MASON, Sir John (1502/3-66), of Abingdon, Berks. and Hartley Wintney, Hants.

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



Apr. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1502/3, ?illegit. s. of a sis. of Thomas Rowland, last abbot of Abingdon. educ. Abingdon g.s.; All Souls, Oxf., fellow, BA 1521, MA 1525; Paris (King’s scholar). m. c.1540, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Isley of Sundridge, Kent, wid. of Richard Hill (d.1539) of Hartley Wintney, 1s. d.v.p. Kntd. 22 Feb. 1547.3

Offices Held

Sec. to Sir Thomas Wyatt I 1537-41; acting clerk of Privy Council 1541, clerk 1543; French sec. 1542, jt. sec. 1545; dep. to Sir William Paget as clerk of the Parliaments Jan. 1542, clerk July 1550, jt. clerk Dec. 1551-d.; jt. (with Sir William Paget) master of the posts 29 Sept. 1545-d.; envoy to Emperor 1546, 1553-6, France 1550-1; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlt. of 1547; j.p. Hants 1547, q. Hants and Mdx. 1554, Berks. 1562; commr. chantries, Berks. and Hants 1548, relief, Hants 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, London 1552, 1553, subsidy, Mdx. 1559, visit Oxf. univ. 1559; keeper, Easthampstead Park and bailiff, Finchampstead, Berks. 1548; steward, Queen Catherine Parr’s manor of Lymington, Hants by 1548; steward for Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, unknown property by 1548; lands late of Abingdon abbey 1549; dean of Winchester 1549-53; PC 19 Apr. 1550-d.; master of requests 1552; chancellor Oxf. univ. 1552-6, 1559-64; master, Christ’s Hospital, Abingdon 1553; treasurer, the chamber, 1558-d.4


The parentage of Sir John Mason is obscure. It has been suggested that he was the son, perhaps illegitimate, of a sister of Thomas Rowland, who was the last abbot of Abingdon and who procured Mason’s admission to Oxford. He was born in Abingdon, according to a letter from Abbot Rowland, and was at first destined for the Church, being in September 1521 ordained acolyte at Ramsbury, Wiltshire. He is said to have attracted the notice of Sir Thomas More, and in December 1529 is recorded the first payment for the exhibition of John Mason, the king’s scholar, at Paris. John Welsborne, later said to be a friend of the abbot of Abingdon, was ambassador to France at this time. The payments were continued for three years and in 1532 Mason was at Calais when Henry VIII met Francis I and soon afterwards left to travel through France, Spain and Italy, to gather news for the Council and presumably to finish his training as a diplomat. Meanwhile, the abbot of Abingdon had presented him to Kingston Bagpuze. He may have received other benefices earlier, but in such cases it is difficult to distinguish him from several contemporary namesakes, and thereafter he was to be a notable ecclesiastical pluralist.5

Mason was still in Spain in October 1536 but had returned by 28 Nov. Four months earlier, the bishop of Exeter had met the minister’s request that Mason should have the prebend of Crosse in the collegiate church of Crediton and in 1537 Mason became secretary to Sir Thomas Wyatt, envoy to the Emperor. In 1538 Edmund Bonner brought various charges against Wyatt and Stephen Gardiner, then ambassador in Paris, and further accused Mason of being in communication with Cardinal Pole. Gardiner was recalled but Cromwell protected Wyatt, who returned only in April 1539 and was despatched to the Netherlands eight months later. Mason was then left behind but Wyatt asked for him in March and he reached Ghent early in April 1540. Two months later Cromwell fell, whereupon Bonner’s charges were revived. Wyatt went to the Tower but Mason was not at first implicated, since on 20 Dec. he was licensed to hold his canonries and prebends at Crediton and Timsbury, even if he should marry for a second time. He then set out on a new mission to Spain, but on 21 Jan. 1541 the Council ordered his wife and servants to be sent to London and four days later he was reported to have been recalled. The secretary joined his master, who defended him against charges of intriguing with Pole, but they were pardoned in March 1541, on the intercession of Queen Catherine Howard.6

The setback was only temporary. Mason wrote a report for the Council on 5 Oct. 1541 and was appointed the King’s secretary for the French language with effect from 25 Mar. 1542; he had been sworn in as clerk of the Council on 28 Sept. 1541, during the absence of William Paget, and received the clerkship for life in May 1543, shortly after Paget had become a secretary of state. Next year Mason went with the army to France and on 12 Nov. 1545 he and Paget were granted, in survivorship, the office of master of the King’s messengers or posts, while the French secretaryship was regranted at the same time to Mason and Nicholas Yerdeswell. The mastership of the posts had been held by Sir Brian Tuke while he was treasurer of the chamber, but these offices were now to be separated until 1558, when both were united under Mason. In April 1546 he went on an embassy to the Emperor, after the imperial envoys had reported him to be considered a worthy man and one who seemed to hate innovations. Mason wrote from Germany to the King and frequently to Paget in May and June 1546, then returned at some unknown date, to be paid in December for travelling to Norfolk.7

He continued to prosper in the new reign and in 1548 the Protector Somerset employed him to search for records to establish the English case for suzerainty over Scotland and, early in the following year, to negotiate with France for the return of Boulogne. After Somerset’s fall Mason was appointed ambassador to France on 18 Apr. 1550 and given the rank of Privy Councillor the next day. He set out in May and in June succeeded Paget as clerk of the Parliaments. He remained abroad, an indication that there was no immediate prospect of a fourth parliamentary session, but ill health forced him to ask for recall, despite the relief of a life dispensation permitting him to eat flesh and milk foods during Lent. Late in July 1551 after helping to arrange Edward VI’s betrothal and being sent to the Emperor, Mason at last returned. A by-election was now pending at Reading, following the death of Somerset’s follower, William Grey II. In September 1551 the borough tried to assert its loyalty to the duke by electing his kinsman John Seymour, but the Council, now dominated by the Duke of Northumberland, ordered a new election on 10 Jan. 1552 and eight days later an indenture was signed, certifying that Mason had been returned. Although a native of Berkshire and shortly afterwards the recipient of grants of land in the county, Mason had no connexion with the borough, and his return, especially in the circumstances of Seymour’s rejection, must reflect his standing with the Council. It should be noted that his joint clerkship of the Parliaments did not preclude his sitting. During the remainder of the Parliament two matters of privilege were referred to him, one relating to William Ward I, and also the second reading of a bill to avoid excessive apparel. As Paget’s deputy, he had signed 12 of the Acts passed during the second session and three passed during the third but he gave up this practice on succeeding Paget. He was later to criticize the Act repealing the treason statutes of Henry VIII (1 Edw. VI, c.12), saying ‘the worst act that ever was done in our time was the general abolishing of the Act of Words by the Duke of Somerset’.8

Mason’s identification with Northumberland was emphasized during 1552, for in March he was made a master of requests, so as to relieve the pressure of cases on the Council, and in May he was licensed to retain 40 persons in his livery, besides household servants and official subordinates. He might well, therefore, be expected to have sat in the Parliament of March 1553 and there is, indeed, a tradition that a John Mason was returned for Taunton. The borough belonged to the bishops of Winchester and, although the tradition cannot be verified, there can be little doubt that Bishop Ponet would have acquiesced in a directive to return Mason, who was himself dean of Winchester. On 18 May 1553 his birthplace was honoured with the establishment by royal letters patent of Christ’s Hospital, at Mason’s petition and with himself as first master, although after his death the credit for its foundation was to be claimed by another sometime Reading Member, Roger Amyce. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Mason witnessing the will of Edward VI and signing the letter which informed Mary that Jane Grey was Queen.9

Mason was none the less quick to realize the lack of support for Queen Jane and ten days later he helped to arrange the proclamation of Mary. On 27 Aug. he was included in a commission of Privy Councillors who were to fine all those who had acted against the Queen since 1 July, and in October he was appointed ambassador to Brussels, reluctantly filling this post and complaining of poverty until in September 1556 he secured his recall, despite King Philip. He was not abroad continuously, for he wrote to the governors of Christ’s Hospital, Abingdon, from London on 15 Apr. 1554, 13 days after the Parliament to which he had been returned as a knight of the shire for Hampshire had opened, and again from Windsor in March 1556. Despite further grants of prebends in 1553, Mary eventually exacted the surrender of Mason’s ecclesiastical preferments and in October 1556 the chancellorship of Oxford went to Cardinal Pole, but he was amply compensated. He retained his secular offices, was rumoured as a possible chief secretary in 1555 and was probably responsible for the grant of a charter to Abingdon in 1556. He was again returned for Hampshire in 1558, when he carried a bill to the Lords on 7 Mar., although the ‘Mr. Mason’ to whom John Marshe’s complaint against Thomas Wild had been committed on 18 Feb. was probably Robert Mason of Ludlow. During the first session Mason wrote to (Sir) John Thynne that the bill for the widow of Sir William Cavendish should only pass against his will, and nothing more is heard of it. On 23 Nov. 1558 Mason was one of those appointed to transact urgent business before the new Queen’s arrival in London, and Elizabeth’s reign was to bring him yet more honour and a major part in shaping foreign policy.10

In the subsidy assessment made in the first year of Elizabeth’s reign, Mason, with lands worth £200 a year, was the richest of the officials in the Queen’s household. Apart from the profits of office, including such handsome compensation as a grant of £240 a year for life on the surrender of the deanery of Winchester, and grants of wardships and import and export licences, he acquired lands in Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex and elsewhere. His career, apart from his involvement with Wyatt, had been one of unusually consistent success. Diplomatic in everything, he prided himself on speaking little and writing less, so that his true opinions remain obscure. His preference for a Spanish alliance earned him accusations of Catholicism but these are not borne out by his earlier life and his will gives no evidence of strong religious sympathies. His wife was a distant relative of the Dudleys and a stepdaughter married (Sir) John Cheke, Edward VI’s tutor and Sir William Cecil’s brother-in-law, although Mason’s false promises were later said to have helped in Cheke’s kidnapping as a Marian exile, a suggestion which scarcely accords with his appointment as an overseer of Cheke’s will. Another of his stepdaughters married Francis Spelman, who in 1551 became his colleague as clerk of the Parliaments.11

Mason died on 20 or 21 Apr. 1566 and was buried in St. Paul’s cathedral, where his widow set up a monument. His principal heir was Anthony Wyckes, his half-brother’s son, who adopted the name of Mason.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Aged 63 at death according to MI, Dugdale, St. Paul’s Cathedral (1658), 94-95. DNB; D. G. E. Hurd, Sir John Mason; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 386-8; Hasted, Kent, iii. 130; Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 20; CPR, 1557-8, pp. 285-6; PCC 2 Stonard.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xviii, xx; CPR, 1547-8 to 1563-6 passim; PPC, vii. 248; APC, i. pp. xv, 118; ii. 433; EHR, lxxiii. 79, 82; LJ, i. 293; VCH Oxon. iii. 39; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 129; Wood, Hist. Oxf. Univ. ii(1), 140; E163/12/17, nos. 38, 51, 54; 315/340, f. 66v.
  • 5. A. E. Preston, Christ’s Hospital, Abingdon, 40; LP Hen. VIII, iii, v, vi; Berks. RO, D/EP 7/94; Winchester Cathedral Statutes, ed. Goodman and Hutton, 100.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xiii, xv, xvi.
  • 7. Ibid. xvi-xxi; APC, i. p. xv; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 158-9, 211.
  • 8. W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 175, 283; APC, ii. 225; iii. 222-3; CPR, 1549-51, p. 298; 1550-3, p. 53; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 60, 64, 76, 81, 90, 139, 150; Reading Recs. i. 218-20, 223; Reading MPs, 38; CJ, i. 18, 20, 21; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 2 and 3 Edw. VI, nos. 7, 12, 17, 28, 38-39, 41, 47, 50, 52, 54, 60; 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 8, 22, 25.
  • 9. CPR, 1550-3, pp. 285, 353, 392, 396; 1553, pp. 142-3, 416; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 12, 100.
  • 10. CPR, 1553-4, pp. 75, 198; 1557-8, p. 429; CSP For. 1553-8, pp. 17, 157, 163, 175, 207; Berks. RO, D/EP 7/94; Townsend, Abingdon, 112-13; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 3, f. 14; Preston, 43; CJ, i. 49, 51; Elton, Tudor Rev. in Govt. 188-9.
  • 11. LP Hen. VIII, xvii-xxi; Lansd. 156(28), f. 105; CPR, 1547-8 to 1557-8 passim; N. and Q. (ser. 4), iii. 460; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(2), 223.
  • 12. Dugdale, 94; PCC 2 Stonard.