LAWSON, Wilfrid (c.1545-1632), of Isel, Cumb.

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.1545, 2nd s. of Thomas Lawson (d.1559) of Little Usworth, Washington, co. Dur. and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Edward Darrell† of Littlecote, Wilts.1 educ. Trin. Camb. 1562; G. Inn 1564.2 m. 1572, Matilda (d. 21 Sept. 1624), da. of Richard Redman of Levens, Cumb., wid. of Christopher Irton of Threlkeld, Cumb. and Thomas Leigh of Isel, s.p.3 kntd. 18 Apr. 1604.4 d. 16 Apr. 1632.5

Offices Held

J.p. Cumb. by 1582-d.;6 sheriff, Cumb. 1582-3, 1597-8, 1606-7, 1612-13;7 lt. hon. of Cockermouth, Cumb. 1591-d.;8 commr. musters, Cumb. and Westmld. 1593,9 member, High Commission, York prov. 1599,10 oyer and terminer, Northern circ. by 1602-d.,11 border malefactors 1605, 1618, 1619,12 subsidy, Cumb. 1608, 1621-2, 1624;13 dep. lt. Cumb. by 1627;14commr. Forced Loan, Cumb. 1627.15


Lawson came from a Durham minor gentry family. His uncle Robert married an heiress and was elected for Northumberland in 1563. Lawson’s own marriage brought him an estate in Cumberland, and enabled him to buy out his nephew in the paternal property in county Durham.16 Better educated and a sounder Protestant than most of his neighbours, even such a zealous Catholic as Lord William Howard of Naworth confessed that he was ‘learned and sufficient’ on the county bench.17 As lieutenant of Cockermouth, Lawson was given ‘great countenance’ by the 9th earl of Northumberland, whom he kept informed with regular bulletins on the state of his holdings in Cumberland. With the earl’s support Lawson was elected knight of the shire for the second time in 1604.18

Following the opening of the first Stuart Parliament Lawson, who was knighted at Whitehall one month into the session, was named to three legislative committees. These concerned the naturalization of Lord Bruce, the Scottish master of the Rolls (4 May 1604), sheriffs’ accounts (5 May), and abuses by informers (1 June).19 On 8 Feb. 1605 Lawson was appointed to the new commission for the borders, renamed ‘the middle shires’ by royal command. He was the only salaried commissioner on the English side of the Western March, with a hundred marks a year and travelling expenses.20 On taking up his duties he wrote to the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) commending ‘the honest care and forwardness we find in the Scottish commissioners to the furtherance of the service and advancement of justice without partiality’, and was optimistic that ‘in short time the people here, formerly inured to all kind of vice, shall be brought to know God and yield due obedience to the king and his laws’.21 However, relations with the Scottish commissioners, and with his opposite number in Northumberland, Sir William Selby*, could not invariably be maintained at this level of cordiality. Within a week he had the embarrassing task of reporting that 29 of the 33 prisoners awaiting execution in Carlisle Castle had escaped.22

The Gunpowder Plot presented a greater threat to his career, since it was observed that, like his patron Northumberland, Lawson was absent from the opening of the second session of Parliament, having obtained permission from Salisbury on a somewhat specious plea of infirmity to remain in the north for gaol deliveries at Carlisle and Newcastle.23 Moreover, as Northumberland’s deputy at Cockermouth, he had recently been in company with the conspirator Thomas Percy, who was collecting and embezzling his employer’s Michaelmas rents in the north to finance the plot.24 Northumberland was lodged in the Tower for many years, and his estates were taken into the king’s hands. However, Lawson was under no immediate suspicion, and an order to hand over Cockermouth Castle to Sir Henry Widdringon* was rescinded on 19 Nov. by the Privy Council, who informed him they ‘would not prejudice your reputation, for we know your good service’.25 The borders remained quiet, despite Percy’s connections with the area; but when Parliament met again in the New Year Lawson considered it fitter for him to stay in the country than travel to London. On 5 May 1606 he wrote to the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, who had held the assizes on the Northern circuit in 1604, to apologize for his absence from Parliament.26

Lawson’s long series of reports on the Percy estates in Cumberland had been interrupted by the Gunpowder Plot. Once they resumed he wrote to Northumberland on 26 Oct. 1606 that ‘although this be the first time I wrote unto you since the beginning of your trouble, I trust you will not impute it to negligence’.27 He again missed the third session because of his duties as convener of the border commission. He gave both charge and judgment at the Carlisle gaol delivery, no other commissioner being willing to take the responsibility. His isolation cannot have surprised him, as the bishop of Carlisle had warned him on 11 Mar. 1607 to ‘expect to bear the whole burden yourself as concerns the English part’.28 In the fourth session his status as an expert on law enforcement was recognized by nomination to the committee for the gaols bill (10 May 1610) and to the conference with the Lords of 5 July 1610 to discuss justice on the borders.29

Lawson was re-elected in 1614, but left no trace on the records of the Addled Parliament, though in its closing days he sued out a pardon in Chancery for the escapes from gaol during his shrievalty.30 He continued to serve diligently on various local commissions, including that for the Forced Loan of 1626-7, by which time he was over 80 years old. It was alleged that after his wife’s death he proposed to her granddaughter, Matilda Irton, to whom he had taken a great liking; but the young lady civilly refused him on grounds of consanguinity.31 He died childless and intestate on 16 Apr. 1632, and was buried at Isel.32 The estate was inherited by a nephew William, whose son Wilfred represented Cumberland in 1659 and 1660.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Surtees, Dur. ii. 47.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 3. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxiv. 21.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 131.
  • 5. C142/486/106.
  • 6. Lansd. 35, f. 132; SP16/212, f. 10v.
  • 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 28.
  • 8. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxiv. 17.
  • 9. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 305.
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, ix. 397; xv. 394.
  • 11. C181/1, ff. 19v, 131v; 181/2, ff. 4, 333v; 181/3, ff. 8, 262v; 181/4, ff. 14v, 120.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 193; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, pp. 38, 96.
  • 13. SP14/31/1; 14/123/3; C212/22/21, 23.
  • 14. SP16/73/41.
  • 15. SP16/56/34.
  • 16. Surtees, Dur. ii. 46-7; J. Nicolson and R. Burn, Cumb. and Westmld. ii. 95.
  • 17. Naworth Household Bks. ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lxviii), 30, 418.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 268.
  • 19. CJ, i. 198b, 199b, 299b.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 193.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 151.
  • 22. Ibid. 160.
  • 23. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 238-43; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 237, 268.
  • 24. Northumb. Estate Accts. ed. M.E. James (Surtees Soc. clxiii), 167, 173, 228.
  • 25. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 240-2.
  • 26. Ibid. 253; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 258.
  • 27. Cumb. RO (Carlisle), D/Lec. 169.
  • 28. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 265, 268, 272; P. Williams, ‘Northern Borderland under the Early Stuarts’ in Hist. Essays Presented to David Ogg ed. H.E. Bell and R.L. Ollard, 10-11.
  • 29. CJ, i. 426b, 445b.
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 240.
  • 31. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxiv. 20, 21.
  • 32. Nicolson and Burn, Cumb. and Westmld. ii. 96.