JOHNSON, Thomas (by 1519-69), of St. Albans, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. by 1519. m. (1) c.1536, Joan, wid. of John Kilby and then of William Jones; (2) Grace, d.s.p.2
Yeoman of guard by 1540, of chamber by 1559; mayor, St. Albans 1553-4, 1565-6.3
There seems no reason to doubt that this Member was the sometime mayor and principal burgess of St. Albans. It is less easy, however, to trace his life, for at least two other men of substance and of the same name lived in Hertfordshire at this time. One owned a manor and land at Watford and died in 1577; another, who lived at Sawbridgeworth, died in 1576. In 1540 the ‘King’s servant’ Thomas Johnson was assessed for the subsidy in Holywell ward, St. Albans, at the relatively large sum of £26 13s.4d., and thereafter this man, evidently the Member, figures regularly among St. Albans contributors to subsidies. In 1547 he purchased Stone Hall, St. Albans, but resold it between 1548 and 1551; his residence at that time was the Bull inn, and he described himself as a yeoman. First-named of ten principal burgesses in the St. Albans charter of incorporation in May 1553, Johnson became the town’s mayor on 29 Sept. following, eight days after the election returning him to Parliament as one of its first two Members.4
Johnson’s prominence at St. Albans suffices to explain his election on that occasion. The patron who had secured his return for Bossiney in Edward VI’s last Parliament was probably Sir John Russell 1st Earl of Bedford. Russell owned land near Watford and may have employed Johnson in its management; alternatively, Johnson could, as a yeoman of the guard, have been known to the earl in his capacity as a former comptroller of the Household. In view of Johnson’s later claim that his strong Protestantism endangered him under Mary, it is surprising not to find him among the Members of her first Parliament said to have ‘stood for the true religion’, but it may be that the mark against the next name on the Crown office list, that of Humphrey Coningsby, senior knight of the shire for Herefordshire and a man in favour with the Marian regime, was misplaced and should have applied to Johnson.5
In June 1559 Johnson brought an action in the court of requests for recovery of lands and goods, including the Bull inn, which he claimed to have conveyed to the defendant Kilby in 1557 to hold on trust for him in case
your said servant should have been for religion troubled or have been for the same enforced to have forsaken his country whereunto he then was very like to have been compelled having a great number of adversaries of much credit and wealth lying for the same cause in continual await to trouble and put in danger your said subject and servant.
Kilby replied that all these transfers were outright gifts, conditional only on Kilby’s maintaining Johnson from the income of the land, which he had done. He denied all knowledge of danger to Johnson as a Protestant and claimed that the gifts were made from natural affection. Johnson, he said, was the third husband of Kilby’s mother, ‘being a very great rich and wealthy woman by reason whereof the complainant came to great substance’; before the marriage he had been ‘a serving man and of small reputation’. The result of the case is unknown.6
Other lawsuits show Johnson in a variety of contexts. In 1542, as a yeoman of St. Albans, he had sued his landlord for breach of warranty of title in respect of leasehold land in St. Peter’s parish, St. Albans, and under Mary and Elizabeth, as an inn-holder of St. Albans, he was at suit in Chancery over a debt which allegedly he had agreed should be repaid in malt. He may also have been the Thomas Johnson of Harpenden who was sued by Sir Ralph Rowlett for wrongfully felling trees at Sandridge, Hertfordshire. Although Johnson’s will does not mention any land in Harpenden a lawsuit arising after his death does so. The husband of the principal beneficiary under Johnson’s will then claimed that Johnson’s widow, Grace, had broken her promise to transfer land in Harpenden to his, the plaintiff’s, wife. Again, only the pleadings in this case have been found.7
Johnson made his will on 11 July 1569, died before the 21st, when probate was granted, and was buried in St. Alban’s abbey on 25 July, the parish register describing him as a former mayor of the town. He left his wife Grace a life-interest in half the manor of Datchworth, and the same interest in his jewels and plate. The residue went to one described as ‘my servant Margaret Johnson’, whom Johnson appointed sole executrix; Grace Johnson was to enter into bonds to transfer certain lands and chattels to the favoured Margaret, and was to lose her own interest under the will if she failed to do so.8