AUBREY, William (1529-95), of Cantreff, Brec., Doctors' Commons, London and Sydenham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1529, 2nd s. of Thomas Aubrey, MD, of Cantreff by Agnes, da. of Thomas Vaughan. educ. Christ’s Coll. Brecon; Oxf. c.1543, fellow of All Souls 1547, BCL 1549, DCL 1554 or 1555; adv. Doctors’ Commons 1556. m. by 1558, Wilgiford, da. of John Williams of Taynton, Oxon., 3s. 6da.1

Offices Held

Principal, New Inn Hall, Oxf. c.1550; (jt. with John Storey, later sole) prof. of civil law, Oxf. 7 Oct. 1553-22 Feb. 1559; judge marshal with army in France 1557; jt. (with William Clerke II) vicar gen., province of Canterbury Jan. 1578; j.p.q. Brec., Carm., Merion., Pemb., other Welsh counties, and Mon., Herefs., Salop, Glos., and member, council in the marches of Wales by 1579; master in Chancery; member of ct. of high commission by 1593; master of requests 20 Jan. 1590.2


Aubrey had a distinguished career at Oxford, and though his great-grandson the antiquary was doubtless correct in thinking it probable that the Earl of Pembroke, his kinsman, was ‘instrumental in his rise’, there is also no doubt that he was of outstanding ability. He left academic life in 1556 and served under Pembroke in the St. Quentin campaign of 1557. During Elizabeth’s reign he became a prominent member of the group of Welsh civil lawyers who played so notable a role in the ecclesiastical, judicial and diplomatic affairs of the period. For some years he was in private practice, ‘an advocate of very good reputation of the civil and canon laws’. In 1561 he was one of the attorneys for the Earl of Hertford before the commission to inquire into the validity of the Earl’s marriage with Lady Catherine Grey. In 1564-5 he went to Bruges as counsel for the Merchant Adventurers’ company during the negotiations for the resumption of trade between England and Flanders. Nicholas Wotton commended him to Cecil for his ‘wit, learning and painfulness’. He was still in Bruges in April 1566.3

Thenceforward he was constantly employed on all manner of commissions and duties; he sat often as judge-delegate in the Admiralty court and, at least after 1577, was active in ecclesiastical affairs. His advice was asked on many important diplomatic and legal points, including the case of the bishop of Ross in 1571. According to his grandson, he was among those favourably inclined to Mary Queen of Scots—indeed, he was accused by his enemies of being in treasonable correspondence with her. These accusations were, no doubt, slanders, and he sat on the commission which tried Mary in 1586. Honours and responsibilities continued to be given him until the end of his life. A favourite of the Queen, who called him her ‘little doctor’, he was also a friend of the Cecils and, according to John Aubrey, popular with the nobles. The bishop of St. David’s, however, regarded him as an ‘insatiable cormorant’ and a malicious enemy.4

It was probably the Earl of Pembroke who secured Aubrey his seats for Carmarthen and Brecon Boroughs. Hindon was owned by the bishop of Winchester, and in 1559 Bishop White had Aubrey and Aubrey’s kinsman, another Welsh civilian, Henry