Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton

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The Earl of Southampton
Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger
Spouse(s) Jane Cheney
William Wriothesley
Anthony Wriothesley
Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton
Elizabeth Wriothesley
Mary Wriothesley
Katherine Wriothesley
Anne Wriothesley
Mabel Wriothesley
Noble family Wriothesley
Father William Wriothesley, otherwise Wrythe
Mother Agnes Drayton
Born (1505-12-21)21 December 1505
Died 30 July 1550(1550-07-30) (aged 44)
Lincoln Place, London
Arms of Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, KG

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, KG (pronunciation uncertain: /ˈrzli/ RYE-zlee (archaic),[1] /ˈrɒtsli/ ROTT-slee (present-day)[1] and /ˈrəθsli/ RYE-əths-lee[2] have been suggested) (21 December 1505 – 30 July 1550) was an English peer.


Thomas Wriothesley, born in London 21 December 1505, was the son of William Wriothesley, otherwise Wrythe, York Herald, and Agnes Drayton, daughter and heiress of James Drayton of London. Thomas had two sisters, Elizabeth, born in 1507, and Anne, born in 1508, and a brother, Edward, born in 1509. Thomas's father and uncle were the first to use Wriothesley as the family name.[3]


Wriothesley received his early education at St Paul's School, London. In 1522 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but did not take a degree. In 1524, at the age of 19, he entered the service of Thomas Cromwell. Before 4 May 1530 he was appointed joint clerk of the signet under Stephen Gardiner, secretary to King Henry VIII, a post he held for a decade while continuing in Cromwell's service.[4]

Wriothesley's services were richly rewarded at the dissolution of the monasteries. He was granted extensive lands between Southampton and Winchester. Until May, 1539, he was Henry VIII's ambassador in Brussels.[5]

Having been sent on diplomatic errands abroad, in 1540 Wriothesley was made one of the king's principal secretaries, a position he held jointly with Sir Ralph Sadler), and was knighted in the same year. In spite of the fall of his patron, Cromwell, he continued to rise in the King's favour, and in 1542 it was said that he governed almost everything in England. He sought to bring about an alliance between England and Spain in 1543, and was created Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield in 1544.

Having been Lord Privy Seal for a few months, he became Lord Chancellor in 1544, in which capacity he became notorious for torturing Anne Askew, personally operating the rack.[6] He was one of the executors of Henry's will, and in accordance with the dead King's wishes he was created Earl of Southampton on 16 February 1547. However, he had been incautious enough to appoint four persons to relieve him of his duties as Lord Chancellor, and advantage was taken of this to deprive him of his office in March, when he also ceased to be a member of the Privy Council.

Later he was readmitted to the Council, and he took a leading part in bringing about the fall of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, but he had not regained his former position when he died. His successor in the earldom was his son, Henry.

Marriage and issue[edit]

Southampton married Jane Cheney (d. 15 September 1574), the daughter and heiress of William Cheney of Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, by Emma Walwyn, daughter of Thomas Walwyn, by whom he had three sons and five daughters:[7]

  • William Wriothesley (died young).
  • Anthony Wriothesley (died young).
  • Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton (21 April 1545 – 4 October 1581), who married Mary Browne.
  • Elizabeth Wriothesley (buried 16 January 1555),[8] who married, as his first wife, Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex.
  • Mary Wriothesley (d. December 1561), who married firstly, Richard Lyster, grandson of Sir Richard Lyster, and secondly, William Shelley of Michelgrove;[9]
  • Katherine Wriothesley, who was contracted to marry Sir Matthew Arundell, but instead married Sir Thomas Cornwallis.
  • Anne Wriothesley, who was contracted to marry Sir Henry Wallop, but who died before the marriage could take place
  • Mabel Wriothesley, who married Walter Sandys.

In fiction[edit]

Southampton is a character in Hilary Mantel's novels on Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (nicknamed Call-Me Risley for the pronunciation of the family name); he is played by Joel MacCormack in the books' adaptation for television, six-part series Wolf Hall. He is also a character in Margaret George's novel The Autobiography of Henry VIII.


  1. ^ a b Montague-Smith 1977, p. 410
  2. ^ Wells 2008
  3. ^ Cokayne 1953, p. 122; Graves 2004.
  4. ^ Graves 2004; Elton 1953, pp. 308ff..
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Pimlico Books, 1992
  7. ^ Cokayne 1953, pp. 125–66; Stopes 1922, pp. 486–7; Akrigg 1968, pp. 4, 6; Elzinga 2004; Goulding 1920, p. 23; Baker 2004.
  8. ^ Cooper 1858, p. 469.
  9. ^ Dugdale reverses the order of her marriages.


  • Akrigg, G.P.V. (1968). Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 
  • Cokayne, G.E. (1953). The Complete Peerage edited by Geoffrey H. White. XII (Part I). London: St. Catherine Press. 
  • Elton, G.R. (1953). The Tudor Revolution in Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Graves, Michael A.R. (2004). Wriothesley, Thomas, first earl of Southampton (1505–1550). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 27 November 2012.  (subscription required)
  • Pollard, Albert Frederick (1900). Wriothesley, Thomas (1505-1550) 63. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1890. pp. 148–54. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  • Stopes, Charlotte Carmichael (1922). The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's Patron. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Wells, J.C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited. 
  • Montague-Smith, Patrick (1977). Debrett's Correct Form (1st ed.). London: Debrett's Peerage Ltd. 

External links[edit]

  • Works related to Thomas Wriothesley (1505-1550) at Wikisource: Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
  • Accessed 4 December 2007
  • Burke, John. A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerages of England, Ireland, and Scotland, Extinct, Dormant, and in Abeyance. London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley, 1831. googlebooks
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Audley of Walden
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord St John
(Keeper of the Great Seal)
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Southampton
Succeeded by
Henry Wriothesley
Baron Wriothesley