HILTON, Sir William (d.1600), of Hilton Castle, co. Dur. and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.

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

1st s. of William Hilton, who was bro. and h. of Sir Thomas Hilton, baron of Hilton, by Margaret, da. of Sir James Metcalfe of Nappa in Wensleydale, Yorks. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1555. m. 1558, Anne, da. of Sir John York of Gouthwaite, Yorks., 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1562. Kntd. 1570.1

Offices Held

J.p. co. Dur. by 1562, q. by 1583-c.1596; Northumb. 1577, q. by 1583-c.1596; sheriff, co. Dur. 1576-7, 1587-?d., commr. musters by 1573.2


As the head of an old family in the north-east, and a reliable protestant in a Catholic district, Hilton became an important local official. Early in February 1570, when Leonard Dacre was still at large, and the northern rebellion not yet over, Lord Hunsdon wrote to Cecil that ‘there is not one gentleman left but Mr. Hilton’. It was probably as a reward for his services during the rebellion, when he brought 100 horsemen to help the government troops, that Hilton was knighted on 28 Aug. that year.3

He was presumably the Sir ‘Thomas’ Hilton mentioned in the journal for 19 Apr. 1571 as a member of the committee for the bill about non-resident burgesses.4

As the danger from Spain became more pressing, Durham, like other districts, intensified its preparations for defence. It was a poor county and in consequence a man of Hilton’s standing had to contribute heavily. In September 1584 he was rated at £200 in lands ‘and for apparel two horsemen, two able horses promised with men well furnished’. In September 1587 Hunsdon wrote to Burghley, ‘As I came by Durham, I was entreated by all the gentlemen of the bishopric’ to ask the Queen to appoint a sheriff, the gaol being packed with murderers and other criminals. ‘They say there is a commission lying by them, and seeing Sir William Hilton hath been so long sheriff, he is the meetest man for it’. Some of the northern counties had unusual methods of appointing sheriffs, and Durham, an old county palatine, had no regular system of annual appointments. Hilton’s appointment was granted—or confirmed—on 4 Oct. 1587. He received a special mention in the Queen’s letter of thanks to the gentlemen of the bishopric in August 1588, after the defeat of the Armada.5

He remained an active official until nearly the end of the century, his name being omitted from the commissions of the peace for 1597, perhaps because of failing health. As with so many Elizabethan public figures, there is little evidence about his private life. His wife (or less probably his daughter-in-law) was described by Burghley as ‘that infamous strumpet the lady Hilton’, when inquiries were being made about the activities of priests in the north-east in 1593. His eldest son Sir Thomas, who married a daughter of Sir George Bowes, died in 1598 after a long illness, and appointed his father one of the supervisors of his will.

No will or inquisition is known for Hilton himself, who died in August or September 1600, but the inventory of goods left at his death, at Hilton and in a house which he owned in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, vividly illustrates the low standard of living in the north of England in the sixteenth century. Beds, candlesticks and many other items are described as ‘old’ and almost worthless. One ‘broken iron chimney’ was valued at only 2s.6d. The Newcastle house, where most of the furniture was of fir-wood, was more civilized, but the total for the two establishments together was less than £55. Hilton’s funeral charges were correspondingly modest—under £15, including the actual burial and mourning gowns for the family, friends and servants. He was buried on 9 Sept. 1600 in Hilton chapel: the estates descended to his grandson, Henry.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Surtees Soc. cxii. 178; W. Hutchinson, Hist. Durham, iii. app. xix-xx; Arch Ael. (ser. 4), xxiii. 106; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 382.
  • 2. Border Pprs. 1560-94. p. 276; Lansd. 56, ff. 168 seq.
  • 3. C66/1421; Egerton 2345, f. 5; Lansd. 146, f. 20; APC, xxiii. 259, 261; Border Pprs. 1560-94, p. 35; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 226; 1595-7, p. 217; Shaw, Knights, ii. 74; Arch. Ael. (ser. 4), xxii. 49.
  • 4. CJ, i. 85.
  • 5. Border Pprs. 1560-94, pp. 162, 276, 331; CP, vii. 32.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 45; 1591-4, p. 378; Surtees Soc. cxii. 169, 178; Al. Cant. i(2), p. 375; Border Pprs. 1560-94, p. 35; CP ; Hutchinson, iii. app. xx.