Sir William FITZWILLIAM of Gainspark, Knight

Born: 16 Sep 1526

Died: 16 Sep 1599

Father: William FITZWILLIAM of Gainspark (Sir Knight)

Mother: Anne SAPCOTE

Married: Anne (Agnes) SIDNEY 4 Jan 1543


1. William FITZWILLIAM of Gainspark (Sir Knight)


3. John FITZWILLIAM (b. 1554 - d. 1612)



6. Elizabeth FITZWILLIAM

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

Born ABT 1526, first son of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Gainspark and Milton by Anne, dau. of Sir Richard Sapcote of Elton, Hunts.; brother of John. Married, settlement 4 Jan 1543, Anne, dau. of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst. Suc. fa. by 31 Oct 1552. Kntd. 2 Oct 1553. Commr. relief, Northants. 1550; keeper, King's bench prison temp. Edw. VI and Mary; jt. (with bro. John) bailiff and steward, Fotheringay from 4 Nov 1553, sole 1568-d.; j.p. Essex 1558/59, 1583-d., Northants. 1558/59-d.; treasurer at the wars, v.treasurer and receiver-gen. in Ireland 1559-4 Mar. 1571, ld. justice 1560-1, 1567, 1571, ld. dep. 11 Dee. 1572-5, 1588-94.

Among his relatives is his aunt, Anne Fitzwilliam {his fatherís sister}, who married Sir Anthony Cooke. They had a daughter Mildred Cooke, who married William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley; making him a cousin in the law to Lord Burghley. Lady Bacon and Lady Hoby are also related to him through his Aunt, Anne. Sir Phillip Sidney is his nephew, on his wifeís side of the family. On his motherís side Fitzwilliam was related to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, a circumstance to which he owed his introduction to Edward VI.

The Fitzwilliams of Milton claimed descent from the ancient Yorkshire family. William's grandfather, another Sir William Fitzwilliam (d. 1534) made his fortune in London as a merchant tailor, alderman and sheriff of London, who was also treasurer and chamberlain to Wolsey, and who purchased Milton, three miles from Peterborough, in 1506. He so entailed his lands in Essex and Northamptonshire that his heir had to resort to private Acts to provide jointures for his own wife Anne Sapcote and his son's wife Anne Sidney. Manors in Essex, including Gains Park, went to Anne Sidney, and Fitzwilliam did not come into Milton until his mother's death in 1576. By then he had added to the Northamptonshire estate by retaining part of a speculative purchase made in Jun 1553, but he had parted with the Essex manor of Madelles.

Fitzwilliam is said to have been brought up in the household of Sir John Russell, and to have been preferred by the earl to his first office, the keepership of the King's bench prison: he does not appear to have progressed from this to become marshal, although he sought to do so under Elizabeth.

Fitzwilliam may, like Bedford, have rallied to Mary in the summer of 1553. He was knighted at her coronation and a month later he and his brother John, styled Ďthe Queen's servantsí, had a grant of various offices at Fotheringay. By then he was sitting in his first Parliament, to which he had been returned for Peterborough on 25 Sept. The Fitzwilliams were neighbours and tenants of the dean and chapter of Peterborough, lords of that city since the erection of the see, and Fitzwilliam, who was the bishop's godson, may have been their own choice, although he and his fellow-Member Sir Walter Mildmay, one of whose daughters was later to marry his heir William, could also have counted on the support of the high steward, Bedford. Both Members Ďstood for the true religioní, that is, for Protestantism, and his dissent may explain why Fitzwilliam was not to sit again until the next reign.

In Dec 1555 he stood surety for Christopher Perne, whose opposition in the Parliament of that year may have been the occasion of his arrest two days after its dissolution. Despite his friendship with the martyr John Bradford and the escape of another Protestant prisoner from the King's bench prison, Fitzwilliam remained keeper there, and towards the end of the reign he and his brother received a lease of meadowland at Fotheringay. It was probably his namesake of Windsor who was active in Ireland during these years. He could well have accompanied Sir Thomas Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter and later 3rd Earl of Sussex, to Ireland in 1556, for Fitzwalter married his sister-in-law Frances Sidney, but there is no firm evidence of his going there before his appointment in 1559 to succeed Sir Henry Sidney as vice-treasurer.

Through his brother-in-law Henry Sidney, he was given the opportunity to hold the office of Lord Deputy in Ireland. In 1559 he became vice-treasurer of Ireland and a member of the Irish House of Commons; and between this date and 1571 he was (during the absences of Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, and of his successor, Sir Henry Sidney) five times lord justice of Ireland.

In 1571 Fitzwilliam himself was appointed lord deputy. He was knighted in 1572, for faithfully fulfilling his duties in Ireland, as ordered by Queen Elizabeth, but like Elizabethís other servants he received little or no money, and his period of government was marked by continuous penury and its attendant evils, inefficiency, mutiny and general lawlessness. Moreover, the deputy quarrelled with the lord president of Connaught, Sir Edward Fitton (b. 1527 - d. 1579), but he compelled the Earl of Desmond to submit in 1574. He disliked the expedition of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex; he had a further quarrel with Fitton, and after a serious illness he was allowed to resign his office. Returning to England in 1575 he was governor of Fotheringhay Castle at the time of Mary Stuartís execution. In 1588 Fitzwilliam was again in Ireland as lord deputy, and although old and ill he displayed great activity in leading expeditions, and found time to quarrel with Sir Richard Bingham (b. 1528 - d. 1599), the new president of Connaught. In 1594 he finally left Ireland, and five years later he tiled at Milton.

As Lord Deputy, based in Dublin. Although he live out in the country, he held his office in the city in the district known locally as Fitzwilliam Square. His portrait was painted in 1595.


M. E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix)


Strype, Eccles. Memorials

Writings of John Bradford (Parker Soc.)

Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors

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