BONHAM, Thomas (by 1482-1532), of Stanway, Essex.

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




Family and Education

b. by 1482. educ. I. Temple. m. 1508/9, Catherine, da. of Henry Marney, 1st Baron Marny, wid. of Edward Knyvet, 5s. inc. William 2da.2

Offices Held

Receiver-gen. duchy of Lancaster 1509-d., steward of Savoy manor 1523-d.; j.p. Essex 1510-?d.; recorder, Colchester 1511-29; commr. subsidy, Essex 1512, 1514, 1515, 1523, 1524, Colchester 1523, 1524; other commissions 1512-30; keeper of writs and rolls, ct. of c.p. 1520; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1520-Feb. 1522, 1526-7; bencher, I. Temple 1530.3


There is no trace of any of Thomas Bonham’s forbears at Colchester or in Essex, and although his origins remain uncertain there is some reason to connect him with the Wiltshire family of that name: his will mentions no kin apart from his wife and children and makes no mention of Wiltshire, but at least one of the sons visited relatives there after his death. Bonham’s early years are correspondingly obscure: he was at the Inner Temple before 1505, and probably several years before, for in 1503 he was appointed jointly with Robert Black, the King’s remembrancer in the Exchequer, administrator of lands in Hampshire which had escheated to the crown. From 1503 to 1508 he probably practised at the bar.4

The foundation of Bonham’s fortunes was laid by his marriage to Catherine Knyvet, the daughter of Sir Henry Marney, favourite of Henry VIII and captain of his guard. Her first marriage, to Edward Knyvet, had been childless and probably lasted less than two years but it gave her a life interest in his lands, which included the manor of Stanway and much adjoining property, besides 12 manors and other lands in Essex, Kent and Suffolk. As she still bore the name Knyvet in November 1508 but sued out a pardon as Bonham’s wife in July 1509 they were probably married early in that year. Bonham’s connexion with the Marney family preceded the marriage, for in June 1508 he had been a feoffee with Sir Henry and (Sir) John Marney of Humphrey Tyrrell’s manor of Warley, Essex. He himself purchased lands in Essex in the following September, but these were not of great value.5

Sir Henry Marney became chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster on 14 May 1509, and his son-in-law’s appointment as receiver-general of the duchy for life followed on 17 June. In the same month Bonham acquired the reversion to the office of keeper of writs and rolls in the court of common pleas: the office itself passed to him in 1520, probably on the death of the holder Richard Decons. It carried the right to free occupation of chambers in the Inner Temple, and in 1522 Bonham and another barrister took over the chambers, probably among the best at the inn, which had been previously occupied by its treasurer, Anthony Babington. The keepership, an office frequently bestowed on members of the royal household, could be discharged by deputy and need not have demanded much of its holder’s attention, but Bonham’s tenure of it may account for his not having been made a bencher of the Inner Temple before 1530.6

In 1510 Bonham was joined at the inn by Thomas Audley, whose admission, ‘upon great instances being made’, he may indeed have promoted. For upwards of 20 years the two men’s careers were to be closely linked. In September 1511 Bonham was made recorder of Colchester and when in 1514 Audley became town clerk there it was at first jointly with John Barnaby, a servant of Bonham’s who was eventually to marry his widow; a dozen years later Audley followed Bonham at a higher level of administration when he was made attorney-general of the duchy of Lancaster. It thus seems natural that they should have been returned to Parliament together in 1529, with Bonham taking the senior place, although it was Audley, the Speaker-designate, who was the man of the hour, and Bonham may have owed his knighthood of the shire as much to his younger colleague as to his own patrons. Unlike Audley, Bonham is not known to have sat in any earlier Parliament, and for him to have taken precedence in 1529 over such a notable as Sir John Raynsford, who sat for Colchester, was something of an achievement. True, he had behind him nearly 20 years of service on the Essex commission of the peace, he had acquired extensive lands there and he was settled at Stanway Hall, his title to which, originally in right of his wife, he seems to have strengthened by purchase; but in sharing with Audley the representation of his adopted county he helped to make it an exception to the rule by which the shires returned to this Parliament members, usually knighted ones, of their leading gentle families.7

Bonham had been named executor in the wills of the first two Lords Marny, his father-in-law and brother-in-law, in 1523 and 1525: the elder Marney left £100 to Bonham’s eldest son John on his attaining 21 or, in default, to his second son William, adding that Bonham could take the money in advance; and the younger bequeathed to Bonham himself the sum of £6 3s.4d. and half his harness, tents, armour, and implements of husbandry. To his Essex lands Bonham added property in London and Middlesex, and he purchased the wardship of four suitable girls for marriage to his four surviving sons. These marriages duly took place. It was while in London for the fourth session of Parliament that Bonham was taken ill and died on 18 June 1532; he had made his will on the previous day and was probably a victim of the pestilence then severe at the inns of court. His wife inherited most of his goods and a life interest in his lands, which after her death (she survived him by only three years) were to be divided between his four surviving sons. She and the eldest surviving son William were the executors, with the 1st Earl of Sussex and Sir William Paulet as overseers. Who replaced Bonham in the Commons is not known, but Cromwell considered three candidates for this vacancy and for the one created by Audley’s appointment as lord keeper.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 352; LP Hen. VIII, i; PCC 5 Hogen; G. J. Kidston, Bonhams of Essex and Wilts. 66.
  • 3. Somerville, Duchy, i. 402-3, 614; LP Hen. VIII, i-iv; Statutes, iii. 84, 115, 168; Colchester town hall, Benham mss 20, f. 1.
  • 4. Kidston, 65; PCC 5 Hogen; CFR, 1485-1509, p. 340.
  • 5. CIPM Hen. VII, ii. 417-19, 427; iii. 457, 537, 935; LP Hen. VIII, i; Essex RO, D/DXA16.
  • 6. Somerville, i. 393, 402; LP Hen. VIII, i, iii; M. Hastings, Ct. C.P., 97, 107.
  • 7. Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 19; Colchester town hall, Benham mss 20, f. 1; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. xiii. 79 seq.; Essex Rev. 1. 92; Kidston, 66.
  • 8. Colchester Red Ppr. Bk. ed. Benham, 26, 27; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. iv. 148 seq. 157; Kidston, 67, 77 seq.; C142/55/1; PCC 5 Hogen; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.