PROBY, Peter (d.1625), of Brampton, Hunts. and Swithin's Lane, 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

2nd s. of Ralph Proby by Alice Bernard of Brampton. m. c.1595, Elizabeth (d.1644), da. of John Thoroughgood of Chivers, Essex, wid. of Edward Henson of London, 5s. 1da. suc. bro. Ralph 1605. Kntd. 1623.

Offices Held

Servant to (Sir) Francis Walsingham; member, Barber Surgeons’ Co. 1579, master 1615; servant to (Sir) Thomas Heneage by 1590; post at Chester 1590, confirmed 1599; duchy of Lancaster feodary in Northants. 1591; bailiff of Long Buckby 1591-2; steward of Ormskirk 1594; master forester, Amounderness 1594; ‘solicitor by patent’ to Hull by Oct. 1596; dep. (to William Lambarde) keeper of recs. in the Tower 1601, keeper 1601-2; esquire of the body to Q. Elizabeth and James I; bailiff, manor of Elton 1604-24; alderman of London 1614, sheriff 1614-15; gov. of Irish soc. 1616-22; member, Grocers’ Co. 1622; ld. mayor of London 1622-3.1


Proby had an extraordinary career. He was born in Chester and his parents later moved to his mother’s seat at Brampton. Since Proby was considered for the post of clerk of the prentice at Chester, offered to serve as solicitor of Chester, and did serve as solicitor of Hull, it is possible that he received some legal education, the record of which has not survived. According to his own statement, he entered the Queen’s service about 1578, which may have been when he was first employed by Walsingham, whose barber (presumably barber surgeon) John Chamberlain the letter writer, said he was, as did the recorder of London when he presented Proby to the lord keeper as lord mayor of London in 1622. Perhaps he was already one of Walsingham’s agents. Requesting the mayor of Chester to grant him the office of clerk of the prentice in 1587 the Privy Council described Proby as ‘a servant of Mr. Secretary’s’, and also as ‘very honest and used in place of good credit as one well accounted of by Mr. Secretary’.

Next, Proby appears under the protection of Sir Thomas Heneage. As Proby’s eldest son was christened Heneage, it seems likely that he was still a young man when they first came together. Heneage and Walsingham were close personal friends, so it is impossible to determine whether Proby worked for Heneage before Walsingham’s death, but he was doing so immediately afterwards.

Walsingham died on 6 Apr. 1590 and on 7 May Proby and one James were estimating for Heneage the cost for continuing ‘a course of understanding how things pass’ in Flanders, France and Spain. They drew up a list of persons engaged on this work, and Heneage sent both documents to Burghley. Shortly after Heneage succeeded Walsingham as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Proby began to receive duchy offices. It was presumably also Heneage who, as high steward of Hull, procured Proby his seat in Parliament in 1593. As one of the Hull burgesses he could have taken part in committee work on fish (5 Mar.), cloth (23 Mar.), and weirs (28 Mar.).

When Proby sat for Liverpool in 1597, it was presumably through the influence of his new master Sir Rober Cecil, to whom he had turned immediately upon the death of Heneage, 17 Oct. 1595.

Within a week he had sent him some of his old master’s books and papers and promised to wait on Cecil at court without delay ‘with good testimony of sundry employments of importance, largely promised in her Majesty’s name’, which he had not yet received. He said he had done good services without making it known to any but such as employed him, so that they had ‘the credit and commodity’, while he, ‘poor man’, was left to ‘be holpen by her Highness whose service it was, and by true report of Cecil’, to whom he had not yet rendered any service at all. Proby gave Cecil no chance to forget him and soon recapitulated the list of his services, which were not ‘in words or fables but in deeds, with great charge, pains and danger’. He did not desire ‘any great matter’, but a ‘convenient pension’. From Heneage he had been accustomed to receive £20 p.a. paid quarterly by his steward, as well as his diet, lodgings, carriages and riding charges. He had besides ‘£40 yearly of his honour, sometimes paid by his commandment by the clerks in the Treasury, and sometimes by him out of such fees of towns that he was officer unto’. Furthermore he had ‘his honourable speech and letters for himself and friends very readily, and hoped the Queen would think all this worth £100 yearly’. But as God had taken ‘this his means’ from him, he hoped the Queen would have him to serve in such places as she told him he should shortly know.2

Proby did not hope in vain. By 29 Oct. he had already been commanded to wait at court, and by the beginning of November he enjoyed a chamber there with an allowance of three dishes of meat and was paid an income ‘till a treasurer of the chamber be chosen’. Early in March the following year he was sent to Chester to arrange for shipping to carry forces to Ireland. Later in the year he corresponded with Cecil about the price of armour in London. Finally, after Cecil’s death, Proby turned to the city of London. Commenting on Proby’s being made an alderman in 1614, Chamberlain described him as ‘a shrewd, nimble-witted fellow’. As governor of the Irish society in 1616, Proby, accompanied by Matthias Springham, went to Ulster with full powers to view, examine and regulate the affairs of the plantation there, and to report upon it. In 1622 Proby transferred from the Barber Surgeons to the Grocers, one of the 12 great city companies, in anticipation of the mayoralty.3

Proby was in debt in 1595, but by the time he made his will, during the last two years of his life, he had evidently prospered. He referred to his great age and included a tribute to his wife for nursing him in his recent illnesses. She received a 40 years’ interest in his manor of Elton, Huntingdonshire, and his London house. To his son Henry he left the manor of Yaxley, Huntingdonshire, and three other sons received £1,000 each. Other bequests went to the Barber Surgeons, the Grocers, Bridewell hospital, the poor of Elton, Yaxley and Chester. The executors were his sons Heneage and Henry, and his son-in-law William Downhall. Proby was buried 14 Mar. 1625 at St. Swithin’s.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. VCH Hunts. ii. 92; iii. 160; Collins, Peerage, ix. 137; Young, Annals of the Barber Surgeons, 532-3; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 663; APC, xxix. 590; Somerville, Duchy, i. 507, 509, 590; Cheshire Sheaf (ser. 3), vii. 94; Chambers, Eliz. Stage, i. 65; HMC Hatfield, vi. 350-1, 436; Queen's Coll. Oxf. mss 155, pp. 247-8; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 74, 193; ii. 53.
  • 2. Chester assembly bk. 52, 55, 58, 61, 62-3; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, iv. 873; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 545; ii. 461; HMC Hatfield, v. 427, 525; vi. 444; APC, xv. 42; xvii. 285; Read, Walsingham, i. 135; iii. 430; D’Ewes, 487, 507, 512; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 664.
  • 3. Collins, Sidney Pprs. i. 356, 357-8; APC, xxv. 280: CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 302; Chamberlain Letters, i. 545; Hist. Narr. of the Origin of the Irish Soc. (privately 1916) 45.
  • 4. PCC 28 Clarke.