GAGE, Sir John (1479-1556), of Firle Place, West Firle, Suss.

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. 28 Oct. 1479, 1st s. of William Gage of Bristowe, Surr. by Agnes, da. of Bartholomew Bolney of Firle Bolney, Suss. m. settlement 14 Apr. 1502, Philippa, da. of Sir Richard Guildford of Cranbrook and Rolvenden, Kent, 4s. inc. Robert 4da. suc. fa. 1496. Kntd. by 1519, KG nom. 23 Apr. inst. 22 May 1541.4

Offices Held

Esquire of the body by 1509; escheator, Surr. and Suss. 1513-14; j.p. Suss. 1514-d., Surr. 1528-d.; commr. subsidy, Suss. 1515, the Household 1546, to survey lands at Calais 1532, inquiry 1540, tenths of spiritualities, Suss. 1535, benevolence, London 1544/45, relief, Suss. 1550; dep. Guisnes by 1522; v.-chamberlain, the Household by 1528-?36, comptroller 1540-7, ld. chamberlain 1553-d.; constable, the Tower 1540-d.; PC 1540-d.; steward, liberties of abp. Canterbury 1541-d.; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1542-1 July 1547; King’s steward, Southwark, Surr. by 1542-d.5


John Gage was born at Bristowe in Surrey on 28 Oct. 1479, the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude, and was baptized on the same day in the parish church of St. Michael immediately after vespers by the rector. Tradition has it that after his father’s death in 1496 Gage became a ward of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, but Buckingham was then only 19 years old: the wardship was bought on 16 Oct. 1499 by Robert Tate, an alderman of London. In April 1502 a marriage was arranged between Gage and Philippa Guildford, daughter of the comptroller of the Household; she brought a dowry of 300 marks and a rent of 100 marks out of Guildford Marsh in Sussex.6

Gage was pre-eminently a courtier and administrator. He had entered the Household before Henry VII’s death, and by 1522 he was deputy at Guisnes. Highly regarded by Sir William Sandys for his ‘wisdom, personage and hardiness’, Gage was next granted the reversion of the comptrollership of Calais, with 2s. a day during the life of its holder Sir Robert Wotton, who was ‘vexed with continual infirmity’. By 1528 Gage was vice-chamberlain of the royal household, and early in 1530 he wrote to Cromwell from Windsor about Wolsey’s journey northward following his disgrace. Gage was recommended for the post of under treasurer about this time, but nothing came of it. In 1532 he sought two papal dispensations, one for his son John, aged 19, to hold benefices valued at 500 ducats, the second for another son to eat flesh in Lent: in the following January his eldest son Edward received an indulgence enabling him to choose a confessor with power to absolve from ordinary excommunication, to possess a portable altar for celebrating mass, and to be buried with the rites of the Church even during an ordinary interdict. In May 1533 Gage was present at Dunstable when Cranmer gave judgment against Catherine of Aragon, but by August his conscience had forced him to leave the court. His friend Sir William Fitzwilliam I, later Earl of Southampton, took the view, as he wrote to Cromwell, that Gage was more disposed to serve God than the world, and in January 1534 Chapuys informed Charles V that Gage had renounced his office and, with the consent of his wife, intended to become a Carthusian. Although he did not take this step he shunned the court until 1537 when he attended the christening of Prince Edward and the funeral of Queen Jane. These two appearances signified Gage’s acceptance of Henry VIII’s headship of the Church and were to lead to the resumption of his career.7

From 1540 Gage became again one of the most active and loyal of the King’s servants. In March of that year he went on a commission of inquiry to Calais with the 1st Earl of Sussex. There they found that preachers had been openly arguing against the mass and they recommended a full investigation of the deputy’s affairs. After the deputy, Lord Lisle, had been recalled to England, Gage and Sussex continued the examination of his servants and family and before returning home in July they installed Lord Mautravers as the new deputy. On Cromwell’s fall Gage was swept forward by the conservative reaction to become a Privy Councillor, comptroller of the Household and constable of the Tower.8

During the closing years of the reign Gage was immersed in the King’s wars. In October 1542 he travelled north with the Earl of Hertford to replace Southampton who had died on service there. The King wrote that Gage was ‘a dear friend and alliance to the said lord privy seal [Southampton]’ and ‘is said to be chancellor of the duchy if he dies’: Gage was indeed given the office and lost it only after Henry VIII’s death. He led part of the army in the attack upon the Scots at Solway Moss, and he brought many Scottish prisoners to London where they lodged under his care in the Tower. he was closely involved with preparations for the war in France; he organized the transport of the army from Dover, before travelling to the Boulonnais where he was responsible for co-ordinating the army’s movements and for its victualling. The problems of supplying Calais, Boulogne and Guisnes occupied his attention for the rest of the reign. By the King’s will he received £200 and was appointed a Councillor to Edward VI.9

Gage and Hertford had been comrades-in-arms during the Scottish and French wars, but when Hertford became Duke of Somerset and Protector their divergent views on religion led to Gage’s replacement by Sir William Paget as comptroller of the Household and chancellor of the duchy. In the crisis of October 1549 Gage aligned himself with the Earl of Warwick and signed the Council letter sent into the counties declaring the Protector’s treason. Like Warwick, Gage had married into the Guildford family, his wife being first cousin to the earl’s, but he soon showed himself as chilly towards the new wielder of power, soon to become Duke of Northumberland, as he had been towards the old. In 1550 and early 1551 he attended the Council infrequently, partly perhaps by reason of the ill-health which kept him away from the feast of St. George in the latter year, and from May 1551 he was consistently absent until July 1552, when he attended three meetings at Petworth and Cowdray in Sussex. He offered Northumberland no support during the Jane Grey episode and it was he who received the duke into the Tower. On Mary’s arrival in London Gage met her at the gate of the Tower. He was made lord chamberlain and at the coronation he bore the train. His role at the time of Wyatt’s rebellion did him no credit: he awaited the rebels near Charing Cross, but when his troops panicked ‘old Gage fell down in the dirt and was foul arrayed’ and ‘so frightened that he could not speak’. In the Council factions of 1554 he ranked as a supporter of Gardiner and he was said to have treated Princess Elizabeth severely, when she was in his care, ‘more for love of the pope than for hate of her person’. He remained until his death high in the Queen’s favour.10

Gage sat in Parliament only under Henry VIII. He is first known to have done so for Sussex in the Parliament of 1529, when he was returned with his wife’s brother-in-law Sir Richard Shirley. He was among the Members who signed the letter to Clement VII asking him to grant the divorce. It is natural to assume that when two years later he withdrew from the court he also absented himself from the Commons, but if he did so it seems not to have been for long. Thus although his absence might well explain the omission of his name from the list, dating from early 1533, believed to record the names of Members opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals, its appearance on another list, probably of December 1534, seems to imply his resumption of active Membership. (His fellow-knight Shirley is included in both lists.) What is almost certain is that for Gage, as for others of like mind, the death of Catherine of Aragon in January 1536 resolved the sharpest conflict of loyalties, and that the speedy fall of Anne Boleyn eased the tension still further. There is thus little reason to doubt that Gage was returned to the Parliament of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members. Three years later he had the support of both Cromwell and Southampton for his election to a fresh Parliament, and after its dissolution he received instructions about the collection of the subsidy which he had helped to grant. In the absence of the relevant names, Gage’s Membership of the Parliament of 1542 has to be deduced from the fact that at its outset the corporation of London sought his support, as King’s steward of Southwark, to a bill defining the City’s rights in Southwark, ‘before the putting thereof into the Parliament house’: whether or not he complied, no Act resulted. Both in this Parliament and in that of 1545 Gage presumably sat again for Sussex: on the second occasion he was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and in this capacity he may have exercised patronage elsewhere. Of his role in his last Parliament it is known only that on 24 Dec. 1545, the final day of its first session, he carried two bills from the Commons to the Lords, who gave him a proviso to be added to a private bill for Francis Knollys. His estrangement from the Protector Somerset in the summer of 1547 may account for his absence from the next Parliament, the first of Edward VI’s reign, and his advancing years and poor health probably dissuaded him from seeking Membership thereafter. He continued to influence elections in two Sussex boroughs, East Grinstead and Lewes, until his death.11

By inheritance, purchase and exchange Gage had acquired extensive property in Surrey and Sussex. He was also involved in the traffic in monastic lands; he bought the priory of Camberwell in 1542 but sold most of it within the next two years. In 1527 he had been assessed on lands worth £73 a year; in 1556 the feodary of the court of wards valued his entire landed property at £309 a year. The inventory taken after Gage’s death shows that he specialized in rearing livestock; he also had a commercial interest in timber production and had supplied the royal works at Nonsuch and Vauxhall. In October 1553 he was granted honorary admission to the Mercers Company and in 1555 he was a founder member of the Russia Company.12

Gage died at Firle on 18 Apr. 1556. By the will which he had made in the previous February he founded a chantry at West Firle for a perpetual memory after his death, and made bequests to numerous churches. He asked to be buried beside his wife at Firle, gave £10 to the poor for alms and ordered his executors to sell the gold collar of his Garter for further alms; the blue mantle he bequeathed to the College of Windsor. His sons Robert and William were already provided for, James was to receive lands at Pevensey, and Gage’s servants, who included Jasper Culpeper and Thomas Gravesend, were to have sums of money. By petition of his executors to the Queen and Cardinal Pole, Gage asked that the profits of a parsonage at Ascham in Shropshire, in his son William’s hands by gift of the Queen, should be used for the chantry in West Firle church, William being compensated by receiving an equivalent annual rent from the heir, his brother Edward. The executors of the will were Edward Gage and John Caryll, with (Sir) John Baker I as overseer. A drawing of Gage by Holbein survives.13

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 10, f. 242v.
  • 3. LJ, i. 282.
  • 4. Birth and baptism given, Barbican House, Lewes, W. D. Budgen’s transcription, vol. 135. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 8; Barbican House, Gage ms 21/3; LP Hen. VIII, xvi; HMC 3rd Rep. app. 224.
  • 5. Statutes, iii. 169; LP Hen. VIII, i-xxi; Suss. Rec. Soc. xxxvi. 1; PPC, vii, 57; City of London RO, rep. 10, f. 242v; E405/121/8v; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1553, pp. 357, 359; 1553-4, pp. 24, 35, 37, 265.
  • 6. Budgen transcription, vol. 135; CPR, 1494-1509, p. 184; Gage ms 21/3.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, iii-vii, xii.
  • 8. Ibid. xv; Harl. 283, f. 89.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix-xxi.
  • 10. APC, ii. 101, 333, 344; iii. 70, 241, 264, 271-328, 511; iv. 99-105, 302; SP10/9/20; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 49, 131; H. Harbison, Rival Ambassadors at the Ct. of Q. Mary, 61-62; CSP Span. 1554, pp. 213, 220.
  • 11. LP Hen, VIII, iv; vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; xiv; City of London RO, rep. 10, f. 242v; D. J. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 109; LJ, i. 282.
  • 12. Gage mss 3/37, 39, 42; 4/9, 26, 31, 85, 96; 5/8, 16, 31; 6/6; 16/5, 8, 9; 19/12; 21/7; Suss. Arch. Colls. x. 99; xlv. 116-27; LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, xiii, xv, xvii, xix-xxi; List of Mercers, T/S Mercers’ Hall, 198; T.S. Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, p. 10.
  • 13. PCC 9 Ketchyn; C142/110/144; Nairn and Pevsner, Suss. 623; Holbein (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 1978-9), 97-98.