SOUTHWELL, Robert (c.1506-59), of London and Mereworth, Kent.

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



Mar. 1553
Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. c.1506, 2nd s. of Francis Southwell (d.1512) by Dorothy, da. and coh. of William Tendring of Little Birch, Essex; bro. of Francis and Richard. educ. M. Temple, called. m. 1535, Margaret, da. and h. of Sir Thomas Neville of Mereworth, 4s. 3da. Kntd. 16 Jan. 1542.5

Offices Held

Autumn reader, M. Temple 1540.

Common serjeant, London 1535-6; solicitor, ct. augmentations 1536-7, attorney 1537-40; j.p. Kent, Norf. 1538-54, Surr. 1541-d., Suff. 1544- d., Suss. 1544-d., Essex 1547-54; Councillor 1540; master of requests 1540; master of rolls 1541-50; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1542, 1545 and 1547; various commissions, largely in Kent 1550-6; sheriff, Kent 1553-4.6


Robert Southwell was still a boy when his father died and in 1517 or the following year his wardship was sold for £66 13s.4d. to Sir Robert Wingham; the wardship of his elder brother Richard, heir to a considerable fortune, had been secured by their aunt in 1515 for over £330. Robert Southwell became a lawyer: there is no record of his admission to any inn of court but in 1547 he was described as late of the Middle Temple and he was undoubtedly the ‘Mr. Southwell’ who gave the autumn reading there in 1540.7

Early in 1535 Richard Southwell was acting as tutor to Gregory Cromwell and Robert was in Thomas Cromwell’s service. When the negotiation for Gregory Cromwell’s marriage to the only child of Sir Thomas Neville broke down it was Robert Southwell who with Cromwell’s approval secured the heiress; she was then 15 and their first son was born in December 1535. The marriage brought Southwell the house called Jotes Place in Mereworth, Kent, which he made his chief residence after the death of his father-in-law in 1542. It was probably at Cromwell’s request that on 1 June 1535 the King wrote to the mayor and aldermen of London asking for Southwell’s election as common serjeant, an office which the King declared him well suited to ‘both for his learning, discretion and other his good qualities’: he was elected on the following day. To Cromwell, too, he doubtless owed his entry to the House of Commons: on 15 Oct. 1535 he was elected by the mayor and corporation of Lynn ‘in lieu and place of Richard Bewcher’. The town must have been well pleased to have his support in its suit to the crown for a new grant of liberties, and he was to be twice re-elected one of its Members.8

In April 1536 Southwell entered the service of the crown, giving up his office in London to become solicitor of the court of augmentations. The financial loss which, as he told Cromwell, he suffered by this change he made the ground of his suit for the dissolved priory of Rochester. He also pointed out, this time to Ralph Sadler, that he now needed a London house, his living quarters in the Temple being a good mile from where the chancellor of augmentations was, with a consequent wastage of time every day in travelling: he coveted a little house formerly belonging to Elsingspittle priory, and as it was already let he offered £30 to redeem the lease, hoping at the cost of 100 marks to have it ready for himself and his wife before the winter. In September 1536 he joined his colleague Thomas Pope in support of charges of profiteering brought by Christopher Lascelles against Sir Richard Rich. Southwell’s duties were not confined to London: he undertook a number of tasks elsewhere, notably in surveying monasteries and taking their surrender. In July 1537 he was in Lancashire and in 1538 successively in Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Kent; in November 1538 he was commissioned to take surrenders in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, whence in January 1540 he moved into Worcestershire, finishing his business there on 27 Jan. at Evesham.9

Southwell surrendered his augmentations office in March 1540. A few days afterwards a warrant was delivered into Chancery for the payment to him of an annuity of £100 ‘for his office last given him’, with the further endorsement, ‘Mr. Robert Southwell to be admitted of the Council in Mr. Hare[’s] room with the fee of £100’. Southwell thus became a member of the King’s ‘Ordinary Council’ and replaced Sir Nicholas Hare as one of the masters of requests. Almost immediately he was sent up to the sessions in York to assist the president and council in the north. While he was away the death of (Sir) Christopher Hales made vacant the mastership of the rolls, to which Southwell was appointed in July 1541; on surrendering his patent for this office in December 1550 he retired from regular government service. In September 1541 he and (Sir) John Baker I were instructed to survey lands at Calais; on 3 Nov. their report was read to the Council.10

As master of the rolls Southwell received a writ of assistance to the Parliaments of 1542, 1545 and 1547, in all three of which he acted as a receiver of petitions in the Lords. In 1542 and 1547 (and probably in 1545, a Parliament for which the names are incomplete) he was also returned to the House of Commons. His knighthood of the shire for Surrey in 1542 he may have owed to his fellow-Member Sir Anthony Browne, with whom he could claim distant kinship through his wife, or to the 6th Lord Bergavenny, his wife’s first cousin: it was signalized by his being knighted by the King on the first day of the Parliament. During the third session he was joined by Sir John Baker and Sir Richard Rich in the delegation from the Commons to the Lords to ask for a conference on the King’s style. Southwell’s return in 1547 for Southampton, a town which normally confined its representation to residents, also presupposes powerful patronage, presumably that of his friend Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, and governor of the castle there. In the last session of this Parliament two bills, one concerning ‘affrays in churches or churchyards’ and the other for rearing calves, were committed to Southwell after their second reading in the Commons, and he was one of those nominated to investigate the legal situation governing the lands of the late Protector Somerset, bringing ‘copies and notes’ before the House on 12 Mar.11

During his years in government service Southwell accumulated a considerable landed estate. Before 1540 he obtained large grants of monastic property in Kent, London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex, some of which he disposed of during the 1540s. In 1543 he paid over £1,500 for the lordship, manor and hundred of Hoxne, Suffolk, formerly owned by the bishop of Norwich. Other property which he acquired between 1544 and 1550, much of it for re-sale, included the manors of Chippenham and Rowden, Wiltshire, former monastic manors in Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, and two Essex manors by exchange with the crown.12

Although Southwell resigned the mastership of the rolls in 1550 it was apparently not because of any dissension between him and the Edwardian regime. He continued to be named on local commissions and on 11 Nov. 1551 the Privy Council wrote asking him to come up to court as quickly as he could ‘for such causes as wherein the King mindeth to use his service’. His election to the Parliament of March 1553 bespeaks official patronage, but he was no stranger to Westminster, where he had property in his wife’s right. If the Duke of Northumberland had a hand in Southwell’s return on this occasion he was supporting one who was to forsake him during the succession crisis a few months later. Although Southwell witnessed the device vesting the succession in Jane Grey, he quickly gave his allegiance to Mary, signing the letter of 19 July in her support subscribed by a number of Kent gentry. The ‘Mr. Southwell’ to whom two bills had been committed in March 1553, one for tanning and the other for artificers, was probably Sir Robert rather than his nephew Richard Southwell alias Darcy, but the ‘Sir R. Southwell’ who was appointed to the committee to inquire into the eligibility for Membership of Alexander Nowell and John Foster II in October 1553, and to whom a bill was committed in the following month, is more likely to have been his elder brother, then a Privy Councillor.13

As sheriff of Kent Southwell showed his loyalty during the rising led by Sir Thomas Wyatt II early in 1554. For his ‘great expenses and labours’ in the Queen’s service during the rebellion he and his wife were granted the lordship of Aylesford in Kent and all its lands, except the site of the priory, forfeited by Wyatt on his attainder. Southwell nevertheless sued out a pardon for all treasons committed between 10 Jan. and 1 Apr. 1554, all heresies and murders, and all omissions in the performance of his duties as sheriff. The inclusion of heresy among the derelictions of which he might be accused probably means little: in April 1556 he was included in a commission to investigate cases of heresy in the diocese of Canterbury, although admittedly the fact that he had been given a similar commission by Edward VI argues some flexibility in his religious position.14

Southwell was twice knight of the shire for Kent during the reign of Mary and in her last Parliament he sat for Preston, a borough belonging to the duchy of Lancaster; on this occasion his name is one of those missing from a copy of the Crown Office list. Whether he sought a place in Elizabeth’s first Parliament is not known but if so he did not obtain one. He died on 26 Oct. 1559. Making his will on the previous 24 Aug., he bequeathed to his eldest son Thomas the goblet which Henry VIII, ‘mine old master’, had given him as his last New Year’s gift, and the manors of Chickering and Hoxne in Suffolk. He made provision for his younger sons and gave £500 each to his two unmarried daughters. His goshawk he left to Sir Henry Jerningham and rings to Sir Henry Bedingfield and (Sir) Edmund Wyndham. The executors were his eldest son Thomas, his brother Sir Richard and John Thruston of Hoxne, and the supervisors his wife and (Sir) Nicholas Bacon. Southwell was buried in Kent, presumably at Mereworth, on 8 Nov. 1559: his widow married William Plumbe of Middlesex.15

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Lynn congregation bk. 4, f. 301.
  • 2. Ibid., 4, f. 302v.
  • 3. Ibid. 4, f. 320.
  • 4. Hatfield 207.
  • 5. Date of birth estimated from elder and younger brothers’. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 260-1; Wriothesley’s Chron. i (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 133.
  • 6. City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 13, f. 444v; 14, f. 13; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xv, xvi; PPC, vii. 112; APC, iii. 412; CPR, 1549-51, p. 329; 1550-3, p. 355; 1554-5, pp. 67-69; 1555-7, pp. 24, 191.
  • 7. Index 10217(1), ff. 1, 3; LP Hen. VIII, ii; CPR, 1548-9, p. 142; Dugdale, Origines Juridiciales, 216.
  • 8. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 563-5; LP Hen. VIII, viii; Mill Stephenson, Mon. Brasses, 201; C142/128/55; City of London RO, jnl. 13, ff. 444v, 445v; Lynn congregation bk. 4, ff. 301, 302, 302v, 304v, 320.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii, xv.
  • 10. Ibid. xv, xvi; PPC, vii. 74, 112, 167, 266; CPR, 1549-51, p. 329.
  • 11. LJ, i. 165, 243, 267, 293; LP Hen. VIII, xvi; C218/1; Wriothesley’s Chron. i. 133; CJ, i. 19, 20.
  • 12. LP Hen. VIII, xiii-xvi, xviii, xix; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 98, 226, 228; 1548-9, pp. 86, 239; 1549-51, pp. 229, 318; 1554-5, p. 137.
  • 13. APC, iii. 412; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100; Add. 33230, f. 21; CJ, i, 25, 27, 31.
  • 14. CPR, 1550-3, p. 355; 1554-5, pp. 67-69; 1555-7. pp. 24, 191; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 58-59, 78.
  • 15. C142/128/55; PCC 53 Mellershe; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 217; Wm. Salt Lib. SMS 264.