Thomas Shirley

Last updated

Sir Thomas Shirley (1564 – c. 1634) was an English soldier, adventurer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1584 and 1622. His financial difficulties drove him into privateering which culminated in his capture by the Turks and later imprisonment in the Tower of London.



Thomas Shirley was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Shirley of Wiston House, Sussex, and Anne Kempe, the daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe (d. 7 March 1591) of Olantigh in Wye, Kent. [1] [2] Sir Anthony Shirley [3] and Sir Robert Shirley [4] were his younger brothers.


Wiston House today Wiston House, West Sussex, England.jpg
Wiston House today

Shirley matriculated at Hart Hall, Oxford in 1579, but left the university without taking a degree. [5] In 1584 he was elected Member of Parliament for Steyning. [6] He went on military service with his father and brother in the Low Countries in 1585, and later saw some in Ireland. He was knighted at Kilkenny in Ireland by the lord deputy, Sir William Fitz-William, on 26 October 1589. [7] Shirley later came to the court. In the summer of 1591 he made a secret marriage to one of Queen Elizabeth's maids of honour and when the queen heard of it, she promptly committed him to the Marshalsea Prison. He remained in prison till the spring of 1592. [5] In 1593 he was elected MP for Steyning again. [6] In the same year he saw service with the rank of captain in the Low Countries again.

Shirley was beginning to suffer from hopeless embarrassment because of his father's increasing financial difficulties. To secure a livelihood, he decided to fit out a privateering expedition to attack Spanish merchandise. He handed over his company at Flushing to Sir Thomas Vavasour, a relation of his wife, and in the summer of 1598 sailed into the English Channel, and seized four 'hulks' of Lübeck which were reputed to be carrying Spanish goods. [5] He may have made some of his attacks with the Queen's ship Foresight, which he commanded in 1599. The costs and returns were high. A ship that Shirley captured while returning from San Domingo laden with sugar, was valued at £4,700. In April 1600, Shirley offered the Earl of Nottingham £600 for his tenth share in two ships which he brought into Plymouth and said he had already paid £2,000 for 'the company's thirds'. In October 1600 Shirley was brought before the Admiralty court for seizing a ship from Hamburg which had a cargo belonging to some Dutch merchants and Lord Cobham had to intervene on his behalf. He was also coming under attack from his creditors for in July 1600 some supporters of Sir Richard Weston broke into his father's house at Blackfriars and threatened the Shirleys, father and son, demanding payment. In 1601 his father required the borough seat of Steyning. Shirley was elected MP for both Bramber and Hastings and chose to sit for Hastings. [6] In 1602 he renewed his privateering adventures, and pillaged 'two poor hamlets of two dozen houses in Portugal.' [5]

At the end of 1602 Shirley equipped two ships for a more ambitious adventure in the Levant where he aimed to strike a blow against the Ottoman Empire of Mehmed III. He was given encouragement by the Duke of Tuscany at Florence, who supported Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor in this respect. However, he made an imprudent descent on the island of Kea on 15 Jan 1603 and was captured by the Turks. He was transferred to Negropont on 20 March, and on 25 July 1603 he was carried a close prisoner to Constantinople. When news of his misfortunes reached England, James I appealed to the government of the sultan to release him. The English ambassador to the Porte, Henry Lello, used every effort on his behalf, and finally he was released on 6 December 1605, after eleven hundred dollars had been paid to his gaolers. He immediately went to Naples, where he was described by Toby Mathew, on 8 August 1606, as living there 'like a gallant.' At the end of 1606 he returned to England. [5]

Shirley was imprisoned in the Tower of London in September 1607 on a charge of illegal interference with the operations of the Levant Company. It was said that he had "overbusied himself with the traffic of Constantinople, to have brought it to Venice and to the Florentine territories." In August 1611 he was confined in the king's bench as an insolvent debtor. The death of his father next year, and his second marriage greatly increased his difficulties. Wiston, which had fallen into ruins, was sold, but he was elected MP for Steyning in 1614, and 1621. [6]

Shirley is said to have retired subsequently to the Isle of Wight, and to have died there about 1630. [5]

Marriages and issue

Shirley married firstly Frances Vavasour, daughter of Henry Vavasour of Copmanthorpe, by whom he had three sons and four daughters. [2] His second son, Henry Shirley, was the dramatist who was murdered in London on 31 October 1627. [8] His only surviving son by his first marriage, Thomas Shirley, was baptised at West Clandon, Surrey, on 30 June 1597, was knighted in 1645 by Charles I at Oxford, was alive in 1664, and was father of Thomas Sherley [q. v.], the physician. [5]

Shirley married secondly at Deptford on 2 December 1617, a widow, Judith Taylor, daughter of William Bennet of London, by whom he had five sons and six daughters. [5] [2]

See also


  1. Pennington 2004.
  2. 1 2 3 Raiswell I 2004.
  3. Raiswell II 2004.
  4. Raiswell III 2004.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Shirley, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "SHIRLEY, Thomas II (1564-c.1630), of Wiston, Suss.; later of the I.o.W. | History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  7. Shaw, William Arthur; Burtchaell, George Dames (1906). The Knights of England. A complete record from the earliest time to the present day of the knights of all the orders of chivalry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of knights bachelors, incorporating a complete list of knights bachelors dubbed in Ireland. Robarts - University of Toronto. London Sherratt and Hughes.
  8. Kathman 2004.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Shirley</span> English soldier, diplomat and adventurer (c.1581-1628)

Sir Robert Shirley was an English traveller and adventurer, younger brother of Sir Anthony Shirley and Sir Thomas Shirley. He is notable for his help modernising and improving the Persian Safavid army according to the British model, by the request of Shah Abbas the Great. This proved to be highly successful, as from then on the Safavids proved to be an equal force to their archrival, the Ottoman Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony Shirley</span> English soldier and traveller (1565-1635)

Sir Anthony Shirley (1565–1635) was an English traveller, whose imprisonment in 1603 by King James I caused the English House of Commons to assert one of its privileges—freedom of its members from arrest—in a document known as The Form of Apology and Satisfaction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Master of the Rolls</span> Second most senior judge in England and Wales

The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and Head of Civil Justice. As a judge, the Master of the Rolls is second in seniority in England and Wales only to the Lord Chief Justice. The position dates from at least 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners</span> English soldier, statesman and translator (1467–1533)

John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners was an English soldier, statesman and translator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nicholas Hyde</span>

Sir Nicholas Hyde was Lord Chief Justice of England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marmaduke Constable</span>

Sir Marmaduke Constable of Flamborough, Yorkshire, was a courtier and soldier during the reigns of Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Mason (diplomat)</span> English diplomat

Sir John Mason was an English diplomat and spy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Cleveland</span>

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Cleveland, was an English landowner and Royalist general during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, described by one historian as a "much under-rated field commander". A distant relative of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, executed by Parliament in May 1641, his son Thomas Wentworth, 5th Baron Wentworth, also served in the Royalist army and predeceased him in March 1665.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Neville (died 1615)</span> English courtier, politician and diplomat

Sir Henry Neville was an English courtier, politician and diplomat, noted for his role as ambassador to France and his unsuccessful attempts to negotiate between James I of England and the Houses of Parliament. In 2005, Neville was put forward as a candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare's works.

Aurelian Townshend was a seventeenth-century English poet and playwright.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Villiers (died 1606)</span> English knight (1544–1606)

Sir George Villiers was an English knight and country gentleman. He was a High Sheriff of Leicestershire for the year 1591, and later was briefly a Knight of the Shire, a Member of Parliament representing the county of Leicestershire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Shirley (died 1612)</span>

Sir Thomas Shirley, of Wiston in Sussex, was an English Member of Parliament, government official and courtier who is said to have suggested the creation of the title of baronet.

John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer was an English peer. His third wife was Catherine Parr, later queen of England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lieutenant of the Tower of London</span>

The Lieutenant of the Tower of London serves directly under the Constable of the Tower. The office has been appointed at least since the 13th century. There were formerly many privileges, immunities and perquisites attached to the office. Like the Constable, the Lieutenant was usually appointed by letters patent, either for life or during the King's pleasure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Justice of the Common Pleas</span>

Justice of the Common Pleas was a puisne judicial position within the Court of Common Pleas of England and Wales, under the Chief Justice. The Common Pleas was the primary court of common law within England and Wales, dealing with "common" pleas. It was created out of the common law jurisdiction of the Exchequer of Pleas, with splits forming during the 1190s and the division becoming formal by the beginning of the 13th century. The court became a key part of the Westminster courts, along with the Exchequer of Pleas and the Court of King's Bench, but with the Writ of Quominus and the Statute of Westminster, both tried to extend their jurisdiction into the realm of common pleas. As a result, the courts jockeyed for power. In 1828 Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament, complained in Parliament that as long as there were three courts unevenness was inevitable, saying that "It is not in the power of the courts, even if all were monopolies and other restrictions done away, to distribute business equally, as long as suitors are left free to choose their own tribunal", and that there would always be a favourite court, which would therefore attract the best lawyers and judges and entrench its position. The outcome was the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, under which all the central courts were made part of a single Supreme Court of Judicature. Eventually the government created a High Court of Justice under Lord Coleridge by an Order in Council of 16 December 1880. At this point, the Common Pleas formally ceased to exist.

Sir Richard Warburton was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1601 and 1610.

John Villiers was an English courtier from the Villiers family. The eldest son of Sir George Villiers and Mary Beaumont, later Countess of Buckingham, he was the brother of King James I's favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Lee of Ditchley</span> 16th-century English Queens Champion and Master of the Armoury

Sir Henry Lee KG, of Ditchley, was Queen's Champion and Master of the Armouries under Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Sir Thomas Perrot was an Elizabethan courtier, soldier, and Member of Parliament. He campaigned in Ireland and the Low Countries, and was involved in the defence of England against the Spanish Armada. He was imprisoned several times, on one occasion to prevent a duel with Sir Walter Raleigh, and on another occasion because of his secret marriage to Dorothy Devereux, a Lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and sister of the Queen's favourite, the Earl of Essex. Perrot's only daughter, Penelope, married Sir Robert Naunton, author of Fragmenta Regalia, which claimed that Perrot's father, Sir John Perrot, was an illegitimate son of Henry VIII.

Captain Edward Glemham of Benhall, Suffolk, was an English sea voyager and privateer. In his ship, the Edward and Constance, he destroyed two Spanish vessels, repulsed four galleys, and captured a rich Venetian merchant ship in his first voyage of 1590. He made a second voyage shortly after the first. His adventures are described in two black letter pamphlets.


Parliament of England
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Steyning
With: Pexall Brocas
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Steyning
With: Sir Walter Waller
Succeeded by
John Shurley
Thomas Shirley III
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Bramber
With: Henry Bowyer
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Hastings
With: Richard Lyffe
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Steyning
With: Edward Fraunceys
Succeeded by