William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester
William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester KG (c. 1483 or 1485? – 10 March 1572), known as The Lord St John between 1539 and 1550 and as The Earl of Wiltshire between 1550 and 1551, was an English Secretary of State and statesman.
Family origins and early career in Hampshire
Paulet was eldest son of Sir John Paulet of Basing, near Basingstoke (1460 – 5 January 1525) who had married a cousin, Alice Paulet, who survived her husband, daughter of Sir William Paulet and Elizabeth Denebaud. He had a brother Sir George Paulet who married and had issue, and a sister Eleanor Paulet (born 1479), wife of William Gifford.
There is some disagreement over his date of birth, authorities quoting 1483 or 1485. Also a claim he was ninety-seven at his death would place his birth in 1474 or 1475. There is also uncertainty about where he was born, but it may have been at Fisherton Delamere in Wiltshire, one of his father's manors.
His father, who had held a command against the Cornish rebels in 1497, was the head of a younger branch of an ancient Somerset family seated in the fourteenth century at Pawlett or Paulet and Road, close to Bridgwater, being the son of John Paulet and Elizabeth Roos. William's great-grandfather John Paulet acquired the Hampshire estates by his marriage with Constance Poynings, granddaughter and coheiress of Thomas Poynings, 5th Baron St John of Basing (d. 1428/1429).
William Paulet was High Sheriff of Hampshire in 1512, 1519, 1523, and again in 1527 (Letters and Papers). Knighted before the end of 1525, he was appointed Master of the King's Wards in November 1526 and he appears in the Privy Council in the same year.
Paulet lived to see 103 of his own descendants. His wife was Elizabeth (d. 25 Dec 1558), daughter of Sir William Capel, Lord Mayor of London in 1503, by whom he had four sons: (1) John; (2) Thomas; (3) Chediok, governor of Southampton under Mary and Elizabeth; (4) Giles, and four daughters: Elizabeth, who married Edward Hoby in 1580 and died in 1581, Margaret, Margerie, and Eleanor, the last of whom married Sir Richard Pecksall, master of the buckhounds, and died on 26 September 1558.
Paulet was still in office when he died, a very old man, at Basing House on 10 March 1572, a house that he held to rebuild and fortify. His tomb is on the south side of the chancel of Basing church.
Career as a national statesman
Paulet's political career began in 1529, when he was elected knight of the shire for Hampshire. In 1532, he accompanied King Henry VIII to Calais, France, and the following spring, he accompanied the Duke of Norfolk to join King Francis I of France in a proposed audience with the Pope, to discuss Henry's divorce with Catherine of Aragon. In 1536, he was granted the keepership of Pamber Forest, and was soon created Baron St John. He became steward of the bishopric of Winchester, and became a close associate of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and a friend of Thomas Cromwell. He was also Comptroller of the Royal Household, and held many other high positions.
In 1535 and 1536, he served as one of the judges for the trials of John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and the alleged accomplices of Anne Boleyn; in 1535, he became Lord Chamberlain. He partially led the royal forces against the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion that broke out in the autumn of 1536, and in 1538, he became Treasurer of the Household. In 1540, he became the master of Henry's Court of Wards and Liveries, a Knight of the Garter in 1543, and Governor of Portsmouth and Lord Steward of the Household in 1545. In 1546, he became Lord President of the Council, and in Henry's will, he was mentioned as one of the eighteen men who would serve as the council of regency during Henry's son's minority.
He continued his political maneuvers in 1549 by supporting the Earl of Warwick against the Duke of Somerset—in reward, in early 1550 he was given the Earldom of Wiltshire and Somerset's position of Lord Treasurer. When Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland in October 1551, Paulet received the Marquessate of Winchester. Six weeks later, he served as Lord High Steward in the Duke of Somerset's trial.
It was said that Northumberland and Winchester "ruled the court" of the minor King Edward VI. Mary I affirmed him in all of his positions. After her death, he remained Lord Treasurer and many of his other positions, and even at an advanced age (in 1559, he was over seventy years old), he showed no signs of declining—he was Speaker of the House of Lords in 1559 and 1566. He remained in good standing with the English monarchs—Queen Elizabeth once joked, "for, by my troth, if my lord treasurer were but a young man, I could find it in my heart to have him for a husband before any man in England." Late in life, he opposed any military support of Continental Protestantism, as he feared it would cause a breach with strongly Catholic Spain.
Paulet enjoyed a remarkably long career during the English Reformation. Starting out as a Catholic, he was quickly persuaded to see things Henry's way once the breach with Rome had been decided on. He was rewarded with former Church properties following the dissolution of the monasteries. Under Edward VI he became an evangelical Protestant and persecuted Roman Catholics and Henrician Conservatives alike. On the accession of the Catholic Mary he announced his reconversion and commenced persecuting his former Protestant co-religionists, even denouncing Bishop Bonner for "laxity in prosecuting the heretics." On Elizabeth's succession, he once again shifted his sails and became an advocate of middle road Anglicanism. All in all, he professed five changes in religious course. Once, when asked how he managed to survive so many storms, not only unhurt, but rising all the while, Paulet answered: "By being a willow, not an oak."
- Mike Pincombe, abstract of Rowland Broughton's The Life and Death of Sir William Paulet, online at hrionline.ac.uk, accessed 13 November 2010: Broughton says Paulet was born at Fisherton Delamere
- J. D. Alsop, William Paulet, First Marquis of Winchester: A Question of Age (1987): "So when, and where, was William Paulet born? The family tradition that the event took place at Fisherton de la Mere in Wiltshire..."
- Dr Alan Bryson, The Legal Quays: Sir William Paulet, First Marquis of Winchester (Gresham College lecture, 2008), online at gresham.ac.uk: "Winchester may have been born at Fisherton-Delamare in Wiltshire..."
- "Ancestry.com". Retrieved 2008-09-06.
- Tait, James: William Paulet, article in Dictionary of National Biography, 1895
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