STANHOPE, John (c.1545-1621), of Harrington, Northants. and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 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.1545, 3rd s. of Sir Michael Stanhope and bro. of Edward Stanhope I, Edward Stanhope II, Michael Stanhope and Sir Thomas Stanhope. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1556; G. Inn (poss. hon.) 1556. m. (1) bef. Sept. 1557, Mary (d.1568), 1st da. and coh. of Sir William Knowles of Bilton in Holderness, alderman of Kingston-upon-Hull, s.p.; (2) 6 May 1589, Margaret, da. of Henry Macwilliam, 1s. 2da. Kntd. Aug. or Sept. 1596; cr. Baron Stanhope 1605.

Offices Held

?Gent of privy chamber by 1578; ?bailiff of church lands, Beverley by 1584; v.-adm. Yorks. by 1587, master of posts 1590; j.p.q. Yorks. (N. Riding), custos rot. by 1593; treasurer of the chamber 1596-1618; treasurer at war 1599; keeper of Colchester castle 1599; steward of Higham Ferrers and other duchy of Lancaster manors in Northants. 1600; high steward, Peterborough cathedral Oct. 1600; vice-chamberlain Jan. 1601-Apr. 1616; PC June 1601; feodary, Northants. 1602; commr. for union with Scotland 1604; steward, manor of Eltham 1604; councillor for colony of Virginia 1609; commr. for surrender of Flushing and Brill 1616; commr. eccles. causes 1620.2


Stanhope’s aunt, the widowed Duchess of Somerset, obtained a place for him in the household of Sir William Cecil by 1555, but it was many years before he achieved a regular and lucrative office. He has been described as having been a gentleman of the privy chamber in 1578, but according to a letter he wrote to his patron Sir Christopher Hatton in 1587, he ‘enjoyed neither fee, pension nor wage’ though he had never been away from court for more than six weeks. It was probably through Hatton that in 1575 Stanhope was assigned the Queen’s interest in a 70-year lease made to her by the bishop of Durham, worth about £80 a year, and his property at Harrington, Northamptonshire, was probably held as a sub-tenant of Hatton. In 1577 Stanhope joined the Earl of Leicester in persuading Hatton to make up a quarrel with Burghley over the question of the pirate Callis, with whom Hatton was said to have had dealings. A number of Stanhope’s letters to Burghley and Robert Cecil, on court or private matters, survive among the Hatfield manuscripts. It was presumably Burghley who, on the death of Thomas Randolph, gained Stanhope a lucrative job as master of the posts, the turning-point in his career.3

By this time he had sat in five Parliaments, finding a borough seat where he could. At Totnes in 1571 he was probably nominated by the 2nd Earl of Bedford; at Marlborough by his relative the Earl of Hertford; his (or one of his brother’s) position as royal bailiff of church lands must have been decisive at Beverley; the Killigrews or Cecil at Truro, and some other court influence at Rochester. The status of knight of the shire eluded him for many years. In 1597 he canvassed Yorkshire with the support of the archbishop and council in the north, but in an election characterized by fraud and violence, he and Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby were defeated. As Hoby was relatively new to the county, pairing with him was unwise, for Stanhope, though he was custos rotulorum there and owned lands in Yorkshire, resided in Northamptonshire when he was not at court. In the end Sir Robert Cecil, then chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, found him a seat at Preston. In fact it is just possible that Stanhope came in for Yorkshire following the death of Sir William Fairfax, but no evidence survives. In 1601, aged about 56, Stanhope was elected senior knight of the shire for Northamptonshire. As there was at least one other Stanhope in all his Parliaments, it is impossible to be certain about John Stanhope’s parliamentary activity but the indications are that this was sparse or non-existent, save for a committee, 13 Mar. 1589, for ‘the bill touching Mr. Southwell’ and his being appointed to administer the oaths to MPs, 27 Oct. 1601. He may, however, have attended the numerous committees to which all the Privy Councillors were appointed during 1601.4

From the time that he became master of the posts, Stanhope appears with increasing frequency as a court official who was worth cultivating. The Queen favoured him, and he played his part in the game of court flattery. ‘I long to be near her’, he wrote to Robert Cecil in 1593, in a letter doubtless meant for Elizabeth to read, ‘whose presence preserveth all those who know her worth’; and in 1597 he was one of those who eulogized the Queen’s extemporary Latin tirade against the Polish ambassador. As treasurer of the chamber, and later vice-chamberlain, he had constant access to Elizabeth, and many suitors tried to persuade him to approach her on their behalf. One of his letters to Sir Robert Cecil suggests that even powerful friends made use of him at times in this way.

I left the Queen at six very quiet, and as I guess will not stir till it be very late, but I will attend the time and present it [i.e. whatever it was Cecil wanted] if she do but breathe a little while afore her going to bed.

When Burghley died in 1598, it was to Stanhope that his sons Thomas and Robert sent a ‘memento of their father for the Queen’.5

As a thorough-going Cecilian, it was not likely that Stanhope would be closely associated with the Earl of Essex, though, as far as he could, he tried to remain in the Earl’s good books. But in the growing friction between Essex and the Cecils, Stanhope wisely remained faithful to his old friends, his connexion with whom was strengthened by his second marriage to Margaret Macwilliam, whose mother, the widow of Sir John Cheke, was related to Burghley. After the final triumph of the Cecilian party with the fall of Essex, Stanhope became a Privy Councillor. He was assiduous in his attendance at Council meetings, and though he never became a front-rank statesman, he did well enough under the new King. In addition to his barony and the renewal of his offices he received other marks of James’s favour, being allowed to associate his son Charles, born about 1598, with himself as master of the posts and keeper of Colchester castle—a valuable way of providing for the boy when he should come of age; and he received a number of lucrative private grants. On at least one occasion James visited him at Eltham. He remained active almost until his death, being appointed an ecclesiastical commissioner as late as 1620.6

Stanhope died on 9 Mar. 1621, and was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, ‘because’, as he stated in his will, made 5 Oct. 1620, ‘I have lived there the space of thirty years and above’. The will was proved by the widow in April 1621.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Add. 38823.
  • 2. CP, xxi(1), pp. 239 seq.; Archaeologia, xxxviii(2), pp. 389-404; Eliz. Govt. and Soc. 112-13; APC, xv. ???54; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 672, 676; 1595-7, pp. 267, 511; 1598-1601, pp. 357, 388; 1603-10, pp. 15, 160, 354; Add. 1580-1625, p. 426; Somerville, Duchy, i. 588, 591, 603; Northants. Rec. Soc. xviii. 41; APC, xxxii. 485 et passim; Kingsbury, Recs. of Virginia Co. iv. 369; Rymer, Feodera, xvi. 783; xvii. 201.
  • 3. Eliz. Govt. and Soc. 112-13; Lansd. 85, f. 12; 118, f. 36; E. St. J. Brooks, Hatton, 156-7; PRO Index 6800; HMC Hatfield, ii. 156.
  • 4. G. Oliver, Hist. Beverley, 187 et passim; HMC Hatfield, vii. 412, 416-17, 435-6, 484; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 60, 249; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 307; CPR, 1569-72, p. 474; Neale, Commons, 83 seq.; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 25, 173; D’Ewes, 445, 620, 622, 624, 631, 634, 635, 636, 641, 647, 649, 658, 664, 665, 666, 668, 678, 685.
  • 5. Eliz. Govt. and Soc. loc. cit.; HMC Hatfield, iv. 425-6; vii. 55, 320; viii. 370.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, iv. 68-9; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 518; APC, xxxii. 485 et passim; CP; DNB; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 43, 46; Archaeologia xxxviii(2), p. 396.
  • 7. PCC 31 Dale; CP.