GARGRAVE, Sir Richard (1575/6-1638), of Nostell Priory and Kinsley, Yorks.; later of Westminster, Mdx.

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



7 Apr. 1606

Family and Education

b. 1575/6,1 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Cotton Gargrave† of Kinsley and Nostell Priory and 2nd w. Anne (Agnes), da. of Thomas Waterton† of Sandal, Yorks.2 educ. Peterhouse, Camb. c.1591; I. Temple 1591.3 m. c. Jan. 1607, Catherine (d. aft. 1651), da. of Sir John Danvers† of Dauntsey, Wilts. and Danby, Yorks., 2 or 3da.4 suc. bro. Thomas 1595;5 kntd. 17 Apr. 1603.6 d. 29 Dec. 1638.7 sig. Ri[chard] Gargrave.

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 1597-1615;8 collector (jt.), tenths and fifteenths, W. Riding 1602;9 sheriff, Yorks. Nov. 1604-Feb. 1606;10 commr. sewers, W. Riding 1605, 1611.11


Taking their name from a village near Skipton in Craven, the Gargraves later moved to Wakefield. Two successive heads of the family held military commands in France in the early fifteenth century, and John Gargrave, the first MP in the family, was keeper of the Marshalsea prison.12 Sir Thomas Gargrave†, vice-president of the Council in the North during the first half of Elizabeth’s reign and Speaker of the Commons in 1559, assembled a large and compact estate between Wakefield, Pontefract and Doncaster, both by purchase and by grant.13 However, it was burdened by substantial debts, many of which were apparently undischarged by the time of the death of his son, Cotton Gargrave, in 1588. In his will, Cotton lambasted his heir Thomas for leading ‘a most loose, licentious, blasphemous, proud, wasteful and contentious life’. However, though he disinherited him in favour of his second wife’s children, the greater part of the estate passed to Thomas anyway in accordance with an entail of 1580.14 There were widespread suspicions that Thomas had poisoned his father and two of his own daughters, which may have been well-founded, as he was eventually convicted of poisoning a servant. He compounded his offence by attempting to escape from prison, and was executed in 1595. As a felon, his goods escheated to the Crown, but the entailed estates went to his half-brother, Richard Gargrave, the subject of this biography.15

Gargrave succeeded to an estate worth between £3,000 and £4,000 p.a. Although this was encumbered with his half-brother’s debts, and leases to his mother and at least one of his brothers, he was one of the premier landowners in the West Riding: indeed, Philip Gawdy* considered him one of the few northern gentry whose estate justified the knighthood conferred on him by King James in 1603.16 This status was underlined at the hard-fought 1597 county election, when Sir John Savile* nominated him to help take a view of the rival camps of voters assembled at York Castle. However, Gargrave played little active role in northern affairs, and probably spent much of his time at Court where, from 1603, his sister Marie was a maid of honour to Anne of Denmark.17 While serving as sheriff of Yorkshire in 1605, Gargrave arrested Allan Percy of Beverley, elder brother of the Gunpowder plotter Thomas Percy, but his term of office was marred by a dispute over the county gaol at York castle: he tried to browbeat the gaoler, Robert Readhead, into signing an indenture, drafted by Sir Francis Palmes†, ‘which would have made the [gaoler’s] patent utterly void’, but Readhead refused to do so, on the advice of York’s recorder, William Hilliard†. Gargrave subsequently apologized for his behaviour, but kept his prisoners at Wakefield gaol during his term of office.18 His shrieval accounts took years to clear, mainly due to a dispute with the bailiff of Richmondshire, whom he accused of embezzlement.19

Gargrave began searching for a wife at the beginning of James’s reign. Philip Gawdy identified his ‘cousin’ Elizabeth Southwell as an early prospect, probably meaning the widow of Sir Robert Southwell†, but she married the Scottish courtier Lord Carrick in October 1604. Gargrave eventually married the stepdaughter of Sir Edmund Carey*, probably around January 1607, when he received a fresh confirmation of his title to his brother’s forfeited estates. The couple had a stormy relationship, which began badly when Gargrave failed to receive any dowry with his bride.20 Gargrave showed little evidence of financial difficulty in his youth, except for a demand from his niece for payment of a dowry of £500, a dispute pursued through the courts until Gargrave’s dissipation of his fortune rendered the quarrel pointless. However, a portrait (now lost) showing him at dice suggests that he was a heavy gambler, and at the beginning of his shrievalty he was said to have ridden through the streets of Wakefield, bestowing ‘great largesses upon the common people, in congratulation for so wise, peaceful and religious a king as England then enjoyed’. To meet the expenses of his shrievalty Gargrave borrowed £1,300 from his brother John, who had just alienated property to Sir John Savile† of Methley; it was presumably in connection with this debt that the brothers borrowed from Sir Robert Payne* in November 1606, and as late as 1617 Gargrave still owed his brother £700.21

Gargrave was returned as knight of the shire for Yorkshire at a by-election in April 1606, soon after the end of his shrievalty. Though his debts were not yet desperate, he may have found the prospect of immunity from prosecution an inducement to stand: in February 1607 he claimed privilege in respect of two cases that were due to be heard at the York assizes.22 He may also have been encouraged to put himself forward for election by the other knight, Sir John Savile of Howley, and his candidacy was almost certainly endorsed by lord president Sheffield. While not prominent within the House, Gargrave was undoubtedly familiar to many as a bon viveur and gambler, and earned himself a caustic mention in the ‘Parliament fart’ poem: ‘Then said Sir Richard Gargrave by and by / This gent’s arse speaks better than I’.23 He made no recorded speeches during the three-and-a-half sessions in which he was a Member, although he may have been the non-existent ‘Sir Francis Blagrave’ who spoke in the debate of 23 Mar. 1610 on the right to levy feudal aids at successions, marriages and knighthoods, which was claimed by both the Crown and private individuals.24 ‘Blagrave’ moved that the subject’s right to levy aids should be abolished and the king’s be stinted at existing levels, but conceded that ‘the difficulty is to reduce it [the Crown’s aid] to a stint and after leave it’.25 Gargrave was named to five bill committees in all, of which two concerned a bill to limit the use of shopkeepers’ account books (all too easily falsified) as evidence for long-forgotten debts owed by customers (18 Apr. 1606; 20 Feb. 1610). This was a matter of some interest to one as heavily indebted as himself. A third committee, for the bill to compound with the Crown in advance for confirmation of letters patent for seven years (15 May 1607), would have safeguarded his title to his brother’s estates. Gargrave was also named to the committee for the Throckmorton estate bill (8 May 1606), perhaps because of the connections of his brother-in-law, Henry, Lord Danvers, with the Throckmorton family. He cannot be connected with a naturalization bill for two Scots courtiers to which he was also named (14 May 1606).26 As shire knight, he was entitled to attend several other committees, one of which confirmed copyhold tenures on the Crown manor of Wakefield.27

The costs of marriage allegedly strained Gargrave’s finances, though his aspersions against his wife for leading ‘an undutiful and wasteful kind of life’ are not supported by the surviving evidence. His troubles began in February 1607, when he sealed a recognizance for £2,500 to the London financier Peter Vanlore; by June 1608 he had run up debts of £2,000 with (Sir) Lionel Cranfield*, to whom he alienated Wakefield Old Park in settlement of his account. Cranfield, who later valued the park at £5,000, gained a bargain due to Gargrave’s need for ‘present money’, and only paid £1,664 of the £2,500 he had promised for the estate.28 Within weeks Gargrave was seeking fresh loans, and by the autumn, claiming creditors were suing him for bonds worth more than £5,000, he was offering his jewels in pawn. Cranfield refused him any further credit in July 1609, whereupon he turned to Arthur Ingram*, who paid off his debts to Cranfield, and doubtless others too, receiving a guarantee of repayment by means of a recognizance for £7,000.29

Gargrave was in desperate straits by 1610, when he borrowed £3,000 from Sir William Hewett*, secured against a lease of Kinsley New Park. He had apparently separated from his wife, and was living in Whitehall Palace, presumably by arrangement with his sister, a member of Anne of Denmark’s Household.30 Pressured by Lord Danvers, he secured letters patent enabling him to break the family entail and alienate Nostell Priory to his creditors, but the deal collapsed. In January 1612 he assigned most of his lands to his wife’s brother-in-law Sir Henry Bayntun* and a servant of his mother-in-law, Lady Carey: his wife received a life interest in Kinsley New Park, worth £400 p.a., and the couple agreed to attempt ‘a perfect reconciliation’. Nostell was removed from the entail and assigned to Danvers’s relatives Sir William Sandys* and Sir Peter Osborne* for sale, to pay off Gargrave’s debts of £10,500. Gargrave was furious when Nostell fetched only £8,000, but was obliged to promise payment of outstanding debts of £3,450 when the trustees refused to give him control of the revenues from his remaining estates until he did so.31

With his finances in tatters, Gargrave was hardly a suitable candidate for the county seat in 1614, when his place was taken by Sir Thomas Wentworth. In 1615, having left his wife once more, he encouraged his brother John to pester her tenants at Kinsley New Park, over which he subsequently gained control. He allowed Danvers and Lady Carey to sell this estate, but when they obtained only £4,300 for an estate he valued at £10,000, and then refused to assign the proceeds to pay off his debts, he unsuccessfully demanded that both Nostell and Kinsley be restored to him. In June 1616, having had his estates seized by his creditors, he was briefly imprisoned in the Fleet until he accepted responsibility for his debts.32 He was licensed to travel abroad in July 1616, probably to avoid his creditors, but apparently remained in London, where he tried to overturn the seizure of his estates. He was one of the ‘cozeners and projectors’ who attempted to persuade Sir Walter Cope’s* widow to part with her legacies in July 1615, and by 1619 he was being forced to give recognizances for sums of a few hundred pounds.33 His desperation is illustrated by his ruthless exploitation of whatever resources remained to him: he ejected the tenant of a coalmine in order to lease it at a rack rent; he prosecuted (Sir) Ralph Clare* for payment of a debt incurred by the latter’s father in 1607; while he apparently obtained further sums from Cranfield after the latter’s impeachment in 1624, by threatening to petition Parliament for redress.34

Having dissipated his estates, in 1634 Gargrave was reportedly seeking sanctuary from his creditors near Temple Bar, having ‘not a penny to maintain himself but what the purchasers of some part of his lands in reversion after his mother’s death allow him, in hope he will survive his mother, who hath not consented to the sale’. Yorkshire tradition stated that Gargrave was ‘found dead in an old hostelry, with his head upon a pack saddle’, but he actually died in a lodging house in Fuller’s Rents, Holborn on 29 Dec. 1638. With little property to his name, no will or administration was registered. His wife, who outlived him, was apparently maintained by her brother Lord Danvers, while his brother Francis, who had his own financial problems, served as deputy vice-admiral of Yorkshire under Lord Sheffield in the 1620s. However, the family sank into obscurity, and none of Gargrave’s descendants sat in Parliament.35

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Aged ‘38 years or thereabouts’ on 30 Oct. 1613: STAC 8/18/1, f. 64v.
  • 2. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 69.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; I. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. CCC, 1997; Vis. Yorks. 69; CP sub earl of Danby; J. Hunter, S. Yorks. ii. 214.
  • 5. Hunter, ii. 213.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 101.
  • 7. GL, St. Andrew Holborn par. reg.
  • 8. C231/1, f. 36v; 231/4, f. 8.
  • 9. E401/2400.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 163.
  • 11. C181/1, f. 209, 181/2, f. 145.
  • 12. Vis. Yorks. 69; Hunter, ii. 211.
  • 13. R. Reid, Council in the North, 183-6; Hunter, ii. 211; C142/185/84; 142/276/421; DL1/202/69.
  • 14. Borthwick, Reg. Test. 23, ff. 781v-2; Reg. Test. 24, ff. 183-4; Hunter, ii. 212; C142/223/80.
  • 15. Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 32-3; Hunter, ii. 212-13.
  • 16. C78/200/8; 78/222/1; DL1/171/6; Hunter, ii. 212; C2/Jas.I/G1/24; C2/Chas.I/H37/28; HMC 7th Rep. 528a.
  • 17. HMC Hatfield, vii. 412-13; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 111; LPL, ms 3203, f. 79.
  • 18. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 499; LPL, ms 708, f. 93; 709, f. 61.
  • 19. STAC 8/157/3; 8/18/1, ff. 64v-65; WARD 9/528, f. 573v; Royal 17.C. xxxvi, ff. 21v-22.
  • 20. HMC 7th Rep. 527a; Vis. Norf. ed. G.H. Dashwood (Norf. Arch. Soc), i. 127-8; C66/1713/2; C78/222/1.
  • 21. C2/Jas.I/G1/24; 2/Jas.I/G7/54; C78/200/8; Hunter, ii. 213; LC4/196, f. 123.
  • 22. CJ, i. 343a.
  • 23. Add. 34218, f. 21v.
  • 24. This speaker could otherwise be (Sir) Edward or Sir Richard Musgrave.
  • 25. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 64-5.
  • 26. CJ, i. 300a, 307a, 309a, 374a, 397b; SR, iv. 1169.
  • 27. CJ, i. 403a; HLRO, O.A. 7 Jas.I, c. 25.
  • 28. C78/222/1; LC4/196, f. 151v; HMC Sackville (Knole), i. 161-3, 169-70; M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 75. Gargrave confirmed his title before selling Wakefield: C66/1764/64.
  • 29. HMC Sackville (Knole), i. 161-69; LC4/196, f. 442v.
  • 30. C78/222/1; LC4/197, f. 123; WCA, E150, Overseers of Poor acct. 1610-11; Add. 27404, f. 37.
  • 31. C66/1883/40; 66/1958/39; C2/Jas.I/G1/24; C78/222/1; LC4/197, ff. 274v, 444-5v.
  • 32. STAC 8/312/2; C78/222/1.
  • 33. C78/222/1; SO3/6, unfol. (July 1616); Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 610; LC4/199, f. 102.
  • 34. C2/Chas.I/C113/56; 2/Chas.I/S119/26; Prestwich, 76.
  • 35. Hunter, i. 213-14; GL, St. Andrew Holborn par. reg.; HMC 6th Rep. 113a, 160b; HMC 7th Rep. 15a; CCC, 1997; STAC 8/155/20.