RADCLIFFE (RATCLIFFE), George (1594-1657), of Overthorpe, Thornhill, Yorks. and Gray's Inn, Mdx.; later of Dublin Castle and Rathmines, co. Dublin

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



aft. 11 Apr. 1628

Family and Education

b. 4 Apr. 1594, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Nicholas Radcliffe of Overthorpe and Margaret, da. and coh. of Robert Marsh of Darton, Yorks.1 educ. privately (Sir George Savile*) 1605-6; Oldham sch., Lancs. (Mr. Hunt) 1607; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1609, aged 15, BA 1612, DCL 1643; G. Inn 1612, called 1618; ?King’s Inn, Dublin (hon.) 1634.2 m. ?(1) 21 Feb. 1622, Anne, da. of Sir Francis Trappes of Harrogate, Yorks. 1s.; ?(2) by 1635, ?Elizabeth (bur. 24 May 1659), da. of John Finch II* of the Mote and Christchurch, Canterbury, Kent, and Gray’s Inn, s.p.3 suc. fa. 1599;4 kntd. 1 Nov. 1633.5 d. 22 May 1657.6 sig. George Radcliffe.

Offices Held

Commr. survey, Hatfield Chase, Yorks., Lincs. and Notts. 1628;7 j.p. Cawood liberty, Yorks. 1630-41, Ripon liberty, Yorks. 1630-41; commr. to take accts., Yorks. (W. Riding) 1630, oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1631-41.8

Att.-gen., Council in the North, 1628-41;9 ancient, G. Inn 1630, bencher 1632-?d.;10 fee’d counsel, York by 1632;11 KC 1632-d.12

Commr. exacted fees 1630, [I] 1635;13 PC [I] 1633-40;14 commr. concealed lands [I] 1634-40, Connaught plantation [I] 1635-40.15

Farmer (jt.) customs [I] 1632-40.16

MP [I] 1634-5, 1640-1.17

Gent. of bedchamber, duke of York’s household 1646.18


A ninth cousin to the 6th earl of Sussex (Sir Edward Radcliffe*), George Radcliffe’s family were seated at Todmorden, near Huddersfield, from the fourteenth century. His own inheritance of 400 acres near Wakefield was modest, his mother purchasing his wardship for a mere £12 after his father’s death in 1599.19 Radcliffe’s life was shaped by his father’s patrons, the Saviles of Thornhill: his godfather, Sir George Savile*, taught him basic Latin grammar, and the cousin who tutored him at Oxford encouraged him to enter the legal profession ‘to make me serviceable to Sir George Savile’. The latter was dead by the time Radcliffe was called to the bar in 1618, but Savile’s widow introduced him to her brother, Sir Thomas Wentworth*, to whom he quickly became both legal adviser and confidant.20 This relationship was cemented by his marriage to Wentworth’s cousin Anne Trappes, whose aunt, the widow of Sir Robert Sidney†, 1st earl of Leicester, also retained him as counsel; in 1626-7 he briefly considered employment as the latter’s estate steward.21

Despite his close links to Wentworth, Radcliffe demonstrated little interest in politics until 1627, when he refused to pay the Forced Loan. Nor, being dependent on his professional income, did he sit in the Commons before 1628, although Wentworth could doubtless have found him a seat had he wished. His only recorded comment on Parliament before 1627 was made to his wife, who clearly regretted his long absences in London: ‘many good laws were made [in 1624]; but Michaelmas term is not shortened, which bill might have had your voice, I dare say’.22 Her misgivings redoubled after his incarceration in the Marshalsea with other Loan refusers in April 1627, when he promised her:

though I will not willingly give way to what I disapprove of in my judgment, yet when my opposition appears that it can do no good, I resolve not to stand out longer than is fit, nor thereby hazard mine own undoing. My answer, therefore, whensoever I am called, shall not be so peremptory but that I shall leave way to myself to come off when I see cause.

Throughout the summer, Radcliffe avoided confronting his wife with the unpleasant reality that his resistance to the Loan was likely to cost him his liberty for months, or even years, a fact that was almost certainly clear to him from the outset. His letters to his wife made light of his incarceration, and pointed out that those who had retracted their refusal were treated with derision. He also assured her that his prison lodgings cost very little, and insisted that ‘I had rather leave him [my son] a small estate than more with an hereditary stain or disgrace’. Nothing the Privy Council could threaten Radcliffe with can have equalled the entreaties of an anxious wife, and he constantly sought to reassure her that they would not be kept apart for long.23

Radcliffe’s resistance to the Loan was at the very least encouraged by, or perhaps even originated with Wentworth. The pair probably agreed that Radcliffe should make a stand against the Loan before the final deadline for payment expired, thus permitting Wentworth, then laying low in Yorkshire, to assess the impact a refusal would have at the Court and in the country, before committing himself to a definitive decision to pay or refuse.24 Yet while Radcliffe may originally have intended to concede payment under protest, the king’s obduracy raised the stakes on all sides and, once incarcerated, he could no more afford to back down than the government. He was therefore banished to Kent at the end of July, where he probably stayed with the dowager countess of Leicester at Sutton-at-Hone; this kept him in close contact with Wentworth, who lodged at nearby Dartford. The terms of Radcliffe’s detention were not onerous: his wife joined him, and at the beginning of November he was briefly allowed to return to Gray’s Inn to consult papers concerning the settlement of Lady Leicester’s jointure.25

As he had predicted back in May, Radcliffe was released shortly after Christmas. He does not appear to have sought election to the Parliament called a few weeks later, although he doubtless assisted Wentworth in the latter’s successful bid for the county seats. However, he was later returned for Callington, Cornwall on the interest of Wentworth’s ally William Coryton* after Sir William Constable, another of the Yorkshire Loan refusers, created a vacancy there by choosing to sit for Scarborough. The election indenture does not survive, but the writ was dated 11 Apr. 1628, and the return had reached Westminster by 17 May, when he was named to the committee appointed to scrutinize the Muscovy Company’s claim to a monopoly of the English whaling trade at Spitzbergen.26

Although the Members of the 1628 Parliament included a namesake, alderman John Ratcliffe of Chester, the two men had very different interests. It was clearly the Yorkshireman who played a key role in the debates on the whaling trade: his reports from the committee on 26 May and 25 June robustly backed the claims of the Hull whalers to a share in the trade, and attacked the Muscovy Company’s patent over the clause granting an illegal right to imprison interlopers; the patent was duly condemned in the final days of the session.27 Radcliffe also joined the protests against Sir Thomas Monson’s* monopoly of the drafting of legal process issuing from the Council in the North (30 May), and when Wentworth complained about a patent for collecting tolls on two bridges near Doncaster, the Yorkshire MPs plus Radcliffe were instructed to draft a petition of complaint to the king (20 June).28 If the records of debate demonstrate Radcliffe’s concern with local issues, his correspondence illustrates his interest in the high politics of the session, which culminated in the Lords’ attempts to water down the Commons’ drafts of the Petition of Right. His letters to his wife record his fluctuating hopes for the success of this venture, while he also took the trouble to secure a definitive text of a speech delivered by Wentworth on 23 May on the subject.29

Like most of Wentworth’s associates, Radcliffe took little part in the 1629 parliamentary session: as a lawyer, he was probably the ‘Mr. Ratcliffe’ named to the committee appointed to examine the Exchequer’s official justification of the decision to detain merchants’ goods for non-payment of Tunnage and Poundage (14 Feb.); while he was doubtless the man appointed to another committee to examine a complaint against the administration of the northern recusancy commission by Wentworth’s adversary Sir John Savile* (16 February).30

After Wentworth made his peace with the Court in July 1628, Radcliffe aspired to a little preferment of his own, lobbying for the recorderships of Doncaster and Pontefract. His hopes were frustrated, but he busied himself scrutinizing ‘a patent or two to be made ready for the king to sign for a friend of mine’, almost certainly those for Wentworth’s peerage and appointment as president of the North. By the beginning of December he had been promised the post of attorney-general at York: the incumbent, Sir William Dalton, was induced to resign by the offer of a judgeship at York, while James Howell*, secretary to the outgoing lord president Sunderland, sold his reversion for cash.31 Wentworth’s backing opened up other opportunities: Gray’s Inn suddenly noticed his merits, offering him unusually rapid promotion as an ancient, then as a full bencher; he also acquired a one-eighth share in the Irish customs farm from Sir Arthur Ingram*. Yet his rapid rise attracted criticism: one of the Irish customs officials noted ‘I do conceive him to have better judgment in Littleton, Plowden and Fitzherbert [law reports] than he hath in custom businesses’; while Sir Thomas Gower complained that he was refused assistance by the York lawyers when he sought to bring a lawsuit against Radcliffe, whose disfavour could prejudice their careers.32

As one of Wentworth’s intimates, it was natural that Radcliffe should go to Ireland with the new lord deputy in 1633. However, unlike his colleagues Christopher Wandesford* and Philip Mainwaring*, he acquired no official post in the Irish administration. The earl of Cork recomended him as master of the Rolls in 1632, and he was once rumoured to be in contention for the mastership of the Wards; his skills would certainly have equipped him for a judgeship or the offices of attorney- or solicitor-general. However, his lack of formal preferment can hardly be interpreted as a snub: he was knighted and made a privy councillor within months of his arrival, and Wentworth used him in the role of trouble-shooter, advising at least two of his English correspondents that:

there is no minister on this side that knows anything I either write or intend, excepting the master of the Rolls [Wandesford] and Sir George Radcliffe, for whose assistance in this government, and comfort to myself amidst this generation I am not able sufficiently to pour forth my humble acknowledgements to His Majesty. Sure I were the most solitary man without them, that ever served a king in such a place.33

Radcliffe often acted as a supernumerary law officer: he presented a case to the Privy Council within months of his arrival in Dublin, and was occasionally joined with the Irish judges to rule on contentious legal issues, while he played an active part in the commissions for concealed lands and for plantation of Connaught.34 Returned to the Irish Parliament of 1634 for Armagh city, he drafted legislation before the session began, and was commended by Wentworth for his activities within the House. Moreover, at a crucial Privy Council debate on the management of the Parliament, he was one of the Wentworth clique who supported an early motion for supply, before Old and New English MPs made common cause against the lord deputy, a recommendation which was opposed by many of the New English councillors.35

Radcliffe’s sojourn in Ireland made his fortune. He was allowed to appoint a deputy at York, and awarded an annuity of £500 to compensate for the loss of his English legal practice, a lucrative bonus given that he had probably been retained by few clients apart from Wentworth, Lady Leicester and the Holles family since 1627.36 Wentworth’s economic reforms led to a boom in exports, and his share in the Irish customs yielded him £2,600 in 1637.37 Much of this income was invested in land: he acquired 560 acres at Rathmines, just south of Dublin, and on a trip to England in 1637 he bought 2,000 oz. of silver plate and an interest in the manors of Fairburn and Colton, Yorkshire. At the same time he joined with Wentworth in purchasing an estate of up to 18,000 acres in county Sligo, including the shire town; the vendor’s title was questionable at law, but Radcliffe was to remain in possession as long as Wentworth held office.38

Radcliffe’s role as Wentworth’s confidant acquired fresh significance after the outbreak of rebellion in Scotland, when the lord deputy depended upon informed messengers able to justify his policies to the king. Radcliffe’s private conversations with Charles about the earl of Antrim’s plans to invade the Western Isles in the spring of 1639 allowed him to alert Wentworth to some of the dangers of the venture. He also maintained contacts with his master’s friends and allies in and around the Court, and did what he could to prevent Irish petitioners from poisoning the king’s mind against the absent lord deputy.39 In addition to this quasi-ambassadorial role, Radcliffe was sent to encourage the Yorkshire deputy lieutenants to greater efforts in 1638, and in the following year he arranged finance for Wentworth’s own militia regiment during their stint in the Carlisle garrison.40 However, when Wentworth left Wandesford and Radcliffe in charge upon his departure for London in the autumn of 1639, they proved to be unprepared for the responsibility. To their credit, they secured the return of a large Protestant majority to the Irish Parliament of 1640, when Radcliffe was himself returned for county Sligo, and his son for the borough. However, when Wentworth (now earl of Strafford) missed the opening of the session through adverse weather, they lost the initiative within the Irish Privy Council, where their master’s motion for a grant of six subsidies from the Commons was reduced to four, reinforced with a vague promise to grant additional funds as required.41

Strafford, now in poor health, took Radcliffe to England with him in June 1640, but the latter returned to Dublin in October, charged to secure the passage of the bill to confirm the plantation of Connaught. Instead, he was recalled to London to answer the same charges of treason already brought against Strafford by the Long Parliament, largely to ensure that he was unable to testify on his friend’s behalf.42 The Irish Commons forwarded its own Remonstrance against Strafford’s administration, which was rebutted in trenchant fashion by Radcliffe, acting on the earl’s behalf, but this merely provoked his Irish adversaries into formulating their own impeachment charges against Radcliffe and three other senior Dublin officials. After Strafford’s execution, the Irish Commons continued its investigation of Radcliffe in a desultory fashion, but no formal impeachment charges were ever laid.43

Radcliffe spent most of the Civil War at Oxford. At the end of 1645 the king intended him to convey the duke of York to Ireland, but following the rapid collapse of the royalist cause he delivered the duke to lord admiral Northumberland (Algernon Percy*) at London, and went into exile in France.44 His landed income had long since been seized: most of his Irish estates were held by the rebel Confederates, while the English Commons assigned his Yorkshire lands to those who had complained against him before the war; then sold them off in 1651.45 Meanwhile, Radcliffe became embroiled in the politics of the exiled Court: in October 1650 he and (Sir) Edward Herbert*, believing that Charles II had been killed at the battle of Dunbar, persuaded the duke of York to accompany them to Brussels, where they constituted themselves his Household and pursued a harebrained scheme to marry him to a daughter of the duke of Lorraine.46 James returned to Paris once the money ran out, but the incident left many of the king’s servants deeply suspicious of Radcliffe’s motives, even after he helped to foil an attempt by the Queen Mother to convert the duke of Gloucester to Catholicism.47 Expelled from Paris under the terms of the alliance of October 1655 between France and the Cromwellian regime, Radcliffe died at Sluis on 22 May 1657. He was buried three days later at Flushing, where his funeral was attended by a large number of exiles, with the conspicuous exceptions of lord chancellor Sir Edward Hyde† and secretary of state (Sir) Edward Nicholas*. Given the circumstances of his later years, he is unlikely to have left a will. His wife followed him to the grave two years later, but after 1660 his son was regranted the family’s county Sligo estate. The latter died without heirs in 1670.48

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. T.D. Whitaker, Radcliffe Corresp. ped. at front of vol.; C142/259/56.
  • 2. Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 321; Whitaker, 11; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 231; C. Kenny, King’s Inns and the Kdm. of Ire. 150, 273.
  • 3. Whitaker, ped., 288; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 371; Regs. Westminster Abbey, ed. J.L. Chester (Harl. Soc. Reg. x), 151.
  • 4. C142/259/56.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 202.
  • 6. CSP Thurloe, vi. 326.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 499.
  • 8. SP17/A/12; C181/4, ff. 27v, 55, 73v.
  • 9. R. Reid, Council in the North, 490.
  • 10. PBG Inn, i. 294, 311.
  • 11. W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 387.
  • 12. List of Eng. Law Officers comp. J. Sainty (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. vii), 85.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 236-7; CSP Ire. 1733-47, p. 99.
  • 14. Strafforde Letters, i. 134.
  • 15. CSP Ire. 1633-47, p. 56; Strafforde Letters, i. 454; ii. 76, 140.
  • 16. HMC Various, viii. 193-4; CSP Ire. 1647-60, pp. 237-9.
  • 17. H. Kearney, Strafford in Ire. 256-7, 262.
  • 18. Charles I in 1646 ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxiii), 3.
  • 19. Whitaker, ped.; Peds. Yorks. Fams. comp. J. Foster; C142/259/56; WARD 9/160, ff. 336v-7.
  • 20. Wentworth Pprs. 322-4 and peds. at front of vol.; Whitaker, 101-2, 124, 176-8; Strafforde Letters, i. 33.
  • 21. Whitaker, 128-35, 143-4; APC, 1627-8, p. 135.
  • 22. Whitaker, 124. For the bill to abbreviate Michaelmas term, see Kyle thesis, 288-91.
  • 23. Whitaker, 138, 145-6, 148-57.
  • 24. Strafforde Letters, i. 37-8; Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxv), 350; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 219-23; R. Cust, ‘Wentworth’s change of sides in the 1620s’, Pol. World of Wentworth ed. J.F. Merritt, 74-6.
  • 25. APC, 1627, p. 449; 1627-8, p. 135; Wentworth Pprs. 262-3, 265, 270, 274.
  • 26. APC, 1627-8, p. 217; Wentworth Pprs. 283-6; C219/41B/117; CD 1628, iii. 449.
  • 27. CD 1628, iii. 610-12, 616, 618; iv. 468, 472, 474, 476-7; KINGSTON-UPON-HULL.
  • 28. CD 1628, iv. 31, 389.
  • 29. Whitaker, 159-62; Wentworth Pprs. 297-8; CD 1628, iii. 584-606, 612-13; C. Russell, PEP, 372-4.
  • 30. CJ, i. 930a-b.
  • 31. Whitaker, 163-4, 167-74; Reid, 410, 490, 498; Strafforde Letters, i. 50.
  • 32. HMC Var. viii. 35-6, 193-4; CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 450-1, 469, 538.
  • 33. Shaw, ii. 202; Strafforde Letters, i. 99-100, 114-15, 134, 194, 217; Kearney, 35-6.
  • 34. Strafforde Letters, i. 99, 237, 379; ii. 76, 171, 407.
  • 35. Ibid. i. 237, 258-9, 277, 279, 345-53; Kearney, 53-6.
  • 36. Whitaker, 170-1; Holles Letters, 435-9, 443-7; CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 675; 1633-47, p. 11.
  • 37. Strafforde Letters, ii. 137; Kearney, 163-5, 180; CSP Ire. 1647-60, pp. 237-9.
  • 38. HMC Egmont, i. 93; Whitaker, 247-9; Civil Survey, co. Dublin ed. R.C. Simington, 302, 308 ; CSP Ire. 1633-47, p. 180; C8/76/136; M. O’ Dowd, Power, Pols. and Land, 115-17.
  • 39. Strafforde Letters, ii. 181, 209, 225-6, 303, 341, 365; HMC Hastings, iv. 81-2; J.H. Ohlmeyer, Civil War and Restoration in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 80-89.
  • 40. Strafforde Letters, ii. 193, 354.
  • 41. CSP Ire. 1633-47, p. 224; Whitaker, 195; A. Clarke, Old English in Ire. 126-8; Strafforde Letters, ii. 394-5.
  • 42. Whitaker, 204-6, 210-12; CSP Dom, 1640-1, pp. 246-7, 257, 303; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, i. 285.
  • 43. CSP Ire. 1633-47, pp. 252-6, 266-7, 309; CJ [I] i. 357-8.
  • 44. HMC Hastings, iv. 92-3; Charles I in 1646, pp. 2-3; M. Ashley, James II, 21-2.
  • 45. CCC, 1767; A. and O. ii. 520-5.
  • 46. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion, v. 162-4, 225; CSP Dom, 1650, pp. 320-2, 373, 437; Nicholas Pprs. I ed. G.F. Warner (Cam. Soc. ser. 2. xl), 195, 198, 200, 213, 220, 247; HMC Bath, ii. 97-8.
  • 47. Nicholas Pprs. I, 296, 301-2; Nicholas Pprs. II ed. G.F. Warner (Cam. Soc. ser. 2. l), 34, 109-11, 119-21, 131-4, 151-4, 162-4, 166-7; HMC Bath, ii. 105, 110.
  • 48. CSP Thurloe, vi. 325-6; O’ Dowd, 137.