SMETHWICK, William (by 1515-55 or later).

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



Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1515.2

Offices Held

In royal household by 1536; sewer of the chamber to Queens Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, 1540-7.3


Although details of William Smethwick’s political career are plentiful nothing has come to light about his parentage, early life, marriage (if he made one) or death. His name is not noted in the pedigree of the main branch of the Smethwick family seated in Cheshire nor in those of junior branches established in Hertfordshire and Staffordshire. He may have sprung from obscure west-country stock: in a papal grant of 1555 he was described as an esquire of the diocese of Bath, and from 1546 until 1567 a namesake was the incumbent of Berkley, Somerset. In 1548 one Joan Smethwick, widow, was paying 2s. a year for meadows in Marston, Somerset.4

The first glimpse of Smethwick comes in 1536 when he obtained a lease of the conventual buildings of the recently dissolved priory of Rosedale, Yorkshire. He was already the holder of a minor appointment in the Household, possibly ‘on the Queen’s side’ for it was there that he was employed during the closing years of the King’s reign. Catherine Parr survived her royal husband and it was presumably she who procured a place for Smethwick in the first Parliament of the new reign: Sir Thomas Arundell was not only her chancellor but also receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall, and doubtless she enlisted Arundell’s aid to ensure Smethwick’s return as senior Member for a recently enfranchised Cornish borough. In the spring of 1547 the Queen married Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, and although his hand cannot be discerned in Smethwick’s election in the autumn the two men were evidently to come together, as is attested by the replies given by (Sir) William Sharington on his arrest in 1549. When the second session of the Parliament opened on 24 Nov. 1548, Sharington recalled,

As I was going thitherwards, I met with Smethwick who took me aside advising me friendly that I should not come to my Lady Elizabeth. I asked him but he said no more to me.

Soon afterwards Sharington saw Seymour:

I told him I was warned by Smethwick that I should not come to my Lady Elizabeth, and thereupon I said unto him, ‘Have you anything to do there? I take it that I am warned not to meddle in any such matter and no more I will.’ Whereunto the admiral [Seymour] answered that he had nothing to do there, but said he, ‘Why should not the King’s daughter be married within the realm?’

Although Smethwick was clearly aware of Seymour’s matrimonial ambitions following the death of Catherine Parr, he is not known to have been interrogated about Seymour or to have suffered for his dependence on the admiral: he remained a Member and his name appears on a list of the Commons for the last session of the Parliament. He is not known to have found a seat in the following Parliament, where his connexion with the Seymours would have made him unwelcome.5

Smethwick reappeared in Parliament at the accession of Mary. He sat for another Cornish constituency and probably owed his return to his colleague in the House on this occasion, Sir Thomas Smith, with whom he was on excellent terms. Unlike Smith he joined the Protestant opposition and after the dissolution of Parliament he became involved in Wyatt’s rising. For this he was sent to the Tower on 7 Feb. 1554 and remained there until the following 23 June, when his transfer to the Fleet was ordered: while in the Tower he was questioned in the hope that he would turn Queen’s evidence against Princess Elizabeth who was also a prisoner there. The date of his release is not known, but he did not stay in the Fleet for long, as he wrote to (Sir) John Thynne on 8 Dec. that Elizabeth was well and might soon have her liberty. In 1555 Smethwick used the links which he had maintained with the Seymour family during its eclipse, and his other connexions at court, to obtain a seat in the Parliament of that year: he was a stranger to Bletchingley, where his name was inserted on the indenture in a different hand, but his religious convictions would have commended him to its patron, Sir Thomas Cawarden. His fellow-Member John Vaughan I had been his contemporary in the Household and both men incurred displeasure by voting against a government bill.6

In 1555 Smethwick obtained a papal indulgence for himself and ‘any five of his friends whom he should nominate (excepting regulars), such as were married and their children of both sexes’: he named Sir Thomas Smith as one of the friends to be covered. No trace has been found of Smethwick later than 1555 nor of the rewards which he might have expected from Elizabeth after her accession: possibly he did not long survive his last appearance in the Commons and succumbed to the epidemic which marked the close of the reign.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference.
  • 3. E179/69/47; 315/209, f. 9; LP Hen. VIII, xx; The Gen. n.s. xxx. 25.
  • 4. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xviii), 208; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 21; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xvii), 247; Som. Incumbents, ed. Weaver, 24; Som. Chantries (Som. Rec. Soc. ii), 97; Strype, Smith, 47.
  • 5. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 163.
  • 6. Bodl. e Museo 17; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 53, 71; APC, v. 46; Foxe, Acts and Mons. viii. 619; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 2, ff. 214-15v.; C219/24/153; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.
  • 7. Strype, 47.