KILLIGREW, Sir William II (1606-1695), of Pendennis Castle, Cornw.; later of Lincoln's Inn Fields, London and Kempton Park, 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



9 Apr. 1664

Family and Education

bap. 28 May 1606, 1st s. of Sir Robert Killigrew* of Kempton Park and Mary, da. of Sir Henry Woodhouse† of Hickling, Norf.1 educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1623; travelled abroad c.1624-6; DCL, Oxf. 1642.2 m. c.1625-6, Mary (admon. 16 Sept. 1690), da. of John Hill of Honiley, Warws. 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (3 d.v.p.). kntd. 12 May 1626; suc. fa. 1633; bur. 17 Oct. 1695.3 sig. W[illia]m Killigrew.

Offices Held

Capt. Pendennis Castle 1628-33 (jt.), 1633-5 (sole);4 j.p. Cornw. 1630-at least 1640;5 commr. sewers, E. Lincs. fens 1634-42.6

?Farmer, seal office of k.b. and c.p. from 1633;7 gent. usher of privy chamber 1638-46, 1660-2; v.-chamberlain, Queen Catherine’s Household 1662-82.8

Cdr. servants’ tp. of king’s bodyguard 1642-3.9


Killigrew was probably born at Hanworth Park, Middlesex, the residence of his grandfather Sir William Killigrew I*, whose will he witnessed in 1618. Both Sir William and Killigrew’s father, Sir Robert, were notable courtiers who possessed considerable influence in Cornwall, the family’s native county.10 At university Killigrew contributed a Latin poem, his earliest known literary composition, to a collection of verse marking Prince Charles’s return from Spain. He travelled abroad in the mid-1620s with his cousin Maurice Berkeley, but his itinerary is not recorded. Killigrew was back in England by May 1626, when, aged nearly 20, he was knighted. The exact date of his marriage is not known, but his eldest daughter was born around early 1627.11

In the 1628 parliamentary elections Killigrew was returned for both Penryn, which his father completely dominated, and Newport, where Sir Robert was merely one of several competing local landowners. The ensuing dispute over the five returns made for Newport left Killigrew with at best a chance of securing the second seat there, and on 28 Mar. he opted for Penryn.12 The Parliament’s records do not otherwise mention him, and he appears not to have sought election again until the Restoration.

At the same time as his initiation into parliamentary politics, Killigrew received his first official employment, as joint captain of Pendennis Castle with his father. He was soon effectively in sole command there, as Sir Robert was appointed vice-chamberlain to the queen shortly afterwards. The castle was intended to protect and supervise Falmouth Harbour, and to begin with Killigrew put on a show of efficiency, reporting on foreign shipping, and promoting the restoration of a lighthouse at the Lizard, in which, admittedly, he had a financial interest.13 In time, however, he revealed an arrogant disregard for rival jurisdictions. In August 1630 he had to be warned not to interfere with (Sir) James Bagg II’s* duties at Falmouth’s port. When the lieutenant of the twin castle of St. Mawes also began to inspect Falmouth shipping, and Killigrew’s protests to the Admiralty brought only a compromise ruling in May 1631, he appealed to the king. Six months later, he was formally rebuked after firing on several royal ships which had presumably failed to salute the castle. By January 1633 the Admiralty was pursuing him for not arresting a ship which had caused damage in the harbour. Found guilty despite Sir Robert’s intervention, Killigrew nonetheless avoided paying compensation to the injured party.14 An official survey of Pendennis in February 1635 may have precipitated his surrender of the captaincy two months later, though Killigrew seems to have remained on good terms with his successor, Sir Nicholas Slanning, and was in any case by now heavily involved in developments outside Cornwall.15

In April 1633 Killigrew and his father were appointed undertakers for draining the Eight Hundred Fen, south-west of Boston, Lincolnshire. Sir Robert was already involved in another scheme covering the East and West Fens to the north of Boston, and when he died a few months later he bequeathed Killigrew the bulk of his interest there. At about the same time, the first moves were made towards draining a much larger zone directly west of the Eight Hundred Fen, subsequently called Lindsey Level. Killigrew played a key role in all these undertakings, obtaining letters from the king, who stood to gain financially, and securing the support of such leading ministers as secretary of state Sir Francis Windebank† by promising them a share in the lands to be recovered.16 In the absence of an Act of Parliament authorizing drainage, the government steered these projects through by means of sewers commissions, which were empowered to designate drainage zones, levy local taxes, appoint and reward undertakers, and deal with related disputes and disturbances. These commissions supposedly represented local interests, but that appointed in January 1634 to control Lindsey Level included Killigrew and most of his fellow undertakers, many of them drawn from the king’s and queen’s Households. Although the earl of Lindsey, a major Lincolnshire landowner, was appointed sole undertaker in 1635, Killigrew secured his own interests by a private deal with Lindsey which netted him one quarter of the project’s shares, and in 1636 he even persuaded the king to delay settling Lindsey Level until the earl accepted his terms.17 Perhaps because of local opposition, the 1633 scheme for the Eight Hundred Fen failed to get underway, and the grant apparently lapsed. However, by 1637 it was recognized that continuing inundation here was hampering the completion of the coterminous Lindsey Level, and Killigrew attempted to resurrect the project on the old terms. This tactic failed, but a fresh grant to his consortium, finalized in May 1638, left him the biggest single shareholder.18

The sheer scale of Killigrew’s involvement in the fens forced him to raise capital by disposing of most of his other assets. The sale of Cornish properties inherited from his father brought in £8,000. In addition, the earl of Holland (Henry Rich*) allegedly paid £21,000 for the seal office farm, another part of his patrimony, though Killigrew is unlikely to have received the entire sum as Sir Robert had left the Office encumbered. Despite these measures, by February 1639 Killigrew had fallen behind in his contributions to Lindsey’s works. Indeed, in 1646 he claimed to have spent over £30,000 on draining and to have run up debts of £11,000.19 Nevertheless, in November 1639, following the completion of the first stage of the Lindsey Level project, he took possession of over 2,000 acres, with a sale value of at least £12,000, and so was able to muster enough credit to build himself a house there, allegedly costing £5,000. His rise in status, which followed his recent appointment as a gentleman usher of the privy chamber, led him to have his portrait painted twice by Van Dyck, and by early 1640 he was living in the fashionable London suburb of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.20

Any prospect that he would soon become solvent was to prove illusory. Aware of the groundswell of opposition in the fens to the drainage projects, Killigrew adopted a characteristically firm response, securing Privy Council judgments against one leading troublemaker, Robert Barkham, and occasionally using force to protect his new enclosures against marauding commoners.21 Nevertheless, he seems to have been unprepared for the impassioned campaign against the drainers in 1640. The summoning of the Short Parliament, in which the undertakers were accused of depriving local people of their rights of ownership, served as a signal for serious rioting across Lincolnshire, with attacks on the drainage works. A measure of order was restored during the summer, and Killigrew used a session of sewers in August to fine troublemakers.22 However, the Long Parliament opened with a flurry of fresh petitions of complaint, and on 3 Dec. the Commons appointed a select committee to hear them. In February 1641 Killigrew and others were ordered to compensate Robert Barkham for his earlier imprisonment. In April Lindsey persuaded the Lords to back the undertakers’ possession, but the Commons, who were still reviewing the matter, adjudged this intervention a breach of its privilege. With the Commons broadly supporting the Lincolnshire commoners, and the Lords essentially backing the drainers, a period of stalemate followed. A Commons’ bill in June confirming the undertakers’ lands in Lindsey Level apparently failed to secure a second reading. In August Killigrew himself petitioned the Commons, detailing theft in the fens, and had a bill introduced in the Lords to prevent further damage in Lindsey Level, but his efforts were answered by another upsurge in rioting.23 Awarded only token compensation by the Lords in November, Killigrew’s last hope of support in the Commons vanished on 3 Jan. 1642 when he published the king’s charge of treason against the Five Members in the inns of court. His action was declared a high breach of parliamentary privilege, and he was in custody by 12 Feb., though he was released a few days later after bail was set at £25,000. During the spring the Lords made further gestures of support for the drainers, but the local magistrates were rapidly losing all control over the drained lands, and in May Killigrew’s own house was ransacked. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he lost possession of his property there for good.24

Killigrew’s war service began bravely, when he was given command of the Servants’ Troop, which formed half of the king’s bodyguard. At Edgehill, where Lindsey was killed, Killigrew’s men are said to have attacked a section of the enemy which had been planning to defect, but despite this mishap he received a degree in Oxford a few days later. In July 1643 he helped to arrange the queen’s journey to Oxford, and took part in her grand entry into the town. In the following month he was granted the reversion of the captaincy of Pendennis, now held by John Arundell*, and by the end of the year he was in Cornwall, attempting to rally the local royalists. With the king unable to back his efforts financially, Killigrew found his authority challenged, and in January 1644 he surrendered his title to Pendennis in favour of Arundell’s son.25 Although he remained in Cornwall at least until the following summer, he was now desperately short of money, and around May 1645 he pursued the slim hope of an embassy to Turkey. However, despite acknowledging Killigrew as ‘a person of much honesty and very good ability ... who hath suffered in a high measure for his service’, the king offered him only the mastership of the Irish Court of Wards. By now Killigrew was probably back in Oxford; he later claimed to have spent much time in the king’s company there, attempting to persuade him to compromise with Parliament. He was certainly in Oxford when it surrendered in 1646, and was provided with a pass by Fairfax.26

The next 14 years marked the lowest ebb of Killigrew’s career. Virtually bankrupt, and unable to move about freely for fear of arrest by his creditors, he avoided compounding until 1650. He declared as his sole assets his lost lands in Lincolnshire and personal effects worth £30, but he sold Kempton manor and his manorial rights at Feltham, Middlesex in 1651, and continued to live intermittently at Kempton Park until at least 1653. Thereafter, he seems to have relied on charity. By 1655 he had parted from his wife for financial reasons, though he provoked gossip by continuing to employ a maid in her absence.27

Killigrew’s overriding objective was to recover his fenland property. By 1647 he was engaged in a pamphlet war with his opponents, which in 1651 saw him pose improbably as the ally of the poor commoners against wealthy Lincolnshire landowners. With decrees of sewers having failed to guarantee his ownership rights, Killigrew sought parliamentary confirmation of his title. In May 1649 the Rump referred his claims to a committee which sought to arbitrate between the two sides as a prelude to legislation. When the desired compromise proved unattainable, a review of the whole affair was undertaken. Killigrew was apparently not without his supporters; in May 1650 the committee included Carew Ralegh, who had helped to bail him in 1642.28 However, progress proved painfully slow. A bill introduced in 1651 to restore the drainers’ losses in the Eight Hundred Fen failed, and it was April 1652 before Parliament agreed to prepare a bill itself to settle Lindsey Level. In the meantime, Killigrew was still being pursued by his creditors, and in September 1652, in league with his cousin Jane Berkeley, he even stooped to defrauding an old business partner, Richard Lygon.29

At about this time Killigrew acquired an unlikely ally in the form of Adam Baynes†, an associate of John Lambert†, and a keen property speculator who apparently took an interest in the fenland projects. On 19 Apr. 1653 Killigrew urged Baynes to use his influence in Parliament to revive the stalled Lindsey Level bill, but the legislation was lost when Cromwell ejected the Rump the next day. Although the fens were not a priority for the new Council of State, Cromwell himself favoured a settlement, and in July 1654 a committee of the Council finally recommended that the Lindsey Level undertakers should be restored to their lands. Once again, however, Killigrew and his partners were unable to come to terms with their opponents. He was sufficiently emboldened by developments to try and revive the old Rump bill in the first Protectorate Parliament, and in November 1655 to pursue interim compensation from those occupying his lands, but to no avail. He continued to rely heavily on Baynes, who in April 1655 arranged for him to stay in Lambert’s lodge at Nonsuch, Surrey, and sought his protection in November 1659 when Killigrew’s residence at Lady Strangford’s house in Kent left him open to suspicions of complicity in a recent royalist insurrection.30

The prospect of a restored monarchy roused Killigrew to fresh hopes, and he wrote to Charles II in April 1660 reminding him of past services. Shortly after the king’s return he was reinstated as a gentleman usher, and two years later followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming vice-chamberlain to the queen. However, his official income was relatively low, and persistent efforts throughout the 1660s and 1670s to secure legislation on the fens came to nothing, even though he finally returned to the Commons as Member for Richmond in 1664.31 Probably hoping to emulate the theatrical successes of his brother Thomas, Killigrew published between 1664 and 1669 the five plays for which he is now best known. This venture also proved unsuccessful, and in his lifetime his most popular work was a collection of pious reflections, his Artless Midnight Thoughts, first published in 1681, in which he described himself as ‘a gentleman at Court, who for many years built on sand, which every blast of cross fortune has defaced’. He resigned his vice-chamberlainship in the following year, and by 1693 he was living at Westminster Abbey, apparently in genteel poverty. Killigrew drew up his will on 3 Oct. 1695, but had nothing to bequeath except his Lindsey Level title, part of which he had disposed of to settle debts. He was buried at the Savoy, Westminster two weeks later.32

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. D. Lysons, Mdx. Par. 99; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 270.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; APC, 1623-5, p. 202.
  • 3. Add. 21423, f. 193; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 270; J.P. Vander Motten, Sir William Killigrew, 29-30; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 190.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 31; 1635, p. 72.
  • 5. C231/5, p. 26; C66/2859.
  • 6. C181/4, f. 155; 181/5, f. 224.
  • 7. PROB 11/164, ff. 90-1.
  • 8. LC5/134, p. 269; CCC, 1557; Ath. Ox. iv. 691; HMC 13th Rep. V, 463.
  • 9. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, ii. 348; Mercurius Aulicus, 14 July 1643.
  • 10. Ath Ox. iv. 691; PROB 11/140, f. 272.
  • 11. Vander Motten, 19, 29; APC, 1623-5, p. 202.
  • 12. OR; CD 1628, ii. 54, 168-9.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 88, 161, 355, 484.
  • 14. HMC 12th Rep. i. 410; CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 362, 450; 1631-3, pp. 34, 62, 177, 187, 516; 1633-4, pp. 54, 141-2.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 501; C8/307/89.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1633-4, pp. 35, 468; K. Lindley, Fenland Riots, 48-9; PROB 11/164, ff. 90v-1; H. Heron and W. Killigrew, Earl of Lindsey’s title (1661); Breviate of Cause Depending before Cttee of late Parl. for Fens, 3; T56/7, pp. 160-2.
  • 17. Lindley, 36-7, 47; Breviate, 3; W. Killigrew, Property of all Englishmen Asserted (1705), pp. 8-9; CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 457.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 323; 1637-8, p. 540; T56/7, pp. 160-2; Lindley, 55.
  • 19. PROB 11/164, ff. 89v-91; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 489; C54/3175/2; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 231; SP23/97, p. 431.
  • 20. Killigrew, 4-6, 8-10, 15; Breviate, 5; E. Larsen, Paintings of Van Dyck, 348; CSP Dom. 1640, p. 79.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 352; Lindley, 106.
  • 22. Procs. Short Parl. ed. E.S. Cope and W.H. Coates (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xix), 227-8; CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 79, 111; Lindley, 111.
  • 23. D’Ewes ed. W. Notestein, 19, 98; CJ, ii. 37a, 44b, 147b, 164b, 191b, 263b; LJ, iv. 208a, 337a, 343a; Lindley, 114, 123-4.
  • 24. LJ, iv. 428a, 629b; v. 55b, 79a; B. Manning, Eng. People and Eng. Rev. 160; CJ, i. 367b, 374b, 427a, 439a; Lindley, 131-6; Killigrew, 13-4.
  • 25. Vander Motten, 62-5, 332; Mercurius Aulicus, 14 July 1643; Cornw. RO, DD.R(S) 1/1110.
  • 26. M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 103; Devon RO, 1392 M/L 1644/19; CSP Dom. 1644-5, p. 513; T. Carte, Life of Ormonde, vi. 304-5; CSP Thurloe ed. T. Birch, vii. 888-90; CCC, 1557.
  • 27. HMC 7th Rep. 10; Add. 21422, ff. 40, 125; 21423, f. 193; SP23/97, pp. 419, 422; VCH Mdx. ii. 316.
  • 28. G.C. Boase and W.P. Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 296; Ppr. Delivered and Dispersed by Sir William Killigrew (1651); CJ, vi. 212b-3a, 413a-b; Certain Pprs. Concerning the Earl of Lindsey’s Fens (1649); Lindley, 162.
  • 29. Lindley, 163-4; CJ, vii. 118a-b; C8/307/89; R. Lygon, Several Circumstances to Prove that Jane Berkeley... (1654); C54/3099/1; 54/3203/27.
  • 30. G.E. Aylmer, State’s Servants, 233; Add. 21422, ff. 40, 106; 21423, ff. 80, 85, 193; 21425, f. 173; CSP Dom. 1652-3, p. 333; 1653-4, p. 366; 1654, p. 268; Lindley, 164; Vander Motten, 102-3.
  • 31. CSP Thurloe, vii. 888; Vander Motten, 105; CTB, 1660-7, pp. 389, 691; Lindley, 223-4.
  • 32. Boase and Courtney, 296; W. Killigrew, Artless Midnight Thoughts (1684), title p.; Vander Motten, 135; Ath. Ox. iv. 692; PROB 11/427, f. 222r-v.