GUILDFORD, John (by 1508-65), of Hemsted, Kent.

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

Constituency

Dates

1529
1542
Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1508, o.s. of George Guildford of Hemsted by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Robert Mortimer of Mortimer’s Hall, Essex. educ. G. Inn, adm. 1530. m. (1) by 1534, Barbara, da. of Thomas West, 8th Lord la Warr, 6s. inc. Thomas 6da.; (2) Mary, da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Milton, Northants., wid. of John Shelley of Michelgrove, Suss., 1s. suc. fa. ?by 1537. Kntd. 1542.3

Offices Held

Bailiff, Winchelsea, farmer, Higham, Suss. 1534-d.; j.p. Kent 1537-?38, sheriff 1552-3; commr. benevolence 1544/45, chantries 1546, relief, Kent and household of Anne of Cleves 1550, church goods, Kent 1553; other commissions 1539-d.; chamberlain, household of Anne of Cleves 1546.4

Biography

John Guildford must have been a young and untested man when he was first returned to Parliament as a Member for Gatton, a borough controlled by his kinsman Sir Roger Copley. If Guildford was already married or affianced to Barbara West this would presumably have disposed Copley to provide a connexion of his with a seat, for Barbara was Copley’s niece. Guildford joined his two illustrious uncles, Sir Edward and Sir Henry Guildford, the knights of the shire for Kent, in the House in 1529. His father appears not to have shared their political proclivities and by the son’s time the family had passed its heyday. In part this is to be attributed to a failure of male heirs. Sir Edward Guildford died in 1534 leaving only a daughter (married to Sir John Dudley), who then claimed the manor of Halden, and other lands in Kent and Sussex, against John Guildford’s allegation that they had been left to him by a nuncupative will. It had indeed been the intention of his grandfather Sir Richard Guildford that if Sir Edward died without male heir the inheritance should pass through George Guildford, yet although John Guildford hurried to Halden from his uncle’s deathbed he failed to make good his claim and five years later the Dudleys were to sell that manor and others to Cromwell. It was therefore only the lands in Kent and Sussex left to his father by Sir Richard which came into John Guildford’s possession.5

Guildford’s parliamentary career may have been more continuous than at first sight appears. Not only was he almost certainly returned again in 1536 for Gatton, in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members, but he could have sat for that borough, or for another, in 1539, when the names of most of the borough Members are lost: it was in this Parliament that Guildford obtained an Act freeing his lands from gavelkind (31 Hen. VIII, c.3). Even the Parliament of 1542, to which he is known to have been by-elected, may have included him from the outset. If, as is probable, his knighthood was conferred on 16 Jan. 1542, the day on which that Parliament opened, he is likely to have received it as a Member: in that case his by-election on the following 1 Jan. for Kent meant his transfer from the ranks of the burgesses to the more prestigious knighthood of the shire. He was by then a justice of the peace and local commissioner of several years’ standing and his own recent knighting would have strengthened his claim to a distinction which had been enjoyed by a number of his forbears. His election in place of so prominent a figure as Sir Thomas Wyatt I may also have found favour with Henry VIII, for although Guildford is not known to have held office in the royal household he was to be styled ‘the King’s servant’ when he and another had a grant of lands 12 months later, and within three or four years he was to become chamberlain to Anne of Cleves. In this capacity, which he appears to have assumed in 1546, he negotiated with the Privy Council after the King’s death for the continued payment of Anne’s servants and the removal of her household from Bletchingley to Penshurst.6

Guildford did not sit in Henry VIII’s last Parliament or in either of Edward VI’s, but as the young King’s reign drew to its close he did not escape involvement in high politics. That his choice as sheriff of Kent in the autumn of 1552 was not unconnected with his kinship with John Dudley, now Duke of Northumberland, is suggested both by the episode of the following year and by the grant to him, at the beginning of his term, of Guldeford marsh, the tract of land reclaimed by his grandfather which had been sold to Cromwell in 1539 and had thus escheated to the crown: although Guildford had to undertake to pay the annual rent of 100 marks ‘whatever become of the marsh’, its transfer to him at this juncture looks like an attempt to compensate him for his earlier defeat by Dudley in the dispute over the Guildford inheritance. Northumberland certainly tried to use Guildford when the time came. On 4 July 1553, two days before the King’s death, Guildford was licensed to retain 30 persons. Five days later he ordered two Kentish gentlemen (and perhaps others) to join Northumberland in London, where they were forced into the duke’s retinue; when their wives heard what had happened and asked the sheriff for letters to the duke for their release, Guildford supplied them. This seems to have been the extent of his compliance with Northumberland’s demands: it is unlikely that he compromised himself by proclaiming Jane Grey, for after suing out a general pardon in the following November he was retained on the commission of the peace, although not named of the quorum.7

Whether or not Guildford is to be accounted a Member of the first Marian Parliament, and in what capacity, depends upon the interpretation of seemingly conflicting evidence. Although no returns survive for that election, Guildford’s name is found in connexion with two of the Cinque Ports. He was elected by Winchelsea but appears on the list of Members of the Parliament as one of the Members for New Romney. While the discrepancy is almost certainly to be attributed to the interference of the lord warden, Sir Thomas Cheyne, in elections for the Cinque Ports, what is not clear is its consequence for Guildford He can scarcely have sat for Winchelsea, which is credited with two different Members on the list, while New Romney paid wages to yet two others, William Tadlowe and John Cheseman. Perhaps the fact that Tadlowe was paid for the duration of the whole Parliament, whereas Cheseman’s payment was limited to the 46 days of its second session, points to an explanation. If Guildford did appear in the Commons for Romney he would have been open to the objection that, as sheriff of Kent, he was debarred from sitting, at least for a borough within his shire: he may then have been compelled to withdraw and Cheseman have been elected in his place, but too late for Guildford to have held Winchelsea to its original choice of him. Such a dénouement might also help to explain why he was not returned to any subsequent Parliament: as he was still a comparatively young man, and Cheyne could doubtless have secured him a seat for one of the ports in any Parliament until 1558, his withdrawal is likely to have been self-imposed.8

It is likewise unclear why on the accession of Elizabeth (when he again sued out a pardon) Guildford was dropped from the commission of the peace, but the dismissal meant the end of his public career: apart from his receipt in January 1559 of a Privy Council injunction to stop felling timber at Allington castle, which he held as executor of its lessee Mary Finch, his closing years are illumined only by his will. This he made on 4 May 1560, asking to be buried beside his first wife in the church at Benenden. His eldest son Thomas, who was already married, was to have the mansion house and manor of Hemsted, with all household stuff and the armour and weapons; the last were to remain there for ever in the family custody that they might serve the Queen and her successors. His lands having been freed from gavelkind since 1539, Guildford willed that they should descend from eldest son to eldest son, or other heir male at common law, without being divided. His younger sons were compensated by sizeable legacies and given money for their education. Guildford named as executors his eldest son and his ‘cousins’ Sir John Mason and Warham St. Leger. He died on 5 July 1565 and the will was proved six days later.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller

Notes