JENNEY, Christopher (by 1489-1542), of Great Cressingham, Norf.

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. by 1489, 3rd s. of Sir Edmund Jenney (d. 26 Aug. 1522) of Knettishall, Suff. by Catherine, da. and h. of Robert Boys of Cretingham, Suff. educ. L. Inn, adm. 12 Oct. 1503. m. (1) by 1523, Elizabeth, da. and h. of William Eyre of Bury St. Edmunds, Suff., 3s. 2da.; (2) settlement 2 July 1542, Mary, wid. of one Skerne and of Sir Thomas Spert of Stepney, Mdx., s.p. Kntd. by June 1538.1

Offices Held

Master of revels, L. Inn 1507, pens. 1517-19, auditor 1518-19, marshal 1520, keeper of black bk. 1521-2, Autumn reader 1522, gov. 1522-3, 1526-7, 1528-30, treasurer 1522-4, Lent reader 1526.

Commr. subsidy, Norf. and Suff. 1523, 1524; other commissions, E. Anglia and northern counties 1514-d.; j.p. Norf. 1524-32, 1540, northern counties 1536-40; Queen’s attorney by 1525; serjeant-at-law 1531; King’s serjeant 1534; j.c.p. 1538.2


The Jenneys were a Norfolk family of Norman stock, their name being supposedly derived from the town of Guisnes near Calais. Christopher Jenney followed his father to Lincoln’s Inn and was to emulate the professional success of his grandfather Sir William Jenney, a justice of the King’s bench.3

Among those who retained Jenney’s services in the 1520s were the families of Lestrange of Hunstanton, Norfolk, and Willoughby of Parham, Suffolk, and it was probably to his cousin William, 11th Lord Willoughby, that he owed his appointment as attorney to Queen Catherine. In 1529 he was commissioned to hear cases in Chancery for Wolsey, who showed his own confidence in Jenney by choosing him with John Scuse as defence counsel to the charge of praemunirein the following autumn. On his promotion to the bench Jenney’s commissions included the trials for treason of Sir Nicholas Carew in 1539 and Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham in 1541. His services were also regularly used in non-judicial matters: in 1533 he was one of those sent to Calais to report on the possibility of building a citadel at Newenham Bridge, and during the rebellion in October 1536 he was one of those chosen to keep order in Norfolk. His election as Member for Dunwich in 1529 was in more than one respect appropriate to Jenney’s standing and connexions. His Willoughby kinsmen were influential there and both his grandfather and father had represented the borough; he himself seems to have held nothing but a small rented property in the town but his son was later to live there. He was to be summoned by writs of assistance to attend the Parliaments of 1536, 1539 and 1542.4

After Wolsey’s death Jenney came into close contact with Cromwell, to whom he sent reports, with comments, of his judicial work and of conditions in the northern counties. In March and August 1535 he wrote fully of the assizes held at York, telling Cromwell that he and Sir John Spelman had tried some 42 prisoners and had ordered the execution of a monk indicted for high treason. He informed Cromwell in August 1537 that if the 3rd Duke of Norfolk ‘abode in Northumberland and Cumberland he would do the King best service. After this effect I have sent him word.’ After the arraignment of leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, it was Jenney who ‘devised that Lancaster’s head should be set up by the body of Aske’. Other letters dealt with personal matters, as when in 1532 he sought Cromwell’s influence with Henry VIII to postpone the King’s suit for money which was being demanded from him by the treasurer of the Household. Their relationship was not always smooth. In 1537, when thanking Cromwell for letters on his behalf to the corporation of Lynn, Jenney remarked that these were lightly esteemed because ‘upon the report of your lordship’s mouth’ they had learned that they could ‘do as they list’; and when he sought Cromwell’s influence against local malice at Warborough, Oxfordshire, where he was involved in a dispute with the vicar, he reported his mother-in-law as saying plainly ‘that you be not my good lord’.5

The success which marked Jenney’s professional career did not extend to his private life; the muddle in which his estate was to be found at his death was already foreshadowed in his financial affairs. His correspondence shows that he was at times in arrears with money owed to the King, and at least two debts to private persons totalling £500 were outstanding at his death. As a younger son he had no family expectations, but in 1522 he became a trustee of his father’s estate on behalf of his nephew Francis, then aged three years. At various times he acquired rights in property at Saham Toney and other places near his Cressingham home, but found difficulty in consolidating his position when Cromwell himself was evidently interested in buying part of the land. In 1536 Jenney obtained a grant in reversion of the offices of the lordship of Rising, constable of the castle, master of the hunt and nomination of two foresters there, but his efforts to gain monastic lands, including Binham and Coxford abbeys in Norfolk, seem to have been generally unsuccessful.6

Jenney’s financial position might have improved after his marriage in 1542 to Mary Spert, a wealthy widow who brought a dowry of 1,000 marks, but by 15 Nov. of that year he was dead. His brief will, made on 4 Nov. and witnessed by his fellow-justices (Sir) John Baldwin and Sir Thomas Willoughby, expressed his wish to be buried in the church of St. Dunstan, Fleet Street, London. He left his chattels, plate, jewels and leases equally among his sons and daughters, and to his wife whatever the executors should think fit, because she had ample means and would not wish to deprive his children, still of tender age. The executors were to be his sons John, Christopher and George, and his servant Robert Houghton, but such was the poverty of his estate that all save Christopher renounced the charge. The administration subsequently granted to Dame Mary Jenney and the commission to Hugh Egerton, citizen and haberdasher of London, were likewise renounced in February and June 1544, and a further commission was issued to William Smith of Lincoln’s Inn and John Skelton of Gooderstone, Norfolk, clerk.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. K. Dale


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from education. Vis. Norf. (Norf. Arch.), i. 132-3; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 171; Copinger, Suff. Manors, v. 46; CP25(2)/39/260, no. 4; C1/1057/83, 84; PCC 20 Populwell; LP Hen. VIII, xiii.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i, iii-v, vii, viii, x-xvii.
  • 3. Copinger, ii. 108-9.
  • 4. Foss, Judges, v. 188; LP Hen. VIII, iii-v, vii, xi, xiv, xvi; Black Bk. L. Inn, passim; Suckling, Suff. ii. 266; T. Gardner, Dunwich, 57; Req.2/85/1; Rymer, Foedera, vi(3), 5, 74.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, v, viii, ix, xii, xiii, xv; Elton, Policy and Police, 303.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, iv-vii, ix, x, xiv, xvii, add.; C1/456/53, 1123/61; 142/40/58; CP25(2)/39/260, no. 4; Blomefield, Norf. ii. 330.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII xiii, xvii; C1/1057/83, 84; PCC 20 Populwell, 9 Pynnyng.