WOODHOUSE, Sir William (c.1570-1639), of Waxham, Norf. and Whitehall

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

bap. 6 Dec. 1570,1 1st s. of Sir Henry Woodhouse†, of Waxham with his 1st w. Anne, da. of Sir Nicholas Bacon† of Redgrave, Suff., ld. kpr. 1558-79.2 m. 2 July 1608, Frances, da. of Sir Robert Jermyn† of Rushbrooke, Suff., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.3 kntd. ?27 Sept. 1591.4 suc. fa. 1624.5 d. 25 Sept. 1639.6

Offices Held

Vol. Normandy 1591,7 Neths. 1599-1601;8 lt.-col. of ft., Cadiz expedition 1596;9 col. Suff. levies 1599;10 capt. of ft., Neths. 1601-at least 1605, col. 1604.11

Gent. of the privy chamber 1603-25.12

J.p. Norf. 1617-37, 1638-d., Cambs. by c.1618-at least 1622, Isle of Ely by c.1618-at least 1623, Suff. by c.1618-25, 1638-d.;13 commr. sewers, Lincs. and Northants. 1617-18, Suff. 1619, fen drainage 1625,14 sea-breaches, Norf. 1625, 1638,15 Forced Loan, Norf. 1626.16


Woodhouse’s grandfather was the younger son of a minor Norfolk gentry family who pursued a successful naval career and was returned to Parliament for Great Yarmouth in 1545. He was subsequently twice re-elected for that borough, and also represented Norwich and Norfolk.17 Woodhouse’s father was returned for Norfolk in 1572 and 1589 but, according to Sir Henry Spelman*, ‘utterly consumed his whole estate’. Consequently Woodhouse had to make his own fortune.18

Woodhouse embarked on a career as soldier and courtier, being knighted by the 2nd earl of Essex at the siege of Rouen in 1591. During the following winter he was fetched in custody from his father’s home in Norfolk by the Privy Council for an unspecified offence.19 He made his way to Court in 1594, when his friend Philip Gawdy* wrote that ‘he carrieth a dagger in his sleeve to kill any [that] should be prouder than himself’.20 He probably spent most of the late 1590s abroad, but during his sojourns in England he earned a reputation for brawling. Towards the end of the decade a Westminster constable complained of a dozen privileged rowdies, led by Woodhouse and Henry Ashley†, who ‘went in most uncivil sort to and fro in the streets to the great disquietment of all honest neighbours’, and abused the watch.21

Woodhouse initially seems to have primarily sought advancement through Essex, aided by his cousin, Anthony Bacon†, the earl’s secretary, and Lord Henry Howard, subsequently earl of Northampton.22 However, he also had connections with the lord admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham (Charles Howard†), in whose regiment he served as lieutenant colonel in the 1596 Cadiz expedition, where his services earned him a share of the loot, one-third of the bells taken in the city.23

In early 1597 Woodhouse went to the Netherlands, with a recommendation from Essex, in the hopes of marrying the sister-in-law of Sir Horatio Palavicino, who apparently had £10,000 in cash and £200 a year in land.24 However, the match was not concluded and his thoughts returned to martial matters. Writing to the earl of Essex from the Netherlands in February 1597, he asserted that his command at Cadiz had been only a ‘shadow’ and complained that it had prevented him from personally attending the earl. Woodhouse was evidently hoping to flatter Essex into granting him a position in the forthcoming Azores expedition, but failed in his purpose.25 Subsequently he seems to have thrown in his lot with Lord Howard of Effingham, shortly to become earl of Nottingham. It was even reported by Chamberlain in 1599 that he had married one of Nottingham’s daughters, the widow of Sir Robert Southwell†.26

In late 1598, probably thanks to the support of Nottingham, Woodhouse was nominated to command a company that was being raised in England to reinforce the forces in the Netherlands but Essex blocked the appointment.27 It was doubtless in this connection that, accompanied by four ‘hacksters’, he waylaid the Essex client, Sir Robert Drury* on 26 Feb. 1599, and left him for dead in the street, although Drury was his former friend and comrade-in-arms. Woodhouse was himself wounded and a servant was killed in the affray, and it was four months before the 11th Lord Cobham (Henry Brooke*) could obtain a pardon for the aggressor, who can scarcely have improved his reputation by throwing a clerical follower of Drury’s into the Thames. Nevertheless Drury bore Woodhouse no permanent grudge.28

The affray with Drury does not seem to have hindered Woodhouse’s military career. In the summer of 1599 he was appointed to command the Suffolk levies raised to counter the threatened Spanish invasion. He subsequently returned to the Netherlands, where he served as a volunteer. In 1600 he courted a wealthy widow, Frances Prannell, daughter of Thomas Howard, 1st Viscount Howard of Bindon, but she rejected him in favour of the sexagenarian Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford on the advice of the astrologer and physician Dr. Simon Forman.29 He was back in England at the time of Essex’s rebellion in early 1601, when he showed initiative by obtaining 24lbs. of gunpowder on credit from a private supplier for the defence of Whitehall; one correspondent of Sir Robert Cecil† singled out his services as particularly meritorious.30 With Essex out of the way he was given a command in the Netherlands, being appointed captain in Sir Francis Vere’s† regiment.

In the new reign Woodhouse was sworn in as gentleman of the privy chamber, though when he offered to procure a knighthood for Henry Gawdy†, kinsman of his friend Philip, for £50, the latter doubted whether he had sufficient credit at Court to fulfil the bargain.31 He was probably nominated by the Howard interest at Aldeburgh in 1604. Two election indentures were drawn up, one electing Woodhouse and the other a prominent townsman, but it is likely that only Woodhouse’s was returned to Chancery.32 Woodhouse was mentioned only once in the surviving records of the 1604-10 Parliament, when he was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords of 26 Mar. 1604 on wardship, alienations and purveyance.33 He probably returned to the Netherlands soon after, as in the following month he was appointed temporary colonel of the English forces in Ostend.34

In October 1604 Woodhouse and Sir John Grey* were among the ‘men able to endure the misery of posting’ who accompanied William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke on his journey to Sheffield to marry the daughter of the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†).35 The following year Woodhouse and Grey were listed together among the most accomplished fencers at Court.36 The former had surrendered his company in the Netherlands to a kinsman by the spring of 1606, and, in 1608, Woodhouse was granted a life pension of £100 and the monopoly of publishing reports of the leading case on the naturalization of the post-nati for ten years, in which his uncle Sir Francis Bacon* had so greatly distinguished himself.37 He may have been responsible for the return of Grey at a by-election at Aldeburgh two years later.

By 1612 Woodhouse was established in the favour of the lord chamberlain, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, who appointed the former a trustee of one his younger son’s marriage settlement as someone he ‘might command and have power over’.38 Consequently, Woodhouse presumably had no trouble in securing the support of the Howard interest for his re-election at Aldeburgh in 1614, but he left no trace on the records of the Addled Parliament.

Woodhouse’s father was still dependent on royal protection to keep him out of debtors’ prison, and may have made over the estate in or before 1617, when Woodhouse’s name was added to the Norfolk commission of the peace.39 Woodhouse seems not to have sought further election to Parliament, but continued to hold Court office until at least the death of James, and possibly longer, for at the end of his life, petitioning Charles I for payment of his pension, which had fallen into arrears, Woodhouse described himself as a royal servant.40 In 1637 Woodhouse was removed from the bench for non-attendance but was soon restored. The following year one of his younger sons was killed in a duel, while Woodhouse’s heir fled overseas after committing incest with his sister.41 Woodhouse himself drew up his will on 1 May 1638, in which he left £100 to one Elizabeth Smith, described as ‘the girl in my house’. The following year he settled his estate on his daughter Frances, whom he had appointed executor, for 12 years, after which time it was to pass to his younger son Henry. He died the following September, the last of the family to sit in Parliament.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Norf. RO, St. James Pockthorpe par. reg.
  • 2. W. Blomefield, Norf. ix. 353.
  • 3. W. Rye, Norf. Fams. 1028; Rushbrook Par. Regs. ed. S.H.A. Hervey, 33.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 89.
  • 5. Blomefield, ix. 353.
  • 6. C142/773/179.
  • 7. CSP For. 1591-2, p. 214.
  • 8. D.J.B. Trim, ‘Fighting "Jacob’s Wars". The Employment of English and Welsh Mercenaries in the European Wars of Religion: France and the Neths. 1562-1610’, (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 2002), p. 393.
  • 9. HMC Hatfield, vi. 361.
  • 10. HMC Foljambe, 105.
  • 11. Trim, 393.
  • 12. HMC 7th Rep. 526; LC2/6, f. 37.
  • 13. C231/4, f. 46; 231/5, pp. 205, 232, 289; C66/2147; C193/13/1; C181/3, f. 82v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 15.
  • 14. C181/2, ff. 282, 326v, 349v; 181/3, f. 163v.
  • 15. APC, 1625-6, p. 361; C181/5, f. 103.
  • 16. State Pprs. ed. W. Rye, 48.
  • 17. HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 653.
  • 18. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 646-7; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 508; 1598-1601, p. 202; HMC Hatfield, xi. 110, 117; H. Spelman, Hist and Fate of Sacrilege (1698), p. 275.
  • 19. APC, 1591-2, pp. 194, 241.
  • 20. HMC 7th Rep. 523.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xiv. 119.
  • 22. T. Birch, Mems. of Reign of Queen Eliz. (1754), i. 245, 476-7.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 273.
  • 24. Birch, ii. 163, 255.
  • 25. HMC Hatfield, vii. 80.
  • 26. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 64.
  • 27. APC, 1598-9, p. 391; Trim, 184, 393; Chamberlain Letters, i. 62.
  • 28. R.C. Bald, Donne and the Drurys, 36-7, 208; HMC 7th Rep. 522; C231/1, f. 71; HMC Hatfield, ix. 208; Anecdotes and Traditions ed. W.J. Thorns (Cam. Soc. v), 31.
  • 29. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 430; Oxford DNB sub Stuart, Frances, duchess of Lennox and Richmond.
  • 30. APC, 1600-1, p. 247; HMC Hatfield, xi. 117.
  • 31. Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 134.
  • 32. HMC Var. iv. 304.
  • 33. CJ, i. 154b.
  • 34. Trim, 393.
  • 35. Illustrations of British History ed. E. Lodge, iii. 103; CP, x. 414.
  • 36. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 594.
  • 37. Trim, 393; C66/1769, 1786.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 140; C78/363/5.
  • 39. APC, 1613-14, p. 548.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 255.
  • 41. C115/109/8822; Rye, 1028.
  • 42. PROB 11/181, f. 300; C142/773/139.