Chester, William (DNB00)
|←Chester, Roger of||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10
CHESTER, Sir WILLIAM (1509?–1595?), lord mayor and merchant of London, second son of John Chester, citizen and draper of London, by his wife Joan, was born about 1509. His father died in 1513, and two years afterwards his mother took for her third husband Sir John Milbome, who was lord mayor in 1521, and under whose care young Chester was brought up. Lady Milbome survived to 1545, outliving her husband, who died in 1536. She was ouried in the church of St. Edmund, Lombard Street, where a monument was erected by her son in 1563.
Chester was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, but did not proceed to a degree. On leaving the university he entered at once into trade as a draper and merchant of the staple, and' rapidly attained a position of eminence. In 1532 he appears in the 'State Papers' as a merchant suing for judgment against one John Palmer of Leamington for non-delivery of certain wools, and in the following year the ransom of Simon Rogerson, taken prisoner by the Scots, was to be paid in Bristol before Easter eve to William Chester, merchant.
Under his mother's will in 1545 he received a considerable addition to his fortune, which probably enabled him to weather the storm which befell the English merchant adventurers in that year, when the emperor Charles V placed an embargo on English merchandise. Secretary Paget, writing from Brussels 3 March 1544-5, says: 'Some in dede shall wynne by it, who owe more than they have here, but Mr. Warren, Mr. Hill, Chester, and dyvers others a greats nombre are like to have a great swoope by it, having much here, and owing nothing or little' (Chester-Waters, Chesters of Chicheley, i. 33). Chester, like his father, was a prominent member of the Drapers' Company. In 1541, when warden, he took possession for the company of Cromwell's house in Throgmorton Street, which, on the attainder of the Earl of Essex, was purchased by the Drapers for their hall. He became master of the company in 1553. In 1544 the art of refining sugar was first practised in England by Bussine and four partners, of whom Chester was one. These adventurers set up two sugar bakeries, which continued without rivals for twenty years, and brought great profit to the proprietors (Malcolm, Lond. Rediv. iv. 512).
Chester was elected an alderman of London for Farringdon ward without, 17 Jan. 1552-3, but appears to have been previously connected with the corporation, as ne was appointed in 1552 one of twelve persons to petition the king on behalf of the city for the grant of Bridewell palace for the reception of vagrants and mendicants. He served the office of sheriff of London in 1653-4 with one David Woodroffe as his colleague. Under the Marian persecution the sheriffs had to carry out the executions at Smithfield. Chester has been highly praised by Foxe and other writers for his humanity towards the sufferers, which is contrasted with the harshness of his fellow-sheriff Woodroffe. His sympathy with the reformers is further attested by his kindness to his apprentice Lawrence Saunders, who, mainly through his encouragement, was enabled to enter the ministry, and became rector of All-hallows, Bread Street; Saunders was condemned at St. Mary Overie for his religious opinions and put to death this same year, 1553, at Coventry.
On 7 Feb. 1556-7 Chester was knighted, together with Sir Thomas Offley, lord mayor, by Queen Mary at Greenwich. In December 1557 John Bury [q. v.], his wife's nephew, dedicated to him a translation of Isocrates. In the first year of Elizabeth's reign he was appointed on the royal commission for putting into execution the two acts of parliament lately passed for uniformity of prayer and for restoring the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown. He was elected lorci mayor in 1560, the year in which Merchant Taylors' School was founded. He was one of the earliest benefactore of Christ's Hospital ; he also instituted public disputations among the scholars on St. Bartholomew's Day, and the sheriffs' prizes of gold and silver pens were first given during nis shrievalty in 1554.
In Elizabeth's second parliament, which met 11 Jan. 1562-3, Chester sat as one of the representatives of the city of London, but did not seek re-election in the next parliament (April 1571). He was appointed by the city in 1560 one of the commissioners to purchase the site of Gresham*s Royal Exchange, and contributed 10l. towards the purchase-money. On 2 May 1567 the university of Cambridge by a special grace of the senate conferred upon him the degree of M.A. In 1571 Chester was appointed on the special commission of oyer and terminer for the trial of John Felton, who was charged with high treason for publishing the bull of Pope Pius V deposing Queen Elizabeth.
At this time Chester's foreign trade extended to the coast of Africa, and, besides his connection with the Merchant Adventurers and other trading companies, he was governor of the Muscovy Company. In a letter to Queen Elizabeth, written September 1567 by Ivan Vasilovitz, emperor of Russia, in which he grants at the queen's request various privileges to the members of this company, Chester appears second in the list of merchants whose names are mentioned. He was also very successful in the eastern trade; Queen Elizabeth speaks of him, in a despatch of 27 Sept. 1571, as one of her greatest and best merchants trading with the shah of Persia. Chester now retired from business, and resigned his office of alderman, probably in consequence of his wife's death. The remainder of his life was spent in retirement at the university of Cambridge, in the pursuit of classical and theological learning, to which he had always been greatly attached. He became a fellow-commoner, and his name is attached to a petition in favour of amending the university statutes on 6 May 1572. The exact date of his death is not known, but it was probably in 1595, for on 13 May in that year the administration of his goods was granted by the prerogative court to his son John. He died at Cambridge, but was buried in London in his vault in St. Edmund's, Lombard Street. He lived in Lombard Street, over against the celebrated George Inn, and his house was subsequently sold to Sir George Barne by William Chester, his son and heir.
Chester was twice married, first to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Lovett of Astwell in Northamptonshire. She married in extreme youth and proved an excellent wife; she became the mother of six sons and eight daughters, three of the latter dying in infancy. Lady Chester died in 1560, and was buried 23 July in the church of St. Edmund, Lombard Street. Machyn describes the funeral, which was of unusual magnificence. The funeral sermon was preached by the famous Thomas Becon [q. v.] A monument with an inscription to her memory in Latin elegiacs, erected by her husband, perished at the great fire of London (Stype, Stow, 1720, bk. ii. pp. 156–7). His second wife was Joan, daughter of John Turner, of London, and widow of William Beswicke, alderman and draper. The marriage, which was a childless one, took place on 10 Nov. 1567, at St. Laurence Pountney Church, and the second Lady Chester died in 1572, and was buried 23 Dec. in that church beside her first husband.
Besides his other benefactions to Christ's Hospital, Chester built at his own cost the partition wall between that hospital and St. Bartholomew's; he also vaulted with brick the town ditch, which had hitherto been very ‘noisome and contagious’ to the hospital. To the hospital of St. Bartholomew he gave ten tenements in Tower Street and Harp Lane, to ‘find’ six poor women, which now produce a large annual income. William, his son and heir, afterwards became constable of Wisbech Castle, and was the ancestor of the Chesters of Chicheley. Thomas, the second son, was appointed by Queen Elizabeth in 1580 bishop of Elphin in Ireland.
[The account of Sir William Chester given by Mr. R. E. Chester-Waters is very full and valuable. Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. i. 311; Lond. and Midd. Arch. Soc. Visitation of London, 1568, p. 4; Hist. MSS. Comm. Hatfield House, pt. i. p. 347; Machyn's Diary; Stow; State Papers Henry VIII, v. 719, vi. 271; Colonial, East Indies, 1513–16, p. 8; Herbert's Livery Companies; Foxe's Acts and Mon., ed. Stoughton, vi. 194; Nichols's Herald and Genealogist, vi. 265; Trollope's Christ's Hospital; Charity Comm. 32nd Rep. pt. vi. 13, 24, 35; Burgon's Life of Gresham.]