RADCLIFFE, Sir Thomas (1525/26-83), of Woodham Walter, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. 1525/26, 1st s. of Henry Radcliffe, 2nd Earl of Sussex, by 1st w. Elizabeth; da. of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, bro. of Sir Henry. m. (1) ?Mar. 1545, Elizabeth (d. Jan. 1555), da. of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 26 Apr. 1555, Frances (d.1589), da. of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, Kent. Kntd. 30 Sept. 1544; summ. to Lords in fa.’s barony as Baron Fitzwalter 14 Aug. 1553; suc. fa. as 3rd Earl of Sussex 17 Feb. 1557, KG nom. 23 Apr. 1557, inst. 9 Jan. 1558.1

Offices Held

Warden and capt. Portsmouth 24 Nov. 1549-Apr. 1551; commr. relief, Norf. and Norwich 1550; carver by 1553; gent. privy chamber to King Philip June 1554; j.p. Essex, Norf. 1554, q. Suff. 1564; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1555, 1559, 1571, 1572; ld. dep. [I] 27 Apr. 1556-60, ld. lt. 6 May 1560-Oct. 1565; warden and c.j. forests south of Trent 3 July 1557; capt. gent. pens. 1557-d.; pres. council in the north July 1568-Oct. 1572; PC 30 Dec. 1570; Ld. chamberlain, the Household July 1572-d., steward, New Hall (Beaulieu), Essex July 1572, Maldon, Essex at d.2


Thomas Radcliffe probably received the greater part of his education in the household of Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester; there is no basis for the statement that he was at Cambridge and Gray’s Inn. From November 1542, when his father succeeded to the earldom, he bore the title of Lord Fitzwalter, which he retained until his own succession 15 years later. The marriage arranged for him in January 1543 with Elizabeth Wriothesley probably took place in 1545, after he had served in the Boulogne campaign and had been knighted. In 1546 he accompanied Gardiner on a mission to the Netherlands and John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, on one to France, and he was one of the canopy-bearers at Henry VIII’s funeral.3

The fall of the Howards in 1546 had left Fitzwalter’s father the leading nobleman in East Anglia, although he counted less in national affairs. For Fitzwalter himself the new reign first brought the setbacks of Gardiner’s imprisonment and the dismissal of his father-in-law Wriothesley, but luck was on his side at Pinkie, where he narrowly escaped death, and he was to share in Wriothesley’s temporary return to favour when Dudley rose to power. It was to Wriothesley that he clearly owed his first office, the captaincy of Portsmouth, which he was to surrender after Wriothesley’s death, and before accompanying the Marquess of Northampton on his mission to France in 1551. Less easy to interpret is Fitzwalter’s election for Norfolk to the Parliament of March 1553. He was eligible because, unlike the heirs to the earldoms of Bedford and Shrewsbury and the Dudley dukedom of Northumberland, he was not summoned to the Lords. Whether—and, if so, why—he was passed over at the instance of Northumberland, there seems to be no way of determining, but it could scarcely have been by coincidence that his fellow-knight was the duke’s second son Robert Dudley. A stranger to the county, Dudley had been by-elected for Norfolk to the previous Parliament, and the decision that Fitzwalter should take the other seat, instead of appearing in the Lords, could have been an answer to the intrusion: the two men were to become bitter rivals in the reign of Elizabeth. That the Radcliffes, father and son, were not reckoned among Northumberland’s firm supporters is implied by their omission from a list of those expected to rally certain shires to Jane Grey, and although both of them signed the instrument providing for her succession, on the King’s death they and the younger son Henry declared for Mary and joined her with their following at Framlingham. Fitzwalter attended Edward VI’s funeral as a carver.4

Under Mary, Fitzwalter came rapidly to the fore. Granted an annuity of £133, probably for his service against Wyatt’s rebellion, he took the news of its suppression to the Emperor, to whom the imperial ambassador Renard commended him as an able and learned man. Although he was said to have opposed the Spanish marriage, he accompanied the 1st Earl of Bedford on the mission to escort Philip to England and was to become a favourite with the King, who gave him a jewelled sword and was present at his second marriage. In 1555 he was appointed to a mission to France to announce that the Queen was thought to be pregnant, and early in the following year he was sent to the new Emperor. He had also been summoned in his father’s barony to the first four Parliaments of the reign. There is no surviving Lords Journal for the Parliament of October 1553 and he was unable to attend that of April 1554 because of his mission to Spain, but he was present for slightly less than half the Parliament of November 1554 and some three-quarters of that of 1555. In 1555, when his younger brother sat in the Commons for Maldon, he was appointed a trier of petitions for Gascony and two bills, for the punishment of exiles and for the re-edifying of decayed houses of husbandry and for the increase of tillage, were committed to him; he also voted against the bill to deprive Bennet Smith of benefit of clergy and the bill to re-edify four mills near Hereford and must have been concerned with the unsuccessful bill for the divorced Countess of Sussex’s jointure.5

Before the next Parliament Radcliffe had both succeeded to the earldom of Sussex and been appointed lord deputy of Ireland, but after spending a year and a half in that country he was licensed to return to England and was able to attend the first session of Mary’s last Parliament, during which the bill granting the 1st Baron Rich’s honor of Rayleigh to the Queen was committed to him and a measure for his own wife’s jointure was enacted (4 and 5 Phil, and Mary, no. 13). He went back to Ireland two weeks after the prorogation and although on 31 Oct. 1558 he was licensed to return ‘to confer upon the state and affairs of that realm’ he was still there when Parliament met again in November and did not leave until after the Queen’s death. He had been named an executor of her will and was apparently present at her funeral as captain of the gentlemen pensioners: by hereditary right he served as chief sewer at the coronation of Elizabeth. Although reappointed to his Irish post, he attended the first Parliament of the new reign and thereafter was regular in his appearances in the Lords, missing only the first session of the Parliament of 1563, and had many bills committed to him: he also exercised parliamentary patronage in the borough of Maldon. During the second session of the Parliament of 1563 he spoke against the bill on the consecration of bishops and voted with the Catholic party against it: another opponent of this measure, William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle, named Sussex as his proxy in 1580. Notwithstanding this indication of nonconformity, Sussex was unfailingly loyal to the Elizabethan regime and after his service against the northern rebellion of 1569—when, however, he came briefly under suspicion for his leniency and because his half-brother Egremont Radcliffe had joined the rebels—he was appointed to the Privy Council. He died on 9 June 1583 at his house in Bermondsey and was buried a month later at Boreham, Essex. His brother Sir Henry Radcliffe succeeded him as 4th Earl of Sussex.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Aged 57 at death. CP; LP Hen. VIII , xviii; Mar. Lic. London (Harl. Soc. xxv), 16; Susan M. Doran, ‘Pol. career of Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1977); DNB.
  • 2. CPR, 1549-51, p. 115; 1553, pp. 351, 361; 1553-4, pp. 19, 22; 1555-7, pp. 56, 318; 1563-6, p. 27; 1569-72, pp. 361-2; APC, iii. 261; Stowe 571, f. 30v; CSP Span. 1554, p. 297; LJ, i. 492, 542, 667, 703.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xxi; Ath. Cant. i. 462; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(2), 298.
  • 4. Holinshed, Chron. iii. 876, 879; CSP For. 1547-53, p. 123; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), i. 149-51; Lansd. 103, art. 1; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 99; LC2/4/1, f. 19v.
  • 5. Lansd. 156, f. 97; CSP Span. 1553, p. 441: 1554, pp. 86, 93, 96, 149 seq.; PCC 52 Brudenell; CSP Ven. 1555-6, p. 58; APC, v. 27, 54, 126; CSP For. 1553-8, p. 220; Graves, ii. 294-6.
  • 6. Graves, ii. 294-6; LC2/4/2; LJ, i. passim ex inf. Susan M. Doran; CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 596.