PAULET, Sir William (by 1488-1572), of Basing and Netley, Hants, Chelsea, Mdx. and London.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1488, 1st s. of Sir John Paulet of Basing and Nunney, Som. by Alice, da. of Sir William Paulet of Hinton St. George, Som. educ. ?I. Temple. m. Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Capell of London, 4s. inc. Chidiock 4da. Kntd. 1523/25; KG nom. 23 Apr. 1543, inst. 6 May; suc. fa. 5 Jan. 1525; cr. Baron St. John 9 Mar. 1539, Earl of Wiltshire 19 Jan. 1550, Marquess of Winchester 11 Oct. 1551.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Hants 1511-12, 1518-19, 1522-3; commr. subsidy 1512, 1515, 1523, 1524, musters 1512, 1514, Wilts. 1539, various counties 1545, survey, Calais 1535, 1540, coastal defence, Hants 1539, sale of crown lands 1544, 1546, 1554, 1559, benevolence, Hants 1544/45, relief, Hants, London and Household 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Hants 1553, j.p. Hants 1514-d., Wilts. 1523-d., Som. 1531-d., all counties 1547-d.; Councillor by 1525; jt. (with Thomas Englefield) master, King’s wards 3 Nov. 1526, sole 21 Dec. 1534-July 1540; steward, bpric. of Winchester by 1529-d.; surveyor-gen. wards’ and widows’ lands and gov. idiots and naturals 14 Jan. 1531; comptroller, the Household May 1532-Oct. 1537, treasurer Oct. 1537-Mar. 1530, chamberlain c. May 1543-Oct. 1545, gt. master by Nov. 1545-Feb. 1550; jt. (with Cromwell) surveyor, King’s woods by 1533, keeper 23 June 1541; keeper, Pamber forest, Hants Feb. 1536, St. Andrew’s castle, Hamble, Hants July 1547, Alice Holt and Woolmer forests, Hants July 1548, jt. (with s. John) Jan. 1561; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1539, 1542, 1545, 1547, Mar. 1553, Oct. 1553, Nov. 1554, 1555, 1558, 1559; master, ct. wards 26 July 1540, 18 Nov. 1542, ct. wards and liveries 20 Nov. 1542-54; gov. Portsmouth 1542; PC 19 Nov. 1542; ld. pres. Council by Nov. 1545-Feb. 1550; warden and c.j. forests south of Trent 17 Dec. 1545-2 Feb. 1550; custos rot. Hants c.1547; keeper of the great seal Mar.-Oct. 1547; ld. treasurer 3 Feb. 1550-d.; ld. lt. Hants May 1552, May 1553, May 1559, Nov. 1569, London and adjacent counties 1558, London and Mdx. 1569; capt. I.o.W. and Carisbrooke castle bef. 1560; high steward, Taunton, Som. at d.2


The Paulets of Basing, a cadet branch of the family of Hinton St. George, acquired their Hampshire residence in the early 15th century on the marriage of William Paulet’s great-grandfather to a coheir of the last Lord St. John of Basing. Early in 1536 Paulet was granted the keepership of Pamber forest as heir (he was not, in fact, even the senior coheir) to Hugh, Lord St. John; later in the same year he was ranked among Councillors of noble blood in an answer to the northern rebels’ charge that the Council was made up of new men; and in 1539 he was himself created Baron St. John.3

Trained as a lawyer Paulet made his career as a bureaucrat. No trace has been found of his admission to an inn of court but he was almost certainly the man of that name known to have been marshal of the Inner Temple between 1505 and 1507: his younger brother George was admitted there in 1507 and his own son Chidiock in 1535. Before being admitted to the King’s Council ‘for matters in law’ he served a long apprenticeship in shire administration, being first nominated for the shrievalty of Hampshire in 1509; he also became steward of the bishopric of Winchester, probably during the episcopacy of Richard Fox (d.1528), although he first appears in office during the brief tenure of the see in commendam by Wolsey. His kinsman by marriage Thomas Arundell was a member of Wolsey’s household and as steward of the bishopric Paulet was responsible for the Membership in 1529 for Taunton of the cardinal’s secretary Cromwell; on the eve of the Parliament Cromwell instructed his agent Ralph Sadler to ‘require’ Paulet to name him ‘one of the burgesses of one of my lord’s towns of his bishopric of Winchester’, but whether Paulet did so on instructions from Wolsey or out of friendship for Cromwell is not known. Paulet himself may have owed his return as knight for Hampshire to the intervention of the King, the writ being one of those which Henry VIII had sent to him at Windsor. This is the only Parliament in which Paulet is known to have sat in the Commons: he may have done so earlier in the reign (although his first and third shrievalties would have prevented his return for Hampshire in 1512 and 1523) and he was probably re-elected in 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request to that effect.4

Paulet had been appointed joint master of the King’s wards with Thomas Englefield in 1526, but the claims of Englefield’s judgeship meant that Paulet was soon the sole effective master and early in 1531 he alone was made surveyor of wards’ and widows’ lands: this concentration of wardship offices was formalized in 1540 by the erection of the court of wards, later of wards and liveries, with Paulet as master. In May 1532 he succeeded the courtier Sir Henry Guildford as comptroller of the Household, and later that year or early in 1533 he and his ‘fellow and friend’ Cromwell assumed joint control of the King’s woods. In October 1532 he was with the King at Calais and in the following spring he accompanied the 3rd Duke of Norfolk’s embassy to France; in the winter he went with the Duke of Suffolk and others to reduce the household of Catherine of Aragon and in 1534 he joined with the Earl of Wiltshire to persuade Princess Mary to renounce her title. When in 1535 he was commissioned with Sir Fitzwilliam I to visit Calais he hoped before doing so to spend a fortnight in overseeing the construction he had undertaken at Basing: in October the King visited him there. In 1536 he was engaged in organizing the royal army at Ampthill, Bedfordshire.5

In the same month as he became a baron Paulet was involved with Fitzwilliam, now Earl of Southampton, in the defences of Hampshire and in the shire election for the Parliament of that year. Only a few glimpses can be caught of his own earlier career in the Commons. As ‘Mr. Comptroller’ he appears on a list drawn up by Cromwell on the dorse of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of Members connected, perhaps as a committee, with the treasons bill then on its passage through Parliament: his placing next after the minister himself and Fitzwilliam, treasurer of the Household, bespeaks his importance. His name is also to be found on the dorse of a private Act passed during the last session of the Parliament concerning the heirs of Lord Willoughby de Broke, together with those of seven of his family and kinsmen, including his son John and John’s wife Elizabeth Willoughby. It was probably his second son Thomas, rather than his younger brother of that name, who was included in a fragmentary list of boroughs and nominees seemingly prepared by Cromwell for the Parliament of 1536. The three boroughs named were those belonging to the bishop of Winchester, and Thomas Paulet is coupled with William Petre for Downton. Bishop Gardiner was abroad at the time and it is unlikely that such a nomination would have failed, but there is nothing to confirm Thomas Paulet’s Membership. The only one of Paulet’s children known to have sat in the Commons was his son Chidiock, although several of his near relatives did so, among them his cousin Hugh Paulet and his nephews Sir Henry Capell and John Zouche I, who was first returned for Hindon, another of the bishop of Winchester’s boroughs. Paulet had ample opportunity to wield parliamentary patronage, whether on his own behalf or, as in 1539, on the crown’s. Nicholas Hare probably owed his return for Downton in 1529 and Taunton in 1547 to his friendship with Paulet, while John Bekinsau, although doubtless acceptable to Gardiner as a Member for Downton and Hindon in Mary’s reign, was Paulet’s neighbour in Hampshire. Michael Gore was returned as his servant to the Parliament of 1545 for Portsmouth, where Edmund Cockerell, one of his subordinates in the Exchequer, and John de Vic, his secretary, were also returned after Chidiock Paulet had become captain of Portsmouth, as was his friend Sir Richard Sackville II while Chidiock was captain-designate. As master of the wards and (probable) custodian of Henry Weston, Paulet may have been responsible for the re-enfranchisement of Petersfield in 1547 when his younger brother George was sheriff of Hampshire.6

Paulet was an active member of the Lords, especially after he became lord treasurer. Regularly appointed a trier of petitions, he had a good attendance record and served on numerous committees; his signature appears twice on Acts for the Parliament of 1539, once for 1542, and seven times for 1547. On 7 Jan. 1550 he adjourned the House in the absence of Chancellor Rich and he presumably did the same after the death of Gardiner during the Parliament of 1555, which he later dissolved. On 14 Nov. 1558 he and Chancellor Heath headed the Lords’ delegation to the Commons about the subsidy. In the following reign he took Bacon’s place as Speaker on 4 Mar. 1559 and from 5 to 25 Oct. 1566, when ‘the decay of his memory and hearing, griefs accompanying hoary hairs and old age’ led to his retirement in favour of Sir Robert Catlyn.7

In 1540 Paulet had again been sent to Calais and four years later he served on the French campaign, being appointed with Sir John Gage to see to the transport of the army overseas. In July the Duke of Suffolk described him as ‘one of my hands’ at Boulogne and in the following year the duke endorsed the King’s choice of Paulet to take over the military government of Portsmouth. There he fell ill, the victim of a prevailing epidemic, and in September a servant reported that he was in danger of death but resolved to ‘wear it out’. At about this time he became great master of the Household and also lord president of the Council: it was as the holder of these offices that in January 1547 he was appointed with three other peers to deliver the ailing King’s assent to the Duke of Norfolk’s attainder.8

Paulet was named as executor of Henry VIII’s will, taking precedence after Archbishop Cranmer and the chancellor, and was one of the five Councillors to receive a bequest of £500. According to the testimony given by Secretary Paget as to the King’s intentions, he was also to have had lands and an earldom, but he had to wait for promotion in the peerage until after the overthrow of the Protector Somerset. He had already added extensively to his inheritance by grant and purchase and under Edward VI he obtained further lands in Dorset, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Somerset and Wiltshire, being one of the five major recipients of crown lands by gift. For a few months in 1547 he served as lord keeper of the great seal after the dismissal of Wriothesley and was holding the office when the first Parliament of the reign was summoned. Shortly after his appointment he was one of the seven Councillors who signed a request to the young King for a commission empowering the Council to wield full authority during the minority. He was an assiduous attendant at Council meetings, several of which were held at his house in London and at Basing in 1549 and 1552.9

In 1549 Paulet gave his support to the Earl of Warwick against Somerset—whom, according to one account, he bluffed into financing the coup against himself. Created Earl of Wiltshire and given Somerset’s office of lord treasurer in exchange for the great mastership of the Household he was advanced to the marquessate of Winchester when Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland in October 1551; in the previous month he had been appointed high steward for the trial of Somerset. He remained treasurer until his death but in his last years was effectively replaced by his eventual successor Cecil. Unlike his precursors Paulet was a conscientious administrator with a dislike for unnecessary expenditure and reservations about large-scale reforms. His bureaucratic conservatism led to frequent rumours about his imminent dismissal in the 1550s and to his exclusion from the revenue commission of 1552 and the council of finance set up in 1558. Elizabeth expressed doubts about his work in the recoinage, and it was only after Cecil had allayed these that she reconfirmed Paulet as treasurer: the extraordinary sequence of deaths in the winter of 1558-9 left her with little choice in the matter. His main objective from 1555 until retirement was to eliminate corruption from the receipt of the Exchequer and to improve efficiency by making it subordinate to his authority as treasurer, but a series of scandals during 1569-70 revealed the weaknesses inherent in his approach which was then scrapped without consulting him in favour of the more enlightened ideas of (Sir) Walter Mildmay.10

In the struggle for the succession in the summer of 1553 Paulet was one of the Councillors who gave increasingly reluctant support to Northumberland and after a brief period of house-arrest in August he was retained in his offices by Mary. One of the four peers who gave the Queen in marriage ‘in the name of the whole realm’, he entertained the royal couple at Basing on the day after the wedding. It was perhaps a sign of the favour he enjoyed that his eldest son was summoned to the Lords for the last three Parliaments of the reign in Paulet’s barony of St. John. As befitted one who, in the words of Sir Robert Naunton, was ‘always of the King’s religion, and always [a] zealous professor’, and despite his uncharacteristic vote against the Act of Uniformity in 1559, he had no difficulty in accommodating himself to the Elizabethan settlement. Although he refused to take the oath incorporated in the Act of Succession he remained in the forefront of national affairs until the summer of 1570, when apparently on account of ill-health he withdrew to Basing. He absented himself from the Parliament of 1571 and was excused attendance at the trial of the 4th Duke of Norfolk early in 1572.11

Paulet died intestate on 10 Mar. 1572 at Basing and was buried there. He had spent lavishly on his building there and at Chelsea (where he had been granted Sir Thomas More’s house in 1536) and at his death he owed over £34,000 to the crown and some £12,000 to individuals. Several portraits of Paulet survive. According to Naunton, Paulet ascribed his retention of high office under four sovereigns to his ability to bend (Ortus sum ex salice, non ex quercu) and (Sir) Richard Morison saw in him one who had ‘a tongue fit for all times, with an obedience ready for as many new masters as can happen in his days’. But many men were as ready as Paulet to trim to Tudor winds of change, and it was another hostile critic, John Knox, who came nearer the truth when, speaking of those who governed for Edward VI, he asked, ‘Who could best dispatch business, that the rest of the Council might hawk and hunt, and take their pleasure? None like unto [Paulet]’.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. CP; DNB.
  • 2. Statutes, iii. 89, 170; LP Hen. VIII, i-xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 80-93, 177, 326; 1549-51, p. 177; 1550-3, p. 27; 1553, pp. 358, 360, 363, 415; 1553-4, pp. 175, 265; 1558-60, pp. 59, 119; 1560-3, pp. 186, 433-47, 1563-6, pp. 19-31; 1569-72, p. 364; Eccles. 2/155874 seq.; D. E. Hoak, The King’s Council in the Reign of Edw. VI, 96-97; LJ, i. 103, 165, 267, 293, 430, 448, 465, 492, 513, 542; APC, i. 54; ii. 58, 70; iv. 49, 276; C66/801; 193/12/1 ex inf. J. C. Sainty; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 102; HMC Hatfield, i. 443.
  • 3. VCH Hants, iv. 116; LP Hen. VIII, x, xi.
  • 4. Cal. I. T. Recs. i. 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 110; information from Virginia Moseley; LP Hen. VIII, iv, add.; A. J. Slavin, Pol. and Profit, 19.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, iv-ix, xi; J. Hurstfield, The Queen’s Wards, 243-4; W. C. Richardson, Tudor Chamber Admin. 270; HMC Bath, iv. 2.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522 (ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; xiv; House of Lords RO, Original Acts 27 Hen. VIII, no. 27; Cott. Otho C10, f. 218.
  • 7. S. E. Lehmberg, Later Parlts. of Hen. VIII, 162, 182, 222-3; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), ii. 299-300; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 31 Hen. VIII, nos. 16, 22; 33 Hen. VIII, no. 44; 1 Edw. VI, no. 21; 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 22-25, 29, 31; CJ, i. 52; LJ, i. 558, 629, 637.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, xv, xix-xxi.
  • 9. Wealth and Power ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 88-90, 96, 101; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xiv, xv, xvii, xviii, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 42, 66-68; 1548-9, pp. 375, 386; 1549-51, p. 196; 1550-3, p. 139; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 64, 73, 88, 89, 115-16; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, 234n; APC, iv. 112, 124; Hoak, 35, 42, 47, 49, 51.
  • 10. EHR, lxx. 604; Jordan, ii. 93; Elton, Reform and Reformation, 358; G. D. Ramsay, The City of London, 146 seq.; information from Dr. J. D. Alsop and C. H. D. Coleman; Hoak, 100, 104, 111, 121, 196, 211-13, 247, 252, 254-8, 263.
  • 11. Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 9, 15, 169; Graves, 303; R. Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia (Harl. Misc. ii), 87; Neale, Commons, i. 80; information from Coleman; Hoak, 215.
  • 12. L. Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy, 423-4, 496, 542, 554; CPR, 1569-72, pp. 405-6; N. Pevsner and D. Lloyd, Hants, 88; VCH Hants, iv. 117, 126; LP Hen. VIII, x; R. C. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 332; Naunton, 87; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, pp. clxxi, ccxxvii.