Thomas Shirley (died 1612)

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Sir Thomas Shirley (c.1542 – October 1612), [1] 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.

Wiston, West Sussex village in West Sussex, England

Wiston is a scattered village and civil parish in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England. It lies on the A283 road 2.8 miles (4.5 km) northwest of Steyning.

Sussex historic county in South East England

Sussex, from the Old English Sūþsēaxe, is a historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded to the west by Hampshire, north by Surrey, northeast by Kent, south by the English Channel, and divided for many purposes into the ceremonial counties of West Sussex and East Sussex. Brighton and Hove, though part of East Sussex, was made a unitary authority in 1997, and as such, is administered independently of the rest of East Sussex. Brighton and Hove was granted City status in 2000. Until then, Chichester was Sussex's only city.

Baronet A hereditary title awarded by the British Crown

A baronet or the rare female equivalent, a baronetess, is the holder of a baronetcy, a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. The practice of awarding baronetcies was originally introduced in England in the 14th century and was used by James I of England in 1611 as a means of raising funds.


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


Thomas Shirley was the eldest of the three children of William Sherley (c.1498–1551) of Wiston, Sussex, and Mary Isley, the daughter of Thomas Isley of Sundridge, Kent. [1]

Sundridge, Kent village in Kent, United Kingdom

Sundridge is a village within the civil parish of Sundridge with Ide Hill, in the Sevenoaks District of Kent, England. The village is located on the A25 road to the east of Westerham. It lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and within London’s Metropolitan Green Belt. It is approximately 21 miles south of London. Its church is Anglican and dedicated to St Mary.


He was knighted in 1573, and served as High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1576. Also in 1573, he began rebuilding the family seat of Wiston House, which he turned into a massive country house. (It is now the site of the government's Wilton Park conference centre.)

The list of known High Sheriffs of Surrey extends back to 1066. At various times the High Sheriff of Surrey was also High Sheriff of Sussex.

The office of High Sheriff of Sussex is over 1000 years old, with its establishment before the Norman Conquest. The Office of High Sheriff remained first in precedence in the counties until the reign of Edward VII when an Order in Council in 1908 gave the Lord-Lieutenant the prime office under the Crown as the Sovereign's personal representative. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereign's representative in the County for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.

Wiston House

Wiston House is a 16th-century Grade I listed building set in the South Downs National Park on the south coast of England, surrounded by over 6,000 acres (2,400 ha) of parkland in Wiston, West Sussex. It is the home of Wilton Park, an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

However, soon afterwards Shirley found himself in considerable financial difficulties which eventually swallowed the family fortune. In 1586 Queen Elizabeth I appointed Sir Thomas Treasurer-at-War to the English forces serving in the Netherlands during the Dutch Revolt. This gave him the power to speculate with the funds that passed through his hands (a normal perk of office at this period), but he so mishandled them that he contracted massive debts to the Crown and found himself accused of fraud. His estate, including Wiston House, was sequestered in 1602, though he continued to live at Wiston until his death in October 1612.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba—it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Dutch Revolt War in the 16th century

The Dutch Revolt (1568–1648) was the revolt of the northern, largely Protestant Seven Provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of the Roman Catholic Habsburg King Philip II of Spain, hereditary ruler of the provinces. The northern provinces (Netherlands) eventually separated from the southern provinces, which continued under Habsburg Spain until 1714.

Sir Thomas was elected to Parliament as MP for Sussex in 1584, representing the county for many years, and then Steyning, in 1601 and 1604, which was controlled by Shirley as a pocket borough; he was apparently not distinguished as a member, but tried to draw upon an MP's privilege of immunity from arrest in 1604 when his debts grew too pressing to meet. Despite his protests that he had parliamentary privilege, he was arrested at the instigation of a goldsmith[ citation needed ] to whom he owed money, and placed in the Fleet Prison. The House of Commons of England made a number of attempts to order his release by issuing writs of Habeas Corpus, but the Warden of the Fleet Prison would not free him, unless he received assurance that he would not himself be held liable for Shirley's debts, or blamed for what might technically be seen as allowing an 'escape'. The Commons had the Warden placed in the Tower of London and sent the sergeant-at-arms of the Commons, who was carrying the mace, to the Fleet Prison to set Shirley free. However, the Warden's wife proved equally obdurate, and the sergeant-at-arms had to report that his mission had been a failure. The Warden had originally been able to move around within the Tower, but now the Commons made sure that he was placed in an unpleasant dungeon, called the Little Ease, four feet (1.2 metres) square, within the Tower. This persuaded the Warden to release Shirley, and he also had to apologise on his knees to the House of Commons. Shirley then resumed his seat as an MP. Parliament subsequently passed a general act (The Privilege of Parliament Act), which confirmed the privilege of freedom from arrest for Members, but also gave creditors an opportunity to recover what they were owed when the debtor ceased being an MP. This case is generally regarded as having finally settled the question of privilege from arrest in the Commons’ favour, and was cited as Sir Thomas Shirley's Case for centuries afterwards.

Sussex was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of England then of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832. It was represented by two Knights of the Shire, elected by the bloc vote system.

Steyning was a parliamentary borough in Sussex, England, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons sporadically from 1298 and continuously from 1467 until 1832. It was a notorious rotten borough, and was abolished by the Great Reform Act.

His sons Thomas, Anthony and Robert were all noted adventurers.

Sir Thomas Shirley 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.

Anthony Shirley English traveller

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.

Robert Shirley English traveller and adventurer

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 arch rival, the Ottoman Empire.

Marriage and issue

Shirley married, about 1559, Anne Kempe (c.1542–1623), the daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe (d.1591) of Wye, Kent, by whom he had twelve children, of whom three died as infants. Shirley was survived by three sons and six daughters: [1] [2]


  1. 1 2 3 Pennington 2004.
  2. Brydges 1791, p. 333.
  3. Raiswell I 2004.
  4. 1 2 Kathman 2004.
  5. Raiswell II 2004.
  6. Raiswell III 2004.
  7. Tracy, Sir John II (c.1561-c.1648), of Toddington, Gloucestershire, History of Parliament Retrieved 21 August 2013.


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