CONSTABLE, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1591-1655), of Flamborough and Holme on Spalding Moor, 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



17 Aug. 1642

Family and Education

b. 27 Feb. 1591, o. surv. s. of Sir Robert Constable of Flamborough and Holme and Anne, da. and h. of John Hussey of North Duffield, Yorks.1 educ. travelled abroad ?1617, Low Countries c.1637-41.2 m. 15 Feb. 1608, Dorothy (d. 9 Mar. 1656), da. of Sir Thomas Fairfax I*, 1ch. d.v.p.3 suc. fa. 1600;4 cr. bt. 29 June 1611.5 d. 10 June 1655.6 sig. W[illia]m Constable.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Yorks. (W. Riding) 1611, (E. Riding) by 1613-40, 1654-d., R. Derwent 1629, Glos. 1654-d.;7 j.p. E. Riding by 1613-26 (custos rot.), 1628-42, 1650-d., j.p. Glos. 1649-d., N. Riding 1652-d.;8 collector, Palatine Benevolence, E. Riding 1620;9 commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1621-c.26, 1630-41, 1650-d., Oxf. circ. 1654-d.;10 subsidy, E. Riding 1621-2, 1624, 1628;11 dep. lt. E. Riding 1629-37;12 commr. repair of St. Paul’s cathedral, E. Riding 1633;13 commr. raising forces, Yorks. Northumb. co. Dur. (parl.) 1642, with Northern armies 1644, Northern Assoc., E. Riding 1645, militia, Yorks. 1648;14 levying money 1643, sequestration 1644, assessment, E. Riding 1645-52, rest of Yorks. 1645, 1650-2, Glos. 1649-52;15 sheriff, Yorks. 1653-4;16 commr. scandalous ministers, E. Riding and Hull, Yorks. 1654.

Capt. militia ft. 1613, Col. 1629-37, capt. militia horse (parl.) 1642, col. 1642-3;17 col. regular ft. 1642-5, 1647-d., horse 1648;18 lt.-gen. horse and ft. Yorks. 1643-5;19 gov. ?Hull 1644, Gloucester 1648-53.20

Commr. peace with Scotland 1642, 1646, 1647, treaty with Scotland 1643,21 High Ct. of Justice 1649; cllr. of state 1649, 1650, 1652;22 member, army cttee. 1649-52;23 commr. forfeited estates 1651.


Named after a Norman constable of Chester, the Constables acquired Flamborough by the end of the twelfth century.24 The ‘Robertus le Constable’ returned to for Yorkshire in 1319 may have belonged to this family, or to their unrelated namesakes of Burton Constable. Members of the Flamborough family sat in Parliament regularly from 1388, and also rendered military service including a senior command at Flodden.25 Sir Robert Constable was attainted in 1537 for his participation in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and though the attainder was reversed in 1553, the family lands were not fully recovered until 1585, under a grant secured with the assistance of Lord Burghley (William Cecil†), in whose household Sir William’s father had served.26 Constable, who was under ten at his father’s death, has frequently been confused with a great-uncle from the Everingham branch of the family. This man was knighted by Essex in Ireland in 1599, participated in the earl’s rebellion in 1601, and held a captaincy in the Low Countries at the time of his death in 1613.27

After Constable’s father died in 1600, his lands were leased to William Skipwith of Lincolnshire, who assigned his interest to Sir Henry Slingsby*, owner of a neighbouring estate; the latter also purchased the wardship for £114, though he surrendered custody to Constable’s uncle Sir William Fenwick in 1605.28 The Slingsbys presumably arranged Constable’s marriage into the Fairfax family in 1608, when the lands of Constable’s mother were assigned to Sir Thomas Fairfax I* and Sir Ferdinando Fairfax* in trust. Constable sold this estate to William Ingleby, Slingsby’s neighbour, for £9,160, shortly after he came of age.29 One hostile commentator ascribed the sale to ‘profuse extravagance and high living’, but while Constable was one of the first to purchase a baronetcy, much of the money may have been used to pay off inherited debts and the costs of wardship.30

Appointed custos of the East Riding bench shortly after attaining his majority, Constable was one of the justices Sir Thomas Hoby* accused of conspiring to prevent his indictment of suspected recusants at the Epiphany sessions of 1615. The only substantive charge Hoby brought against Constable was that he had adjourned the court for lunch despite the disapproval of a (largely puritan) minority. The clerk of the peace testified that Constable had been ‘much moved that such difference should arise upon so small occasion’, and given his later godly reputation, Constable’s anger was probably aroused by the fact that Hoby, custos of the North Riding, had presumed to interfere in his jurisdiction. After extensive proceedings, the case was apparently dismissed.31 In April 1616, the Crown’s reversion of Constable’s estates was granted to Viscount Fentoun, a Scottish courtier.32 Once again, financial straits may have forced Constable’s hand, although the death of a child in the first year of his marriage, which left him childless, relieved him of any pressing obligation to keep his inheritance intact. Two years later, he mortgaged part of his Holme estate to Fentoun for £800, possibly to raise funds to travel abroad, for which he received a licence in March 1617.33 He had returned home by the summer of 1620, when he was appointed collector of the Palatinate Benevolence in the East Riding.34

At the 1626 general election Constable stood as knight of the shire in place of his father-in-law, who had sat in the previous Parliament. Sir Thomas Wentworth*, fearing that ‘unless Sir William Constable stand, a great part of the East Riding will voice with [Sir John] Savile’*, arranged a pairing with Sir Francis Wortley*. Savile secured the senior seat, but Constable was returned for the junior, his rival’s son Sir Thomas* having stepped aside on the morning of the contest following a conveniently timed bout of ill-health.35 In the Commons, Wentworth’s associates took a sceptical view of the war against Spain, and while Constable attended the important conference of 7 Mar., when the king’s urgent need for supply was pressed by the 3rd earl of Pembroke, he remained unmoved by ambitious campaign plans. On 14 Mar. he was named to a committee to consider Sir Dudley Digges’s* motion for a West India Company to co-ordinate the privateering war against Spain, and on 3 May, when the House debated the payment date for an extra subsidy conceded by the House a week earlier, he supported the motion of Sir Thomas Grantham to delay collection until September 1627. On 17 May, after the arrest of (Sir) John Eliot* for implying that the king might have been implicated in King James’s death, Constable made a divisive motion for a suspension of business.36 During the Easter recess Savile and Constable led a Yorkshire delegation which persuaded the Privy Council to concede a 60 per cent reduction in the quota for Privy Seal loans charged upon the county. When Parliament resumed, Constable was named (1 June) to the committee for the bill to punish Sir Robert Sharpeigh for persisting with his collection of impositions on Newcastle coal following investigation by the Commons in 1624, another issue of local interest.37

On 15 Sept. 1626 Constable was removed from the East Riding bench, more because of his opposition to Savile, now in favour at Court, than any conspicuous hostility to the duke of Buckingham.38 However, it was obviously in the interest of Savile’s faction to portray Constable as an implacable opponent of the duke, and in October Viscount Dunbar described him as ‘in all things opposite to your Grace’.39 In the following spring, when his parish constable attempted to deliver a summons to pay the Forced Loan, Constable ‘returned answer by one of his servants that he was not at leisure, or had other business’.40 On 29 June 1627 the Privy Council ordered his arrest, together with Sir John Hotham* and they, like many other refusers, were ordered to continue in daily attendance indefinitely.41 Writing to Sir Ferdinando Fairfax, Constable described how Sir Humphrey May*, ‘coming from the Council ... was pleased to entertain some discourse with us, and to read a long lecture to us of our error in not hearkening to his moderate advice in the Parliament’. He also mentioned the plans of several of the detainees to sue for habeas corpus, and the confinement of Archbishop Abbot for refusing to licence Sibthorpe’s sermon in favour of the Forced Loan. However, he joked that ‘the prisons are the only merry places in town, and the air, as the matter is now used, is one and the same to all’.42 Though apparently released when the Council adjourned to follow the king on progress, he was rearrested in October, and not released again until the general amnesty of January 1628, shortly before the summoning of a new Parliament.43

At the 1628 election Constable was thought to have designs upon the county seat once more, but any such intentions were ended by Fairfax’s suggestion of a pairing between Henry Belasyse* and Wentworth. In return for this concession, Wentworth apparently used his contacts with William Coryton* to find Constable a seat at Callington, Cornwall, where the dominant interest was held by John Rolle*.44 Meanwhile, Constable’s ‘good friend’ Edmund, 1st earl of Mulgrave, vice-admiral of Yorkshire, recommended him to the Scarborough corporation as ‘well worthy your choice, both in respect of his abilities every way as in his good disposition and love to his country’. Constable wrote to the bailiffs himself, promising ‘to perform any office of a neighbour and friend for your town or any person whose kind respect I find in this’.45 Successful at both elections, Constable opted to sit for Scarborough, though in the 1629 session he was able to do Rolle a favour when, in the debate on the seizure of the latter’s merchandise for non-payment of customs dues, he moved to seek restitution of Rolle’s goods before punishing the customs farmers.46

Constable’s confinement as a Loan refuser hardened his opinions. In the subsidy debate of 4 Apr. 1628 he advocated a modest grant of four subsidies and scorned the Crown’s verbal promises to refrain from arbitrary measures: ‘methinks our confidence and assurance for our own safeties hath not been enough pressed. As we invoke no conditions in our gift, so I hope we may the [more] confidently expect assurance of grace, if not merit’. This mistrust of the royal prerogative surfaced again on 20 May, in a debate on the Lords’ amendments to the Petition of Right. The Lords objected to the description of the oath administered by the Forced Loan commissioners as ‘unlawful’, and suggested ‘not warrantable by the laws’ as an alternative. John Selden and John Glanville, both eminent lawyers, assured the House that the difference was merely semantic, but Constable suspected that the alteration might imply ‘a tacit concession that such a thing may be put upon us by some means above the law’. He made one more recorded speech during the session, on 5 June, supporting the naming of Buckingham in the Commons’ Remonstrance, in defiance of the king’s express wish, and reminding his colleagues that ‘the last Parliament this House made a protestation that while this man continued we could not look to prosper. We have seen the events; wished to do so again’.47 Constable’s opposition to the Forced Loan, and his obligation to Coryton for his return at Callington, probably explains his addition to the committee to examine the Cornish deputy lieutenants who were accused of trying to prevent Coryton’s election for the shire (9 May). He was also prominent enough to be named to the committee checking Selden’s precedents for the Petition of Right after the lawyer’s probity was called into question by Theophilus Howard*, earl of Suffolk (21 May) and the committee drafting the preamble for the subsidy bill (7 June). He was also named to the committee investigating the alleged leniency of Savile’s commission for compounding with Northern recusants (24 May), an enquiry promoted by Wentworth.48

Wentworth’s rise to power at Court in the autumn of 1628 secured Constable’s restoration to local office, and probably explains why he was less prominent in the 1629 session.49 He was sent to discover why Sir George Croke† had endorsed lord chief justice (Sir) Nicholas Hyde’s* order to release ten Jesuits from Newgate gaol, returning with the lame answer that Croke had arrived late and missed the case.50 He was named to committees concerned with bills to confirm the Somers Island Company’s charter (10 Feb.) and to settle part of Thomas Sutton’s estate (20 February). He was also required to consider a petition against (Sir) Edward Moseley* (7 Feb.) and rival bills to resolve the Sir Arnold Herbert* v. Lownes Chancery suit (21 February). On the final tumultuous day of the session, Constable was one of those who moved to read Eliot’s provocative propositions, despite the Speaker’s attempt to adjourn the House, although he was not punished for his modest part in this incident.51

Constable was summoned before the Privy Council in October 1630 to explain his failure to compound for neglecting to present himself for knighthood at the coronation; but he apparently escaped without payment.52 He may have been able to convince the Council of his inability to pay: in 1628 he had bought back the reversion of his estate from Fentoun (now earl of Kellie) for £2,700, and also redeemed his £800 mortgage.53 His sale of portions of his Flamborough estate to the sitting tenants in March 1630 suggests that his financial obligations may have become insupportable.54 By the end of the year he had remortgaged the manor of Holme to the earl of Kingston (Robert Pierrepont†) for £3,000.55 In 1634 he sold the entire Holme estate except the manor house to Sir Marmaduke Langdale for £6,500, though he paid £1,200 to lease a life interest at £300 p.a.56 A year later, he was summoned to London again by the Council ‘for some occasions for His Majesty’s special service’, apparently concerning an administrative blunder which left him liable to a double payment of the fee-farm on his lands.57

Constable subsequently remained near London, and at one point visited Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, presumably at the invitation of the Fleetwoods, to whom his wife was distantly related. He also undertook negotiations for the marriage of his wife’s nephew, Sir Thomas Fairfax†.58 Though there is no evidence that Constable was prosecuted for nonconformity, Sir Matthew Boynton* suggested he consider emigration, which presumably explains his sale of Flamborough to Sir Henry Griffith in 1636.59 Constable and Boynton were probably the two ‘gentlemen of the north’ who, returning home to settle their affairs in preparation for their departure, ‘found the county full of the reports of their going now. Those two (being deputy lieutenants of the shire) did not dare to move any further in sending up of men for fear of increasing the reports’.60 Boynton shipped stock and servants to Connecticut, but Constable, who made no such preparations, may have been less certain about his ultimate destination. In 1637 he secured a passport and assigned his remaining interest at Holme to Sir Ferdinando Fairfax and Thomas Widdrington†.61

By 1640 Constable and Boynton were members of a separatist congregation at Arnhem led by the millenarian John Archer.62 Returning to England in 1641, Constable entered the Long Parliament through a disputed election at Knaresborough which was resolved shortly before the outbreak of war.63 He swiftly raised a regiment for Parliament, and played an active part in all three civil wars. A regicide and councillor of state under the Rump, Constable regained his Holme estate when it was confiscated from Langdale, now a royalist exile, in 1651.64 He drew up his will on 13 Dec. 1654, asking to be buried ‘without ostentation’. His lands, settled in a separate deed, were presumably left to his wife, whom he made his executrix.65 He died on 10 June 1655 and was buried at Westminster Abbey, though as a regicide his body was disinterred and his estate seized after the Restoration.66

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Yorks. ERRO, Flamborough par. reg.; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 92, 198; C142/220/16.
  • 2. SO3/6, unfol. Mar. 1617; SO3/11, unfol. 17 Apr. 1637; J.T. Cliffe, Puritan Gentry, 202-3.
  • 3. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 291; Borthwick, St. Mary Bishophill sen. par. reg. 1, f. 17.
  • 4. C142/263/20/1.
  • 5. CB, i. 44.
  • 6. Borthwick, St. Mary Bishophill sen. par. reg. 1, f. 17.
  • 7. Yorks. ERRO, DDBE/27/2; C181/2, f. 181; 181/4, f. 1; 181/5, f. 166; 181/6, ff. 19, 46.
  • 8. APC, 1613-14, p. 298; C231/4, ff. 209, 262.
  • 9. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 6.
  • 10. C181/3, ff. 32, 209; 181/4, f. 36; 181/5, f. 203; 181/6, ff. 10, 17, 71, 93, 101.
  • 11. C212/22/20-3; E179/204/448.
  • 12. SCL, WWM, Strafford pprs. 12/50; Add. 28082, f. 80v.
  • 13. HUL, DDHA/18/35.
  • 14. J.T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry, 295; CJ, ii. 853b; iii. 533a; LJ, vi. 604a; vii. 364a.
  • 15. CJ, iii. 369a.
  • 16. CJ, vii. 348a.
  • 17. Add. Ch. 66608 and HUL, DDHA/18/34; Strafforde Letters, ii. 194.
  • 18. C.H. Firth and G. Davies, Reg. Hist. Cromwell’s Army, i. 254; ii. 399.
  • 19. CJ, iii. 154b.
  • 20. CCC, 843; J. Washbourn, Biblioteca Gloucester, pp. cxvii, cxxv.
  • 21. Add. 18777, f. 37v; LJ, vi. 55b; viii. 411a; ix. 500a.
  • 22. CJ, vi. 141a, 363a; vii. 42b.
  • 23. CJ, vi. 107b.
  • 24. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 197; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 288-91; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding). ii. 154.
  • 25. VCH Yorks. iii. 412-14.
  • 26. 1 Mary st. 2 c. 26; C66/1217; Add. 40135, ff. 22v, 31. The Holme estate was leased to family relations by 1573, see CPR, 1572-5, pp. 25-27.
  • 27. C142/263/20(1); J. Foster, Peds. N. and E. Riding Fams. sub, ‘Constable of Flamborough’, passim; HMC Hatfield, xi. passim; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, passim; APC, 1600-1, passim; Chamberlain Letters, i. 499. See also the Constable of Everingham seal on Add. 37951, f. 2v. For confusion between the two men, see DNB; Dict. Brit. Radicals.
  • 28. C54/2199/15; WARD 8/79, ff. 22v and unfol. (approx. f. 75); WARD 9/348, ff. 146v-7; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 69; Vis. Northumb. ed. Foster, 55; Add. 40135, f. 23; C2/Jas.I/S37/1.
  • 29. C54/2199/15; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), iii. 95.
  • 30. M. Noble, Lives of Eng. Regicides (1798), which was dedicated to the French regicides, offering, ‘as a prelude to your own fate, that of King Charles I’s judges’.
  • 31. STAC 8/175/4, ff. 1-2, 31-32 (esp. no. 14), pp. 36, 38. Even the prosecution witnesses could not corroborate the conspiracy charges.
  • 32. C66/2107/6; Add. 40135, f. 23.
  • 33. C54/2364/27; Add. 40135, f. 23; SO3/6, unfol. (Mar. 1617).
  • 34. Strafforde Letters, i. 6; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. 1603-42, iii. 339-43.
  • 35. Strafforde Letters, i. 32; HMC Hodgkin, 43.
  • 36. CJ, i. 832a; Procs. 1626, ii. 221-2; iii. 77, 147, 276; C. Russell, PEP, 306-7.
  • 37. APC, 1625-6, pp. 421-2; Procs. 1626, ii. 374n.
  • 38. C231/4, f. 209.
  • 39. SP16/37/28; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 227.
  • 40. SP16/60/52.
  • 41. APC, 1627, pp. 382, 418.
  • 42. Fairfax Corresp. ed. G.W. Johnson, i. 68-69; Gardiner, vi. 206-7, 213.
  • 43. APC, 1627-8, pp. 17, 75, 217; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 265.
  • 44. Wentworth Pprs. 278-9, 287.
  • 45. Scarborough Recs. ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO, xlvii), 187; N. Yorks. RO, MIC1320/582.
  • 46. CJ, i. 881a; CD 1629, pp. 234-5.
  • 47. CD 1628. ii. 308; iii. 493, 500; iv. 128.
  • 48. Ibid. ii. 376, 510-11, 593; iv. 178.
  • 49. C231/4, f. 262.
  • 50. CD 1629, pp. 82, 154, 219; Russell, 394.
  • 51. CD 1629, p. 240.
  • 52. APC, 1630-1, p. 93. Constable does not appear in the book of compounders, E407/35.
  • 53. C66/2466/5; HUL, DDHA/4/9, 54; Add. 40135, f. 23v.
  • 54. C54/2834/25.
  • 55. HUL, DDHA/4/10, 56, 57; Add. 40135, ff. 23v-24.
  • 56. C54/3010/31; HUL, DDHA/4/11, 62, 64, 65; Add. 40135, f. 24.
  • 57. PC2/45, f. 93; SO3/11, unfol. Aug. 1635; C66/2705/2; Add. 40135, f. 25. The Privy Council’s identification of Constable as possessor of Scarborough Castle is presumably a mistake for Flamborough.
  • 58. Fairfax Corresp. i. 296-303.
  • 59. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), ii. 154.
  • 60. Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls. (ser. 5), i. 213.
  • 61. Ibid. (ser. 4), vii. 168-9; SO3/11, unfol. (17 Apr. 1637); C54/3117/7.
  • 62. Cliffe, 202-3, 208; Dict. Brit. Radicals.
  • 63. Fairfax Corresp. ii. 260-70; CJ, ii. 725a.
  • 64. A. and O. ii. 520; C10/41/22, f. 1.
  • 65. PROB 11/248, f. 316v.
  • 66. Borthwick, St. Mary Bishophill sen. par. reg. 1, f. 17; LJ, xi. 32b.