RADCLIFFE, Sir Edward (1550/9-1643), of Elstow, Beds.; later of Barton, Cambs., Woodham Walter, Essex and Gorhambury, nr. St. Albans, 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. 1550/9,1 2nd s. of Sir Humphrey Radcliffe† of Elstow (d.1566) and Isabel, da. and h. of Edmund Harvey of Elstow.2 m. (1) 1581/3, Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Petre† of Ingatestone, Essex, wid. of John Gostwick of Willington, Beds., s.p.;3 (2) 30 May 1594, Jane (bur. 1 Dec. 1633), da. of (Sir) Francis Hynde† of Madingley, Cambs., wid. of William West of Marsworth, Bucks. and John Catesby of Newnham, Goldington, Beds., s.p.;4 (3) 22 May 1634, Eleanor (d. 20 Jan. 1667), da. of Sir Richard Wortley of Wortley, Yorks., wid. of Sir Henry Lee, 1st bt. of Quarendon, Bucks., s.p.5 suc. bro. Thomas† by 1586, mother 1594, cos. as 6th earl of Sussex 1629;6 kntd. by 30 May 1594.7 d. c.July 1643.8 sig. Edw[ard] Radclyffe.

Offices Held

J.p. Beds. 1584-1632; freeman, Portsmouth, Hants 1593;9 sheriff, Beds. 1598-9;10 dep. lt. Beds. 1602;11 commr. depopulations, Beds. 1607,12 aid 1609,13 charitable uses 1611,14 sewers, Gt. Fens. 1618, preservation of game, Cambs. 1622.15


Radcliffe began life as the younger son of a younger son of the 1st earl of Sussex, and only inherited the earldom because of his own longevity and the failure of the senior branch of the family. In 1553 his mother’s family assigned a Crown grant of the site (and 573 acres of the demesnes) of the dissolved nunnery of Elstow, just outside Bedford, to his father, Sir Humphrey, together with the rectories of Elstow, Willshampstead and Kempston. This estate, and his Court connections, apparently gave Sir Humphrey sufficient status to represent Bedfordshire five times during the 1550s.16

Sir Humphrey’s death in 1566 deprived the family of much of their local influence, but Radcliffe’s brother-in-law Henry Cheke was returned for Bedford in 1571 and 1572, and his elder brother Thomas† was unsuccessfully nominated for one of the county seats in 1584 by his cousin the 4th earl of Sussex (Sir Henry Radcliffe†).17 Radcliffe himself, who succeeded his brother in 1586,18 presumably used Sussex as his parliamentary patron until the earl’s death in December 1593, but his own local standing apparently served to secure his return for Bedfordshire at the next three elections. He left little trace on the Commons’ proceedings during 1604-10. On 28 Mar. 1604 he was one of the delegation sent to deliver the House’s address about the Buckinghamshire election dispute to the king. He was later appointed to help prepare the agenda for conferences with the Lords about religion (19 Apr. 1604; 10 Apr. 1606), and was named to committees for bills about religion (4 June 1604; 7 Apr. 1606), purveyance (26 Feb. 1610) and some private estates. He left no trace at all on the records of the 1606-7 session.19

In addition to the Elstow estate, Radcliffe inherited on his mother’s death in 1594 a life interest in nearby Houghton Grange, a Crown lease of further property in Elstow and (possibly) an extent of lands worth £100 a year in Riseley, Bedfordshire. He was probably the grantee of a 50-year lease of the manor of Denny, Cambridgeshire in 1595, and in 1609 he and his relative Robert, 5th earl of Sussex briefly obtained a patent for concealed lands.20 However, his means must have been comparatively slender for a man with pretensions to county status.21 His early marriages, to widows with substantial jointure interests in Bedfordshire, were clearly intended to address this deficiency: the first had a life interest in the manors of Willington and Cople, a few miles to the east of his own estate; and the second brought him a lease of the manor of Newnham, just outside Bedford, and ex-chantry lands in Ashwell, Hertfordshire.22

Radcliffe probably lived beyond his modest means, either at Court, where his sister Mary served as chief lady of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth,23 or in the country, as he was gradually forced to sell most of his estates. In 1601 he alienated his interests in Kempston for an annuity of £48, and in 1612, possibly at the behest of lord treasurer Salisbury (Sir Robert Cecil†), he was granted protection from his creditors for a year.24 Over the next five years he disposed of his main estates with the consent of his nephew and heir general, Sir Thomas Cheke*, and by 1617 he was living near his wife’s family at Barton, Cambridgeshire.25 Most men would have been keen to preserve their patrimony, but Radcliffe, with few close relatives and no hope of children, had little incentive. The sales apparently stabilized his finances, as he was able to lend £500 to Charles, Lord Lambart* in 1622, and in the following year he bought a lease of an extent on the manor of Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.26

Radcliffe was the reversionary heir to most of his family’s extensive estates in Essex and Norfolk, an inheritance which must have seemed a remote prospect until 1619-20, when the sons of Robert, 5th earl of Sussex died in quick succession.27 Sussex, like his cousin, was heavily indebted, and, with Radcliffe’s consent as heir presumptive, he disposed of most of his estates during the 1620s. When Radcliffe succeeded as 6th earl in 1629, he inherited little more than a life interest in the manors of Burnham and Woodham Walter, Essex, worth perhaps £1,100 a year.28

Radcliffe’s second wife died in 1633, whereupon he quickly married another widow. By 1640 the couple were living at Gorhambury, Hertfordshire, which they presumably leased from Sir Thomas Meautys*, whose cousin Frances had been the mistress and ultimately the second wife of Robert, 5th earl of Sussex. The countess was an outspoken supporter of Parliament during the summer of 1642, although the disorder which followed the outbreak of war made her more cautious.29 Radcliffe’s views on the conflict are not recorded, and, as he claimed to be nearly 90 in 1640, he may well have been too old to care about the war. He died, probably intestate, at Gorhambury in July 1643.30 His widow subsequently married Robert, 2nd earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*) and Edward, 2nd earl of Manchester (Edward Montagu*).

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. CPR, 1558-60, p. 2; CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 75.
  • 2. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 64-5.
  • 3. Ibid. The marriage took place between Gostwick’s death on 7 June 1581 and the probate of the will on 10 Oct. 1583, see Beds. RO, ABP/W1583/134; C142/194/9.
  • 4. Vis. Beds. 64-5; F.A. Blaydes, Genealogia Bedfordiensis, 121; PROB 11/80, f. 141.
  • 5. Vis. Beds. 64-5; Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 140-1; CP (earl of Sussex).
  • 6. E112/68/4; PROB 6/3, f. 195; CP (earl of Sussex).
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 90; Blaydes, 121.
  • 8. HMC 7th Rep. 444.
  • 9. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 350.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 3.
  • 11. Beds. Muster Lists ed. N. Lutt (Beds. Rec. Soc. lxxi), 56.
  • 12. C205/5/3.
  • 13. E179/283, vol. ‘commrs. for the aid’.
  • 14. Beds. RO, L.24/108-9.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 321; 181/3, f. 77.
  • 16. Vis. Beds. 48, 64-5; CPR, 1553, pp. 232-3.
  • 17. Northants. RO, Stopford-Sackville 239.
  • 18. PROB 6/3, f. 195.
  • 19. CJ, i. 157a, 231b, 294b, 296b, 400a, 951a.
  • 20. APC, 1592-3, pp. 176-8; CPR, 1572-5, p. 215; E112/68/4; C66/1429/26; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 505.
  • 21. CPR, 1558-60, p. 2.
  • 22. C142/194/9; PROB 11/80, ff. 140-2; C2/Chas.I/R38/51; 2/Chas.I/L64/88.
  • 23. P. Wright, ‘A change in direction: the ramifications of a female Household, 1558-1603’, Eng. Court ed. D. Starkey, 150; C54/2267/10.
  • 24. C54/2134/3; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 478; 1611-18, p. 110.
  • 25. C54/2267/10; Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. ii. 100-1; VCH Beds. iii. 281, 304, 328.
  • 26. C2/Chas.I/L6/64, f. 4; 2/Chas.I/L37/71, f. 2; C8/30/24.
  • 27. C142/241/109; CP (earl of Sussex).
  • 28. C2/Chas.I/H11/68; 2/Chas.I/M13/30; 2/Chas.I/S2/52; 2/Chas.I/S9/22; 2/Chas.I/S54/48; 2/Chas.I/S81/18.
  • 29. HMC 7th Rep. 434-44.
  • 30. Ibid. 444.