SHELBERY, John (1557-aft. June 1641), of Holborn and Perivale, Mdx.

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

bap. 17 Jan. 1557, s. of Thomas Shelbery (d. 7 Aug. 1563), grocer, of St. Michael Bassishaw, London by Mary, afterwards (14 June 1565) w. of Thomas Lodge of Lincoln’s Inn. m. (1) 26 Aug. 1579, Mary Poste, spinster, of St. Andrew-in-the-Wardrobe, London; (2) 1600, Joan Pites, wid. of George Millet of Perivale; issue.2

Offices Held


John Shelbery was probably a grandson of Dyryck alias Richard Shelbery, a native of Flanders who settled in Colchester, prospered there as a haberdasher, obtained a grant of denization in 1527, and founded the English family of his name. If it was the same John Shelbery, of Middlesex and the son of a commoner, who matriculated from Magdalen Hall Oxford in 1575, his age would have been 18 years, not 14 as stated in the register. He is not known to have taken a degree. By 1578, as he ‘did well remember’ some 45 years later, he was ‘a young clerk under Mr. Lodge of Lincoln’s Inn’, his stepfather. He himself was admitted to the same society in 1590 as of Thavie’s Inn, one of those lesser inns of chancery dependent on an inn of court—in this case Lincoln’s Inn—and ‘mostly inhabited by attorneys, solicitors, and clerks’. That he had then been in practice for some years is suggested by a letter from him to the 3rd Earl of Rutland, dated 1585, apologizing for the state of the Earl’s garden at Walthamstow and explaining that he had stopped further spending there until other work was completed. A similar lawyer-client relationship, this time with Sir Walter Ralegh, may explain his brief and only occurrence in the House of Commons, when he filled—presumably as a stop-gap, at short notice and in Ralegh’s interest—one of the two seats for which Robert Crosse, a Ralegh follower, had previously been returned. Manningham’s diary for October 1602 records the occasion when ‘one Sheborough’, Ralegh’s solicitor, ‘was very malapert and saucy in speech’ to Mr. Justice Walmesley in the common pleas, ‘so far that, after words passed hotly betwixt them’, Walmesley threatened to commit him for contempt—and probably would have done if the other judges had not sat ‘mum’.3

The connexion with Ralegh is clear from 1596, when Shelbery and Robert Smith, with Richard Dickens as assistant, were appointed to administer Ralegh’s wine licences patent, the trio conducting their business from Durham House, where Ralegh had his lodging. The patent, in common with other monopolies, was suspended by proclamation in May 1603, and confiscated upon Ralegh’s attainder later in the year, but the wine office continued to function under Shelbery, Smith and Dickens as before, its revenues—as distinct from the arrearages, which Ralegh claimed—going not to Ralegh but to the Crown, and Shelbery in April 1604 being named the King’s officer to collect them. Even after the grant of a new patent to the 1st Earl of Nottingham ( Charles Howard I) and his eldest son, and their surrender of effective control of the business to a merchant syndicate, the day to day management of the wine office continued in the hands of the deputies appointed by Raleigh in 1596. Through these arrangements Shelbery remained strategically well-placed to recover the arrearages with which to ease Ralegh’s financial plight and preserve his own liberty. In a letter praying (Sir) Michael Hickes, an importunate creditor, to ‘spare John Shelbury for a little time’ Ralegh stated the position:

He stands bound for me for £1,500, and if he be arrested for my part he must lie in prison for all. God is my witness that if he be restrained, that he cannot recover the wine arrearages, these debts will never be paid. It cannot profit you any way to molest him, but it may be his undoing, and I may thereby lose all those debts of the wine office and then never [be] able to pay mine own.

The danger passed, and in March 1605 Shelbery and Smith, to whom the King had granted all Ralegh’s personal estate as trustees for his creditors and for the maintenance of his wife and child, effected with the farmers of the patent a composition which apparently provided some income for Ralegh until 1606 and an annuity of £50 for Shelbery until 1609 and possibly later.4

During the early part, at least, of Ralegh’s imprisonment, first at Winchester and subsequently in the Tower, Shelbery was allowed access to him. The business they discussed, and Shelbery’s discharge of his responsibilities as trustee, can be glimpsed in the documentary records of the time. The cost to himself can be gauged from the statement he made in the course of an action by Lady Ralegh in 1622:

the unlooked for troubles which fell upon the said Sir Walter both at his attainder and afterwards did so amaze and astonish him as that it did much impair both his health and memory for a long time after.

Five years later, when he was 70, he again testified in support of Lady Ralegh. He was by this time resident in the Holborn parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields where he ‘was very sorry to hear’ but could not well remember the absolutist sermon delivered in May 1628 by its rector, the King’s chaplain-in-ordinary Dr. Manwaring, and where one of his daughters, Frances, was married to Thomas St. George in May 1630. Still active in 1636, and described as tenant and servant to the earl marshal (Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel), he petitioned the heralds to allow his coat of arms and his harmlessly mistaken descent from an ancestor who came to England as a servant to Anne of Cleves. The last known reference to him occurs under June 1641 in the diary of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork: ‘Given old Mr. Shelberry that was in wants, having been solicitor to Sir Walter Raleigh, twenty shillings.’5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: E.L.C.M.


The assistance of Mr. Henry Manisty is gratefully acknowledged.

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Lond. Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxv), 90; Hist. Mon. Comm. Mdx. 101. Unused here is the marriage, undated, of John son of Thomas to the widow of one Carew of Navestock, Essex, in Lond. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. xcii), 121, and also the cause of contract of marriage by Anne Hewitt against John Shelbury of London, in CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 349.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, iv(2), grant 3622(8); Letters of Denization (Huguenot Soc. viii), 219; Bodl. Reg. Matric. 1564-1614, f. 577; C24/501/74; Sir R. Roxburgh, Origins of L.I. 43; Jacob, New Law Doct. (1772); HMC Rutland, i. 175; Manningham Diary (Cam. Soc. xcix), 58-9.
  • 4. HMC Sackville, i. 78-93; HMC Bath, ii. 54.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 141, 334, 484; HMC Hatfield, xv. 305, 307; xvi. 193; xvii. 444, 573; APC, 1617-19, p. 254; C24/497/80; C41/4/185; House of Lords RO, Braye mss. i. ff. 67, 72; St. Giles-in-the-Fields mar. reg.; Bodl. Rawl. D.766, f. 59; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), v. 180.