Mason, John (1503-1566) (DNB00)

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MASON, Sir JOHN (1503–1566), statesman, was born in 1503 at Abingdon, Berkshire, which he was subsequently the means of making a free borough and corporation, and where he secured the erection of a hospital, of which he became master. He was the son of a cowherd by his wife, sister of a monk there, probably the Thomas, abbot of Abingdon, who corresponded with Mason in 1532 (Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner, vi. 114). His early education was apparently entrusted to this uncle, who found Mason an apt pupil, and procured his admission to some college or hall at Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 8 July 1521, being then fellow of All Souls, and M.A. on 21 Feb. 1524–5. Not long afterwards, on the recommendation, it is said, of Sir Thomas More, Mason was appointed king's scholar at Paris, with an annual allowance of 3l. 6s. 8d., which appears in 1531 to have been doubled, while various other sums were from time to time granted him (ib. v. 747, 751, 754, 757, g. 119 [49]). On 13 Feb. 1531–2 he was presented to the parish church of Kyngeston in the diocese of Salisbury. He was present at Calais during the meeting there of Henry VIII and Francis I in 1532 (Chronicle of Calais, Camden Soc., p. 118), and with a view to future diplomatic service was soon afterwards sent on tour through France, Spain, and Italy, with an increased allowance and instructions to keep himself in constant communication with the king and council, and to forward all the information he could gather about foreign relations and the places he visited. The early part of 1534 he spent in Spain; in July he was at Padua, and thence he proceeded to the chief towns of Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, the Lipari Islands, and Sicily, returning from Messina to Naples in December 1535 (cf. account of his travels in a letter to his friend, Dr. Starkey, dated 16 Dec., Cotton MS. Vitell. B. xiv. 157; Letters and Papers, ix. 313, 329). In October 1536 he was again in Spain, but had apparently returned to Oxford before the end of November (ib. xi. 1186), and to this date may perhaps be referred those efforts which, according to his eulogists, saved the endowments of his university from confiscation (Lloyd, Statesmen and Favourites, pp. 177–184, ed. 1665). In 1537 he became secretary to Sir Thomas Wyatt [q. v.], the English envoy in Spain (cf. Letters and Papers, vol. xii. pt. ii. entries 843, 1087, 1098, 1249). In 1539 he was in the Netherlands, and on 2 April wrote a report on the state of affairs there (Cotton MS. Galba B. x. 94). Next year he was again in Spain as Wyatt's secretary, and was recalled in January 1540–1, when Wyatt was arrested on a charge of treason preferred by Bonner (Cal. State Papers, Spanish, 1538–42, p. 308). Mason had already made a reputation as a diplomatist. ‘None seeth,’ said Sir Thomas Audley, ‘further off than Sir John Mason;’ he outwitted the Italian, and ‘out-graved the don in Spain.’

In October 1542 Mason acted as clerk to the privy council, but his definite appointment was not made until 13 April 1543 (Acts of the Privy Council, 1542–7, p. 118). On 16 July 1544 he was made master of the posts in succession to Sir Bryan Tuke, and in the same year became secretary of the French tongue. On 24 Dec. he witnessed the prorogation of parliament for the last time in person by Henry VIII, and graphically described the scene in a letter to Paget (Froude, iv. 196–9). Next year he was licensed to import French wares, made several journeys into Norfolk, visited ‘Almaigne,’ and was in attendance upon Philip, duke of Bavaria.

The accession of Edward VI brought fresh honours to Mason, and he was dubbed a knight of the carpet either at the coronation on Sunday, 20 Feb., or the Tuesday following, which was Shrove Tuesday. In the same year he visited the county of Rochester as one of the royal visitors, and in 1548 was appointed by the Protector to search the registers for ‘records of matters of Scotland’ in order to establish the English claim of suzerainty over Scotland. The result of his researches was a collection of instruments preserved in Harleian MS. 6128 in the British Museum. He was paid 20l. for his labour (Acts of the Privy Council, 1542–7, p. 225; Harl. MS. 6128). In 1549 he gave evidence against Bonner, and was made dean of Winchester. Mason was one of the commissioners who negotiated the treaty with France (Wriothesley, Chronicle, Camden Soc., ii. 31), surrendering Boulogne, 24 March 1549–1550 (Cotton MS. Caligula E. iv.) On 18 April 1550 he was appointed ambassador to France, and after being sworn a privy councillor next day, he set out for Paris on 12 May. Thenceforward his letters to the council formed one of the most important sources of intelligence respecting foreign affairs. In September he was negotiating about the Scottish frontier disputes (Add. MS. 5935; Acts of the Privy Council, 1547–1553). Old-standing complications between England and France, and the growing readiness of the French to interfere in Scottish affairs rendered Mason's post no sinecure. His health, too, was failing, and within a year he petitioned for recall; he had already been granted license to eat flesh during Lent, and early in 1551 he complained of being so feeble that it was pain even to dictate to an amanuensis. On 25 Feb. his appointment was revoked, with expressions of regret for his illness and commendation for his services; but his successor, Sir William Pickering [q. v.], delayed settling in Paris, and Mason, much against his will, still held office in May, when he and the Marquis of Northampton arranged for the betrothal of Edward VI to Elizabeth, the French king's daughter (cf. Add. MS. 5498, ff. 16–20, 100; Froude, v. 3–5). He appears to have been also sent to the emperor at this time, probably to support the English ambassador, Dr. Wotton (Edward VI's Journal; Froude, v. 6–7). He was finally recalled from Paris on 30 June, but only reached England at the end of July. In September he resumed his attendance at the privy council, and about the same time became master of requests. In December, together with Francis Spelman, a connection by marriage, he was granted the office of clerk of parliament. In 1552 he was on a commission to collect ‘church stuff’ (Strype, Memorials, ii. i. 210), and in the same year, profiting as usual by every turn of the wheel, he and his wife were granted lands in Middlesex which had belonged to Somerset, and others in Berkshire and Kent (ib. pp. 221, 223, 226). He appears as member of parliament for Reading in 1551–2, for Taunton in 1552–3 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714), and on 18 Nov. 1552 became chancellor of Oxford University, a dignity which he resigned in 1556 in favour of Cardinal Pole. Mason was one of the witnesses to the will of Edward VI on 21 June 1553, and signed the letter of the council to Mary on 9 July, informing her that Jane had been proclaimed queen, and counselling submission. He had thus lent himself to the designs of Northumberland. But with his habitual insight he saw how the tide was running, and on 19 July he helped to arrange with the lord mayor for the proclamation of Queen Mary (Chronicle of Queen Jane, p. 12). The next day he signed the order of the council requiring Northumberland to lay down his arms (ib. p. 109).

Mason was soon high in Mary's favour. Although he held no ecclesiastical office during the reign, his secular preferments were restored to him. He attended the council when in England, and in 1554 he was made treasurer of the chamber, his salary for this office and the mastership of the posts being 240l. a year and 12d. a day. In the same year he was elected for Southampton, which he represented till his death. In October 1553 he was appointed ambassador to the emperor's court at Brussels, and remained there busily employed until 1556. He arranged for the return of Pole, of whom he spoke highly; had several interviews with the emperor, and was present in October 1555 at the ceremony of Charles's abdication at Brussels, his account of which has been frequently quoted (cf. Motley, Dutch Republic, i. 110). In the same year it was rumoured that he was to be recalled and made chief secretary (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, vol. vi. pt. i. p. 245), but a request for leave to return home in July 1556, granted by Mary, was negatived by Philip (ib. p. 555). Mason was on friendly terms with most of the English residents abroad, and in 1556 Dr. John Caius the younger [q. v.] dedicated to him an edition of his ‘De Medendi Methodo,’ reprinted at Louvain. Early in May Sir Peter Carew [q. v.] and Sir John Cheke [q. v.], whose wife was Mason's stepdaughter, were arrested between Mechlin and Antwerp, transferred to England, and imprisoned in the Tower. Bishop Ponet subsequently accused Mason of treacherously inviting them to Antwerp with a view to their arrest (Strype)—an act which Mason's friendly private relations with Cheke and Cheke's family would certainly render especially discreditable to him (Harington, Nugæ Antiquæ, pp. 49–51). But the charge is not proven (cf. Cal. State Papers, Venetian, vol. vi. pt. i. p. 486).

In September 1556 Mason's repeated requests for recall were granted. He regularly attended the council from November 1556 until the end of the reign, and with his colleagues retained his position at the accession of Elizabeth. In addition to his other offices, he was now restored to the deanery of Winchester, and on 20 June 1559 was re-elected chancellor of Oxford University. On 22 Nov. 1558 he was appointed, with Paget, Petre, and Heath, to transact any important business that might arise before the queen's arrival in London; he used his influence in favour of peace with France, and was described by the Spanish envoy as a friend to the French king (ib. Spanish, 1558–67, p. 34), but before 1560 he had become an advocate of the Spanish marriage, in which he was supported by Paget (Froude, vi. 356 note). On 7 March 1558–9 he was despatched to Cateau-Cambrésis to correct and supplement the action of the commissioners whose conduct in the negotiations for peace had given offence to the queen (ib. For. Ser. passim). He returned on 3 April. Thenceforth he remained in London, directing in great measure the foreign policy of England, and actively engaging in all the ordinary work of the council (cf. ib. Foreign, Spanish, and Venetian Ser. passim). In 1564 he was commissioned to settle a treaty of commerce with France. On 26 Dec. he re-resigned his chancellorship of Oxford, and he was present at the council, apparently for the last time, on 4 June 1565. He died on 20 or 21 April 1566, aged 63, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, where a monument was erected by his widow on the north wall of the choir, with an inscription in verse by his adopted son, Anthony Wyckes. Owen Rogers obtained a license to print an epitaph upon him (Ames, Typogr. Antiq. ed. Herbert, p. 887). He is sometimes stated to have been chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but on insufficient evidence.

Mason married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Isley of Sundridge, Kent, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Richard Guildford [q. v.]; Lady Mason was widow of Richard Hill, sergeant of the wine-cellar to Henry VIII, and had had several children by him, including Margaret, married to Sir John Cheke, and Mary to Francis Spelman, who was clerk of the parliament with Mason. Spelman's daughter, Catherine, married William Davison [q. v.], secretary to Queen Elizabeth. Lady Mason's cousin, Jane Guildford, married John Dudley, duke of Northumberland [q. v.], with whom Mason was thus distantly connected by marriage (see pedigree in Sir Harris Nicolas's Life of W. Davison, p. 213). Apparently Mason had no issue; but Corser (Collectanea, iv. 213, 219) conjectures that Jasper Heywood [q. v.] refers to a deceased son in some lines in his translation of Seneca's ‘Thyestes,’ dedicated to Mason. His principal heir was Anthony Wyckes, a grandson of Mason's mother by a second marriage. Anthony was adopted by Mason, assumed his name, and in 1574 was appointed to the post of clerk of the parliament, which Sir John had held before. He married and had a numerous progeny.

Mason, a typical statesman of the age, ‘had more of the willow than the oak’ in him; his success he attributed to his keeping on intimate terms with ‘the exactest lawyer and ablest favourite’ for the time being, to speaking little and writing less, to being of service to all parties, and observing such moderation that all thought him their own. He is said to have been a catholic, but his religious feelings were conveniently pliant; his invectives against ‘men's wicked devotion to Rome,’ when Edward VI was on the throne, become sneers at the ‘new gospellers’ after his sister's accession. As a diplomatist he was ‘a paragon of caution, coldness, and craft,’ but in society his manner was genial if not jovial (cf. Hoby to Cecil, in Burgon, Life of Gresham, i. 226–8).

[Harleian MS. 288; Cotton MSS. Calig. E. iv. 243, Galba B. x. 94, C. i. 87, 172, Vitell. B. xiv. 157, Vespas. C. vii. 200; Add. MSS. 6128, 5498 f. 16, 5935 f. 96 b, 5753 ff. 86, 87, 5750 ff. 33, 41, 63, 5751 ff. 204, 303; Lansd. MS. 981, f. 36; Cal. State Papers, Dom., For., Spanish, and Venetian Series, passim; Acts of the Privy Council, 1542–8, passim; Hatfield Papers; Rutland MS. i.; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner, passim; Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club); Camden Soc. Publications: Chronicle of Calais, p. 118, Machyn's Diary, pp. 37, 248, Chronicle of Queen Jane, pp. 12, 100, 109, Wriothesley's Chronicle, ii. 31, 71, 88, Hayward's Annals of Queen Elizabeth, p. 11; Strype's Mem. of Cranmer, Ecclesiastical Mem., Annals of the Reformation, Life of Sir J. Cheke, passim; Tytler's Edward VI and Mary; Camden's Annals; Burghley's Memoria Mortuorum, in Murdin's State Papers; Nicolas's Life of W. Davison; Ashmole's Berkshire; Harington's Nugæ Antiquæ; Foxe's Acts and Monuments; Dugdale's St. Paul's, ed. Ellis, p. 63; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, passim; Lloyd's Statesmen and Favourites, pp. 177–84; Wood's Fasti, i. 54; History and Antiquities, ii. i. 113, 140, 182, ii. 830; Metcalfe's Book of Knights; Biog. Britannica, s.v. ‘Cheke;’ Le Neve, ed. Hardy; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Foster's Members of Parliament; Notes and Queries, passim; Froude's Hist. of England, passim; Lingard's Hist. of England; Corser's Collectanea, iv. 213, 219; Burgon's Life and Times of Sir T. Gresham; Ascham's Letters, 1602, p. 37; Motley's Dutch Republic, i. 110.]

A. F. P.