BUTTS, Sir William (1513-83), of Thornage, Norf.

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. 1513, 1st s. of Sir William Butts, court physician to Henry VIII, by Margaret, da. of John Bacon of Cambs. educ. ?Corpus, Camb.; ?L. Inn 1529. m. Jane, da. and coh. of Henry Bures of Acton, Suff. suc. fa. 1545. Kntd. 1547.1

Offices Held

Gent. pens. by 1544-9; j.p. Norf. 1547, rem. under Mary, j.p.q. by 1562, sheriff 1562-3; commr. musters 1562; ?dep. lt. c.1570; commr. piracy by 1577.2


Information about Butts’s early life is mainly conjectural. He entered Lincoln’s Inn at the age of about 16, and one of this name was suggested as master of the revels at the inn in 1530, 1531 and 1533. As the royal physician, his father had to spend much of his time in London, where he had a house in Fleet Street, but Henry VIII made him large grants of land in Norfolk, including in 1536 the manor of Thornage, near Holt, which became the chief family seat. The younger William probably became accustomed to court life as a young man: he was a gentleman pensioner by 1544, and in 1547 went on the campaign to Scotland, where he fought well enough at Musselburgh to be knighted by the Duke of Somerset. By this time he had succeeded to considerable property in Norfolk, in addition to a Suffolk estate in right of his wife. His father had married his three sons William, Thomas and Edmund, to three of his four wards, daughters and coheiresses of Henry Bures, an arrangement which resulted in three-quarters of the Bures land being reunited in the next generation. William and Thomas were childless, and Edmund died young, leaving one daughter Anne, who married Nicholas Bacon, son of the lord keeper. In 1561 and the following year the two surviving brothers and their sister-in-law, Edmund’s widow, carried out a complicated enfeoffment of their lands to Sir Nicholas Bacon, the 2nd Earl of Bedford, Sir William Cecil and others, to the use of Anne and her husband.3

Butts resigned from the gentlemen pensioners before 1558 and, after serving under the Duke of Norfolk in the Scottish campaign at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, settled down as a country gentleman. In 1570, during a projected rising in Norfolk, the rebels planned to capture him and his colleague in the deputy lieutenancy, Sir Christopher Heydon. In the following year the Privy Council made him jointly responsible with Heydon for supervising the parliamentary elections in Norfolk, and the two were elected for the county. Butts was active in Parliament, serving on committees concerning griefs and petitions (7 Apr. 1571), ‘matters of religion’ (10 Apr.) and ‘great hosen’ (14 May). On 5 May he was one of those appointed to deliver the bills for the respite of homage, and the receiving of Communion, to the Lords.4

He remained active in the government’s service until almost the end of his life. He was constantly answering Council letters about musters; he sat on a recusancy commission for Norfolk in 1572 at about the same time as he was asked to report on the irregular methods by which Edward Clere had collected the loan in the county. His last report, on grain prices in the local markets, was made when he was nearly 70, by Elizabethan standards an old man.5

Little about Butts’s private life or character emerges from his administrative correspondence. He was evidently on good terms with the bishop of Norwich, who in 1578 asked that he should be included in the commission investigating the dismissal of a diocesan official, Dr. Becon. In the same year the Queen on her East Anglian progress was expected to visit Thornage, but either the visit was cancelled or it was so short that the accounts do not mention it. He died on 3 Sept. 1583, and was buried at Thornage, where there is a kneeling effigy of him in armour. Sir Robert Dallington published a collection of epitaphs written for him, one of which ends,

So wise and plain that being here, no man did Butts excel;
So wise and plain that going hence, with Christ now Butts doth dwell.

His will, drawn up in October 1581 and proved on 11 Nov. 1583, directed that he should be buried in ‘decent and comely sort, but utterly without pomp or great solemnity’. Apart from generous legacies to the poor in a number of Norfolk parishes, and a bequest to his godson William Shelton, almost all his property, including a rich collection of plate, was to go to his widow, who was to take especial care to pay his debts, ‘although they be neither great nor many’. The inquisition post mortem, taken a year after his death, mentions four manors in Norfolk, covering lands in about twelve parishes. In Suffolk his main property was at Panington, a manor granted to his father by Henry VIII in 1532. This, as well as the Norfolk estates, descended to his only surviving brother Thomas.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C142/205/172; E150/645/23, 24; Vis. Norf. (Norf. and Norwich Arch. Soc.), i. 343-4; Cooper, Ath. Cant. i. 481-2, 568; Masters, Hist. Corpus Christi 258; Patten, Exped. into Scotland (Black Letter ed.).
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xx(2), p. 550; CPR, 1547-8, p. 87; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 342; APC, vii. 359-60; Lansd. 56, f. 168; 146, f. 18.
  • 3. CPR, 1558-60, p. 79; 1560-3, pp. 413-14; LP Hen. VIII, xi. 83; Patten, loc. cit; Vis. Norf. loc. cit.
  • 4. E407/1/1; N. Williams, Duke of Norfolk, 55; Strype, Annals, i(2), p. 365; Add. 48018, f. 294; CJ, i. 83, 84, 89; D’Ewes, 159, 160, 181, 183.
  • 5. Strype, Parker, ii. 137; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 15, 59.
  • 6. CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 552; Blomefield, Norf. vi. 178 n; C142/205/172, 211/200; R. Dallington, Epitaphs on Sir William Buttes (c.1587); PCC 1 Butts; LP Hen. VIII, v. 585.