HARRIS, William II (by 1502-56), of Mundon, Rochford and Southminster, Essex and Lincoln's Inn, London.

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 1502, prob. 1st s. of John Harris of Prittlewell Essex by w. Joan. educ. L. Inn, adm. 16 Feb. 1520. m. (1) by 1527, Joan, da. and h. of John Smith of Essex, 4s. inc. Vincent 4da.; (2) Joan Cooke of Bocking, Essex, 1s.; (3) by Oct. 1540, Agnes, da. of William Rutter of Southwark, Surr. 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1520.2

Offices Held

Escheator, Essex and Herts. 1532-3; j.p. Essex 1540-4, 1554; commr. relief 1550; other commissions 1540-54; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1555-d.3


William Harris’s father made his will in 1508; it shows him as a landowner in Hadleigh, Prittlewell and Rochford, Essex, and on Foulness island, although far less extensively than his son, who was to add to this inheritance from his legal practice, the profits of agriculture, the exploiting of salt marshes and fisheries, and perhaps good marriages. In 1523 and 1524 Harris paid £120 for land in Essex, and after parting with £100 worth in 1527 he maintained an unbroken record of purchases and died one of the richest men in the county. He focused his attention on the coastal area east of a line from Maldon to Leigh-on-Sea. (This concentration of interest probably means that it was not he but a namesake who in 1530 took a crown lease of land in Wales.) As well as buying land from private owners and from the crown, Harris had important leases from monastic houses; he was the tenant of Dunmow priory when the King granted it to the 1st Earl of Sussex in 1536, and of property on Foulness island formerly belonging to Leighs priory which Richard Rich acquired in the same year.4

Harris’s return, with John Raymond II, to the Parliament of 1536 went against the King’s request for the re-election of the Members of the previous Parliament. Since both the previous Members for Maldon, Thomas Tey and Edward Peyton, were available for re-election—the possibility that one or other was adopted for the shire is too slight to matter—their replacement may mean that they were thought unsuitable to sit in a Parliament summoned to complete the destruction of Anne Boleyn, whereas their successors were not open to that objection. The Boleyns were themselves an Essex family, but nothing has been found which throws light on their relations with any of the parties to the episode. Of the two local magnates, the Earls of Oxford and Sussex, it was probably the first who nominated Harris: in 1540 Harris was to stand surety for a debt of Oxford’s with the earl’s servant Thomas Josselyn, and he may have been a receiver of some of Oxford’s property. Oxford was one of the peers (as was Sussex) who tried the Queen and there is no reason to doubt that Harris followed his lead. Maldon for its part was doubtless content to elect a local gentleman who, with his chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, would not expect wages.5

The next 20 years saw Harris attain a position in Essex which surprisingly did not carry with it the knighthood of the shire in Parliament. Between 1539 and his death he purchased, by fine in the common pleas, land in Essex valued at over £3,000, more than two thirds of it from the crown by way of Sir Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy of Chiche. His progress is reflected in his quota of men for the wars—ten footmen for the campaign of 1543 and eight to serve in the vanguard in 1544—and in his subsidy assessment in 1546, which at £400 was nearly two thirds as large as that of Richard Rich, while the attendant disputes involved him in much litigation.6

Harris died on 21 Sept. 1556, towards the end of the shrievalty which marked the culmination of his public career and showed his acceptability to the Marian government. He was buried five days later at Southminster, with ‘many mourners and a great dole’. His will, made nine days before his death, is extremely long and contains unusual features. He gave elaborate instructions for the erection of his tomb in Southminster church, on which there shall be mention made of me and all my wives and posterity and our names and the names of every child that I had severally by every wife for the avoiding of contention hereafter for title of my lands for that I had my several children by several venters.The eldest son William is barely mentioned in the will, but a codicil provided that he was to receive £200 and ‘one statute of £500 wherein he standeth bound unto me’ on condition that he accepted the will within 12 weeks of being summoned to do so. By contrast there was detailed provision for the other four surviving sons, for a daughter and for their mother Agnes. The second son Arthur proved the will as sole executor, for two other sons so appointed were under age at their father’s death and were excluded by his specific prohibition to this effect. As a final safeguard Harris appointed two sets of overseers, of which the second, made up of Richard Weston and three other lawyers, was authorized to peruse and if necessary amend the will before it was proved, an arrangement of dubious legality. Its threats and promises did not deter the heir from contesting the will, but he lived only just long enough to see it pronounced valid in May 1559. The inquisition found that Harris had died possessed of ten manors and four marshes at Rochford and on Foulness island, and of numerous houses and lands elsewhere in eastern Essex. His descendants were to rank among the county’s leading landowners, with seats at Maldon and Creeksea.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. Essex RO, D/B3/1/2, f. 112.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first land purchase. PCC 30 Ayloffe; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. ix. 38-40. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 59-60 appears to be a fabricated pedigree, comparable to that of the Westons.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xv-xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1553, p. 353; 1553-4, pp. 19, 27.
  • 4. PCC 30 Ayloffe; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. ed. Reaney and Fitch, 152, 155, 167; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xi, xii.
  • 5. Essex RO, D/DPr 140, f. 4v, 141, f. 3v, 157; CPR, 1550-3, p. 377; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 252.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xviii, xix; E179/110/320; E318/18/549; CPR, 1550-3, p. 75; 1553-4, p. 415; 1555-7, p. 4; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 231, 232, 251, 252, 272, 274, 277, 287; C1/816/9-11, 874/56; CP25(2)/57/420, ff. 60, 69, 421, ff. 39, 74, 70/578, f. 3; APC, v. 31, 141, 171.
  • 7. Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 115; PCC 24 Ketchyn (summarized in Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. iii. 183-6), 22 Chaynay; C142/107/38; Morant, Essex, i. 363; ii. 54.