ESSEX, Sir William (c.1470-1548), of Lainbourn, Berks.

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. c. 1470, s. of Thomas Essex of Walham Green, Mdx. by Elizabeth, da. and h. of William Babthorpe of Ellistown, Leics. m. settlement 2 Feb. 1487, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Rogers of Benham Valence, Berks., 1s. 1da. suc. fa. c.1500. Kntd. 25 Sept. 1513.1

Offices Held

J.p. Berks. 1502-d., Wilts. 1525-d.; sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 1509-10, 1518-19, 1524-5, 1540-1; esquire of the body 1509; corotar. subsidy, Berks. 1512, 1514, 1515, 1523, 1524, 1544, 1546, tenths of spiritualities, Berks., Wilts. and Salisbury 1535, musters, Wilts. 1539; other commissions 1513-43; councillor ‘for matter in law’ 1526; steward, manor of Newbury, Berks. by 1534; custos rot. Berks. by 1547.2


The Essex family is said to have flourished in the county of that name soon after the Conquest but to have been rescued from decay by the Member’s grandfather, William Essex of Walham Green. This elder William rose to become under treasurer in the reign of Edward IV and his only son Thomas was a regular member of the Middlesex bench under Henry VII until 1500, the presumed year of his death. Thomas Essex laid the foundation of his son William’s career by arranging his marriage to the only child of Thomas Rogers of Berkshire, who in addition to a cluster of manors in that county, held one in Hertfordshire, two in Staffordshire, two in Sussex and one in Wiltshire. Rogers was dead by 16 June 1488, when the inquisition already called his 12 year-old daughter Essex’s wife, although a grant of her wardship and marriage to Thomas Essex on 10 July implies that she was as yet only betrothed. It was not until 10 July 1505 that the couple were licensed to enter on Thomas Rogers’s lands.3

Berkshire was from the outset Essex’s adopted county. His wife’s grandfather Thomas Rogers, and her great-grandfather John, had been sheriffs and knights of the shire there under Henry VI and Edward IV. His own start at court was inauspicious: appearing as an esquire at Henry VII’s funeral, he somehow disgraced himself, to be pardoned and freed from prison two years later. He served as a captain in the French campaigns of 1512 and 1513, being knighted at the fall of Tournai. He was now a fully-fledged courtier, attending the marriage of Princess Mary to Louis XII as well as the Field of Cloth of Gold and the meeting at Gravelines in 1520.4

When Baron Sandys was warned by Wolsey in March 1528 that unemployed clothworkers were gathering at Westbury, he replied that he would journey, ‘as if hunting’, to Sir William Essex, before trying to deal with the demonstrators. In 1532 the two were trustees of Aldermaston manor, Berkshire, for Humphrey Forster, who married Sandys’s second daughter Elizabeth, and by February 1536 the third daughter Margaret had married Essex’s only son Thomas. In Sandys’s will of 1540 both Essex and his son were left robes. It was through Sandys that Essex was connected with Sir Richard Weston, his fellow-knight for Berkshire in 1529. Essex’s election in 1529 answered both to his position in the county and his experience; it was probably not his first return to Parliament, but in the absence of election indentures for the early part of the century this is not certain.5

Like Sandys, Essex was uneasy about the religious changes of the 1530s. He served Anne Boleyn in Westminster Hall on her coronation day and acted as her steward at Newbury, but neither the King nor Cromwell was deceived. While the Parliament of 1529 was in session Essex frequently ate at the Queen’s Head in the company of other Members not happy with the turn of events and it was there that he heard of Sir George Throckmorton’s advice to Henry VIII not to marry Anne Boleyn. With several of his fellow-diners his name appears on the list drawn up by Cromwell early in 1533 thought to be of those opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals, and also on that of the following year believed to be of those with a particular, but unknown, connexion with the treasons bill. Presumably Essex was reelected in 1536 in compliance with the general directive for the return of the previous Members. While in London for the first session of the Parliament of 1542 he witnessed the will of one of the knights for Hampshire, Sir Thomas Lisle. He may have sat again for Berkshire in 1545, when the names of the knights of the shire are lost. In 1531 he received the wardship of Sir Edward Darrell’s grandson Edward (whom Essex’s granddaughter Elizabeth was later to marry), together with the custody of the Darrell properties including Great Bedwyn. The manor was not regranted until 1544, when it went to the Earl of Hertford, so that Sir William may have influenced the by-election there of Thomas Polsted during 1532-3 and the elections for the borough in 1536 1539 and 1542 for which the returns are missing.6

In the autumn of 1536 Essex met Sir George Throckmorton in London and borrowed from him a copy of the demands of the northern rebels. After glancing ‘lightly’ at it, he put it aside, but had a copy made. Soon afterwards, Throckmorton rode into Berkshire for a meeting with Sir Anthony Hungerford at Essex’s house and on the way was dismayed to see ‘one Fachell’, probably Thomas Vachell I, hastening to report to the government the spread of seditious rumours. At Reading Throckmorton burned his own copy, but after passing the night with his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Englefield he met a sleepless Essex, who said that one of his servants had displayed Aske’s manifesto, which was now being circulated. Throckmorton advised Essex to despatch his son to London with the culprit, who had been summoned before the Council, and assured his host that ‘the King and Council knew his truth’. Whatever was known brought Essex and Throckmorton to the Tower by 18 Dec., and a month later it was said that their lives were in danger, but both were freed by 25 Jan. 1537. For Essex this seems to have been the end of the affair: in the same month he was renamed to the Wiltshire bench and in the autumn he attended the christening of Prince Edward.7

After this episode it is not very creditable to Essex to find him investigating rumours at Reading about the King’s death. He was probably eager to prove his loyalty, for he joined in submitting the commission’s report on 24 Dec. 1537 and on 1 Jan. had custody of a rumour-monger who was awaiting punishment. Two years later, after receiving Anne of Cleves at Blackheath, he examined a clerk who was accused of praising the pope. In 1543 he was on a special commission to try the Windsor Martyrs for offences against the Six Articles, although he and the one other judge left at the end of the trial allowed the odium of passing sentence to fall on the most junior, Thomas Vachell. In the 1540s it was not the conservative Essex but Cromwell’s protégé Vachell who needed to prove himself by severity.8

His marriage had made Essex a large landowner, and he heads a list of Berkshire gentlemen, who were to supply men for the war in 1543, with an assessment of 50 foot soldiers. His own inheritance was probably smaller and certainly caused more trouble, although he may have had an ally in Ralph Swillington, his mother’s second husband. Swillington became treasurer of the Inner Temple, where Thomas Essex was admitted in 1521 and Essex himself assigned a chamber to share with his son in 1524. The next year, a London tailor named William Hall complained that Essex’s grandfather, the under treasurer, had defrauded the Halls of property in Kensington, which they had been trying to regain ever since; to this Essex merely replied that he could not produce the deeds, as they were held by Swillington, although he was sure that the land had been paid for. His mother lived on, at least until 1539, to sue a tenant for non-payment of rent and enclosing lands inherited from her father in Leicestershire, but Essex’s will of 27 Jan. 1547 stated that her testament had not yet been performed, so that her claim had to be resurrected by his son. Essex had himself acquired some minor properties in Berkshire. He was also a tenant of 20 acres at Westminster, exchanged by the abbey with the King in July 1536, and probably had a house at St. Clement Danes, since various articles of his were stolen in that parish in 1540. He sold four of his wife’s manors in Berkshire and Sussex to the King in November 1542, but he and his son were compensated by a grant in July 1543 of ex-monastic lands chiefly in Berkshire: whether or not this exchange had been forced, the family now had an interest in the redistribution of monastic lands.9

Essex’s will of 27 Jan. 1548 acknowledged the King to be ‘in earth supreme Head of the Church of England and Ireland’. His daughter Winifred had married Sir Richard Edgecombe, and most of the inheritance went to his son Thomas, who was aged 40 or more, although there were bequests to churches, almshouses and poor scholars at Oxford, as well as to his great-grandson William Darrell, whose other great-grandfather Sir Edward Darrell had made Essex a supervisor of his own will in 1528. Essex died on 13 Aug. 1548 at Fulham and there is no trace of any monument to him in Lambourn parish church, where he had asked to be laid.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from marriage settlement. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 24-25; The Gen. n.s. i. 6; Berks. Arch. Jnl. xxxix. 73; CIPM Hen. VII, i. 365, 460, 494, 521; ii. 318; iii. 916; CPR, 1494-1509, p. 650.
  • 2. CPR, 1494-1509, p. 630; 1547-8, p. 81; LP Hen. VIII, i-v, vii, viii, xii-xv, xviii, xx, xxi, add.; C66/801; 193/12/1; Statutes, iii. 83, 118, 173; APC, i. 133; R. R. Tighe and J. E. Davis, Windsor Annals, i. 528, 540.
  • 3. J. Footman, Chipping Lambourn, 62-64; Berks. Arch. Jnl. xxxix. 73; Bucks. Berks. and Oxon. Arch. Soc. xxiv. 25; CPR, 1485-94, pp. 237, 493; 1494-1509, pp. 482, 650; CIPM Hen. VII, i. 460, 494, 521; iii. 916.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, i-iii.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, x; C. W. Chute, The Vyne in Hampshire, 50, 56, 155.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, vi; vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234; xii; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 121-3; Misc, Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), ii. 184-6; PCC 18 Jankyn, 10 Spert.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii; Elton, Policy and Police, 75, 81, 371 n1.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii, xv; Tighe and Davis, i. 528, 545.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, iv, x, xi, xv, xviii; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 61, 79, 118; St.Ch.1/2/53; C1/1177/25, 1298/36; PCC 12 Populwell; VCH Berks. iv. 254, 257,
  • 10. PCC 12 Populwell, 18 Jankyn; Footman, 82-86; C142/88/4. 92/120; E150/816/2.