BEKINSAU (BEKENSALL), John (1499/1500-58), of Burghclere and Sherborne St. John, Hants and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1499/1500, 2nd or 3rd s. of John Bekinsau of Hants. educ. Winchester 1514; New Coll. Oxf. 1518, fellow 1520-c.Mar. 1539, BA 1522, MA 1526, supp. for BTh 1529. m. 1538, Andrea or Audrey, a Frenchwoman, at least 1 ch.1

Offices Held

Gent. usher, ?to Anne of Cleves by 1545.2


John Bekinsau was born at Broad Chalk, Wiltshire. It has been suggested that the Bekinsaus were a local family, deriving their name from Bekinsettle, but, according to their pedigree, the Member’s father moved to Hampshire from Hesketh with Becconsall, Lancashire, where his ancestors had lived since the mid 13th century: they were related to the Bulkeleys. Robert Bekensau or Birkenshaw of Becconsall was president of Queens’ College, Cambridge, from 1508 to 1519 and chaplain and almoner to Queen Catherine of Aragon. In 1503 one John Bekinsau, almost certainly the Member’s father, had a lease of the manor of Burghclere from the bishopric of Winchester.3

When Bekinsau received his MA in 1526 it was noted that he was about to go overseas to study. He was already highly regarded as a Greek scholar and at Paris he became ‘reader of the Greek lecture’. In April 1529 he carried a letter from Thomas Winter, Wolsey’s illegitimate son who was then studying in Paris, to Cromwell: Winter praised Bekinsau’s integrity and learning and asked Cromwell to favour him. Florence Volusene, Winter’s tutor and a notable humanist, also wrote on Bekinsau’s behalf. Bekinsau may have obtained his introduction to Winter through Maurice Birchinshaw, Winter’s tutor in 1521 and probably Bekinsau’s kinsman. Cromwell clearly passed on their recommendations to the King, out of whose privy purse expenses for 1530 Bekinsau received £10. Another friend and admirer of Bekinsau was John Leland. Bekinsau performed various small services for friends and for the authorities while abroad. Most notably, he assumed some responsibility for the education of James Bassett, stepson of Lord Lisle, and while Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was English ambassador in Paris Bekinsau conferred with him about Bassett’s schooling. In September 1538 Wriothesley informed Cromwell that Bekinsau had not accompanied Gardiner back to England. In the following month Bekinsau himself wrote to the minister to deny a report that he had spoken against the King, the dissolution of the monasteries and the royal supremacy. He admitted that he had been against helping a ‘sacramentary’ to leave Paris, but said that this was because the man had threatened to kill Gardiner in revenge for John Frith’s martyrdom. He tended to support the French more than he wished because of his wife: he had married, he said, because his friends were urging him to become a priest. When Frenchmen taunted him about the executions in England he asked them why they put thieves and traitors to death. Miles Coverdale also assured Cromwell that the allegations against Bekinsau were false.4

Bekinsau was in financial difficulties in Paris. In 1537 he complained of lack of funds to William Knight, erstwhile student of Winchester and New College and later bishop of Bath and Wells. Knight, as archdeacon of Chester, had employed Adam Becconsall, no doubt another of Bekinsau’s kinsmen, who had since sought service with Cromwell. Bekinsau may have had some financial assistance from (Sir) John Mason, who had been King’s scholar at Paris in the late 1520s: early in 1539 he wrote to Mason assuring him that in spite of his marriage he remained Mason’s ‘beadsman’. Concerning the marriage he declared, ‘I do not repent that I have done. My wife had nothing (for if she had I would not have had her) and I nothing, wherefore we have great need of friends’. He mentioned that Richard Pate, a keen Catholic who later became bishop of Worcester, had suggested that they should live and work together. On 30 Aug. 1539 Bekinsau asked Lady Lisle whether he should accept the offer of the clerkship of the Merchants of the Staple of Calais, which may have been made at the instance of Lord Lisle, but in the following month he was summoned back to England by Cromwell and in October he received £10 out of the minister’s accounts. A letter to Cromwell of 20 Oct. suggests that Bekinsau had returned briefly to Paris.5

Cromwell’s fall soon blocked any hopes Bekinsau may have entertained of advancement in that quarter and he may then have entered the service of Bishop Gardiner. In 1543 he was implicated in the pre-bendaries’ plot to overthrow Cranmer, which was approved if not overtly supported by Gardiner. John More, John Heywood, William Roper and William Dauntesey, all members of the More circle, were involved, as was the bishop’s nephew, Germain Gardiner, who was executed for the part he played in the affair. The pardons granted to More and Dauntesey concern the plot against Cranmer, but Bekinsau’s—which he received in May 1544, being then described as of Burghclere alias of London—deals with treasonable offences committed in Paris in connexion with Cardinal Pole and Richard Pates. In his Life of More Harpsfield speaks of William Roper’s charity to Catholics after his conversion, ‘for which cause in the latter time of King Henry VIII for relieving by his alms a notable learned man, Master Bekinsau, he suffered great trouble and imprisonment in the Tower’. Bekinsau must have convinced the crown of his loyalty, for two months after receiving his pardon he was granted a life annuity of £10. This grant may well mark his entry into the household of Anne of Cleves: by the end of 1545 he was receiving £10 a year for his wages as a gentleman usher, and although he is not specifically stated to be in her household his name occurs among its members, whereas it has not been discovered in any other household list. Early in 1546 he was granted an annuity of £25. At the suit of William Petre the president and fellows of Magdalen College were asked in the same year to grant Bekinsau a lease of property in Somborne, Hampshire.6

Bekinsau’s only extant work, De Supremo et Absoluto Regis Imperio, is dedicated to Henry VIII: he cites the Old and New Testaments and the early Fathers against the supremacy of the pope, and his definition of the Church of England echoes that expressed in The King’s Book of 1543. The date on the title page of Bekinsau’s work is 1546 although 1547 is given in the colophon; the introduction ends ‘London, 8 April’: it was to be reprinted in 1611. In his history of British writers, published in 1548, John Bale praised Bekinsau’s learning and wisdom, comparing him to Cato. After Mary’s accession, however, when Bekinsau accepted the return to the Roman obedience, Bale maintained that he had written the work only for lucre.7

Nothing more is heard of Bekinsau until his return to Mary’s first Parliament as Member for Downton. Perhaps in the meantime he had remained in Anne of Cleves’s household. At Downton and Hindon, Bekinsau was doubtless acceptable to Stephen Gardiner, the episcopal lord of the boroughs, but he may also have owed something to his Hampshire neighbour William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester and steward of the bishopric. In the two Parliaments of 1554 his name is inserted in the indenture in different hand from that of the document: it does not appear on either of the lists of opponents in the Marian Parliaments. Three members of the More family circle, James Bassett, John Heywood and William Rastell, also sat for these boroughs during the reign. The life annuity of £25 which Bekinsau was granted in May 1554 may have been a renewal of that of February 1546. In April 1556 he exchanged his old annuity of £10 and his recent one of £25 for a new grant of £35 a year for life.8

Ill-health may have prevented his return to the Parliament of 1558. The precise date of his death is unknown but he had made a will on 6 Oct. 1549 which was proved on 15 or 16 Jan. 1559. He described himself as John Bekinsau of Sherborne St. John (near Basing, the Marquess of Winchester’s seat), which argues against the suggestion that he had again gone abroad during Edward VI’s reign. He left his books to his nephew Thomas, then a scholar of Winchester, should he continue his studies, and otherwise to whichever of his nephews should need them, or else to Winchester itself: an inventory of 30 Dec. 1558 found that his goods were worth £66 13s.10d., of which the books accounted for £20. His wife Audrey was residuary legatee and sole executrix: in November 1558, as a widow, she received letters of denization. A John Bekinsau of Burghclere, a nephew or great-nephew, was an Elizabethan recusant.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Aged 14 on entry to Winchester, Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40 , p. 37; Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 204; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv; CPR, 1557-8, p. 439; DNB.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xx.
  • 3. Hoare, Wilts. Chalk, 153; VCH Lancs. vi. 112-13; Eccles. 2/155852, 155882.
  • 4. Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 307; LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, viii, ix, xi-xiv; Pollard, Wolsey, 308 and n; Leland, Coll. v. 150-1.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, v-vii, xii, xiv; C. Haigh, Ref. and Resistance in Tudor Lancs. 2-3; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 445-6.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xviii-xxi; N. Harpsfield, Life of More (EETS, clxxxvi), 89.
  • 7. J. W. Allen, Pol. Thought in 16th Cent. 163; J. Bale, Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Scriptorum (1548), f. 234v.
  • 8. C219/22/94, 23/151; CPR, 1555-7, p. 16.
  • 9. Hants RO, wills B. 1558; CPR, 1557-8, p. 439; VCH Hants, iv. 279; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii. 39.