COFFIN, William (by 1492-1538), of Porthledge, Devon and Bakewell, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1492, 3rd s. of Richard Coffin of Porthledge by Alice, da. of John Gambon of Merton, Devon. m. Margaret, da. of Sir Robert Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Lincs., wid. of Richard Vernon (d.1517) of Haddon, Derbys., s.p. Kntd. 18 Oct. 1537.1

Offices Held

Gent. chamber by 1518, gent. usher 1519, sewer by 1526, knight 1537; keeper, Combe Martin park, Devon 1521/22; commr. subsidy, Derbys. 1523, 1524; other commissions 1530-5; j.p. Derbys. 1524-d.; sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 1531-2; master of horse to Queen Anne Boleyn 1534, to Queen Jane Seymour 1536; steward, Anstey, Hitchin and Standon, Herts. at d.2


Coffin first appears in the records as a petty captain serving in the French war in 1513. He was already known to the King and by May 1515, when he received an annuity of £20, was almost certainly a member of the Household. He was doubtless the ‘Mr. Coffin’ who appears frequently in the revels accounts of these years. He was one of the six gentlemen of the chamber appointed in September 1518 to escort visiting French envoys, and a month later he received £40 to cover the cost of a mission to the Netherlands. (It was perhaps this journey which cost him a chancery action brought by some tenants of Vernon lands in Shropshire who claimed that he duped them into contributing towards the harness used on such occasions.) He attended the King at the Field of Cloth of Gold and at the meeting with Charles V at Gravelines, and in September 1520 was again granted an annuity. In 1522 Coffin and John Vernon were called upon by the King to levy a Derbyshire force of 100 tenants, as Coffin ‘shall think good to proceed in our said war at his leading’. Coffin’s wife, who had brought about his move from Devon to Derbyshire, attended Anne Boleyn in the Tower and a year-and-a-half later followed Anne Boleyn’s successor to her early grave.3

By that time Coffin’s parliamentary course was run. As a rising man in the Household he may have found a place in the Parliament of 1523, one of those for which the Members’ names are largely lost, and it was clearly his nearness to the King which enabled him to do so in 1529. The only contemporary list of Members of that Parliament is torn at the point where the knights for Derbyshire are named, but enough is left to show that they were Coffin and Sir Roger Mynors. As landowners in the county, albeit through marriage, both were eligible to represent it, but the choice of them was the King’s. In August he had had the writs for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire sent to him at Windsor and they were carried north to a sheriff, Nicholas Strelley, who was himself a long-standing member of the Household, and were doubtless accompanied by nominations: Coffin may well have been at Windsor himself when the names were decided upon. By an error—not the only one to appear there—his name appears on the list of Members with the suffix ‘miles’: although from time to time he had been styled ‘knight’—at the Gravelines meeting in 1520, for example—he was not dubbed until October 1537. Of his part in the proceedings of the Commons there seems to be only a single glimpse: he appears on a list drawn up by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of Members who had some particular connexion, perhaps as a committee, with the treasons bill then passing through Parliament. A sidelight is also thrown on his attendance: he travelled down to one of the sessions in company with John Peshall, Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, with whom he discussed a vacancy for a groom saddler in the Queen’s household. He and Mynors were probably returned again to the brief Parliament of July 1536—the one that attainted his royal mistress—in accordance with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members.4

Coffin died at Standon in Hertfordshire on 8 Dec. 1538. As his wife at once informed Cromwell, he fell victim to ‘the great sickness’ being ‘full of God’s marks over all his body’: its onset must have been swift, for he made his will, a brief document, on the day he died. By it he left all his leases and goods to his wife, whom he named sole executrix and who subsequently married Sir Richard Manners. His Devon lands went to the two of his nephews who bore his Christian name and those at Bakewell to two servants, Henry Ireland and Robert Roo. He was buried in Standon church, in the middle of the chancel, where a marble stone records his principal offices and the date of his death.5