MYLLES, Francis (d.1618), of God's House, Southampton, Bitterne, Hants and of London
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Family and Education
Sub-warden, All Souls by 1564; sec. to Francis Walsingham c.1566-90; bailiff of liberty of bp. of Winchester 1581-2; clerk of the peace, Hants 1581-1606; burgess, Southampton 1582, commr. subsidy 1599; freeman, Winchester 1585; clerk of privy seal, clerk of ct. of requests, clerk of the signet by 1606, clerk for loans 1611; ?member, Spanish Co. 1605-6.2
Mylles’s life is typical of that of many government officials in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Having embarked originally on an academic career, he entered Walsingham’s service and later became a clerk of the privy seal. Edward Reynolds had a similar career. Both men were educated at the same Oxford college; both attached themselves to powerful men; and both were able, as a result of their experience and influential acquaintances, to acquire lucrative posts for life.
Little is known about Mylles’s origin. A family of that name, give or take variant spellings, was prominent in Southampton affairs and owned estates on the Hampshire-Sussex border, but it has not proved possible to connect Francis Mylles with them. A Richard Mills or Mylles of Ashford, Kent, married Joan, daughter or Thomas Glover of Ashford and sister of Robert Glover, Somerset herald, who once mentions Mylles as his nephew, but the only sons shown on the pedigree are William, John and Thomas. This may, however, be because Francis was omitted as dead by 1619, and on the whole this Richard Mylles, is most likely to have been Francis’s father.3
Having taken his degree at Oxford, Mylles became a fellow of All Souls and, by 1565, sub-warden on the nomination of Archbishop Parker. One of his colleagues was Andrew Kingsmill, the civilian whose early death in 1569 ended a promising career. Mylles may have been attracted by Kingsmill’s puritan fervour and Christian life—‘a rare example of godliness among gentlemen’, was his estimate of him. At any rate Mylles was drawn to puritanism at an early age, and his religious beliefs remained the dominating influence in his life. The exact date of his appointment to Walsingham’s service is not known, but in a letter of October 1586 he says he had been with Walsingham for 20 years. In the middle 1560s Walsingham was concerned with the government’s secret service organization and Mylles, no doubt, joined in the work of keeping in touch with agents on the Continent and reporting the movements of Catholics at home.4
Mylles stayed in Walsingham’s service until the latter’s death in 1590. By the 1580s he was one of his most important servants and, judging by a notebook now in the British Library, was closely informed of many of the secretary’s activities. His first concern, however, was the Catholic threat to the stability of the throne. Mylles spent much time interviewing suspects and searching private houses, while spies and informers supplied him with information about the arrival of priests or other Catholic subversives from Europe. During the time that the Babington plotters were under observation in 1586, Mylles wrote many letters to Walsingham, reporting on each new development in the game of cat and mouse then being played. Mylles had nothing but contempt for those who still adhered to Rome, and deplored those who did not share his zeal. London prison governors were nearly all ‘not worthy to be trusted’, and the searchers at the ports were too corrupt to be reliable. When the city authorities of London released a Catholic priest, Mylles complained to Walsingham that ‘many that take great pains to find out these miscreants are discouraged to see many of them receive so much favour’. For some time during August 1586 Nau and Curle, secretaries to Mary Queen of Scots, were in Mylles’s custody in his London house.5
Mylles was naturally in close contact with the leading puritans, such as Leicester, Thomas Randolph (to whom he reported with delight the new measures taken against Catholics in the 1581 session of Parliament), and William Davison. In October 1586 following Davison’s appointment as secretary he wrote:
I trust sir, as it hath pleased God and her Majesty to change your estate by calling you to a place of honour, so it shall not be offensive to you sometimes upon honest occasions to be troubled with suits and letters of the godly and poor men, in which sort I do account myself, for choosing sincerely as you have long done the gospel of Christ, I hope He hath advanced you now for the furtherance thereof and for the comfort of all the charges of the same. And in this hope, rejoicing [at] your preferment to honour, so I most heartily pray God to increase all His good graces and gifts in you, especially His spirit of wisdom and zeal, whereby His Church, her Majesty and her realm may reap profit of the place you now hold.
A few days later he wrote again to Davison, rejoicing (belatedly, for Babington was in prison in August) in their capture of Babington and his fellow conspirators, and in the preservation of the Queen from harm. To Mylles, as to Walsingham, the most important aspect of the plot was the opportunity it provided for bringing the Scottish Queen to the block. No doubt Mylles witnessed the execution, for he was at Fotheringay at the time.6
Mylles’s powerful puritan friends at court were probably responsible for his return to three successive Parliaments. In 1584 his patron was probably Leicester. He was chosen again in 1586, perhaps with the help of Leicester’s brother, the Earl of Warwick, but more likely on his own account in return for favours he did for Poole in the meantime. In October 1585, for example, the borough authorities wrote asking him to further a suit for them with Walsingham:
We have thought good to use some boldness with your worship in this behalf, wherein you shall bind us to do you any pleasure that may lie in us at any time.
Mylles was returned for Winchester in 1588, the document describing him ‘of Winchester’, though he is not known to have lived there. Walsingham, the high steward, must have been responsible. Mylles had been made a freeman in 1585 and on at least one occasion the corporation sent him a New Year’s gift. He was not active in the House, serving on a committee concerned with Queen’s College, 5 Feb. 1585, having no reported activity in 1586, and being named twice in 1589, once to a committee on Dover harbour (5 Mar.) and later urging the government to declare war with Spain (29 Mar.).7
In the autumn of 1586 Mylles acquired, with the help of Walsingham and Davison, a reversion to one of the privy seal clerkships, but the office did not fall vacant until some time afterwards. At about the turn of the century he added to it the closely related duties of clerk of the court of requests. By 1606 he was also a clerk of the signet. Judging by the many letters which Edward Reynolds wrote to him curing James I’s reign, Mylles was by then rarely present in London himself, and his son acted for him. Reynolds kept him informed of changes in the office and of any other gossip, and sent him his money as it became due.8
After Walsingham’s death in 1590, Mylles may have entered Burghley’s service, for in a letter to Robert Cecil in 1599, he referred to Cecil’s father as ‘my late master’. By the end of the century, however, he had retired to his home in Hampshire and journeyed to London only infrequently. He had a house in Southampton, the former hospital of St. Julian or God’s House, which he modernised, and another at Bitterne nearby, called Pear Tree House. William Camden visited his friend there and was shown round the ruins of the Roman fort which once occupied the site. Mylles pulled down earlier buildings to erect his new home and private chapel.9
In his retirement Mylles took some part in local affairs. He had already been made a burgess of Southampton in 1582 and in 1599 was appointed one of its subsidy commissioners. He was present at a number of meetings of the Southampton assembly, including that which proclaimed the new sovereign in 1603. He assisted trading ventures, becoming a member of the society of merchants of Spain and Portugal in 1605. Shortly after his accession, James wrote to All Souls asking the college to lease to Mylles some of its land in Northamptonshire, ‘in consideration of his long service to the late Queen’.10
The last surviving letter to Mylles from Reynolds is dated July 1618,11 and he must have died shortly afterwards. He left no will; administration of his property was granted the following October.
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 170.
- 2. Reg. Univ. Oxf. ed. Boase, i. 238; ii(2), ed. Clark, xv. 10; Al. Ox. 1015; London Mar. Lic. 1005; Collinson, Som. ii. 377; SP12/194/42; PRO Index 16774; 22 Eliz., f. 14; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 360, 362; 1603-10, p. 336; 1611-18, pp. 83, 102, 103; Speed, Hist. Southampton, 132; Stephens, Clerks of the Counties, 947; Cott. Vesp. F. ix.
- 3. Vis. Hants, 170; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, ii. 37 n 2; Southampton Ass. Bks. i. 11 n; A. Merson, Third Bk. of Remembrance of Southampton, i. p. xiii; Vis. Kent 1615 (Harl. Soc. xlii), 150.
- 4. Cat. of Archives at All Souls, ed. Martin, 303; Southampton Ass. Bks. iv. p. xxxv; DNB (Kingsmill, Andrew); SP12/194/42.
- 5. F. Evans, Principal Sec. of State, 157; Harl. 6035; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 483-7; 1581-90, pp. 110, 160, 284, 354; Jnl. of Sir Francis Walsingham (Cam. Misc. vi), passim; Strype, Annals, iii(2), 466-8; SP12/172/113; CSP Scot. 1585-6, passim; 1586-8, pp. 22-4; Read, Walsingham, ii. 319 n 4, 336 n; iii. 45; Read, Burghley, ii. 345.
- 6. Lansd. 31, f. 112; CSP Scot. 1574-81, p. 664; 1586-8, p. 304; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 360, 362, 364; SP12/194/18, 23, 42.
- 7. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 25, 26; Roberts thesis, 84; Poole recs. nos. 38, 52; B. Woodward, Hist. Hants, ii. 112 n; J. Milner, Hist. Winchester, 3rd ed. i. 285-6; D’Ewes, 346, 442, 454.
- 8. PRO Index 6800; SP12/194/23; SP14/34/1, 15; SP14/66/101, 80/21, 86/68; Eliz. Govt. and Soc. 235-6 and n; W. Allsebrook, ‘Court of Requests in Reign of Elizabeth’ (London Univ. MA thesis, 1936), pp. 37-42; CSP Dom. 1603-10, 1611-18 passim; Southampton Ass. Bks. iv. pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.
- 9. HMC Hatfield, ix. 85; J. S. Davies, Hist. Southampton, 462; Speed, Hist. Southampton, 132, 142; Camden, Britannia (1806), i. 166.
- 10. Southampton Ass. Bks. i. 24 n, 31; ii. pp. xxviii, 25; Lansd. 142, f. 204; APC, xxix. 193, 211; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 82; Add. 1580-1625, pp. 428, 432.
- 11. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 554.