Sir John THYNNE of Longleat, Knight

Born: 1512, London, Middlesex, England

Died: 21 May 1580, Longleat, Wiltshire, England

Father: Thomas THYNNE of Church Stretton

Mother: Margaret EYNNS

Married 1: Christian GRESHAM (dau. of Sir Richard Gresham, Mayor of London, and sister of Sir Thomas Gresham) Jan 1549


1. John THYNNE (m. Joan Hayward)

2. Dorothy THYNNE (bur. 25 Sep 1592) (m. John Strangeways)

3. Anne THYNNE (m. John Cole)

4. Francis THYNNE (m. Alice Knocker)

5. Thomas THYNNE (m. Emily Bembridge)

6. Elizabeth THYNNE (m. John Chamberlayne)

7. Catherine THYNNE (m.1 Walter Long - m.2 Hugh Fox)

8. Frances THYNNE

9. Maria THYNNE

Married 2: Dorothy WROUGHTON (dau. of William Wroughton of Broad Hinton and Eleanor Lewknor) (m.2 Carew Raleigh) 1566


10. Egremont THYNNE (m. Barbara Calthorpe)

11. Henry THYNNE (m. Elizabeth Chudleigh)

12. Charles THYNNE

13. Edward THYNNE (m. Theodosia Manners)

14. William THYNNE (m. Alice Talbot)

Thynne,John01.jpg (103227 bytes)

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born 1512/1513, first son of Thomas Thynne of Church Stretton, Salop by Margaret, dau. of Thomas Eynns of Church Stretton. Married first, settlement Jan 1549, Christian, dau. of Sir Richard Gresham of London; married 2nd, 1566/1567, Dorothy, dau. of Sir William Wroughton of Broad Hinton, Wilts. and had 5 sons. Knighted 10 Sep 1547.

Servant of Thomas Vaux, 2nd Lord Vaux of Harrowden, in 1535; steward, with Sir Richard Whalley, of the household to Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp and later Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset 1536-1550; surveyor, court of augmentations, Wilts. by 1545-1553, Exchequer 1554-death; common packer, London Aug. 1547; commissioner chanteries, Wilts. and Salisbury 1548, musters, Wilts. 1569, loan 1570, subsidy 1576; sheriff, Somerset and Dorset 1548-1549, Wilts. 1569-1570; high steward, Warminster, Wilts. in 1553; Justice of Peace q. and custos rot. Wilts. 1558/1559-death.

John Thynne was probably drawn to London by his uncle William Thynne, chief clerk of the King's kitchen by 1526 and a master of the Household from 1540, who is remembered as an editor of Chaucer. William Thynne accumulated many offices, some of which show that he retained links with his native Welsh border country; in 1529 he was appointed receiver-general of the earldom of Mar in reversion and in May 1546, shortly before his death, a fresh grant, made at the request of the Earl of Hertford, included John Thynne in the reversion.

An account book kept by the steward of Lord Vaux of Harrowden includes John Thynne among the 46 persons 'ordinary of Household' who attended Vaux's family at Harrowden, Northamptonshire, from 2 Aug until 28 Oct 1535. Within less than a year Thynne had found preferment, for his first account as steward of the household to Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp, opens on 17 Jul 1536. Coinciding as it did with Vaux's sale to Seymour of his only crown office, the governorship of Jersey, Thynne's exchange of service was from a master who was financially embarrassed and politically negligible to one who stood on the threshold of greatness. The birth of Prince Edward carried Seymour across that threshold, and by Oct 1537 Thynne was distributing gifts among the royal officers at Windsor on the occasion of Seymour's elevation to the earldom of Hertford. In the following year he was involved in litigation with his former master: between Mar and the end of Nov 1538 Thynne, described as Hertford's servant, brought an action in Chancery over the Northamptonshire parsonage of Wilby, from which he claimed to have been excluded by Vaux.

When Thynne entered Hertford's servic, royal favour was already making the Seymours the foremost family in Wiltshire. He had no previous ties with that county, and was still described as resident in London on 11 Apr 1539 when he received a 21-year lease of the Devon rectory of Clawton. A year later Sir John Horsey sold Thynne the site of Longleat priory, with its appurtenances in three adjoining parishes on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset; other possessions of Longleat and Hinton, in the same neighborhood, were later granted by the crown to the Earl of Hertford, who on 25 June 1541 transferred them to Thynne. Here, close to his master's former monastic estate at Maiden Bradley, lay the center of Thynne's domains, which were to expand until they rivalled those of the Seymours.

During the closing years of Henry VIII's reign, Thynne's attendance upon Hertford cannot have allowed him to spend much time in Wiltshire. He appears to have penned the earl's letter to the Council from Alnwick on 29 Nov 1542, reporting the murder of Somerset Herald, and he probably took part in the ensuing battle of Solway Moss. In Mar 1544 he was paid 40s.10d. for repairs at Newcastle and on 29 Jul 1545 Hertford wrote from the same town to Secretary Paget, asking him to hasten the return of Thynne, who had been sent south to move private business of the earl's with the King.

Thynne's parliamentary career poses a number of problems, the first being when it began. Although he is not known to have been elected before 1545 he could well have sat in either or both of the Parliaments, those of 1539 and 1542, which followed his entry into Hertford's service, and if so he is most likely to have been returned for a borough within his master's sphere of influence in Wiltshire. An early historian of Marlborough, James Waylen, does indeed name Thynne as one of that borough's Members on two occasions before 1545, and although Waylen's ascription of the first of these to the year 1534 is almost certainly wrong, if this can be seen as an error for 1539, and his second date of 1541 be read as 1542, the resulting claim becomes credible on more than one ground. Marlborough formed part of the jointure of successive queens consort, but in 1539 there was no queen to wield patronage and in 1541-2 Catherine Howard could certainly not have done so. In these circumstances no one was better placed than Hertford to nominate the Members, and the names of Thynne and ‘Barwicke’, that is, John Berwick, in 1539 certainly bespeak the earl's influence, as does Thynne's three years later, although his fellow on this occasion, William Barnes, is not so readily connected with Hertford. Thynne's representation of Marlborough in these two Parliaments may also be reflected in the bond for £33 from the corporation which he was holding early in Mar 1544: that sum approximates to the total of his parliamentary wages (at 2s. a day) for the three sessions of the Parliament of 1539 and the first two of that of 1542.

If no such doubt attaches to Thynne's return for Marlborough in 1545, the circumstances of that election are not entirely clear. It appears from the indenture that on 20 Jan 1545 Thynne was returned with John Berwick but that Berwick's name was later erased and replaced, in a different hand, by that of Andrew Baynton, Berwick's name nevertheless remaining unchanged a few lines below. The alteration, which implies some misunderstanding, or even dispute, about the identity of the second Member, is perhaps also a pointer to the patronage in operation. At the time of the election, and for some months before it, Hertford was fully occupied in fighting and negotiating abroad, and it may well be that Berwick and Thynne procured their own nomination at Marlborough without his personal intervention; moreover, as Hertford was to return from France only to leave soon afterwards for the north, the substitution of Baynton, which could have taken place some time after the original election (the Parliament having already been prorogued until the autumn), may also have owed nothing to Hertford himself. Alternative sources of support for Baynton are not far to seek: one was Sir Thomas Seymour, with whom he was then exchanging lands, another, Queen Catherine Parr, since 1543 lord of Marlborough, whom Baynton's father had served as vice-chamberlain. Either, or both, of these powerful figures could have brushed aside the comparatively humble Berwick: that Thynne survived the intervention he perhaps owed to his friendship with the Queen, who used to send him New Year gifts, as well as to his higher standing in the Seymour entourage.

Attachment to Hertford brought increased rewards after the accession of Edward VI, when the earl became Protector and Duke of Somerset. On 2 Aug 1547 ‘one Mr. Cycell’ brought royal letters to the common council of London, demanding that Thynne should be given the ‘packership of strangers’ goods’, although this post had already been filled 24 hours before. On the next day Thynne became a freeman of the City, as a member of the Mercers’ Company (to which he had gained special admission in the course of the year), and it was agreed that he should be packer, although on condition that he should exercise the office only by the City's grant and should seek assurances that the King and Protector would never ‘write any more such letters to this house for the said room or office’. Civic rights were further safeguarded by provisos that Thynne should pay the usual fine of £6 13s.4d. for the freedom although this would be repaid him and that his promise to avert any future court pressure should be recorded and sent to him for perusal. Within two years he married a dau. of the former mayor Sir Richard Gresham, another mercer, and it was perhaps Gresham money which enabled Thynne, in association with Thomas Throckmorton, to pay £4,340 to the augmentations for the lands in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire which were granted to himself, his wife and his heirs on 19 May 1549.

Thynne's successful diligence in feathering his own nest, if wholly in keeping with the spirit of the age, remains the least commendable feature of his service with Somerset. Sir William Paget's verdict notwithstanding, there is little or nothing to support the view of Thynne as a grey eminence who wielded a pernicious influence on his master: he appears rather in the light of the hard working man of affairs struggling to keep abreast of the mass of business created by the Protector's multifarious concerns. One of these in particular engaged Thynne's interest and attention. A correspondence conducted between Nov 1548 and Jun 1549 shows him in charge of the Protector's plans to supersede the old Seymour house of Wolf Hall by a more palatial seat, on one of two nearby hills known as Bedwyn Brail. At the same time work was begun on Thynne's own mansion at Longleat, which was largely burned down in 1567, only to be rebuilt. Thynne, who may have been his own architect, showed at least as great an enthusiasm for Somerset's building projects as did the Protector: indeed, his neighbour William Darrell of Littlecote was later to charge him with ‘infecting his master's head with plats and forms and many a subtle thing’.

Thynne's Membership of the Parliament of 1547 is hedged by doubts similar to those attaching to his earlier elections. The only certain evidence of it is the appearance of his name, with that of Henry Clifford, on the revised version of the Crown Office list which was prepared for the fourth session of the Parliament in Jan 1552. As Salisbury, the city which Thynne and Clifford are there shown as representing, had on 26 Sep 1547 elected to this Parliament two of its own citizens, Robert Griffith and William Webbe, it has to be asked when and in what circumstances these two were superseded. Since both of them outlived the Parliament, and there is no trace of a by-election on any other score, the change may be presumed to have taken place before the Parliament assembled. The intrusion of Thynne is probably to be explained by his absence in Scotland, with the Protector, at the time of the election: if on their return early in Oct it was to find all the Wiltshire seats, including Marlborough, already bespoke, Somerset could well have decided to dragoon Salisbury into releasing one of its places for his steward. Much the same thing had happened there two years earlier and of the men displaced Webbe, at least, is likely to have abetted rather than opposed the repetition of that episode.

It is not to be supposed that, with so much of the Protector's business passing through his hands, to which was added in 1548-9 the shrievalty of Somerset and Dorset, Thynne was a regular attendant or active participant in the Commons, and his name does not occur in the Journal during this Parliament. He was, in any case, to suffer two forced exclusions from the House which together spanned the whole of the third and fourth sessions. Two days after Somerset's arrest at Windsor on 11 Oct 1549, Thynne was sent to the Tower with William Grey, Sir Thomas Smith, Sir Michael Stanhope and Edward Wolf, these being the Duke's ‘principal instruments and counsellors... in the affairs of his ill government’. On 28 Nov he told his interrogators that he had disapproved of Somerset's extravagant building operations as the Protector was always short of money, but denied all knowledge of corruption or sinister political designs. In the following Feb he was placed in stricter confinement, but received leave of absence for one month on 17 Apr and a pardon on 5 Aug, when all his goods and offices were restored; he then told Cecil that he wished to resign his stewardship. In the summer of 1551 he remonstrated with Somerset after being denied the mastership of the game in Bagley woods in favour of Charles, 8th Baron Stourton, and on 3 Oct he was rebuked for harshly imprisoning a younger poacher who had married a kinswoman of the duchess. He may have been trying to hold aloof from Somerset's party at court, for at the time of the Duke's second arrest he was in Wiltshire; none the less he was again put in the Tower on 16 Oct 1551, although in Nov his wife was permitted to enjoy his goods and three months later, after the Duke's execution, to visit her husband. Like other Seymour partisans whose lives were spared, Thynne had to part with his offices and much of his property; on 19 Jun 1552 he undertook to surrender his packership of London under penalty of 1,000 marks (although he was to hold it again under Elizabeth), and five days later his lease of the Savoy hospital was restored to the duchy of Lancaster. After this he retired to Wiltshire, where he joined John Berwick in trying to secure provision for the disinherited heir, Edward Seymour.

A man of great wealth, Thynne had been fortunate to escape so lightly; during his first spell in the Tower he had been forced to enter into a bond of £6,000, whereas the four men arrested with him had been rated at £3,000 apiece. He had incurred a good deal of enmity. In Wiltshire he had offended Sir Henry Long, who claimed that Somerset and his steward had deprived him of rights in Vastern park, and perhaps also Sir William Sharington, whose temporary disgrace for embezzlement in 1549 had led Thynne to agitate for repayment of a debt. As sheriff of Somerset and master to John Hartgill, Thynne had tried to make peace at an early stage in the quarrel between Baron Stourton and John's father, William Hartgill. Stourton was a dangerous man to cross, for he was nephew to Somerset's triumphant rival, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick. In an action for slander after Mary's accession, Thynne was to declare that he and Sir John Bonham had not dared to bring help to the new Queen lest Stourton should rifle their houses, ‘as he once did mine when I was at Windsor with the King before the Duke of Somerset's apprehension’. At court one of Somerset's own intimates, Paget, had long been a detractor: reporting in 1545 that he had pressed Hertford's private affairs with the King, Paget remarked that the details could be explained by Thynne, adding ‘Mary! Methinks I smell he looks to have somewhat more. You wot what.’, a hint that Thynne needed bribing. In Jul 1549 Paget had complained to Sir William Petre of Thynne's dishonesty and greed, with the warning that ‘there is no one thing whereof his grace hath need to take such heed as that man's proceedings’.

Fortunately for Thynne's prospects Paget, who had changed sides in time to escape the first attack on Somerset, was arrested and disgraced during the second in 1551. Thynne was also helped perhaps by his rich marriage and city connexions, which enabled him to account for his gains, and by the services rendered to Warwick by his brother-in-law Thomas Gresham in the Netherlands. Among other useful friendships were those with William Cecil and Sir William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester, both of whom survived Somerset's fall: Cecil was now a neighbour of Thynne's at Cannon Row, Westminster, and it was from his ‘loving friend’ Thynne that in Dec 1552 Winchester sought details of Somerset's property in order to help the heir.

As late as 19 Oct 1552 his lawyer Humphrey Moseley reported to Thynne from the court that he was the subject of ominous talk, including the rumour that he was to be returned to the Tower. It is no surprise, therefore, that Thynne is not known to have procured his own re-election to the Parliament summoned by Warwick, now Duke of Northumberland, for Mar 1553. His support was, however, solicited by Moseley at Marlborough or, failing that, for another Wiltshire seat which he hoped the sheriff, Sir William Sharington, would provide at Thynne's request. Moseley was to be disappointed, but whether because his patron lacked the influence needed to place him cannot be known: Thynne's relations with Sharington seem to have become amicable again a few months later, on the eve of his death, Sharington would reply courteously to Thynne's request for the loan of a mason from Lacock and he may have given his support to other aspirants, such as his future associate Gabriel Pleydell, who was returned for Wootton Bassett.

Thynne responded to Queen Mary's orders of 19 Jul 1553 by proclaiming her at Warminster, where he was high steward. In doing so, he again incurred the wrath of Baron Stourton, who claimed to have a prior commission as the Queen's lieutenant but whose agent was brushed aside. On 22 Jul Thynne, with Sir John Bonham, Sir James Stumpe and Sir William Wroughton, informed Mary that she had been duly proclaimed and on 24 Jul they asked about Stourton's claim to wield special authority. The Queen's order of the following day that they should remain in their own counties told them where their duty lay, and to Stourton's accusations that he was a traitor and a flatterer Thynne retorted, ‘Master have I had none but the King's majesty since the death of the Duke of Somerset’. On 20 Sep Stourton informed the sheriff that the Queen would not have ‘such spotted persons’ as Bonham and Thynne elected to Parliament; whether or not this denunciation was responsible for their absence from the parliamentary ranks under Mary, the epithet provoked a suit for slander in which Moseley acted as Thynne's counsel. In Jan 1554, with Stourton's newfound prestige declining, Moseley advised his client to reach a settlement privately, leaving Bonham in the lurch, but it is not known whether the case was settled before Stourton destroyed himself by murdering the Hartgills.

Thynne's exclusion from public employment under Mary, and by contrast his avoidance of serious subversion, mean that save in one important respect the chronicle of his life during the reign holds little of political interest. He had sued out a pardon on 13 Oct 1553 and in the following Jan he was ordered to entertain Felipe of Spain if that prince should land at a western port. To judge from Thynne's correspondence with Anne Stanhope, the Protector's widow, and later with his son, he remained genuinely attached to the house of Seymour and he must have welcomed the Queen's restoration of its estates to the duchess on behalf of the young Edward Seymour. Although Thynne was not implicated in the conspiracies against the Marian regime which brought trouble to so many of his west-country neighbours, he was undoubtedly a marked man on account of his loyalty to Princess Elizabeth, with whom he maintained during these hazardous years a regular correspondence through Sir Thomas Parry. In 1555, when she was asserting her right to choose her own household officers, Elizabeth designated Thynne as her comptroller, but it is unlikely that he was ever allowed to function in this capacity. He gave final proof of his support by offering, on the eve of her accession, to place troops at Elizabeth's disposal, thereby repudiating his own claim of three years earlier, in connexion with the feud between Hartgill and Stourton, ‘I never meddle in any man's matter but mine own’.

Although Elizabeth's accession brought Thynne no notable preferment, the 22 years of life which remained to him were to be marked by much activity, as well at court and Parliament as in his county, and great prosperity, evinced above all at Longleat. He died in May 1580. His widow married Carew Raleigh. Dorothy's sister, Anne, had married Sir Henry Pole of Sapperton in Gloucestershire,  Sheriff of the county, the son of Sir Giles Pole (a gentleman pensioner of Henry VIII). Her niece, also Dorothy (dau. of Sir Thomas Wroughton), married Sir Henry Unton.

His son John married Joan Hayward, dau. of Rowland Hayward, Lord Mayor of London, and his grandson Thomas married Catherine Howard, a dau. of the first Viscount Bindon.


DNB (Thynne, William)

G. Anstruther, Vaux of Harrowden

J. Lees-Milne, Tudor Renaissance

J. Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, pp. 45-47, 62

M. Girouard, Robert Smythson, 52.

L. Bush, Govt. Pol. Somerset, 89

B. L. Beer, ‘Sir William Paget and the Protectorate, 1547-9’, Ohio Academy of Hist. Newsletter, ii. 2-9.

Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, i. 190.

Read, Mr. Sec. Cecil and Q. Eliz. 57, 67

Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 2, ff. 167-8v, 176

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