YAXLEY, Francis (by 1528-65), of Yaxley, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. by 1528, 1st s. of Richard Yaxley of Mellis by Anne da. of Roger Austin of Earl Soham. educ. G. Inn, adm. 1553. m. Margaret, da. of Sir Henry Hastings of Braunstone, Leics., s.p.1
Servant of William Cecil by 1546; clerk of signet by 1557.2
Francis Yaxley belonged to a younger branch of a family which had been established for some generations at Yaxley Hall near Eye and Mellis. His father was related to John Yaxley, a serjeant-at-law, whose descendants continued at Yaxley until the 18th century. His uncle Robert Yaxley was a founder-member of the college of physicians and may have introduced the young Francis to William Cecil. Described as ‘Cecil’s Yaxley’, he was said to reverence his master ‘as though he were his father’.3
Yaxley’s employment in public service began before Cecil’s appointment as secretary, for in September 1548 he was reimbursed for money paid to nine Italian mercenaries. In the following June he was reporting court news to Cecil from Greenwich and about a year later, in furtherance of his diplomatic education, he was sent to join the embassy of Peter Vannes in Italy, whence he conducted a correspondence with Cecil and with Vannes, from whom he received some letters in Latin. Returning to England in November 1552, he passed through Speyer where at a great banquet the Elector Palatine made him his cupbearer. From England Yaxley continued his correspondence with Italian diplomats, especially Girolamo Spagna who wrote to him concerning the Italian wars. At about this time he entered Gray’s Inn, but in April 1553 he was sent to join Nicholas Wotton, the ambassador at the French court. Before he set out the Duke of Northumberland ‘used him very gently’, gave him 10 crowns and asked him to send news from France. Two days after his arrival Yaxley wrote to Cecil that he was doubtful about complying with the duke’s request without Cecil’s advice.4
With such patronage Yaxley can have had little difficulty in entering Parliament, although there is no evidence of intervention in the Dunwich election early in 1553; as a member of a Suffolk landed family, Yaxley was a likely Member for a borough which often returned local gentlemen. He may have been in France during Mary’s first two Parliaments but in October 1554 he sent Cecil news from the court and a copy of the Queen’s letter to the sheriffs ‘for the better election of knights and burgesses’. If this gesture was intended to procure him a seat it failed, but in 1555 he sat on Cecil’s nomination for Stamford. Unlike his partner Francis Thorneff, Yaxley does not appear on the list of Members who followed Sir Anthony Kingston’s lead in voting against one of the government’s bills, but both Members were presumably involved with the bill for the town and river of Stamford which passed both Houses but was not enacted. Yaxley’s return for Saltash in 1558 was probably the work of the steward of the duchy of Cornwall, his kinsman (Sir) Edward Hastings, although he could claim some connexion with the locality; in 1549 he had obtained from the crown a 21-year lease of the lordship and manor of Calliland, less than 15 miles from Saltash. On one of the lists of Members for the Parliament of 1558 his name is marked with a circle.5
Yaxley may have served an apprenticeship as an under clerk of the signet; he was not named among the five clerks who were present at the funeral of Edward VI, but in April 1555 he obtained a grant of the next vacancy. He was occupying the clerkship by March 1557, for in that month he drew up, with William Honing and two others, articles for the conduct of their business and the sharing of fees. (His description in two private deeds shortly afterwards as clerk of the privy seal was presumably a slip, since by this date the clerkships concerned were separate offices). He does not appear to have been much interested in acquiring landed property: the manor of Brooke, Norfolk, of which he obtained a grant with his father in May 1557, was almost immediately transferred to two local men. It may have been for the time he spent at the French court in the summer of 1557 that in October he received a 21-year lease of the manor of Thorndon near Yaxley ‘in consideration of his service’ to the King and Queen.6
Under Elizabeth the course of Yaxley’s life was to change. As a clerk of the signet he had attended Mary’s funeral but he was not present at the coronation and the belief that he retained his clerkship is open to question, although during the next few years his help was solicited by such men as Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Sir Thomas Wharton II. According to the Spanish ambassador he was a good Catholic who combined a love of intrigue with an inability to keep secrets. In January 1561 he was imprisoned for babbling about the Queen’s affair with Sir Robert Dudley and later that year he was said to be advocating her marriage to the King of Sweden. More dangerous was his connexion with the Countess of Lennox, which involved him in the conspiracy to marry her son Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots; he was summoned before the Privy Council in February 1562 and consigned to the Tower, the articles against the countess being partly based on his confession. He was still in the Tower when examined again by the Council in January 1563 but was at large by August 1565; in the following month, after a brief visit to the Netherlands, he established himself at the Scottish court. Here he boasted of his knowledge of affairs in England, France, Spain and Italy, claiming to know many gentlemen ‘of good power’ who were ready to follow Philip II if England’s religion could be altered. He became the secretary and confidant of Darnley and was sufficiently trusted by Mary to be sent on a mission to Philip, suitably provided with plate and jewels. On the return voyage towards the end of October 1565 his ship was wrecked in the North Sea; his body, cast up on Holy Island, was taken to Yaxley for burial according to his wish.7
Yaxley had made his will on 3 July 1561. He left his title to Yaxley Hall and lands which he had bought in Braiseworth, Eye, Thornham and Yaxley to his father, with remainder to William, son of his cousin Richard Yaxley, and his lease of the manor of Thorndon to another cousin, George Waller. He left remembrance rings to 15 persons including Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Sir John Sulyard and their wives; a sum of £100 owed him by the merchant John Isham was to go towards payment of the legacies. The executors were to have been the testator’s uncle Sir Christopher Yaxley, his cousins George Waller and Thomas Sherman, and Robert Thrower, who was to receive two grey geldings, but the will does not appear to have been proved and letters of administration were taken out by Yaxley’s father on 4 Mar. 1566.8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: M. K. Dale
- 1. Date of birth estimated from grant of 1549. Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 83; DNB.
- 2. CPR, 1554-5, p. 279.
- 3. CP 25(2) 41/280, no. 25; Lansd. 118, f. 35v.; CSP For. 1547-53, p. 228.
- 4. APC, ii. 221; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 2, ff. 140, 140v; HMC Hatfield, i. 74, 118, 121; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 52, 62, 228, 230, 237, 242; 1553-8, pp. 2, 15, 25, 323.
- 5. Lansd. 3, f. 92; CJ, i. 44, 45; Add. 19156, ff. 313-20; CPR, 1553-4, p. 250; William Salt Lib. SMS 264.
- 6. LC2/4/1, f. 19; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 397, 432; 1557-8, p. 125; Statutes, iii. 542-4; H. C. Maxwell-Lyte, Great Seal, 38.
- 7. LC2/4/2; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 131, 149, 157, 194, 201; 1601-3 Add. 1547-65, p. 509; CSP For. 1562, pp. 13-15; 1564-5, pp. 437, 439, 444, 461-2, 467, 469, 484, 505, 519; 1566-8, pp. 6, 40; APC, vii. 136; Lansd. 5, f. 109; Froude, Hist. Eng., vi. 541-2; vii. 359-64.
- 8. Lansd. 5, f. 109; PCC Admins. ed. Glencross, i. 67.