WELLES, Alexander (by 1514-58), of Rye, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. by 1514. m. Joan, 1da.3
Common clerk, Rye 1535-6, 1539-40, 1550, 1551-57, Winchelsea 1538, 1541-42; jurat, Rye 1544-58, mayor 1557-8; bailiff to Yarmouth 1555.4
Alexander Welles presumably had some legal training, for the common clerk of Rye also served as the town’s recorder. He seems also to have been a plumber with an interest in iron-founding and in the supply of building materials. Much of his time was evidently spent on municipal business: he went to Romney to the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports 17 times between 1535 and 1558, generally as part of the delegation from Rye but three times as town (or common) clerk of Winchelsea. He also attended Guestlings and on 27 Apr. 1557 he was chosen at one of them to be Rye’s solicitor with George Reynolds to answer a writ of quo warranto directed to the Cinque Ports.5
If Welles’s Membership of Parliament appears a natural extension of his local career, its timing may have owed something to his association with Sir Thomas Seymour II and his lieutenant in the Ordnance office Francis Fleming, under whom Welles took charge of the guns defending the town in the spring of 1545. For attending the Parliament of that year he and his fellow-Member Robert Wymond shared a payment of £12 (the full amount due at the standard rate) and in May 1546 Welles was also paid £2 ‘for the soliciting of the subsidy’, that is, for ensuring that the customary proviso exempting the inhabitants of the Cinque Ports was included in the Subsidy Act. In the following Parliament, the first of Edward VI’s reign, he sat with George Reynolds. During the second session both Members were active on the town’s behalf. They petitioned the Protector, consulted the clerk of the Commons, the King’s attorney, John Hales II, and others on various matters, and obtained an exempting proviso for the town in the Relief Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.36); they also paid for three bills to be drawn and copied, of which that for the towns of Rye and Winchelsea and for the casting of ballast into the Camber was enacted (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.30), the second for the levying of fines in the Cinque Ports failed in the Lords and the third for iron mills does not appear to have been introduced. In the last session Welles paid 8s. to ‘the clerk of the parliament house for a promise to take recognizances for keeping tippling houses’, presumably in connexion with the bill passed for keepers of alehouses (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.25), and £3 10s. for fish given to the learned counsel and other officers in the parliament house ‘to make friends to speak for the ... ports’ in a matter no longer identifiable. Record of payments of wages to Welles survives for all but the opening session.6
It is almost certain that Rye re-elected Welles to the following Parliament but was over-ridden. On 10 Apr. 1553 he and Robert Wood were paid £3 ‘for the riding up and down to the Parliament’ but on the following day Richard Fletcher and John Holmes I were paid £6 6s. for attending it. Although Fletcher and Holmes were clearly the Members returned, a list of burgesses for the Cinque Ports compiled from the collections of a 17th-century lieutenant of Dover Castle shows Welles and Wood as Rye’s Members for this Parliament. That they were the town’s own choice but were superseded by nominees of the lord warden, Sir Thomas Cheyne, is borne out by his interference at Romney which resulted in a similar discrepancy between the names occurring on the later compilation and the name (only one survives) on the return.7
In 1537 Welles had been accused of heresy by the parish priest of Rye William Inold, being charged with saying that the blood of Christ was sufficient for salvation without any sacrament of unction. He denied the accusation, but when he came to make his will he renounced the doctrine of the mass by declaring his trust in the merits of Christ’s passion and the offering of His precious blood ‘once for all’. A year after his denial he and another townsman took up to Cromwell books and papers found in Inold’s house. About the same time the bishop of Chichester was relieved to hear that Welles had not tried to sing any service openly in English and asked him to forbear such novelties until the King’s pleasure was known. So enthusiastic a reformer must have welcomed the legislation carried during his second Membership. He and George Reynolds supervised the destruction of the painted glass and wall paintings in the parish church, ‘cleansing the chancel from popery’, and the provision of prayer books and a communion table. It is understandable that the accession of Mary saw the disappearance of Welles from the Commons.8
In August 1557 Welles was chosen mayor in defiance of an order from the Council for the reelection of George Reynolds; he was called before the Council although not dismissed from office. Two months later he was again summoned before the Council, and this time committed to the Fleet, ‘for his refusal to appear before the commissioners for the loan [in Sussex] when they sent for him’; not long afterwards he was discharged, ‘having a good lesson given him to beware of the like disobedience hereafter’. His stand for the exemption of Rye from loans as well as from subsidies seems nevertheless to have been successful: in January 1558 the Council thanked him and the jurats for their ‘towardness’ in providing ships (the traditional reason for the ports’ exemption from taxation) and told them that in return the Queen would take no money from them by way of loan.9
Welles was re-elected mayor in 1558 but died before the end of the year. By the will which he made on 21 Sept. 1558 he left to the mayor and jurats ‘all my books remaining at the vicarage’, to be used by the vicars of Rye for ever, and to Robert Jackson, his successor as common clerk, ‘all my papers, books and precedents in my closet’. He left to his wife all his lands and tenements for life and the custody of their grandson Alexander Sheppard until he was seven, and to his grandson much of his household stuff and his cisterns and pipes of lead, his ‘tons, coolbacks [coolers] and horsemills’. As executrix he named his wife and as overseer Robert Bennet, jurat of Rye. George Reynolds was one of the witnesses to the will which was proved on 28 Nov. 1558.10
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Helen Miller
- 1. Rye chamberlains’ accts. 5, f. 122.
- 2. Ibid. 5, ff. 184, 185v; Hatfield 207.
- 3. Date of birth estimated from first reference. PCC 1 Welles; Vis Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), III.
- 4. Rye chamberlains’ accts. 5, 6 passim; Cinque Ports White and Black Bks. (Kent Arch. Soc. recs. br. xix), 219, 223-4, 229, 233, 242, 252, 256.
- 5. Rye chamberlains’ accts. 5, f. 110v; Cinque Ports White and Black Bks. 219-56 passim.
- 6. APC, i. 163; Rye chamberlains’ accts. 5, ff. 106v, 110v, 122, 123, 126v, 144v, 184, 185v, 186, 190, 218, 218v, 219, 222, 6. f. 39; Rye churchwardens’ accts. 1513-70, f. 114.
- 7. Rye chamberlains’ accts. 6, f. 56; Add. 34150.
- 8. SP1/113, f. 108v; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xiii; Elton, Policy and Police, 20, 86-90; PCC 1 Welles; Rye churchwardens’ accts. 1513-70, f. 114.
- 9. APC, vi. 112, 166, 182, 185, 188, 238; Rye chamberlains’ accts. 6, f. 165v.
- 10. PCC 1 Welles.