Sir Henry Chicheley (1614 or 1615–1683)


Sir Henry Chicheley represented Lancaster County in the House of Burgesses (1656), was a member of the governor’s Council (1670–1683), and served as lieutenant governor of Virginia (1678–1680; 1680–1682) during the mostly absentee administration of Sir Thomas Culpeper. Born in England and educated at Oxford, Chicheley was a Royalist during the English Civil Wars and was imprisoned for his role in a plot against Parliament. The terms of his parole allowed him to sail for Virginia, where he promptly married into a powerful family and befriended the governor, Sir William Berkeley. After acquiring land, Chicheley experimented with various agriculture techniques and supported restrictions on tobacco cultivation, but he failed in his attempt to convince London to enact such restrictions. Chicheley commanded a militia set to attack hostile Indians but Governor Berkeley held him back, a move that in part sparked Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). During the failed uprising, Chicheley remained loyal to the governor and was taken hostage for a time. As acting governor in the rebellion’s aftermath, Chicheley struggled with falling tobacco prices and colonists who destroyed crops in order to create a price-boosting shortage. His measured response prevented the problem from growing worse. Chicheley died in 1683.

Chicheley was born in either 1614 or 1615 the son of Sir Thomas Chicheley and Dorothy Kempe Chicheley, of Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, England. Descended from an ancient, well-to-do family and assured of a privileged upbringing, he matriculated at University College, University of Oxford, at age seventeen on April 27, 1632, and received a B.A. three years later. A Royalist during the English Civil Wars, Chicheley became a lieutenant colonel before King Charles I knighted him about 1644. Complicity in a plot against Parliament landed him in the Tower of London, but in the spring of 1650 the Council of State paroled him and allowed him to sail to Virginia on the condition that he “do nothing prejudicial to the State and present government thereof.”

Chicheley found safe haven in the household of Ralph Wormeley (d. 1651), where he befriended other Royalist refugees, one of whom introduced him to Governor Sir William Berkeley. Sometime after May 31, 1652, Chicheley married Wormeley’s widow, Agatha Eltonhead Stubbins Wormeley, whose sister Eleanor Eltonhead married first William Brocas, a member of the governor’s Council, and then John Carter (ca. 1613–1670), also a member of the Council, and whose sister Alice Eltonhead Burnham married Henry Corbyn, another member of the Council. The union not only set Chicheley on the top rung of Virginia society but also gave him control of Wormeley’s considerable properties. Chicheley resided at Wormeley’s estate, Rosegill, in the part of Lancaster County that in 1669 became Middlesex County. He acquired additional land elsewhere in the Rappahannock River basin, all of which, because he had no children, eventually passed to his widow’s son, Ralph Wormeley (1650–1701), later a president of the Council.

Silk-making Efforts in Colonial Virginia

An early convert to Berkeley’s schemes for diversifying the colony’s economy, Chicheley experimented with sericulture. His success ranked him in a group of great planters who, like Berkeley, established mulberry orchards, tended silkworms, and made silk in profitable quantities that found ready markets in England. Chicheley also followed Berkeley’s lead by advocating restrictions on tobacco cultivation to raise its price and as a means of fostering diversification.

Chicheley represented Lancaster County in the House of Burgesses in 1656 and not long thereafter, in violation of his parole, returned to England, where he made contact with supporters of Charles II who paved the way for the return of the king in 1660. Chicheley was still in London when Berkeley arrived in 1661 on a mission to extract royal blessings for his diversification plans and worked tirelessly in the lobbying campaign that won much of what Berkeley sought. Chicheley stayed behind when the governor left for Virginia in the autumn of 1662 and with other Virginians pressed the Privy Council for curbs on tobacco production. The failure of the negotiations sent him back to America, where a grateful Berkeley heaped generous rewards on him. The governor appointed him to the Council in April 1670, made him a lieutenant general of the militia in July 1672, and arranged for the king early in 1674 to name him lieutenant, or deputy, governor. Chicheley’s influence with the royal master general of the ordnance, his brother Sir Thomas Chicheley, resulted in the dispatch of some much-needed great guns and ammunition during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674).

Royal Proclamation Concerning Bacon's Rebellion

During the frontier unrest that preceded Bacon’s Rebellion, Berkeley gave Chicheley command of a force that was supposed to attack marauding Indians, but Chicheley never took the field because Berkeley countermanded the order. Berkeley’s sudden change of heart was one in a series of missteps that inspired Nathaniel Bacon (1647–1676) to revolt. Chicheley and others tried without success to compose the disagreements between the governor and Bacon, and when the rebellion began, Chicheley stood by Berkeley. The Baconians branded him a traitor and held him hostage until the insurgency fell to pieces.

On December 30, 1678, Chicheley succeeded Herbert Jeffreys as acting governor, and from that moment until his death, Chicheley was a man in a tight spot. No Virginia politician was more alarmed than he by the Crown’s aggressive attempt to regain control of the colony, though few shared his cautious disposition as he awaited the coming of Berkeley’s replacement, the dilatory Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, who finally arrived and took up his duties on May 10, 1680, only to depart on August 11 of the same year. It fell largely to Chicheley to steer the colony through a troubled period of political and economic readjustment. Commandments from Charles II prevented him from using the General Assembly in the spring of 1682 to improve tobacco prices by limiting crop size. In response to falling prices, gangs of frustrated planters went about the countryside cutting down tobacco seedlings on more than 200 plantations. Prompt action by local officials prevented the plant-cutting riots from spreading beyond Gloucester, Middlesex, and New Kent counties. Unlike Culpeper, who returned for another short administration from December 1682 to May 1683, Chicheley regarded the plant cuttings as comparatively insignificant, and most of the offenders were only lightly punished. His instinct for circumspection kept the riots from turning into a major insurrection and spared the colony further intervention from London.

Quelling the plant cutters was Chicheley’s last important act as deputy governor. On the whole he acquitted himself better than might have been expected. Culpeper erred with his wickedly cutting characterization of Chicheley as “that Lumpe, that Masse of Dulnesse, that worse then nothing.” Chicheley died on February 5, 1683, probably at Rosegill, several weeks after Culpeper’s second arrival. He was buried “neare the Comunion Table” in the chancel of Christ Church, in Middlesex County.

In one of these two years Henry Chicheley is born the son of Sir Thomas Chicheley and Dorothy Kempe Chicheley, of Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, England.
April 27, 1632
Descended from an ancient, well-to-do family, Henry Chicheley matriculates at University College, University of Oxford, at age seventeen.
Henry Chicheley receives a BA from University College, University of Oxford.
About this year, Charles I knights Henry Chicheley, who is already a lieutenant colonel and whose loyalties are with the Crown during the English Civil Wars.
After being imprisoned in the Tower of London for complicity in a plot against Parliament, Sir Henry Chicheley is paroled and allowed to sail to Virginia.
May 31, 1652
Sometime after this day, Sir Henry Chicheley marries Agatha Eltonhead Stubbins Wormeley, the widow of Ralph Wormeley.
Sir Henry Chicheley represents Lancaster County in the House of Burgesses. Not long after, and in violation of his parole, he returns to England, where he makes contact with supporters of Charles II who are paving the way for the king's return in 1660.
Still in England, Sir Henry Chicheley and other Virginians press the Privy Council for curbs on tobacco production. When negotiations fail, he sails back to Virginia.
April 1670
Governor Sir William Berkeley appoints Sir Henry Chicheley to the governor's Council.
July 1672
Governor Sir William Berkeley appoints Sir Henry Chicheley lieutenant general of militia.
Early in the year, Governor Sir William Berkeley arranges with King Charles II to make Sir Henry Chicheley lieutenant governor.
Sir Henry Chicheley stands by Governor Sir William Berkeley during Bacon's Rebellion. The Baconians brand him a traitor and, for a time, hold him hostage.
December 30, 1678
Sir Henry Chicheley succeeds Herbert Jeffreys as acting governor of Virginia.
May 10, 1680
Governor Sir Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, arrives in Virginia, relieving Sir Henry Chicheley of his duties as acting governor.
August 11, 1680
Governor Sir Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, departs Virginia, leaving Sir Henry Chicheley to serve as acting governor in his absence.
December 1682—May 1683
Governor Sir Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, resides in Virginia, relieving Sir Henry Chicheley of his duties as acting governor.
February 5, 1683
Sir Henry Chicheley dies, probably at his estate, Rosegill. He is buried "neare the Comunion Table" in the chancel of Christ Church, in Middlesex County.
  • Billings, Warren M. “Chicheley, Sir Henry.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, 203–205. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
APA Citation:
Billings, Warren & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Sir Henry Chicheley (1614 or 1615–1683). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/chicheley-sir-henry-1614-or-1615-1683.
MLA Citation:
Billings, Warren, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Sir Henry Chicheley (1614 or 1615–1683)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 23 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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