STAPLETON, Sir Robert (c.1547-1606), of Wighill, Yorks.

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.1547, 1st surv. s. of Sir Robert Stapleton of Wighill by Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Mallory of Studley. educ.L. Inn 1565. m. (1) Catherine, da. of Sir Marmaduke Constable of Everingham, 2s. 1da. c.1584, Olive, da. and coh. of Henry Sharington* of Lacock, Wilts., wid. of John Talbot of Salwarpe, Worcs., s.p. suc. fa. 1557. Kntd. 1570.3

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) from c.1569, q. 1577; j.p.q. Yorks. (E. Riding) from c.1575; rem. from all commissions c.1583; j.p.q. Yorks. (E. and N. ridings) by 1603; commr. musters, Yorks. by 1573, sheriff 1581-2.4


At about ten years of age Stapleton became the ward of Susan Tonge, first lady of the bedchamber to Queen Mary, known as Susan Clarencieux or Mrs. Clarentius from her husband having been Clarenceux king of arms. He was sent to Lincoln’s Inn, but by 1569 was commanding the garrison at York against the northern rebels. Next he joined in the invasion of Scotland, under the 3rd Earl of Sussex, who knighted him at Carlisle. Sir Thomas Gargrave classified him in his 1572 list of protestant gentry as of the ‘meaner sort’ in Yorkshire, but he was of sufficient standing to secure a county seat at the by-election of February 1576, following the death of Thomas Waterton. He was put on the subsidy committee, 25 Jan. 1581 and a committee for a bill about Carlisle, 27 Feb. 1581.5

For the next few years Stapleton found favour at court, where Camden noted him as ‘a gentleman for person, address, and skill in languages, said to have had no superior in England nor equal, except Sir Philip Sydney’. In January 1579 Elizabeth recommended him to Olive Talbot as a suitable bridegroom. He was wealthy enough to raise ‘seven score men in livery’, and from about 1577 (before his first wife died) he was buying further lands in Yorkshire. From a second marriage, with a rich heiress, he hoped to gain over £1,200 a year. In the event, the wedding was delayed owing to the crisis in Stapleton’s fortunes following a spectacular quarrel with Edwin Sandys, archbishop of York.6

Relations between the two men were strained at least as early as 1578, when Stapleton, who was already trying to acquire some of the archbishop’s lands, was appointed a commissioner to investigate complaints by Sandys against the dean of Durham. An accidental meeting at the Bull, Doncaster, in May 1581 brought matters to a head. Stapleton and Sir Francis Mallory, on their way to London, put up for the night at the inn, owned by one Sysson, whose wife, perhaps significantly, was a former servant of Sandys. The archbishop was staying there, and Sandys and Stapleton renewed their quarrel. During the night the innkeeper forced his way into the archbishop’s room and found him ‘in naked bed’ with Mrs. Sysson. Sandys, whose story was that the event had been contrived by Stapleton to discredit him, now bribed Stapleton and the innkeeper to keep silence. After some months, Sandys found Sysson’s increasing demands excessive, and told Burghley the story, alleging that Stapleton (‘the Queen’s messenger’) thought that he was safe in the royal favour and could ‘say what he will’. In the ensuing Star Chamber case the archbishop was vindicated at the expense of Stapleton and his associates. Stapleton was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and fined £300; Sysson fined £500 and to be pilloried with his ears nailed, and his servant ‘Alexander the Scot’ to be fined £500 and to have his ears cut off. Stapleton was to read a prepared apology ‘upon his knees’ at York assizes, which he did in a low voice ‘as fast as he could’. This piece of defiance earned him a period of confinement in the Tower, whence in December 1583 he expressed his repentance and asked to be allowed to exercise in the fresh air. He was transferred to the Fleet and released some time in 1584, Burghley having unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Sandys to intercede for his former opponent.7

In the meantime his second marriage had taken place, the eldest child being baptized in April 1585. His court career in ruins, Stapleton paid a short visit to the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands. In April 1586 he thought of returning there, perhaps to serve in the English army, only to be told by Leicester that the Queen had been displeased by his first visit. Stapleton now sold some of his Yorkshire estates, either to pay his fine, or to move from the scene of his humiliation. Between 1585 and 1603 he moved between Wiltshire, where his wife had property, to Wales, the Isle of Man, and London. James I remitted part of his debt to the Crown, and Stapleton found a borough seat in the first Parliament of the new reign, but he never retrieved his fortunes at court, and died intestate in the autumn of 1606, being buried at Wighill 3 Oct.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. CPR, 1566-9, p. 288; Glover, Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 333; A. Gooder, Parl. Rep. Yorks. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xcvi), 24-6; H. E. C. Stapylton, The Stapletons of Yorks. passim.
  • 4. CPR, 1569-72, p. 224; York Civic Recs. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxv), 77, 158; (cxix), 33; Lansd. 56, f. 168.
  • 5. CPR, 1557-8, p. 304; York Civic Recs. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxii), 169; Lansd. 13, f. 127; CJ, i. 119, 129.
  • 6. Camden, Britannia, ed. Gough, iii. 291; Yorks. Fines (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. v), 99, 100; Gooder; Stapylton, 224.
  • 7. Gooder; Strype, Annals, iii(1), pp. 142-58; Sloane 326, ff. 56-70; Harl. 2143, f. 16; Lansd. 37, ff. 32-3; 38, ff. 156-7; 39, f. 199; 43, f. 9; 115, f. 19 seq.; CSP Dom. 1581-90, passim.
  • 8. R. C. Strong and J. A. Van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph, 130; Gooder; CSP For. 1585-6, p. 589; Yorks. Fines, passim; Stapylton, 231; York Wills (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xxvi), 205.