WILSFORD, Sir Thomas (c.1585-1646), of Ilding, Kingston, 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.1585,1 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Thomas Wilsford (Wilford†) of Ilding and Maria, da. and h. of Edward Poynings. m. by 1608 Elizabeth, da. of Sir Edwin Sandys* of Northbourne, Kent, 5s. 5da. (1 d.v.p.). kntd. Nov. 1607; suc. fa. 1610; admon. 10 Aug. 1646.2 sig. Tho. Wilsford.

Offices Held

Member, Virg. Co. by 1620.3

Capt. RN 1620-1.4

J.p. Kent by 1625-37;5 freeman, Canterbury, Kent 1625,6 Dover 1635;7 commr. sewers, Kent 1625-at least 1639,8 E. Kent by 1630-at least 1642,9 Forced Loan, Kent 1626-7,10 knighthood fines 1630-2,11 charitable uses, Kent and Cinque Ports 1633,12 piracy, Cinque Ports 1639,13 subsidy, Kent 1642,14 array 1642.15


Wilsford claimed descent from William Wilsford of Devon, whose grandson, James, was an early sixteenth century London alderman. Wilsford’s father, Thomas, was a Marian exile who twice represented Winchelsea in the 1570s and pursued a military career. During the 1580s and 1590s the elder Wilsford fathered three sons, one of whom, as a page to Archbishop Whitgift, stabbed to death a Mr. Boughton ‘at a brabble at bowls’ in 1602. The culprit was presumably Wilsford’s younger brother, Edward, as the assailant was described as ‘a little boy’ and Wilsford was then aged about 17.16 Wilsford’s education probably included a military training: during the Algiers expedition of 1620-1 he captained a warship and helped sink one of the enemy’s best vessels.17 Moreover, in 1639 he trained 1,000 soldiers for the king.18

Wilsford was knighted in 1607, and by the following year he had married one of the daughters of Sir Edwin Sandys. In November 1610, his elder brother having died, he succeeded to an estate centred on a mansion house and 300 acres of pasture and woodland in Kingston, five miles south-east of Canterbury. There is no evidence that he stood for election in 1614, and his service against the north African corsairs coincided with the 1621 Parliament, but in March 1624 he put himself forward at Dover with his father-in-law’s backing. However, he was thwarted by the mayor, who refused to admit him to the town’s freedom.19 On a subsequent visit to Dover in company with Count Mansfeld, Wilsford heaped abuse on the mayor, who appealed to Lord Zouche, the lord warden of the Cinque Ports. Zouche was advised by (Sir) Henry Yelverton* that a petition to the Privy Council would probably result in Wilsford’s commitment for trial in Star Chamber. Consequently Wilsford sought the intervention of Sandys and his ‘worthy friend’ Sir Peter Heyman*, who mollified the mayor. He also apologized to Zouche, declaring himself ‘heartily sorry’ for his ‘unseemly words’, but explained that he had ‘received much wrong’ from Dover’s corporation and had been unable ‘to bridle my passion when the mayor threatened to lay me by the heels’.20

In 1625 Wilsford again sought election, but this time, to reduce the risk of failure, he stood in two constituencies. He proved successful in both, being returned at Christchurch as the nominee of Lord Arundell of Wardour, and at Canterbury, where he leased some property from the dean and chapter and was supported by most of the corporation. On entering the Commons Wilsford, who plumped for Canterbury, made just one recorded speech (23 June), in which he drew the committee for religion’s attention to an incident two months earlier. A Catholic priest, along with a number of other popish recusants, had torn two pages from the Great Bible in Canterbury Cathedral, and despite a complaint to the dean the priest had escaped punishment because he allegedly enjoyed the protection of the recusant Lord Teynham. The House was sufficiently alarmed to include this episode among articles intended for inclusion in a petition to the king.21

In 1627 Wilsford helped Sir John Hippisley*, the lieutenant of Dover Castle, survey the coastal fortifications of east Kent and improve arrangements for warning of invasion.22 He was finally admitted to the freedom of Dover in November in 1635 in recognition of ‘sundry favours done to this township’. In 1637 he was removed from the bench for non-attendance.23 Though apparently not a deputy lieutenant, Wilsford took men and horses to join the royal army at Newcastle in May 1639, where he is said to have spoken frankly to the king regarding the insufficiency of military preparations against the Scots. When an amused Charles asked the reason for his pessimism, Wilsford, who was so ashamed at the quality of the troops he had brought with him that he had burned his colours, evidently replied that it was foolish to think the king could finance a war from his own resources: ‘the only way to prosper is to go back and call a Parliament, and so you should have money enough’. When Charles objected that ‘There were fools in the last Parliament’, Wilsford is said to have concurred, but added ‘there were wise men too’, including himself. This was not in fact the case, as Wilsford was not a Member of the 1628-9 Parliament.24

Wilsford is not known to have supported either side during the First Civil War. He died intestate in 1646, and his place of burial is unknown. Letters of administration were granted to one of his creditors. No other member of his family subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. C142/319/190.
  • 2. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 104-5; Arch. Cant. xx. 6, 38; Regs. of S. Giles in Kingston, Kent ed. C. Hales Wilkie, 24-5, 27-8, 127; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 143.
  • 3. Virg. Co. Recs. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 336.
  • 4. Harl. 1581, f. 72v.
  • 5. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Chas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 1, 292; C231/5, f. 232.
  • 6. Roll of Freemen of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 310.
  • 7. Add. 29625, f. 68v.
  • 8. C181/3, f. 157v; 181/5, p. 292.
  • 9. Cent. Kent. Stud. S/EK/SO3, pp. 134, 498.
  • 10. Harl. 6846, f. 37; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 11. E178/7154, f. 88c; 5368, unfol.
  • 12. C192/1, unfol.
  • 13. C181/5, p. 262.
  • 14. SR, v. 152.
  • 15. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 16. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 139; Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 121.
  • 17. Harl. 1581, f. 72v.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1639, p. 244.
  • 19. SP14/161/32, 38, 51.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 581 (mis-dated); 1623-5, pp. 198, 200-1, 245; SP14/165/62; Add. 29623, ff. 65-6.
  • 21. Procs. 1625, pp. 205, 231, 264, 679-80. For the property held of the dean and chapter, see C78/479/22.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 417; APC, 1627-8, p. 10.
  • 23. C231/5, f. 232.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1639, pp. 244-5.