THYNNE, Sir John (1513 or 1515-80), of Longleat, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 1513 or 1515, 1st s. of Thomas Thynne of Stretton, Salop by Margaret, da. of Thomas Heynes or Eynes of Stretton. m. (1) 1548, Christian or Christiana, da. of Sir Richard Gresham of London, 3s. inc. John and Thomas I 3da.; (2) by 1567, Dorothy, da. of William Wroughton of Broadhenton, later wife of Sir Carew Ralegh of Downton, 5s. Kntd. 1547.3
Citizen and mercer of London; high steward, Warminister; surveyor, crown lands, Wilts. 1545, 1580; commr. chantries 1548, musters 1569; sheriff, Som. and Dorset 1548-9, Wilts. 1569-70.
J.p. Wilts. from 1558, Glos. from 1558, Som. from 1573; custos rot. Wilts. from c.1564.4
John Thynne, steward to the Earl of Hertford from 1536, had risen with and depended upon his master, created Duke of Somerset in 1547. In 1540 Thynne acquired Longleat priory, and to this added, during the next ten years, wide possessions in Wiltshire and elsewhere from chantry lands and by his first marriage with the only daughter of a lord mayor of London. He fell from power with Protector Somerset, but managed to retire to his Wiltshire estates, where he awaited the return of better days. His known protestant sympathies may have precluded Thynne, who had sat in Parliament as a dependant of Somerset, from membership of the Marian Parliaments, or he may have preferred to avoid any political commitment. He does not appear to have approached Elizabeth until the very eve of her accession, when he wrote to Parry to put troops at her disposal. At home he had already prepared for a change in the political scene. Now that the Seymour influence in the county was crippled by Somerset’s attainder, and only represented by the Protector’s son who did not come of age until the year of Elizabeth’s accession, Thynne was in a position to aspire to independence in his own western part of the shire; and he felt no need to seek the support of the surviving noble magnate, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, when Elizabeth summoned her first Parliament. Contesting the election of Sir George Penruddock, Pembroke’s steward, as second knight of the shire, Thynne had himself returned in defiance of the poll, and so took precedence at the outset of the new reign.5
Such an assumption of supremacy could only succeed when it was unexpected. Thynne’s high-handed behaviour in 1559 was an incident in a prolonged feud with Pembroke, and this went to such lengths that in 1564 Thynne was called personally before the Privy Council to account for his part in it. In 1562-3, therefore, Thynne could have had no hope of Pembroke’s acquiescence in his candidature for the shire, and must have been glad to fall back on the borough of Great Bedwyn, where the Seymour interest still held, despite the recent disgrace of the young Earl of Hertford. Here, moreover, he must have been well known from the days of his stewardship and had acquired on his own account the tithes of the prebend. By 1571 the 1st Earl of Pembroke was dead and Thynne’s relations with his successor had improved sufficiently for Thynne to be elected as first knight of the shire. But that he could expect no monopoly of this honour was demonstrated by his having to seek a seat elsewhere for the next Parliament. He found it at Heytesbury, a borough which was virtually in the hands of his family. Though there is no record of Thynne speaking in debate, he took his share of committee work, serving on one recorded committee (concerning forgers) in 1563, one in 1566 (on the Queen’s marriage and succession), nine in 1571, six in 1572 and 12 in 1576. On 5 Nov. 1566 he was one of 30 Commons Members summoned to hear the Queen’s message on the succession. In 1571 his committees were on religion (6 Apr., 10 May), the order of business (21, 26 Apr.), treasons (11 May) and legal matters (14, 23 Apr., 14, 28 May). In 1572 his committees concerned Mary Stuart (12, 22, 28 May) and private and privilege matters (20, 22, 30 May). Those of 1576 dealt with the subsidy (10 Feb.), trade (16, 18, Feb.), legal matters (18 Feb., 8, 12, 14 Mar.), the dean and chapter of Norwich (2 Mar.), land reclamation (6 Mar.), apparel (10 Mar.) and the Queen’s marriage (12 Mar.). No doubt Thynne valued a seat in Parliament as evidence of his established position in Wiltshire, but he had other connexions with London which made attendance there no hardship. He was provided with a house in Cannon Row and had legal business to pursue. His cousin Francis was at Lincoln’s Inn from 1561 and subsequently lived in Poplar and in Bermondsey Street; Sir John’s relations by marriage were Londoners.6
His position in Wiltshire entailed the customary demands on his time. As sheriff he was responsible for collecting the privy seal loan of 1570 1570 in the county, and as a leading magistrate he received his share of commands from the Privy Council, but that he did not always allow them to weigh on him too heavily is witnessed by a series of letters of an increasingly apoplectic tone which urged him over a period of eight months to take some action about abuses in the clothing trade. He had much private business on his mind, quarrels to pursue, that with Edward Ludlow in 1579 again requiring the intervention of the Council. He had also his property to exploit. He had carved his park at Longleat from the woodland and continued to acquire portions of the forest. He used the meadows and pastures to graze cattle and, beginning to keep records of them a year before his death, was able to leave his widow, among other bequests, 30 cows, a bull and 100 sheep at Corseley. But the object which attached his strongest feelings and exacted his most continuous exertions was the great house itself. From 1547 he was building, in a big way, probably as his own architect, calling upon the assistance of contractor or master-mason as each stage was reached. The house was still going up in the last quarter of the century and was visited by the Queen in August 1574.7
In addition to his two known marriages, the Shropshire visitation of 1623 attributes to Sir John an intervening one with Anne, widow of one Cole, son of Alexander Cole of London. If this took place, Anne must have been dead by January 1566, when Thynne was being suggested as a husband for Lady St. Loe. By his 11 children he had done his best to ensure that there would always be Thynnes at Longleat. Yet when he came to make his will on 6 May 158o 1580 his anxiety to protect his lands in Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire and Kent, and his houses in London, Bristol and Westminster against all contingencies almost defeated his purpose—a preliminary sentence from the court was necessary to declare him compos mentis—and the resulting confusion shows how hard he found it to make an end of the preoccupations of a lifetime. He died on 21 May 1580, and the will was proved on 12 Nov. His memorial stone in Longbridge Deverill church, though only erected in the seventeenth century, was probably after his own design. But his real monument, with his correspondence, accounts and estate papers, and his portrait, painted when he was 51, is Longleat.8