SELBY, Sir William I (c.1532-1612), of Ightham Mote, Kent

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.1532,1 2nd s. of John Selby (d.c.1566) of Branxton, Northumb. and Twizell, co. Dur. by his w. Elizabeth. unm.2 kntd. 10 June 1603.3 d. 1 Jan. 1612.4 sig. Wylliam Selby.

Offices Held

Commr. i.p.m. Anthony Swynborne, Northumb. 1570;5 pens. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. 1587-?d.;6 j.p. Northumb. by 1591-at least 1604, bishopric of Dur. by 1604;7 freeman and common councilman, Berwick by 1597.8

Officer, Scottish campaigns 1548-9, 1560, French campaign 1562, campaign to suppress Northern Rebellion 1569;9 capt. of horse, Ire. 1575-6,10 Neths. 1585-6,11 of ft., Berwick 1587-96;12 gov. of Amersfoort, Neths. c.1586;13 comptroller of ordnance in the North 1590-at least 1596,14 clerk (jt.) 1594;15 gent. porter, Berwick 1596-99, 1599-1603 (jt.);16 ?commr. of provision, Berwick 1603.17

Esq. of the Body 1603.18


A cavalryman of some distinction, Selby began his military career at the tender age of 13. A younger son, he inherited neither money nor land from his father, in whose squadron of light horse he perhaps served in Scotland in 1560.19 In 1587, following a final campaign in the Low Countries, in which he earned a commendation from the earl of Leicester,20 Selby took a pension and the command of 50 foot at Berwick, where his elder brother, Sir John, served as gentleman porter. Until Sir John’s death in 1595 Selby seldom attended in person, except to pay the garrison and collect his own salary,21 but following his own appointment as gentleman porter in January 1596 he initially proved more assiduous. His period of office was marred in 1597 by his arrest for brawling in the town’s churchyard with the followers of Ralph Gray, in which affray he was wounded.22 In 1599 he pleaded old age and ‘business of importance’ to obtain permission to execute his office through William Selby†, the eldest son of his deceased older brother.23 He subsequently settled at Ightham Mote, in north Kent, where in 1591 he had purchased the medieval manor house.24 When James VI of Scotland entered Berwick as James I of England in April 1603 the town’s keys were handed to him, not by Selby but by Selby’s nephew, who was duly knighted.25 Selby did not obtain a knighthood for himself for another couple of months, after serving as an esquire of the body at Elizabeth’s funeral.26 He never ventured north again: the Sir William Selby who served as one of the northern border commissioners from about 1604 and continued to harass the Grays was his nephew.27

Following the reduction in size of the Berwick garrison, the office of gentleman porter was abolished, although in January 1605 the king authorized the continued payment of Selby’s pension.28 Despite his non-residence, Selby was returned to Parliament for Berwick for a fifth successive time in 1604, but as usual he played only a modest role in its proceedings. During the first and second sessions he made no speeches and was named to few committees. Naturally, however, he was included on the committee to scrutinize the bill to confirm the recently granted charter for Berwick (16 May 1604), and on another for the bill to establish the former customs’ allowances made to the cloth merchants of York, Hull and Newcastle (17 Feb. 1606). His other nominations included committees for measures to disable recusants who were attainted of perjury (26 Apr. 1604), prohibit secret outlawries (17 May 1604), naturalize Sir George Home and the earl of Mar (18 and 30 May 1604 respectively) and confirm Home’s letters patent (30 May 1604). He was also named to the committee for the 1606 subsidy bill (10 February). He apparently took a special interest in a measure regarding the cost of prohibitions, for as well as being named to the committee (9 May 1604) he took delivery of both the bill and a list of the committee members (14 May). His sole nomination to a conference with the Lords concerned the Union (14 Apr. 1604).29

A letter signed by ‘Sir William Selby’ was read to the Commons on 29 May 1607, but since it defended the actions of the border commissioners its author was clearly Selby’s nephew. There is no direct evidence that Selby attended the third session, but it seems unlikely that he absented himself as a bill to confirm his purchase of Ightham Mote received its first reading on 30 Mar. 1607. Selby’s reasons for introducing this piece of legislation are obscure, as neither the text of the bill nor a summary of its contents survive. However, the purchase of Ightham from Charles Allen (d.1592) was clearly problematic, for at the time Allen’s son and heir Stephen was a minor, and by law property which formed part of an entail could not be barred until the owner’s issue was of full age. To complicate matters, in 1584, prior to Selby’s purchase, Allen had leased Ightham for 21 years to Charles Paget, whose attainder in 1587 meant that the lease had been forfeited to the queen.30 Whether Selby bought out the Crown’s rights and those of its two sub-tenants after his purchase is unknown, but he wisely obtained confirmation of his title from Stephen when the original lease granted to Paget expired in 1605. Selby nevertheless continued to remain apprehensive about his title, persuading Stephen to confirm the grant again in January 1607,31 and introducing his bill to Parliament two months later. This measure was committed after its second reading on 30 April. Thereafter the committee members seem to have experienced difficulty in meeting, as the House intervened three times to lay down times for it to assemble, and consequently the bill was not finally reported, with amendments, until 19 June, when it was ordered to be engrossed. It must now have looked extremely likely that the bill would shortly pass into law, but at the third reading on 22 June an error was discovered which prevented the bill from being put to the question.32 Twelve days later Parliament was adjourned and the bill was lost.

Selby evidently enjoyed a reputation among his fellow parliamentarians for strict accuracy in reporting, for in the notorious ‘Parliament Fart’ poem of 1607 he is depicted as demanding that the offending wind be reported ‘as ’twas spoken/ and then report till thy belly be broken’.33 There is no evidence that he participated in either session in 1610. He may have been ill, for on drawing up his will on 10 May 1610 (a day on which the House sat) he described himself as ‘weak in body’. Unmarried and childless, Selby made his nephew Sir William his principal beneficiary, to whom he left his lands in Kent and a reversionary interest in a number of messuages in Berwick. However, he also assigned £600 in cash to each of his nephew’s younger brothers, Sir Ralph and Sir John*. Sir Ralph was additionally granted tithe corn of unspecified value in several northern locations as well as a number of small London properties. These included a tavern in West Smithfield formerly called The Crown, which Selby had renamed The Saracen’s Head to reflect the major emblem in his coat of arms. Various other nephews and nieces were granted cash legacies of between £10 and £600, as well as rings and tithe corn. Among his other legacies, Selby’s distant relative, Sir George Selby* of Newcastle, was bequeathed ‘my picture’ and a gold ring. Rings were also bestowed on Sir Robert Vernon*, the cofferer of the Household, and his fellow Berwick MP Christopher Parkinson. The town of Berwick also stood to benefit, as Selby ordered a house there to be converted to a free school and conveyed to the mayor and bailiffs. He left less than £4 to the poor of the five parishes with which he was most closely associated.34 Selby died on New Year’s Day 1612, and was buried at St. Peter’s, Ightham, where a monument recounting his long military service was erected.35 Architectural historians concur that it was his nephew Sir William rather who carried out major alterations to the interior of Ightham Mote.36 Sir John Selby inherited Selby’s electoral influence at Berwick, which he subsequently represented on three occasions.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Kent Churches comp. T.H. Oyler, 59.
  • 2. J. Raine, Hist. and Antiquities of North Dur. 315.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 110; J. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, i. 160.
  • 4. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 328.
  • 5. CPR Eliz. 1569-72, p. 32.
  • 6. CBP, 1560-94, p. 274.
  • 7. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1549; 66/1620.
  • 8. CBP, 1595-1603, p. 251. Selby is first listed as a freeman in the Berwick guild roll in 1606: Berwick RO, B1/7, f. 83.
  • 9. Epitaphs, 59.
  • 10. APC, 1571-5, p. 366; CSP For. 1575-7, pp. 377, 580; CSP Carew, 1575-88, pp. 28-9.
  • 11. CSP For. 1586-7, p. 18; CSP Span. 1580-6, p. 554; HMC Hatfield, vi. 570; CBP, 1560-94, p. 274.
  • 12. CBP, 1560-94, pp. 444, 455.
  • 13. Epitaphs, 59.
  • 14. CBP, 1560-94, p. 373; APC, 1596-7, p. 184.
  • 15. CBP, 1560-94, pp. 544-5.
  • 16. SO3/1, unfol., Jan. 1595/6; APC, 1599-1600, p. 241; E351/3482; 351/3483.
  • 17. Cat. of Mss in I. Temple ed. J. Conway Davies, 702.
  • 18. LC2/4/4, f. 67v.
  • 19. Wills and Inventories ... of the Northern Cos. pt. i (Surtees Soc. ii), 235-6; E351/226.
  • 20. CSP For. 1586-7, p. 18.
  • 21. CBP, 1560-94, pp. 381-2, 384, 386, 455; 1595-1603, pp. 41, 44.
  • 22. Ibid. 1595-1603, pp. 250-1, 257.
  • 23. APC, 1599-1600, p. 241.
  • 24. Arch. Cant. xlix. 40.
  • 25. Nichols, i. 63.
  • 26. It is clear that Selby was knighted after his nephew from a letter written by Lord Scrope in April 1603, which refers to Sir William and Capt. Selby: HMC Hatfield, xv. 46.
  • 27. STAC 8/261/19, 20; C2/Jas.I/S8/13.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 186.
  • 29. CJ, i. 172a, 185a, 204a, 212a, 213a-b, 228a-b, 266b, 270a, 972a.
  • 30. C142/237/137.
  • 31. Cent. Kent. Stud. U947/T2/1, bdle. F.
  • 32. CJ, i. 356b, 365a, 1046b, 1050a, 385b, 387a.
  • 33. Add. 34218, f. 21.
  • 34. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 15-19.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters, i. 328; Raine, 315; Epitaphs, 59.
  • 36. H. Avray Tipping, Eng. Homes, ii. 15; J. Newman, W. Kent and the Weald, 347; F.J. Bennett, Ightham, 84.