Thomas MARKHAM of Ollerton (Esq.)

Born: 1528, Allerton, Nottinghamshire, England

Died: 8 Mar 1607, Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, England

Father: John MARKHAM of Cotham (Sir Knight)

Mother: Anne STRELLEY

Married: Mary GRIFFIN (dau. of Sir Rice Griffin of Braybrooke and Elizabeth Brudenell)


1. Elizabeth MARKHAM

2. Griffin MARKHAM (Sir Knight)

3. Thomasine MARKHAM

4. Charles MARKHAM

5. Thomas MARKHAM

6. Margery MARKHAM

7. Robert MARKHAM (b. ABT 1570 - d. AFT , Rome, Italy)



10. George MARKHAM

11. William MARKHAM

12. John MARKHAM

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born by 1523, son of Sir John Markham of Cotham, Notts. by his third w. Anne, dau. and coh. of Sir John Strelley of Strelley, Notts.; bro. of William. Married by 1565, Mary, dau. and heiress of Sir Rice Griffin of Braybrooke and Dingley, Northants., 7s. 4da.; 7 other ch. d. inf.

Gent. waiter to Henry Manners, 2nd Earl of Rutland by 1549; bailiff, manor of Mansfield, Notts. Nov 1550, Clipston, Notts. 1568; keeper, Lyndhurst and Normanswood within Sherwood forest Nov 1550, Sherwood forest 1564; member, household of Princess Elizabeth by 1558; gent. pens. standard bearer 1559-72; j.p.q. Notts. 1561-91, steward, lordship of Newark, Notts. 2 Apr. 1568; sheriff, Notts. 1577-8; commr. to administer oath of supremacy 1592.

On his father’s death in 1559 Thomas Markham inherited Ollerton, which he made his chief residence, and leases of Bothamsall and Elkesley manors in north Nottinghamshire; his marriage brought him considerable property at Chipping Warden in Northamptonshire; and he purchased the site of the priory of Kirby Bellars in Leicestershire, where he was to spend much of his time after he retired from court.

As a young man Markham fought in France and Scotland, witnessing the capture of Boulogne in 1544 and the sack of Haddington three years later. It was doubtless his father’s adherence to the Earl of Rutland which had obtained for him a place in the Earl’s household and a combination of noble and paternal support which procured his election for Nottingham to Mary’s first Parliament. Both influences are also to be discerned in Markham’s conduct in the Commons: he was one of those who opposed the initial measures to restore Catholicism. His religion may have either deterred or helped to debar him from being re-elected under Mary, but with the accession of Elizabeth both he and his father resumed their seats.

Some details of his early career are given in the dedicatory epistle to the Metamorphosis of Ajax, written in 1596 by his nephew Sir John Harrington. This describes him as:

"Her Majesty’s servant extraordinary. Why, was he once ordinary? Yea, that he was, ask all old Hatfield men, and ask them quickly too, for they be almost all gone".

Long afterwards Markham was to remind Elizabeth of his response to her summons when her sister lay dying. He was at Berwick in command of 300 footmen when he received a message from Thomas Parry asking him to come Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, ‘with all convenient speed’ leaving his men under trustworthy captains; he did so at once, bringing with him the captains’ names and signatures ‘by which they vowed their dutiful forwardness to adventure their lives in her Majesty’s service with 10,000 men’. Happily, nothing of the kind was necessary, but Markham received the new Queen’s thanks and was promptly made a gentleman pensioner and his sister Isabella (afterwards Sir John Harrington’s mother) a gentlewoman of her privy chamber. He was to spend many years at court and to survive the troubles provoked by his wife’s and his son’s recusancy.

He returned for Nottingham on Elizabeth’s first parliament and his father for the county. He received promotion in the band of gentlemen pensioners in 1564, and valuable grants of land, but from the 1580s things began to go wrong. The trouble started with a bitter quarrel with Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland, over the fees and profits Markham had taken as ‘steward, keeper, warden and chief justice’ of Sherwood forest during that nobleman’s minority. In the end the Queen heard the opinion of the judges, but took the case into her own hands, so that ‘her old servant’ should enjoy his privileges and fees ‘according to her free gift and meaning, which she is best able to expound’. The disputes continued, however, with successive earls of Rutland, until at least 1597.

In fact Markham was more country gentleman than courtier, and, according to Harrington, resigned his job as standard bearer of the gentlemen pensioners because it demanded too much time at court. Perhaps there were other reasons: his epithet of ‘Black Markham’ referred as much to his stubborn character as to his swarthy countenance. Certainly most of the references found to him are concerned with local rather than national matters, though he was still recounting court gossip from Westminster in Feb 1590. From about this time, however, his position was undermined by the Catholicism of his wife, ‘a great persuader of weak women to popery’. Again the Queen intervened, through the Privy Council, to bar recusancy proceedings against her, as Markham was ‘one of her Majesty’s ancient servants, and well known ... to be of good credit and reputation’. Though Markham himself conformed —in 1592 he was administering the oath of supremacy in Nottinghamshire— his sons did not, and Markham wrote several letters to Burghley between 1592 and 1594 regretting the behaviour of, especially, Griffin, who finally was accused of treason. If he were guilty and deserved death, ‘let him have it. My humble [prayer?] is that he may be clear yet’. Griffin was let off this time, and so he was again in the next reign, when he was implicated with his brothers Thomas and William in the so-called ‘Bye’ plot.

It was at this very period that Markham stood in the disputed Nottinghamshire election of 1593 in harness with Sir Thomas Stanhope. It is not clear why he wished to represent the county for the first time when aged over 70. Perhaps the very fact that his fortunes were at a low ebb encouraged him to make the effort to be at the centre of affairs once more. Or perhaps it was a matter of Nottinghamshire politics. While his nephew Robert Markham of Cotham was in Shrewsbury’s camp, Thomas Markham’s aunt had once been married to a Stanhope. The contest came to nothing, Stanhope and Thomas Markhamaccompanied with none but their sons and servants’ being shut out of the poll through the partiality of the sheriff.

In 1597 Markham was ill, and three years later rumours of his death circulated. About 1601 he became senile. ‘Old Markham dotes at home’ wrote Harrington some two years later, adding that his wife had ‘cozened’ him out of 8,ooo marks. He was buried at Ollerton on 8 Mar 1607 and administration of his property was granted at York on 30 Apr following.


Black, C. J. : MARKHAM, Thomas (by 1523-1607), of Ollerton, Notts. and Kirby Bellars, Leics.

Fuidge, N. M.:

to Bios Page  to Family Page
to Peerage Page to Home Page