STORY, John (c.1504-71).

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. c.1504, s. of Nicholas Story of Salisbury, Wilts. by Joan. educ. Hinxsey Hall, Oxf., BCL 1531, DCL 1538; adv. Doctors’ Commons 1539. m. by 1549, Joan Watts, 1da. and 4 other ch.4

Offices Held

1st regius lecturer and prof. civil law, Oxf. 1535, reappointed 7 Oct. 1553, principal, Broadgates Hall 1537-9; vicar-gen. London diocese Nov. 1539-c.July 1540; chancellor, London and Oxford dioceses Jan. 1554-9; j.p.q. Mdx. 1554; Queen’s proctor at the trial of Cranmer 1555; commr. heresy 1557-8; master in Chancery by 1558.5


A native of Salisbury, John Story may have received his early education at the cathedral school before going up to Oxford. It is said that he became a Franciscan lay brother, or perhaps a tertiary of the order, but whether early or late in life is not stated. His student career was a stormy one. In October 1530 he was first sentenced to imprisonment for insolence to the principal of his own hall and then to banishment for insolence to the judge who had heard his case. Reconciled with the principal (who was himself soon afterwards ordered to prison for similar behaviour), Story transferred to Broadgates Hall but quickly returned to Hinxsey. There he again stirred up trouble to the point where, in November 1533, he had his name struck off the books and was given leave to go elsewhere. So he went back to Broadgates, where in 1537 he became principal. None of this interfered with his study of civil law, in which his reputation became so great that the King appointed him first lecturer in civil law before he had taken his doctorate. The appointment was to be confirmed for life in 1544 in recognition of his skilful administration of the court of the earl marshal during the expedition to Boulogne. Meanwhile he had entered the college of advocates and was for a short time vicar-general of the London diocese under Bonner, himself a former student of Broadgates Hall.6

Story’s return for his native city of Salisbury to the Parliament of 1545 was probably the work of the conservative Bishop Salcot. In January the city assembly had elected a local lawyer, Robert Keilway II, and a citizen, Edmund Gawen, but Parliament was postponed until November and in the interval the lawyer had chosen to sit for Bristol and the citizen had fallen ill. To fill the vacancies there came Story and Thomas Gawdy I, but the assembly, which valued the city’s independence, stipulated that the election of these ‘outsiders’ was not to set a precedent. For the following Parliament Story therefore found a seat at Hindon, one of the bishop of Winchester’s boroughs. Stephen Gardiner was a prisoner in the Fleet at the time of the elections and it was doubtless his steward William Paulet, Baron St. John, who procured Story’s election, as he was to do again in 1559. Towards the end of the second session (1548-9) of this Parliament Story spoke against the Prayer Book with the lament ‘Woe unto thee England when the king is a child’. The House took grave exception to the speech and on 24 Jan. 1549 Story was committed to the Tower, to be released in early March after an apology from himself and a petition to the House from his wife. Outraged by the Edwardian Reformation, Story travelled to Louvain where he entered the university. Here he made a will in which he prayed God to restore England to the unity of the Catholic Church and enjoined his wife to return there only when this had been achieved. The phrase ‘extra regnum’ appears beside his deleted name on the list of Members for the fourth session of the Parliament he had offended; his place was regarded as vacant and was filled by John Zouche I.7

Story came back after the accession of Mary and he sat in the first four of her Parliaments, on each occasion for a different borough. A fellow-Catholic, John Caryll, probably found Story his places for Sussex constituencies since he too had sat for one of the bishop of Winchester’s boroughs in 1547 and was re-elected in the autumn of 1553; Caryll was attorney-general to the duchy of Lancaster which owned East Grinstead (where Story’s name was inserted together with Sir Thomas Stradling’s on the indenture), as well as steward of the barony of Bramber where Story sat with one of Caryll’s kinsmen, Sir Henry Palmer. In the first of Mary’s Parliaments Story served on the committee to examine the validity of the return of Alexander Nowell and John Foster II. His Membership for Bath he owed to the new bishop Gilbert Bourne, a former chaplain to Bonner. On the Crown Office list compiled for this Parliament Story’s name was initially entered against Old Sarum as well as Bath, but this mistake was soon corrected when his name was struck through for the Wiltshire borough and replaced by John Tull’s. The influence which provided Story with a seat for Ludgershall is uncertain, although Sir Richard Brydges, the patron of the borough and a duchy of Lancaster receiver, may have obliged Caryll. It was in this Parliament that Story again offended the House. When he was one of the deputation to the Queen, led by the Speaker, which heard Mary’s decision not to accept first fruits and tenths, he informed her that the Commons wanted papal licences to be restrained. His intervention, an affront to the Speaker, was pardoned by the Commons because he spoke ‘of good zeal’; it may nevertheless help to explain why he did not find a seat in the Queen’s last Parliament. During the first session, however, he made an appearance in the House together with Edmund Plowden and the abbot of Westminster as counsel over the abbey’s right of sanctuary.8

As Chancellor of the London diocese under Bonner from January 1554 Story incurred the hatred of his Protestant contemporaries and of later writers for his alleged cruelty to heretics. Foxe, who thought him ‘in summa worse than Bonner’, describes how he came straight from a burning to the lord mayor’s table to boast that as he had despatched one so would he all the rest. He certainly had few scruples as to the methods to be employed: as he wrote to Courtenay in 1555, ‘Now the sharpness of the sword and other corrections have begun to bring forth that the word in stony hearts could not do’. He denounced the gentle treatment accorded to noblemen and gentlemen, and (as Father Persons relates) ‘stormed publicly one day before the bishops and Privy Council ... complaining grievously of the abuse’. In a speech to the Commons in 1559 Story regretted that he and his colleagues had ‘laboured only about the young and little twigs, whereas they should have struck at the root’. When himself on the scaffold Story denied the charge of cruelty, declaring that as a layman he could not give judgment and claiming that he had been responsible for the pardon of 27 poor and ignorant heretics.9

Story’s execution followed several years in exile with the help of a pension from Philip of Spain and of the post of inspector of incoming ships at Antwerp, where he watched for heretical literature. Kidnapped by English sailors and brought to England, he was charged with having supported the rebellion of 1569 and encouraged Alva to invade; his refusal to plead, on the ground that he was a subject of Philip II, did not impede his conviction. He was executed on 1 June 1571 after making a long speech in which he justified his actions under Mary, extolled the virtues of his wife and ended with the peroration: ‘every man is free-born and he hath the whole face of the earth before him to dwell and abide in where he liketh best; and if he cannot live here, he may go elsewhere’.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: Roger Virgoe / R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Salisbury corp. ledger B, f. 300v.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Hatfield 207.
  • 3. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 4. Date of birth given in DNB. Harl. Misc. (1808), iii, 105 seq.; I. Temple, Petyt mss 538 vol. 47, f. 66; CJ, i. 7; B. Camm, Eng. Martyrs under Eliz. 16; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 544; G.D. Squibb, Doctor’s Commons, 148.
  • 5. Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 386-7; CPR, 1553-4, pp. 21, 395; 1555-6, p. 281; London Guildhall Lib. Bonner’s reg. ff. iv, 3; Strype, Crammer, i. 533; E101/520/17.
  • 6. J. Dyer, Reps. (1672), 300; Wilts. Arch. Soc. recs. br. x. 11; CPR, 1553-4, p. 395; Camm. 15; Oxf. Univ. Arch. T/S cal. chancellor’s ct. EEE, pp. 205-6, 212, 220, 315, 468.
  • 7. Salisbury corp. ledger B, f. 300v; Burnet, Hist. Ref. ii. 518; CJ, i. 6-7, 9; Hatfield 207.
  • 8. C219/21/154; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.; CJ, i. 27, 44-45, 49.
  • 9. Strype, Annals, ii. 296-7; Examinations and Writings of Archdeacon Philpot (Parker Soc.), 4-13, 47-48; R. Persons, A temperate watchword to ... Sir Francis Hastings (1599), 32-33; CSP Ven. 1555-6, p. 110.
  • 10. CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 322-3; Strype, Parker, ii. 366-7; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 389-415; State Trials, ed. Howell, i. 1087-95.