KEIGHTLEY, Thomas (1580-1663), of Mincing Lane, London; later of Hertingfordbury Park, Herts

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. 28 Mar. 1580,1 1st s. of John Keightley, yeoman, of Trimpley, Kidderminster, Worcs. and Whittington, Kinver, Staffs., and Elizabeth, da. of one Hill, wid. of one Dawson. educ. appr. skinner, London 1597.2 m. 4 Mar. 1616,3 Rose (d.1682), da. of Thomas Evelyn of Long Ditton, Surr., 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.).4 suc. fa. 1619.5 d. 22 Feb. 1663.6

Offices Held

Member, Virg. Co. 1609,7 cttee. and auditor 1619-24;8 freeman, Merchant Adventurers’ Co. 1615,9 Skinners’ Co. 1616, asst. 1628, warden 1636-7, 1638-9, master 1641-2;10 member, E.I. Co. 1618,11 cttee. 1622-3, by 1625, 1638-9,12 asst. Somers Is. Co. 1623.13

Member, Council for Virg. 1620.14

Member, common council, London by 1640;15 commr. assessment, Herts. 1644, 1649-52, 1657,16 sheriff 1650-1.17


Keightley, a yeoman’s son brought up on the border of Worcestershire and Staffordshire, came to London at the age of 17 as an apprentice skinner. The fortune that he made through trade elevated him to gentry status, and his funeral monument describes him as the noble restorer of his family.18 Despite his initial training, Keightley spent his early career in Germany, employed as a local factor by English merchant adventurers, though his Virginia Company investment in 1609 demonstrated his interest in other mercantile ventures. The Cockayne Project of 1614 doubtless disrupted his German operations, and around this time he returned to London, finally becoming free of the Skinners’ Company in 1616, more than a decade after completing his apprenticeship. In 1619, the year that he inherited some land at Kidderminster from his father, he confirmed his growing reputation in the capital by becoming a director of the Virginia Company. He was appointed the following year to the Council for Virginia, the government body guiding colonial developments in America.19

Keightley’s prominence in the Virginia Company may have been linked to his marriage in 1616, as his wife’s uncle, Sir William Hervey I*, was stepfather to the 3rd earl of Southampton, the Company’s dominant figure.20 It was almost certainly the earl who provided Keightley with his Commons’ seat in 1621, as Southampton was a trustee of the estates of Mountjoy Blount, one of Bere Alston’s main electoral patrons, and had already secured the election there in 1614 of his client Sir Richard White.21 Keightley’s parliamentary business was almost entirely trade-related. On 6 Mar. he moved for Sir Nicholas Salter to be questioned, as he had ‘a great hand’ in procuring the bullion employed by the gold and silver thread patentees. During the debate on the financial consequences of the ill-fated Cockayne project, he drew on his experience as a Merchant Adventurer to outline the current situation in Germany: ‘beyond sea they make great store of cloths; and since the project of dyeing and drying came up, they find such employment that it is not possible to put that down but by a low rate of our cloths’ (13 March). On the same day he was named to the committee for the bankruptcy bill, and in the debate following its report on 24 May he defended the exclusion of aliens from its benefits: ‘strangers have opportunity to transport their estates when they mean to break, and being not liable to the penalties of bankrupts, they are not fit to partake of the benefits against bankrupts’. Indirectly representing the Virginia Company’s interests on 10 Apr., he noted that although tobacco was a relatively new crop in Spain, it was already providing the government there with £50,000 a year in customs revenues. Such informed comments attracted attention in the House, and on 19 Apr. Keightley was appointed to help prepare the agenda for a grand committee debate on trade. He was also nominated to draw up a list of the monopolies to be presented to the king in the petition of grievances (16 May). His only other committee appointment concerned the River Wey navigation bill, possibly of interest to his wife’s Surrey-based family (6 March). Keightley left no mark on the records of the second sitting. With his patron Southampton and his Virginia Company colleague Sir Edwin Sandys discouraged from attending, he may have opted to maintain a low profile himself.22

Keightley helped to finance a voyage to North America during 1621, and remained an active member of the Virginia Company until its dissolution three years later. In December 1623 he was accused of denouncing as ‘neither just nor honest’ the government’s demand for the surrender of the Company’s charter. His accuser, William Canning, who belonged to the rival faction on the board, also assaulted him in the City. However, Keightley was discharged by the Privy Council after producing 24 witnesses, while a London jury awarded him £20 damages for the physical attack.23 Keightley remained on close terms with Sandys, who in 1629 named him as an overseer of his will. Nevertheless, he seems to have reviewed his financial operations following the Virginia Company’s collapse, for he also left the East India Company’s board in 1625. Two years later he invested in a small country estate, Hertingfordbury Park, which he purchased from the executors of Sir William Harington*. He also acquired a coat of arms, closely modelled on the heraldic device of a Worcestershire gentleman, Sir Philip Kighley*, doubtless with a view to implying some distant kinship.24

Keightley apparently focused on his career in the Skinners’ Company during the 1630s, serving twice as warden, and finally becoming master in 1641. He also briefly rejoined the East India Company’s board, but refused to continue after July 1639. He fined for the office of sheriff of London that year, and that of alderman in 1641, though the latter decision was probably influenced by the prevailing political crisis.25 A member of the city’s common council, he had been appointed in December 1640 to the corporation’s committee for parliamentary affairs, but found himself at odds with London’s more radical elements. In early 1642 he signed the petition protesting against the parliamentarian coup whereby the city’s committee of safety had assumed control of the London militia. He also helped to present this document to the Commons on 24 Feb., mentioning in passing that he was a former Member.26 Firmly identified as a royalist sympathizer, he was assessed at £600 in 1643 by the committee for the advance of money. However, he must have changed his allegiance soon afterwards, for by the time he completed his payment two years later, he had been named as a commissioner of assessment in Hertfordshire, which was parliamentarian territory. He certainly accepted the Commonwealth regime, serving as county sheriff in 1650-1, though he initially fell from favour again under the Protectorate.27 Keightley seems in middle age to have favoured Arminianism, since he sent his sons to Peterhouse, Cambridge during the mastership of John Cosin. Nevertheless, he was greatly distressed when they both converted to Catholicism, to which they had been exposed while travelling on the Continent with their cousin, the diarist John Evelyn, in the early 1650s.28

Keightley drew up his will on 27 Nov. 1662, bequeathing just £100 to his younger son, and appointing his wife Rose as residual legatee and executrix. It is unclear whether his heir, William, was still in disgrace, but his children were provided with £1,500. Keightley died three months later, and was buried at Hertingfordbury, as he had requested. Rose outlived him by nearly two decades, retaining her ‘very comely’ looks right up until her death. William’s son Thomas married the youngest daughter of the 1st earl of Clarendon (Edward Hyde†), and sat in the Irish House of Commons from 1695 to 1714. However, Keightley was the only member of his family returned to the Westminster Parliament.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Tim Venning / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 205.
  • 2. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xvii), 30; Soc. Gen. Kinver par. reg.; GL, ms 30719/1, f. 232.
  • 3. H. Evelyn, Hist. of Evelyn Fam. 515.
  • 4. Clutterbuck, ii. 205; Vis. London, 30; St. Dunstan-in-the-East (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxix), 52, 54, 56, 61, 63-5, 68, 181, 194, 213.
  • 5. Worcs. RO, wills 1619, no. 165.
  • 6. Clutterbuck, ii. 205.
  • 7. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 224.
  • 8. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 213, 229; ii. 536.
  • 9. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 326.
  • 10. GL, ms 30719/2, f. 104; 30708/3.
  • 11. CSP Col. E.I. 1617-21, p. 142.
  • 12. Ibid. 1622-4, p. 121; 1625-9, p. 80; Rabb, 326; A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, ii. 65; Ct. Mins. of E.I. Co. 1635-9 ed. E.B. Sainsbury, 306.
  • 13. Info. from Professor Ruth Clinefelter.
  • 14. Recs. Virg. Co. i. 383.
  • 15. V. Pearl, London and Outbreak of Puritan Revolution, 196.
  • 16. A. and O. i. 539; ii. 300, 665, 1070.
  • 17. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 64.
  • 18. GL, ms 30719/1, f. 232; Clutterbuck, ii. 205.
  • 19. W.-R. Baumann, Merchants Adventurers and Continental Cloth-Trade, 349; Worcs. RO, wills 1619, no. 165.
  • 20. Diary of John Evelyn ed. E.S. de Beer, i. 137; CP, vi. 516.
  • 21. PROB 11/108, f. 2v; J.J. Alexander, ‘Bere Alston as a Parl. Borough’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xli. 153.
  • 22. CJ, i. 539b, 541b, 551b, 582b, 622a; CD 1621, ii. 288; iv. 366; vi. 60-1; A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project, 401; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 411.
  • 23. Recs. Virg. Co. iii. 513; APC, 1623-5, p. 138; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 146.
  • 24. PROB 11/156, f. 198v; Clutterbuck, ii. 202; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 55.
  • 25. Ct. Mins. of E.I. Co. 306; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), ii. 114; Beaven, i. 183; ii. 65.
  • 26. Pearl, 195-6, 207; CJ, ii. 451b-2a; Jnls. Jan.-Mar. 1642, p. 457.
  • 27. CCAM, 192.
  • 28. Al. Cant.; Diary of John Evelyn, iii. 633-4.
  • 29. PROB 11/310, ff. 152a-3; Clutterbuck, ii. 205; Diary of John Evelyn, iv. 239; Oxford DNB, xxxi. 37.