The Sandys family have held lands in Cumbria since the 13th century. It is believed that Young Edwin received his early education at Furness Abbey. From there he went up to St John’s, Cambridge graduating BA in 1539 and then a Doctor of Divinity ten years later. In 1547 he was elected master of Catherine Hall and by the death of Edward VI in 1553 he was Vice Chancellor of the University.
On the death of King Edward, the Duke of Northumberland sought to avoid a Roman Catholic monarchy by illegally placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He and his followers arrived in Cambridge to raise an army in East Anglia and demanded that Edwin Sandys preach a sermon. When the rebellion failed and Mary Tudor took the throne and Edwin was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. For this he is mentioned in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Later he was moved to more comfortable conditions in Marchalsea prison where he made friends with the prison keeper who connived at his escape.
He went first to Antwerp and then Augsberg and Strasbourg where his wife joined him. His wife and infant son died there of a plague. He then lived in Zurich until the ascendancy of Elizabeth I made it safe for him to return to England.
Along with other Marian exiles, who returned to positions of wealth and importance, Archbishop Sandys was concerned that true religion and sound learning would forever flourish in the land. They saw the necessity of education for religion’s sake and the need for the Church of England to hold their own in discussion with Roman Catholics. To these ends Edwin Sandys founded Hawkshead Grammar School in 1585 and endowed it with sufficient land and property for it to offer a free education.
His eldest son, Sir Samuel Sandys of Ombersley in Worcestershire, was ancestor of the Lords Sandys of Ombersley. His second son, Sir Edwin Sandys, was one of the colonial organizers and treasurer of the New World colony of Virginia.