ALFORD, Francis (c.1530-92), of Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1530, 2nd s. of Robert Alford of London by Anne, da. of Edmund Brydges; bro. of Roger. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1548; BA 1549; Christ Church, Oxf. 1550. m. bef. Sept. 1562, Agnes, wid. of Augustine de Augustinis, ?1s.

Offices Held

Proctor, vice-chancellor’s court, and clerk of the market, Oxford to 1555; rector, Croxton, Cambs. 1561; chanter, Lincoln cathedral.1


Alford had every prospect of a successful career as a civilian or even as a leading official. Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, was his cousin and Alford’s brother Roger was a servant of Sir William Cecil. As a young man Alford studied the civil law (D’Ewes, in his entry for 13 Apr. 1571, refers to him as ‘learned in the civil laws’). In 1555 he resigned his Oxford posts, and it was possibly at this point that he left for the Continent to study in France and elsewhere. He was a student of law at Padua during 1557-9, and later claimed to have been a religious exile.2

His career for the first few years of Elizabeth’s reign is obscure. In 1560 he unsuccessfully supplicated for the Oxford DCL degree, but it is still possible that he was active as a civilian. By 1564 he was living in a messuage in the ‘great court’ of Salisbury House, the Sackville mansion in London—a convenient centre for legal practice. Although his London property must have been quite valuable and his wife Agnes, widow of Cardinal Wolsey’s doctor, was wealthy, Alford always seems to have been in financial difficulties. His subsidy assessment in the middle of the reign was on £20 in land or £60 in goods, but he had to fight so many lawsuits over his property that it is doubtful whether it yielded him much profit. Indeed, it is difficult to see what were his sources of income in his middle years. His repeated expressions of gratitude to Buckhurst suggest that he may have been living largely on the generosity of his wealthy relative.

In addition to his straitened financial situation Alford was also encumbered by his wife’s Catholicism, practiced even in her husband’s house. In 1582 Walsingham intervened to prevent her prosecution for hearing mass in Salisbury Court as ‘Mr Francis is bound for her, and she promises to go to the church’. However, considering his powerful connexions, a strained purse and his wife’s Catholicism should not in themselves have denied Alford hope of advancement.3

It is clear that by the mid-seventies Alford had permanently forfeited the Queen’s favour. A visit to France—his own references to the episode leave date and details vague—seems to have contributed to this misfortune. Apparently he went at his own expense, perhaps in a minor official capacity, and was recalled on suspicion of having been too closely connected with friends of Mary Stuart. According to his own story written in a letter to Hatton in 1578 he ‘refused in France both the acquaintance of [Mary’s] greatest friends and relief by her patrimony’. He returned immediately to England on receiving letters complaining of his conduct and offered to answer any accusations on oath. No action was taken against him. Alford himself attributed his disgrace to his parliamentary record. In a letter to Buckhurst in 1587 he wrote:

though I know service in Parliament hath been my undoing, but I repent me not, for that I know I have done my country some good, whereunto we are all born.

The two together—his speeches, especially in the 1572 session of Parliament, and the doubts cast on his loyalty by his conduct in France—probably explain why he never obtained the mastership of requests, an office which he once thought to be within his grasp.

During his early years in Parliament he earned a reputation for conservatism and was a known supporter of the 1559 church settlement. He was appointed to the succession committee on 31 Oct. 1566, and in 1571 he was an active Member of the House. On 14 Apr. he opposed George Carleton’s bill against dispensations granted by the archbishop of Canterbury—naturally enough, since he was an ecclesiastical lawyer and probably still possessed of his lay rectory in Cambridgeshire. His speech, however, brought a stinging rebuke from Christopher Yelverton who thought ‘no good Christian’ could be against the bill. On 19 Apr. he spoke on the qualifications of burgesses, noting

one great disorder that very young men, not experienced, for learning sake were oft chosen, through whose default he knew not, whether letters of noble men or affection in the country, their own ambitions or the careless account of the election, or what else cause he knew not but it was not as it should be ... whereupon he would that none should be of that House not of thirty years at least. And for the choice of townsmen he said he was of this mind ... that there should be one of their own, or some gentleman near them who had knowledge of the state of the country, and the other a man learned and able to utter the mind of his opinion

He was appointed to the committee considering the qualifications of burgesses on the same day. He spoke twice on the treasons bill (9, 12 Apr.); was appointed to the committee (12 Apr.); spoke on the bill for Bristol (11 Apr.) and was appointed to the committee the following day. His committee work also concerned the subsidy (7 Apr.), promoters (23 Apr.), tellers and receivers (23 Apr.), order of business (26 Apr.), the bill of attainders and the bill against bulls (10 May), assurances of lands (14 May) and fugitives (25 May).

In 1572 Alford lost the good opinion of the House and generally ruined his prospects by asking for a fair hearing both for Arthur Hall and Mary Queen of Scots. Referring to Hall’s speech on the Duke of Norfolk, Alford declared on 15 May

that the person of the speaker may occasion one selfsame thing to be diversely construed ... he seeth the old interpretation verified—better some man steal a horse than other to look over a hedge ... He trusteth he may be suffered to speak his mind: all here present knights and burgesses, and the voice of one as free as of another.

And the next day he emphasized the point: ‘Differences of opinions must needs be’. He spoke twice on the subject of fraudulent gifts (16, 17 May), concerning a land transaction in which he was personally involved. On 19 May he criticized the proposed reform of the book of common prayer:

Zeal and science good when they meet together. He speaketh this for that he thinketh the preferrers of this bill had a zeal but no science. He thinketh the matter belongeth best to divines and therefore would have the matter first treated of in the convocation house.

His speeches in 1572 concerning Mary Queen of Scots today seem innocuous enough. However, the continued expression of his doubts as to the legality of executing a ‘Queen in esse’, and his preoccupation with giving Mary’s supporters an opportunity to defend her, showed courage in a House fanatically committed to her death. On 16 May he wished that ‘they which would speak for the Queen of Scots might be comforted and be heard at full, so as it might be said for her as she could have said for herself if she had been here present’. And on 19 May:

Let her forfeit her estate not her life. Deprive her of name, title, dignity and state, and so weigh of the offences as of an enemy, no traitor.

Understandably, this attitude of clemency towards Mary led to attacks on his loyalty and religious beliefs. Thomas Cromwell reports that on 7 June Alford

showeth he is grown in double suspicion in the House, as well in religion as for fancy and affection. He denieth both, and desireth to be thought of to have a plain and simple mind.

Undeterred, he continued to put forward his views and on 25 June, having asked ‘all men to mark his words’ so as to avoid misrepresentation, he said:

I think her [Mary Stuart] to be as vile and naughty a creature as ever the earth bore, and am as thoroughly persuaded of her lewd misdemeanours as any man in this company; yet can I not see how it can stand with the honour of England for the avoiding of foreign slander, either to condemn her unheard or to touch her in life for that she never knew of.

No committee work has been recorded in Alford’s name for the 1572 session.

In 1576, however, he was very active, being appointed to committees concerning employment for the poor (11 Feb.), actions upon the case (13 Feb.), three private bills (14 Feb., 13 Mar.), bastardy (15 Feb.), cloth (16 Feb.), lands without covin (18 Feb.), treatment of aliens (24 Feb.), haberdashers (28 Feb.), the universities (2 Mar.), children of aliens (3 Mar.), innholders (5 Mar.), benefit of clergy (7 Mar.), excess of apparel (10 Mar.), and a petition to the Queen to marry (12 Mar.). Alford again took Arthur Hall’s part in the disputes concerning his privilege case, speaking on the subject on 20 Feb. and 7 Mar. 1576. He was named to a committee to examine Hall in the following session (6 Feb. 1581). At the beginning of the 1581 session Alford opposed Wentworth’s motion for a public fast and daily preaching (21 Jan.). He made a motion on 28 Jan. concerning the composition of conveyances, and was appointed to confer with others on the subject on Feb. His committee work in 1581 included the following topics: defeasances in the statute staple (28 Jan.), bigamy (31 Jan.), attorneys (20 Feb.), a private bill (20 Feb., 9 Mar.), hats and caps (22 Feb.), defence (25 Feb.), errors in fines and recoveries (10 Mar.), the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.), fraudulent conveyances (14 Mar.), maintenance of the navy (17 Mar.) and seditious words and practices against the Queen (17 Mar.).

After two sessions of comparative silence, Alford was once again at the centre of parliamentary disputes in 1584. The dates of his speeches in this Parliament, however, have not been ascertained. On one occasion he had an angry exchange with Sir Edward Dymock. Apparently Alford made unflattering remarks about a speech by Dymock introducing a petition from Lincolnshire puritans, and Dymock retaliated by insulting in the House Alford’s family origins. This brought Alford to his feet:

I have been of this House these twenty-two years, and I have oftentimes offended by my speech, but I was never reproached in speech before now. To count me so base a person, he hath no cause, for I am a gentleman as well as he, of many descents, though but a poor gentleman.

He was an active participant in the debate concerning the age of appointment to the ministry, as usual attacking the puritan line:

We speak much of duty, but we do none. In other countries the sheep be so well taught and are so dutiful they will follow their shepherd through a market town. But our sheep will teach their shepherd, he cannot drive them before him, but if one fall a-leaping a ditch or hedge, all the rest will follow though they break their necks for it. I like not of these verbal sermons. I dare boldly affirm it, one homily doth more edify than one hundred of these verbal sermons.

He also argued against the appointment of a learned ministry, maintaining that the existing livings were too poor: ‘The livings of 2,000 parishes in England are but £8 by year. How can you place a learned man there?’ He spoke on the subject of rogues and the avoiding of an idle and incontinent life—‘these idle rogues are the canker and vermin that eat up the fruit of the land’. He was appointed to two committees concerning rogues on 26 Feb. and 5 Mar. Referring to Recorder Fleetwood’s reminiscences of the manner in which a former bill concerning vintners passed the House, Alford commented: ‘We are not to follow precedents made in an afternoon when commonly men are more merry than wise’. He supported a bill to ‘increase the wages of the justices’ so that they would be less open to the temptation of bribery and corruption. He also spoke on the penal laws, on the preservation of grain and game, and against the bill restricting the length of cloth. His committee work included topics such as disorders in common informers (2 Dec.), preservation of timber in Sussex (8 Dec.), liberty of some ministers (16 Dec.), a private bill (13 Feb. 1585), the true answering of tithes and the multiplicity of excommunications and perjuries (6 Mar.), and fraudulent conveyances (17 Mar.).

Either because he was tired of beating his head against a wall, or because of his own financial straits and his lack of regular office, by 1586 Alford appears to have become reconciled to the necessity of Mary’s death. On 4 Nov. he was among 11 named speakers who supported the petition for her execution, and he was appointed to the committee the same day. He spoke thrice in support of continued intervention in the Netherlands, recommending during the committee (?25 Feb. 1587) that Elizabeth accept sovereignty: ‘By sovereignty she has command and profit, which in time can lighten our present burden; and men go willingly into her service ...’ His committee work during this Parliament concerned parliamentary privilege (9 Nov., 6 Mar. 1587), regrators of barley (4 Mar. 1587) and a private bill (9 Mar.).

In his last Parliament he was appointed to committees concerning privileges (7 Feb. 1589), abuses in returns (8 Feb.), the subsidy (11 Feb.), the debts of Thomas Hanford (21 Feb.), the purveyors bill (27 Feb.), the gauging of casks and other vessels (4 Mar.), Dover harbour (5 Mar.), cordwainers, shoemakers and curriers (6 Mar.), the relief of the city of Lincoln (15 Mar.), secret outlawries (20 Mar.) and almshouses in Lambourn, Berkshire (22 Mar.). He made only one known speech, on a point of procedure (26 Feb.).

Alford probably owed his first parliamentary seat, at Newton, to the Cecil/Cave/Fleetwood/Langton connexion described in that constituency account. Similarly a court connexion probably explains his return for a Cornish borough in 1571, though the wheels cannot be seen turning. However, in 1572 the Earl of Leicester, presumably acting on a request from Buckhurst, found him a seat at Reading. Alford agreed to take no wages, but evidently received some sort of verbal promise from the corporation which was not kept. The corporation complained to Leicester, and Alford lost what might have become a safe seat. For the rest of his parliamentary career he sat for constituencies where Buckhurst had direct influence.

Buckhurst remained a constant friend to Alford throughout his life. It was probably through him that Alford was appointed chanter of Lincoln cathedral, but even here, bad luck dogged him. He had expected the prebend of Empingham in conjunction with his new office, but a certain Dr. Runnegar was already in possession. It was only after a long correspondence with the cathedral authorities that Alford was finally installed. He applied for other lay offices in the church, and was rector of Croxton, Cambridgeshire. An undated letter survives to the bishop of Bath and Wells from Buckhurst in support of his claims to a deanery:

How much the church hath been beholden to F.A. this late Parliament of many years ... is so well known to you all as I need not to rehearse the same ... You shall pleasure a learned man, one very meet for the place, being capable and qualified for the same ... He is my kinsman and one whom I am most desirous to do good unto.

It is surprising to find Buckhurst writing in these terms of Alford, in view of the continuing suspicions surrounding Alford’s religious beliefs. Alford was often accused of Catholic sympathies, inside and outside the House of Commons. ‘God knoweth and the world also’, he wrote to Sir Christopher Hatton in 1578, ‘that I ever from my youth hated that religion ... and for that cause departed myself beyond the sea’. As late as 1590 he was still writing, this time probably to Buckhurst, on the same theme:

Nothing toucheth me more near than to be blemished in the opinion of her Highness to be a follower and favourer of that sect which so much seeketh the ruin and destruction of her sacred person and kingdom ... whereunto I have professed myself an enemy in the ears of all men, yea in the Parliament house, publicly and solemnly, so that I marvel that there can remain such injustice in any man’s heart so to slander me to her Highness.

So indebted was Alford to Buckhurst that it is not surprising to find him disapproving of his patron’s refusal to seek the lord chancellorship—an office for which Buckhurst was evidently twice considered. Alford, no doubt with an eye to the opportunities open to him as a civilian if his kinsman became lord chancellor, urged Buckhurst to reconsider his decision: ‘I know how far your Lordship is from ambition, and how well contented with the state and honour you have’, but such considerations ought to be set aside when ‘not only the common voice, but also the opinion of the most great and wisest’, thought a man suitable for high office. Buckhurst answered, in a charming letter addressed to ‘cousin Francis’, that he had never been of importance to the state, and was too old to become so now.

Several minor ecclesiastical offices, presumably sinecures, did not satisfy Alford’s ambitions. He applied for a number of government posts, including the ballastership of the navy, but without success. His main plea, however, was for a project from which he had high hopes—to be appointed to write an official history of Elizabeth’s reign. In a long letter to John Wolley, written in or after 1586, he set out his views:

It hath not pleased any person of learning, joined with experience of service and knowledge of his country, to take pains in the writing of the memories of many years past ... I am very desirous to bestow my labour therein in these my elder days [if Burghley would give him access to the necessary papers]. I write in my petition for service done, which I mean chiefly of service done in Parliament all the time of [Elizabeth’s] reign, not without profit to her Highness and my country. [He remembered his recall from France] yet did her Majesty then promise if I acquitted myself of the suspicions then unjustly laid upon me, that she would make me able to live.

In a letter to Buckhurst on the same subject, he asked that the Queen should give him a pension out of the bishopric of Ely, where, on the election of the new bishop, she had the right to an annuity for one of her chaplains. He failed to gain this office, as he had failed in so many other suits to Elizabeth. ‘The world smileth not on me’, he wrote sadly, in another connexion, ‘nor I laugh not at it.’ ‘I have never been able to climb one step into preferment, more than my private patrimony and provision could attain unto.’ In some ways he would have been as well qualified as Camden to write the annals of the reign. His surviving pamphlets and treatises, for example on suggested reforms in the legal system, and the dangers of merchant corporations, are lucid and well written.4

After the 1589 Parliament Alford fades from sight. He was buried 3 Sept. 1592, and no will or inquisition post mortem has been found. In that year his relative John Alford received by deed poll the trusteeship of almshouses at Lambourn, Berkshire, which Francis had held.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: N. M. Fuidge / M.A.P.


  • 1. Rylands Eng. ms 311; Berry, Co. Genealogies, Suss. 302; CPR , 1560-3, p. 273; 1563-6, p. 433; CSP For. 1586-8, p. 538; W. M. Palmer, Cambs. in 16th Cent. , 1; Petyt mss 538/10, ff. 51-69.
  • 2. Petyt mss passim.; Andrich, De Natione Anglia et Scotia Iuristarum Universitatis Patavinae (lists 1557-9).
  • 3. Wood, Fasti Oxon. i. 158; Petyt mss; CPR , 1560-3, p. 273; 1563-6, pp. 107-8; Lansd. 35, f. 87.
  • 4. Petyt mss, passim; CPR , 1560-3, p. 273; St. Ch. 5/A7/37, A8/26, A10/5, A20/5; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 415-16, 429, 443, 454; D’Ewes, 127, 159, 160, 162, 165, 167, 171, 178, 179, 182, 183, 188, 247, 248, 251, 252, 253, 260, 262, 282, 289, 290, 292, 299, 304, 306, 307, 335, 337, 340, 349, 360, 363, 364, 369, 393, 394, 396, 412, 414, 429, 430, 431, 436, 439, 440, 442, 443, 446, 449, 451; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. ff. 164, 165, 167, 170, 173, 174; Harl. 6845, transl. f. 33; CJ , i. 83, 84, 85, 86, 88, 89, 92, 105, 106, 108, 110, 111, 113, 114, 115, 120, 123, 128, 129, 132, 133, 134, 135; Neale, Parlts. i. 288-9; ii. 175, 176, 178; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 9, 13, 19, 22, 28, 29; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 15, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 26, 54, 64, 65, 121, 129.
  • 5. Par. reg. St. Dunstan-in-the-West; Charity Comm. Rep. xxxii(1), p. 380 seq.