SKIPWITH, Sir William (c.1564-1610), of Cotes and Leicester, Leics.

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



1604 - 3 May 1610

Family and Education

b. c.1564, 1st s. of Henry Skipwith†, of Cotes and Jane, da. of Francis Hall of Grantham, Lincs., wid. of Francis Nele of Keythorpe, Leics.1 educ. Jesus, Camb. 1580; vol. Low Countries 1586.2 m. (1) Margaret (d.1594), da. of Roger Cave of Stanford, Northants., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 6 Nov. 1595, Jane (bur. 4 Apr. 1630), da. and h. of John Roberts of Wollaston, Northants., wid. of John Walpole of Whaplode, Lincs. and John Markham of Sedgebrook, Lincs. s.p.3 suc. fa. 1588, aged 24;4 kntd. 21 Apr. 1603.5 d. 3 May 1610.6

Offices Held

J.p. Leics. by 1593-at least 1608,7 sheriff 1597-8,8 collector, fifteenths 1602;9 commr. inquiry into Leics. lands of Henry Brooke alias Cobham†, 11th Lord Cobham 1603, into Leics. lands of Bye plotters 1603;10 freeman, Leicester 1604;11 commr. depopulation, Leics. 1607,12 oyer and terminer, Midlands rising, Leics. 1607,13 subsidy 1608,14 collector of aid 1609.15


Skipwith’s ancestors were landholders in Lincolnshire in the fourteenth century and first produced a knight of the shire in 1406. His father, the youngest of five sons and a royal equerry, acquired property in Leicestershire, including the manor of Cotes in the parish of Prestwold, near the border with Nottinghamshire, and represented Leicester in two Elizabethan parliaments.16 Skipwith himself was praised by the seventeenth-century Leicestershire antiquarian William Burton for his ‘many good parts, his person, his valour, his learning, judgement and wisdom’ and for ‘his witting conceits in making fit and acute epigrams, poesies, mottoes and devices’.17 A puritan, he suppressed ‘somewhat roughly’ the May Day celebrations at Leicester when they occurred on a Sunday in 1603. The following month Anne of Denmark and Prince Henry stayed at his house in the town on the last stage of their journey south to join the king.18

It was probably with the support of the 4th earl of Huntingdon (George Hastings†) that Skipwith was elected for Leicestershire in 1601. In 1604, however, Huntingdon urged the corporation of Leicester to elect Sir John Pulteney*, the nominee of the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Fortescue*. Skipwith was nominated by the borough’s puritan recorder Augustine Nicolls, and was made free of the borough shortly before the election.19

Skipwith was named to 26 committees and made 11 recorded speeches before his death in the middle of the fourth session. In 1604 he was appointed to committees to consider restitution bills for the earls of Southampton, Essex and Arundel (2 Apr.) and for Lord William Howard (15 May).20 His principal interest of the session was probably purveyance. On 7 May he was among those instructed to prepare for a conference with the Lords about this subject, and on 31 May he was named to the committee to consider the bill to assign revenue to the royal Household. Two days later he made his only recorded speech of the session in a confused debate about whether to confer with the Lords about compounding for purveyance. Both he and Sir William Paddy were ‘suffered to speak’ after the question had been put, whereupon they protested against attempts to change the question.21 In addition, Skipwith was appointed to committees concerning bills to preserve coppices (28 Apr.) and for the ‘maintenance of husbandry and tillage’ (25 May).22 He was also named to attend the conference with the Lords about Union with Scotland on 14 Apr. and he was among those instructed to accompany Sir Herbert Croft to the Tower on 12 May to confirm that the warden of the Fleet had been duly incarcerated in a particularly loathsome dungeon for infringing the privilege of Sir Thomas Shirley I.23 His other committee appointments concerned bills against the excessive wearing of gold and silver cloth (11 Apr.), abuses in the Exchequer (5 May) and the preservation of fry of fish (14 May).24 On his return to Leicester he and his colleague, Sir Henry Beaumont II, were given sugar and wine by the Leicester corporation.25

In January 1605 Skipwith signed a letter from the Leicestershire gentry to Viscount Cranborne (Robert Cecil†) on behalf of those ministers threatened with deprivation for refusing to subscribe to the 1604 Canons. Despite his undoubted protestantism, he was related to one of the Gunpowder plotters, Sir Everard Digby, who was the son of Skipwith’s half sister. It is not known whether Skipworth had returned to Westminster by the time the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, but the following January he wrote to Sir John Grey*, asking him to alert Cranborne, by now earl of Salisbury, to the allegedly suspicious activities of the Catholic Sir Henry Hastings of Braunston.26 Skipwith’s connection with the Plot is alluded to in the mischievous poem known as the ‘Parliament Fart’.27

In the second session Skipwith was appointed to the committee for a bill to assure the jointure of his first wife’s sister-in-law, Dame Eleanor Cave (22 Jan. 1606).28 He also did his best to limit the taxes voted to the king. During the supply debate of 14 Mar. 1606, he urged every Member to ‘lay his hand upon his heart, remember the place from whence he comes, and give according to his conscience’. After he had finished speaking Sir Henry Hobart, the rising Crown lawyer, charged him with having accused some of his fellow Members of flattery, by which Hobart presumably meant that Skipwith had implied that some of the advocates of a generous grant to the Crown were excessive in their praise of James I. Skipwith intervened again towards the end of the debate, presumably to rebut Hobart’s accusation, and the next day he returned the charge ‘to be blown into the mouth from whence it came’.29 On 18 Mar., after the Commons had agreed to augment its grant, Skipwith intervened to prevent the Speaker from moving the House to decide how many extra subsidies and fifteenths to vote by arguing that the decision in itself implied an additional grant of one subsidy and an extra two fifteenths.30

Skipwith may have spoken in the debate on the bill against poaching on 26 April.31 Four days later he was appointed to the committee for the bill to attaint the Gunpowder Plotters and on 10 May he successfully moved for counsel to be heard on behalf of Sir Everard Digby’s son Kenelm. However, the proviso proffered in Kenelm’s favour was rejected by the Commons two days later.32 Skipwith’s puritanism may explain his nomination to the committee to consider the bills against ‘abuses of players’ and to improve church attendance (19 Mar.), and also his appointment on 10 Apr. to a conference with the Lords about ecclesiastical grievances.33 His other committees were concerned with bills to improve river navigation (7 Feb.) and naturalize the children of Sir Edward Conway I* (3 Apr.), and he was added to the committees for the free trade bill on 10 Apr. and the bill for preservation of sea fish after the latter was recommitted following its third reading seven days later.34

In the third session Skipwith made only one recorded speech, on 7 May 1607, in which he proposed, probably with Sir Robert Wingfield in mind, to ask the king to identify those responsible for supplying him with misleading reports of debates. However, this seemed to most Members ‘as if he would have His Majesty become an accuser’, and consequently his motion was rejected to shouts of ‘no, no’.35 He was named to three committees, for relief of the recently flooded West Country (3 Mar.), for the bill to confirm an exchange of property between All Souls college and Sir William Smith* (29 Apr.) and for confirmation of letters patent (15 May).36

In April 1608 Skipwith obtained an order from the treasurer of the Household Lord Knollys (William Knollys†) to the Leicestershire magistrates to inquire into the ‘intolerable abuses’ of Christopher Walton, the board of Greencloth’s unpopular purveyor in the county ‘to the impoverishment of some poor inhabitants’. However, this seems to have only resulted in an ineffective undertaking from Walton that he would not charge excessive fees. There were renewed complaints against Walton three years later.37

On returning to Westminster for the fourth session, Skipwith queried on 26 Feb. whether it was necessary to obtain the concurrence of the Lords in pursuing Dr. Cowell for the high prerogative views expressed in The Interpreter.38 He moved the adjournment of the debate on the Great Contract two days later, asserting that interest rates were lower in Edinburgh than in England, possibly suggesting that he thought that if the king needed money he should borrow it in Scotland. He also asserted that ‘rivers are not dry but by the breach of the banks’, by which he was perhaps referring to James I’s generosity to his Scottish courtiers.39 In his last speech, on 14 Mar., he urged the Commons not to forget the need to secure the execution of what the king had offered.40 He received three committee appointments, on bills concerning pluralism (19 Feb.), the Horners of London (23 Feb.) and purveyance (26 February).41

Skipwith died in London on 3 May, and was buried at Prestwold four days later. In his will dated 15 May 1604, to which a codicil was added on 29 Oct. 1607, he bequeathed one third of his estate to his eldest son Henry, the remainder being devoted to provide £600 for his widow, £3,500 in portions for his daughters, and annuities of £30 each to his two younger sons. His widow set aside £150 to erect a splendid monument for him, with an epitaph written by Sir John Beaumont of Gracedieu which described his some who ‘when need requires, with courage bold / To public ears his neighbours’ griefs unfold’. Sir William Heyricke, who served as Skipwith’s colleague in the Commons from 1605 onwards, wrote in 1614 that ‘Leicestershire got as good an opinion in the House last Parliament by Sir William Skipwith and Sir Thomas Beaumont the elder as any shire or county in England’. His son was created a baronet in 1622, took the royalist side in the Civil War, and was compelled to sell out to the London alderman Christopher Packe†. The family did not re-enter Parliament until Sir Gray Skipwith was elected for Warwickshire in 1831.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Paula Watson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Nichols, County of Liecester, iii. 368.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; R.C. Strong and J.A. van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph, 129.
  • 3. Nichols, iii. 359; A. Gibbons, Lincs. Vis. Notes, 58; Vis. Norf. (Norf. Arch. i), 453.
  • 4. G.F. Franham, ‘Prestwold and its Hamlets in Medieval Times’, Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xvii. 58.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 102.
  • 6. Nichols, 359.
  • 7. Hatfield House, ms 278; SP14/33, f. 36.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 75.
  • 9. E401/2399.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 71, 72v.
  • 11. H. Hartopp, Reg. Freemen of Leicester, 100.
  • 12. ‘Depopulation Returns of Leics. in 1607’ ed. L.A. Parker, Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xxiii. 232.
  • 13. C181/2, f. 35.
  • 14. SP14/31/1.
  • 15. SP14/43/107.
  • 16. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 890, 894-5; OR; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 391-2; Nichols, iii. 366; Farnham, 7-8, 54-60, 83.
  • 17. W. Burton, Description of Leicester Shire (1622), p. 77
  • 18. J. Simmons, Leicester P and P, i. 85, 96.
  • 19. Leics. RO, BRIII/18/421; J.K. Gruenfelder, ‘Electoral Influence of the Earls of Huntingdon, 1603-40’, Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. l. 91-20; Nichols, i. 418.
  • 20. CJ, i. 162a, 211a.
  • 21. Ibid. 202a, 229a, 984b.
  • 22. Ibid. 226a, 960a. The first appointment is omitted from the main text of the Journal. Ibid. 189b.
  • 23. Ibid. 172a, 208b.
  • 24. Ibid. 167a, 199b, 209a.
  • 25. Recs. of Bor. of Leicester ed. H. Stock, iv. 32.
  • 26. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 7-8; xviii. 5; Farnham, 7.
  • 27. Add. 34218, f. 21v.
  • 28. CJ, i. 258a.
  • 29. Ibid. 284b, 285a.
  • 30. Bowyer Diary, 85; W. Notestein, House of Commons, 1604-10, p. 208.
  • 31. Bowyer Diary, 136n.2.
  • 32. CJ, i. 303a, 308a; Bowyer Diary, 157.
  • 33. CJ, i. 265a, 286b, 296b.
  • 34. Ibid. 293a, 296a, 296b, 299b.
  • 35. Bowyer Diary, 378.
  • 36. CJ, i. 346a, 364b, 374a.
  • 37. HMC Hastings, ii. 52; R. Cust, ‘Purveyance and Pols. in Jacobean Leics.’, Regionalism and Revision ed. A. Gross and J.R. Lander, 148, 154.
  • 38. CJ, i. 400b.
  • 39. Ibid. 402b.
  • 40. Ibid. 411b.
  • 41. Ibid. 396b, 399a, 400a.
  • 42. Nichols, iii. 354, 357, 359, 368; PROB 11/117, ff. 331v-4; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 137.