POLSTED, Thomas (by 1505-?41), of Guildford, Surr. and London.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1505, 1st s. of Thomas Polsted of Stoke, and bro. of Henry. educ. I. Temple, adm. 1519. suc. fa. 15 Mar. 1529.2

Offices Held

Bencher, I. Temple 1537.

King’s attorney, ct. wards 3 Aug. 1540-7 Feb. 1541.3


It was A. F. Pollard who suggested that Thomas Polsted was by-elected to the Parliament of 1529 about the year 1533. Pollard’s scrutiny of a list of over 30 names preserved among the State Papers revealed that 26 or 27 of them were those of Members elected in 1529 and that all the names appeared in a topographical order identical with that adopted in Crown Office lists until after that date: he concluded that the remaining names were those of men returned at by-elections held after 1529 but before the date of the list in question. Among the seven or eight names concerned is that of Thomas Polsted ‘of Guildford’. Nineteen of the men named are thus attached to places, which almost certainly represent residences and not constituencies: thus four of those listed are marked ‘of Chelsea’. The Polsted on the list may therefore be identified with the eldest son of Thomas Polsted of Stoke-next-Guildford, Surrey, who died in March 1529, leaving the bulk of his property to his son and namesake.4

With regard to the constituency Polsted’s name occurs in the list between those of Members known to have sat for Wiltshire boroughs since 1529, Thomas Chaffyn I for Salisbury and John Poyntz for Devizes. Of the four Wiltshire boroughs whose names usually appear between Salisbury and Devizes, namely Malmesbury, Cricklade, Great Bedwyn and Marlborough, the only one for which a vacancy is known to have arisen is Great Bedwyn; one of the Members returned there in 1529, William Newdigate, had been marked ‘mortuus’ on a list dating from the spring of 1532, and the vacancy is confirmed by a list of unfilled seats compiled by or for Cromwell, probably before the end of 1532, which includes Great Bedwyn but no other Wiltshire borough. There can thus be little doubt that Polsted was returned for Great Bedwyn, or that, as the list dates from the fifth session of the Parliament, the by-election took place in December 1532 or January 1533.5

Polsted was then perhaps in his early thirties. His career has to be distinguished from that of his cousin and namesake, a merchant taylor of London: in a fine made in 1535 the first is called ‘senior, and the second ‘junior’, but as feoffees for Cromwell in the same year they are not so qualified. Their differing avocations warrant the identification of the Member with the lawyer who entered the Inner Temple in 1519 and in 1537 reached the bench there: moreover, this Thomas Polsted’s record at the inn was marred by derelictions of duty such as might well have been occasioned by the demands of his public life. How early he became associated with Cromwell is not known, but his younger brother Henry Polsted was the secretary’s receiver by 1533, and as their father had been one of Wolsey’s bailiffs the connexion may have been formed by 1529. (The Polsteds’ link with Wolsey did not, however, prevent him as chancellor from ruling against them, in June 1529, when the father was already dead, in a suit brought by Magdalen College, Oxford.) Of the scattered appearances of the name before that year it is hard to say whether they denote the father or the son: the most tantalizing, especially in view of Polsted’s seeming doubts about royal policy in 1533, is the ambiguous reference, in an account of the perambulation in March 1525 of the waste and common of Shere, Surrey, a manor then held by Catherine of Aragon, to Thomas Polsted as either one of the Queen’s servants or one of the neighbouring residents taking part.6

Whatever his affiliations before the close of 1532, Polsted can scarcely have owed his by-election to anyone but Cromwell, although perhaps through the agency of Sir William Essex. Formerly under the patronage of Sir Edward Darrell, the lord of the manor, Bedwyn had come, since Darrell’s death in 1531, into the custody of Essex. That the King himself intervened is unlikely: true, the daughter of one of his physicians, Balthazar Gwercye, was to marry a Thomas Polsted, but this was almost certainly the merchant taylor, whose personal and marital record accords well with such an alliance, and unless the King’s interest had been solicited in this roundabout way Polsted could not have looked elsewhere than to the secretary for nomination at a borough with which he himself had no known connexion. Of Polsted’s role in the Commons there is but a solitary glimpse— yet an unexpected one. It is afforded by the same list as furnishes the evidence of his Membership. If, as is believed, this list records the names of Members opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals to Rome, Polsted’s appearance on it means that his entry into the House under Cromwell’s sponsorship did not prevent him from taking an independent line there. He would not have been the only lawyer to do so: his name is followed on the list by those of William Whorwood, a future law officer of the crown, and of Thomas Bromley I, a future chief justice (and a colleague of Polsted’s at the Inner Temple). And just as neither Whorwood’s nor Bromley’s career was to be blighted by their opposition at this juncture, so Polsted’s clearly did not suffer. How much he owed to his brother we cannot say, but although their names are regularly conjoined in the service of the minister, as when in June 1537 they sent him ‘bridgements’ of the correspondence between Sir John Neville I, 3rd Baron Latimer, and Sir Francis Bigod, Thomas Polsted is also found acting individually, especially in Cromwell’s legal business and interests: it is thus likely that he, and not his brother, took part in the discussions of August 1535 with ecclesiastical lawyers on the jurisdiction of church courts. He also acted for other notables, one of them being the 9th Lord la Warr, whose conservatism in religion he may well have shared. Whether it was he, or the merchant taylor, who carried a letter from Bernardino Sandro at Padua to Thomas Starkey is not known.7

Polsted’s connexion with Cromwell makes it probable that he was returned again for Bedwyn to the Parliament of 1536, in accordance with the King’s request for the re-election of the previous Members: he may even have sat in that of 1539, another Parliament for which the names of most of the Members, including those for Bedwyn, are missing. If he did so, it was presumably again with the support of Cromwell. That he was not beholden only to the minister, however, appears from his first, and it may be his sole, appointment, that of King’s attorney of the court of wards. His patent for this (in which he is again called ‘senior’) is dated 3 Aug. 1540, ten days after the Act establishing the court (32 Hen. VIII, c.46) had received the royal assent, and six days after the execution of Cromwell. Even if, as may well have been the case, Polsted had been involved in the business of wardship before the erection of the court, it is unlikely that he would have obtained the post if he had clung to the fallen giant: Cromwell’s overthrow was to cost Henry Polsted the deputy stewardship of augmentations north of the Trent. Polsted’s professional qualifications, if adequate, were in themselves hardly good enough to account for his appointment. The attorneyship was, or was to become, the preserve of lawyers who had already become double readers and benchers at their inns. Polsted had been called to the bench in February 1537 (although it is not clear whether he had read) but the subsequent disappearance of his name from the records of the inn suggests that he took little or no part in its affairs: only if this withdrawal coincided with his first involvement in wardship administration could the years in question have strengthened his claim. It is thus to support from within that administration rather than from outside it that Polsted may have looked. At the head of it, both before and after 1540, stood Sir William Paulet, whose path Polsted’s had crossed at several points, at the Inner Temple, in the House of Commons, at court, and perhaps in their neighbouring counties of Hampshire and Surrey. Then there were the surveyor-general, John Hynde, another ex-Member of the Parliament of 1529, and the auditor, Sir John Peryent, whose nephew Henry was later to acquire the wardship of a younger Thomas Polsted, the son and namesake of the merchant taylor.8

The questions posed by Polsted’s appointment to the attorneyship are matched by those which arise from his loss of it. On 7 Feb. 1541, after a tenure of only six months, he was replaced by John Sewster, the terms of whose patent give no reason for the change. Among possible explanations, the most obvious, that Polsted was dead, seems incapable of proof. In the absence of a will or inquisition post mortem, the date of his death can only be inferred from evidence which is itself inconclusive. Thus, if he is to be identified with the ‘Master Polsted’ who on 2 May 1546 was assessed for a fifteenth at 10d. for 20 acres of land in Trinity parish, Guildford, he had survived the end of his attorneyship by more than five years, and if, further, with the Thomas Polsted who was escheator of Surrey and Sussex in a year believed to be 1547 he did so for somewhat longer. Yet the second of these references may be to the merchant taylor, who in later life acquired various lands in Surrey and Kent, and the first to his brother Henry, who both had property in Guildford and was prominent in its affairs. The only other pointer to the date of Polsted’s death is the omission of his name from his brother’s will of 1 Aug. 1555, a will in which several more distant relatives are remembered. If it was not death which cut short his attorneyship, Polsted must have surrendered it voluntarily or have been compelled to do so. As nothing has come to light suggestive of either dénouement, an untimely death, perhaps from the ‘sickness’ which renewed its appearance at the inns about that time, remains the likeliest solution. There is no contemporary evidence that Polsted had married or procreated, but in the visitation of Surrey taken in 1623 it is stated that he died without issue.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. L. Davids


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; LP Hen. VIII, ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from education. PCC 5 Jankyn; Surr. Arch. Colls. ii. peds. (unpaginated) at end vol.; li. 94-95; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 178.
  • 3. J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, 224; LP Hen. VIII, xv.
  • 4. Bull. IHR, ix. 31-43; LP Hen. VIII, ix. 1077; SP1/99, p. 234.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59, 62.
  • 6. CPR, 1549-51, p. 199; Surr. Rec. Soc. xix. 33; LP Hen. VIII, iv, viii, add.; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 49, 99, 100-2, 104, 115; Manning and Bray, i. 522-3.
  • 7. Surr. Arch. Colls. ii. peds. (unpaginated) at end vol.; London IPMs (Brit. Rec. Soc. xv), i. 145; C142/113/55; CPR, 1557-8, p. 225; LP Hen. VIII, viii, ix, xii, xiii; Elton, Reform and Renewal, 133.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, xv; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 222-3; H. E. Bell, Ct. Wards and Liveries, 20, 22-24; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 110; CPR, 1557-8, p. 225.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xxi; Surr. Rec. Soc. xxiv. 135; PCC 6 Ketchyn.