Sir William Shelley, MP

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William Shelley, Knight

Also Known As: "William Shelly Knight"
Birthdate: (69)
Birthplace: Clapham, Sussex, England
Death: May 10, 1549 (65-73)
Immediate Family:

Son of John Shelley, MP and Elizabeth Shelley
Husband of Alice Shelley
Father of James Shelley; Richard Shelley, [Knight of Rhodes]; Edward Shelley, of Worminghurst Park; Thomas Shelley; John Shelley, of Michelgrove and 2 others
Brother of Edward Shelley; John Shelley; Jane Bellingham; Elizabeth Shelley; Alma "Anne" Shirley and 3 others

Occupation: Justice of the Common Plea
Managed by: Ken Jon Schonberg
Last Updated:

About Sir William Shelley, MP

Sir William Shelley

Sir William Shelley (1480?–1549) was an English judge.

Born about 1480, he was the eldest son of Sir John Shelley (died 3 Jan. 1526) and his wife Elizabeth (died 31 July 1513), daughter and heir of John de Michelgrove in the parish of Clapham, Sussex. Of the judge's six brothers, one, John, became a knight of the Order of St John, and was killed in defending Rhodes against the Ottoman Turks in 1522; from another, Edward, who is variously given as second, third, or fourth son, came the baronets of Castle Goring, Sussex (created 1806), and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet. The youngest brother, John Shelley, died in 1554. The settlement of an estate which he purchased on the dissolution of Sion Monastery led to the lawsuit known as ‘Shelley's case,’ and the decision known as the Rule in Shelley's Case.

Although the eldest son, William was sent to the Inner Temple not to make a profession of law but in order to understand his own affairs, and according to his son it was against his will that he was made serjeant, and judge, by Henry VIII. From the beginning of Henry's reign he appears on commissions of the peace for Sussex and other counties; in 1517 he was autumn reader in the Inner Temple, and about the same time became one of the judges of the sheriff's court in London. In 1520 he was appointed recorder of London, and in May 1521 was placed on the special commission of oyer and terminer to find an indictment against Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. In the same year he took the degree of the coif.

In 1527 Shelley was raised to the bench as judge of the common pleas, and in 1529 he was sent to demand from Thomas Wolsey the surrender of York House, later Whitehall Palace. Soon afterwards he entertained Henry VIII at Michelgrove.

He was summoned to parliament on 9 August 1529, and again on 27 April 1536. He was hostile to the Protestant Reformation, and is said to have suffered from Thomas Cromwell's antipathy; but his name appears in important state trials of the period: in that of the Carthusian monks and John Fisher (1535), of Weston, Norris, Lord Rochford, and Anne Boleyn (May 1536), and Sir Geoffrey Pole, Sir Edward Neville, and Sir Nicholas Carew (1538–9).

In 1547 he was consulted by Henry VIII's executors about the provisions of his will. He died on 4 January 1549.[1]

Shelley married Alice (died 1536?), daughter of Sir Henry Belknap, grandson of Sir Robert de Bealknap of Knelle in the parish of Beckley, Sussex. By her he had four sons:

  • John (died 15 December 1550), father of William (not the same person as William Shelley of Hertford, also a prisoner in the Tower in 1580), who was attainted 15 December 1582 for complicity in Charles Paget's treasons, but not executed, and died 15 April 1597, being succeeded by his son John, created a baronet in 1611;
  • Sir Richard Shelley;
  • the third son, Sir James, was, like Sir Richard, a distinguished and widely travelled Knight of St. John;
  • the fourth, Sir Edward, was a master of the household of Henry VIII, treasurer of the council of the north, and captain of Berwick, and was killed at the battle of Pinkie on 10 September 1547.

Their daughter Elizabeth married Roger Copley, father of Sir Thomas Copley.[2]


From "The Real Shelley" Vol. I (of 2), by John Cordy Jeaffreson

Bred to the law, William Shelley (the grandson, or maybe the great-grandson, of the afore-mentioned Member for Rye) became Reader of the Inner Temple in 1517, and after holding successively the office of a Judge of the Sheriff’s Court and the office of Recorder of the City of London, rose to be a[Pg 16] Judge of the Common Pleas somewhere about the beginning of 1527. Before mounting to this eminence he had represented the City in Parliament, and practised for six years as a Serjeant-at-law in Westminster Hall. Those who know Cavendish’s Wolsey do not need to be reminded of the part taken by this fortunate lawyer in the negotiations that closed with the Cardinal’s surrender of York House to Henry the Eighth. ‘Tell his Highness,’ said the fallen Cardinal to the Judge of the Common Pleas, ‘that I am his most faithful subject and obedient beadsman, whose command I will in no wise disobey; but will in all things fulfil his pleasure, as you the father of the law say I may. I therefore charge your conscience to discharge me, and show His Highness from me that I must desire His Majesty to remember there is both heaven and hell;’ a message which the judge probably forgot to deliver, as he lived to entertain the King at Michelgrove, and was continued in his office till Henry’s death. Surviving the sovereign, whom he served on the bench of the Common Pleas for twenty years, Sir William Shelley served Edward the Sixth in the same capacity, to the day of his own death, which occurred between November 3, 1548 (the date of his last fine), and May 10, 1549, the date of his successor’s appointment.

Fortunate in his professional career, Sir William Shelley was no less fortunate in his domestic affairs. Marrying an heiress, he had, with other children, John, the grandfather of the first Michelgrove baronet, and Sir Richard Shelley, the last English Prior of St. John of Jerusalem.


  • Sir William Shelley, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Under-Sheriff of London1,2,3,4,5,6,7
  • M, #73087, b. circa 1479, d. 4 January 1549
  • Father John Shelley, Esq.1,4,5,7 b. c 1455, d. 3 Jan 1526
  • Mother Elizabeth Michelgrove1,4,5,7 b. c 1457, d. 30 Jun 1518
  • Sir William Shelley, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Under-Sheriff of London was born circa 1479 at of Clapham, Michelgrove, & Kingsham, Sussex, England; Age 48 in 1527.1,4,7 A settlement for the marriage Sir William Shelley, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Under-Sheriff of London and Alice Belknap was made on 10 July 1511; They had 7 sons (including John; Sir Richard; Sir Edward; Thomas; & Sir James) and 7 daughters (including Katherine, wife of Henry Browne, Esq; Elizabeth, wife of Sir Roger Copley; Frances; & Margaret, wife of Edward Gage).1,2,3,4,5,6,7 Sir William Shelley, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Under-Sheriff of London left a will on 6 November 1548.4,5,7 He wrote a codicil on 29 December 1548.4,5,7 He died on 4 January 1549 at of Michelgrove & Clapham (both in Clapham), & Kingsham, Sussex, England.4,5,7 His estate was probated on 8 February 1549.4,5,7
  • Family Alice Belknap b. c 1482, d. b 4 Jan 1549
  • Children
    • Katherine Shelley+2,3,4,5,6,7 b. c 1512, d. c 1531
    • John Shelley+1 b. c 1514, d. 16 Dec 1550
  • Citations
  • 1.[S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 90.
  • 2.[S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 161.
  • 3.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. I, p. 341-342.
  • 4.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. IV, p. 142-143.
  • 5.[S6] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry: 2nd Edition, Vol. I, p. 234.
  • 6.[S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. I, p. 582.
  • 7.[S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. V, p. 91.
  • From:


  • Sir William Shelley1
  • M, #575674
  • Last Edited=28 Oct 2012
  • Sir William Shelley is the son of John Shelley and Elizabeth Michelgrove.2 He married Alice Belknap, daughter of Sir Hamon Belknap, in 1299.1
  • In 1529 Judge Court Common Pleas, knighted.1
  • Child of Sir William Shelley and Alice Belknap
    • 1.John Shelley+2 d. 16 Dec 1550
  • Citations
  • 1.[S37] BP2003 volume 3, page 3595. See link for full details for this source. Hereinafter cited as. [S37]
  • 2.[S37] BP2003. [S37]
  • From:


  • SHELLEY, William (by 1479-1549), of London and Michelgrove, Suss.
  • b. by 1479, 1st s. of John Shelley by Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Michelgrove alias Fauconer of Michelgrove. educ. I. Temple. m. by 1508, Alice, da. and event. coh. of Henry Belknap of Knell, Beckley, Suss., 7s. inc. Richard 7da. suc. fa. 3 Jan. 1527. Kntd. aft. 3 Nov. 1529.2
  • Offices Held
    • Lent reader, I. Temple 1518, gov. 1520-1.
    • J.p. Suss. 1512-d., Warws. 1512-15, Surr. 1522-38, numerous other counties from 1528; commr. subsidy, Warws. 1512, Coventry 1512, 1514, musters, Suss. 1512, benevolence 1544/45; other commissions 1520-d.; recorder, Coventry 15 July 1512-22 Feb. 1515; under sheriff, London 27 June 1514-20, recorder 10 May 1520-6; serjeant-at-law 1521; j.c.p. 1526-d.; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1539, 1542, 1545, 1547; custos rot. Suss. by 1547-d.3
  • According to his son Richard, William Shelley was, as an eldest son, ‘put to the inns of court but to learn to understand his own evidence’; in the event he became a lawyer and rose high in his profession. His first appointment was to the recordership of Coventry for which he was recommended both by the retiring recorder, Anthony Fitzherbert, who described him as ‘a gentleman of good conscience and well learned in the law of the land’, and by letters from the King and ‘divers great lords’ which he may have obtained through his brother-in-law Sir Edward Belknap, himself connected with Coventry through his servant John Rastell. Shelley resigned the recordership within three years because, like Fitzherbert before him, he could no longer ‘give his attendance ... as he ought to do’: in June 1514 he had been appointed an under sheriff of London, and as judge in the sheriff’s court and legal counsellor to the City he was expected to attend upon the mayor and aldermen at their twice-weekly meeting unless engaged on their behalf in the law courts at Westminster.4
  • Service as under sheriff was often followed by election to the recordership and on the resignation of that office by Richard Broke in 1520 Shelley succeeded him. In the following year he was made a serjeant-at-law, a promotion which threatened to deprive him of his office under an ancient rule of the City that the recorder should be no more than an apprentice of the law. But Broke had retained office after taking the coif and Shelley’s petition to the mayor and aldermen to be allowed to do the same was granted. The recorder was frequently employed as an intermediary between the City and the crown. In June 1521 Shelley went to see Cardinal Wolsey about the City’s right to appoint to the office of common weigher in London which was disputed by the King. Wolsey reported that the King was ‘highly displeased’ over this matter and, still more, over reports of discontent in London at the execution of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, and that he intended ‘to punish the City with such sharp and grievous punishment which they be not nor shall be able to bear’. At a meeting of the court of aldermen in the following month, Shelley put forward the City’s suggestions for the prevention of insurrection: either there should be watch kept continually in London for a whole year or all the harness within the City should be removed to safe custody, at the choice of the King. Henry VIII insisted on both precautions and after a long debate Shelley was authorized to ‘pacify and please the King’s grace’ by reporting the willingness of the aldermen to give up their own harness but their inability to ‘promise for all the City’. In 1522 another sharp conflict arose. On 16 May Shelley reported to a special meeting of the court of aldermen the cardinal’s request, revealed two days earlier to Sir John Brydges and himself, for a loan of £100,000. Six days later he delivered the City’s offer of £14,000 and the cardinal eventually agreed to accept £30,000, to be paid in three instalments, the third to be remitted if no longer needed. The City interpreted this as a loan of £20,000 and in the following month Shelley concluded the negotiations by obtaining Wolsey’s agreement to the terms of its repayment.5
  • As recorder Shelley was elected by London to the Parliament of 1523. The dispute over the right to appoint to certain offices within the City being still unsettled, Shelley and five aldermen were sent to sue to Wolsey for the offices ‘to be granted by the King’s grace to the City and to be ratified by Parliament’, and on 16 May the court of aldermen agreed that ‘a bill of petition made and devised by Mr. Broke and Mr. Recorder to be exhibited to the Parliament concerning certain offices within this City, with a proviso concerning the office of common weigher, shall be exhibited and put up as it is’. But the bill met with no success in a Parliament preoccupied with the demands made upon it for a large subsidy. Before the next Parliament met, Shelley had been made a judge, and from 1529 until his death he was personally summoned to each Parliament by writ of assistance. From 1539 he was regularly appointed a receiver of petitions and was called upon to advise on bills; during the first session of the Parliament of 1547-in which his son Richard sat for Gatton-an Act (I Edw. VI, no. 13) was passed for the assurance of certain lands to him and Sir Richard Rich.6
  • During the first session of the Parliament of 1529 Shelley was sent to Wolsey to take formal possession of York Place for the King; that task performed he was knighted by Henry VIII in York Place. Soon afterwards, according to his son, he fell out of favour and suffered ‘great loss’ during the ascendancy of Cromwell, and it was not until the end of the reign that the King ‘made much of him again’. If this was indeed so, it can scarcely have arisen from any differences over public policy, for although Shelley was to die a Catholic and his children to become prominent recusants he did not resist the Henrician Reformation and was active as a judge in the prosecution of its opponents. What does give some colour to his son’s allegation is that Shelley was forced by Cromwell to sell to the King the lordship of Knell in Beckley, the ancient residence of the Belknaps, which had been his wife’s dowry, and that in 1541 he was recompensed—‘liberally’, as his son conceded, and with poetic justice—by the grant of two manors in Essex forfeited by Cromwell. When in London Shelley lived in the parish of St. Sepulchre, where he was assessed at 300 marks in goods to the subsidy of 1523; his lands, in an assessment of lawyers to this subsidy, were valued at £140 a year. On the death of his father in 1527 he succeeded to considerable estates in Hertfordshire, Kent and Sussex and took up residence at Michelgrove, in the parish of Clapham. Here he entertained Henry VIII and rebuilt the medieval house into a large mansion, said to have been one of the finest in the county.7
  • In his will of 6 Nov. 1548 Shelley asked to be buried in Clapham church if he died in the neighbourhood, ‘without any pomp or costly ceremonies’, and provided for the saying of 100 masses. Only three of his younger sons were still alive: he left the manor of Mapledurham and other Hampshire lands to Thomas, £20 a year to Richard and 100 marks to James. Richard Shelley might have received a larger legacy but his father had ‘been at great charges with the finding of him in Italy’: he was, however, to have the £100 owed to Shelley by Henry VIII’s executors (whom the judge had advised), ‘for I lent it to our said late sovereign lord at his being at the siege of Boulogne’—an allusion which shows that Shelley, after being summoned to raise soldiers for the campaign of 1544, had accompanied the King to France. He named his heir John sole executor but provided that in the event of John’s death—and he survived his father by less than two years—that task should be undertaken by his cousin Henry White, his daughter Elizabeth Copley and his friend and servant Thomas Bishop. Elizabeth Shelley’s marriage to Sir Roger Copley and her brother Thomas’s to Sir Roger’s sister Mary led to the return for Gatton of several of Shelley’s family as well as of his servant Bishop; another daughter, Catherine, married Henry Browne of Betchworth Castle, Surrey, several of whose family sat for Gatton after the flight overseas of Shelley’s grandson Thomas Copley. John Shelley’s marriage to Mary Fitzwilliam renewed his family’s relationship with Sir Anthony Cooke, a descendant of Henry Belknap, who had married her half-sister. In a codicil to his will of 29 Dec. 1548 Sir William Shelley forgave debts owing to him, including those of Leonard West. He died six days later. A tomb with figures in Clapham church commemorates him, his wife and their 14 children.8
  • From:


  • Margaret KNOLLYS
  • Born: 1432, Sussex, England
  • Died: 7 Oct 1488
  • Father: Richard KNOLLYS
  • Mother: Margaret DOYLEY
  • Married: Henry BELKNAP (Sir) (son of Hamon Belknap and Joan Butler) 1447
  • Children:
    • 1. Elizabeth BELKNAP (m. Phillip Cooke)
    • 2. Edward BELKNAP
    • 3. Alice BELKNAP (m. William Shelley)
  • From: KNOLLYS1


  • Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to 1900 (1897) Vol. 52
  • Pg.41
  • SHELLEY, SIR WILLIAM (1480?-1549?), judge, born about 1480, was the eldest son of Sir John Shelley (d. 3 Jan. 1526) and his wife Elizabeth (d. 31 July 1513), daughter and heir of John de Michelgrove in the parish of Clapham, Sussex (reproductions of monumental brasses in Addit. MS. 32490). .... etc.
  • Pg.42
  • .... He died between 3 Nov. 1548 and 10 May 1549.
  • Shelley married Alice (d. 1536?), daughter of Sir Henry Belknap, great-grandson of Sir Robert de Bealknap [q. v.] of Knelle in the parish of Beckley, Sussex. By her he had four sons: John (d. 15 Dec. 1550) was father of William (not be confused with William Shelley of Hertford, also a prisoner in the Tower in 1580), who was attainted 15 Dec. 1582 for complicity in Charles Paget's treasons, but not executed, and died 15 April 1597, being succeeded by his son John, created a baronet in 1611; the second son of the judge was Sir Richard Shelley [q. v.]; the third, Sir James, was, like Sir Richard, a distinquished and widely travelled knight of St. John (cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 192, x. 201-2); the fourth, Sir Edward, a master of the household of Henry VIII, treasurer of the council of the north, and captain of Berwick, was killed at Pinkie on 10 Sept. 1547 (cf. Addit. MSS. 32647 ff. 66, 70, 32648 f. 12, 32653 f. 161; Chron. of Calais, p. 176, &c.; Lit. Rem. of Edward VI, Rosb. Club, pp. cc; Cal. Hamilton Papers, passim). .... etc.




April 2015

Sir William Shelley, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas & Alice Belknap had 7 sons (including John; Sir Richard; Sir Edward; Thomas; & Sir James) and 7 daughters (including Katherine, wife of Henry Browne, Esq; Elizabeth, wife of Sir Roger Copley; Frances; & Margaret, wife of Edward Gage).


" & Margaret, wife of Edward Gage)."

This is incorrect; there's a source misprint. The Margaret Shelley who married Edward Gage was the daughter of JOHN Shelley of Michelgrave.



view all 14

Sir William Shelley, MP's Timeline

Clapham, Sussex, England
Age 17
Maple Durham, Hampshire, England
Age 21
Of,Maple Durham,Hampshire,England
Age 23
Of,Maple Durham,Hampshire,England
Age 26
Of, Maple Durham, Hampshire, England
Age 26
Age 30
Maple Durham, Hampshire, England
Age 32
Clapham, Sussex, England
May 10, 1549
Age 69