STANFORD (STAMFORD, STAMFORD, STAUNFORD), William (1509-58), of Hadley, Mdx. 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. 22 Aug. 1509, 2nd s. of William Stanford of London by Margaret, da. and h. of one Gedney of London. educ. Oxf.; G. Inn, adm. 1528, called 1536. m. Alice, da. of John Palmer of Kentish Town, Mdx., 6s. inc. Robert 5da. Kntd. 27 Jan. 1555.1

Offices Held

Autumn reader, G. Inn 1544, Lent 1551.2

Attorney, ct. gen. surveyors of the king’s lands 1542-28 Dec. 1546; commr. sale of crown lands 1543, benevolence, Mdx. 1544/45, chantries, London, Westminster, Mdx. 1546, contribution, Mdx. 1546, of Admiralty in Nov. 1547, relief, Mdx. and Westminster 1550, eccles. law 1552, goods of churches and fraternities, Westminster 1553, survey crown possessions 1557; other commissions 1553-55; j.p. Mdx. 1543-d., Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Hants, Som., Wilts. 1554; serjeant-at-law 17 Oct. 1552; Queen’s serjeant 19 Oct. 1553; j.c.p. by June 1554; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlt. of 1558.3


William Stanford’s father, a London mercer, was a younger son of Robert Stanford of Rowley, Staffordshire. The ‘spirit of retraction of one to his native country’ led William Stanford to acquire property in Staffordshire, but his birthplace remained his home, Hadley on the borders of Middlesex and Hertfordshire.4

Stanford entered Gray’s Inn after a spell at Oxford and was called to the bar in 1536. He was chosen Autumn reader in 1544 but had to postpone his lectures, said to have been on Glanvill, until the following year on account of the plague. His patent of appointment as attorney of the newly erected court of general surveyors is dated 1 May 1542, but he had by then been discharging the duties for some months: on 24 Apr. he was given a receipt for £850 which he had paid into the court in February. The office, which was third in rank in the court, carried a fee of £40 a year and when he surrendered his patent on 28 Dec. 1546 he received an annuity of £90. Sometimes described as general attorney or attorney general to the court, he has on this account been wrongly said to have succeeded William Whorwood as attorney general in 1545.5

Stanford’s parliamentary career began coincidentally with his attorneyship and was doubtless connected with it: his chief friend at court, Sir Thomas Wriothesley, who had followed him at Gray’s Inn and was now one of the two principal secretaries, was much involved in the elections of 1542. Locally, it must have been with the consent of Henry Stafford, later 1st Baron Stafford, that Stanford was returned for the borough of that name: Stafford held the castle and manor there and was heavily indebted to Stanford. It was probably also Stafford, a relation by marriage of the locally powerful 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, who procured Stanford’s return for Newcastle (where his name was inserted in the indenture in a different hand from that of the document and over an erasure), while Stanford himself may have recommended his fellow-lawyer Richard Forsett and Edward Colbarne at Stafford in 1547 and 1553. Although Stanford was described in the returns of 1542 and 1545 as of London, it was at this time that he began to nourish his Staffordshire roots by investment. In 1545 he leased woodland and in the following year he joined with William Wyrley in buying the manor of Perry Barr; ten years later he bought Sir John St. Leger’s manor of Handsworth. It was, however, probably his cousin and namesake of Rowley who in 1537 leased ‘the manor place of the castle of Stafford’, who was involved in the dissolution of the Grey Friars and Austin Friars there in 1538 and whose signature appears on the record of an interrogation about a debt to the last abbot of Glastonbury; it was this cousin, too, who was co-defendant in a suit of 1549 over the property of the late deanery of Stafford.6

Stafford’s Membership of the Commons came to an end in 1552, but under Mary he was to be summoned to the Lords by writ of assistance, first as a Queen’s serjeant and then as a judge. There appear to be few traces of his part in the proceedings of either House. In the Parliament of 1542 he was one of the five Members, all royal officials, who signed the Act for an exchange of lands between the King and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk which was passed in the third session, and in March 1552, during his own last session in the Commons, he was one of the committee which drafted the Treasons Act (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.11). In the Lords, in the course of Mary’s third Parliament, the bill for punishment of seditious words and rumours was committed to him for the adding of a proviso. It was after he had ceased to sit in the Commons that an unexpected tribute was paid to his speeches there. It came from Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, whom he helped to prosecute for treason in April 1554 and who rebutted his arguments with what he had ‘remembered and learned of you master [Sir Nicholas] Hare, and you master Stanford in the Parliament House, where you did sit to make laws, to expound and explain the ambiguities and doubts of law sincerely, and that without affections’: Stanford could only answer that if he had known that the prisoner would be ‘so well furnished with book cases’ he would have come better provided himself. As a judge Stanford heard at least one case which may have stirred memories: this was the leading case in electoral law, Sir Richard Bulkeley versus Rhys Thomas, in which one of the issues was the validity of a parliamentary election ‘by the greater number’, without indication of the number of electors. Stanford held that the sheriff could make such a return, and his fellow-judges, among them Sir Robert Broke, concurred.7

During Edward VI’s reign Stanford did not share in the eclipse of his friend Wriothesley (who in 1550 named him an executor) but succeeded in reconciling his Catholicism with service to the increasingly Protestant regime. His call as serjeant in October 1552 shows that neither he nor Broke, another Catholic included in the call, was discriminated against and his place on the commission to try Bishop Tunstall that he was trusted: he was even included among the bishops, divines and civil and common lawyers charged with reforming the canon law. It was left to Mary, however, to promote him to Queen’s serjeant and judge. His only mention by Foxe relates to his time as Queen’s serjeant and depicts him as befriending a Protestant, Richard Bertie. One of Stanford’s assignments was to question Sir Anthony Kingston after his committal to the Tower for his obstreperous behaviour in the Parliament of 1555. He has secured a place in legal history chiefly by his writings. He is said to have prepared the first printed edition of Glanvill’s Tractatus, and his own Les Plees del Coron (1560) and Exposicion of the Kinges Prerogative(1567) became standard works and went into several editions. As a judge he was a recognized expert on interpretation: in 1556 he lent his authority to the rules which should govern the construction of a deed.8

Stanford made his will on 4 Apr. 1558, leaving his soul to God and his body to be buried in Hadley, Handsworth or Islington. He left 200 marks’ worth of household goods to his wife Alice, to whom he had already assured for life all his lands and tenements in London and Middlesex. The rest of his household goods, to the value of £100, went to his heir Robert. Three daughters each received 200 marks, and four sons £100. He named his wife executrix and his fellow-judge (Sir) James Dyer overseer. Stanford died at Hadley on 28 Aug. 1558, when his heir Robert was 18 years old. The widow, who later married Roger Carew, received a grant of Robert’s wardship in April 1559. Robert Stanford settled in Staffordshire and sat for the county in the first Jacobean Parliament. It may have been his religion that kept him out of the Commons under Elizabeth: his brother Ralph was a seminary priest.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Date of birth given in DNB. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. v(2), 279-80; Harl. 897, f. 18; Lansd. 874, f. 60; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 535. No evidence has been found for the statement in Shaw, Staffs. ii. 108 that Stanford married Elizabeth Comerford.
  • 2. Dugdale, Origines Juridiciales, 293.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xviii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 86; 1550-3, pp. 354-5, 396; 1553, pp. 186, 356, 361, 417; 1553-4, pp. 17-19, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30, 32, 162; 1554-5, p. 105; 1555-7, p. 313; APC, iii. 382; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii) 26-27; LJ, i. 513; HCA 14/2.
  • 4. Fuller, Worthies, ii. 323.
  • 5. G. H. G. Hall, Glanvill, p. lxiii; LP Hen. VIII, xvii; CPR, 1553-4, p. 10; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 258-9; Foss, Judges, v. 390.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xix-xxi; J. C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), i. 311; A. D. Tucker, ‘Commons in Parlt. of 1545’ (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1966), 552; C219/19/91; CPR, 1554-5, pp. 136, 140; VCH Staffs. v. 85, 90; Richardson, 394.
  • 7. C218/1, mm. 1-11; APC, v. 22; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 35 Hen. VIII, no. 22; CJ, i. 20; W. J. Fitzgerald, ‘Treason legislation 1547-1603’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1963), 42; LJ, i. 474; State Trials, ed. Howell, i. 869 seq.; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(1), 554; L. W. Abbott, Law Reporting in Eng. 223-4.
  • 8. T. Tanner, Bibl. Brit. Hib. (1748), 691; APC, iii. 382; v. 202; CPR, 1553-4, p. 76; Foxe, Acts and Mons, viii. 570; W. S. Holdsworth, Hist. Eng. Law, iii. 460; v. 392; Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 263; Abbott, 229.
  • 9. PCC 53 Noodes; C142/115/1; CPR, 1558-60, p. 103; G. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, i. 330-1; Cath. Rec. Soc. liv. 258-9; lv. 615-16.