AUSTEN, John (d.1572), of Guildford, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
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Family and Education

s. of John Austen of Chiddingfold by his w. Margaret. m. Joan, da. of William Snelling of East Horsley, at least 2s. inc. George.

Offices Held

Member, Guildford merchant guild 1561, recorder (i.e. town clerk) 1563, mayor 1566.


Austen’s father, probably related to the rector of Chiddingfold mentioned in Henry VIII’s Valor Ecclesiasticus, migrated to Surrey from St. Albans, Hertfordshire. The family was evidently connected with Guildford as early as 1509 when a John Austen of that borough executed the will of one of its most important benefactors. At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign Austen himself was in touch with William More of Loseley, concerning the execution of the will of the late Sir Thomas Cawarden.

Austen was an active citizen of Guildford. During his year as mayor, certain townsmen asked him to reform the practices of the shoemakers, cordwainers and tanners, and three years later, when funds were needed for the great local enterprise of building a grammar school, Austen, who may have been responsible for a bill about the school brought before the 1563 Parliament, launched an appeal among the well-to-do of the neighbourhood and raised over £100. Among the contributors were John Wolley, Sir William More I and Lawrence Stoughton; Austen himself, who had been appointed one of the two wardens of the school in 1564, was a generous donor, being thereby ‘out of purse above £40’ and so much ‘the worser to my wife and children’. According to one authority, he died in April 1572, and this considerably delayed the building of the school. The project was later completed, largely through the efforts of his son George.

In his will, made November 1570 and proved June 1572, Austen described himself as a yeoman. He left ‘all my books’ to his son George, and requested the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and the schoolmaster at Guildford to assist as overseers. He also arranged that, should both his sons die childless, his wife also being dead, the benefit of his estate should go to ‘some poor scholars within the King’s grammar school at Guildford’, as well as towards ‘the common treasure of the said town or for the maintenance of the great bridge there’. The preamble of the will strikes a puritan note, and at his burial there was to be a sermon by ‘some virtuous and learned man ... to set forth God’s glory and to the edifying of the congregation’. He left his dwelling-house in Guildford to his son George, together with the reversion of certain lands in Stoke-next-Guildford and a small annuity. Another son, John, was to have £60, a small annuity and the use of a room, presumably in the house at Guildford, when ‘he shall come down into the country to make merry with his friends’. His widow was to receive an annuity and the proceeds of Austen’s lands.

Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 63; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 38, 76; ii. 100; Add. 6167, f. 203; Guildford Mus. Geo. Austen’s bk.; Surr. Arch. Colls. v. 159; x. 108 seq.; HMC 7th Rep. 615b, 619b; PCC 19 Daper.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.E.M.