Sir Hugh Willoughby, the Navigator

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Sir Hugh Willoughby, the Navigator

Birthdate: (59)
Birthplace: Willoughby, Nottinghamshire, England
Death: Died in near the Arctic Circle
Cause of death: carbon monoxide poisoning?
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Henry Willoughby, Knt. and Ellen Egerton
Husband of Margaret Willoughby
Father of George Elafe Willoughby, of Risley
Brother of Alice Willoughby
Half brother of Edward Willoughby; Jane Harbottle and Sir John Willoughby

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About Sir Hugh Willoughby, the Navigator

Sir Hugh Willoughby the Navigator of Risley, Derbyshire was born about 1495 and died in 1554, frozen in his ship.

Father: Henry Willoughby died: ABT 1528 and Ellen Egerton, daughter of John Egerton, Henry's 3rd of 4 wives

Sir Hugh was sent out in 1553, as captain of the Bona Esperanza with two other vessels under his command and with chief pilot Richard Chancellor, by a company of London merchants known as the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands, which later became the Muscovy Company.

The vessels were separated by "terrible whirlwinds" in the Norwegian Sea. On 14 September 1553 Willoughby sailed into a bay near the present border between Finland and Russia. The ships with the frozen crews, including Captain Willoughby and his journal, were found by Russian fishermen a year later. It has also been suggested that Sir Hugh Willoughby and his crew were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, following their decision to insulate their ship from the bitter Arctic cold[2].

Richard Chancellor was able to drop anchor in the White Sea and trudge his way overland to Moscow and Ivan the Terrible's Court, opening trade with Russia.

During the voyage, Willoughby thought he saw islands to the north. Based on his description, these were subsequently depicted on maps as Willoughby's Land and Macsinof or Matsyn Island.[3]


third son, was a daring Arctic explorer. His early services were as a soldier on the Scottish borders, but he soon turned his thoughts to the sea, and was appointed captain of the Bona Esperanza in a fleet of three ships which set out in 1553 with the object of discovering a north-eastern passage to Cathay and India. It was a scene of wild excitement at Greenwich when the ship, with three others, started on its perilous voyage. Members of the Privy Council went to see it off, and great hopes were entertained of the success of the gallant and adventurous mariners. Unhappily the vessels met with storms off the coast of Spitzbergen, and the Bona Esperanza was driven into a river or haven, called Arzina, in Lapland. Unable to withstand the rigours of the winter, the whole party perished, and the body of Sir Hugh was discovered in a chair, where he had evidently been frozen to death, with his will and the ship’s log-book before him, which is printed in vol. i. of R. Hakluyt's Principal Navigations.


In the second subsequent generation, a Sir Hugh Willughby married a daughter of the Foljambe family, but the line was carried on through the issue of his second wife, a sister and co-heir, or a daughter and heir, of Sir Baldwin Freville, who brought him the Middleton estates, in Warwickshire, from which the barony subsequently took the title. There is a beautiful alabaster altar tomb to him and his first wife5 in Willoughby Church. He was probably the last of the family to be buried there, for his son specially directed that he should be interred at Wollaton. Their grandson, Henry, must have been a distinguished man in his day. He was a knight and banneret, sheriff of Notts, and Derby (temp. Henry VIII.), and married four wives. His canopied tomb6 is in Wollaton Church, on the south side of the chancel. He became, by his third wife, Ellen, daughter of John Egerton, the father of Sir Hugh Willoughby, the great navigator, who eventually lost his life in the Arctic Seas.


Willoughby Risley co Derby bart extinct 1649 Sir Henry Willoughby son of Sir Hugh Willoughby Knt who was son of Sir Henry Willoughby Knt of Wollaton temp Henry VIII by his third wife was created a bart 1611 his son Sir Henry second bart left an only dau and heir Anne m Sir Thomas Aston Bart of Aston Same Arms and Crest

Risley Hall

Risley township and village, about seven miles and a half east from Derby, is partly in the parish of Sawley, and partly in that of Sandiacre. This manor was formerly held by Sir Hugh Willoughby, the celebrated navigator, who sailed on the 10th of May 1555, with three ships, in search of a north-east passage, and was frozen to death with all his crew in the January following, in the frozen ocean. in "Thomsons Seasons" this melancholy event is most feelingly and emphatically described. the village contains about 300 inhabitants.

Risley, spelt Rislie and Riseleie in the Domesday Book, probably means brushwood clearing from hris - the Old English and Old Scandinavian for brushwood or shrubs and leah - the Old English for a woodland clearing.

Many of the existing historical buildings within the village are connected to the Willoughby family which acquired Risley in 1350.

The small Elizabethan church of All Saints was built by Michael Willougby and his wife Katherine, who also founded a free school. The Willoughbys lived at Risley Hall opposite the church. The church is a rarity (one of just six in England) in that it be-longs to a period when most churches were being pulled down rather than being built. Inside, over the west arch, hangs a replica of the Royal Coat of Arms which survived when many of its contemporaries were destroyed.

The Willoughby family and their descendants played an important part in the education of the village's children. Katharine Willoughby left money in her will to educating children. Her great-great grand niece, Dame Elizabeth Grey, built the Latin House, Latin College and other associated buildings in the early 18th century

Risley Hall, which dates back to the 16th century was rebuilt around 1725 when the original was destroyed, probably by fire. The balustrade and gateway on the terrace are all that is left of the original great house. The Hall was later brought by Nottingham Corporation and used as an approved school for boys. It is now The Risley Hall Hotel. In the grounds are a nursing home, private dwellings and the Treetops Hospice, which offers care for the terminally ill.

Risley is also the site of the discovery of the Risley lanx, a Romano-British silver plate that is one of the most important and intriguing archaeological discoveries in the country. The lanx has a long and curious history and is now in display in the British Museum.


  1. Willoughby Family
  2. Burke, Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time. London: Harrison, 1884. p. 1118
  3. Extract from Pigot's Commercial Directory of Derbyshire 1828-9: Risley, Ilkeston, Derbyshire
  4. WILLOUGHBY2 Henry Willougby
  5. Risley
  6. h[ttp:// Hugh Willoughby]
  7. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques,and Discoveries of The English Nation, v3: North-Eastern Europe and Adjacent Countries: Part II. The Muscovy Company and the North-Eastern Passage by Hakluyt
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Sir Hugh Willoughby, the Navigator's Timeline

Nottinghamshire, England
Age 25
Mawdley, , Wigmore, Wales
Age 59
near the Arctic Circle