POLLARD, John (by 1508-57), of Plymouth, Devon; London and Nuneham Courtenay, Oxon.

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



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1508, 1st s. of Walter Pollard of Plymouth by Avice, da. of Richard Pollard of Way, Devon. educ. M. Temple. m. Mary, da. and coh. of Richard Grey of London, s.p. suc. fa. ?1527. Kntd. Oct. 1555/Apr. 1557.2

Offices Held

?Bencher, M. Temple by 1535, Lent reader 1546.

J.p.q. Oxon. 1536-d., Devon 1538-47, Glos., Herefs., Salop, Worcs. 1554-d.; of counsel to Plymouth by 1538-51 or later; commr. musters, Oxon. 1539, relief, Oxon. and Oxford 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Oxford 1553; under steward, duchy of Lancaster, south parts 15 Jan. 1543-d.; serjeant-at-law ?Jan. 1547-21 Oct. 1550; member, council in the marches of Wales June 1550, v.-pres. by Feb. 1552; justice, Brec., Glam. and Rad. 23 Nov. 1550-d., Chester and Flint, Denbigh and Montgomery 8 Apr. 1557-d.; recorder, Gloucester 1553-6, Oxford by Apr. 1554-d.3

Speaker of House of Commons Oct. 1553, 1555.


On his father’s side John Pollard had as forbears three generations of merchants and mayors of Plymouth, but his mother came from the family at Way which had produced a notable lawyer in Sir Lewis Pollard, a justice of common pleas during Pollard’s early years at the Middle Temple, and another patron in Richard Pollard, client of Cromwell and a power in the west country, who was to make Pollard his executor in 1542.4

Pollard’s return for Plymouth in 1529 is sufficiently explained by his combination of local and legal standing, for the town was perhaps already retaining him as one of its counsel. Their relationship was not to be a smooth one. By January 1535 Pollard and his fellow-Member Thomas Vowell had quarrelled so badly with a part of the corporation that their opponents complained to Cromwell of the misdeeds of ‘certain seditious persons’, among them Pollard and Vowell, whom they described as ‘men without substance and unfit to rule this town’. Pollard at least was substantial enough to have served in Parliament for no more than the 13s.4d. he had originally, if rashly, agreed to accept, and the charge of unfitness was unlikely to be sustained against a man of his connexions. The entry in the Plymouth accounts for 1536-7 of a payment of 20s. to Pollard ‘for his attendance at the late Parliament’ can thus probably be taken to mean that the town complied with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members to the Parliament summoned for June 1536: if so, the corporation doubtless acted on the advice of Sir Peter Edgecombe and Andrew Hillersdon the recorder, whom it had consulted in the matter.5

This was the end of Pollard’s occupancy of a seat for Plymouth, and although he was to be named to the Devon bench in 1538, remaining on it until 1547, and to continue as one of Plymouth’s counsel longer still, his main interests shifted elsewhere. It is not known whether his translation to Oxfordshire was the cause or the result of his marriage with Mary Grey, stepdaughter to Sir William Barentyne, a leading gentleman of that county. In July 1538 Pollard was recommended to Cromwell as a suitable under steward of the lordship of Abingdon, being called by the bailiff, John Welsborne, ‘an honest gentleman, well learned in law and the Latin tongue, a man of judgment and substance’. Four years later the 1st Earl of Sussex, chief steward of the south parts of the duchy of Lancaster, made Pollard his deputy, and in January 1543 he was formally appointed under steward: he was to be succeeded at his death by Edmund Plowden, another Middle Templar and a relation of his by marriage.6

Pollard’s association with Plowden, who preserved some of his dicta in the Commentaries, raises the question how far his career was affected by his evident conservatism in religion. His absence from the remaining Henrician Parliaments (in so far as their Membership is known) may have been connected with his removal to Oxfordshire, although a successful lawyer such as he had become need scarcely have lacked a seat, and before the first Edwardian Parliament was summoned he had been made a serjeant, an achievement which the corporation of Plymouth, old scores seemingly forgotten, celebrated with a present of wine. Whether he cut any figure in the upheavals of 1549, either in his native county or at court, is not known, but in June 1550 he was given a seat (afterwards becoming vice-president) on the council in the marches of Wales and later in the year he was released from his serjeancy and made justice of the counties of Brecon, Glamorgan and Radnor in place of (Sir) John Pakington. It may be that in forsaking the prospect of a judgeship at Westminster Pollard thought it too remote to cling to, there being a string of serjeants ahead of him, but perhaps he also preferred to remove himself from an atmosphere he found uncongenial. In the event he probably evaded the dilemma in which so many of his brethren were to find themselves two-and-a-half years later, and it is not surprising that he seems to have been absent from the Parliament of March 1553 which prefaced the succession crisis of that summer.7

If his attitude before July 1553 remains obscure, Pollard clearly welcomed the Marian regime and in turn enjoyed its confidence. He was by then firmly based in Oxfordshire. He had inherited property in Exeter and Plymouth and his wife brought him land at Kingston-upon-Thames and in London. He had probably owned a house in Oxfordshire since 1536, and in 1543 and 1544 he bought further property in that county, including the manor of Nuneham Courtenay, some five miles south of Oxford, for £818. In the following year he and William Byrte paid over £1,600 for former monastic property in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and in partnership with George Rithe he added numerous parcels of land in Oxfordshire and elsewhere. Many of these properties he must have sold or released to his partner; his own he concentrated around Nuneham Courtenay.8

Thus qualified by property and residence to gain the knighthood of his adopted shire, Pollard must have owed his election in the autumn of 1553 to the support of the crown, which had chosen him for the Speakership. When the House assembled on 5 Oct. 1553 Sir Thomas Cheyne nominated him; he is said to have made an ‘excellent oration’ on 9 Oct. and appears to have acquitted himself well in the session which followed. On 17 Nov. the House ordered that Councillors who were Members should have ‘copies of the articles whereof Mr. Speaker made relation to the Queen’s highness by word’ and on 2 Dec. the Speaker was required to obtain such documents as would further the passage of the bill revoking the attainder of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Re-elected for Oxfordshire to the next two Parliaments, Pollard had a number of bills committed to him. It was doubtless he, and not his namesake the Member for Barnstaple, who in April 1554 handled a bill for the election of university scholars and was called upon with another Member to attend to a case of privilege raised by William Johnson I. In the next Parliament Pollard had no namesake, and it was indubitably he who made a vehement speech in defence of King Philip on a bill, which the House nevertheless rejected, to punish those who wrote or spoke against the King and Queen. His loyalty, ability and experience led the Council to take the unusual course of nominating him as Speaker for the second time in the autumn of 1555. In what looks like a gesture of protest by the freeholders of Oxfordshire Pollard was on this occasion denied the knighthood of that shire and a seat had to be found for him at Chippenham, almost certainly after an attempt in the meantime to have him elected at Gloucester. Yet on the first day of the Parliament he was chosen Speaker ‘by the entire voice’ and made an oration which was considered excellent by James Bassett and by Cardinal Pole, who wrote a few days later to King Philip expressing the hope that the Commons would ‘show the same mind in matters relating to religion and the honour and advantage of the crown as evinced by their Speaker’. On the contrary the House was to prove practically unmanageable, with a group of Members doing their utmost to block the government’s measures. High-handed action was necessary to secure the passage of a bill renouncing the crown’s right to first fruits, but Pollard was in turn coerced into abetting the defeat of the bill threatening Protestant refugees abroad with heavy penalties. The knighthood conferred on him, probably at the close of the session, seems less a reward than a consolation.9

In April 1557 Pollard was appointed justice of Chester and Flint for life and of two other Welsh counties during pleasure, but by the summer he had been taken ill, perhaps with the infection then widespread, and on 2 Aug. he made a second and final will. As he had no children his property was to descend in tail male, on the death of his wife and the extinction of her life interest in Nuneham Courtenay, to his much younger brother and heir Anthony, who had already had certain lands settled on him at his marriage six years earlier to Philippa, daughter of William Sheldon; in the event of Anthony’s death without male issue the inheritance would pass to William, younger son of Sir Richard Pollard, whom the executors were to ‘find to learning in Latin’ for two more years and then to put to some good master. To his wife Pollard left the household stuff at Nuneham, with farm stock, money and plate, to his brother Anthony his books, a sum of £20 and all his apparel at Ludlow, and to kinsfolk and friends, including his mother, smaller bequests: the residue was to go to pay debts and damages and to support charities. The executors were his brother, Ralph Ferne and Thomas Mynd, and the overseer Sir John Williams, Lord Williams of Thame.10

Pollard died on 12 Aug. 1557 and was buried in London on the 25th. His wife, who by 1561 had married one Thomas Norris, outlived him by nearly half a century and Anthony Pollard, despairing of getting possession of Nuneham Courtenay, entered into an agreement in 1577, the year of his own death, by which his interest passed to the sons of Sir Richard Pollard.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1536-7.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 597; Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 305; Plymouth black bk. f. 135v; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 214, 468.
  • 3. Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1538-9 to 1549-50; CPR, 1547-8, p. 75; 1549-51, pp. 211-12, 228; 1550-3, pp. 395, 423; 1553, p. 357; 1555-7, p. 468; Williams, Oxford M.Ps, 41; Gloucester Guildhall 1394, ff. 41-54; Oxf. Recs. 216, 267; Somerville, Duchy, i. 432; LP Hen. VIII, xiv.
  • 4. R. N. Worth, Plymouth, 212-13; CIPM Hen. VII, iii. 705; J. A. Youings, ‘The disposal of monastic property in land in the county of Devon 1535-58’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1950), 109-10; Foss, Judges, v. 228; PCC 27 Pynnyng.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, viii; Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1530-1, 1535-6, 1536-7.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xiii; Somerville, i. 432.
  • 7. E. Plowden, Commentaries (1816), 17-18; Plymouth receivers’ acct. bk. 1546-7.
  • 8. Plymouth black bk. f. 135v; PCC 37 Wrastley; VCH Oxon. v. 241; vii. 20; LP Hen. VIII, xix, xx; E150/821/6.
  • 9. CJ, i. 27, 30, 32, 35, 38, 40-42, 44; CSP Span. 1554-8, p. 125; CSP Ven. 1555-6, pp. 225, 233, 283.
  • 10. PCC 37 Wrastley.
  • 11. E150/821/6; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 148; VCH Oxon. v. 241.