WREY, William (c.1601-1645), of Trebigh, St. Ive, Cornw.

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.1601, o.s. of Sir William Wrey, 1st bt., of Trebigh and his 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Courtenay† of Powderham, Devon. m. lic. 6 Oct. 1624 (with £2,000), Elizabeth, da. of Sir Edward Chichester, 1st Visct. Chichester of Carrickfergus [I], 3s. 3da.1 kntd. by Mar. 1634;2 suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 1636.3 d. Aug. 1645.4

Offices Held

Commr. array, Cornw. 1642,5 j.p. 1642,6 col. militia ?ft. c.1642.7


The Wreys took their name from a small property near Moretonhampstead, Devon, which they held in the fifteenth century. By the time Wrey’s father, William, succeeded his elder brother in 1597, the family had accumulated broad estates not only in Devon but also in Cornwall, where their principal seat was located. William, who was knighted in 1603, added to this inheritance, and when he died in 1636 he owned over 6,000 acres, including four Cornish manors and a share in four others.8 Sir William was a leading figure in Cornwall’s local government, and served both as a deputy lieutenant and a commissioner of oyer and terminer. From around 1615 until his death he was also recorder of Liskeard.9 His eventual acquisition of the entire Wrey patrimony enabled him to marry into a major Devon family, the Courtenays of Powderham, though the social advantages of this match were partially offset by the fact that his wife was a recusant.10

Given his background, it is surprising that Wrey attended neither university nor the inns of court. He doubtless owed his election to Parliament at Liskeard in 1624 to his father’s prominence within the borough. Wrey is not known to have participated in Commons’ debates, and received just one committee appointment, on 23 Mar., to scrutinize Sir Richard Lumley’s private land bill, a measure of no obvious interest to him. On 27 Apr., if he was present in the House, Wrey had to endure the embarrassment of his mother’s appearance in a report on recusancy. The information was provided by his cousin William Coryton, who hastened to confirm that Sir William Wrey, and by implication Wrey himself, were not similarly tainted.11 Coryton was on close terms with the family, acting as a trustee of Wrey’s marriage settlement in November 1624. It is a measure of the extreme political divisions which developed among the Cornish gentry over the next few years that Sir William was imprisoned by the House of Commons in 1628 for attempting to sabotage Coryton’s election as one of Cornwall’s knights of the shire.12

Wrey’s later life is notable only for its obscurity. Despite the scale of his family’s estates, his marriage into the West Country aristocracy, and his inheritance of a baronetcy in 1636, he failed almost completely to emulate his father’s record of gentry leadership. Unless he possessed character defects which have gone undocumented, the most plausible explanation for this is that he was suspected of being a Catholic. His mother certainly maintained her allegiance to Rome in later life. Wrey himself was never formally identified as a recusant, but in 1634 he leased lands which had been confiscated by the Crown from John Trevelyan, one of Cornwall’s most obstreperous Catholics, and subsequently managed the property as if he was holding it in trust for Trevelyan.13 Whatever reasons prevented his advancement, Wrey remained on close terms with leading Cornishmen such as Coryton and Bevill Grenville*, and like them he sided with the king on the outbreak of the Civil War. His royalism brought him belated promotion to the Cornish bench in July 1642, and perhaps about the same time he was granted a commission in the county militia, though he still seems to have been excluded from the local royalist command.14 Wrey died in August 1645. Neither a will nor letters of administration for his estate have been found. His son, Sir Chichester, sat for Lostwithiel in the Cavalier Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball



  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 564; C142/552/121. Wrey was aged 20 in 1620, according to a Herald’s visitation, but this seems unlikely as his parents’ marriage settlement was dated 1 Dec. 1600.
  • 2. C66/2615/23.
  • 3. C142/552/121.
  • 4. Vivian, 564.
  • 5. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 6. C231/5, p. 529.
  • 7. CCC, 1928.
  • 8. Vivian, 564; C142/249/66; 142/552/121; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 125.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 7v; Cornw. RO, CY7260; B/LIS/276, 287.
  • 10. HMC Portland, i. 1.
  • 11. CJ, i. 747a; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 163; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 51v; Vivian, 564.
  • 12. C142/552/121; CD 1628, iii. 386.
  • 13. Mdx. County Recs. ed. J.C. Jeaffreson, iii. 143, 149; C66/2615/23; SP16/11/52.I; 16/118/35.I.i; E134/11 and 12 Chas.I/Hil 27; Cornw. RO, CY7041.
  • 14. Cornw. RO, CY6829; R. Granville, Hist. Granville Fam. 194.