SHELDON, William (by 1511-70), of Weston, Warws. and Beoley, Worcs.
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Family and Education
b. by 1511, 1st s. of Ralph Sheldon of Beoley, and bro. of Thomas. educ. M. Temple, rem. to I. Temple 1528. m. (1) Mary (d. 25 Jan. 1553), da. and coh. of William Willington of Barcheston, Warws., 2s. inc. Ralph† 4da.; (2) Margaret, da. of (Sir) Richard Broke of London, wid. of William Whorwood (d. 28 May 1545) of Putney, Surr., 1s. suc. fa. 11 Sept. 1546.3
Marshal, I. Temple 1542, 1544, steward 1553.
J.p. Worcs. 1532-d., Warws. 1554-58/59; commr. musters, Worcs. 1539, chantries, Salop, Staffs. and Shrewsbury 1546, Herefs., Worcs., Hereford and Worcester 1548, relief, Worcs. 1550, to survey lands of bpric. of Worcester 1560; other commissions 1535-64; solicitor to Queen Catherine Parr by May 1544; receiver, ct. augmentations, Herefs., Leics., Northants., Rutland, Salop, Staffs., Warws. and Worcs. May 1547-53, Exchequer 1553-5; sheriff, Worcs. 1547-8, 1556-7, 1567-8; steward for Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, unknown property by 1548; custos rot. Worcs. by 1558/59; collector for loan, Worcs. 1562.4
William Sheldon’s uncle purchased the manor of Beoley in the reign of Edward IV and, dying without issue, was succeeded there by William’s father. It was probably his training in the law which accounts for Sheldon’s nomination to the Worcestershire bench before he himself held any property in the shire and seemingly before his father’s appointment to it. His marriage to one of the coheirs of a wealthy merchant of the staple may have prompted and perhaps enabled him in 1535 to purchase a residence of his own at Weston, where he lived until his father’s death and which he made the second seat of his family. His six sisters-in-law married into such prominent local families as Greville, Holte and Mountford.5
Ralph Sheldon was nominated but not pricked sheriff of Worcestershire in 1541, 1542 and 1544, and he may therefore have been of sufficient standing to secure his eldest son’s election as knight of the shire to the Parliament of 1542 and perhaps also to that of 1545, for which the Worcestershire knights are unknown: on both occasions Ralph’s younger son Thomas sat for Worcester. William Sheldon was probably also an original Member of the Parliament of 1547, although his Membership is known only from the Crown Office list drawn up for the fourth session; by 1547 he was the head of his family and established in the service of the crown. He had been mustered in 1544 for service in the expedition against France and in 1547 he was to be pricked sheriff for the first time.6
Sheldon had also entered the market in monastic lands: in January 1544, with his brother Francis, he bought property in Worcestershire for £1,804, most of which they resold, and in February 1544, with his father-in-law Willington, he purchased the manor of Packwood, Worcestershire, for £876, selling it to Robert Burdett, of whose will he was to be chief executor. Later in 1544 he received two further grants from the crown and by May 1545 he had arranged further purchases which for the most part he was to retain, although various small parcels were sold to friends and relatives. His appointment in the augmentations ought to have put him in a favourable position for making forther acquisitions, but although he continued to buy lands none of his purchases was from the crown, with the possible exception of the advowson of Grimley and Hallow, Worcestershire, and most of them were not of former monastic property.7
About this time Sheldon’s private life was marred by an unseemly quarrel which eventually found its way to the Star Chamber, and which modifies the impression of domestic harmony created by his epitaph. His young sister Mary had been placed in the household of Ursula, widow of (Sir) Edmund Knightley, and while there had engaged herself to one of Lady Knightley’s servants named Silvester, by whom she was with child. Sheldon and his mother took the girl away and sent her to live with a relative but she returned to Lady Knightley’s house and there married her lover. Lady Knightley, charged with abduction, retaliated with accusations of ‘unmannerliness’ in Mary and cruelty on her mother’s part. The result of the suit is unknown, but Mary was later married, more suitably, to a younger son of Sir Edward Ferrers.8
Sheldon’s preoccupation with his duties as receiver may account for his absence from the Parliament of March 1553, when he doubtless helped his son-in-law Francis Savage to be elected junior knight of the shire. There is no sign that his earlier connexion with the Seymours persuaded him to stand down. His relationship with the Dudley family, arising out of his second marriage (Margaret Broke’s stepdaughter had been the first wife of Ambrose Dudley, later Earl of Warwick), had yet to be established and was presumably to be more helpful to his son Ralph under Elizabeth. In 1556 Margaret Broke’s other stepdaughter, Margaret, married Ralph Sheldon’s brother-in-law Thomas Throckmorton II.
When the court of augmentations was dissolved in 1553 Sheldon evidently retained his post in the Exchequer court which replaced it, for in 1555 he was licensed to sell his office of receiver, with its fees of £100 plus portage, to Savage. His two further elections for Worcestershire and his second shrievalty testify to his standing during the new reign although he was excused the knighthood of the bath at the Queen’s marriage ‘in consideration of his small ability and living’. He was not among those Members who opposed a government bill in the Parliament of 1555 and in the same year he was one of several gentlemen instructed to watch Richard Tracy for signs of nonconformity. In 1558 he was granted the wardship of his grandson William Savage. He had sued out a pardon at the beginning of the reign as of Beoley, Weston the Wocestershire manor of Tredington and the Inner Temple, and in 1559 he obtained another as of Beoley, Weston, Putney and London.9
Sheldon did not sit in any Elizabethan Parliament but his elder son was junior knight of the shire in 1563. In the following year he was among those described by Bishop Sandys as ‘indifferent in religion or else of no religion’ but was also said to be fit to remain on the bench and to serve as sheriff, which he did for a third time in 1567. It was in these years that he occupied himself with the work that was to bring him widespread renown, the fostering of tapestry weaving in England. Sheldon had long been actively engaged in the wool trade but it was apparently Richard Hicks of Barcheston who, while travelling as tutor to Sheldon’s son Ralph in 1554 or 1555, first became interested in the art of tapestry and was instructed in it in Flanders; Sheldon described Hicks in his will as ‘the only author and beginner of this art within this realm’. The enterprise was a great success and was much admired as a practical method of providing employment for the poor: the Earl of Leicester, when visiting Warwick in 1570, recommended the townsmen to follow Sheldon’s example in their own efforts to re-establish the town’s fortunes. Less admirable was the series of disputes which arose from the settlement of his father-in-law’s estate in which Sheldon was accused of failing to pay legacies, terrorizing his mother-in-law and in other ways abusing his position as executor.10
Sheldon died on 24 Dec. 1570 at Skilts, Warwickshire, and was buried in Beoley church where his son erected an elaborate monument with a fulsome epitaph describing him as a peacemaker and benefactor to friends, servants and kinsmen. Sheldon did indeed leave a considerable amount of property and made a very long and complex will on 3 Jan. 1570 to govern it. His executors, who included his elder son Ralph and two of his sons-in-law, Edmund Plowden and Anthony Pollard (a younger brother of Sir John), received the greater part of the estate for six years to pay debts and legacies. Most of the freehold was then to pass to the heir, provided he allowed it to be encumbered with various annuities and life grants to his mother and sisters. Frampton in Gloucestershire, and various other small properties, including mines in Coleorton, Leicestershire, were left to his younger son William. The leasehold property was divided among his daughters’ sons with numerous reversions and provisos.11
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. M. Thorpe
- 1. C219/18B/108.
- 2. Hatfield 207.
- 3. Date of birth estimated from first commission. Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 127-8; Nash, Worcs. i. 64-66; Dugdale, Warws. i. 584; E. A. B. Barnard, The Sheldons, 5; Habington’s Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1895), i. 71.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII, v, viii, xii-xiv, xvi, xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1548-9, p. 137; 1553, p. 359; 1553-4, pp. 25, 26; 1554-5, pp. 76-77; 1558-60, p. 422; 1563-6, pp. 28, 41; E101/423/15, f. 8; 163/12/17, nos. 38, 51, 54; 315/161/38; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 281; Stowe 571, f. 10v; Osborn Coll. Yale Univ. Lib. 71.6.41.
- 5. Dugdale, i. 584, 601; Nash, i. 66; VCH Warws. v. 55; LP Hen. VIII, xx.
- 6. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xvii, xix, xxi.
- 7. Ibid. xix-xxi; Habington’s Worcs. i. 431; ii. 170; VCH Worcs. iii. 269, 414, 489; CPR, 1548-9, p. 386; 1549-50, p. 199; 1550-3, p. 59; Dugdale, i. 553; ii. 784.
- 8. St.Ch.2/20/94, 25/197.
- 9. CPR, 1553-4, p. 457; 1554-5, pp. 76, 262; 1557-8, p. 69; 1558-60, p. 176; APC, v. 50, 145.
- 10. Cam. Misc. ix(3), 4-7; Barnard, 13-16, 23-24; J. Humphreys, Eliz. Sheldon Tapestries .
- 11. Habington’s Worcs. i. 69-73; C142/159/87; PCC 8 Holney.