Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tregonwell, John
TREGONWELL, Sir JOHN (d. 1565), civilian, born in Cornwall, probably at Tregonwell, was the second son of his family. He was educated at Oxford, at first at Broadgates Hall. He proceeded B.C.L. on 30 June 1515-16, and D.C.L. on 23 June 1522. He became, before he quitted Oxford, principal of Vine Hall, or, as it was sometimes called, Peckwater Inn.
Removing to London, Tregonwell began to practise in the court of admiralty, of which he became before 1535 principal judge or commissary-general. His name occurs in various commissions as to admiralty matters (cf. Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas, vii. 115 &c.) Henry soon 'plucked him from the arches,' and employed him on government affairs. He had just the training Henry looked for, and carried out his master's wishes smoothly and with a careful regard to the forms of law. He was a privy councillor as early as 1532. He was a proctor for the king in the divorce case, and one of his letters, printed by Sir Henry Ellis, describes the passing of the sentence by Cranmer. He took part in diplomatic negotiations in the Netherlands in May 1532, Hacket and Knight being his companions, to settle commercial disputes. He signed the two treaties of peace of 1534 with Scotland on behalf of England. He also took part in the proceedings against the Carthusians, against Sir Thomas More, and against Anne Boleyn.
Tregonwell's great business was, however, his agency in the dissolution of the monasteries. His main part lay in taking surrenders. His correspondence, of which there is less than of some of the other visitors, gives a more favourable impression of him than of Legh or Layton, and he adopts a firmer tone in writing to Cromwell. He visited Oxford University in 1535, otherwise his work lay mainly in the south and west of England. He was also employed in the proceedings against the prisoners taken in the pilgrimage of grace, and he was important enough for Cromwell to talk about him as a possible master of the rolls. He became a master in chancery in 1539, was chancellor of Wells Cathedral from 1541 to January 1542-3, a commissioner in chancery in 1544, and a commissioner of the great seal in 1550.
He was knighted on 2 Oct. 1553, and seems to have been favoured by Mary in spite of his history. He was M.P. for Scarborough in the parliament of October 1553, and, though holding a prebend, there was no question of objecting to his return, doubtless because he was a layman. Alexander Nowell [q. v.] was ejected from parliament, and Tregonwell was one of the committee which sat to consider his case. In 1555 he was a commissioner on imprisoned preachers. He died on 8 or 13 Jan. 1564-5 at Milton Abbas, Dorset, for which, after the dissolution, he had paid 1,000l., and was buried in the north aisle under an altar tomb; a copy of the brass to his memory is in British Museum Additional MS. 32490, F.F. f. 54. He occasionally grumbled about the little reward which he had obtained for his services; but he had doubtless made the most of opportunities which came during the visitation, as he died a rich man.He had married, first, a wife named Kellaway, by whom he had no children; secondly, Elizabeth Bruce, who was buried on 17 Jan. 1581-2, by whom he had, with other children, Thomas, who died during his father's lifetime, and who was the father of John Tregonwell, who succeeded to Sir John's property. [Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. iv. sqq.; Lansdowne MS. 918, .f. 29; Hutchins's Dorset, i. 161; Burke's Landed Gentry; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, i. 154, 161, 285, 215, ii. 33, 113, 115, 212, iv. 57-8; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. and Boase's Collectanea Cornub.; Maclean's Hist. of Trigg Minor, iii. 19-20; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 60; Reg. Univ. Ox. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), i. 99; Gasquet's Henry VIII and the Engl. Monasteries, ii. 212, 229; Froude's Hist. of Engl. vi. 110; Diary of a Resident in London (Camd. Soc.), p. 334; Weaver's Somerset Incumbents, p. 419; Narratives of the Reformation (Camd. Soc.), p. 334; Visit. of Cornwall (Harl. Soc.), pp. 225, 254.]