Thomas Shirley ca.1590-1654

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Sir Thomas SHIRLEY ca.1590-1654

Armorial stamp of Sir Thomas Shirley (British Armorial Bindings)

Biographical Note

Son of Sir George Shirley, of Staunton Harold, Leicestershire, a recusant gentry family. His elder brother Henry inherited the Leicestershire estates while he received, on the death of his father in 1622, an estate at Botolph's Bridge (sometimes called Bottle Bridge) in Huntingdonshire. He was knighted in 1622. He was a keen antiquary who created extensive manuscript collections, many of them focusing on his family history; he worked with a number of other antiquaries of the time, including William Burton, Sir Edward Dering, William Dugdale and Sir Christopher Hatton. In 1632 he commissioned a large illuminated pedigree roll of the Shirley family (now in the Leicestershire Record Office, 26D53), and towards the end of his life he compiled a pedigree of recusant families, The Catholic armorist (now surviving in various fragments divided between Queen's College, Oxford and The National Archives). He spent some of the 1640s in exile abroad and was heavily fined for recusancy at the end of the Civil War period.


Manuscripts and printed books from Shirley's collection are now found in numerous libraries around the world; some of his manuscripts are in the British Library, while a group of heraldic and genealogical manuscripts were subsequently acquired by Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701) and formed part of his bequest to Queen's College, Oxford. The size of his library is not known. Shirley's will has no mention of books; all the residue of his personal estate was left to his wife. Examples: British Library MS Harley 1042, 6680; Queen's College Oxford MS 89, 104, 141-4; Emmanuel, Cambridge S14.1.1; Queen’s Oxford 29.B.2; Maggs 1471 (2013)/50.

Characteristic Markings

Shirley often inscribed his titlepages with his name. He used an armorial binding stamp which is found gilt-stamped on many of his books.