ALFORD, Sir William (c.1571-at least 1642), of Meaux Abbey and Bilton-in-Holderness, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1571, o.s. of Sir Lancelot Alford† of Meaux Abbey and Anne, da. and coh. of Sir William Knowles of Bilton-in-Holderness.1 educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1586, aged 15.2 m. (1) by 1596, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Robert Rookes of Fawley, Bucks. 2da.;3 (2) 24 Nov. 1608, Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Clarke of Hitcham, Bucks. 2da.4 kntd. 11 May 1603;5 suc. fa. 1616.6 sig. Will[iam] Alford.

Offices Held

J.p. Beverley liberty by 1602-at least 1642, Yorks. (E. Riding) by 1604-at least 1642, custos rot.1626-9;7 commr. sewers, E. Riding by 1603-at least 1641, W. Riding 1623, swans, Yorks. by 1605-at least 1632;8 collector (jt.) 10ths, E. Riding 1624;9 sheriff, Yorks. 1618-19;10 commr. subsidy, E. Riding 1621-2, 1624, 1641, Forced Loan 1626-7;11 dep. lt. E. Riding by 1623-9, c.1635-at least 1640;12 commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1624-at least 1642;13 member, Council in the North 1625-41;14 commr. repair of St. Paul’s cathedral, E. Riding 1633, Poll Tax 1641, assessment 1641-2, Irish aid 1642, array,15 Yorks. 1642.16


Named after the Cheshire village whence they originated, several members of the Alford family moved to Yorkshire after 1540, when the future MP’s great-uncle Lancelot secured a lease of the recently dissolved Meaux Abbey. Others, including the family’s first MP, Roger Alford†, moved to Buckinghamshire, but the widely dispersed branches of the family remained close for several generations thereafter. For instance, Edward Alford*, who spent his early years at Hitcham in Buckinghamshire, was returned to the Commons for Beverley in 1593, while both of Sir William Alford’s wives came from the family networks of his southern relatives.17 In 1616, shortly after his father’s death, Sir William sold the manor of Fawley to James Whitelocke* for £9,000, but he did not lose contact with his southern relatives; three years later he made Edward Alford one of the trustees of the marriage settlement for his eldest daughter.18

While the Alfords were ranked among the county families of the East Riding, their landholdings were smaller than those of most of their peers, comprising about 1,000 acres in the southern half of Holderness wapentake, augmented by a lease of Crown estates in the vicinity of Meaux Abbey, which was valued at £320 a year in 1650.19 Meaux lay only four miles east of Beverley: Alford’s father was a member of the corporation, serving as MP in 1589 and mayor in 1591-2, but he resigned his position in 1598.20 Alford himself was not returned for Beverley during his father’s lifetime, but he was appointed to the East Riding bench at the start of James’s reign. In 1606-7 he managed to avert a duel between his neighbour Michael Warton and Sir Richard Cholmley*, and eight years later he attended the East Riding sessions where Sir Thomas Hoby* claimed there had been a conspiracy to hinder his attempt to indict recusants, a case which was apparently dismissed by Star Chamber. Alford inadvertently provoked one of the lesser charges in Hoby’s bill when he invited Sir John Hotham*, who had arrived late, to join him on the bench above the lawyer George Ellis, an invitation Hoby chose to interpret as a deliberate snub to Ellis, the senior counsel then present.21

Alford applied for a seat at Beverley in 1624, when his neighbour Henry, 1st Viscount Dunbar wrote from London asking ‘whether Sir William Alford have a place at Beverley’.22 He may have been hoping to fill the senior seat, which was no longer needed by the 1621 Member, Sir Christopher Hildyard*, who had migrated to Hedon, but his chances were dashed by the duchy of Cornwall, which intervened to impose its own candidate.23 This rejection can hardly have inclined him favourably towards the corporation member Arthur Fish, who was reported to Alford and several other subsidy commissioners for abusing his position as assessor within the town in July 1624; a deeply unflattering account of his conduct was forwarded to lord keeper Williams.24

Alford secured a seat at Beverley in 1625, but took the trouble to procure another recommendation at Scarborough from lord president Scrope, who assured the bailiffs that Alford was ‘religious, discreet and fit for the place’, and would serve at his own charge.25 The Scarborough corporation apparently offered him a seat, although it was forced to change its mind after an angry outburst from Sir Richard Cholmley, who feared that his son, Sir Hugh*, was to be displaced. Alford may have been aware of these troubles, as on 6 May he declined the town’s offer in the light of his election at Beverley ten days previously. The corporation had doubtless also heard of this development, but Alford’s courtesy undoubtedly left a better impression than Cholmley’s histrionics, and might have served him in good stead if he were to apply for a seat at any future election.26

Alford may have missed the start of the 1625 session, as he was detained in Hull until the middle of June, shipping 2,000 recruits to Holland.27 He left no trace on the records of this Parliament, although while attending the session he petitioned the Privy Council about its criticism of his ‘partiality and connivance’ as a subsidy commissioner in upholding a complaint from Viscount Dunbar that he should be rated with other peers at Westminster, and not in the country, by which means Dunbar may have hoped to avoid the double rating imposed on Catholics by the 1624 Subsidy Act. The Council reversed Alford’s decision, observing that only English peers were rated at Westminster, a snub which was compounded by the fact that their letter was read aloud to the East Riding quarter sessions. On the day Parliament was dissolved, the Council wrote to the subsidy commissioners once again, confessing that they had misunderstood the situation, exonerating Alford and allowing him to clear his reputation by having their letter read out at the next quarter sessions.28

The events of 1625 highlight Alford’s dependence on the duke of Buckingham’s Yorkshire allies, Scrope and Dunbar, who probably supported his petition to the Privy Council, and to whom he undoubtedly owed his membership of the Council in the North from July 1625.29 His patrons’ local opponents responded by including him among the recusant officeholders reported to the Commons in March 1626. The list was compiled from information provided by the knights of the shire, and it was almost certainly Sir William Constable* who put Alford’s name forward, on the grounds that his wife was a non-communicant and that he had omitted to charge Dunbar with double payment for the 1625 subsidies. Lady Alford’s religious affiliation was not questioned on any other occasion, but she may have had Catholic sympathies, as her mother had been cited in the Exchequer for recusancy in 1593-4.30 Alford denied the charge, protesting ‘that it is more than he knows that his wife is a non-communicant’, and promised to provide a certificate of her conformity. He also complained that he had not received sufficient notice of Dunbar’s double subsidy rating from the Exchequer. Sir Thomas Hoby characteristically objected ‘that this excuse of Sir William Alford’s is no excuse’, but the House exonerated him and removed his name from the list.31 Not surprisingly, he subsequently kept a low profile in a session dominated by the question of Buckingham’s impeachment. He made no other recorded speeches, and was named to only two committees: the first, concerning bills for muster masters (28 Mar.), drew on his experience as a deputy lieutenant, and the second was a measure concerning escheators’ accounts (3 May).32

In the aftermath of the dissolution of June 1626, Scrope (shortly to be promoted to the earldom of Sunderland) and Dunbar forged an alliance with Buckingham’s powerful West Riding ally Sir John Savile*, and purged their enemies from the Yorkshire bench. Alford was one of the main beneficiaries of this purge, replacing Constable as custos of the East Riding.33 In November, Dunbar sent Alford and Sir Thomas Metham, another of his supporters, to investigate a shipwreck on the coast near Barmston, the home of Sir Matthew Boynton*, who had taken charge of a large amount of the salvage. Dunbar was annoyed both because Boynton was a supporter of his enemies Constable and Hotham, and because it thwarted his hopes to assert his own feudal rights over the wreck as lord of Holderness. He sent Buckingham an extremely hostile account of Boynton’s actions, but Alford and Metham took a less partisan line, and informed the duke that Boynton had been acting under commission from the Admiralty Court at York.34

The collection of the Forced Loan hardened the factional divide in the East Riding: Dunbar, Alford, Metham and the crypto-Catholic Nicholas Girlington were virtually the only active commissioners, and the refusers were led by Constable and Hotham. Resistance inevitably made the work of the commissioners more difficult, and in June 1627 the Privy Council was warned that without any decisive action against the refusers, some of those who had agreed to pay were likely to default.35 The government’s imprisonment of the chief refusers eased matters, but the constitutional question thus raised complicated the parliamentary session of 1628. Alford, the only one of the East Riding Loan commissioners to secure a seat in the Commons, must have felt distinctly isolated in such an atmosphere, and remained virtually invisible during the session. On 12 May he was added to the committee for drafting the petition against recusant officeholders, but while he did not appear on the list, Sunderland, Dunbar and Metham did, and he did not get them removed.36 His only other appearance in the records was three days later, when Sir Arthur Ingram* moved to grant him privilege to escape jury service in Common Pleas later the same day.37 He left no trace on the records of the 1629 session.

The rise of Sir Thomas Wentworth* and the death of the Buckingham in the autumn of 1628 brought the influence of Alford’s patrons to an end. Wentworth replaced Sunderland as president of the Council in the North, and Alford was removed as custos of the East Riding. Wentworth also purged Dunbar from the lieutenancy; Alford may have been sacked at the same time, as he was not mentioned when Wentworth discussed the appointment of deputies with Hotham in January 1629, but he was apparently reinstated after the death of Sir Christopher Hildyard in 1634, and remained active during the Bishops’ Wars.38 Although aged about 70 at the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed a commissioner of array in the summer of 1642. There is no evidence that he was active on behalf of either party, and he probably died later in the same year. He was presumably buried in his parish church at Wawne, but no registers survive there before 1653.39 No will or administration has been found, but under the terms of existing settlements his lands were divided between his two married daughters, and thus ultimately passed to the heirs of his two sons-in-law, Sir Robert Strickland* and Sir Thomas Grantham†.40

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 486; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 15/2, ff. 353-4.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. Vis. Yorks. 486; Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 207; PROB 11/62, ff. 244- 5; C142/208/165, 245.
  • 4. Vis. Yorks. 486; C142/368/103; Coll. Top. et Gen. iv. 178.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 108.
  • 6. C142/367/31; Borthwick, City of York AB1, f. 62.
  • 7. C181/1, f. 26; C181/5, p. 143; C231/4, f. 209v.
  • 8. C181/1, ff. 64, 201; 181/3, f. 85; C181/4, f. 121; C181/5, p. 198.
  • 9. E179/283, vol. ‘TG 28398’.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 163.
  • 11. C212/22/20-3; SP16/60/52; SP16/68/51; SR, v. 82.
  • 12. SP14/151/69; APC, 1625-6, p. 58; SCL, Strafford Pprs. 12/50; Add. 28082, f. 81; SP16/462, f. 42.
  • 13. C181/3, f. 110.
  • 14. R. Reid, Council in the North, 498.
  • 15. HUL, DDHA 18/35; SR, v. 107, 141, 150.
  • 16. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 17. Vis. Bucks. 207; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 65; PROB 11/145, f. 1; J.G. Alford, Alford Fam. Notes ed. W.P.W. Phillimore, 1-3, 10, 15-19, 24.
  • 18. H. Hornyold, Stricklands of Sizergh, 117-18; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 53.
  • 19. C142/367/31; 142/368/103; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 15/2, ff. 353-4; E315/153, ff. 183- 8; J.T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry, 100.
  • 20. Yorks. ERRO, BC/II/5/1, ff. 2, 7.
  • 21. STAC 8/12/11, f. 1; 8/175/4, ff. 12-13, 40, 41, 43. See also SIR THOMAS POSTHUMOUS HOBY.
  • 22. Yorks. ERRO, DDCC/144/1, Dunbar to John Kirton. This letter can be dated by its ref. to the vicarage of Burstwick, which was vacant in 1624; see G. Poulson, Holderness, ii. 360.
  • 23. DCO, Prince Charles in Spain [R/t/2], ff. 34, 39v.
  • 24. SP14/170/42.
  • 25. Scarborough Recs. 1600-40 ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO, xlvii), 142.
  • 26. Ibid. 146. See also SCARBOROUGH.
  • 27. APC, 1625-6, pp. 58, 70.
  • 28. Ibid. 1625-6, pp. 88-9, 131-2.
  • 29. Reid, 498.
  • 30. Recusant Roll 2 ed. H. Bowler (Catholic Rec. Soc. lvii), 127.
  • 31. Procs. 1626, ii. 176-7, 179-80.
  • 32. CJ, i. 842b, 853b.
  • 33. Cliffe, 291; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 194-6.
  • 34. SP16/37/27; 16/39/37.
  • 35. SP16/60/52; 16/68/51; Cust, 227.
  • 36. CD 1628, iii. 369; iv. 319, 323-4.
  • 37. Ibid. iii. 419, 425.
  • 38. SCL, Strafford Pprs. 12/50; Cliffe, 238, 295; Add. 28082, f. 81; SP16/462, f. 42.
  • 39. Yorks. ERRO, PE146/1.
  • 40. Hornyold, 117-18; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), v. 92; Coll. Top. et Gen. iv. 178.