Sir William Petre, MP

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Sir William Petre, MP

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Torbryan, Devon, Engalnd
Death: January 13, 1572 (62-70)
Ingatestone, Essex, England
Place of Burial: Essex, England
Immediate Family:

Son of John Petre; John Petre; Alice Collings and Alice Petre
Husband of Anne Petre; Gertrude Tyrrell and Anne Petre
Father of First Baron John Petre; Katherine Talbot; Baby Petre; Baby Petre; Thomasine Petre and 9 others
Brother of John Petre; Archdeacon of Buckingham Richard Petre; Auditor of the Exchequer Robert Petre; Alice Petre; Thomasine Petre and 6 others

Occupation: Sec. of State; Filled many situations in the reign of Henry VIII and Edward VI.
Managed by: Private User
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About Sir William Petre, MP

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45
  • Petre, William (1505?-1572) by Albert Frederick Pollard
  • PETRE, Sir WILLIAM (1505?–1572), secretary of state, born at Tor Newton, Devonshire, about 1505, was son of John Petre, said to be a rich tanner of Torbryan, Devonshire, by his wife Alice or Alys, daughter of John Collinge of Woodlands in the same county. He was the eldest son of a family of nine; of his four brothers, the eldest, John (d. 1568), who is supposed by family tradition to have been senior to William, inherited Tor Newton; the second was chief customer at Exeter; Richard, the third, is stated to have been chancellor of Exeter and archdeacon of Buckingham; but the only preferment with which Le Neve credits him is a prebend in Peterborough Cathedral, which he received on 14 Jan. 1549–50 and resigned on 5 Oct. 1565; he was, however, installed precentor of Ely Cathedral on 28 Dec. 1557, and, though disapproving of Elizabeth's ecclesiastical policy, retained his office until 1571 (Oliver, Collections, p. 198). The youngest brother, Robert (d. 1593), was auditor of the exchequer.
  • William was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, and elected fellow of All Souls' in 1523, whence he graduated bachelor of civil and canon law on 2 July 1526, and D.C.L. on 17 Feb. 1532–3. Probably about 1527 he became principal of Peckwater's or Vine Hall, and tutor to George Boleyn (afterwards Viscount Rochford) [q. v.] (Lloyd, State Worthies, p. 430; cf. Wood, Athenæ, i. 98). It was no doubt through the influence of Boleyn's sister Anne that Petre was introduced at court and selected for government service. He was sent abroad, and resided on the continent, chiefly in France, for more than four years. On his return he was appointed a clerk in chancery. He had secured the favour of Cromwell and Cranmer, who spoke in November 1535 of making Petre dean of arches, there ‘being no man more fit for it.’ Anne Boleyn also sent him presents, and promised him any pleasure it was in her power to give. On 13 Jan. 1536 he was appointed deputy or proctor for Cromwell in his capacity as vicar-general. In the same year he was made master in chancery, and granted the prebend of Langford Ecclesia in Lincoln Cathedral, which he resigned next year. He was largely engaged in visiting the lesser monasteries. On 16 June 1536 Petre appeared in convocation and made a novel claim to preside over its deliberations, on the ground that the king was supreme head of the church, Cromwell was the king's vicegerent, and he was Cromwell's deputy. After some discussion his claim was allowed. In the same year he was placed on a commission to receive and examine all bulls and briefs from Rome, and in 1537 was employed to examine Robert Aske [q. v.] and other prisoners taken in the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire rebellions. In 1536 he had been appointed visitor of the greater monasteries in Kent and other southern counties. He was one of the most zealous of the visitors; in 1538 he procured the surrender of twenty monasteries, and in the first three months of 1539 thirteen more fell before him; his great achievement was the almost total extirpation of the Gilbertines, the only religious order of English origin (cf. {[sc|Dixon's}} Church Hist. ii. 26–30, 116; Gasquet, Henry VIII and the Monasteries).
  • In 1539 Petre was one of those appointed to prepare a bill for the enactment of the Six Articles, and in the following year was on the commission which declared the nullity of Henry's marriage with Anne of Cleves. Early in 1543 he was knighted; in the same year he served on various commissions to examine persons accused of heresy, and was appointed secretary of state in Wriothesley's place. On 9 July 1544 he was selected to assist Queen Catherine in carrying on the regency during Henry's absence, and to raise supplies for the king's expedition to Boulogne. In 1545 he was sent ambassador to the emperor, and at the end of the year was summoned to the privy council. He was appointed an assistant executor to Henry's will in 1547.
  • During Edward VI's reign Petre's importance and activity increased. In August 1547 he was entrusted with the great seal for use in all ecclesiastical affairs. In 1549 he served on commissions to visit the university of Oxford, to inquire into heresies, to examine the charges against Lord Seymour of Sudeley, and to try Bonner. He did not take part in Bonner's trial after the first day, and it was rumoured that he ‘was turning about to another party.’ On 6 Oct. he was sent by Somerset to the council to demand the reason of their coming together, but, finding them the stronger party, he remained and signed the council's letter to the lord mayor denouncing the protector; four days later he also signed the proclamation against Somerset. In February 1550 he was sent to Boulogne to negotiate the terms of peace with France, and in the following May exchanged ratifications of it at Amiens. In the same year he was treasurer of firstfruits and tenths, and one of the commissioners to examine Gardiner; he was also sent to New Hall, Essex, to request Mary to come to court or change her residence to Oking. In August 1551 Petre was one of those who communicated to Mary the council's decision forbidding mass in her household, and in October was appointed to confer with the German ambassadors on the proposed protestant alliance; in December he was on a commission for calling in the king's debts. In 1553 he drew up the minutes for Edward VI's will and, in the interest of Lady Jane Grey, signed the engagement of the council to maintain the succession as limited by it. On 20 July, however, he, like the majority of the council, declared for Mary. He remained in London during the next few days transacting secretarial business, but his wife joined Mary and entered London with her.
  • Petre had been identified with the council's most obnoxious proceedings towards Mary, and his position was at first insecure. He resumed attendance at the council on 12 Aug., but in September it was rumoured that he was out of office. He was, however, installed chancellor of the order of the Garter on 26 Sept., when he was directed by the queen to expunge the new rules formulated during the late reign. He further ingratiated himself with Mary by his zeal in tracing the accomplices of Wyatt's rebellion and by his advocacy of the Spanish marriage. Petre now devoted himself exclusively to his official duties; he rarely missed attendance at the council, and was frequently employed to consult with foreign ambassadors. He acquiesced in the restoration of the old religion, and took a prominent part in the reception of Pole and ceremonies connected with the absolution of England from the guilt of heresy. But with great dexterity he succeeded in obtaining from Paul IV a bull confirming him in possession of the lands he had derived from the suppression of the monasteries (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 1645). It was on his advice that Mary in 1557 forbade the landing of the pope's messenger sent to confer legatine power on William Peto [q. v.] instead of Pole. Owing to declining health he ceased to be secretary in 1557.
  • On Elizabeth's accession Petre was one of those charged to transact all business previous to the queen's coronation, and was still employed on various state affairs, but his attendances at the council became less frequent. They cease altogether after 1566, and Petre retired to his manor at Ingatestone, Essex, where he devoted himself to his charitable foundations. He died there, after a long illness, on 13 Jan. 1571–2, and was buried in Ingatestone church, where a handsome altar-tomb to his memory, between the chancel and south chapel, is still extant.
  • Petre's career is strikingly similar to those of other statesmen of his time, such as Cecil, Mason, and Rich, who, ‘sprung from the willow rather than the oak,’ served with equal fidelity Henry, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Camden calls him ‘a man of approved wisdom and exquisite learning,’ and Strype says he was ‘without spot that I could find except change of religion.’ He was ‘no seeker of extremity or blood, but of moderation in all things.’ As a diplomatist his manner was ‘smooth, reserved, resolved, yet obliging:’ ‘Ah!’ said Chatillon of Petre at Boulogne in 1550, ‘we had gained the last two hundred thousand crowns without hostages, had it not been for that man who said nothing.’ In his later years he was said to be a papist, a creed to which his descendants have consistently adhered. But his piety was not uncompromising, and did not stand in the way of his temporal advancement; as he himself wrote to Cecil, ‘we which talk much of Christ and his holy word have, I fear me, used a much contrary way; for we leave fishing for men, and fish again in the tempestuous seas of this world for gain and wicked mammon.’ Though he was less rapacious than his colleagues in profiting by the fall of Somerset, Petre acquired enormous property by the dissolution of the monasteries; in Devonshire alone he is said to have secured thirty-six thousand acres; but his principal seat was at Ingatestone, Essex, which he received on the dissolution of the abbey of St. Mary's, Barking. The hall which he built there still stands almost unimpaired (cf. Barrett, Essex Highways, &c., 2nd ser. pp. 32, 178–80). A considerable portion of his wealth, however, was spent on charitable objects; he founded almshouses at Ingatestone, and designed scholarships for All Souls' College, Oxford, but his chief benefactions were to Exeter College, Oxford, and entitle him to be considered its second founder (for full details see Boase, Registrum Coll. Exon. pp. lxxxv et seq.) In other ways Petre was a patron of learning; his correspondence with English envoys abroad contains frequent requests for rare books. He was himself governor of Chelmsford grammar school, and Ascham benefited by his favour, which he is said to have requited by dedicating to Petre his ‘Osorius de Nobilitate Christiana.’ A mass of Petre's correspondence has been summarised in the ‘Calendars of State Papers,’ and many of the originals are in the Cottonian, Harleian, and Additional MSS. in the British Museum; his transcript of the notes for Edward VI's will is in the Inner Temple Library. Two undoubted portraits of Petre, with one of doubtful authenticity, all belonging to the Right Rev. Monsignor Lord Petre, were exhibited in the Tudor exhibition; of these, one (No. 159), by Sir Antonio More, was painted ‘ætatis suæ xl;’ the third portrait (No. 149) is by Holbein, but bears the inscription on the background ‘ætatis suæ 74 An.o 1545,’ which does not agree with the facts of Petre's life (cf. Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ix. 247, 334, 415). Another portrait is in the hall of Exeter College, Oxford.
  • Petre married, first, about 1533, Gertrude, youngest child of Sir John Tyrrell, knt., of Warley, and his wife Anne, daughter of Edward Norris; she died on 28 May 1541, leaving two daughters, one of whom, Dorothy (1534–1618), married Nicholas Wadham [q. v.], founder of Wadham College, Oxford; and the other, Elizabeth, married John Gostwick. Petre married, secondly, Anne, daughter of Sir William Browne, lord mayor of London, and relict of John Tyrrell (d. 1540) of Heron, Essex, a distant cousin of Sir John Tyrrell, father of Petre's first wife (see pedigree in the Visitation of Essex, 1558). Anthony Tyrrell [q. v.] was the second Lady Petre's nephew. She died on 10 March 1581–1582, and was buried by her husband's side in Ingatestone church. By her Petre had two daughters, Thomasine and Katherine, and three sons, of whom two died young; the other, John (1549–1613), was knighted in 1576, sat in parliament for Essex in 1585–6, was created Baron Petre of Writtle, Essex, by James I on 21 July 1603, and died at West Horndon, Essex, on 11 Oct. 1613, being buried in Ingatestone church. He augmented his father's benefactions to Exeter College, contributed 95l. to the Virginia Company (Brown, Genesis U.S.A.), and became a Roman catholic. Exeter College published in his honour a thin quarto entitled ‘Threni Exoniensium in obitum … D. Johannis Petrei, Baronis de Writtle,’ Oxford, 1613 (Brit. Mus.) He married Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Walgrave, or Waldegrave, and left four sons, of whom the eldest, William, second Lord Petre, was father of William Petre (1602–1677) [q. v.], and grandfather of William, fourth baron Petre [q. v.]
  • [Cal. State Papers, Dom., For., and Venetian series; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner; Burghley State Papers, passim; Proceedings of the Privy Council; Rymer's Fœdera, original edition; Cotton. MSS. Cal. B. x. 101, Galba B. x. 210, 225; Harl. MS. 283, f. 187; Addit. MSS. 25114 ff. 333, 344, 346, 32654 ff. 80, 123, 32655 ff. 95, 152, 247–8, 32656 ff. 28, 185, 226; Ashmole MSS. 1121 f. 231, 1137 f. 142, 1729 f. 192; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Burrows's Worthies of All Souls'; Boase's Registrum Coll. Exon., Stapleton's Three Oxford Parishes, and Plummer's Elizabethan Oxford (all published by Oxford Hist. Soc.); Wood's Fasti, i. 73, 74, 93, 158, and City of Oxford, i. 597; Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club), passim; Chron. of Queen Jane, pp. 82, 88, 90, 109, Narr. of Reformation, pp. 282, 284, Annals of Queen Elizabeth, p. 11, Machyn's Diary, passim, and Wriothesley's Chron. ii. 31 (all published by Camden Soc.); Camden's Britannia and Elizabeth; Stow's Annals; Holinshed's Chronicles; Sir John Hayward's Life and Raigne of Edward the Sixt, 1630; Lloyd's State Worthies, pp. 430–4; Prince's Worthies of Devon, ed. 1701, pp. 496, 500; Moore's Devon, pp. 87–91; Strype's Works, Index; Dodd's Church Hist.; Fuller's Church Hist.; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England; Burnet's Reformation; Foxe's Actes and Mon.; Oliver's Collections, pp. 197–8; Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, 2nd ser. pp. 292–3, &c.; Coote's Civilians, p. 31; Burgon's Gresham, i. 36, 228, &c.; Newcourt's Repertorium, ii. 347; Hasted's Kent, i. 267; Morant's Essex, i. 115, 209; Ashmole and Beltz's Order of the Garter; Archæologia, xxi. 39, xxx. 465, xxxviii. 106; Segar's Baronagium Geneal.; Collins's Peerage, vii. 28, 33; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage; Visitation of Devonshire, 1564 (Harl. Soc.), passim; Berry's Essex Genealogies; Genealogical Collections illustrating the Hist. of Roman Catholic Families in England, ed. J. J. Howard, pt. i.; Miscell. Geneal. et Heraldica, new ser. ii. 152; Tytler's Edward VI, i. 76, 228, 427; Lingard's and Froude's Histories; Gent. Mag. 1792, ii. 998; English Hist. Rev. July 1894; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ix. 247, 334, 415.]
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  • PETRE, William (1505/6-72), of Ingatestone, Essex and Aldersgate Street, London.
  • b. 1505/6, s. of John Petre of Tor Newton in Torbryan, Devon by Alice, da. of John Collinge of Woodland, Devon; bro. of John I and Robert†. educ. Oxf. adm. by 1519; fellow, All Souls 1523; BCL and BCnL 1526; DCL 1533; adv. Doctors’ Commons 8 Mar. 1533. m. (1) ?Feb. 1534, Gertrude (d. 28 May 1541), da. of Sir John Tyrrell of Warley, Essex, 1s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) by Mar. 1542, Anne (d. 10 Mar. 1582), da. of William Browne of Flambards Hall, Essex and London, wid. of John Tyrrell (d.1540) of Heron in East Thorndon, Essex, 4s. inc. Sir John† 2da. Kntd. Jan. 1544. d. 13 Jan. 1572.
  • Offices Held
    • Proctor, ct. chancellor, univ. Oxf. by 1527-8; principal, Peckwater Inn, Oxf. Jan. 1530-Feb. 1534; clerk in Chancery by 1533, master 1536-41; official principal and commissary to Cromwell as vicegerent 13 Jan. 1536-40; canon of Lincoln and prebendary of Langford Ecclesia Nov. 1536-Apr. 1537; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1539, 1542; King’s Councillor 5 Oct. 1540; principal sec. 21 Jan. 1544-Mar. 1557; j.p. Essex by 1544-d.; PC by 1545-d.; custos rot. Essex 1547-d.; keeper, seal ad causas ecclesiasticas 18 Aug. 1548; treasurer, ct. first fruits and tenths 22 Oct. 1549-25 Jan. 1553; commr. relief, Essex 1550, chantries 1553; gov. Chelmsford g.s. 1551; chancellor, order of the Garter 27 Sept. 1553.5
  • William Petre came of a family of Devon yeomen, his father being a farmer and tanner assessed at £40 in goods for the subsidy of 1523. Petre was probably the second son and he was fortunate to be sent to Oxford, where he early distinguished himself by his learning. He is said to have been engaged by the Earl of Wiltshire as tutor to his son George Boleyn at some time between 1526 and 1529, and in June 1529 he received his first royal appointment, being nominated one of the King’s two proctors or advocates in the trial before the papal legates, Campeggio and Wolsey, of the validity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Petre was one of the lawyers sent by the King to the Continent in 1530 to obtain opinions from universities on the marriage; the Earl of Wiltshire was in the same year sent ambassador to Charles V at Bologna but it is not known whether Petre travelled with his patron or on a separate mission. By 1535 he had commended himself to Cromwell, for in November of that year the minister proposed him to Archbishop Cranmer for the post of dean or presiding judge of the court of arches: Petre did not obtain the post, but in January 1536 he was appointed deputy in ecclesiastical matters to Cromwell, by then vicegerent to Henry VIII, and in that capacity he presided over an important session of Convocation on 16 June 1536 in St. Paul’s cathedral. In the same year he was appointed one of the visitors of the monasteries, an appointment which was to occupy most of his time for several years. On the surviving evidence it can be said that Petre worked hard and conscientiously in the Dissolution, avoiding both the financial dishonesty and the disreputable behaviour of which some other visitors were accused. He received for his services a grant of the priory and manors of Clatercote and certain adjoining lands, worth about £70 a year in all; in addition various monastic houses before their dissolution granted him annuities or pensions, the total of which by 1540 amounted to over £100 a year.6
  • Petre married into the Essex family of Tyrrell, but when not abroad or on monastic visitations he first seems to have made his home in London. In 1537 he acquired lands in south Essex from monastic and private owners and in May 1538 he took from the convent of Barking a lease of the manor of Ging Abbess, which became the nucleus of a large estate at what is now Ingatestone. In 1539 and 1540 he purchased, through the court of augmentations, further lands in Essex, Oxfordshire and Somerset. It has been calculated that by the end of 1540 Petre had laid out over £1,600 on the purchase of lands and that they yielded him in rents and sales some £500 a year. As a visitor Petre would have had the detailed knowledge of monastic lands necessary for prudent buying. After his first wife’s death in 1541 he married again within a year: his new wife brought him, in addition to a marriage portion of 400 marks, lands in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Hampshire worth £280 a year.
  • From 1536 to 1541 Petre served as one of the 12 masters in Chancery, and as such was one of three persons appointed in November 1536 to receive, examine and burn papal bulls, licences and dispensations. By 1539 or 1540 he was one of those empowered to hear cases in the court of requests; although he took some part in the court’s work, most of it was probably dealt with by the two or three ‘ordinary’ or full-time masters. Petre also sat in at least one case in the court of Admiralty, perhaps as coadjutor, for he does not seem to have been a regular judge there. He took part in the examination of Robert Aske in the Tower in 1537 after the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and was one of the six administrators of the estate of Queen Catherine of Aragon whose appointment was intended to enable the King to appropriate her possessions with some show of legality. In April 1539 he was one of the commissioners who drafted the bill which later became the Act of Six Articles, but when in September Cromwell recommended him to Cranmer as master of the faculties in the consistory court at Canterbury, Cranmer had already promised the post to another. Like the earlier suggestion that he might be made dean of the court of arches, the proposal may mean that Petre was inclined to exchange political life for a career as a civilian. In the struggle for power that preceded Cromwell’s fall in 1540 he seems to have been useful to each side without becoming involved: he examined Tunstall in the Tower, searched Cromwell’s house by warrant from the King and was appointed a commissioner to test the validity of the marriage to Anne of Cleves. His own emergence from the crisis was signalized by his admission to the Council, and when he was straightway accused before that body by a former monk of Christchurch, Canterbury, of concealing treasons alleged against the prior, the matter was held to be ‘false and malicious’ and he was absolved. During Sir John Gage’s absence in the north in 1543-4 he was deputy keeper of the seal of the duchy of Lancaster.7
  • In January 1544 Petre was knighted and appointed one of the King’s two principal secretaries, the other being William Paget; a member of the Privy Council virtute officii, he attended its meetings regularly. He was one of the six persons authorized to sign documents with a stamp of the King’s signature and one of the five appointed to advise Queen Catherine Parr during her regency in July 1544. Petre drafted most of the letters sent by the Council while the King was in France and Paget also abroad; in the following April he himself went to Brussels to negotiate a settlement of commercial disputes, returning in July. In common with well-nigh all his colleagues at the centre of affairs during these years, Petre was content to execute decisions made by the King; not for him More’s advice to Cromwell to advise the King what he should do rather than what he could, and the Earl of Surrey’s complaint that ‘the kingdom has never been well’ since ‘mean creatures’ were in government was probably as much a criticism of this limited conception of ministerial duty as of the social origins of those who held it. Petre was actively concerned in the raising of money for the French war by securing loans from foreign bankers and by his membership of commissions for the sale of crown lands, chiefly ex-monastic; in September 1546 he and the dean of St. Paul’s were sent to France to negotiate the settlement of a dispute between the two countries about an outstanding French debt, but they were not successful in their mission.8
  • It is not known for certain that Petre sat in the Commons during Henry VIII’s reign, but his connexion with Cromwell and his later advancement make it likely that he did, and the supposition receives some support. There is first a list, believed to be in Cromwell’s hand, of the names of three boroughs normally in the gift of the bishop of Winchester, with corresponding names of persons several of whom were Members later; one of the names is Petre’s and it appears against the borough of Downton. The document is undated but is included among papers of 1536, and as Stephen Gardiner was abroad at the time of the elections for the Parliament of that year, Cromwell may have nominated Members for these episcopal boroughs and Petre have begun his long parliamentary career as a Member for Downton in the brief Parliament of 1536. For his Membership of its successor in 1539, which on general grounds is highly probable, the circumstantial evidence is less strong. He was named one of the receivers of petitions and was also involved in the preparation of the Act of Six Articles, but neither of these assignments implies that he sat in the Commons: if he did so, it must have been for a borough, as the names of the knights of the shire, and of the representatives of most cities, are known. For the Parliament of 1542 more names have survived, but not those for Essex or either of its boroughs; it seems to have been on this negative evidence that Browne Willis included Petre as knight of the shire for Essex, but his guess is weakened by the fact that Petre did not sit for the county in the next Parliament. On that occasion, however, Petre was present in the House of Lords. By an Act of 1539 (31 Hen. VIII, c.10) the principal secretaries, among others, had been given the right to sit in the Lords, and in 1545 Petre was among those who received writs of assistance to that effect. He had probably already made his appearance there in the third session of the previous Parliament, following his appointment, although if a writ was issued it has not survived. It was presumably as one of the secretaries that he attended the prorogation of the first session of the Parliament of 1545 by Henry VIII; he afterwards summarized the King’s speech for Paget who was abroad, sent him a schedule of the new enactments and concluded
    • The bill of books, albeit it was at the beginning set earnestly forward, is finally dashed in the Common House, as are divers others, whereas I hear no[t] his Majesty is much miscontented. The book of colleges etc. escaped narrowly and was driven [over] to the last hour, and yet then passed only by a division of the House.9
  • Petre was reappointed principal secretary on the accession of Edward VI. He had not been named an executor of Henry VIII’s will but only an assistant, and he was the only person in either group who was not left a legacy, although he apparently contrived to secure payment of £200, the standard amount for an assistant executor, by October 1547. As an assistant Petre did not immediately rejoin the Privy Council; a month elapsed before he and the other assistants did so. In August 1547 the Protector Somerset entrusted to Petre the royal seal for ecclesiastical causes; he had become sole principal secretary two months earlier, when Paget was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, but Paget continued to take the lead in deciding questions of policy. In April 1548 (Sir) Thomas Smith I was appointed second principal secretary, to act jointly with Petre, but was replaced, after Somerset’s fall in 1549, by Nicholas Wotton, and he in turn by William Cecil. His secretarial duties seem to have occupied Petre’s time fully for most of the next two years. He was on the commission to visit Oxford and reform the university’s statutes, but he did not take much part in the work: in August 1549, with Cecil and Smith, he was appointed by the Council to examine all printed books before publication, a censorship which he carried on alone for the rest of the reign.10
  • In the manoeuvrings of October 1549 which led to Somerset’s fall, Petre was careful not to identify himself clearly with the protagonists until the issue of their struggle was beyond doubt. Being with Somerset and the King at Hampton Court on 5 Oct. 1549 when the conflict seemed imminent, he was sent to London and arrived there the next day to demand of the Earl of Warwick and the other Councillors the purpose of their assembly and of their proposed journey to Hampton Court, and to warn them that ‘If they meant to talk with the Protector, they should come in a peaceable manner’. Arrived in London, Petre found that the majority of the Council supported Warwick and he accordingly remained with them, to draft their letters in the epistolary war which followed. Petre insured himself against a charge of defection by including in the Council’s letter the phrase: ‘Almost all your Council being now here we have for the better service of your Majesty caused your secretary to remain here with us’; whether Petre did so under duress cannot be known. On 8 Oct. Secretary Smith, who remained with Somerset, wrote a personal appeal to Petre to help in securing honourable terms: ‘Now is the time’, he wrote, ‘when you may show yourself to be of that nature whereof I have heard you and, as I think, worthily, glory, that is no seeker of extremity nor blood but of moderation in all things’. In the event Petre did not exercise any moderating influence on Warwick; the proclamation drafted by Petre and issued by the Council in answer to Somerset’s own was a flat rejection of the pleas for moderation and a demand for unconditional surrender. Petre also drafted the two letters sent on 10 Oct., one to Somerset and the King, the other to Cranmer, Paget and Smith, which carried conflicting messages designed to secure Somerset’s apprehension without bloodshed. His conduct can be defended only on the assumption that he believed Somerset’s instant removal necessary to avert civil war. Somerset went to the Tower with his followers, including Smith, whose secretaryship was given to Wotton. Petre seems to have been honest, even generous, in the share of the secretary’s fees which he paid to Smith on his release.11
  • Petre not only retained his secretaryship but was also given, on 20 Oct., the treasurership of the court of first fruits and tenths. Warwick appointed him one of the four ambassadors to negotiate peace with France in return for the cession of Boulogne in January 1550, and he is said to have been chiefly instrumental in saving England 200,000 crowns during the negotiations; he was also, with three others, deputed in May to complete the signing of the peace on England’s behalf. From April 1550 Petre was absent from Council meetings for several months, being seriously ill in Essex. Some of his tasks, for example his part in the lengthy trials of Bonner and Gardiner, Petre evidently owed to his training in the civil law. He was also the man most frequently employed to bear the government’s messages to Princess Mary forbidding her to have mass celebrated in her houses. These frequent and doubtless unpleasant missions were a strain on his health; he was ill again in August 1551, after a visit with Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich, and Sir Anthony Wingfield which Mary ended with the words: ‘I pray God to send you to do well in your souls and bodies too, for some of you have but weak bodies’. When in the early part of 1553 the King worked out a project for dividing the Council into three separate bodies dealing with different branches of its work Petre is known to have revised and systematized the scheme, presumably in consultation with the King.12
  • It was as first knight of the shire for Essex that Petre sat in the Parliament of 1547, as he was to do in every Parliament until 1563: he also had a writ of assistance to the Lords. The traces of his part in the business of the Commons begin in the second session, when on 26 Jan. 1549 a bill about pre-contracts for marriage was committed to him after its first reading; he was also one of five Members deputed to try a case brought by bill against (Sir) Nicholas Hare. In later sessions five bills were committed to him, among them those on ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the dean of Wells’s answer to a bill against him, and a bill ‘for fantastical prophecies’; the preponderance of religious subjects doubtless reflects Petre’s knowledge of church law. Two of the Acts passed during the third session, for a churchyard in West Drayton and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset, bear his signature. The returns for Essex to Edward VI’s second Parliament are incomplete, but the mention of Petre in the Journal as having an apparel bill committed to him shows that he sat in this Parliament, almost certainly as a knight of the shire.13
  • Petre was among the Councillors who secured the assent of the judges to the device altering the succession. In June 1553 (Sir) John Cheke had been appointed third principal secretary, and it was rumoured that Petre intended to resign, but he did not do so. He took the oath of allegiance to Lady Jane Grey after Edward VI’s death and was among the Councillors confined in the Tower by the Duke of Northumberland to ensure their loyalty to her, but when on 19 July 1553 a number of them escaped from the Tower and declared for Mary, Petre was among them. He remained in London to carry on the Council’s business when most of his colleagues went to make their submission to Mary. His secretaryship had been brought to an end by Edward VI’s death, but Mary re-appointed him and he was sworn of her Council on 30 July. His second wife, a firm Catholic, was a friend of the Queen’s and rode with her in procession upon her entry to London; she may have helped to smooth Petre’s path back to favour. He prepared a plan for reforming abuses in government and with Gardiner he reviewed the national finances, but his principal concern was with foreign relations, of which for the next four years he was to have almost sole direction. Although the Council under Mary became even larger than it had been under Edward VI, the decision-making body was a group of six or eight Councillors, of whom Petre was invariably one.
  • Petre avoided committing himself in the matter of the Queen’s marriage; once it was settled he helped to conclude the marriage treaty and his support was rewarded by a pension of £250 when Philip came to England. He raised a substantial force from his Essex estates to serve against Wyatt’s rebels and may have seen action himself. He took part in the interrogation and trial of rebels both in London and Essex, and was one of those appointed in March 1554 to examine Princess Elizabeth in the Tower about her supposed complicity. He was evidently on good terms with the Earl of Devon, some of whose possessions he planned to purchase after the earl’s departure for Italy although the transaction fell through. It appears that by September 1554 Petre would have liked to resign his secretaryship in favour of Cecil. He took no direct part in the proceedings against Protestants, although a member of the Council which directed and of the Parliament which authorized them. His own religious views remain a matter of conjecture. The papal bull of November 1555—so far as is known, the only one obtained by an Englishman—confirming his title to his ex-monastic lands was a piece of insurance which probably owed less to any particular regard for the sanctions of the Church than to inside information about the Pope’s intentions. In June 1555 Paul IV had issued a bull ordering the restoration of church lands which was never published in England, being replaced by another which confirmed the owners of such property in their possession: according to Pole, no-one in England knew about the first bull ‘except the Queen’s secretary’. During the later part of 1556 Petre was again in poor health and this probably explains his resignation of the secretaryship in March 1557, although dislike of the government’s policy both at home and abroad may have come into it. Yet he remained an active member of the Council. He was one of the standing committee appointed to devise means of raising money, among them a revision of the customs system.14
  • In the frequent Parliaments of the reign Petre came rapidly to the fore. During the first of them he had a bill ‘for certain artificers to dwell in towns’ committed to him and on two occasions he carried bills to the Lords. Before the next one met in April 1554 he was on the committee appointed by the Council ‘to consider what laws shall be established in this Parliament and to name men that shall make books thereof’; in the course of the Parliament itself he carried bills from the Commons to the Lords six times. In the Parliaments of November 1554 and of 1555 Petre was evidently recognized as a leading official figure. He carried bills to the Lords four times and had two bills committed to him. The Treasons Act of 1555 (1 and 2 Phil. and Mary, c.10) furnishes a rare glimpse of Petre at work on the drafting of an important bill; he was one of those who, on the Queen’s instructions, consulted with the imperial ambassador about the form of the bill introduced in the Commons after a similar bill originating in the Lords had been rejected there. As principal secretary it fell to Petre to act as the Queen’s spokesman in the Commons; on 27 Nov. 1554 he transmitted instructions for the House to attend the court to hear Pole’s explanation of his legatine mission and on 31 Oct. 1555 he informed the House that the Queen was ‘contented to refuse’ the two fifteenths they had voted her. He was one of 20 Members chosen ‘to devise articles for aid to the Queen’s majesty’ in October 1555, one of six chosen to consult with the Lords on the privilege question raised in December 1555 by the case of Gabriel Pleydell, and one of four sent in November 1555 to tell the young 4th Duke of Norfolk, who had made a personal appearance in the House with his lawyers to demand the furtherance of a bill, that the House would consider his case. An entry in the Journal for 26 Oct. 1555 reads ‘Arguments for execution of laws—S. Petre’, which suggests that he took a leading part in the debate. In the following Parliament, the last of the reign, he was appointed to the committee to examine the sanctuary rights claimed by Westminster abbey, and the bill placing an embargo on the import of French wines was committed to him after its second reading.15
  • Mary appointed Petre one of the executors of her will and bequeathed him 500 marks, a legacy which he never received because Elizabeth did not allow the provisions of the will to be carried out. He remained a Councillor under Elizabeth and during Cecil’s absence in the north in 1559 he was recalled to act as secretary. Elizabeth liked him personally and in July 1563 she passed a few days at Ingatestone, but age, ill health and deafness limited his usefulness. He died on 13 Jan. 1572 at Ingatestone and was buried there. The surviving portraits confirm the impression of a man of high intelligence but aloof and calculating.16
  • From:


  • A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and ... by John Burke
  • Pg.264
  • SIR WILLIAM PETRE, of Tor Brian, Devonshire, secretary of state to HENRY VIII. married, for his second wife, Anne, daughter of Sir William Browne, lord mayor of London in 1514, and was father of
  • SIR JOHN PETRE, who was elevated In the peerage as Lord Petre, Baron of Writtle, in 1603. His Iordship married Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Waldegrave, knt. of Barclay, in Essex, and was s. at his decease in 1637 by his son,
  • WILLIAM, second Lord Petre, of Writtle, who married Catherine, second daughter of Edward, fourth Earl of Worcester, and had
    • I. ROBERT, third Lord Petre.
    • II. William, ancestor of the Petres of Bellhouse.
    • lII. Thomas.
    • IV. JOHN, of whom presently.
    • V. Henry.
    • VI. George
    • I. Elizabeth, m. to William Sheldon, esq. of Beoley, in Worcestershire.
    • II. Mary, m. to John, Lord Teynham.
    • III. Catherine, m. to John Carrel, of Harting, in Sussex.
  • The fourth son,
  • THE HON. JOHN PETRE, waa of Fidlers, in Essex. He married thrice. By his first wife, Elizabeth (who d. in 1658), daughter of Thomas Pordage, esq. of Radmersham, he left, at his decease in 1696, a son and successor,
  • JOHN PETRE, esq. of Fidlers, who married Mary, daughter of Sir Francis Mannock, bart of Gifford's Hall, and was father of
  • JOSEPH PETRE, esq. of Fidlers, who m. Catherine, daughter of Sir William Andrews, bart. of Hildersham, in the county of Cambridge, and left at his decease, in 1721, a son and heir,
  • JOHN PETRE, esq. of Fidlers, who m. Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton, bart of Weston, and had (with other issue, who d. s. p.) a daughter, MARY, who married FRANCIS CANNING, esq. of Foxcote, and was ultimately sole heir to the family of Petre of Fidlers.


  • Sir William Petre (c. 1505 – 1572) (pronounced Peter) was Secretary of State to four successive Tudor monarchs, namely Kings Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I.
  • Educated as a lawyer at Oxford, he became a public servant, probably through the influence of the Boleyn family, one of whom, George Boleyn, he had tutored at Oxford and another of whom was Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. He rose rapidly in the royal service and was knighted in 1543.
  • Petre was adept at side-stepping the great religious controversies of the day and held high office through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I until, owing to ill health he retired a rich man to his manor of Ingatestone, in Essex, where he had built Ingatestone Hall. His son was John Petre, 1st Baron Petre of Writtle, raised to the peerage in 1603. The later Barons Petre have mostly been Roman Catholics.
  • The musician William Byrd wrote a Pavan and a Galliard for Sir William Petre, which were published as part of his Parthenia.
  • Born in about 1505 or 1506, Petre was the eldest son of John Petre of Tor Newton in the parish of Torbryan, Devon, by his wife Alice Colling, daughter of John Colling of Woodland, Devon.[2] The Petre family had been established at Tor Newton from at least the reign of King Richard II (1377–1399).[3] John Petre was by trade a tanner and both of his grandfathers were franklins.[4] His brothers included:[4]
  • John Petre (died 1571), Customer[5] of the ports of Dartmouth and Exeter in Devon and MP for Dartmouth in 1554.[6]
  • Richard Petre, Archdeacon of Buckingham.
  • Robert Petre, an auditor of the Exchequer, whose monument survives in Ingatestone Church, Essex. He received a grant of arms in 1573.[3]
  • In 1519 Petre matriculated at the University of Oxford as a law student. He is claimed as a member of Exeter College, of which he was later a benefactor, but there is no evidence of him there as an undergraduate. In 1523 he became a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, of which he was law bursar in 1528/9. On 2 July 1526 he graduated Bachelor of both laws, and in 1527 and 1528 practised as a lawyer in Oxford.[4]
  • .... etc.
  • Firstly, in about 1533, he married Gertrude Tyrrell (died 28 May 1541), concerning whose parents conflicting evidence exists. In some sources she is said to have been the daughter of Sir John Tyrrell (died 28 February 1541)[11] of Little Warley Hall, Essex,[4][7] the eldest son and heir of Humphrey Tyrrell, esquire, by his second wife Elizabeth Walwin, the daughter of John Walwin, esquire, of Longford, Herefordshire.[12][11] However neither a daughter, Gertrude, nor a son-in-law Sir William Petre, nor Petre grandchildren are mentioned in his will dated 20 February 1541.[11] Gertrude's mother is said in some sources to have been Anne Norris, daughter of Edward Norris[13][14] of Yattendon by his wife Frideswide Lovell, and granddaughter of William Norreys and Joan de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford. However the will of Sir John Tyrrell's widow, Anne, dated 16 July 1552 and proved in 1562,[13] indicates that she was not Anne Norrys, and that Sir John Tyrrell (died 28 February 1541) had two wives, both named Anne; as King points out 'it is manifest from his will, that at the time of her marriage with him she was the widow of John Hopton, by whom she had a daughter Elizabeth'.[13] In her own will Dame Anne Tyrrell mentions only her son, Maurice Tyrrell, and her daughter Elizabeth (née Hopton), then the wife of Sir John Perient (died 1551), Auditor of the Court of Wards and Liveries.[15] By his first wife, Gertrude Tyrrell, Petre had two daughters:
    • Dorothy Petre (1534–1618), whose godmother, in 1535, was Dorothy Barley (died 1557), the last Abbess of Barking Abbey.[16] She married Nicholas Wadham (died 1609),[4] with whom she co-founded Wadham College, Oxford, to which she granted the presentation of a living and much other local property.[citation needed]
    • Elizabeth Petre, god-daughter of Jane Wriothesley, wife of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton,[citation needed][17] who married John Gostwick of Willington, Bedfordshire.[4]
  • Petre married secondly, by March 1542,[4] Anne Browne (c.1509[18] – 10 March 1582),[4] widow of John Tyrrell (died 1540), esquire,[13][19] eldest son of Sir Thomas Tyrrell and Constance Blount, daughter of John Blount, 3rd Baron Mountjoy, and daughter of Sir William Browne, Lord Mayor of London, by his second wife, Alice Keble (died 8 June 1521), the daughter of Henry Keble (1452 - April 1517), Lord Mayor of London, and Joan Bryce.[20] By her first marriage, Anne (née Browne) was the mother of an only daughter, Katherine Tyrrell, who married Sir Richard Baker, the eldest son and heir of Sir John Baker, Chancellor of the Exchequer.[21] Petre second wife brought him a marriage portion of £280[4] from the lease of an estate at Dunton near East Horndon, and from manors in Cambridgeshire and Hampshire. By her Petre had three sons and two daughters:
    • John Petre, 1st Baron Petre (1549–1613), who 1570 married Mary Waldegrave (died 2 August 1604), eldest daughter of Sir Edward Waldegrave of Borley, Essex.
    • Two sons who died young.
    • Katherine Petre, who married John Talbot of Grafton, Worcestershire.[4]
    • Thomasine Petre, who married Lodovick Greville, son of Sir Edward Greville of Milcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon, by whom she was the mother of Sir Edward Greville (died 1634), MP.[4][22] In 1589 Thomasine's husband, Lodovick Greville, was charged as an accessory to murder; refusing to plead, he was pressed to death.[22]
  • From:


  • Sir William Petre1
  • M, #141783, b. 1500, d. 15 January 1572
    • Last Edited=22 Nov 2013
    • Sir William Petre was born in 1500.3 He was the son of John Petre and Alice Colling.3 He married Gertrude Tyrrell, daughter of Sir John Tyrrell and Anne Norris, in 1533.4 He died on 15 January 1572.3
  • He lived at Ingatestone, Essex, England.1
  • Children of Sir William Petre and Gertrude Tyrrell
    • Elizabeth Petre+1
    • Dorothy Petre4 b. 1534, d. 16 May 1618
  • Child of Sir William Petre and Anne Browne
    • John Petre, 1st Baron Petre+5 b. 20 Dec 1549, d. 11 Oct 1613
  • Citations
  • [S15] George Edward Cokayne, editor, The Complete Baronetage, 5 volumes (no date (c. 1900); reprint, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1983), volume I, page 100. Hereinafter cited as The Complete Baronetage.
  • [S3409] Caroline Maubois, "re: Penancoet Family," e-mail message to Darryl Roger Lundy, 2 December 2008. Hereinafter cited as "re: Penancoet Family."
  • [S1916] Tim Boyle, "re: Boyle Family," e-mail message to Darryl Roger Lundy, 16 September 2006. Hereinafter cited as "re: Boyle Family."
  • [S3268] Hans Harmsen, "re: Chester Family," e-mail message to Darryl Roger Lundy, 21 August 2008. Hereinafter cited as "re: Chester Family."
  • [S6] G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume X, page 506. Hereinafter cited as The Complete Peerage.
  • From:


  • William PETRE (Sir Secretary of State)
  • Born: ABT 1500, Tor Brian, Devonshire, England
  • Died: 13 Jan 1572
  • Father: John PETRE
  • Mother: Alice COLING
  • Notes: See his Biography.
  • Married 1: Gertrude TYRRELL (b. ABT 1504 - d. 28 May 1541) (dau. of Sir John Tyrrell of Little Warley Hall and Anne Norreys) ABT 1533
  • Children:
    • 1. John PETRE
    • 2. Dorothy PETRE
    • 3. Elizabeth PETRE
  • Married 2: Anne BROWNE
  • Children:
    • 4. Thomasine PETRE
    • 5. Catherine PETRE
    • 6. Edward PETRE (b. 16 Sep 1548- d. ABT 18 Oct 1548)
    • 7. John PETRE (1° B. Petre of Writtle)
    • 8. William PETRE (b. Aug/Sep 1551- d. 14 Sep 1551)
    • 9. Anne PETRE (b. 1557 - d. 1610)
  • From: PETRE (Sir Secretary of State)


  • Sir William Petre
  • Birth: 1505 Devon, England
  • Death: Jan. 13, 1572
  • The Catholic Parish of Ingatestone
  • The Reformation Period and Penal Times (1539-1688)
  • In 1539 Sir William Petre, a native of Devon and a servant of successive Tudor monarchs, bought the Manor of Gynge Abbes. The manor had formerly belonged to the nuns of Barking Abbey, which had recently been suppressed on the orders of King Henry VIII. It was not unusual in these troubled times for what would nowadays be termed ‘civil servants' to purchase confiscated monastic lands. For the survival of Catholicism in Ingatestone, however, Petre's action was providential. Not only did it lead to the building of Ingatestone Hall, but it heralded the establishment of the Petre family as the chief source of patronage and protection in Essex for those who remained loyal to the Catholic Faith and resisted the imposition of the Established Church under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Sir William was, in many respects, a ‘great survivor' in the political sense, and he played his religious cards close to his chest. However, his wife, Lady Anne Petre, was a leading recusant (i.e. one who refused to conform to the new religious settlement). It was she who, after the death of her husband in 1571/2, emerged as a staunch defender of Catholicism in the local area. In the late 1570s St John Paine, a seminary priest and one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales (put to death at Chelmsford on 2 April 1582 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970), lived at Ingatestone Hall where, having assumed the identity of an estate steward, he ministered to Catholics in the vicinity. In 1603 Sir John Petre, the son of Sir William and Lady Anne, was created Baron of Writtle by King James I. Maintaining his family's Catholic allegiance in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in 1613 he was succeeded by his son William, 2nd Lord Petre, another firm Catholic and a great benefactor to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).In the reign of King Charles I, and even more so during the period of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, attitudes towards Catholics hardened. Nevertheless, the Petre family at Ingatestone Hall and at nearby Thorndon, near Brentwood, continued to support their co-religionists. William, 4th Lord Petre, was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Titus Oates Plot of 1678 and died there in 1684. Thomas, 6th Lord Petre, was a close associate of the Catholic King James II (1685-1688). For obvious reasons, few records of the Catholic mission at Ingatestone survive from this period, but the list of priests known to have served there - as opposed to domestic chaplains to the Petre family - begins in 1688 with the Jesuit Father Richard Levison.
  • Family links:
  • Spouses:
  • Gertrude Tyrell Petre (____ - 1541)
  • Anne Browne Petre (____ - 1582)
  • Children:
    • Catharine Petre Talbot (1545 - 1597)*
  • Inscription:
  • "Here lie interred Wm. Lord Petre, Knight, with dame Ann, his second wife, daughter of William Browne, who died Mayor of London. The aforesaid nobleman William Lord Petre was by summons from Henry King of England, the eighth of that name, called to the office of Secretary, and to be one of His Majesty's Privy Council, in which station he continued under King Edward the Sixth, by whom he was made Treasurer of the first-fruits and tenths. After the death of Edward, he held the same offices under Queen Mary, which she conferred upon him, together with the Chancellorship likewise of the most noble order of the Garter. He was, too, one of the council of our Lady Queen Elizabeth."
  • Burial: St Edmund and St Mary Churchyard, Ingatestone, Brentwood Borough, Essex, England

Plot: Between the Chancel and the South chapel


Sir William Petre (c. 1505 – 1572) (pronounced Peter) was Secretary of State to four successive Tudor monarchs, namely Kings Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Educated as a lawyer at the University of Oxford, he became a public servant, probably through the influence of the Boleyn family, one of whom, George Boleyn, he had tutored at Oxford and another of whom was Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. He rose rapidly in the royal service and was knighted in 1543.

Sir William Petre was adept at side-stepping the great religious controversies of the day; in January 1544 he was appointed Secretary of State. He navigated the ship of state through the rest of Henry's troubled reign, managing a smooth succession in 1547. He held high office throughout the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I until, owing to ill health he retired a rich man to his manor of Ingatestone, in Essex, where he had built Ingatestone Hall. His son was John Petre, 1st Baron Petre of Writtle, raised to the peerage in 1603. The later Barons Petre have mostly been Roman Catholics.

The musician William Byrd wrote a Pavan and a Galliard for Sir William Petre, which were published as part of his Parthenia.

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Sir William Petre, MP's Timeline

Torbryan, Devon, Engalnd
Age 28
Age 29
Age 29
London, Middlesex, , England
April 7, 1543
Age 37
April 28, 1545
Age 39
Worcestershire, England, United Kingdom
April 28, 1545
Age 39
Longford Hall, Worcestershire, England, United Kingdom
September 16, 1548
Age 42