SMITH, William.

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



Apr. 1554

Family and Education

Offices Held


This Member had so many namesakes that he cannot be identified. It is not even certain that the same man represented Newport iuxta Launceston and Chippenham, although this was probably the case, since the returns were made to successive Parliaments and no other borough is known to have elected a William Smith during the early Tudor period. Newport, which had been attached to the duchy of Cornwall after the surrender of Launceston priory, was accustomed to be represented by a mixture of local gentry, lawyers and officers of the duchy. Chippenham likewise had fallen under royal influence since the forfeiture of the manor and hundred by the Hungerford family in 1540, although the hundred had been acquired by (Sir) William Sharington in June 1553. Both Chippenham and Newport iuxta Launceston often returned royal officials, but at both places a number of Members had local connexions.1

William Smith is described as a gentleman on the indenture for Newport, as is his fellow-Member John Gayer, a landowner whose estates lay at the farther end of Cornwall and who may have been elected through his connexion with the sheriff. Unlike Gayer, however, Smith was not listed among those Members who ‘stood for the true religion’ in Mary’s first Parliament. He is given no style on the Crown Office list which records his return for Chippenham, where at least one townsman had been elected to Mary’s first Parliament, and it is conceivable that he belonged to a neighbouring family of prosperous clothiers, the Smiths of Corsham. The same might be true of his fellow-Member, Thomas Smith III, but neither man has been identified as such and they are not known to have been related to each other. A William Smith was left 20 marks by the will (made in 1547) of an earlier Chippenham Member, William Button I.2

It therefore seems likely that William Smith was a royal official who rose in favour under Mary and who held no property in either of the boroughs where he was elected. If so, he may have been the William Smith, esquire, whom Mary made a clerk of the Council in July 1553, in return for his services at Framlingham. Smith and Francis Allen, who was similarly rewarded, received annuities of £50, which exceeded the previous wages of their office, and in October 1558 the former was also granted for life ‘the office of clerk of Hell’, otherwise called the clerkship of the treasure-house of the common pleas. Neither will nor inquisition survives for this man, which makes it even more difficult to distinguish his career from those of his many namesakes. In 1565 he obtained a lease of the Dorset manor of Gillingham and on 23 Dec. 1566, the last occasion when he is recorded as a clerk of the Council, he secured a lease of the rectory of St. Austell, his only known link with Cornwall. He was dead by 24 Feb. 1568, when his son William wrote in Latin to Cecil complaining that he had been left destitute and seeking admission as a Queen’s scholar.3

It is uncertain whether the clerk of the Council can be identified with the younger of two William Smiths who were already landowners in Bedfordshire. A William Smith had served as a commissioner for the subsidy there in 1524 but it seems to have been a younger namesake who was recorded in the visitations as the first of a modest family of gentry in that county. Presumably it was the second William Smith who was a client or servant of Sir Richard Rich and who in 1534 was made a clerk of the writs in the Star Chamber. He bought monastic property in London for resale under Rich’s auspices and by 1545 he was paying rent to Sir Francis Bryan for the site of Woburn abbey, where he was living two years later. In 1547 he became a justice of the peace in Bedfordshire, where he was augmentations surveyor of crown lands under George Wright, and by 1548 he was steward of Dunstable and Woburn; he was appointed escheator of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1550 and joined the elder Smith in considerable purchases of chantry property which he had earlier helped to survey. In October 1550 he sold his interest in Clavering rectory to Henry Parker. No Smith was living at Woburn in 1560 and the surveyor’s office was granted to George Fish in the following year; Smith may have lived on elsewhere in the county, however, since his son and heir George, who continued the line, is described in the visitation as a resident of Biggleswade. No other children are recorded but this does not exclude the possibility that there was an impecunious younger son named William, who might have been Cecil’s correspondent. If on the other hand William Smith of Bedfordshire was not the clerk of the Council, his activities under Edward VI and the promotion of the clerk under Mary make it more likely that it was the latter who was returned to Parliament.4

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. R. and O. B. Peter, Launceston and Dunheved, 35, 54-56; A. F. Robbins, Launceston, Past and Present, 96; Chippenham Recs. ed. Goldney, pp. xix, 295-7; CPR, 1553, p. 109.
  • 2. Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 180-1; PCC 49 Alen.
  • 3. CPR, 1554-5, p. 189; 1557-8, p. 459; 1560-3, p. 340; 1566-9, p. 67; APC, iv. 419; vi. 419; Lansd. 10(14), ff. 77-78, 156(28), f. 103.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, xii, xlii, xviii; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 139; Trans. R. Hist. Soc. (ser. 4), xvi. 147, 149-50; CPR, 1547-8, p. 81; 1548-9, pp. 137, 194-5; 1549-51, pp. 41, 229; 1550-3, p. 1; 1553, pp. 348, 351; 1560-3, p. 96.