RASTELL, William (c.1508-65), of 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

Family and Education

b. c. 1508, yr. s. of John Rastell of London by Elizabeth, da. of Sir John More of London. educ.Oxf. c.1525; L. Inn, adm. 12 Sept. 1532, called 1539. m. 1544, Winifred, da. of John Clement, d.s.p.1

Offices Held

Pens. L. Inn 1545, bencher 1546, Autumn reader 1547, keeper of black bk. 1548, treasurer 1549, 1554-5.

Serjeant-at-law Oct. 1555; commr. heresy 1557; j. KB 27 Oct. 1558.2


According to Anthony Wood, William Rastell was sent to Oxford ‘in 1525 or thereabouts, being then in the year of his age 17’, and there laid ‘a considerable foundation in logic and philosophy’ although leaving without a degree. He was already assisting his father, whom in 1527 he helped devise a pageant at Greenwich for the entertainment of ambassadors from France, but it was his father’s printing business which chiefly claimed him until in 1529 he set up his own press, publishing The supplycacyon of soulys by his uncle Sir Thomas More. The year 1533 was Rastell’s most productive year as a printer, but in 1534, two years after his admission to Lincoln’s Inn and when he was perhaps seeking a career less hazardous to an opponent of the Reformation, he turned instead to the law.3

Rastell became an active member of his inn, but his progress was cut short by his flight overseas during the reign of Edward VI. By an inquisition taken at Guildhall it was found that he had departed without licence for Louvain with his household on 21 Dec. 1549 and his house, Skales Inn, and two messuages in Maiden Lane, seven other messuages in London and all his household goods were accordingly forfeit to the crown. In February 1550 he was also fined £10 for quitting the country without leave of the governors of Lincoln’s Inn and he was to be specifically excluded from the general pardon granted in the Parliament of March 1553 (7 Edw. VI, c.14). He remained at Louvain until after the accession of Mary, compiling and preparing for the press his edition of More’s English works which was later printed by Richard Tottel. In July 1553 Rastell’s wife, a daughter of More’s adopted daughter Mary Giggs and John Clement (a physician who also took refuge at Louvain in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth), died and was buried in the church of St. Pierre, Louvain: in the following year Rastell supplied the chapel of Lincoln’s Inn with various altar furnishings on condition that prayers should be said for her soul.4

Rastell probably owed his return for Hindon to Mary’s first Parliament to his proved Catholicism and his membership of the More circle rather than to any personal connexion with the patron Bishop Gardiner. As chancellor, Gardiner may have secured his return to the succeeding Parliament for Ripon, where his fellow-Member John Temple was the bishop’s servant, perhaps with the help of Sir Robert Rochester, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. In the spring of 1554 Rochester nominated Rastell’s brother-in-law John Heywood for Lancaster and in the autumn, with Heywood finding a seat at Hindon and Rastell perhaps preoccupied with resuming his legal career, another kinsman, Thomas More II, was returned for Ripon. In the following year Rastell’s fellow-Member and probable patron at Canterbury was Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law William Roper, also of Lincoln’s Inn; on 14 Sept. 1555, a week-and-a-half after the writs had gone out, the burmote agreed that the two men should be admitted and sworn freemen of the city ‘freely, of the gift and benevolence of the mayor and commonalty’, thus qualifying them for their election some three weeks later. In 1556 Rastell, by then a serjeant-at-law, was retained of counsel by Canterbury at an annual fee of 40s. As might be expected, he neither ‘stood for the true religion’ against the initial measures for the restoration of Catholicism in Mary’s first Parliament nor opposed one of the government’s bills in her fourth and his last. In each of these Parliaments he had bills committed to him, one for the continuance of divers Acts on its second reading on 30 Nov. 1553, another touching absence of knights and burgesses in the Parliament-time on its third reading on 26 Oct. 1555 and a third dealing with the proclamation of outlawries on its second reading on 7 Nov. 1555; only the first was enacted (1 Mary st. 2, c.13).5

In 1557 Rastell was named a commissioner for heresy and in the following year he was active as a justice of assize in the north. His appointment on 27 Oct. 1558 as a justice of the King’s bench was renewed by Elizabeth, but on 3 Jan. 1562 he again fled to Louvain where he remained until his death on 27 Aug. 1565: he was buried beside his wife. He had filed an autograph copy of his will with the registrar at Antwerp and probate was granted on Oct. 1565 to his father-in-law John Clement and his nephew Ellis Heywood. He made this nephew his heir, leaving him the rents which he apparently still drew from lands and houses in North Mimms bought in 1542 and part of an annuity of 780 florins purchased from the city of Antwerp, the rest going either to Bartholomew More (a grandson of the chancellor) while he remained an exile from Protestant England or to charity. The goods, including books, which Rastell had left at Serjeants’ Inn and forfeited by his second departure, were valued by commissioners at £48. It appears to have been during this second exile that he wrote a life of Sir Thomas More, of which only those parts survive which relate to Bishop Fisher, including an account of the Parliament of 1529 in which Rastell’s father had sat for Dunheved.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Aged 17 on entry to Oxford, Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 343. PCC 3 Crumwell; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 475; A. W. Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 86; DNB.
  • 2. CPR, 1554-5, p. 59; 1555-7, p. 281; 1557-8, p. 457.
  • 3. Reed, 74-76, 79, 82.
  • 4. CPR, 1550-3, pp. 171-2; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 293, 308-9; Reed, 87-88.
  • 5. Canterbury burmote bk. 1542-78, ff. 96v, 102v; CJ, i. 32, 42, 43.
  • 6. CPR, 1555-7, p. 281; 1557-8, pp. 350, 457; 1558-60, pp. 65, 77, 231; 1560-3, pp. 31, 57, 87, 187; E178/1076; Reed, 85, 91, 92; N. Harpsfield, Life of More (EETS clxxxvi), pp. ccxv-xix, 219-52, 350-2; Neale, Commons, 282.