The Cayleys were firm supporters of the monarchy in the turbulent England of the 17th century. But to some extent they hedged their bets: William Cayley, the first baronet, married Dorothy St Quintin, the daughter of Sir William St Quintin, a leading Yorkshire parliamentarian, who was High Sheriff of Yorkshire from 1648 until his death in 1649.
Soon after Charles I came to the throne in 1625 he looked for ways of raising money without asking the help of Parliament. The monarch had the right to invite people of property to become knights – which would require them to supply troops when the monarch asked, an expensive obligation – and those who refused had to pay a fine into the royal coffers. Charles I used this right, and among those offered knighthood was Edward Cayley, Sir William’s father. He refused, presumably deciding the honour might prove too costly, and was duly fined the then considerable sum of £25. (Whether people accepted or not, the Crown was determined to get money.) His eldest son William (the future first baronet) was, though, knighted in 1640 or 1641, when the king was anticipating hostilities with Parliament.
When the English Civil War broke out, the Cayleys rallied to the royal cause. One of them, Arthur Cayley, captained a troop of horse, and it was probably in this that other members of the family fought at Marston Moor in 1644, the battle which gave the parliamentary forces command of the North of England. In that battle three of Arthur’s Cayley cousins died.
Estates of royalist gentry – officially termed “delinquents” – were confiscated, and restored only on the payment of hefty fines. The Cayleys were no exception and suffered badly as a result, but they may well have been helped by William Cayley having a leading Yorkshire parliamentarian as his father-in-law. Some of the fines were in time reduced.
In 1656 there were rumours that the future Charles II had come clandestinely to England and was in the Brompton area. The rumours were probably false, but, if true, the Cayleys would almost certainly have been one of the families which assisted him.
Some recompense for the family’s sufferings came on the restoration of the monarchy. In 1660 Arthur Cayley was knighted for services to the royalist cause, and the following year his older brother William was made a baronet. Sir Arthur was also made a Page and Gentleman of Charles II’s Privy Chamber. He settled in Warwickshire, where official records frequently cite him as one of the gentry who ensured taxes were collected in the county. In 1683, the year before his death, he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Warwickshire. Sir William became a JP. As such, in 1678, he played a small part in the prevailing anti-Roman-Catholic hysteria: a missionary priest, Father Nicholas Postgate, was betrayed by an informer and brought before him: Sir William Cayley sent him to be tried at York (doubtless he had little choice about this), and there Father Postgate was found guilty of high treason and suffered the gruesome fate of being hung, drawn and quartered.
From Sir William descended three main lines of the Cayley family:
- the senior Cayley line of Brompton, Yorkshire
- the Cayleys associated with the Low Hall, Brompton
- a third branch which produced lawyers, a naval captain, and Russia merchants in the 18th century