WILFORD, Sir James (by 1517-50), of Hartridge, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. by 1517, 1st s. of Thomas Wilford of Hartridge by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Walter Culpeper of Bedgebury; half-bro. of Thomas Wilford†. m. by 1543, Joyce, da. of John Barrett of Belhus in Aveley, Essex, 1s. 2da. Kntd. 28 Sept. 1547.2
Provost-marshal of the army against Scotland 1547; capt. Lauder Apr.-June 1548, Haddington June 1548-early 1549; keeper, Little Park, Otford, Kent, and steward, manor of Gravesend, Kent 2 Feb. 1550-d.3
James Wilford’s family, originally of Devon stock, had settled in Kent only at the beginning of the 16th century. His grandfather, after whom he was named, had prospered as a merchant taylor in London and his uncle Nicholas Wilford had sat for the City in 1542. His father acquired lands in Kent but aspirations to gentility did not lead him to break with London, where he continued to figure with his brothers.4
Wilford was considered by Cromwell in 1538 for a post as daily waiter in his household. Whatever the decision, Cromwell’s downfall did not harm Wilford, who by 1542 had obtained a minor (unspecified) post in the royal service. In that year he and his lifelong friend Thomas Wyatt were pardoned for an assault and robbery, but the outbreak of war in 1544 gave him a more legitimate outlet: he was included in the Kent musters and served with distinction in the campaign which led to the fall of Boulogne. Two years later the Council recommended his appointment as Adrian Poynings’s lieutenant in the citadel there, but he refused to serve under Poynings. This was not held against him and Henry VIII rewarded him with an annuity worth £50 and the Protector Somerset with the provost-marshalship in the army against Scotland in 1547. His valour at the battle of Pinkie, where he ‘placed himself with the foremost of the foreward’, confirmed Somerset’s esteem for Wilford and earned him a knighthood.5
It was doubtless on Somerset’s recommendation that Wilford was elected at Barnstaple with Bartholomew Traheron, even if his family’s origin was of some help. Although almost certainly chosen in his absence, he returned south with the army and may be expected to have spoken during the first session on the need to press the war to a conclusion. After the prorogation he raised troops in London to that end, and by 22 Feb. 1548 he was on his way back to Scotland, where he took up a command at Lauder. In April his services were enlisted by the 13th Lord Grey de Wilton towards the capture of Haddington, and on its fall Grey proposed him as its governor. Neither Grey nor Somerset was to be disappointed, for Wilford—‘such a one as was able to make a cowardly beast a courageous man’—held Haddington, ill manned, badly fortified and plague stricken, almost without help for close on a year, and the garrison lost heart only after his capture by the French during an ill-advised attack on Dunbar. When it was learnt that he had fallen ill Grey persuaded the Council to secure his release by an exchange: his condition on arrival at York in November 1549 was described as ‘very weak’. He had missed the second session of the Parliament and his failing health probably prevented him from resuming his place during the third: his wife remained in constant attendance on him, a boy was employed to assist her, and his affairs were managed by his brothers and brothers-in-law. He nevertheless interested himself in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s scheme to establish a militia by Act of Parliament to preserve England from Catholicism: he also availed himself of the privilege of the House to have a servant freed from arrest.