Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wolley, John
WOLLEY, Sir JOHN (d. 1596), Latin secretary to Elizabeth, was a native of Shropshire and a man of good family. He was educated at Merton College, Oxford, where he became a fellow in 1553. He graduated B.A. on 11 Oct. 1553, M.A. on 1 July 1557, and supplicated for D.C.L. on 10 March 1565–6. He obtained employment in Elizabeth's service as a diplomatist, for which his skill in Latin and French and his knowledge of the continent especially recommended him. According to Strype, he was in the queen's service as early as 1563, and was one of those with whom the new French ambassador had an early interview. On 3 Sept. 1566 he disputed before the queen at Oxford, and obtained commendation for his learning and eloquence. On the death of Roger Ascham [q. v.] in December 1568 he succeeded him as Latin secretary to the queen (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 331). Although a layman, he held in 1569 the prebend of Cumpton Dundon in the see of Wells, and on 11 Oct. 1577 he was made dean of Carlisle. On 24 July 1573 he wrote to John Sturmius on the controversy raging concerning the official dress of the English clergy, stating that the government contemplated consulting the German reformers on the subject (Zürich Letters, Parker Soc. ii. 220–1). In 1576 he received a visit from Elizabeth at Pyrford in Surrey, where he had purchased an estate. In June 1586 he was despatched to Scotland to satisfy James VI in regard to his mother's treatment. On his return he was sworn of the privy council on 30 Sept. (Acts P. C. 1586–1587, p. 236; Cal. State Papers, 1580–1590, p. 364), and was one of the commissioners appointed to try the Scottish queen. On 12 March 1586–7 he took part in the examination of William Davison (1541?–1608) [q. v.] at the Tower for his share in the execution of Mary. In 1588 he was appointed with William Brooke, seventh baron Cobham, and Thomas Sackville, baron Buckhurst (afterwards Earl of Dorset) [q. v.], to search for the author of the Mar-Prelate tracts (Strype, Life of Whitgift, 1822, i. 553), and on 23 April 1589 was admitted chancellor of the order of the Garter. He was also keeper of the records of the court of augmentations and clerk of the pipe (Cal. State Papers, 1591–4 p. 213, 1595–1597 p. 184).
From 1571 till the close of his life Wolley took his part in every parliament summoned by Elizabeth. According to Browne Willis he was elected for East Looe in 1571. On 5 May 1572 he was returned for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, and on 11 Nov. 1584 for the city of Winchester. This seat he retained in 1586, but in 1588 he represented Dorset county, and in 1593 Surrey (Official Returns of Members of Parl.) In parliament, as became a court official, he was a stout supporter of royal prerogatives. In February 1588–9, when parliament showed a disposition to discuss ecclesiastical abuses, he reminded the house that the queen had prohibited the consideration of such subjects (Strype, Life of Whitgift, i. 553). By the same objections he hindered the commons in February 1592–3 from taking up James Morice's bill, framed for the purpose of defending puritans from annoyance from the bishops' courts (ib. ii. 123).
In 1590 Wolley was a member of the court of high commission, and he was one of those who conducted the preliminary examination of the fanatic William Hacket [q. v.] on 19 July 1591. On 28 Feb. 1591–2 he was admitted to Gray's Inn; in 1592 he was knighted, and on 1 Aug. 1594 he was appointed one of the commissioners for assessing and levying the parliamentary subsidy. He died at Pyrford on 28 Feb. 1595–6, and was buried in the chancel of St. Paul's Cathedral. In 1614 his body and those of his wife and son were removed to a spot ‘between St. George's Chappel and that of our Lady,’ where a magnificent marble monument was erected to their memory. He married Elizabeth (b. 28 April 1552), eldest daughter of Sir William More of Loseley in Surrey, sister of Sir George More [q. v.], and widow of Richard Polstead of Albany in Surrey. By her he had one son, Sir Francis Wolley (1583–1611), the benefactor of John Donne (1573–1631) [q. v.], who married his cousin Mary More. During her husband's later life Lady Wolley was a lady of the privy chamber to Elizabeth. A number of her own and her husband's letters to her father, written from the court, were preserved among the Loseley manuscripts. A few were printed in 1835 by Alfred John Kempe [q. v.] among other selections from the collection, and the whole have been calendared in the seventh report of the historical manuscripts commission. After Wolley's death his wife married the lord chancellor Sir Thomas Egerton, baron Ellesmere and viscount Brackley [q. v.]
Some verses by Wolley are printed at the end of Laurence Humphrey's ‘Joannis Juelli Vita et Mors’ (London, 1573, 4to), and there are some lines addressed to him in John Leland's ‘Encomia’ (1589, p. 118). The eulogy is one of those added by Leland's editor, Thomas Newton (1542?–1607) [q. v.] Thomas Churchyard's ‘Challenge’ (London, 1593, 4to) is dedicated to Wolley. Two autograph letters addressed to Sir Julius Cæsar [q. v.] are preserved in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 12506 f. 378, 12507 f. 58), as well as a letter to Wolley from Simon Trippe (Addit. MS. 6251, p. 54).[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Brodrick's Memorials of Merton (Oxford Hist. Soc.), p. 262; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 152–3; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 437, 507, 524; Archæologia, 1855, xxxvi. 33–5; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–94; Acts of Privy Council, ed. Dasent, 1577–93; Strype's Annals, 1824, III. i. 540, 729–31; Strype's Life of Aylmer, 1821, p. 91; Select Cases in the Court of Requests (Selden Soc.), p. xciv; Foster's Gray's Inn Register, p. 79; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, ed. Gutch, ii. 137, 159, 256; Dugdale's Hist. of St. Paul's Cathedral, ed. Ellis, 1818, pp. 71, 213; Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, i. 232, iii. 81–2; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey, 1804–14, i. 67, 76, 91, 96, 155–6, iii. 96, 119, 242–3, App. pp. cxix, clxiii; Gosse's Life of Donne, 1899, Index; Walton's Lives (Bohn's Illustrated Libr.), p. 16; Lansdowne MS. 982, f. 249.]