WOLLEY, John (d.1596), of Thorpe and Pyrford, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

s. of John Wolley of Leigh, Dorset by Edith, da. of John Buckler of Causeway, near Weymouth, Dorset. educ. Merton, Oxf. fellow 1553, BA 1553, MA 1557, DCL 1566. m. (1) Jane, da. of William Sanderson; (2) by 1583, Elizabeth, da. of (Sir) Wiliam More I of Loseley, Surr., wid. of Richard Polsted, at least 1s. Francis. Kntd. 1592.

Offices Held

In Queen’s service by 1563, Latin sec. from c.Dec.1568; prebendary of Compton Dundon, Som. 1569; dean of Carlisle 1577; j.p. Surr. from c.1583; PC 30 Sept. 1586; chancellor of order of the Garter 1589; keeper of recs. ct. of augmentations and clerk of the pipe by 1592; member, ct. of high commission 1590.1


From 1571 until his death Wolley sat in every Parliament. Made a Privy Councillor just after the 1586 election, he filled the role of a government spokesman and upholder of the royal prerogative, supporting official policy on all possible occasions. His seats at East Looe and Weymouth were no doubt found for him by the end Earl of Bedford, and at Winchester the name of Walsingham suggests itself. But for so reliable a government servant a vacancy could always be found. His election for Dorset is interesting, for he had not resided in the county for years. The presumption is that, as a Privy Councillor, it was thought he ought to represent a county if possible. Walsingham and William Howard pre-empting the Surrey seats in 1589, someone thought of Wolley’s native county. Similarly after his appointment to the Privy Council a change creeps into the style of the references to him in the journals of the House—he is no longer plain Mr. Wolley, but Mr. Secretary Wolley, though his appointment as Latin secretary would in itself have entitled him to the appellation in his first three Parliaments. For his next Parliament he was Sir John Wolley. The earliest recorded mention of him in the journals is a speech on usury, 19 Apr. 1571, when he defended lending money at reasonable interest as against ‘the great mischief which doth grow by reason of excessive taking, to the destruction of young gentlemen.’ No speech by him has been found in the journals for any session of the long 1572 Parliament, but he sat on committees dealing with church presentations, 19 May 1572; the poor, 11 Feb. 1576; bastardy, 15 Feb. 1576; the subsidy, 25 Jan. 1581; seditious practices, 1 Feb. 1581, and the Queen’s safety, 14 Mar. 1581. Again, no speech is recorded for him in the 1584 Parliament, though he was employed in negotiations with the Lords over the fraudulent conveyances bill, 15 and 18 Feb. 1585. He was named to committees on Arthur Hall, 12 Dec. 1584; the liberty of ministers, 16 Dec.; appeals from ecclesiastical courts, 18 Dec.; ecclesiastical livings, the maintenance of the navy and the preservation of grain, 19 Dec.; and the subsidy, 24 Feb. 1585. On 3 Nov. 1586 he spoke on the subject of Mary Queen of Scots, and he was one of those who presented the petition to the Queen on this subject, 22 Nov. He was on two legal committees, 15 and 17 Mar. 1587. Two speeches by Wolley are recorded in the Parliament of 1589. On 25 Feb. he put the House

in remembrance of her Majesty’s express inhibition delivered to this House by the mouth of the lord chancellor at the beginning of this session of Parliament touching any dealing with ecclesiastical causes,

and, 29 Mar., the last day of the session, he urged a declaration of war against Spain. He was named to committees on benefit of clergy, 10 Feb.; the subsidy, 11 Feb.; Richard Southwell, 13 Mar. and church presentations, 20 Mar. At the beginning of his last Parliament Wolley spoke on the subsidy, 26 Feb. 1593. First ‘he showed how the princes of the Holy League had conspired the overthrow of this realm’, then

exhorted the House, now the season of the year grows on, which called for many of the knights and burgesses to be in their countries, besides the sickness being in the town, so that many of that House knew not whether he lodged in a house infected or not

to end Parliament as soon as possible. Next, (his only departure from the official line) he urged that a committee be appointed to inquire into the Dunkirk pirates. Finally, after a conventional report for ‘a speedy agreeing of a subsidy’ he concluded, with a typically Elizabethan appeal to parsimony and patriotism:

the wars which the King of Spain brought upon this nation had cost her Majesty a million of money [but] where it cost her Majesty one it cost the King of Spain three.

The next day Wolley again warned the House against debating religious matters in the face of the Queen’s prohibition. He spoke on a procedural point on 6 Mar. and, 21 Mar., spoke in favour of allowing foreign merchants to trade. His committees during this Parliament included the subsidy, 26 Feb.; alien merchants, 6 Mar.; springing uses, 9 Mar.; a bill about the forgery of counsellors’ hands, 10 and 19 Mar. (he reported this the next day, recommending its suppression); kerseys, 23 Mar., and the restraint of new building, 9 Apr. From 1586 onwards he would have attended the many committees to which the Privy Councillors as such were appointed.2

On several occasions Wolley described himself as a ‘faithful follower’ of Lord Burghley. He received a letter of sympathy from Sir Christopher Hatton when endangered by the smallpox, and thanked Sir Francis Walsingham for obtaining an appointment for his father-in-law. Wolley was married to one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, a daughter of her old favourite, Sir William More, and she became godmother to Wolley’s son in 1583. Eleven years later he sent a letter to Sir Robert Cecil enclosing a petition to her, requesting permission to have his son joined in his grant from the Exchequer. Four months before his death Wolley applied for the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, 20 Oct. 1595. He had served the Queen, in his own words, ‘now upon the point of 30 years’.3

In 1590 Wolley purchased various parsonages in Surrey for £1,010, and in the subsidy assessment for that county, taken just before his death, he was rated at over £40. He died at Pyrford on 28 Feb. 1596 and was buried in St. Paul’s cathedral. In his will, made three days before his death, and proved on the following 13 Mar., Wolley commended his soul to Almighty God ‘whom I humbly thank for my creation’. His body was to be buried ‘without any pomp’, and his wife, who soon married Lord Keeper Egerton, was appointed sole executrix and residuary legatee, with his ‘very good friends’ Sir William and George More supervisors. Bequests were made to servants, and debts were to be paid, especial care being taken that no man be defrauded. In a codicil he remembered his sister, Mrs. Eleanor Hardy, and two servants to whom he left £10 each. His widow died before administration of the estate was complete, and on 4 May 1600 his son Francis took over, to be superseded, on his death, by Wolley’s brother-in-law, Sir George More.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. DNB; APC, xiv. 236; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 645; CPR, 1566-9, p. 394; CSP Dom. 1591-4, 1595-7.
  • 2. Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. f. 29v; CJ, i. 95, 105, 106, 120, 121, 134; D’Ewes, 207, 247, 288, 306, 339, 340, 341, 343, 349, 352, 356, 393, 394, 395, 399, 405, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 430, 431, 432, 438, 439, 440, 442, 443, 445, 448, 449, 453, 454, 471, 472, 473, 474, 476, 477, 478, 481, 486, 489, 490, 496, 497, 499, 502, 503, 504, 506, 507, 513, 517, 519, 520, 521; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 16, 25, 58, 59, 78.
  • 3. HMC 7th Rep. 629, 630, 636, 666; HMC Hatfield, v. 152; Lansd. 18, f. 33; 80, f. 16; Genealogist, n.s. ii. 295.
  • 4. PRO Index 6800, f. 223; Surr. Arch. Colls. xix. 88; PCC 21 Drake.