BUTTON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1585-1655), of Alton Priors, Wilts.; later of Shaw House, Overton, Tockenham Court, Lyneham and North Wraxall, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. 14 July 1585,1 1st s. of William Button of Alton Priors and Jane, da. of John Lamb of Coulston, Wilts.2 educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1601.3 m. by 16114 (with £1,500),5 Ruth, da. of Walter Dunch† of G. Inn and Avebury, Wilts. 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da.6 suc. fa. 1599;7 kntd. 5 July 1605;8 cr. bt. 18 Mar. 1621.9 d. 28 Jan. 1655.10 sig. W[illiam] Button.

Offices Held

Col. militia ft., Wilts. 1605-8;11 sheriff 1611-12;12 j.p. Wilts. 1618-d., Som. 1622-d.;13 commr. subsidy, Wilts. 1622, 1624, 1628-9, 1641-2,14 oyer and terminer, Hants and Wilts. 1622,15 Hants, Dorset and Wilts. 1629-at least 1632,16 Hants 1638,17 Wilts. (roy.) c.1646;18 dep. lt. Wilts. by 1625-?d.,19 commr. Forced Loan 1627,20 assessment 1641,21 supply (roy.) 1644.22


Button’s family claimed descent from Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester - one of the guardians of Magna Carta.23 Whether this claim was well founded is uncertain, but their direct lineage can be traced to Adam d’Anneville who held the manor of Bitton, two miles east of Bristol, in 1150, and whose son Sir William styled himself ‘de Bitton’, which was subsequently corrupted to Button.24 Prominent family members in the thirteenth century included two bishops of Bath and Wells and a bishop of Exeter.25 Button himself was distantly related to his namesake, the Member for Morpeth in 1614, whose family had settled in Glamorgan in the fifteenth century.26

Button asserted that his family had dwelt at Alton Priors for at least 400 years, first as tenants of Hyde Abbey, and then, after the Reformation, of the earls of Pembroke.27 His forebears accumulated substantial property in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset and Dorset, either by purchase or by grant of monastic estates. Consequently, Button’s great-grandfather, grandfather and two uncles sat for various north Wiltshire constituencies, while his father, William, twice served as sheriff for the county.28 In 1591 the greater part of the estate was settled on William, even though his elder brother, Ambrose Button†, was still living. Four years later he purchased further Wiltshire properties, including Lyneham and North Wraxall, from the heavily indebted Ambrose.29 Button was only 14 at his father’s death in December 1599, but he was named co-executor with Dr. Thomas Hyde, chancellor of Salisbury diocese, and was granted two-thirds of the profits of the estate for seven years.30 In March 1600 his mother and her second husband Sir Ralph Coningsby* purchased his wardship for £600 and secured the profits of the remaining third of the estate.31

Button was knighted at Whitehall in July 1605, shortly before his 20th birthday, and in the same year was made colonel of a regiment of foot by Wiltshire’s lord lieutenant, Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford. Two years later he was licensed to travel abroad for three years, but the Privy Council revoked his pass four days later, accusing him of planning to fight a duel abroad.32 The king, being personally ‘displeased’, ordered Button to appear before the Council to explain himself, but no punishment seems to have resulted.33 Button’s standing in Wiltshire was enhanced by his marriage with the daughter of a wealthy landowner, as a result of which he also he became brother-in-law to Sir Henry Moody* and Thomas Lambert*.34 He was pricked as sheriff for the county in 1611, but was not appointed to the bench until 1618, and it was only after he purchased a baronetcy in March 1621 that he began to be named to a wider range of local commissions.

Button was not elected to Parliament until 1628, even though as the representative of one of the oldest landed families in north Wiltshire he might easily have sat for one of the several constituencies close to his Alton Priors estate before that date. The honour of representing the county in 1628 presumably overcame his earlier disinclination to secure a seat. His contribution to the work of the House was negligible, for he was named to no committees and made only two recorded speeches: on 29 May, during a debate on the subsidy bill he moved the House to consider setting a minimum rate for knights of the Bath as well as for baronets, of whom he was one; four days later he spoke in favour of Robert Pierrepoint’s† claim to a share of the estate of his uncle, the 1st earl of Devonshire (William Cavendish II†).35

Button seems to have had but slight respect for the law. In 1616 he and other local gentry were accused by the earl of Hertford of illegally hunting deer in Savernake Forest.36 Five years later he was charged with assaulting a physician named John Bigge at Bath Abbey on Christmas day, after defaming him as ‘a piss-poor doctor fit only to cure horses and dogs’. Bigge attempted to discredit his adversary by claiming that some months earlier Button had assaulted a neighbour’s servant who had allowed a mastiff to maul one of his dogs in Alton Priors churchyard. Button was also accused of ‘acts of incontinency’ with his wife’s maid, and of whipping the maid when she refused his advances, ‘so that she bled down from her shoulders to the soles of her feet’.37 In 1627 he was arrested in Westminster Hall, ‘in great disgrace’, at the suit of a creditor.38

Button ignored King Charles’s request for a loan in 1639, but served as a royalist in the Civil War.39 In August 1642 he was ordered to tender his fellow Wiltshiremen the propositions for raising troops for the king’s defence, and in December 1643 he was asked to contribute £500 to the royalist cause.40 His residence at Tockenham Court was twice raided by parliamentary troops - in June 1643 by Sir Edward Hungerford’s* forces and a year later by the Malmesbury garrison - as a result of which he lost £1,293 in household goods and livestock.41 His estate at Alton Priors was seized in February 1644, while Tockenham Court, worth £320 p.a., was later granted to Sir Edmund Fowell†.42 He surrendered at Oxford in June 1646, when he was granted a pass to repair to London to compound for his estates. However, he went to Wiltshire instead, probably with the intention of organizing his affairs, and within a week warrants were issued for his arrest.43 Fined £2,380 as a delinquent, he protested that his properties were worth only £1,033 p.a. and that he retained barely £700 in personal goods ‘yet unplundered’.44 Despite this, he took only three years to pay his fine, and in June 1649 was licensed to re-enter his estates.45

Although Button’s lease at Alton Priors was not due to expire until 1652, he did not return to his ancestral home, preferring instead to settle at Shaw House, a neighbouring property that he had earlier settled on his eldest son, William.46 The latter had been granted several estates by his father in marriage in 1640, and in 1649 Button conveyed further lands to his surviving sons, Robert and John.47 Button did not remain indefinitely at Shaw House, however, for in his will, made on 29 Dec. 1654, he styled himself as being of Tockenham Court. The terms of this document reflected the changes in Button’s personal circumstances since he had drafted an earlier will in 1618, in which he had asked to be buried at Alton Priors.48 As most of his lands had already been settled on his sons, and his daughters had been provided for at their marriages, he made only a few bequests, of which the most substantial was a legacy of £100 to one of his daughters-in-law to allow her to buy a coach and four.49 Button died on 28 Jan. 1655 and was buried, as requested, in a vault he had prepared in the north aisle of North Wraxall church. No monument was erected to his memory, though his shield was placed in Corsham church, probably by the Hungerfords, in respect for his family’s status in the locality.50 None of his surviving sons sat in Parliament, though all three inherited, one after the other, the baronetcy which he had purchased. Following the death of the last, in 1712, all that remained unsold of the Button’s ancient estates, namely the property in Lyneham, passed to Button’s eldest daughter Mary, wife of Clement Walker†.51

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster



  • 1. WARD 9/160, ff. 112v-13.
  • 2. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 33.
  • 3. Al. Ox.
  • 4. Som. RO, DD/WHb/1473.
  • 5. PROB 11/84, f. 49.
  • 6. PROB 11/249, f. 109; The Gen. xiii. 185.
  • 7. PROB 11/95, f. 194v; Som. RO, DD/WHb/3128.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 138.
  • 9. CB.
  • 10. J. Aubrey and J. Jackson, Wilts. Collections, 120.
  • 11. Earl of Hertford’s Ltcy. Pprs. ed. W.P.D. Murphy (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 92-3, 191.
  • 12. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 154.
  • 13. Wilts. RO, A1/150/5; C231/4, f. 57.
  • 14. C212/22/21, 23; Western Circ. Assize Order Bks. ed. J. Cockburn, 225; Add. 34566, f. 132; E115/65/6; 115/94/90; E179/199/398; 179/199/400.
  • 15. C181/3, f. 62.
  • 16. C181/4, ff. 11, 43, 50, 97, 111, 116v.
  • 17. C181/5, f. 247.
  • 18. CCAM, 672.
  • 19. APC, 1625-6, p. 55.
  • 20. Ibid. 1627, p. 91.
  • 21. SR, v. 156.
  • 22. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, ii. 218.
  • 23. Glamorgan Co. Hist. ed. G. Williams, iv.79; CP.
  • 24. W. Lewis, Hist. N. Wraxall, 94; T. Button, Button Fam. Colls. 15, 27; Som. RO, DD/WHb, i. 26; C. Worthy, Devon Wills, 370-1; Her. and Gen. iv. 195.
  • 25. J. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, i. 131, 159, 370.
  • 26. Glamorgan Co. Hist. iv. 167.
  • 27. Vis. Wilts. 33; Som. RO, DD/WHb/8, 660; Lewis, 95; VCH Wilts. xi. 193; E. Kite, Monumental Brasses of Wilts. 71.
  • 28. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 363; ii. 325; iv. 143; VCH Wilts. x. 16, 196, 217, 218; ix. 68, 94, 96.
  • 29. PROB 11/95, f. 194v; 11/77, f. 88; 11/122, f. 386v; Som. RO, DD/WHb/667, 670-1; C142/239/123; Wilts. Extents for Debts ed. A. Conyers (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxviii), 102.
  • 30. Le Neve, ii. 652; PROB 11/95, f. 194v; C142/260/156.
  • 31. WARD 9/348, f. 131; Som. RO, DD/WHb/236, 3128.
  • 32. SO3/3, unfol. July 1607; Som. RO, DD/WHb/3003, 3129.
  • 33. Som. RO, DD/WHb/17, 680.
  • 34. Vis. Wilts. 107, 136.
  • 35. CD 1628, iv. 17, 53, 55.
  • 36. STAC 8/194/25; 8/255/2.
  • 37. Ibid. 8/54/11.
  • 38. C2/Chas.I/B24/37.
  • 39. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 915.
  • 40. Som. RO, DD/WHb/3130, 3133.
  • 41. Ibid. 3132.
  • 42. Ibid. 30, 3135, 3139; M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 180.
  • 43. Som. RO, DD/WHb/3140, 3147, 3148, 3150.
  • 44. Ibid. 3141.
  • 45. Ibid. 3163-9.
  • 46. Lewis, 98.
  • 47. Add. Ch. 40086; PROB 11/249, f. 109; Som. RO, DD/WHb/1383.
  • 48. Som. RO, DD/WHb/19.
  • 49. PROB 11/249, f. 109.
  • 50. D. Buckeridge, Church Heraldry in Wilts. 313.
  • 51. Burke Dorm. and Extinct Baronetcies, 94; CB; Wilts. N and Q, i. 468.