DAMSELL (DAMOSEL), William (by 1521-82), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1521, s. of one Damsell of Devon. educ. Oxf. m. Margaret (d.1563), da. of John Berney of Reedham, Norf., s.p.; 1da. illegit. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.2

Offices Held

King’s factor, the Netherlands 1546-52; gov. Merchant Adventurers, Antwerp by Apr. 1550-Mar. 1552, Lewisham g.s., Kent 1574-d.; receiver-gen. ct. wards Dec. 1550-d.; j.p. Kent 1558/59-d., q. by 1573/74; commr. Rochester bridge 1571, 1574, musters, Kent 1573.3


William Damsell came of an obscure gentle family in Devon. By his will he was to leave £100 to scholars at Oxford, ‘whereof I was a scholar in times past’, but he is not to be found in university or college records, nor is it known how he made the transition to the service of the crown. This he had done by October 1542 when the imperial ambassador wrote him a letter of introduction to the court at Brussels. His mission, to buy wood suitable for spears, was the first of a series in search of armaments for use in Henry VIII’s last war. His linguistic fluency, negotiating skill and pertinacity led to Damsell’s becoming assistant to Stephen Vaughan, the royal agent at Antwerp, with whom he shared three months’ captivity in 1545. On Vaughan’s recall in the following year Damsell succeeded him as agent; he was at first assisted by Thomas Chamberlain, governor of the Merchant Adventurers, but he soon assumed sole responsibility for the crown’s financial dealings, leaving Chamberlain to direct the affairs of the company. In 1550 he replaced Chamberlain as governor, but this pluralism was his undoing: it overstretched his powers, aroused jealousy and endangered the crown’s credit. Dismissed as royal agent in 1551, he was briefly reinstated, but after he mishandled a breach of a trading agreement he was recalled. At first he refused to return, but on 31 Mar. 1552 he appeared before the Council to answer the charges against him. He was committed to ward pending inquiries, but was set free and not long afterwards given a new passport, although it is not known if he used it.4

On the termination of his duties abroad Damsell took up the post in the court of wards to which he had been appointed on the dismissal of John Beaumont. He was occasionally consulted on overseas finance, but until the reign of Elizabeth, when he was put on the Kent bench, his only official employment was in his receivership, to which he added Membership of two Parliaments. Damsell had no personal ties with Wilton and the insertion of his name on the indenture implies the intervention by the borough’s patron, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, perhaps in deference to the Duke of Northumberland: his election may also have owed something to Henry Creed, a prominent figure at Wilton and a fellow-member of the Mercers’ Company. In spite of Thomas Gresham’s disparagement, Damsell stood well with Northumberland: he was visited by Cecil almost weekly, a habit which was to continue for many years; in April 1553 he was consulted about the valuation of foreign coins and in June he signed the device altering the succession. Mary did not hold this against Damsell and knighted him at her coronation, but he was not re-elected to Parliament for another two years, when he sat for Arundel. As before he was a stranger to the borough: through a joint interest in the newly founded Russia Company he was known to the 12th Earl of Arundel, who customarily nominated its Members, but he probably owed his election to his long acquaintance with William, Lord Paget, whose son Sir Henry was Damsell’s fellow-Member. Neither he nor Sir Henry Paget joined the opposition headed by Sir Anthony Kingston to one of the government’s bills.5

In November 1553 Damsell bought Wye college and other property in Kent from Sir Maurice Denys. He was eventually to make Wye his home, but it was at Beckenham that he first settled in the county, his wife being buried there. He died in London on 16 June 1582 and was buried in St. Mary Aldermanbury.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. C219/282/10.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Lansd. 109, f. 192; PCC 34 Tirwhite; R. Griffin and Mill Stephenson, Mon. Brasses, Kent, 58; Newman, W. Kent and the Weald, 141.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xx, xxi; O. de Smedt, De Engelse Natie te Antwerpen, i. 187; ii. 72; CPR, 1549-50, p. 311; 1560-3, p. 438; 1569-72, pp. 34, 278; 1572-5, pp. 194, 327; APC, viii. 19.
  • 4. PCC 34 Tirwhite; LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix-xxi; W. C. Richardson, Stephen Vaughan (Louisiana State Univ. Studies, soc. science ser. iii), 4, 56, 58, 76, 78; APC, i-iv; de Smedt, i. 165, 184, 187; ii. 82-83, 84, 90; Bronnen tot de Geschiedenis van den Handel met Engeland, Schotland en Ierland, ed. Smit. ii. 666; CSP For. 1547-53, passim; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 397; ii. 463; CSP Span. x. 345, 382, 416, 438-9; J. W. Burgon, Thomas Gresham, i. 115.
  • 5. W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 251n.; 278n.; H. E. Bell, Ct. Wards and Liveries, 25; J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, passim; Rep. R. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. Brit. Hist. and Culture iii), 24, 112; C219/282/10; Hatfield, bills 1/40 seq; APC, iv. 258; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100; ‘List of mercers’ (T/S Mercers’ Hall), 99, 137; CPR, 1553-4, p. 49; T. S. Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, p. 90; LP Hen. VIII, xix-xxi.
  • 6. CPR, 1553-4, p. 363; Newman, 141; C142/200/25; Regs. St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury (Harl. Soc. Regs. lxi), 47.