POLSTED, Henry (by 1510-55), of Albury, Surr.
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Family and Education
Bencher, I. Temple 1552.
Receiver to Cromwell by 1533; under steward, ct. augmentations, north of Trent May 1538-June 1540; commr. benevolence, Surr. 1544/45, chantries, Surr., Suss. and Chichester 1548, relief, Surr. and Suss. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Surr. 1553; other commissions 1551-4; j.p. Essex 1547, Surr. 1547-d., q. 1554, Suss. 1547; escheator, Surr. and Suss. 1549-50.4
Although there had been Polsteds in Surrey since the 12th century, no doubt deriving from Polsted manor in the parish of Compton near Guildford, the first of the name to achieve prominence were Henry Polsted and his elder brother Thomas. In 1509 their father was appointed a trustee of property bequeathed to establish a grammar school in Guildford and it is likely that Henry Polsted was a pupil there: on 1 July 1550 he gave the school two houses in Guildford, and Nicholas Elyot, who is thought to have been headmaster of the school, claimed kinship with him.5
The first mention of Polsted occurs in his father’s will of March 1529, of which he was an executor. In 1531 he purchased two houses in Guildford and in the same year was associated with his brother Thomas in a property transaction in the county. Unlike his brother, Henry does not seem to have received any legal training, but by 1533 he had become Cromwell’s receiver and he was to display considerable talent for administration; four years later Richard Cromwell alias Williams† wrote to his uncle, ‘I have not seen a man of his order so gentle to entertain suitors; such men deserve promotion’. Although it is not known how Polsted came to Cromwell’s notice, his father’s connexion with Wolsey, whose bailiff the elder Polsted was at Wargrave, Berkshire, suggests that he effected the introduction.6
Polsted’s services to Cromwell were of a varied nature. He was present when Bishop Fisher was questioned in the Tower, helped to take the surrenders of monastic houses in Kent and Sussex, and reported to Cromwell on their condition; he examined suitors to his master and accounted for the issues of the Rolls office. In September 1535, on Cromwell’s direction, he attempted to influence the nomination of the under sheriff of Middlesex and at the same time he was busy negotiating with the bishops elect of Rochester and Worcester for the payment of their first fruits and tenths; it was, however, probably his brother who took part in the discussions of August 1535 with ecclesiastical lawyers on the jurisdiction of church courts.7
As receiver of Cromwell’s private possessions Polsted clearly stood close to the minister: he frequently advised Cromwell on legal problems arising from property transactions and acted as his feoffee. A hint of ruthlessness is revealed in a letter of his to Cromwell in February 1538: after reminding the minister to call upon the dissolution commissioners to make their returns of surrendered monasteries, he suggested that ‘if one that were found faulty were put in the Fleet, the residue would be more diligent’. When in May 1538 Cromwell was appointed chief steward of all augmentation lands north of the Trent, Polsted became his deputy and did the work of the office, at a salary of £20 paid by the court. Although Polsted does not appear to have been seriously compromised by his master’s fall, Cromwell’s successor as chief steward, Thomas Audley, Baron Audley, appointed John Lucas as his deputy. In August 1540 Polsted was appointed overseer of Cromwell’s possessions.8
It is less clear what Polsted did afterwards. He was described as the King’s servant when in June 1543 he was granted an annuity of £40 upon his surrender of one of the same value granted to him by Cromwell in March 1538, and shortly afterwards he became active in local affairs; after the death of (Sir) Christopher More in August 1549 he called Cecil’s attention to the scarcity of justices of the peace (of which he was now one) in Surrey, recommending suitable persons and asking for money for a county gaol. Part of his time he devoted to business in Guildford, where in April 1545, and again in the following May, he was among millers of the town fined for occupying the High Street throughout the year with their horses and mares. Bishop Parkhurst, who had been born in Guildford and held Calvinist views, wrote a complimentary verse in Latin to his ‘fellow country-man’ Polsted, whom he thus distinguished from less upright justices:
But you not the least celebrated in the law speak the truth
You, oh shining constellation and inspiration of your people
You assist the poor with words, experience and advice
You expound the difficult knots of law, the deep meanings, with a sense of beauty in these matters
You think with judgment and decide fairly ...
In February 1552 the Inner Temple, his brother’s inn, called Polsted to its bench on payment of £6 13s.4d. and the condition that ‘it shall be no precedent to any other hereafter to be called to the bench because he never exercised any office in this house’. It appears that Polsted had learned his law outside the professional schools but had done well enough to be honoured by one of them.9
During his service with Cromwell, Polsted had been well placed to obtain a seat in Parliament, but the loss of so many names of Members in 1536 and 1539 leaves it uncertain whether he did so: his brother Thomas almost certainly sat at least twice during these years. In March 1539 Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton, was attempting to procure the return of suitable Members from Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex; he approved Guildford’s choice of Daniel Mugge, assuring Cromwell that Mugge was ‘an honest man’ and ‘a kinsman of Henry Polsted’. If Polsted was himself found a seat in this Parliament, his attendance must have been subject to interruption: thus on 4 May 1539, during the first session, John Hussee wrote that Polsted and (Sir) John Baldwin would meet Viscount Lisle at Dover nine days later (Lisle’s crossing being, however, postponed at the last minute), and on 13 June, during the second session, Polsted was at Cromwell’s house at Halden, Kent.10
The first Parliament of which Polsted is known to have been a Member was that of 1547: he replaced Sir Thomas Cawarden at Bletchingley. It was probably during the second session that Cawarden exchanged his borough seat for the knighthood of the shire and Polsted’s by-election doubtless followed soon after. Cawarden himself controlled the borough and he too was connected with the Mores of Loseley. In the following Parliament Polsted may have found a seat at Guildford, the Members for that borough being unknown, but in the first Parliament of Mary’s reign he was re-elected for Bletchingley. He was not among those who in the course of that Parliament ‘stood for the true religion’, that is, for Protestantism. In November 1554 and again in 1555 he was returned for his native Guildford, where by his acquisition of Albury manor he had also become one of the largest local landowners. On both occasions he sat with his friend and associate William More. Neither of them ‘seceded’ from the first of these Parliaments and only More is known to have opposed a government bill in the second. More’s father called Polsted his ‘cousin’, and Polsted was related to Daniel Mugge, Sir Christopher More’s brother-in-law. Polsted appointed William More an executor of his will and in 1567 his son Richard was to marry More’s daughter Elizabeth. Polsted was himself an executor of the will of his cousin Thomas Elyot, Member for Guildford in 1545 and 1547.11
In May 1539 Polsted had married the daughter of a colleague, Robert Lord, servant to (Sir) John Gostwick, the treasurer of first fruits and tenths. (The ascription to him of an earlier marriage in the Surrey visitation of 1623 probably arose from a confusion of Polsted with his uncle and namesake of Purley, a merchant taylor of London.) In August 1536, nearly three years before his marriage, Polsted had written to Cromwell that his hope of advancement in marriage was clearly gone ‘by his late evil chance’; he did not specify the trouble, but it may have been an episode revealed in a Star Chamber complaint against him dating from between 1533 and 1542. The plaintiff, John Crowe, alleged that Polsted had forcibly entered his house near Temple Bar, had over a long period committed adultery with Crowe’s wife Maud, who bore a child by him, had driven Crowe from his wife and home, and had embezzled goods to the value of 200 marks. Polsted’s reply to the charges has not survived and the outcome of the case is unknown.12
One of the most noticeable features of Polsted’s career is his large accumulation of monastic and chantry property. In February 1540 he paid £540 for the priory of Bicknacre, Essex, and in August 1548, with William More, £382 to augmentations for former chantry property in Berkshire, Hampshire, London, Surrey and Sussex. In December 1548, again with More, he purchased for £2,035 chantry lands in Kent, Surrey and Sussex and in the following March, with Sir Anthony Aucher, he paid £2,745 into augmentations for lands in Essex, London, Surrey and Sussex. He had inherited some property in Guildford and its neighbourhood from his father, but alienated much of it before his death.13
In his will of 1 Aug. 1555 Polsted asked that there should be no pomp at his burial and that only his wife, his other executors (William More and John Brace) and four of his servants should wear mourning. His rents and leases he left to his wife Alice, until his son Richard, then a boy of ten, should come of age, provided she remained unmarried and paid for the children’s upbringing. She was also to enjoy a life interest in the manors of Albury and Wildwood, the chantry house in Shere and all its property in Albury, Alford, and Shere, and, in consideration of her dower and his ‘benevolence’, former chantry property in Kent, London, Surrey and Sussex. Polsted’s nephew, Anthony Elmes, was given a manor and lands in Worthing, Sussex, and his daughter received a ‘barn and a close’ in Reading, Berkshire. Polsted divided much of his property into portions, creating entails for various relatives in the event of his dying without issue. He granted the Queen an annuity of 50 marks for six years from his manors of Catford, Kent, and Hall Place, Surrey. Four lawyers were appointed to resolve any obscurities in the will, and to emend it if need be, each receiving a gold ring worth 40s. for his pains; another distinguished lawyer, John Caryll, was named among the overseers. Polsted died on 10 Dec. 1555 and the will was proved on 16 May 1556.14