Sir John MASON
Born: 1503, Abingdon, Berkshire, England
Died: 21 Apr 1566, London, Middlesex, England
Buried: St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Middlesex, England
Married: Elizabeth ISLEY (b. 1510 - d. AFT 1566) (dau. of Sir Thomas Isley of Sundridge, and Elizabeth Guildford) (w. of Robert Hill)
English diplomatist, was born in Abingdon in 1503, the son of a cowherd and nephew of a monk, perhaps of Thomas Rowland II (alias Pentecost), the Abbot of Abingdon, who educated him. When he was fifteen, King Henry VIII made a lengthy stay in the town to escape an outbreak of illness in London. It is possible that John Mason was acquainted with members of the royal entourage during Henry's stay.
Not long after the Royal visit, Mason gained entry to Oxford University, although it is not known in which hall he resided. In Jul 1521 John Mason became a Bachelor of Arts and a fellow of All Souls' College, becoming a Master of Arts in 1525.
Then he became King's Scholar at Sorbonne in Paris, mastering French and acquiring deeper knowledge of European affairs, with an annual allowance of £3.6s.8d, which was afterwards doubled. In 1531, he was given the parish church of Kyngeston in the diocese of Salisbury. At this point, he entered the diplomatic service, was present in 1532 at the meeting of Henry VIII and Francois I at Calais, and was sent on tour through France, Spain and Italy with a view to further diplomatic work. In 1535, he visited Spain, Padua and other towns of Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, the Lipari Islands, Sicily and Naples. Many of his journeys can be identified in the letters he wrote to acquaintances at the time. When in Valladolid, Spain, he wrote to a friend in Italy (in a somewhat disgruntled tone):
'The cities are neither great nor populous, the people tractable enough if you have nothing to do with them.'
He returned in 1536 and there is a tradition that, at this period of the Reformation, he saved the endowments of Oxford from confiscation.
In 1537, Mason ceased to be the King's scholar and entered into the service of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the British Envoy in Spain. In 1539, he was in the Netherlands reporting to the Government. Mason's duties incorporated substantial travelling. There are records of him serving in Lyon, Barcelona and Rome where Wyatt (along with various other English dignitaries) was representing King Henry at a summit conference involving the Pope, Francois I and Carlos V. Edmund Bonner, one of Henry's other representatives at the conference, seemed to take a particular dislike to Mason, blaming any of Wyatt's negative qualities on his afore-mentioned secretary in a letter to Cromwell:
'...by evil company and counsel of that unthrifty body Mason, [Wyatt] is thus corrupted...'
He accused Mason of many offences, mainly based upon his 'spending unthriftly' the King's money. However, both Wyatt and Mason continued to serve the King at the courts of the Emperor and the King of France, Mason conveying essential despatches himself.
In 1540, he was again with Wyatt. In Dec Mason was sent to Spain on an important operation. The public reason given for Mason's trip was to secure the release of Roger Basing. Basing had been sent to the country by Henry to investigate objections made by Englishmen to their treatment there but he was arrested for debt and incarcerated by a Frenchman on his arrival. However, his journey had a second, clandestine purpose: he was to ascertain who 'has the stroke, rule and authority there in the Emperor's absence, and how the Councillors agree together. How the country favours their doings, and whether any of the noblemen mislike them… what war preparations are made', among other things.
Unfortunately for Mason, any possibility of making a victorious return to his homeland as a successful servant and spy for the King was ruined unceremoniously when he was recalled from his post early and, far from receiving an hero's welcome, was arrested the moment he stepped ashore. Wyatt had also been apprehended. What charges were made against them are unknown: Wyatt was cautious to rebut strongly the accusations Bonner had made against the pair of them, but there were also suggestions that they had conspired with Sir John Neville's uprising in Lincolnshire, taking place at that time. Fortunately, both were released from the Tower of London (just a few days before Henry had all the incumbents beheaded) and granted an official pardon on 21 Mar 1541.
In 1542, he became Clerk to the Privy Council; in 1544, Master of the Posts and Secretary of the French Tongue. In Dec of that year, he describes the proroguing in person of Henry VIII's last Parliament. In 1545, he was licensed to import French wares. In that year, he visited Norfolk, 'Almaigne', and the court of Phillip, Duke of Bavaria.
When Henry VIII died, Paget and Petre, two of Mason's closest friends, were promoted to Principal Secretaries of the Privy Council and following Edward VI's coronation, Mason was made a Knight of the Carpet, giving him a certain right of approach to the King. However, as this title was bestowed upon fifty-five men at this time, Mason's satisfaction at receiving the honour may have been diminished somewhat. Archbishop Cranmer's chaplain, John Ponet, observed the close friendship of Paget and Mason, writing: 'Whatsoever Mason worketh, Paget uttereth, that the one inventeth, the other practiseth'. The Emperor's ambassador in London, Van der Delft, also commented on their closeness in one of his reports: 'He is a sincere man, of sound judgement, and on terms of most intimate friendship with Paget'.
About the same time, he received £20 for searching the records for English claims upon Scotland. In 1549, he was made Dean of Winchester, a title he retained until 1554; also a commissioner to negotiate the treaty by which Boulogne was restored to France, to which country he was appointed Ambassador in 1550. In Paris, where he helped to arrange the bethrothal of Edward VI to the princess Elisabeth of France. From this time, his letters rank as important historical documents. His health failing, he asked to be relieved of his post, and retired in 1551.
He became Master of Requests and Clerk of Parliament. In 1552, he received grants of land in Middlesex, Berkshire and Kent. He was elected Member of Parliament for Reading and, afterwards, for Taunton. From 1552 to 1556, he was Chancellor of Oxford University - perhaps as a reward for his services in 1536.
When it became clear that Edward was soon to die, Mason gave his support to Jane Grey as Edward's successor. He was a witness to Edward VI's will. The Duke of Northumberland had attempted to ensure a Protestant succession by persuading Edward to name Lady Jane as his heir and the documents were then passed on to be signed by the Privy Council. The majority, including Mason, did give their signatures to the document, although many did so under duress. Following Edward's death, Northumberland was suspicious of many of the councillors and had them confined to the Tower. Mary emerged victorious from the melee and was proclaimed Queen. Mason joined the Lord Mayor in proclaiming Queen Mary, and signed the Order in Council requesting the Duke of Northumberland to lay down his arms. Along with Lady Jane and their fellow conspirers, Northumberland was imprisoned in the Tower.
Sir John Mason married Elizabeth, dau. of Sir Thomas Isley of Sundridge, Kent, and Elizabeth Guildford. She was the widow of Richard Hill (b.1500 - d. 1539), wine merchant and master of Henry VIII’s wine cellar, by whom she is said to have had ten or eleven children. Among them were Mary (b. 1532 - d. 30 Nov 1616), Margaret, and Richard.
Being high in Mary's favour, in spite of his Protestantism, he continued to hold his secular preferments. In 1554, he was made Treasurer of the Chamber - the salary for this office and for the Mastership of Posts is given as £240 a year and 12d a day. In that year, he was M.P. for Southampton. From 1553 to 1556, he served as Ambassador at the Holy Roman Emperor's Court in Brussels, and was an eyewitness of the famous scene of Carlos V's abdication, of which he has left an interesting account. Here Mason received the visit of Sir John Cheke, who met his wife Mary Hill, daughter of the first marriage of Mason's wife, Elizabeth Isley. After one period of service in Brussels, Mary received the following testimonial from the Emperor:
'Mr. Mason, who has long resided as your ambassador in our Court, is about to return to England; and I do not wish to let him go without giving him this letter to bear witness that not only has he done his duty in your service with great prudence and modesty, but we are well pleased with his manner of transacting all the business that has passed through his hands. A better servant it would be impossible to ask for, and he has constantly shown his devotion to you. Wherefore, over and above the foregoing attestation, I cannot omit to pray you most heartily to show him the gratitude he so well deserves, and single him out for favour for our sake.'
Under Queen Elizabeth I, he still retained his posts and was restored to the Deanery of Winchester. From 1559 to 1564, he was again Chancellor of Oxford. During the opening years of Elizabeth's reign, he had the direction of foreign policy. Executor of the will of Sir John Guildford ABT 1565. It was he who read to the House of Commons the Queen's famous reply to the Commons' appeal that she should marry: 'I am already bound unto a husband, which is the Kingdom of England'.
At his death in 1566, he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral (London), leaving no issue, losing his only son at the age of eighteen in 1559. At his death, Mason held the post of Treasurer of the Chamber. Queen Elizabeth appointed his widow to fill out his term.
His principal heir was his adopted son, Anthony Wyckes alias Mason, grandson of Mason's mother, who succeeded him in 1574 as Clerk of Parliament, and was in turn succeeded in that office by another Abingdonian, Sir Thomas Smith.
Such a record of work carries with it the proof of Mason's energy and talents. It was a wonderful thing to win and keep high offices in such stormy times under four such monarchs as King Henry and his three children who succeeded him. He is described as a cautious diplomatist, but as a man who was genial in society. His most striking talent was his cool, unerring judgment of the trend of events. His services to his native town were very great, and their effects continue to the present day.
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