SHIRLEY, Sir Richard (by 1477-1540), of Wiston, 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. by 1477, 1st s. of Ralph Shirley of Wiston by Joan, da. of Thomas Bellingham of Lyminster; bro. of Thomas. m. (1) by 1498, Alma, da. of John Shelley of Michelgrove, 4s. 6da., (2) Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Guildford of Cranbrook and Rolvenden, Kent, wid. of Thomas Isley of Sunridge, Kent. suc. fa. 1510. Kntd. 1526.1

Offices Held

J.p. Suss. 1512-d.; commr. array 1512, subsidy 1512, 1514, 1515, 1523, 1524, musters 1539; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1513-14, 1526-7; knight of the body by 1533.2


The Shirley family, which had owned Wiston since the early 15th century, only made it their residence after the death of Richard Shirley’s grandfather in 1466. His father built up a reputation in the county, served Henry VII as an esquire of the body and was pricked sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1503. Shirley’s own career mirrored that of his father. He served the crown on local commissions and as a justice of the peace, and was pricked twice as sheriff, but he rarely looked beyond Sussex for adventure or gain. During the French campaign of 1514 Shirley, as sheriff, mustered 55 men and led them to Canterbury to join the retinue of the 5th Lord Bergavenny. In 1526 the King made a progress through the southern counties and appears to have knighted Shirley while he was in Sussex. In 1536 Shirley was ordered to supply troops and march against the northern rebels, but his services were not required in the field and he remained to keep order in Sussex; three years later he was asked to survey the county’s coastal defences against the threatened French invasion. He was an occasional visitor at court and it was presumably as a knight of the body that he attended the reception of Anne of Cleves in 1540.3

Like his father Shirley derived part of his income from farming: he is known to have exported tallow and leather from Shoreham but whether he also sent wool by sea the scanty customs accounts do not indicate. In 1524 he was assessed at £120 in lands at Wiston and in January 1527 he bought property in Ashington, Chiltington, Grinstead and Washington for £35. He assisted Sir Roger Lewknor with the administration of his estates and in 1526 he was sued in the Exchequer to account for money he had collected as receiver of Lewknor’s lands in Sussex.4

As a justice of long standing and a recent sheriff Shirley was well qualified for a knighthood of the shire in the Parliament of 1529 even if he had not sat in an earlier House of Commons, as he may well have done. Yet he probably owed his election to the sheriff, Richard Bellingham, who was his cousin, while the fact that his fellow-Member Sir John Gage was his wife’s brother-in-law cannot but have helped. It is likely that he and Gage shared the same outlook on the great issue of the divorce when it confronted them in the House. Early in 1533 Shirley’s name was one of those included by Cromwell on a list of Members who are thought to have been opposed, either on grounds of conscience or of economic expediency, to the bill in restraint of appeals to Rome then being debated in the Commons: if this is indeed the basis of the list, Gage’s name would doubtless also have been on it if he had not by then retired from court, and probably also from Parliament, as a gesture of disapproval of the divorce proceedings. Close on two years later both men’s names do appear on another of Cromwell’s lists. This one, dating probably from December 1534, appears to relate to the treasons bill then in passage, the Members named perhaps constituting, or being considered for, a committee on that bill: if so, Gage and Shirley may be thought of as belonging to the group of ‘opposition’ Members included in the total. That Shirley did not forfeit the King’s favour is implied by his retention of his appointment as a knight of the body: probably for him, as for Gage and others, the death of Catherine of Aragon in January of that year helped to relieve the tension and the fall of Anne Boleyn a few months later eased the situation still further. There is thus no reason to doubt that he reappeared in the Parliament of June 1536 in accordance with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members.5

Shirley made his will on 21 Oct. 1540. Professing himself ‘to be a true Christian Catholic man and in full and perfect belief of Christ’s Church intending through God’s mercy in the same to die’, he asked to be buried in the chancel of Wiston church before the image of St. Anne, where masses would be said for his soul. He provided for his wife and three unmarried children, and appointed his son William executor: his overseers included his cousins Richard Bellingham, Sir John Gage and (Sir) William Shelley, and his brother Thomas Shirley. Shirley died on the following 16 Nov., and was succeeded by William, then rising 42.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from marriage. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 7, 159; Suss. Arch. Colls. v. 1-13.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i-v, xiii-xv; Statutes, iii. 84, 113, 169; Suss. Rec. Soc. lvi. 62.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, i, xi, xiv, xv; H. H. Leonard, ‘Knights and knighthood in Tudor Eng.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 163, 319, 324.
  • 4. E122/36/1; Suss. Rec. Soc. lvi. 62; Barbican House, Lewes, Knole ms cal. Kn. 1/1, 2.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234.
  • 6. PCC 22 Alenger; C142/67/91; Nairn and Pevsner, Suss. 382.