WORTLEY, Sir Francis, 1st Bt. (1591-1652), of Wortley Hall, Tankersley, 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



c. May 1624

Family and Education

b. 15 Aug. 1591,1 1st s. of Sir Richard Wortley of Wortley Hall and Elizabeth, da. of Edward Boughton† of Cawston, Warws.; bro. of Edward*.2 educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1609; G. Inn 1624; MA Camb. 1635-6.3 m. (1) settlement 28 Nov. 1610, Grace (d.1615), da. of (Sir) William Brouncker† of Melksham, Wilts., 1s. 1da.; (2) 19 Apr. 1625, Hester, da. of George Smithies, goldsmith, of London, wid. of Christopher Eyre, merchant, of Coleman Street, London, 1da.4 suc. fa. 1603;5 kntd. 15 Jan. 1611;6 cr. bt. 29 June 1611.7 d. by 13 Sept. 1652.8 sig. Fra[ncis] Wortley.

Offices Held

Gent. of privy chamber extraordinary to Prince Henry c.1610-12,9 to Charles I 1630-at least 1641.10

Member, Virg. Co. 1610, Guiana Co. 1627, E.I. Co. by 1628.11

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) by 1614-at least 1641,12 Derbys. 1619-at least 1623,13 Notts. 1629-37,14 liberties of Southwell and Scrooby Notts., 1627-at least 1641, custos. rot. 1630-at least 1639; commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1617-41, Midland circ. 1630-42, sewers, W. Riding 1623-at least 1631, Yorks., Notts and Lincs. 1629, 1634-7, Yorks. and Notts. 1635;15 dep. lt. Derbys. by 1621-at least 1624;16 steward, Barnsley and Dodsworth manors, Derbys. 1621;17 commr. subsidy, Derbys. 1621-2, 1624, W. Riding 1621-2, 1624, 1629, 1641-2,18 Forced Loan, W. Riding 1627,19 array, Yorks. 1642.20

Capt. vol. horse 1640, col. (roy.) 1642-4; gov. Wortley Hall 1643-4.21


Wortley’s ancestors were holding the property from which they took their name, six miles south west of Barnsley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in the thirteenth century,22 but none of them sat in Parliament. Wortley’s father took a prominent part in the hotly contested county election of 1597 as teller for the Court candidates against Sir John Savile*.23 His father died while Wortley was still a minor and his wardship was acquired by his mother, who by 1610 married William Cavendish†, 1st Lord Cavendish, subsequently 1st earl of Devonshire.24

Wortley inherited estate in three counties, bought one of the first baronetcies, and purchased the court leets of half a dozen manors in the West Riding from the duke of Lennox.25 Described by Anthony à Wood as ‘an ingenious gentleman’ who ‘trod in the steps of his worthy ancestors in hospitality, charity, and good neighbourhood’,26 he was one of the greatest ironmasters in the area, and as steward of Barnsley exploited the coal deposits on the manor. Like his predecessors he was a ruthless encloser.27 According to Percy’s Reliques, the satirical ballad ‘The Dragon of Wantley’ celebrates the victory of the parishioners of Penistone in the West Riding over Wortley in a lawsuit concerning a dispute about tithes, with Wortley featuring as the dragon. However others have suggested that this tale was an adaptation of an older legend.28 Wortley was loyal to his servants, and in 1620 he prosecuted a Nottinghamshire magistrate, Sir George Lassells, in Star Chamber for beating one of them.29 In May 1622 he was granted a licence to travel abroad for three years,30 but if he made use of it he had returned by July of the following year, when he corresponded with secretary of state Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) about a servant accused of carrying away the king’s cormorant.31

Wortley may have initially wanted a career a Court. As a young man he secured a place in the Household of Prince Henry, whom he subsequently described as ‘my first master, ... , whose name is, ... sacred to Mars and the Muses, whose memory is still precious to the world’.32 However he failed to find further preferment after Henry’s death in 1612. He signed the Yorkshire return in 1620,33 but had to look outside his native county, to the Nottinghamshire borough of East Retford, for his own election to Parliament. Near East Retford lay the manors of Babworth and Bollom, which had previously been owned by Wortley’s father but which were now held by his mother, who enjoyed a life interest in the properties. After the death of Wortley’s father she purchased further land in the region, and her second husband, the earl of Devonshire, owned the advowson of East Retford. Wortley’s younger brother Edward represented the borough in the third Jacobean Parliament, and in 1624 was a candidate in the election which followed (Sir) Nathaniel Rich’s decision to sit for Harwich, but this time he was pipped to the post by John Darcy*, the nominee of Sir George Lassells’ friend, Sir Gervase Clifton*. There was a by-election after Darcy died on 21 Apr. 1624, but it was Wortley, rather than his brother, who finally gained the seat. However, by the time that he was returned the Parliament was almost over, and consequently it is not surprising that he left no trace on its records.34

Wortley inherited his father’s hostility to the Savile family, and consequently became a supporter of his neighbour Sir Thomas Wentworth*, Sir John Savile’s* bitter rival in Yorkshire’s electoral politics. Re-elected for East Retford in 1625, Wortley encountered Sir John’s son, Sir Thomas Savile*, outside Westminster Hall three weeks before Parliament opened, and insulted him. Savile responded by kicking Wortley, who thereupon wounded Savile with his sword, only then to have his own face slashed by one of Savile’s servants. Lord chief justice (Sir) Ranulphe Crewe* promptly launched an investigation and Savile was prosecuted in King’s Bench for causing a breach of the peace. However, the case was delayed, allowing Savile time in which to seek a pardon from the king, which was granted in March 1626. Wortley nevertheless brought a separate civil action against Savile for assault and battery and was awarded £3,000 in damages. Savile in turn appealed, and the case dragged on until at least 1631.35

Wortley was only mentioned twice in the surviving records of the 1625 Parliament. On 5 July Sir Clement Throckmorton* presented a petition to the Commons on Wortley’s behalf to obtain privilege concerning a suit in Star Chamber, possibly concerning the affray with Savile, and the Speaker was ordered to write a letter to stay proceedings.36 Three days later he was appointed to his only committee, for the bill to enable the trustees of the 3rd earl of Dorset to sell land.37 On 25 July it was reported that Wortley ‘hath entreated all his neighbours and friends’ to support Wentworth in the forthcoming Yorkshire election, although he refused to endorse Wentworth’s running mate, Sir Thomas Fairfax I*.38

As sheriff Wentworth was not able to seek election to the 1626 Parliament, and consequently Wortley abandoned East Retford, where his brother was re-elected, to stand in his native county. Wentworth did nothing to dissuade Wortley, ‘for I foresaw if he gained it, [Sir John] Savile were lost for ever; and if he failed, the other got no conquest much to brag of’. Wortley was paired with Sir William Constable against Sir John and Sir Thomas Savile, but at the last moment Wentworth and the Saviles seem to have agreed that a compromise was better than the disruption that a disputed election would bring. Sir Thomas Savile withdrew, pleading illness, enabling Wentworth to return Constable and Sir John Savile, but leaving Wortley without a seat.39 As his feud with the Saviles rumbled on a rumour circulated in London in August 1626 that Wortley had fought Sir Thomas Savile in a duel and that both men had been killed.40 Although the report of their deaths was false, Wortley and Savile were summoned before the Privy Council in September.41

In April 1626 Wortley rejected a demand for a Privy Seal loan of £30 ‘with much show of contempt’.42 He showed no less contempt for the Forced Loan, and was certified as a defaulter, causing the Privy Council to instruct the Yorkshire Loan commissioners in April 1627 to call for him. However, the commissioners reported that he was then in London.43 Wortley may have been in the capital in connection with his second wife’s fortune. Her previous husband’s personal estate, estimated at £16,000, was subject to extensive charitable and family legacies. Wortley contended that these had been revoked by a nuncupative codicil, but failed to convince the lord keeper, Sir Thomas Coventry*. He subsequently disregarded Chancery’s ruling, and in July 1627 was imprisoned for contempt.44

Wortley is not known to have stood in 1628, but he may have been the unpopular ‘little neighbour’ referred to by Sir Henry Savile as standing (unsuccessfully) with Wentworth’s support in the 1629 by-election to fill the seat left vacant by the latter’s elevation to the peerage.45 Savile’s description of Wortley as ‘little’ contrasts with the view of another of his contemporaries, who considered him ‘a tall, proper man’. However this description was not recorded until 1728, and the witness was only a child when he met Wortley.46 In the 1630s Wortley finally found another post at Court when he was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber extraordinary. He also seems to have had some connection with the Household of the future Charles II, as he stated more than once that he had been the first to ‘gird’ a sword about the prince.47 However, a duel with the half-brother of Sir Edward Swift*, Barnham Swift, 1st Viscount Carlingford, brought him into Star Chamber again in the late 1620s or early 1630s.48 He lost his Chancery case over the Eyre inheritance in 1633, when he was sentenced to pay £865 14s. 8d. damages over and above the original legacies.49 Legal expenses must have contributed to a financial position so desperate that in 1635 he had to make over the greater part of his estate, worth £1,000 a year to his mother, who settled it on his brother (Sir) Edward and his brother-in-law Sir Henry Crofts* in trust for Wortley’s son.50 Quarter sessions cases concerning poaching in his new park and insulting remarks by a social inferior testify to his loss of local prestige.51

Anthony à Wood stated that Wortley ‘was numbered among the poets of his time’.52 In the 1630s he contributed verses in Latin to a collection commemorating Ben Jonson and an elegy in English in a volume for Sir Roland Cotton*.53 In September 1639 he entertained the water poet John Taylor at Wortley. Taylor records that he met Wortley while dining with Archbishop Neile.54 It is possible that Wortley shared Neile’s anti-Calvinist sympathies. Certainly he was a fierce defender of episcopacy, and in 1641 published a treatise in which argued from scripture and Christian tradition that the institution was divinely ordained.55 Subsequently he wrote that ‘a true English Protestant’ revered ‘traditions and ceremonies’ and described himself as ‘for the bishops and the church’.56 In foreign policy he strongly supported the Protestant side in the Thirty Years’ War. He mourned Gustavus Adolphus as ‘Great Sweden’ and referred to the Catholic church as ‘Rome’s ravenous eagle’.57 He seems to have had some connection with the queen of Bohemia. He probably received his honorary MA from Cambridge during her eldest son’s visit to the university in early 1636, and in 1641 he published a poem in heroic couplets expressing his ‘pious pity and Christian commiseration’ for her ‘sorrows and sufferings’, which was reprinted the following year. The second edition also has lines celebrating the arrival of Prince Rupert in England to fight for Charles I.58

In August 1640 Wortley signed a petition of Yorkshire gentlemen protesting at the billeting of the army raised by Charles I to fight the Covenanters.59 However, in the aftermath of the Scots victory at Newburn later that month he brought 100 gentleman volunteers to serve the king at their own charge.60 Wortley was described by John Rushworth† as ‘one of the first gentlemen that engaged a party for the king in Yorkshire’.61 On 22 Apr. 1642 he presented a petition to Charles calling on him to seize the magazine at Hull and arm himself against his enemies. Eight days later, at a large public meeting at York, he allegedly drew his sword and waved it above his head crying, ‘for the king, for the king!’, but he failed to draw much response from the crowd. Wortley himself denied the whole story, but the parliamentarian polemicist William Prynne† asserted that this incident marked the beginning of the royalist army.62 Wortley’s sister, the wife of Sir Edward Radcliffe*, was disgusted by his behaviour, and described him in a letter to Sir Ralph Verney† as a ‘foolish man ... full of vanity’, who deserved ‘great punishment’, although she conceded that he also had ‘many good parts, had he wisdom to have managed them’.63

Wortley recruited a troop for the king in Yorkshire and played a prominent part in the raising of the king’s standard at Nottingham on 22 August. In October he was described as one of the ‘chief Cavaliers that bear sway in the City of York’.64 The following month he led a marauding raid through Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire recruiting, according to a parliamentarian newsbook, ‘miners and other base shag-raggs’ as he went.65 In February 1643 he secured Stafford for the king but was sent back to Yorkshire by the royalist commander in the north Midlands.66 He was appointed commander of a royalist garrison in his own house, which was soon besieged, and he was captured by parliamentarian forces commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax† at Walton Hall, near Wakefield, on 3 June 1644.67

Wortley was sent to the Tower on 22 Aug. 1644.68 During his imprisonment he wrote his Characters and Elegies which was probably published in July 1646. The ‘characters’ included pen portraits of members of the royal family and certain archtypes, including those of ‘a noble general’, ‘a northern lady’ and ‘a sharking committee-man’.69 His character of ‘a true English Protestant’, which concludes ‘this is your true Cavalier’, is probably a statement of Wortley’s personal views. In it he wrote that the king was ‘only answerable to God’ and ‘that to resist his powers, is to resist him that gave it’. ‘Parity in church or in commonwealth’ was to be detested as ‘tending to anarchy’, and ‘passive obedience [was] always due to the power of the king, where active cannot be performed with a good conscience’.70 The work also contains a number of elegies mostly of royalists who had fallen in battle, such as (Sir) Bevil Grenville* and the 2nd earl of Northampton (Spencer Compton*), but also Sir Henry Spelman* and the poet Francis Quarles.71 Wortley also published a number of minor works while in the Tower, including a broadside commemorating a feast held by the prisoners in the Tower in August 1647 after the king had sent them ‘two brace of bucks’. This includes lines praising the Leveller leader John Lilburne as ‘a stirring blade’ who ‘understands the matter’.72

On 14 Apr. 1649 Wortley petitioned to compound for an estate reduced to a single manor worth £200 p.a. His fine was set at £500.73 In July 1651 he was accused of corresponding with Charles II, but was apparently released on bail after the battle of Worcester, and found sanctuary from his creditors in lodgings in Whitefriars.74 A nuncupative will of 9 Sept. 1652, drawn up while ‘sick of the sickness whereof he died’, was proved four days later; the most substantial legacy was £150 to the poor of Tankersley and Wortley. He asked to be buried beside his father in St. George’s chapel Windsor, but there is no evidence that he was.75 His son, the last of the family, died in 1665, leaving an almost unimpaired estate to an illegitimate daughter. She married Sidney (Wortley) Montagu† who was elected for Huntingdon in 1679.76

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. C142/281/88.
  • 2. J. Hunter, S. Yorks. ii. 325.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; Al. Cant.
  • 4. Hunter, ii. 325; SCL, Wh M/D/45; Oxford DNB; IGI; G.E. Cokayne, Some Acct. of the Ld. Mayors and Sheriffs of the City of London During the First Quarter of the Seventeenth Cent. 54-5.
  • 5. C142/281/88.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 150.
  • 7. C66/1942/50.
  • 8. PROB 11/224, f. 375v.
  • 9. SP14/67/147.
  • 10. LC5/132, p. 176; LC3/1.
  • 11. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 408; CSP Col. E.I. 1625-29, p. 507.
  • 12. C66/1988; 66/2859.
  • 13. C231/4, f. 87; C66/2310.
  • 14. C231/5, pp. 13, 251.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 266v; 181/3, ff. 86 222, 249v; 181/4, ff. 16v, 26v, 28v, 82, 174; 181/5, ff. 16v, 87, 203, 216, 220.
  • 16. HMC Rutland, i. 460; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 389.
  • 17. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 237.
  • 18. C212/22/20-1, 23; Fairfax Corresp. ed. G.W. Johnson, i. 210; SR, v. 61, 83, 150.
  • 19. C193/12/2, f. 15.
  • 20. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 21. J.T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry from the Reformation to the Civil War, 333; Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Life of William, Duke of Newcastle, 87.
  • 22. Hunter, ii. 324.
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, vii. 412.
  • 24. WARD 9/348, unfol.; SCL, Wh M/D/45.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1633-4, pp. 386-7.
  • 26. Ath. Ox. iii. 391.
  • 27. Cliffe, 64-65, 82; D. Hey, ‘Parks at Tankersley and Wortley’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xlvii. 115, 118; HMC 3rd Rep. 226; CCC, 1377.
  • 28. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1794) ed. T. Percy, iii. 297-308; J. Simpson, ‘Fifty British Dragon Tales: an Analysis’, Folklore, lxxxix. 85.
  • 29. STAC 8/303/17.
  • 30. SO3/7 (15 May 1622).
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 23, 35.
  • 32. F. Wortley, Eleutherosis Tes Aletheias (1641), sig. A2.
  • 33. C219/37/321.
  • 34. Hunter, ii. 316; Thoroton, Notts. (1790), iii. 281, 448, 451; P.R. Seddon, ‘Parlty. Election at East Retford’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. lxxvi. 28-30.
  • 35. HMC Hodgkin, 43, 285-8; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 580; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 24; Reports and Cases Collected by the Learned Sir John Popham (1656), p. 207; F. Philipps, Regale Necessarium (1671), p. 23; Les Reports de Sir William Jones (1675), p. 239.
  • 36. Procs. 1625, pp. 313, 316.
  • 37. Ibid. 349.
  • 38. Fairfax Corresp. i. 7.
  • 39. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 32; HMC Hodgkin, 43.
  • 40. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 143; Procs. 1626, iv. 349.
  • 41. APC, 1626, pp. 274, 292, 296.
  • 42. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 327; APC, 1625-6, p. 428.
  • 43. APC, 1627, p. 245; J.J. Cartwright, Chapters in the Hist. of Yorks. 236.
  • 44. C78/458/5; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 263.
  • 45. Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 312, 313.
  • 46. Yorks. Diaries and Autobiographies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Cents. ed. C. Jackson (Surtees Soc. lxv), 281.
  • 47. Wortley, Eleutherosis Tes Aletheias, sig. A2; HMC Pepys, 301.
  • 48. HMC Cowper, iii. 154.
  • 49. C78/458/5.
  • 50. Cliffe, 333; Yorks. Roy. Comp. Pprs. ed. J.W. Clay (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xx), 39.
  • 51. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 325.
  • 52. Ath. Ox. iii. 391.
  • 53. Ionsonus Virbius (1638) ed. B. Duppa, 62; Parentalia Spectatissimo Rolando Cottono equiti aurato Salopensi (1635) ed. E. Heigham, sig. E2v.
  • 54. Travels through Stuart Britain: The Adventures of John Taylor, the Water Poet ed. J. Chandler, 166-70.
  • 55. Wortley, Eleutherosis Tes Aletheias.
  • 56. F. Wortley, Characters and Elegies (1646), p. 12; F. Wortley, Loyal Song of the Royal Feast (1647).
  • 57. Parentalia Spectatissimo Rolando Cottono equiti aurato Salopensi, sig. E2v.
  • 58. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 273; F. Wortley, Duty of Sir Francis Wortley (1641), reprinted as Lines Dedicated to Fame and Truth (1642).
  • 59. J. Nalson, Impartial Collection of the Great Affairs of State, i. 501-2.
  • 60. CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 62.
  • 61. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 622.
  • 62. A. Fletcher, Outbreak of the English Civil War, 316-17; LJ, v. 15; Pvte. Jnls. Mar.-June 1642, p. 259; HMC 5th Rep. 147; F. Wortley, Declaration from York (1642), pp. 4-5; W. Prynne, Moderate and Proper Reply to a Declaration (1642).
  • 63. F.P. and M.M. Verney, Mems. of the Verney Fam. i. 252-3.
  • 64. Fletcher, 233; True and Exact Relation of the Manner of his Majesties Setting up his Standard at Nottingham (1642) sig. A3v; Terrible News from York (1642), pp. 2-3.
  • 65. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 387; England’s Memorable Accidents, 31 Oct.-7 Nov. 1642, p. 67; Truthes From Severall Parts of the Kingdome (1642), p. 7.
  • 66. Speciall Passages, xxvii. 7-14 Feb. 1643, p. 219; HMC Hastings, ii. 95.
  • 67. Beaumont Pprs. ed. W.D. Macray, (Roxburghe Club, xciii), 73; Historical Collections, v. 622; Wortley, Loyal Song of the Royal Feast.
  • 68. CJ, iii. 603.
  • 69. Wortley, Characters and Elegies, 1-10, 18-20, 25-6.
  • 70. Ibid. 11-13.
  • 71. Ibid. 33-4, 44-5, 48-9, 54-5.
  • 72. Wortley, Loyal Song of the Royal Feast.
  • 73. Yorks. Roy. Comp. Pprs. ed. J.W. Clay (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xviii), 197-8.
  • 74. CCC, 1377; HMC Pepys, 301; CSP Dom. 1651, pp. 497-8; Ath. Ox. iii. 392.
  • 75. PROB 11/224, f. 375v.
  • 76. HP Commons, 1660-1690, iii. 759.