SAUNDERS, William (by 1497-1570), of Ewell, Surr.

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



Oct. 1553
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1497, 1st s. of Henry Saunders of Ewell by Joan da. of John Lepton of Yorks. m. (1) Jane (d.1539), da. and coh. of William Marston of Horton, Surr., wid. of Nicholas Mynn (d.1528) of London and Norf., 3s. inc. Nicholas at least 1da.; (2) Joan, wid. of Thomas Gittons (d.c.1544) of London, 4da. suc. fa. 1518.2

Offices Held

Receiver, ct. augmentations, Surr. and Suss. 1540-48; j.p. Surr. 1541-64; commr. musters 1544, chantries, Surr., Suss. and Southwark 1546, relief, Surr. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, loan 1562; other commissions 1541-68; escheator, Surr. and Suss. 1548-9; sheriff 1555-6; surveyor of crown lands, Surr. and Suss. in 1562-3.3


It is possible, but unlikely, that the William Saunders who sat for Gatton in 1529 was a cousin of the later Member of that name and an uncle of Thomas Saunders of Charlwood. This William Saunders, who belonged to a prosperous Surrey family, was probably resident in that county at the time (his son Nicholas, the famous Catholic controversialist, being born at Charlwood in the following year), and was presumably of an age to have been returned to Parliament; he may also have been a member of the Middle Temple. Yet he seems to have owned no land in Surrey and to have taken no part in its affairs, he is described by some writers as resident in Aston, a place-name which cannot be located in Surrey, and it thus seems likely that he left the county after Nicholas’s birth. Failing him, the Member for Gatton can only have been his cousin and namesake who was to sit again under Mary, and this is the conclusion adopted here.4

Little is known about Saunders’s early life, and this little has been confused both by the statement, based upon a misreading of Henry Saunders’s will, that he was a second son, and by the inference from his signature on a copy of the Pendell rent rolls that he was acting as his own lawyer in 1520. The will makes it clear that he was the eldest son, and the fact that his brother Nicholas had then been married for at least four years suggests that he was well over age at his father’s death. He was bequeathed considerable landed property, part of which, however, was to be administered by trustees while he received an annuity of £5; this arrangement lasted until April 1529, when the trustees conveyed the property to him. Neither his probable age nor his subsequent career makes it likely that he was the William Saunders who graduated BA at Cambridge in 1524-5. He must have married his first wife soon after 1528, the year in which her first husband died, as their fourth child Erasmus was born in 1535: it is not known whether his five daughters were all by this wife, who was to die in 1539. His return to Parliament in 1529 would thus have coincided with his marriage and his entry upon his inheritance, but apart from his proximity to Gatton there is nothing to connect him with Sir Roger Copley, the owner of that borough and clearly the man responsible for the choice of both its Members. Nothing is known of Saunders’s part in the proceedings of this Parliament, nor is it more than a probability that he sat again in its successor of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members. He may have been returned a third time in 1539, when the names of the Gatton Members are unknown, but from then until 1553 he did not reappear in the House.5

It is in 1537 that Saunders makes his first appearance in local affairs as a collector of rents for the manors of Ewell and Kingswood, the property of Merton priory: he was already a lessee of another of the priory’s manors, Chessington, of which in January 1536 he had succeeded Richard Rogers in a 21-year lease. If it was he, and not his cousin, who appears in a list of 1538 he had by then attached himself, if somewhat tenuously, to Cromwell: a William Saunder was one of the ‘gentlemen not to be allowed in my lord’s household aforesaid but when they have commandment or cause necessary to repair hither’. In the same year he was a member of the Surrey jury which returned an indictment of the Marquess of Exeter and Lord Montagu at Southwark. On 1 Feb. 1539 he was given the next vacancy as one of the 17 particular receivers of the court of augmentations, and within 18 months he was established in that office, which carried a salary of £20 a year and other recognised emoluments. In 1541 he became a member of the Inner Temple by special admission; there he joined his second cousin Thomas Saunders, already a lawyer of repute. When war came in 1543 his name was included among those of Surrey gentlemen required to provide men for the army overseas, his quota being three foot-soldiers. On the dissolution of the first court of augmentations in 1547 he lost his receivership without apparently being given an appointment in the new court: he was, however, amply compensated on 15 May by a life annuity of £80.6

His later enthusiasm for the Catholic cause notwithstanding, Saunders aided the progress of the Reformation in Surrey by his work for the court of augmentations and his membership of the commissions for chantries, for taking possession of the deanery of Hastings and for the sale of church goods in east Surrey: in March 1549 he was busy certifying the inventories of the village churches near Ewell. In 1553, however, he emerged as an ardent supporter of the new Queen. Although the claim that he became cofferer of her household is not supported by the accounts for the reign, which show that the office was held in turn by Thomas Weldon, Sir Richard Friston, Michael Wentworth and Richard Ward I, his name does appear on a list of annuities granted by the Queen ‘for service at Framlingham in her lifetime’ and he may therefore have served in her household, perhaps in a financial capacity. He was certainly active against religious dissidents: according to a list of sheriffs of Surrey and Sussex ‘that did burn the innocents, with a list of such whom they burned’, Saunders burned the highest number, 14. It is thus not surprising to find him returned as knight of the shire to three Marian parliaments, on the last occasion as the senior Member, although his replacement in 1558 by the more moderate Sir Thomas Saunders (who had been sheriff at the time of his cousin’s second return for the county) may reflect some dislike of him for his share in the persecution, a consideration which would have told even more heavily against him if he had sought, in his old age, to sit in the Elizabethan House.7

Saunders was brought repeatedly into conflict with that doughty Protestant (Sir) Thomas Cawarden. When on the outbreak of Wyatt’s rebellion Lord William Howard ordered the seizure of Cawarden’s armoury at Bletchingley, Sir Thomas Saunders as sheriff called on his cousin for help and together they made an inventory of the arms and arranged for their despatch. (In a brief transcript of one of the many documents relating to this episode William Saunders is described as Cawarden’s servant, but this must be a mistake). Cawarden was afterwards to complain to Queen Elizabeth that the inventory was incomplete, and that although the sheriff had been ordered to return everything only a few items had been restored. Another occasion of ill feeling was Queen Mary’s grant of Nonsuch Palace to the 12th Earl of Arundel. Henry VIII had granted Cawarden several offices at Nonsuch, and it was with evident relish that Saunders aided John, Baron Lumley, the earl’s son-in-law, to evict Cawarden from the premises. Bletchingley, where Saunders’s ownership of the manor of Pendell made him a close neighbour of Cawarden, was yet another battleground between them. In 1547 Cawarden chose a new rector, William Wakeling, married with six children and a firm Protestant; he was replaced in 1554 by a Catholic, Robert Harvey, but restored probably soon after Mary’s death. Wakeling appears to have claimed the freehold of part of Pendell, for at a manorial court held in November 1562, before a full attendance of 22 homagers, Saunders produced the rent rolls of 1451 and 1491 and triumphantly refuted Wakeling’s claim.8

It is clear from a Star Chamber suit in which he was involved that Saunders could inspire hostility in others than Cawarden. In 1547 one William Warner had sold him the manor of Parrock with an iron mill near Hartfield in Sussex, and after Warner’s death a claim by his son that the sale was not complete had been rejected in Chancery. The Warners’ lessee of the mill, Denise Bowyer, complained that Saunders had interfered with her use of the forge there, but it is not known how the case was decided as Denise Bowyer had only a 10-year lease and by 1564 Saunders was in possession of the mill: in 1577 the Warners formally abandoned their claim to the manor.9

Under Elizabeth the Saunders of Ewell became one of the leading recusant families in Surrey. Saunders’s sons Nicholas and Erasmus were Catholic stalwarts and several of his daughters married into recusant families in Norfolk. When Roger Castell of Raveningham, Norfolk, contracted to marry Elizabeth Saunders he did so both with Saunders and with Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and among other Catholic peers with whom Saunders was intimate was Lord Lumley, whom he appointed overseer of his will. In 1542 Saunders had himself been appointed executor to Elizabeth Lady Carew, widow of Sir Nicholas Carew, and in 1560 his eldest son Nicholas married their daughter Elizabeth.10

Although his father had been a younger son Saunders both inherited and acquired considerable property. From his father he received the manor of Batailles and other lands in Chessington, Epsom and Ewell after the expiry of successive life interests to his mother and sister-in-law Joan; he also came into the mansion at Ewell, a water-mill and lands in Chessington, Epsom and Ewell not belonging to Batailles manor, and a string of properties held by feoffees which included Pendell in Bletchingley and the Three Crowns inn, Southwark. Some of these Saunders sold, a house in Southwark for £140 in 1537 and land in Charlwood for 50 marks in 1544, but he more than offset them by buying the manors of Cardens in Kent, Chessington in Surrey and Parrock in Sussex.11

By his will of 2 Oct. 1570, proved on the following 10 Nov., Saunders asked to be buried without pomp. He left farm animals, corn, household fittings and plate to his wife Joan, who was also to have a life interest in the manor of Cardens if she chose to live there. To his son Erasmus he gave his ‘cross of gold with a pearl in the end thereof’, his best doublet, a sum of £100 and a share with the third son Francis of Harsing marsh in Kent; Francis himself received jewelry, clothes, household goods, annuities totalling £25, a lease of property in Ashstead, Surrey, and lands in Cliffe, Kent. After small bequests to his daughters, his grandchildren, his stepson Oliver Gittons and his servants, Saunders bequeathed the rest of the estate to his eldest son Nicholas.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Bodl. e. Museo 17.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from father’s will, PCC 15 Ayloffe. Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 459; PCC 23 Spert; Surr. Arch. Colls. xxi. 128; liv. opp. 102; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 53; C142/71/82.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xvi, xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1553, pp. 327, 357, 406; 1553-4, p. 24; 1560-3, pp. 325, 441; 1563-6, pp. 26, 36, 39; 1569-72, p. 220; Guildford mus. Loseley 1074; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 50; Manning and Bray, iii. 664; Osborn coll. Yale Univ. Lib. 71-6-41; Surr. Arch. Colls. iv. 136; viii. 302.
  • 4. PCC 15 Ayloffe; Surr. Archs. Coll. liv. opp. 102; DNB (Sanders, Nicholas).
  • 5. Surr. Arch. Colls. xiii. 145; liv. 85; Surr. RO, Pendell rentals; PCC 15 Ayloffe, 35 Porch; Add. Ch. 23411, 23412; C142/71/82; U. Lambert, Bletchingley, i. 297-8.
  • 6. LC2/190, f. 123; VCH Surr. iii. 684; A. Heales, Recs. Merton Priory, cxxvi; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xviii, xix, xxi; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 556; E315/218, f. 26; Cal. I. T. Recs. i. 128; Richardson, 281.
  • 7. Surr. Arch. Colls. xxi. 35-55, 60-62, 66, 74-76; liv. 87, opp. 102; E351/1795, mm. 6-11; Lansd. 156(28), ff. 90-94; DNB (Sanders, Nicholas); HMC 7th Rep. 614; G. A. Carthew, Hundred of Launditch, i. 185.
  • 8. Loseley Mss, ed. Kempe, 140-4; HMC 7th Rep. 608, 610, 611; Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 88; Lambert, ii. 416.
  • 9. Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 89-90; Suss. Rec. Soc. xvi. 61-64; E. Straker, Wealden Iron, 241-2; St.Ch.2/24/36.
  • 10. Strype, Annals, ii(2); HMC Hatfield, iv. 267, 272; Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 91-92; Vis. Norf. (Norf. Arch.), i. 12, 35, 253; Carthew, i. 185; Arundel Castle ms G1/7; PCC 42 Holney; The Voyage of Sir Nicholas Carewe to the Emperor Charles V, 1529 (Roxburghe Club), 1.
  • 11. PCC 42 Holney; Surr. Feet of Fines (Surr. Rec. Soc. xix), 266, 415; Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 89, 90.
  • 12. PCC 42 Holney.