Williams, John (1500?-1559) (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS , JOHN, Baron Williams of Thame (1500?–1559), born about 1500, was the second son of Sir John Williams of Burfield, Buckinghamshire, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter and coheir of Richard More of Burfield. His father sprang originally from Glamorganshire, and was a kinsman of Thomas Cromwell alias Williams, whose service John Williams entered. He is also described as a servant to Wolsey and to Henry VIII (Lee, Hist. of Thame Church, pp. 410–15). On 6 April 1530 he was appointed a clerk of the king's jewels, with a salary of twenty marks, in succession to Thomas Wyatt (Letters and Papers, iv. 6418 [27]). On 6 March following he was made receiver of the lands of Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham [q. v.] On 8 May 1531 he received a grant in reversion of the office of principal clerk of the king's jewels. In 1535 he was placed on the commission of the peace for Oxford, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, and in April 1536 he was associated with Cromwell in the office of master or treasurer of the king's jewels (ib. x. 776 [1]). During the northern rebellions of that year he was ‘called by the council to hear matters and keep a register of accusations’ (ib. xi. 888). On 15 Oct. 1537 he was present at the christening of Prince Edward, and on 12 July 1538 was granted the receivership of the lands of Woburn Abbey. He had himself acted as visitor of the monasteries at Winchester and elsewhere. In November he was pricked for sheriff of Oxfordshire, and in 1539 obtained some of the lands of the dissolved monastery of St. Mary, Thame. He is said to have been knighted on 18 Oct. 1537 (G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage, viii. 140), but he is first so styled in contemporary documents on 29 Sept. 1539. The dissolution of the greater monasteries brought him further grants of land (see Letters and Papers, vols. xiv–xvi. passim, esp. xvi. 779 [21]), and on Cromwell's attainder he succeeded as sole keeper of the king's jewels. On Christmas eve 1541 there was a great fire at his house in Elsingspital, during which many of the jewels were stolen (Wriothesley, Chron. i. 133). Strype is in error in asserting that he retained the mastership of the king's jewels until 1552 (Eccl. Mem. ii. ii. 76), Williams having exchanged it in 1544 for the treasurership of the court of augmentations in succession to Edward, first baron North [q. v.], and the keeper of the jewels in Edward VI's reign being Sir Anthony Aucher.

To Williams's tenure of this office are due the innumerable references to him in the state papers and acts of the privy council; but he was without much political importance, and he was not even named as an assistant executor to Henry VIII's will. On 4 Oct. 1547 he was returned to parliament for Oxfordshire, which he had represented in 1542 and continued to represent until his elevation to the peerage. On 10 Oct. 1549 he was sent with Wingfield to arrest the protector, Somerset, and secure Edward VI's person at Windsor. Early in 1552 he gave offence by paying the pensions due from the augmentations court to dispossessed monks and chantry priests without consulting the privy council. On 3 April he was summoned to appear before it, and on the 8th he was committed to the Fleet prison, where, however, he was allowed for his health's sake to walk in the gardens and receive visits from his wife and children. On 22 May, however, on making his submission, he was provisionally released, and on 2 June was granted full liberty. He retained his office, and in March 1552–3 received the council's letters in favour of his re-election to parliament for Oxfordshire; but his temporary disgrace and religious conservatism made him welcome Mary's accession, which he did not a little to help. Immediately after Edward VI's death (6 July) he went down to Oxfordshire, and on the 15th news reached London that he was proclaiming Mary. A few days later he was said to have six or seven thousand men ready in Northamptonshire to maintain her cause. Northumberland's speedy collapse rendered their employment unnecessary, and on 22 July Williams was ordered to disband them. On the 29th he conducted the Princess Elizabeth through London to Somerset Place, and on 3 Aug. he was sent to suppress some commotions at Royston and in Cambridgeshire. On 19 Feb. 1553–4, after Wyatt's rebellion, he was sent to fetch Elizabeth to court, apparently from Hatfield. She sent Williams back, pleading sickness; but on 20 May he conducted her from Brentford to Woodstock, where she remained for a time in his custody, until the consideration with which he treated her caused her transference to the keeping of Sir Henry Bedingfield (1509?–1583) [q. v.]

Meanwhile Williams had been created Baron Williams of Thame—partly as a reward for his prompt adherence to Mary, and partly as compensation for the loss of the treasurership of the court of augmentations, which the queen had naturally abolished. The creation was doubtless by writ of summons to parliament dated 17 Feb. 1553–4, and the proceedings mentioned by the chroniclers under date 5 April were merely confirmatory (Machyn, p. 54; Chron. Queen Jane, p. 72; G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage, viii. 140). On 8 March 1553–4, as sheriff of Oxfordshire, he conveyed Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley to await their trial at Oxford. He was present in the same capacity at the execution of all three, and also examined John Philpot [q. v.] (Cranmer, Works, vol. i. pp. xxii, xxiii, xxix; Ridley, Works, pp. 293, 295; Hutchinson, Works, p. ix; Philpot, Works, p. 49; Foxe, Actes and Mon. ed. Townsend, passim). He was also chamberlain to Philip II (cf. Chron. Queen Jane, p. 82).

Owing to his kindness to Elizabeth, Williams remained in favour after her accession. He was one of the lords appointed to attend her to London in November 1558, and in February 1558–9 he was appointed lord president of Wales. He was also in that year made a visitor of the Welsh dioceses and of Oxford University; but his health was failing in March, and he died at Ludlow Castle on 14 Oct. 1559, being attended by John Jewel [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of Salisbury). He was buried on 15 Nov. in the parish church at Thame, where there is an inscription to his memory. An epitaph composed by Thomas Norton [q. v.] is printed in Tottel's edition of Surrey's ‘Songs and Sonnets,’ 1565.

By his will, dated 8 March 1558–9 and proved in 1560, Williams left the rectories and parsonages of Brill, Oakley, and Borstall in Buckinghamshire, and Easton Weston in Northamptonshire, to his executors for the purpose of founding a free school at Thame. The school buildings were begun in 1574, and an account of the foundation, privately printed in 1575, is in the Bodleian Library. Among the alumni of Thame school were Dr. John Fell, Shakerley Marmion, Anthony à Wood, Edward Pococke, and Henry King, bishop of Chichester. Williams also bequeathed money to the almshouses at Thame.

Williams married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Bledlow and widow of Andrew Edmunds of Cressing Temple, Essex. She died on 25 Oct. 1556, and was buried on 4 Nov. at Ricot, Oxfordshire (Machyn, pp. 118, 354). Williams married, secondly, Margaret, daughter of Thomas, first baron Wentworth [q. v.]; he left no issue by her, and she married, secondly, on 10 Oct. 1560, Sir William Drury [q. v.], and, thirdly, Sir James Crofts; she survived until 1588 (see Acts P. C. vols. xv–xvii. passim). By his first wife Williams had issue three sons: John, who died unmarried, and was buried at St. Alphege, London Wall, on 18 Feb. 1558–9, his funeral sermon being preached by John Véron [q. v.]; Henry, who married Anne, daughter of Henry Stafford, first baron Stafford [q. v.], but died without issue on 20 Aug. 1551; and Francis, who died unmarried. The barony thus became extinct, if it was created by patent; if it was created by writ, it fell into abeyance between his two daughters, Isabel (who married Richard Wenman, great-grandfather of Thomas, second viscount Wenman [q. v.]) and Margaret (who married Sir Henry Norris, afterwards Baron Norris of Rycote [q. v.]).

[Cal. Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner, vols. iv–xvi. passim; State Papers, Henry VIII, 11 vols.; Cal. State Papers Dom. 1547–80, and Addenda 1547–65; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent, vols. i–viii.; Hatfield MSS. i. 454; Lit. Rem. of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club); Machyn's Diary; Wriothesley's Chron., Chron. Queen Jane and Queen Mary, and Narr. of the Reformation (Camden Soc.); Strype's Works (general index); Gough's Index to Parker Soc. Publ.; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, ed. Pocock, passim; Foxe's Actes and Mon. ed. Townsend; Carlisle's Endowed Grammar Schools ii. 312–15; Off. Return Members of Parliament; F. G. Lee's Hist. of Thame, 1883; Davenport's Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs of Oxfordshire, p. 37; Lists of Sheriffs, 1898; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, viii. 140–1.]

A. F. P.