PARRY (AP HARRY), Thomas (by 1515-60), of Welford and Wallingford, Berks., Hatfield, Herts. and Oakley Park, Glos.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1515, 1st s. of Henry Vaughan of Tretower, Brec. by Gwenllian, da. of William ap Grene or Grono of Brecon, Brec. m. 1539/1540, Anne, da. of Sir William Reade of Boarstall, Bucks., wid. of Sir Giles Greville and of Sir Adrian Fortescue (d.1539) of Shirburn and Stonor Place, Oxon., 2s. inc. Thomas 3da. Kntd. by 20 Nov. 1558.1

Offices Held

Servant of Thomas Cromwell by 1536-40; clerk of the crown and peace, Glos. 1537-43; jt. bailiff, manor of Welford, Berks. 1546; cofferer, household of Princess Elizabeth by 1548-58; woodward, ct. augmentations, Berks. and Oxon. in 1552; j.p. Bucks., Herts. and Hunts., q. Dorset 1554, Berks., Glos. and Herts. 1558/59; PC 20 Nov. 1558; comptroller, the Household 20 Nov. 1558; treasurer Jan. 1559; master, ct. wards Jan. or Apr. 1559; master, the game of swans Nov. 1559-d; steward, possessions of Westminster abbey 1559; steward, honor of Donnington and bailiff of crown lands, Newbury, Berks. by 1560, jt. (with Sir Henry Neville) ld. lt. Berks. Apr. 1560.2


Thomas Parry was probably born and brought up in Wales, since he was known by his father’s christian name. The latter came of an old marcher family, being the son of Sir Thomas Vaughan who had been executed at Pontefract by Richard III. The Vaughans were very distantly related to the Cecils, for in 1582 Lord Burghley recalled that his great-grandfather had married into the family; the statesman then drily commended his messenger, Mr. Vaughan, since ‘in the manner of Wales I account him my cousin’.3

Several of the Tudors’ most famous servants had Welsh blood, notably Cromwell, Sir John Williams, and the Cecils, although Parry is the only one likely to have been born in the principality. If he was the Thomas Parry first mentioned in a letter of February 1536 to the secretary from Sir John Dudley, he seems to have been taken directly into Cromwell’s personal service. A month later Parry and Thomas Lee I were investigating a theft of jewels from Winchester cathedral and urging the appointment of William Basing as prior on the ground that he would double Cromwell’s annuity. Later in the same year Parry was paid for his costs in the suppression of Bilsington, in Kent, and thereafter he was to visit many houses, from Gloucestershire to East Anglia, with instructions from Cromwell. By 4 May 1538 he was important enough to seek the abbot of Pershore’s fee-farm at Hawkesbury, Gloucestershire, for a Mr. Butler of that county, an esquire of the body, and to be bribed by the abbot if he would abandon the suit. At the end of November 1538 he and John Millicent were enfeoffed of the lordship of Oakham, Rutland, by Cromwell to the use of his son Gregory.4

A further step in Parry’s career, which brought him to Hertfordshire and perhaps into contact with Princess Elizabeth, was his marriage to Anne Reade. Her previous husband, the son of Sir John Fortescue by a daughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn and a great-aunt of Queen Anne, was included in the attainder of the Pole family and executed in July 1539. Soon after this his widow married Parry, but she quickly repented of it, for in August 1540 a commission was set up under the bishop of London to investigate Parry’s complaint that she had left him. Husband and wife were brought together again, and some two years later a son was born to them. In October 1542 Anne Parry was granted 1,500 sheep in Gloucestershire, with other goods of her late husband, and in September 1546 the couple leased the manor of Welford, the rectory of Chieveley and other lands in Berkshire which had once belonged to Abingdon abbey. Although Parry now had property in Berkshire, he probably did not yet have any in Wallingford, for which he was returned with a townsman, Henry Huntley, to the Parliament of 1547. It is likely that Parry was in favour with the Protector Somerset, or with his brother the admiral, a relationship which may also explain Parry’s earlier appointment as cofferer to Princess Elizabeth, perhaps while she was still living at Chelsea with Admiral Seymour and his wife Catherine Parr.5

The date of Parry’s entry into the princess’s household is uncertain, as it was only during the crisis over Seymour’s designs on her that he first attracted attention as her cofferer. In the summer of 1548 Elizabeth left the admiral and his wife for Hatfield, where she had an establishment of her own at the time of Seymour’s arrest on 17 Jan. 1549. Four days after that event Parry and Catherine Astley, the princess’s governess, were brought to the Tower, while Sir Robert Tyrwhitt I was sent down to question their mistress. It is unlikely that the two had taken the initiative in anything so dangerous as a marriage between Elizabeth and Seymour; Elizabeth herself denied it, and although Tyrwhitt believed that all three had conspired to keep silent, Mistress Astley has never been adjudged guilty of more than indiscretion or Parry of being more than an accessory. The Council could unearth nothing until on 9 Feb. Parry was somehow induced to confess that he had met Seymour in London, before and after Christmas 1548; they had discussed the lands which Elizabeth was to receive under her father’s will and the admiral had expressed the hope that these would be in the west, near his own. Parry also admitted to having talked with Elizabeth of a marriage and to having learned from Mistress Astley that the princess had left the Seymour household after being found by the former Queen in her husband’s arms. The cofferer’s breakdown earned him the scorn of the governess, who then followed suit with a similar confession; between them, although they revealed no plot, they sealed the admiral’s fate.6

Parry’s behaviour did not discredit him for long, either with the government or with Elizabeth. In September 1549 he was once more at Hatfield, apparently reinstated, and writing his first known letter to Cecil: in this he related a visit to the princess by the Venetian ambassador, which was to be reported to Somerset as a sign of Elizabeth’s frankness, but the main historical interest of the letter lies in the choice of Cecil as its recipient. It may never be known if Parry deserves the credit for first drawing Elizabeth’s attention to her future minister, but he took care to insert his own professions of friendship and, in a subsequent letter of July 1550, to assure Cecil that the princess was about to seal his patent as her surveyor. After Cecil had been won over by the Duke of Northumberland, Parry hastened to ask for advice from the new secretary of state on Elizabeth’s behalf, and letters on routine matters continued until at least April 1553.7

In 1552 Parry ignored a command to collect two payments of a relief from Elizabeth’s household, so that a new commission had to be directed to him on 11 Oct. He does not seem to have fallen into disgrace, but continued to acquire property in Berkshire and to establish himself at Wallingford. By December 1548 he had assumed joint custody of the bells of St. Nicholas’s college, Wallingford, and about four years later he and his wife leased the clerk’s lodgings there; he had earlier been described as Thomas Parry alias Vaughan of Wallingford in a suit at common pleas. It is not known whether Parry accompanied Elizabeth on her sister’s triumphal entry into London in August 1553, nor if he was at court with her in the autumn; when he sued out a pardon in October he was described as a resident of Hatfield.8

If there was any need for Parry to atone for his weakness in 1549 he did so in the equally dangerous days of 1554. In March Elizabeth was sent to the Tower, only to be escorted two months later to Woodstock and placed in the care of Sir Henry Bedingfield. The cofferer had to provide for the princess’s household but on 26 May, three days after her arrival at Woodstock, the Council told Bedingfield that there was no reason for Parry to stay there. Elizabeth’s guardian, a conscientious man who sought safety by clinging to the letter of his instructions, communicated this decision to Parry, who baffled him by staying in the town. The cofferer now proceeded to make Bedingfield’s life a misery. He first objected to the provisioning of his retinue out of Elizabeth’s resources, until Bedingfield was commanded to supply them by a special warrant. This was simply a harassing tactic, for books were being conveyed to Elizabeth, some of which Bedingfield suspected of being seditious, and when Parry sent him two harmless ones he was forced to return them for want of explicit instructions. Bedingfield complained that he was helpless, as ‘daily and hourly the said Parry may have and give intelligence’, and once again the cofferer’s position was referred to the Council. Early in July Parry was at the Bull inn, ‘a marvellous colourable place to practise in’, receiving every day as many as 40 men in his own livery, besides Elizabeth’s own servants. At length the Council forbade such large meetings and, from Bedingfield’s subsequent silence on the point, it seems that the order was obeyed. There survive among the Thynne Papers at Longleat several letters from Parry to (Sir) John Thynne which provide a commentary on the cofferer’s handling of the princess’s affairs.9

The government’s mild reaction to Parry’s behaviour probably sprang from fear of arousing public opinion, but it may also have hoped that he would co-operate. Parry was not to be separated from Elizabeth for long, if at all, for it was from Hatfield that he was summoned at the end of October 1555, while King Philip was still in England, and in November 1558 the Spanish ambassador Feria described him in a despatch as ‘a fat man whom your majesty will have seen at Hampton Court’. In 1555 Parry was able to sit again for Wallingford, when he seems to have toed the line to the extent of not appearing on the list of those who opposed one of the government’s bills.10

Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s accession transformed Parry’s fortunes. The new Queen was still at Hatfield when he was knighted and sworn in as comptroller of the Household and Privy Councillor. Both he and Cecil were shortly elected to Elizabeth’s first Parliament. For the next two years they shared the Queen’s secret counsels, although it is now known that Cecil’s opinion soon began to carry more weight. Parry’s claims on Elizabeth were those of a faithful servant rather than an adviser, but the position was to be obscured by his premature death on 15 Dec. 1560. A drawing of him by Holbein survives.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. DNB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 191; E150/381/5.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, x, xii, xviii, xxi; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 538; J. E. Neale, Eliz. 31; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 116, 128, 152-7; Stowe 571, f. 6; APC, ii. 240; vii. 3; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 40; CPR, 1550-3, p. 232; 1553-4 pp. 17, 18, 20; 1558-60, pp. 12, 43, 51, 60, 67, 71, 102, 119, 443; 1560-3, pp. 45, 212, 234.
  • 3. Jones, Brec. iii. 175; C. Read, Cecil, 64 n.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, x, xi, xiii.
  • 5. Ibid. xv, xvii, xxi; E150/381/5; J. A. Froude, Hist. England, v. 132.
  • 6. Neale, 31-35; F. A. Mumby, Girlhood of Eliz. 42, 45-49; HMC Hatfield, i. 67, 73; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 13-14.
  • 7. Mumby, 62, 75-77; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 23, 28, 29, 45; HMC Hatfield, i. 101, 114-15.
  • 8. CPR, 1550-3, pp. 232, 379; 1553-4, p. 444; 1557-8, p. 173; J. K. Hedges, Wallingford, ii. 312, 315; CP40/1139, r. 493v.
  • 9. Neale, 49; Norf. Arch. iv. 155, 161, 171, 177, 180, 194, 196; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 2, ff. 192-3v, 234-5v, 243-4.
  • 10. CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 2; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 326, 343, 345-6; 1557-8, p. 197; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 116.
  • 11. APC, vii. 3; Read, 221; E150/381/5; CPR, 1560-3, p. 249; Holbein (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 1978-9), 109-10.