Sir Christopher Wray, Kt., MP, Speaker and Lord Chief Justice

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Christopher Wray, Kt., MP

Birthplace: Bedale, Yorkshire, England
Death: Died in Probably London, Middlesex, England
Place of Burial: Glentworth, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Wray and Joan Wray
Husband of Anne Wray
Father of Frances Rich; Isabel Darcy and Sir William Wray, MP, 1st Baronet of Glentworth
Brother of Thomas Esquire Wray; Leonard Wray, I; Ann Wray; Alice Medley; Richard Wray and 6 others

Occupation: Lord Chief Justice, Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sir Christopher Wray, Kt., MP, Speaker and Lord Chief Justice

Family and Education

  • b. c.1522, 3rd son of Thomas Wray of Coverham Abbey, Yorkshire by Joan, daughter of Robert Jackson of Gatenby, Bedale, Yorkshire
  • educ. Buckingham (Magdalene), Cambridge; L. Inn 1545, called 1550.
  • married Anne, daughter of Nicholas Girlington of Normanby, Yorkshire, widow of Robert Brocklesby (d. 3 Apr. 1557), of Glentworth, 1 son William, 4 daughters
  • Knighted 6 Nov. 1574.[1]

Offices Held

  • Steward of Wetherby, Yorkshire from Jan. 1559-63;
  • Justice of the Peace for Lincolnshire (Lindsey) from 1559, (Kesteven) from 1562, (Holland) from 1569;
  • Commissioner of Ecclesiastical Causes, diocese of Lincoln 1575,
  • Commissioner to visit Oxford Universithy 1577;
  • custos rot. Hunts. from 1579;
  • Ecclesiastical Commissioner 1589.[2]
  • Of counsel to Lincoln c.1559,
  • Of counsel to Henry Neville, 5th Earl of Westmorland by 1562;
  • Lent reader, L. Inn 1563, 1567,
  • treasurer 1565-6;
  • serjeant-at-law Easter 1567,
  • Queen’s serjeant 18 June 1567;
  • justice of assize, Yorkshire 31 May 1570;
  • 2nd justice of Lancaster 13 June 1570;
  • Justice of the Queen’s bench 14 May 1572 and
  • Justice of the Peace many northern counties, Middlesex and Norfolk;
  • l.c.j. 8 Nov. 1574.[3]
  • Speaker of House of Commons 1571.


Wray’s career until 1558 was typical of that of a rising lawyer in private practice. A native of Yorkshire, he spent some time at Cambridge, apparently without taking a degree, and then trained at Lincoln’s Inn before marrying the widow of the squire of Gentworth, ten miles north of Lincoln. Rising in his profession he soon found himself absorbed into the legal service of the Crown, despite his own Catholic sympathies and his marriage into a Catholic family, which caused him to be classified ‘indifferent’ in the 1564 bishops’ returns.

His reliability, however, was never in question: in 1565 he was assigned as counsel to Bonner, and in 1569-70 he dealt with the northern rebels at the York, Carlisle and Durham assizes. Among the submissions he received were those of his brother Thomas and his nephew John Gower. He was also engaged in various legal inquiries, one of them into the privileges of the mineral and battery works.[4]

After repeated elections for Boroughbridge, Wray missed the first Parliament of Elizabeth’s reign. In 1563 he was returned for Grimsby (a seat earlier under the control of the earls of Westmorland), following a peremptory demand to the borough from Sir Francis Ayscough, intimating that Wray’s election would be pleasing to the Earl. It is during the second session of this Parliament that his name first appears in its proceedings: he had an informers bill committed to him 26 Oct. 1566, and was one of those appointed to confer with the Lords on the Queen’s marriage and the succession, 31 Oct.

Wray had no known connexion with Wiltshire, unless it was through his fellow of Lincoln’s Inn, Richard Kingsmill, and his return for Ludgershall in 1571 was obviously a case of finding a seat for the Speaker-designate. As a justice of assize he would not normally have been returned to the Commons.[5]

Elected to the Chair on the opening day of the session, Wray was presented to, and confirmed by, the Queen on 4 Apr. His oration included an historical defence of the royal supremacy and a discourse on the administration of justice in the course of which he praised Elizabeth for allowing this to take its proper course. His concluding petition for the customary privileges of the House was answered by the lord keeper, in the Queen’s name, with a denial of the Commons’ right to ‘freedom of speech’ save on matters of commonwealth and such matters of state as should be propounded to them.

It was an inauspicious beginning to both speakership and Parliament, and the session was to generate much friction and some dangerous moments. With so many eloquent puritans in the House trouble was inevitable, but Wray’s chairmanship lacked the astuteness and grasp which might have contained it. He early lost the initiative, and had later to be goaded by Burghley into regaining it. When his closing oration called forth from the lord keeper a denunciation of the dissident minority, Wray must have regarded the whole experience as thankless.[6]

Wray was not to sit in the Commons again. As an assistant in the House of Lords, he is mentioned in the journals of both Houses. In April 1577 he was a member of the committee which investigated the election of John Underhill as rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. In 1587 he and two fellow chief justices were instructed by the Council to postpone the assizes so that they might be free to attend in the Lords.

As chief justice for more than 17 years Wray is remembered for the state trials over which he presided, including those of John Stubbe, Edmund Campion and William Lord Vaux and the conspirators John Somerville and William Parry. Wray was a member of the commission which attainted William Shelley and condemned Babington and his associates, and he was present as an assessor at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots.

He presided at the Star Chamber inquest on the Earl of Northumberland and later in the same court, deputizing for Sir Thomas Bromley, he censured the zeal of Secretary Davison before sentencing him. His last state trial was that of Sir John Perrot in April 1592.

His other public duties are reflected in the Privy Council proceedings and state papers of the period. In 1581 he and the master of the rolls gave a ruling on the rival claims of the merchant adventurers of Chester and the Spanish Company, and about 1590 he arbitrated between the city of London and the dean and chapter about legal jurisdiction over St. Paul’s churchyard. In 1577 he reported to the Privy Council on recusants in Serjeants’ Inn, and in 1582 to Burghley on similar offenders in various shires. At a conference held in Michaelmas term 1590 he initiated the revision of the form of commissions of the peace.[7]

Wray added considerably to his properties in Lincolnshire, while retaining his patrimony in Yorkshire. He had a fine house at Glentworth, of which part survives in the later mansion, a grant of the profits of the mint, and received many gifts. Both his surviving daughters married well, and remarried better: the elder, Isabel, married successively a gentleman, Godfrey Foljambe, a knight, Sir William Bowes, and a peer, John, Baron Darcy of Aston; and the younger, after the death of her first husband, Sir George St. Poll, who had been knighted at Wray’s request, married Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick.[8]

Wray died on 7 May 1592 and was buried, as he had directed, at Glentworth, where he has a splendid monument in the chancel, with the punning inscription, ‘re justus, nomine verus’.

By his will, made three years earlier, he had provided, in addition to some local benefactions, a bequest for a fellowship at his old college, and one for plate to Serjeants’ Inn. He left silver to his daughters and also remembered relatives in the families of Heneage and Tyrwhitt. His wife was given a life interest in much of his property, and his son William, named sole executor, received the remainder and residue. The supervisors were Lord Burghley and the solicitor-general Egerton. By a codicil added on the day of his death Wray remitted a number of debts.

His widow survived him for 18 months. Among her bequests were two in favour of Magdalene, the first for scholarships, the second for books.[9]

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 176; (lv), 1322; Req. 2/42/62; C. Dalton, Wrays of Glentworth, i. 1-64.
  • 2. CPR, 1560-3, pp. 439, 574; 1563-6, pp. 24, 40, 42; 1572-5, pp. 551-2; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 543.
  • 3. J. W. F. Hill, Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, 70; Grimsby AO, letter of Francis Ayscough 1562; CPR, 1566-9, p. 70; 1569-72, p. 65; 1572-5, p. 289; Somerville, Duchy, i. 473.
  • 4. CPR, 1558-60, p. 188; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 27; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 261; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 249; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 307; APC, vii. 379.
  • 5. Grimsby AO, ut supra; HMC Hastings, i. 315; CJ, i. 75-6; LJ, i. 640; D’Ewes, 127.
  • 6. Neale, Parlts. i. 187-240.
  • 7. LJ, ii. 61, 113, 145 et passim; D’Ewes, 198, 199, 201; APC, xiv. 314; xvii. 373; xxiii. 16; Lansd. 38, f. 162; 99, f. 92; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 567; 1581-90, pp. 19, 32, 606, 645; HMC Hatfield, ii. 509; iv. 460; xiii. 240; G. Elton, Tudor Constitution, 454, 460-2.
  • 8. HMC Rutland, iv. 388; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 208-552; 1563-6, pp. 47, 137, 143, 307; 1566-9, p. 402; C142/233/114; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 207; APC, xiv. 242, 301, 303; xv. 231-2; xix. 220-1, 364-5; xxvi. 57-8; Lansd. 69, f. 77.
  • 9. PCC 47 Harrington, 3 Dixy


From the English Wikipedia page on Christopher Wray:

Sir Christopher Wray (1524 – 7 May 1592) was an English judge and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.

Early life and career

Wray, the third son of Thomas Wray, seneschal in 1535 of Coverham Abbey, Yorkshire, by Joan, daughter of Robert Jackson of Gatenby, Bedale, in the same county, was born at Bedale in 1524. The ancient doubts, revived by Lord Campbell as to his legitimacy, were removed by the publication in 1857 of the wills of his mother (by her second marriage wife of John Wycliffe, auditor of issues in the Richmond district) and his brother-in-law, Ralph Gower. The pedigree, however, was first traced with accuracy from the Wrays of Waisleydale by the Rev. Octavius Wray in the Genealogist.

Wray was an alumnus of Buckingham (refounded during his residence as Magdalene) College, Cambridge.[1] Though apparently no graduate, he was a loyal son to his alma mater, and set a high value on learning. Tradition ascribes to him the adornment of the college with the rich Renaissance west porch, and a deed dated 16 July 1587 shows that he had then built or rebuilt a portion of the edifice containing three stories of four rooms apiece, which were appropriated to the use of two fellows and six scholars, whose maintenance he secured by a rentcharge.

He added another fellowship by his will; two more were founded by his wife in 1591, and a fellowship and two scholarships by his second daughter in 1625.

Wray was admitted on 6 February 1544-5 student at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the bar in Hilary term 1549-50, was reader in autumn 1562, treasurer in 1565-6, and again reader in Lent 1567 in anticipation of his call to the degree of serjeant-at-law, which took place in the ensuing Easter term. On 18 June of the same year he was made queen's Serjeant.

His parliamentary career began by his return (30 September 1553) for Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, which constituency he continued to represent until the death of Queen Mary of England in 1558. From 1563 to 1567 he sat for Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Like most of the gentlemen of the north, he was probably catholic at heart, but he evidently steered a wary course, for in the religious census of justices of the peace, compiled by episcopal authority in 1564, he is entered as ' indifferent.'

In the following year he was assigned by the court of king's bench as counsel for Bonner in the proceedings on the Praemunire. In the spring of 1569-70 he attended the assizes held at York, Carlisle, and Durham for the trial of the northern rebels, and was employed in receiving their submissions. Among them were his brother Thomas and his sister's son John Gower, both of whom were pardoned.

Speaker of the House of Commons

In the parliament of 1571 Wray, then member for Ludgershall, Wiltshire, was chosen Speaker of the House of Commons. In his address to the throne on presentation he expatiated with much learning and eloquence in praise of the royal supremacy in matters ecclesiastical, touched lightly but loyally on supply, and gratefully acknowledged the free course which her majesty allowed to the administration of justice. The speech introduced petitions for freedom from arrest, free access to and considerate audience by her majesty, and free speech. The first three were granted ; the last only elicited an intimation that the commons would do well to meddle with no affairs of state but such as might be referred to them by ministers.

The revival, in defiance of this injunction, of the whole question of the reformation of religion and church government occasioned an early dissolution (29 May). An act (13 Eliz. c. 29) confirming the charters, liberties, and privileges of the University of Cambridge owed its passage largely to Wray's influence, for which the thanks of the senate were communicated to him by letter (5 June).

Lord Chief Justice

Wray was appointed on 14 May 1572 justice, and on 8 November 1574 chief justice, of the queen's bench. The only state trial in which as puisne he took part was that in Trinity term 1572 of John Hall and Francis Rolston for conspiracy to effect the release of Mary, Queen of Scots.

As chief justice, in addition to his ordinary jurisdiction he exercised functions of a somewhat multifarious character. He was a member of the commission appointed on 23 April 1577 to adjudicate on the validity of the election of John Underhill (1545?-1592) to the rectorship of Lincoln College, Oxford; and as assistant to the House of Lords he advised on bills, received petitions, and on one occasion (14 September 1586) was placed on the commission for its adjournment.

He was a strong judge, who well knew how to sustain the dignity of his office, and showed as much firmness in restraining by prohibition an excess of jurisdiction on the part of the ecclesiastical commission in 1581 as in enforcing the laws against the sectaries in that and subsequent years. It was not until towards the close of his life that he was himself added to the ecclesiastical commission (Christmas 1589).

The principal state trials over which he presided were those of the puritan John Stubbs or Stubbe, the Jesuit Edmund Campion, and his harbourer, William, lord Vaux (son of Thomas Vaux, 2nd Baron Vaux of Harrowdon), and the conspirators against the life of the queen, John Somerville and William Parry (d. 1585) He also presided at the Star Chamber inquest, by which (23 June 1585) the suicide and treasons of the Earl of Northumberland were certified; and was a member of the commissions which attainted Northumberland's accomplice, William, grandson of Sir William Shelley, and passed sentence of death upon Anthony Babington and his associates (September 1586).

He was present at Fotheringay Castle as assessor to the tribunal before which the Queen of Scots pleaded in vain for her life (14 October 1586), but appears to have taken no part in the proceedings. He presided, vice Sir Thomas Bromley (1530–1587), absent through illness, at the subsequent trial in the Star Chamber of the unfortunate secretary of state, William Davison, whose indiscreet zeal he blandly censured as bonum sed non bene before pronouncing the ruthless sentence of the court (28 March 1587).

The last state trials in which he took part were those of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, on 18 April 1589, and of Sir John Perrot on 27 April 1592. At a conference with his colleagues in Michaelmas term 1590 he initiated the revision of the form of commissions of the peace, then full of corruptions and redundancies.

Death and reputation

He died on 7 May 1592, and was buried in the church of St Michael, Glentworth, Lincolnshire, where, by the aid of grants from the profits of the mint, he had built for himself a noble mansion, which was long the seat of his posterity, and of which a portion was afterwards incorporated in the modern Glentworth Hall. By his will he established a dole for the inmates of an almshouse which he had built on the estate. A sessions house at Spittal-in-the-Street was also built by him.

Wray was lord of the manors Brodsworth and Cusworth, Yorkshire, and of Ashby, Fillingham, Grainsby, and Kennington, Lincolnshire.

His monument, a splendid structure in alabaster and other marbles, is in the chancel of Glentworth church. Re Justus, nomine verus: so, in allusion to his motto and with an evident play upon his name, he is characterised by the inscription. Coke praises his 'profound and judicial knowledge, accompanied with a ready and singular capacity, grave and sensible elocution, and continual and admirable patience.' No less eulogistic, though less weighty, are the encomiums of David Lloyd (State Worthies) and Fuller (Worthies of England). Their general accuracy is unquestionable; and though the judicial murder of Campion and the iniquitous sentence on Davison show that in crown cases Wray was by no means too scrupulous, it is perhaps unfair to apply the moral standard of modern times to a judge of the Elizabethan age.


Wray's judgments and charges are recorded in the reports of Dyer, Plowden, Coke, and Croke, Cobbett's State Trials, and Nicolas's Life of Davison. One of his speeches on a call of Serjeants in Michaelmas term 1578 has been preserved by Dugdale. His speech to the throne in 1571 may be read in Sir Simonds D'Ewes's Journals of all the Parliaments during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, or in Cobbett's Parliamentary History.

Family life and descendants

By his wife Anne, daughter of Nicholas Girlington of Normanby, Yorkshire, Wray had issue a son and two daughters.

The elder daughter, Isabel, married, first, Godfrey Foljambe of Aldwarke, Yorkshire, and Walton, Derbyshire, who died on 14 June 1595; secondly, in or before 1600, Sir William Bowes, who succeeded his uncle Robert Bowes in the Scottish embassy, and died on 30 October 1611; thirdly, on 7 May 1617, John, Lord Darcy of Aston, commonly called Lord Darcy of the North. She died on 12 February 1623.

Frances, the younger daughter, married, first, in 1583, Sir George Saint Paule, bart. (so created on 29 June 1611), of Snarford, Lincolnshire, who died on 28 October 1613; secondly, on 21 December 1616, Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick, whom she survived, dying about 1634.

The son, Sir William Wray (1555–1617), was created a baronet on 25 November 1611, and married, first, in 1580, Lucy, eldest daughter of Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton, son of Sir Edward Montagu, by whom he was father of Sir John Wray; and, secondly, about 1600, Frances, daughter of Sir William Drury of Hawsted, Suffolk, and widow of Sir Nicholas Clifford, by whom he was father of Sir Christopher Wray (1601–1646). [edit]References

  • 1^ Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Wray, Christopher". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Wray, Christopher". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.


Knighted November 8, 1574. Lord Chief Justice of England under Queen Elizabeth I. Built Glenworth Hall, Lincoln.

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Sir Christopher Wray, Kt., MP, Speaker and Lord Chief Justice's Timeline

Bedale, Yorkshire, England
Age 2
Bedale, York, England, Great Britain
Age 27
Bedale, Yorkshire, England
Age 37
February 7, 1560
Age 38
Glentworth, Lincolnshire, England
Age 38
Glentworth, Lincolnshire, England
May 7, 1592
Age 70
Probably London, Middlesex, England
Chief Justice
Glentworth, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom