Sir William Sharington MP

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William Sharington, MP

Birthdate: (58)
Death: July 9, 1553 (54-62)
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Sherington and Catherine Pyrton
Husband of Ursula Sharington; Eleanor Sharington and Grace Farrington
Brother of Sir Henry Sherrington of Lacock

Managed by: Woodman Mark Lowes Dickinson, OBE
Last Updated:

About Sir William Sharington MP

  • 'Sir William Sharington (born about 1495, died before 6 July 1553) was an English courtier of the time of Henry VIII, master and embezzler of the Bristol Mint, member of parliament, conspirator, and High Sheriff of Wiltshire.
  • Sharington was the eldest son of Thomas Sharington, a gentleman of Cranworth in Norfolk, by his wife Katherine, daughter and heiress of William Pyrton of Little Bentley, Essex.[1] In early life, Sharington is known to have made a visit to Italy, during which he developed an interest in art.[2] Sharington's father left him the manor of Swathing's at Fransham in the Launditch hundred of Norfolk by a Will dated 15 October 1519, and Sharington sold it in 1532.[3] The manor had come to Sharington's great-grandfather Henry Sharington, who was steward to the Bishop of Ely, when he married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Edmund de Swathing.[4]
  • 'Sharington's early career is obscure. He married Ursula, a natural daughter of John Bourchier, Lord Berners, who had served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was a friend of Berners. By 1538, he was in the service of a brother-in-law of Berners, Sir Francis Bryan, who was a soldier and diplomat, thus becoming a friend of Thomas Seymour, who was also in Bryan's service. Seymour was one of the brothers of Jane Seymour, who in 1536 became King Henry VIII's third queen consort. By 1539, Sharington had been appointed a page of the king's robes, and in 1540 was promoted to Groom of the Robes. The king trusted him, and in 1541 he was made a page of the Privy chamber and in 1542 a Groom of the Chamber. Also in 1542, he was appointed steward and constable of Castle Rising, in his home county of Norfolk. In 1544, he joined the household of Queen Catherine Parr.[1]
  • In 1540, following the dissolution of the Monasteries, Sharington paid £783 for Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, soon beginning to convert it into a private residence, in which he demonstrated good taste. He retained much of the medieval fabric of the house, adding a three-storey octagonal tower, tall Renaissance chimneys, and a stable courtyard, while demolishing a church.[1][2] Hutton, in his Highways and Byways in Wiltshire, comments:
    • All the sixteenth century work of Sir William Sharington is of great beauty... What Sharington spared he jealously guarded.[5]
  • At about the same time, for his friend John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, Sharington designed a range of new buildings at Dudley Castle which were erected within the old castle's walls and which have been called the Sharrington Range.[6]
  • In June 1541 he leased the manor of Heytesbury from the Crown, making him the most powerful man in those parts for the next seven years.[7] He began to buy land on a large scale. In 1543 he spent more than £1,000, and in 1548 over £2,800, by which time he owned fourteen manors in Wiltshire and others in the neighbouring counties of Somerset, Dorset, and Gloucestershire.[8] He served as member of parliament for Heytesbury in 1545 and for Bramber in 1547. He was knighted at the coronation of King Edward VI on 20 February 1547.[1][2] In 1547, he became one of the two knights of the shire for Wiltshire.[1]
  • Apart from his interests in land, Sharington was also a merchant and owned several ships trading out of Bristol. He is known to have bought wool from all parts of Wiltshire and was also active as a moneylender.[8]
  • In 1546, in a development which ultimately led to his downfall, Sharington became 'under-treasurer' of a newly re-established mint at Bristol Castle. Despite its title, this position was in effect that of the master of the mint, and it carried a salary of 200 marks (or £133, 6s, 8d) a year. With a staff of six men, including an engraver, Bristol was the only mint outside London to make gold coins, and also the only one apart from that at the Tower of London to have its own engraver. As well as English coins, it also produced the coinage of Ireland.[1][9]
  • In 1547, Sharington was appointed to commissions to report on the king's mints and on the Admiralty, as a chantry commissioner for Gloucestershire, Gloucester, and the city of Bristol, and as a Justice of the Peace for Wiltshire.[1]
  • By 1548, Sharington had begun to defraud the Bristol mint by making coins too light and also by minting more coins than had been ordered, keeping false records to fend off discovery. According to his later confession, he had been afraid that his minting activity would leave him out of pocket. He may also have been anxious about the costs of his development at Lacock.[1] As a result, Sharington became involved in a plot by Thomas, Lord Seymour, to launch an armed uprising, overthrow the government of Seymour's brother Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and capture the boy king Edward VI.[10] Sharington had sought the protection of Seymour in the event of the discovery that he was profiting dishonestly from his office at the mint, and Seymour persuaded Sharington to supply funds for his plot. He asked Sharington whether he could make £10,000, enough money to keep ten thousand armed men in action for a month, and Sharington had said he could and that Seymour "should lack no money".[1][11] However, the plot was discovered and in January 1549, both men were arrested, Sharington on charges of coining base money, clipping, and other frauds.[12] Sharington confessed, blaming Seymour,[13] and suffered an attainder, forfeiting his landed estates and being ejected from his seat in parliament, while Seymour was beheaded.[2][14] The reason stated for Sharington's attainder was that he had coined testoons for personal gain.[15] However, all testoons of the period struck in quantity by all English mints were produced in base silver.
  • The Articles of High Treason laid against Thomas Seymour included the following:
    • Yt is also objected and laied unto your charge that having knowledge that Sir William Sharington, knight, had committed treason, and otherwise wonderfully defrauded and deceiv'd the Kinges Majestie, nevertheless you both by your self, and by seeking Counsel for him, and by all means you could, did aid, assist, and beare hym, contrarie to your dewtie and Allegiance to the Kinges Majestie, and the good laws and orders of the realm. Yt is objected and laied unto your charge that where you owed to the said Sir William Sharington, knight, a great sum of Mony, yet to abet, beare and cloake the great falshood of the said Sharington you were not afraid to saye and affirm, before the Lord Protector and the Council, that the said Sharington did owe you a great sum of Mony, viz. 2800l. and to conspire with him in that falshood, and take a Bill of that feigned debt into your custody.[16]
  • In saving his neck, Sharington had successfully sought the help of Francis Talbot, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, and of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, and had pleaded with Somerset himself. Without Thomas Seymour, they saw Sharington as no political threat to them, and he was also helped by Hugh Latimer, who referred to him in a sermon preached before the king during Lent of 1549, calling him "an honest gentleman, and one that God loveth... a chosen man of God, and one of his elected".[17][18] In November 1549 Sharington was pardoned, and on the payment of £12,867, he even recovered his estates.[1][2]
  • In April 1550, Sharington was appointed to travel to France with Sir Maurice Dennis to bring back two hundred thousand crowns, part of the payment for the sale of Boulogne to Henry II of France. He continued to serve as a magistrate, and when in October 1551 his Wiltshire neighbour Sir William Herbert was created Earl of Pembroke, Sharington was returned to the House of Commons at a by-election as one of the members of parliament for Wiltshire. In 1552, he was appointed as Sheriff of Wiltshire.[1]
  • 'After the death of his first wife, Ursula Bourchier, Sharington married secondly Eleanor, daughter of William Walsingham and sister of Sir Francis Walsingham, and thirdly Grace Farrington, the widow of Robert Paget, an alderman of London, but he left no children behind him. He died on an unknown date before 6 July 1553 and was succeeded in his estates by his brother Henry Sharington.[1][2] In July 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Mary I signed bills for the appointment of a new Sheriff of Wiltshire "in the room of Sir William Sharington, Knight, deceased".[19]
  • 'A sketch of Sharington by Hans Holbein the Younger was acquired by King Charles II in 1675 and is still in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.[20] Inscribed at the foot 'William Sharinton', this drawing is in black and coloured chalks on pink-primed paper.[21]
  • 'Some coins of the Bristol mint during Sharington's control of it, including gold sovereigns of Henry VIII, bear the mint mark of the letters "W. S." combined into a monogram, for 'William Sharington'.[22][23]
  • From:
  • ________________________
  • 'SHARINGTON, William (c.1495-1553), of Lacock, Wilts.
  • Family and Education
  • 'b. c.1495, 1st s. of Thomas Sharington of Norfolk by Catherine, da. and h. of William Pyrton of Little Bentley, Essex. m. (1) Ursula, illegit. da. of John Bourchier, 2nd Lord Berners; (2) Eleanor, da. of William Walsingham; (3) 1542, Grace, da. of one Farrington of Devon, wid. of Robert Paget of London. KB 20 Feb. 1547.3
  • Offices Held
  • Page of the robes by 1539, groom 1540; page of the privy chamber 1541, groom 1542; jt. (with Thomas Paston) steward and constable, Castle Rising, Norf. Nov. 1542; member, household of Queen Catherine Parr by 1544-5 or later; under treasurer, Bristol mint 25 Mar. 1546-25 Dec. 1548; j.p. Wilts. 1547-d.; commr. to inquire into the mints 1547, of Admiralty in Nov. 1547, chantries, Glos., Gloucester and Bristol 1548, for sale of Boulogne 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Wilts. 1553; sheriff, Wilts. 1552- d. 4
  • Biography
  • 'Nothing has come to light about William Sharington during the first 30 years of his life, but by 1538 he was in the retinue of Sir Francis Bryan, poet, soldier and diplomatist. He could claim kinship with Bryan through his marriage to a natural daughter of the 2nd Lord Berners, who was Bryan’s brother-in-law, and this may have had a bearing on his clientage: as Bryan was a frequent visitor to Calais, the marriage of Sharington’s sister to the comptroller of the garrison there was also perhaps a by-product of the Bryan connexion. It was, however, not Bryan himself but another of his servants, Sir Thomas Seymour II, who was to determine Sharington’s further career: as Seymour’s fortunes rose in the years from 1536 Sharington’s rose with them, only to crash in the fatal winter of 1548-9.5
  • The twin agencies of this process were the Dissolution and the Great Debasement. In January 1539 William Petre informed Cromwell that he had taken the surrender of Lacock abbey which he proposed to leave in Sharington’s care: 18 months later the abbey was granted to Sharington for £783. This was his first property in Wiltshire and he was probably encouraged by Seymour to make his home in what was rapidly becoming the Seymours’ chief territory, although he had (or was to have) a family connexion there, his second wife’s cousin being married to Edward Baynton of Lackham. The purchase of Lacock was the prelude to a sustained intervention in the land market. A lease of the demesne of the lordship of Heytesbury in 1541 was closely followed by the bestowal of over £2,000 on ex-monastic land in Berkshire, Gloucester and Wiltshire, of which all but the Wiltshire properties were sold and their yield applied to the purchase of more land in that county. Sharington spent more than £1,000 in 1543 and over £2,800 in 1548, by which time he owned 14 manors in Wiltshire and others in Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset. In 1550 he was to pay £12,867 for his restoration in blood and lands, although over £4,000 of this was said to represent a debt to the crown. He continued to buy land in Wiltshire until the month of his death.6
  • Sharington also engaged in overseas trade. On the King’s recommendation he was made an honorary freeman of London in 1542 and four years later he himself successfully recommended a London brewer for the same honour: his own marriage in 1542 to the widow of a London alderman (perhaps a kinsman of William Paget) may have quickened his interest in trade. In 1549 he claimed that he had a £2,000 interest in the Antwerp trade and he is known to have bought wool from all over Wiltshire: a few years earlier he had received a licence to import 300 tons of French wares and he owned several ships trading from Bristol. It is also clear that by the time of his attainder he had gone in for moneylending on a large scale.7
  • Landowner and merchant, Sharington was also a man of culture. When he obtained Lacock he found the abbess’s lodging on the west of the cloister had recently been modernized. In his remodelling of the property he kept the sacristy, chapter house and warming house, the dormitory on the east side, the refectory and the kitchen. Of the extensions made by him there survives only an octagonal tower. The alterations and improvements incorporating many renaissance and mannerist features were then to the forefront of fashion in England and have justly become famous. Much of the building stone may have come from the ruins of Devizes castle, then owned by Seymour, which had also been used by Sir Edward Baynton in the construction of Bromham House. Sharington employed expert masons and they were in great demand. A fortnight before his death he wrote to (Sir) John Thynne at Longleat apologizing for not sending a workman. Seymour employed Sharington’s men at Sudeley and Bromham where over £2,500 was spent on improvements, and in May 1551 the Council asked Sharington to spare for a few more months a workman of his engaged on the royal works in the Scilly Isles.8
  • Early in 1546 Sharington was appointed under treasurer of the mint at Bristol where he proceeded to make a substantial profit not only for the King but also for himself and for Seymour. It was doubtless to Seymour, then admiral, that he owed both his knighthood at Edward VI’s coronation and his seat in the Parliament of 1547 as a Member for Bramber. He had sat in the previous Parliament for Heytesbury, where if he had needed any reinforcement of of his position as lessee of the demesne he could have looked for it either to Seymour or to Queen Catherine Parr, from whom as a member of her household he received New Year’s gifts of satin in 1544 and 1545. Of his part in either Parliament no trace has been found until his implication in the downfall of Seymour. On 19 Jan. 1549 Sharington joined his patron in the Tower. A fortnight earlier Seymour’s brother the Protector had sent three men to examine the accounts at Bristol. They called at Lacock on the way and under Lady Sharington’s supervision they collected writings, money, plate and jewels which they sealed in chests and left in the charge of four servants. At Bristol they learned that James Paget, a teller there (who may well have been a relative of Lady Sharington), had come from London and taken away all Sharington’s papers: they advised his arrest and reported their intention of keeping the mint at work to avoid suspicion of their purpose.9
  • A Welsh-speaking Bristol shoemaker named Jenkin Dee declared under examination that it was Thomas Barro, an officer at the mint, who had revealed Sharington’s fraud, but there can be no doubt that both Paget and Thomas Dowrishe, Sharington’s deputy, were aware that he had coined testons in defiance of the prohibition of April 1547. Sharington claimed to have done this so that he could buy silver at the great Bristol fair at St. James’s tide, the mint being under pressure to provide money for Ireland: this requirement was certainly true, but Sharington had clearly profited from debased coin ever since his appointment at Bristol and on his own admission had made £4,000 in three years and embezzled large sums for the admiral. Seymour may have thought he had a right to money from Bristol for he seems to have believed that his brother was making a personal fortune from the mint at Durham Place.10
  • On 14 Feb. 1549 Sharington was tried at Guildhall, found guilty of counterfeiting and embezzling the King’s money and sentenced to death; early in March an Act of attainder was passed against him (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.17). He had, however, already written to the earls of Shrewsbury and Southampton begging them to intercede with the Protector to spare his life, even if he had to pass it in perpetual imprisonment. His plea was granted, but at the price of his giving information sufficient to destroy the admiral. Eight months later, when Thomas Seymour’s execution had been followed by his brother’s overthrow, the way was clear for Sharington’s rehabilitation: in November 1549 he was pardoned and in January 1550 an Act restored him to his estates and goods (3 and 4 Edw. VI, c.13). His swift recovery of favour is shown by his membership of the commission appointed in March to collect 200,000 crowns from the French, the first half of their purchase money for Boulogne. In a sermon delivered before the King in Lent 1550 Latimer praised Sharington as ‘an honest gentleman and one that God loveth. He openly confessed that he had deceived the King and made open restitution ... It is a token that he is a chosen man of God and one of his elected’.11
  • Sharington’s attainder cost him his seat in Parliament. Although there appears to be no record of its forfeiture, it had been filled before the opening of the final session in January 1552 by Chidiock Paulet, who had presumably been by-elected in time to sit in the previous one of 1549-50. With the reversal of the attainder, however, Sharington was eligible for re-election and an opportunity presented itself when in October 1551 Sir William Herbert was made Earl of Pembroke: three months later, on the eve of the meeting of Parliament, Sharington was by-elected to the vacant knighthood of the shire for Wiltshire. This signal token of his rehabilitation was to be followed, in the autumn of the same year, by his being pricked sheriff. His discharge of this office, which evidently excluded him from Membership of the Parliament of March 1553, would, if he had lived long enough, have faced him, on the death of Edward VI, with the choice of proclaiming either Jane Grey or Mary Tudor. As it was, he died three days after the King, and the decision passed to others.12
  • If any of his three wives had borne him children they did not long survive and he was succeeded by his brother Henry, then over 36 years of age, who was living with him. Because he had no children of his own, Sharington had left 500 marks for the dowry of his first cousin Parnell which Henry later refused to pay. This is the only detail known of Sharington’s missing will. A drawing of him by Holbein survives.13
  • Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
  • Author: R. J.W. Swales
  • Notes
  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. DNB giving date of birth; The Gen. n.s. xii. 241; LP Hen. VIII, xvii.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xv-xvii, xxi; Brit. Numismatic Jnl. xlv. 68; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 91, 116; 1548-9, p. 136; 1549-51, p. 335; 1553, p. 387; HCA 14/2.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiii.
  • 6. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 160; xxxiii. 375-6; LP Hen. VIII, xv-xix; SP10/19, ff. 15, 57v; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 337, 375, 401; 1549-51, pp. 188, 199; 1550-3, p. 62; 1553, pp. 109, 164.
  • 7. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 10, f. 264; LP Hen. VIII, xi-xxi; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 169.
  • 8. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 229; xxxviii. 426-34; li. 9; E. Mercer, Eng. Art 1553-1625, pp. 60-72; J. Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, pp. 42-44; M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, pp. 8-9; Pevsner and Cherry, Wilts. 284-9, 651; J. Wright, Med. Floor Tiles, 153-4.
  • 9. HMC Hatfield, i. 58; E101/423/12, ff. 8, 40; C. E. Challis, The Tudor Coinage, 255.
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, i. 59, 61, 67, 68, 70; Coll. State Pprs. ed. Haynes, 92, 105; Challis, 100-3, 259, 287.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, i. 70; APC, ii. 246, 335; S. Seyor, Bristol Mems. i. 228; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i, 373-4, 382-5; Sermons of Hugh Latimer (Parker Soc.), i. 263.
  • 12. C142/101/121; Hatfield 207.
  • 13. C1/1482/56; Holbein (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 1978-9), 1
  • From:
  • __________
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Sir William Sharington MP's Timeline

July 9, 1553
Age 58