Skeffington, Sir William (c.1467–1535), lord deputy, was eldest son of Thomas Skeffington of Skeffington, Leicestershire, England, and his wife Mary. He appears as early as 1488 in connection with land cases in Leicestershire. In 1501 he was one of the executors of the will of Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset, and later served with Grey's son in France, where he was given command of the ordnance. Knighted by Henry VII, at various stages he served as sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire and as a justice of the peace for Leicestershire. Appointed master of the ordnance by Henry VIII in 1515, his duties included strengthening the fortifications of Calais and Guines. He attended the king at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.
Elected MP for Leicestershire in 1529, in July the same year he was sent to Ireland to report on the military state of the country. His report, which he had ready in early 1530, stressed the predictable problems faced by the secret council (consisting of Archbishop John Alen (qv), Patrick Bermingham (qv) and John Rawson (qv)) which governed from September 1529: lack of money and manpower. While in Ireland he negotiated a peace (November 1529) between the earls of Ossory (qv) and Desmond (qv). He returned to England in May 1530, but was soon after appointed lord deputy, returning to Ireland at the end of August accompanied by the earl of Kildare (qv), who was allowed to return on condition that he gave his full support to the new deputy.
Skeffington was instructed to foster good relations between the leading Anglo-Irish magnates, to act only with the approval of the council, and to summon a parliament. With Kildare's support, his first year as deputy was a military success, though it cost the king over £5,000. Campaigning in the midlands he subdued the O'Mores and O'Connors late in 1530, and with Kildare he made a short foray into Ulster early the following year. However, after he fell out with Kildare in July 1531, he soon found it impossible to govern without his support. The parliament he summoned to meet in Dublin, and briefly in Drogheda, in September and October, refused to pass his subsidy bill (October), which left him having to levy scutage on the king's tenants by knight service.
The following year saw the resurgence of conflict between Kildare and the Butlers, with both sides accusing Skeffington of favouritism. Kildare worked to undermine Skeffington's authority by mobilising support on the Irish council and at court through his influential allies, Thomas Howard (qv), a former lord lieutenant of Ireland and now duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Boleyn, earl of Wiltshire. In May 1532 accusations of misgovernance were brought against Skeffington at Greenwich by two former members of the secret council, John Rawson, prior of Kilmainham, and the chief justice, Patrick Bermingham. This was followed in July by a summons to Kildare to attend at court, where he was reappointed lord deputy and returned to take the oath on 18 August. Skeffington did not leave Ireland until October, which allowed Kildare ample opportunity to humiliate his predecessor. Back in England Skeffington returned to his post as master of the ordnance. By late 1533, with accusations against him mounting, including criticism from Skeffington, Kildare was summoned to London, though he did not leave Ireland until February.
When Skeffington was reappointed lord deputy in the spring, his instructions, ‘ordinances for the government of Ireland’, amounted to a major programme for reform of the English lordship in Ireland. Ultimately the work of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, they were intended to restore the crown's authority by reviving the system of local government, instituting a full-scale reform of the machinery of central government, and legislating to abolish papal jurisdiction. But before the formalities for Skeffington's long-intended appointment were completed in late July, the situation in Ireland changed dramatically with the outbreak of the Kildare rebellion in June. It was now clear that military priorities would take precedence. After the murder of Archbishop John Alen on 28 July, Skeffington's retinue was expanded from 150 to 500 men. Yet despite the military crisis in Ireland the lord deputy procrastinated in Wales, making the most of every delay, and only finally sailing from Chester on 14 October 1534 with an army of some 2,300 men, the largest force sent to Ireland since 1399 in the reign of Richard II (qv). When his force landed at Dalkey two days later, Skeffington sent Sir William Brereton (qv) ahead to Dublin while he sailed to Waterford. Poor weather forced him to return to Dublin, landing on 24 October 1534. He immediately marched north to relieve a rumoured siege of Drogheda and proclaimed Thomas FitzGerald (qv), now 10th earl of Kildare, a traitor.
Skeffington fell ill and was unable to command in the field, but chose to pursue a defensive strategy around Dublin, letting desertions take care of his enemy. On 14 March 1535 he besieged Kildare's stronghold at Maynooth and by 23 March had captured the outer walls. The garrison defending the keep were bribed to surrender by Skeffington, who proceeded to execute them, his ‘pardon of Maynooth’ destroying his reputation in Ireland. Kildare resisted for several months but eventually surrendered on 24 August. A month before Kildare's surrender, Skeffington had reached an agreement at Drogheda with Con Bacach O'Neill (qv), under which O'Neill promised allegiance to Henry VIII in return for the lord deputy's protection and support. In September 1535 Skeffington intervened in disputes between the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond by taking Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, and granting it to James Butler (qv), Lord Butler (later 9th earl of Ormond). As his health declined in the autumn he asked to be allowed to retire, a request the king refused.
Skeffington returned to Dublin to summon a parliament, which was delayed by his death at Kilmainham on 31 December 1535, but met as the ‘reformation parliament’ under his successor, Lord Leonard Grey (qv), in May 1536. He was buried in St Patrick's, Dublin by the tomb of Archbishop Richard Talbot (qv). His son and heir, Thomas, was the child of his first marriage to Margaret Digby; with his second wife, Anne Digby, he had children, including a son Leonard, who served in Ireland.