SHIRLEY, Francis (c.1524-78), of West Grinstead, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1524, 1st s. of Thomas Shirley of West Grinstead by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Marmaduke Gorges alias Russell of Gloucester, Glos. m. by 1555, Barbara, da. of Sir Richard Blount of Mapledurham, Oxon. and Dedisham, Suss., 2s. inc. Thomas 2da. suc. fa. 28 Apr. 1544.1

Offices Held

Collector of customs, Southampton, Hants in 1553-4; j.p. Suss. 1564-d.; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1573-4.2


According to the inquisition taken on his father’s lands in January 1545 Francis Shirley was then of age, yet in May 1546 it was as ‘a minor in the King’s hands’ that he was granted custody of Buddington manor in Wiston, Sussex, and his own wardship and marriage. In view of his mother’s suppression of his father’s will his age may have been misrepresented in 1545 in an effort to safeguard his interest. When she died in August 1557 Francis Shirley was a prisoner in the Fleet for a debt to the crown of £507 shared by Henry Carey, James Hardwick of Derbyshire, and Henry Peckham but he had instructed his wife and servants to enter the West Grinstead house and lands, which his mother had retained; they did so, and his wife sold some plate to maintain the household. His brother William Shirley, as administrator of their mother’s estate, then took the dispute to Chancery and at the same time sued the constable of West Grinstead and two of Francis Shirley’s servants in the Star Chamber for theft and violence, but Francis Shirley was to remain in possession of West Grinstead for the rest of his life. Among his other conflicts was one with the 9th Lord la Warr in 1552 over the title to East Court, a house in West Grinstead, which Shirley defended by force at the cost of a reprimand from the Council but which (Sir) Richard Sackville II as official arbitrator awarded to la Warr. Shirley’s conduct in this episode and his attempt to evict a Steyning merchant from 50 acres of land in Wiston may exemplify a disposition to lawlessness which could account for his exclusion from county administration until after the accession of Elizabeth.3

If la Warr had not died in 1554 Shirley would scarcely have been returned to the Parliament of the following year, for both the Shoreham seats in that of April 1554, the last to be summoned before la Warr’s death, had gone to his nominees. Although Shirley’s father had held property in the borough and his own lands at Wiston were not far away, Shirley was himself almost certainly a nominee, his name and Thomas Hogan’s being inserted on the indenture probably in the same hand. With the 3rd Duke of Norfolk in his grave and his grandson a minor, the patron is hard to identify, but the dead duke’s follower John Covert was sheriff and his brother George Covert had been a servant of la Warr. La Warr’s nephew William West, who was claiming the title, was another possible patron; Shirley’s father-in-law Sir Richard Blount, who had sat for Steyning in March 1553 but was out of favour under Mary, is unlikely to have wielded any influence. It was to be Shirley’s only spell in the Commons and all that is known of it is that he was not among the Members who voted against one of the government’s bills. He was, indeed, returned for Bramber to Elizabeth’s first Parliament but on 26 Jan. 1559 (three days after the Parliament had met) ‘that pretended return’ was revoked by the town in a letter which announced the election of Robert Buxton and Sir Henry Gates. It is more likely that the patron, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, had changed his mind than that there was an election contest.4

Before he died on 24 Mar. 1578 Shirley had attained the Sussex bench and served a term as sheriff. His heir Thomas, aged 23, inherited the manor of Buddington, the house at West Grinstead, lands in Horsham, Lancing and Steyning, and a manor in Somerset. Shirley is not known to have left a will, but in his own will of 1606 Thomas Shirley was to ask for a monument to be raised to his parents and grandparents in West Grinstead church, which appears not to have been done.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/183/63, amended by LP Hen. VIII, xxi. Suss. Arch. Colls. v. 11.
  • 2. SP12/74, f. 106v.
  • 3. C1/1355/39, 1471/21-25; E111/1/56; Suss. Rec. Soc. xvi. 91-93; Barbican House, Lewes, Knole ms cal. Kn. 1/8; SP10/14/62; APC, iv. 121.
  • 4. C219/24/162; Loseley Pk. Loseley letters, box I, no. 6.
  • 5. CPR, 1558-60, pp. 131, 263; APC, viii. 350; Suss. Rec. Soc. iii. 112; PCC 3 Hudleston.