although, perhaps because of his chequered past, he had no immediate success. At the Yorkshire election of Christmas day 1620 he supported Sir Thomas Wentworth*, and a week later he was returned for Scarborough, possibly with Scrope’s backing. He moved his entire household to London for the year, but because of ill-health he contributed little to the Commons’ proceedings: his son later claimed ‘he went six days to the Parliament-house during the sitting of the Parliament’.20 He was certainly sick on 2 Mar., when his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Belasyse* moved for privilege on his behalf in a lawsuit. Two weeks later Cholmley attended the debate on the Yorkshire election contest, joining with his nephew Lord Henry Clifford* in backing Wentworth against a petition from Sir John Savile’s* supporters. He also spoke on 2 May, when the king demanded to know the grounds on which the House based its proceedings against the Catholic Edward Floyd, urging Members ‘to go with the Lords to continue our accord with them’. During the summer adjournment he unsuccessfully approached the Scarborough corporation to support the erection of a new pier at the rival port of Whitby, where his main estates lay. He left no trace on the records of the autumn sitting.21

Cholmley returned to Yorkshire saddled with debts of £1,000 from his stay in London and £2,000 for the dowry his eldest daughter received upon her marriage to Sir William Strickland†. His income was also diminished by the settlement of an annuity of £500 on his eldest son Hugh following the latter’s marriage. He sold some land to clear part of his debt, but ignored the possibility of raising his rental income, and squandered his money on horses, women and alchemy: to his son’s dismay, he was soon borrowing money ‘even for most of his ordinary expenses’. While he could hardly afford another lengthy sojourn in London, in 1624 he persuaded the Scarborough corporation to return his son, promising the latter would give due ‘observance of any your rights and commands’ as MP.22 However, any hopes of economy were dashed by his appointment as sheriff of Yorkshire the following autumn, although he was well placed to lobby the Scarborough corporation on his son’s behalf when the writs for a new parliamentary election arrived in April 1625. Having been taken ill at York after the assizes, he wrote to the bailiffs on his son’s behalf, and also asked his messenger to lobby privately on behalf of John Legard, his late wife’s brother, who had stood unsuccessfully in 1624. The bailiffs declined to commit themselves, answering ‘that many great ones had made suit’ for election. They offered to ‘put it as far as they could’, but claimed that ‘the commonalty had a great sway in it’, and with supporters of a rival candidate present, the question of Legard’s prospects was not even mentioned. Cholmley, ‘as exceedingly offended as ever I see him in my life’, demanded to know why his son’s election was in doubt when the bailiffs had offered it as their reason for declining Lord Scrope’s nomination of Sir William Alford. He complained ‘the time is now too late for to provide another place for his son, though he might have had two or three elsewhere if he had not relied upon that’ and warned that ‘instead of a worthy friend they will find a shrewd adversary, especially when his love and affection to the town is so ill requited’. Thus chastened, the corporation returned Legard and Cholmley’s son, though the former declined to serve and was replaced by William Thompson*.23

As sheriff, Cholmley was also arbiter of the county election, which was hotly contested between Sir John Savile and Sir Thomas Wentworth. On election day, he declared Wentworth and Sir Thomas Fairfax I* returned following a view of the rival camps, but Sir Christopher Hildyard* demanded a poll. No sooner had this laborious task begun than Savile forced open the gates of York castle yard whereupon, in Cholmley’s recollection, ‘many freeholders [were] gone out upon Sir John Savile’s persuasions that the taking of the poll would last many days’. The election was subsequently declared void by the Commons, but Cholmley himself was cleared of any misconduct, ‘and not to be further punished’. At the ensuing election Cholmley was careful to justify himself by holding a ‘tedious and troublesome polling’.24

According to his son, the shrievalty cost Cholmley £1,000 on top of his existing obligations, now amounting to £11,000. With creditors threatening foreclosure, retrenchment was imperative, and to achieve this Cholmley assigned his estates to his son Hugh for ten years, reserving a £400 annuity for himself. Hugh planned go abroad in January 1626 to escape arrest for debt, which explains why Cholmley deployed his electoral patronage at Scarborough in favour of the Exchequer official William Cholmley*, ‘a noble friend and kinsman of ours’:

the desire he has to be of the House makes our request to be in his behalf which otherwise should have been for one of us ... Yet if his being a stranger to your town should oppose his election (as we hope it will not), I desire then you would double your former favours by conferring it upon my son.25

These plans changed within days: William Cholmley was returned at Thirsk, leaving the Scarborough seat for Hugh, who reorganized the family finances while at Westminster under parliamentary privilege.

Cholmley assigned his remaining estates to his son in May 1626, and lived in retirement at Whitby for the remainder of his life. He died of dysentery on 23 Sept. 1631, ‘having taken a surfeit of oysters, which put him into a great looseness’; administration was granted to his daughter-in-law six days later.26 His son, in an early draft of his Memoirs, attempted to put Cholmley’s life in context:

If he had not been kept under hatches by his father’s debts and the many unjust suits of a troublesome neighbour, one Sir Thomas Hoby, in all probability he might have proved a very eminent person, and as serviceable to the king and country as his two countrymen and contemporaries, Sir Thomas Wentworth and Sir John Savile, who by their own active spirits raised their persons and family to honour and greatness, he [Cholmley] being inferior to neither of them in understanding or volubility of speech.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. H. Cholmley, Memoirs (1787), pp. 13-17.
  • 2. Al. Cant.
  • 3. Cholmley, 28-9; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 219-21; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. ix. 372; St. Michael Bassishaw (Harl. Soc. reg. lxxii), 125; Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 54.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 113.
  • 5. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 254.
  • 6. C181/1, f. 86; 181/3, f. 120.
  • 7. STAC 8/12/11; N. Riding Q.S. Recs. ed. J.C. Atkinson, ii. 36; Cholmley, 21; C231/4, p. 142.
  • 8. SP14/151/69.
  • 9. E179/283, vol. ‘TG 28398’.
  • 10. C212/22/23; C181/3, f. 139v.
  • 11. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 163.
  • 12. R. Reid, Council in the North, 498.
  • 13. Cholmley, 5, 9-10, 12-13; VCH N. Riding, ii. 20, 496.
  • 14. Cholmley, 11-14; H. Aveling, Northern Catholics, 182-3, 194; Eng. Jesuit Recs. ed. H. Foley, iii. 761; APC, 1592-3, pp. 317-18; HMC Hatfield, xi. 39-40; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 188, 232-3.
  • 15. Cholmley, 16-18, 27.
  • 16. HMC Hatfield, xi. 39-40; STAC 5/H22/21; 5/H67/29; Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby ed. D.M. Meads, 188-9; APC, 1600-1, pp. 160, 356, 484, 488; Cholmley, 17.
  • 17. Cholmley, 15, 17, 20.
  • 18. STAC 8/12/11; HMC Hatfield, xx. 153, 187-8; Aveling, 183-5; VCH N. Riding, ii. 503-4; SP14/68/101.
  • 19. STAC 8/175/4, ff. 11, 17; Cholmley, 21; N. Riding Q.S. Recs. ii. 120-1.
  • 20. CJ, i. 556b; Cholmley, 22, 24.
  • 21. CJ, i. 535b, 556b, 605a; CD 1621, iii.145; vi. 69; Scarborough Recs. ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO, xlvii), 80.
  • 22. Cholmley, 23-6, 40, 44; VCH N. Riding, ii. 536; Scarborough Recs. 118.
  • 23. Scarborough Recs. 142-6; C219/39/286.
  • 24. Cholmley, 23-24; Procs. 1625, pp. 218, 295-6, 306, 315.
  • 25. Cholmley, 24, 41-42; Scarborough Recs. 197 (redated to 12 Jan. 1626).
  • 26. Cholmley, 28; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 254; Borthwick, Cleveland deanery Act Bk. 1624-41, f. 272v.
  • 27. York Minster Lib., Add. 343, f. 7.