WILLOUGHBY, Sir Percival (c.1560-1643), of Wollaton Hall, Notts.; Middleton, Warws. and Carlisle House, Lambeth, Surr.

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.1560,1 1st s. of Thomas Willoughby† of Bore Place, Chiddingstone, Kent and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. and 1st w. Catherine, da. of Sir Percival Hart, knight-harbinger, of Lullingstone, Kent.2 educ. Furnival’s Inn; L. Inn 1579; travelled abroad (France, Switzerland) 1581-2.3 m. Dec. 1580,4 his cos. Bridget (d. 16 July 1629),5 da. and coh. of Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1596;6 kntd. 21 Apr. 1603.7 d. 23 Aug. 1643.8 sig. Per[cival] Wyllughby.

Offices Held

Steward, honour of Peverell, Derbys. and Notts. 1596-1617;9 commr. musters, Notts. by 1613,10 j.p. 1618;11 gamekeeper, Nottingham, Notts. by 1619.12

Cttee. Newfoundland Co. 1610, member, Virg. Co. 1610.13


Willoughby’s great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Willoughby, was a younger son of Christopher, 10th Lord Willoughby of Eresby. The family had held land in Lincolnshire since the end of the twelfth century and represented the county in 1325 before being raised to the peerage. Sir Thomas Willoughby was chief justice of the Common Pleas from 1537 to 1545 and acquired Bore Place in Kent by marriage. His son Robert married the daughter of Sir Edward Willoughby of Wollaton, three miles west of Nottingham. 14 Robert’s neighbours, the Nottinghamshire Willoughbys, took their name from Willoughby on the Wolds in the south of the county, and were an entirely different family.15

Willoughby himself married the eldest of the six daughters of Sir Francis Willoughby, Sir Edward’s grandson. As Sir Francis had no sons, Willoughby was recognized as heir-presumptive, and on returning from his travels abroad in 1582 he settled at his father-in-law’s subsidiary seat at Middleton, five miles from Tamworth. However Sir Francis had spent lavishly on the rebuilding of Wollaton Hall, running up substantial debts,16 and both he and Willoughby’s father made over-generous settlements on their second wives. Consequently Willoughby’s father entrusted a substantial part of his estate to trustees, whom he instructed to sell the properties and divide what remained, after the payment of his debts, among his widow and her children. Willoughby was horrified, and following the death of his father in 1596, he wrote to his wife: ‘so unfortunate is our case to have such step-mothers step into our houses, from whom God deliver us and ours’.17

Willoughby’s father-in-law died in the same year as his father and, despite substantial land sales, the liabilities on the estate totalled over £35,000, whereas the net income was less than £600. In addition, after her husband’s death Lady Willoughby reputedly gained possession of £8,000 worth of plate, jewels and cash belonging to Sir Francis. There was subsequently prolonged litigation between Willoughby and his wife’s step-mother, who remarried the 3rd Lord Wharton, which can only have further undermined his finances.18

Willoughby was knighted at Worksop as James I journeyed south to take up possession of his new kingdom, and two months later he entertained Anne of Denmark and the royal children at Wollaton.19 In 1604 he was returned both for Tamworth, near his Warwickshire estate and, a few days later, for Nottinghamshire. Sir John Holles, who was also returned for Nottinghamshire, asked him to make over the Tamworth seat to his own friend and admirer, Sir John Brooke*, but Willoughby preferred to nominate Sir Thomas Beaumont II*, the cousin of his colliery manager. Congratulating him on his success, the godly Sir William Willoughby* (to whom he was probably distantly related) urged him to ‘stand firmly for God’s service and the good of his church’.20 However, there is little evidence, apart perhaps from nomination to a committee for the regulation of alehouses on 21 Apr. 1604, that this aspect of his parliamentary duties weighed heavily upon him.21 In total he was appointed to ten committees, all in the first two sessions, but made no recorded speeches. He was named to committees for bills concerning for the restraint of excess in apparel on 11 Apr. and 2 June 1604.22 On 14 Apr. 1604 he was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords on the Union with Scotland. He was also named to consider measures to forbid the conversion of coppices into tillage or pasture (28 Apr.), and the decay of husbandry (25 May) although his enclosing activities in Warwickshire were repeatedly presented in Star Chamber.23 As the owner of a fleet of coal barges on the Trent, he had a vested interest in the bill to prevent the obstruction of navigable rivers, which he was appointed to help consider on 23 June.24 He was again appointed to the committee when the bill was revived in the second session (7 Feb. 1606), and he was also named to the committees to consider the cloth export bill on 17 Mar. and the free trade bill on 3 April.25

By November 1606 Willoughby was in the Fleet for debt.26 He does not appear in the surviving records of the subsequent sessions of the first Jacobean Parliament, suggesting that he may not have resumed his seat. Nevertheless he was able to free himself by liquidating his estate in Kent, and by 1608 his finances had improved sufficiently to enable him to raise £800 by a statute merchant in Nottingham.27 He even contracted an advantageous marriage for his eldest son Francis with the daughter of Sir Thomas Ridgeway*, who found him

a man after my own heart, sweetly natured, sure of word and deed, delightsome in conversation, respective of his friend, loving and faithful to his worthy lady, zealously careful of his son’s good, every way and generally learned, wise, and well experienced.

Ridgeway, treasurer of Ireland, obtained for him the grant of 6,000 acres in Ulster, which Willoughby sold a few years later.28 Willoughby also made a substantial investment in the Newfoundland Company in 1610, but this proved unprofitable.29

There is no evidence that Willoughby sought re-election for Nottinghamshire in 1614, but he was again returned at Tamworth. He left no trace on the records of the Addled Parliament, but may have used the occasion to improve his acquaintanceship with Sir Robert Mansell*, who sat for Carmarthenshire and was granted the glass monopoly in the following year. Willoughby contracted to set up an experimental glassworks at Wollaton, supplying all the fuel and most of the raw materials; but hopes of vast profits proved illusory, and it closed down after a couple of years.30 In 1616 the purchaser of Willoughby’s Kentish property successfully sued over concealed encumbrances.31 In local office, Willoughby was obliged to surrender the hereditary stewardship of Peverell to Sir George Goring* in 1617.32 Appointed to the Nottinghamshire bench the following year, his career as a magistrate proved short-lived. Wollaton itself was extended by Sir Nicholas Tufton*, and according to Gervase Holles†, whose grandfather Sir John Holles was one of Willoughby’s major creditors, Willoughby ‘was forced to hide his head, and never to stir out of doors for many years together’.33 Hence it was left to his brother Edward to petition the 1621 Parliament and claim that Lady Wharton had obtained a favourable decision in Chancery by bribing Sir Francis Bacon*. A bill was introduced to reverse the decree, but never committed.34

Willoughby was outlawed for debt in London on 29 Apr. 1622, and again in 1623 and 1624.35 He survived to see the outset of the Civil War, but died at Wollaton in August 1643, and was buried in the parish church. No will or administration has been found. His son cleared the estate by care and thrift, and his grandson, another Francis, became a celebrated naturalist. The family returned to public life only in the next generation; his great-grandson Thomas sat for Nottinghamshire in five parliaments between 1698 and 1710, and was created Baron Middleton in 1712.36

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Paula Watson / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Age calculated from date of admiss. to L. Inn.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 628.
  • 3. LI Admiss.; HMC Middleton, 553, 557-8.
  • 4. HMC Middleton, 555.
  • 5. G. Fellows, ‘Wollaton Hall, Church, and the Fam. of Willoughby’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. vi. suppl. 38.
  • 6. C. Brydges, duchess of Chandos, Continuation of the Hist. of the Willoughby Fam. ed. A.C. Wood, 40, 43.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 102.
  • 8. Fellows, 38.
  • 9. Ibid. 49.
  • 10. SP14/72/92.
  • 11. C231/4, f. 58.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 92.
  • 13. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 404.
  • 14. Collins, Peerage, vii. 215; Oxford DNB sub Willoughby fam. c.1300-1523; Hasted, Kent, iii. 221.
  • 15. Oxford DNB sub Willoughby fam. 1362-1528.
  • 16. Ibid. sub Willoughby, Sir Francis.
  • 17. PROB 11/88, f. 10; Brydges, 24;
  • 18. HMC Middleton, 582-3; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 313; Lansd. 89, f. 24.
  • 19. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, i. 88, 170.
  • 20. Brydges, 36.
  • 21. CJ, i. 180a.
  • 22. Ibid. 167a, 984a.
  • 23. Ibid. 172a, 226a, 960a; STAC 8/15/21, 238/25, 295/11.
  • 24. A.C. Wood, ‘Hist. of Trade and Transport on the River Trent’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. liv. 6-7; CJ, i. 245a.
  • 25. CJ, i. 265a, 285b, 292b.
  • 26. Brydges, 39.
  • 27. Ibid. 43; T. Bailey, Annals of Notts. 568; Hasted, iii. 220-1, 285.
  • 28. Brydges, 70-1, 75.
  • 29. Newfoundland Discovered ed. G.T. Cell (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2, clx), 7, 12.
  • 30. R.S. Smith ‘Glass-making at Wollaton in the Early 17th Century’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. lxvi. 24-34; E.S. Godfrey, Development of Eng. Glassmaking, 84-85, 174-5.
  • 31. C78/202/6.
  • 32. Fellows, 49.
  • 33. G. Holles, Mems. of the Holles Fam. ed. A.C Wood (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lv), 121; Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxi), 330.
  • 34. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 200-1; CD 1621, vi. 157.
  • 35. C2/Jas.I/W13/52.
  • 36. Fellows, 38; Brydges, 88; Oxford DNB sub Willughby, Francis; HP Commons, 1690-1715, v. 883-5.