SELBY, William III (c.1556-1638), of Branxton, Northumb. and Twizell, co. Dur.; later of Ightham Mote, Kent.

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.1556, 1st s. of Sir John Selby, gentleman porter of Berwick, of Branxton and Twizell by his w. Margaret. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1573; G. Inn 1576. m. Dorothy, da. and h. of Charles Bonham of Malling, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. 1595, and uncle William Selby II to Ightham 1612. Kntd. 6 Apr. 1603.2

Offices Held

Jt. (with his uncle) gent. porter, Berwick from 1599; j.p.q. Northumb. from c.1601; sheriff, Northumb. 1604, 1606; border commr. from 1605; capt. Tynemouth castle from 1606; j.p. Kent by 1632.3


Although the Selbys had estates in Northumberland and co. Durham, they are usually associated with Berwick, where they held offices over several generations. Selby’s grandfather, father and uncle were gentlemen porters of the town, and others of the family held captaincies in the garrison during the same period. Selby himself was attached to the garrison in 1586, when he led some of his soldiers in an attack on members of two prominent rival families, the Collingwoods and Claverings. The affray led to the death of one of the Claverings, but Selby, apparently through Walsingham’s influence, escaped punishment.4

In return for Walsingham’s help on that occasion, and other favours, the Selbys pledged themselves to his service. The younger Selby was employed by Walsingham, in connexion with Scottish affairs, in 1582, and a few years later he again offered his services to the Secretary, with whom he was in contact throughout the 1580s through his correspondence with Archibald Douglas, the Scottish ambassador in England, and an intimate of Walsingham. Even though Selby had been knighted in the Arne, his friendship with Douglas, an ex-minister as well as a leading figure in the Scottish presbyterian party, and his own father’s puritan views, suggest that he was the ‘master Selby’ of Berwick who was urged to organize puritan ministers and gentry in that area to subscribe to the millenary petition in 1603.5

Selby did not take up his share of duties as gentleman porter at Berwick until the spring of 1600, when the warden, Lord Willoughby, was instructed to admit Selby to his office. Almost immediately the two men were at odds, with Selby accusing the warden of attempting, with Sir William Bowes, to establish absolute rule in Berwick. The struggle was obviously uneven, and in November 1600 Selby asked Cecil to release him from his duties. Although the reply was unfavourable, Selby ceased to be active at Berwick and apparently absented himself to join his uncle in Kent.6

Selby’s absence from Berwick, which drew adverse comment from his superiors, was partly explained by his attendance at Parliament, where, on 9 Dec. 1601, he spoke on a bill concerned with the statute of tillage. The statute had placed severe restrictions on enclosures in order to ease economic distress and check depopulation, and the 1601 Parliament saw an attempt by the ‘great sheepmasters’ to secure its repeal. Selby, in a long but briefly reported speech, submitted that Northumberland should be exempt from the statute,

because it was so nigh the Scots; and the country was so infested with the plague, that, not only whole families, but whole villages had been swept away with that calamity.

Selby is not mentioned by name as sitting on committees in either of his Parliaments but as a knight of the shire for Northumberland he may have served on committees for enclosures (5 Nov. 1597), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), armour and weapons (8 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.), the subsidy (15 Nov.), the order of business (3 Nov. 1601), monopolies (23 Nov.), strengthening the northern frontier (3 Dec.) and reforming the local government of the northern counties (14 Dec.).7

Selby returned to Berwick in time to welcome King James and receive one of the first knighthoods of the new reign,8 then retired to his estates. He was pricked sheriff in 1604 but the King gave him special permission to remain in the south. By June 1604, when he was granted an annuity of £184 13s.4d., he had also retired from his office as gentleman porter. Less than a year later, however, he was once more back in the north, where his knowledge and experience were highly valued. In February 1605 he was appointed a border commissioner, an office which demanded much of his time and attention during the next few years. He was again sheriff in 1606, and, in that capacity, was given custody of Tynemouth castle, which remained in his charge for at least seven years, though he was never in permanent residence. During that time, he received an annual allowance of £231 5s., while, as a border commissioner, he was made a further grant, in 1608, of 100 marks a year.9

It is not certain when Selby finally returned to Kent, but he probably did so soon after he inherited Ightham Mote from his uncle in 1612. By the 1620s he was well established in Kent, and despite advancing age and ill health, played a small part in the administration of his new county.10

Selby died in his eighties at Ightham 14 Feb. 1638 and was buried with his uncle in the chancel of Ightham church. By the time of his death he had become a wealthy man, with his estates in the north alone valued, in 1630, at over £2,000 a year. In his will he made gifts of money, amounting to over £10,000, including £4,000 to his wife, Dorothy. About another £4,000, due from the King in respect of his pension, he bequeathed to Berwick corporation for the construction of a church and the purchase of lands to maintain a schoolmaster and an usher for a grammar school. Having no children, Selby had entailed his northern estates first to his wife, then to his nephew, William Selby, who succeeded Lady Dorothy in 1641. The southern estate passed to a cousin, George Selby of Billingsgate.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: B.D.


  • 1. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. Raine, North Durham, 315; Arch. Cant. xxvii. 30; C142/245/62.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 306; 1631-3, pp. 477-8; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 245; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 366-7.
  • 4. Raine, 315; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, pp. 193-6; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 353-7; Hist. Northumb. (Northumb. Co. Hist. Comm.), xiv. 516; Border Pprs. i. 327.
  • 5. Border Pprs. i. 78, 91, 130, 131, 221, 327; HMC Hatfield, iii. 100, 105, 176, 416-17, 444; iv. 553; H. Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, iii. 455-6; D. Calderwood, Hist. Kirk of Scot. 234-5.
  • 6. C142/245/62; 250/38; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 306; APC, xxx. 241; Border Pprs. ii. 655-6.
  • 7. Border Pprs. ii. 809; Townshend, Hist. Colls. p. 300; D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 624, 649, 657, 665, 685; Lipson, Econ. Hist. Eng. ii. 402.
  • 8. That William jun., rather than his uncle, received the knighthood in April, is verified by a letter dated 14 Apr. which refers to Sir William Selby and Captain Selby, HMC Hatfield, xv. 46.
  • 9. Egerton Pprs. (Cam. Soc. xii), 389-90; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 245; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 132; xviii. 366-7; Hist. Northumb. viii. 176-7; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 440.
  • 10. Arch. Cant. xxvii. 30; APC, 1626, pp. 221, 224; CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 477-8.
  • 11. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 20-3; Hist. Northumb. xi. 112-14.