LAMBERT, William.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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The surname Lambert was common in the 16th century and the christian name William abounded: it is thus not surprising that the identity of this Member remains largely a matter of conjecture.

If Lambert was a local man he may be identified with the head of a gentle family which had, in addition to its seat at Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire, leasehold properties at Dinton, Netheravon and Porton. This William Lambert’s father Thomas described himself in his will of June 1509 as ‘of New Sarum, armiger’. A boy of some eight-and-a-half years at his father’s death in July 1509, William Lambert may have passed into wardship (his mother married John Bartholomew, of the well-known Salisbury family), but of this, or of his entry upon his inheritance nothing has come to light. Later references to him in his local setting are also meagre. It was probably he who appears in conveyances in Wiltshire in 1529-30 but he seems not to have been the William Lambert who established himself at Knook, near Heytesbury: this namesake was dead by November 1555, leaving a widow Joan, whereas about the same time William and Elizabeth Lambert sold lands and cattle in Netheravon, with which the family of Maiden Bradley had long been associated, and a dozen years later a William Lambert was a freeholder on the 1st Earl of Pembroke’s manor of Dinton. There is nothing to link Lambert with some other namesakes, such as those who had leases of a park in Cumberland and of a priory in Yorkshire, but a branch of his family was settled in London and had contributed a mayor in Sir Nicholas Lambert.1

Close as he was to Old Sarum, Lambert could hardly have secured a seat there without support. At this election in particular the most potent influences emanated from the court and were generally wielded in favour of royal servants. Among these are to be found at least two William Lamberts. The first was a serjeant-at-arms to Henry VIII: perhaps to be identified with the ‘spear’ mentioned at Calais in 1513 and 1528, he gave a lease of property at Chertsey, Surrey, in 1533 but was dead by January 1539 when a note to this effect was added to a wages account. Then there was the namesake who served in the administration of Calais. Entitled surveyor (or on one occasion clerk of the works) there from 1528, he had ceased to occupy that post by 1536 or 1537: he was at Calais again in November 1538 but is then lost sight of, although in view of his experience of fortifications he may have been the man (whose christian name is omitted) sent with another to view those of the Channel Islands in June 1550. His disappearance—apart from this dubious mention—from about the time of the serjeant-at-arms’ death raises the possibility that they were one and the same: if they were, the period of service at Calais, punctuated by two recorded visits to England bearing no apparent relationship to parliamentary sessions, argues against identification with the Member, whereas if they were not the serjeant-at-arms would claim consideration.2

More promising, however, is the holder—or one of the holders—of other court appointments, and in particular those held before 1529. It was on 26 Nov. 1514 that William Lambert, ‘yeoman of the Queen’s noble chamber’, upon entering London on a mission from Greenwich, became involved in a fracas with one Edward Cornwall which led to the chancery suit on which our knowledge of the incident is based. If, as is likely, he was the William Lambert who had been a groom at Henry VII’s funeral, had been put in charge of Catherine of Aragon’s wardrobe at Calais in 1509 and had been a yeoman of the chamber to the short-lived Prince Henry, he was by 1514 an officer of some years’ standing. The course of his service down to 1529 is easy to trace, perhaps deceptively so: but a transfer to Prince Henry’s household in 1511 would have been suitably followed by another to Princess Mary’s, where in 1524 a William Lambert was assessed for subsidy on £18 in lands, fees and wages as a yeoman usher of the chamber and four years later was paid 26s.3d. for his services.3

The probability that it was this William Lambert who was returned for Old Sarum arises from the dominant position occupied by Sir Edward Baynton, the Wiltshire magnate who was himself elected a knight of the shire on the occasion. To his local standing Baynton added court favour and both were brought to bear: his interest in Old Sarum was to be reflected in his appointment two years later as keeper of that borough. Natural as it would have been for Baynton to use his influence there on behalf of a household official, it might appear still more so if the beneficiary had been as local a man as William Lambert of Maiden Bradley and Salisbury. Yet this attractively tidy hypothesis will hardly do: not only must the yeoman usher of 1509-14 have been considerably older than the Wiltshire stripling, but the latter can be thought of as having gained a household place when he grew up only if his namesake had quitted one. To add that nothing has come to light which links the yeoman usher—or for that matter the serjeant-at-arms or the surveyor—with Wiltshire, or the Wiltshireman with the court, is to admit that any connexion between them is a matter of guesswork. The choice which then has to be made can hardly fail to go in favour of one of the officials, and between these to the yeoman usher. It may appear somewhat less arbitrary when it is recalled that Lambert’s fellow-Member Thomas Hilton was of a similar type, a man about court who lacked local ties.

Nothing is known of Lambert’s role in the Commons but if he were at all regular in his attendance on his young mistress in her wanderings he must often have been missing from the House. In any case, as the Parliament wore on, his circumstances are likely to have altered. The progressive reductions of the princess’s establishment may have cost him his first post and the efforts made about 1536 by Cromwell and Sir William Paulet to persuade the corporation of London to give him some minor office may have been prompted by this redundancy. As it turned out, he seems to have been reabsorbed, serving in turn the Duke of Richmond and Prince Edward, in whose household he was assessed on £15 in wages in 1545. His continuance in royal service makes it probable that Lambert was returned again to the Parliament of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members; he may also have sat in 1539 and 1542, when the names of the Old Sarum Members are again unknown. He may have been the ‘William Lambarte’ who received payments from the augmentations in June 1542 and March 1543: the fact that it was between these dates that William Lambert of Knook had his lease from the same source is perhaps a tiny clue to their identification, while the latter’s omission from the assessment of 1545 in Wiltshire would be explained if he were assessed as a member of the prince’s household. What may be the last glimpse of Lambert as a royal servant is the issue of eight yards of black cloth for Edward VI’s funeral, although their recipient’s office, that of a yeoman of the buttery, was hardly one for an officer most of whose 44 years of service had been mainly rendered ‘above stairs’ in the royal or princely chamber.4

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 38; Hoare, Wilts. Heytesbury, 111, 321; PCC 19 Bennett; C142/25/4; Wilts. N. and Q. i. 563; iv. 214; LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xv, xvii, xxi; CPR, 1553, p. 243; 1555-7, p. 105; Pembroke Survey (Roxburghe Club cliv), 216.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i, v, vi, xiii, xiv, xvi, add.; Chron. Calais (Cam. Soc. xxxv), 124; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, 278.
  • 3. C1/426/29, 30; LP Hen. VIII, i, ii, iv, v; Chron. Calais, 64; E179/69/3.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, vi, xi; Cam. Misc. iii(4), p. lxii; LC2/2, f. 50v; E179/69/48; Archaeologia, xlvii(2), 309.