STEYNING, Thomas (d. ?c.1582), of Earl Soham, Suff.

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 Edward Steyning (d.1525) of Holnicote in Selworthy, Som. by Jane Michell of Cannington, Som. m. by 1553, Frances (c.1517-77), da. of John De Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, wid. of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1s. 1da.1

Offices Held

J.p. Norf. from c.1599, Suff. by 1564; commr. musters, Suff. by 1569.2


Steyning was the younger son of a minor west-country gentleman who made a fortunate marriage to the widowed Countess of Surrey, thus becoming the stepfather of the 4th Duke of Norfolk, and the possessor of widespread lands in East Anglia. How he and the Countess, with such different backgrounds, came to marry is not at all clear.

Edward Steyning, Thomas’s father, lived in west Somerset and moved in the same circle as the Luttrells and the Pyms. At his death in 1525, he left Thomas the profits from his Devonshire lands. There is nothing in his father’s will to suggest that Thomas was still a minor at that date. From then until his marriage to the Countess, nothing is known about him. It is likely, though not certain, that he had moved to East Anglia in the meantime; he may have lived at Woodbridge in Suffolk. Later sources refer to him as of Earl Soham, but this was his wife’s property and it is not known whether he owned any East Anglian estates himself.3

Frances, Countess of Surrey, was widowed by the execution of Henry Howard, the young Earl, in the last few days of Henry VIII’s life. It was during the next reign that Steyning became her second husband. Surrey’s property had been forfeited to the Crown, but Edward VI returned the manor of Earl Soham to the Countess and this became Steyning’s home. The ageing 3rd Duke of Norfolk gave his daughter-in-law and her new husband nine manors, including Rising, worth in all £353 a year. The couple are found presenting to the living of Earl Soham in 1554 and Steyning soon began to participate in the duties in the county expected of a man in his greatly enhanced social position. He became a justice of the peace in both Norfolk and Suffolk and in 1559 he joined a commission to select quays at King’s Lynn and adjoining creeks for the execution of a new statute regulating the loading and unloading of wares. He was also active in organizing the local musters. It seems that he enjoyed a life annuity of £20 from Queen Mary, but the reason for this grant has not been discovered.4

Steyning sat in the first Parliament of Queen Elizabeth for Castle Rising, enfranchised a year earlier, when the two Members had been the Duke of Norfolk’s kinsman Sir John Radcliffe, and his steward Sir Nicholas Lestrange. The same two names appear on the election return for 1559, but Steyning evidently wished to sit in this Parliament, and for some reason not ascertained he was brought in at Castle Rising, while Radcliffe had to find a seat at Grampound. Steyning was presumably one of the Norfolk justices whom the bishop of Norwich in 1564 described as ‘very well affected and given to executing of the orders and laws of this realm established for the ecclesiastical policy’. There is no evidence that Steyning was connected with the activities which led to the Duke of Norfolk’s arrest in 1569: indeed, he attempted, though with little success, to raise men to preserve order in Suffolk. Steyning’s wife died at Earl Soham in June 1577 and was probably buried at Framlingham, near her first husband. The year before, she had received a valuable lease from Philip, Earl of Arundel, the new head of the Howard family, but this and the other sources of income which Steyning had held through his wife were now lost. He also forfeited the stewardship of the manors of Framlingham and Saxtead which he had enjoyed since 1563. The date of his own death has not been found. His name appears on the Suffolk commission of the peace for 1582 but has been deleted, presumably either because of his advanced years or his death. No will has been found. Steyning left a son, Henry, and a daughter, Mary, who married Charles Seckford of Seckford Hall, Suffolk.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Vis. Som. ed. Weaver, p. 80; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 103-4; Vis. Suff. 1561, p. 68.
  • 2. Lansd. 1218, f. 22; CPR, 1560-3, p. 440; SP12/145, ff. 30, 37; N. Williams, Duke of Norfolk, 160.
  • 3. PCC 33 Bodfelde; Copinger, Suff. Manors, iv. 251.
  • 4. Williams, 30-1, 160; L.R.1/42, f. 269v; Copinger, iv. 251; CPR, 1558-60, p. 32; E407/74, unfoliated documents.
  • 5. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 58; HMC Var. ii. 232, 234 n; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxi. 386; Copinger, iv. 251; Lansd. 35, ff. 132 seq.; Harl. 1560, f. 78v.