CONSTABLE, Sir Robert (c.1522-91), of the Spittal, Newark, Notts. and the Minories, 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.1522, 2nd s. of Sir Robert Constable of Everingham, Yorks. by Catherine, da. of George Manners, Lord Ros, sis. of Thomas, 1st Earl of Rutland. m. by 1562, Christiana, da. of John Dabridgecourt of Langdon Hall. Warws., wid. of Anthony Forster of Newark, 1s.1 Kntd. 1570.

Offices Held

?Constable, Queenborough castle and steward of Middleton, Kent 1558-67; gent. pens. by 1558-83; ?dep. steward, Newark by 1563; j.p. Notts. from c.1573; marshal of Berwick July 1575-c. Aug. 1578; commr. musters, Notts. 1580; lt. of the ordnance June 1588-d.2


Constable was a younger son of a cadet branch of the Constables of Yorkshire. His father died in 1558 and was succeeded by Robert’s elder brother Marmaduke, then approximately 38 years of age. Presumably it was his marriage, early in Elizabeth’s reign, that brought Constable his lands in Newark, where his wife’s first husband had been an alderman. He subsequently acquired a leasehold property on the northern outskirts of the town, which belonged to the hospital of St. Leonard and was commonly known as the Spittal. It is likely that the same man was the ‘Mr. Constable’ who was deputy steward of Newark in 1563 and almost certain that he was the Robert Constable who was a gentleman pensioner at the end of Mary’s reign when, in consideration of his service to Henry VIII, Edward VI and the reigning sovereign, he was granted some watermills at Richmond in Yorkshire, and appointed constable of Queenborough castle. It is, however, just possible that this was a second cousin, Robert Constable of Flamborough.3

Constable was a soldier, whose service probably began in Scotland in 1549. In 1570 he took part in the punitive expedition against the northern rebels under the command of the Earl of Sussex, by whom he was knighted during the campaign: he apparently served for some time as sergeant-major of Sussex’s army. He received leases of lands ‘for his service to the Queen in the wars’, and ‘for his service during the late rebellion in the north’, and composed a treatise on the ‘Ordering of a Camp’. Constable’s appointment as marshal of Berwick in 1575 brought the usual difficulties over money, and six months after his appointment Constable wrote to his patron and relative the 3rd Earl of Rutland, complaining that, apart from £100, he had received nothing by way of imprest since his arrival in Berwick. By May 1576 he was trying to be relieved of his office, but was ‘stayed’, for the Queen had ‘remembered herself’ and resolved to send a new treasurer to Berwick.

Upon his coming I hope to get liberty for two months to seek remedy for my health. The lord regent offered to send me the best surgeons and physicians in Scotland, but I would have none. When I can get liberty, I mean to go to Buxton. No one ever lived here at so great charge as I do, for all things are at an extreme price, and there is no one here but myself to entertain any strangers or others that pass ... I have had of her Majesty £200 imprest, and the garrison is unpaid since Michaelmas, and not one penny imprest.

Next, probably early in 1577,

riding about the Queen’s works here my horse has fallen upon me and bruised me so much that I am not able to stir out of my bed. I find the cause very dangerous, yet I could get no help of physic. I hope to God to escape the danger, though it will be very hard in consideration of my old years. I have written to my lord regent’s grace for a physician, for there is none to be had nearer, but I hear no word of him as he is at Stirling. I was hurt on Tuesday last and was dressed by the surgeons of this town. All my body is bruised, especially my breast upon the right side. The fall was so great that my sword was broken into three pieces.

Later in the year he was still seeking to resign his post because of the expense. He was released in August 1578, Burghley remarking that he had been ‘beggared’ by the office.4

Constable now lived as a country gentleman on his Nottinghamshire estates, and thought of entering Parliament, no doubt encouraged by Rutland. The only trace he left upon the known records of the House was his membership of a committee (19 Dec. 1584) concerned with the maintenance of the navy, although as knight of the shire he was eligible to attend the subsidy committee on 24 Feb. 1585.5

In May 1585 Constable wrote to Rutland describing a tournament before the Queen at Greenwich, organized by himself and ‘Mr. Treasurer’, ‘to her Majesty’s contentment and well liking of the whole people’. It was

such a skirmish ... as the like hath not been at any time, for it never ceased till her Majesty gave commandment that it should cease. And after the skirmish she did cause that we should pause awhile for the cooling of their pieces, and so to begin, which latter skirmish exceeded [so] that the French ambassador and all the counsellors did greatly commend it.

When all was over,

her Majesty gave thanks unto the people ... And then came I into the garden where her Majesty was talking with the French ambassador. She, leaving him, came to me, and so I kissed her hand, with as gracious words as any man could receive, saying that she had taken order for me in such order as I should not mislike of. Further she did charge me in any wise that I should take no cold, and so I went and supped with Mr. Treasurer, where I was so much made of as no man could be more.

Constable was a principal mourner at the Earl’s funeral in 1587. He himself was buried in Holy Trinity Minories 12 Nov. 1591, being succeeded by his son Henry, poet and religious exile.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.E.M.


  • 1. Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 40; DNB (Constable, Henry).
  • 2. CPR, 1558-60, p. 101; 1566-9, p. 264; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 301; Add. 1580-1625, p. 323; CPR, 1557-8, p. 299; E407/1/15, 16; Egerton 2345, f. 26; APC, ix. 6; x. 299; PRO Index 6800; HMC Rutland, i. 88.
  • 3. C142/120/73; C. Brown, Hist. Newark, ii. 17-18, 218; C. Brown, Notts. Worthies, 150; HMC Rutland, i. 88; CPR, 1557-8, p. 299; J. Foster, Ped. Yorks. County Fams. ii.
  • 4. CPR, 1569-72, pp. 273, 290; HMC Rutland, i. 107, 108, 111, 114, 115; iv. 357 et passim; DNB, loc. cit.; Lodge, Illus. i. 507-10; Holinshed, Chron. (1808), iv. 243-52; APC, ix. x. passim; xi. 193; Wright, Eliz. ii. 426.
  • 5. D’Ewes 343; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171.
  • 6. HMC Rutland, i. 174, 242 passim; PCC admon. act bk. 1591, f. 197; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 174; Add. 1580-1625, p. 452; Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 290.