STUMPE, William (by 1498-1552), of Malmesbury, Wilts.

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 1498, ?s. of one Stumpe of North Nibley, Glos. m. (1) by 1519, Joyce, da. of James Berkeley of Bradley, Glos., 2s. Sir James and John Stumpe; (2) Tibbalda, wid. of William Billing (d. 28 Aug. 1533) of Deddington, Oxon.; (3) 1551, Catherine, wid. of Richard Mody (d. 8 Nov. 1550) of Garsdon, Wilts., 1s.2

Offices Held

Receiver, ct. augmentations, N. Wales 1536-52; j.p. Wilts. 1538-d., Glos. 1539-44; commr. musters, Wilts. 1539, subsidy 1549, 1552, relief, Glos. and Wilts. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Wilts. 1553; bailiff, steward and collector, manors and hundreds of Chedglow, Malmesbury and Startley 1545; high collector of subsidy, Chippenham, Malmesbury and neighbouring hundreds 1545; escheator, Glos. 1545-6; sheriff, Wilts. 1551-d.3


William Stumpe, the richest and most famous Wiltshire clothier of his century, was of obscure and humble origin. His father is said to have been a weaver and at one time parish clerk of North Nibley in east Gloucestershire, where Stumpe’s brother Thomas still described himself as a ‘husbandman’ in his will of 1551. North Nibley is not far from Berkeley castle, and Stumpe’s marriage to a daughter of James Berkeley, a scion of the ancient baronial house who lived at neighbouring Bradley, may have been his first step towards fame and fortune.4

Stumpe is first recorded as a resident of Malmesbury in 1524, when the assessments for subsidy show him as already one of the town’s four richest inhabitants. Nothing is known of him in the next decade save for his representation of Malmesbury in the Parliament of 1529, itself a sign of continuing prosperity. In 1535, according to the valor ecclesiasticus, he was paying 63s. a year to the abbey of Malmesbury as tenant of Winyard Mill in Whitchurch, in November of that year he paid £200 for all Sir Roger Tocotes’s property in Malmesbury and elsewhere, and in December he took a 60-year lease in reversion of another of the abbot’s mills.5

It is not clear whether Stumpe had been elected to Parliament simply as a prominent townsman, or whether he already enjoyed wider patronage, but by 1536 he had attracted enough notice to be appointed one of the 17 particular receivers of the newly established court of augmentations, with £20 a year, ‘profits’ and a travel allowance; out of the 29 receivers appointed during the life of the first court, he was to be one of seven to retain office after its reorganization in 1547. In view of the crown’s request that the former Members should be returned again in 1536, it is likely that Stumpe was re-elected to the Parliament of that year, the writs for which were tested on 27 Apr., three days after his appointment as receiver; he may well have been chosen again in 1539, 1542 and 1545, when the names of the Malmesbury Members are again missing, for by this time he could add his court connexion to his ever-growing local importance. Although not granted arms until 1549, he was one of four gentlemen assessed on lands in the borough in 1541; four years later he contributed £3 6s.8d. towards the benevolence, the next highest sum being the 53s.4d. paid by John Hedges, and he was jointly assessed as the richest resident in 1549, on goods worth £100, and in 1552, on goods worth £40.6

The best known tribute to William Stumpe’s industrial enterprise was paid by Leland, who visited Malmesbury about 1542. Those buildings of the abbey deemed worthy of preservation had been entrusted to Sir Edward Baynton, while the less valuable ones were soon occupied by Stumpe, perhaps as Baynton’s deputy. Leland made a natural mistake when he implied that the entire site had already been bought by Stumpe and turned into a workshop where ‘every corner of the vast houses of office’ was filled with looms, and the plan to create ‘a street or two’ for the artisans on vacant plots of abbey land within the town walls was apparently never carried out. Yet the size of the undertaking was impressive: Stumpe was to bequeath ten broad looms to his second son and yet more to his youngest, so that he must have amassed an exceptional number. Such concentrations were to dwindle after 1555, when an Act (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.11) protected the poorer weaver by forbidding country clothiers to own more than one loom or weavers more than two, but Stumpe’s operations may have brought social as well as economic advantages, with an estimated output of 3,000 cloths a year. The corporation of Oxford saw a chance to benefit the neighbourhood when negotiating, albeit unsuccessfully, with Stumpe in 1546 over the grounds, mills and empty buildings of Osney abbey; among other conditions, he was to find work for 2,000 people in clothmaking ‘for the succour of the city of Oxford and the country about it’. Stumpe even provided employment in London, for he was sued in the court of requests over an agreement of 1541 whereby 32 red woollen cloths were to be sold for him there by Ralph Porter.7

Between 1538 and 1544 Ralph Porter, a clothier of Cherington, Berkshire, also sued Stumpe in the Star Chamber and, for non-appearance there, in Chancery; he claimed that Stumpe had supplied cloths that were ‘not so good and substantial’ as promised, thus abusing his authority as a magistrate. Stumpe for his part brought a suit against the townsmen of Tetbury over the tolls of their market, which he claimed to enjoy by virtue of a lease during the minority of Henry, 7th Lord Berkeley. William Mayo, late bailiff of Tetbury for the year ending Michaelmas 1544, pointed out that the borough, one of the best markets for wool and yarn in Gloucestershire, was only about three miles from Malmesbury, and that it was clearly Stumpe’s intention, ‘if he might obtain and get the tolls and weights of the said town of Tetbury in his own hands, so to use the said tolls that by his crafty means he would utterly destroy the said market at Tetbury’. This may have been an exaggeration, but the case does show how Stumpe waged war on smaller manufacturers by forcing local weavers to buy only his wool and yarn.8

Stumpe’s success, however achieved, is reflected in his extensive acquisitions of property during the last 15 years of his life. Lands of the former abbey at Conway were leased to him from the augmentations in 1537-8, soon after he had become the court’s receiver in that area, and a grant of 1557 shows that he had once been bailiff of the north Wales lordship and manor of Cymmer. Most of his purchases, however, were concentrated in the Cotswold area of east Gloucestershire and north-west Wiltshire and in the lowlands stretching from Tewkesbury southwards to Wootton Bassett and from Woodchester eastwards to Warminster. Probably his largest single transaction was the purchase of the site of Malmesbury abbey, in the centre of this belt, with the manor of Brinkworth and lands in Rodbourne and elsewhere; for these he paid £1,518 in November 1544. He also bought from such local magnates as (Sir) Anthony Kingston and Sir Richard Long.9

Litigation throws some light on Stumpe’s public position and personal affairs. It was as one ‘greatly kinned, allied and friended’ in Wiltshire, and ‘borne and maintained there both by the gentlemen and the freeholders’, that he was sued in Chancery, in Audley’s time, by Richard Vaughan for possession of five ex-monastic mills at Lower Barns farm and Bushford bridge; Vaughan, who lived in Essex and had been powerless to withstand Stumpe, claimed the mills by virtue of a grant from George Monoux, whereas Stumpe rested his case on an earlier grant by Monoux. Two further actions in Chancery, brought against Stumpe by evicted copyholders at Brinkworth and Brokenborough, suggest that as a landlord he displayed the harshness attributed to so many of the newly rich, while the charge that he conspired with his second wife to defraud her son John Billing of £400 and plate bequeathed by Billing’s father implies sharp practice even within his family circle.10

Stumpe’s greatest achievement was to win for himself a place in the ranks of those who monopolized local government: a justice of the peace from 1538, he figured among the Wiltshire gentry who mustered for the French war in 1544 and he was to die while sheriff of that county. He built a house at Malmesbury, the Abbey House, and saved the superb nave of the abbey by presenting it to the town and procuring Cranmer’s licence for its conversion into a parish church. It was presumably at his residence that there worked the French priest Oliver Boweseke, ‘a good gardener’, who became a denizen in 1544 after sojourning with him for a dozen years. Stumpe may even have been patronized there by Henry VIII, for Fuller has a story of the King’s unexpected visit to him after hunting in Braydon forest and of his royal entertainment, at the expense of the host’s workpeople who had to fast that the court might be fed.11

When Stumpe made his will on 15 Oct. 1550 he evinced no interest in the place or manner of his burial but he manifested his Protestantism by committing his soul to Christ, through whose passion ‘I do verily trust to be saved ... and by none other means nor ways that ever was or that ever I did say or do’. To his second son John he gave the leases of three houses at Charlton, with £500 and ten looms, to his brother Thomas’s three sons £10 apiece, to every woman servant 20s. and to every manservant 40s. Five months after making the will he prepared for his impending marriage to Catherine Mody by entailing much of his property upon its offspring, although the abbey and other buildings in Garsdon and Malmesbury were excluded from this arrangement; the bequests in his will, of which the eldest son and residuary legatee was sole executor, were also unaffected and they were confirmed on the day of his death, 22 July 1552. He then left his remaining looms to William, his infant son by Catherine, forgave all his debtors, including the humble Thomas Stumpe and his sister Agnes Lyppet, and set aside the handsome sum of £40 for the poor of Malmesbury. His heir, Sir James Stumpe, was appointed to serve out his term as sheriff and when sued in Chancery by Christopher Dysmars, clerk of the peace, for £11 16s. which Dysmars claimed was owing to him for the delivery of prisons, made the surprising rejoinder that he had not enough of his father’s goods to meet the claim.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from marriage. G. D. Ramsay, Wilts. Woollen Industry in 16th and 17th Cents. 30, 32, 36; J. Smyth, Berkeleys, i. 267; E150/805/3; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 390-5.
  • 3. W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 47, 50; Ramsay, 35; LP Hen. VIII, xiii-xviii, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 91; 1548-9, p. 252; 1550-3, p. 396; 1553, pp. 259, 354, 359, 376, 415; E179/198/255a, 270; Wilts. Arch. Soc. recs. br. x. 20.
  • 4. Aubrey, Wilts. Topog. Colls. ed. Jackson 47, 60; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 531; Smyth, i. 267.
  • 5. E179/197/153; Ramsay, 32; Val Eccles. ii. 121; Wilts. RO, Acc. 88/22, 23.
  • 6. Richardson, 47, 50; Foster’s Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 241; Wilts. Arch. soc. recs. br. x. 29; E179/197/186, 198/255a, 270.
  • 7. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 132; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxxviii. 462-3, 496-7; Ramsay, 17, 33; Oxf. Recs. 185; Req.2/11/60.
  • 8. St.Ch.2/17/374; C1/1049/43; Req.2/3/276.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xvii, xix-xxi; Ramsay, 32; Wilts. N. and Q. iii. 86, 373; iv. 28, 60, 61; CPR, 1549-51, p. 356; 1550-3, p. 239; 1555-7, p. 483.
  • 10. C1/948/85-7, 1080/26-31, 1111/19-21, 1319/63-5; PCC 18 Hogen.
  • 11. Ramsay, 34-35; SP1/184, f. 195; Wilts. Arch. Mag. i. 250; Letters of Denization 1509-1603 (Huguenot Soc. Pubs. viii) 28; Fuller, Worthies iii. 337.
  • 12. PCC 26 Powell; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 390-3; CPR, 1550-3 p. 66.