WENTWORTH, Paul (1534-94), of Burnham, Bucks.

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. 1534, 3rd s. of Sir Nicholas Wentworth of Lillingstone Lovell, Oxon. by Jane, da. of John Josselyn; bro. of Peter. m. 1563, Helen, da. of Richard Agmondesham of Heston, Mdx., wid. of William Tildesley, groom of the chamber, 4s. 4da.

Offices Held

Steward, Burnham manor 1563.


Wentworth entered the House of Commons before his more famous brother, being returned to the first Parliament of the reign for a local borough, and leaving no trace in its surviving records, though he was certainly one of the puritans who tried to impose a radical religious settlement on the Queen. Next time he came in for another borough in the county, which, though more distant from his estates, was still within the sphere of influence of a man with his local and central connexions, among them his relative Sir Walter Mildmay and Lord Hunsdon, who sometimes nominated at Buckingham. Wentworth made a fortunate marriage to a lady whose first husband left her his lease of the manor of Burnham. Wentworth held the advowson of the rectory and in 1574 received a crown lease of Abbess park wood there. Yet, despite his standing in the county, he never achieved the commission of the peace, though recommended as earnest in religion and fit to be trusted in a letter from the bishop of Lincoln to the Privy Council in 1564. Perhaps the reason was his being presented, early in 1566, along with his brother Peter, before the Essex justices of the peace ‘to answer to transgressions and contempts of which they stand indicted’. As it happened, however, later that year, he became heavily involved in the agitation over the succession in the second session of the 1563 Parliament. The Queen on Saturday 9 Nov. 1566 had ordered an end to any discussion of this subject, and the House then turned to other matters. On the Monday following, Wentworth, who as far as is known had not previously intervened, asked ‘whether the Queen’s commandment was not against the liberties’ of the House. Wentworth posed three questions:

Whether her Highness’ commandment, forbidding the Lower House to speak or treat any more of the succession and of any their excuses in that behalf, be a breach of the liberty of the free speech of the House or not? Whether Mr. Comptroller, the vice chamberlain and Mr. Secretary, pronouncing in the House the said commandment in her Highness’ name, are of authority sufficient to bind the House to silence in that behalf, or to bind the House to acknowledge the same to be a direct and sufficient commandment or not? If her Highness’ said commandment be no breach of the liberty of the House, or if the commandment pronounced as afore is said [to] be a sufficient commandment to bind the House to take knowledge thereof, then what offence is it for any of the House to err in declaring his opinion to be otherwise?

‘Whereupon’ as the journal has it, ‘arose divers arguments, continuing from nine of the clock till two after noon’. There can be no doubt that this speech of Wentworth’s was embarrassing to the government, and it is of the greatest interest in the context of the centuries-long debate on freedom of speech in the Commons, a debate to which Wentworth’s brother Peter was to make a significant contribution in 1576. Unlike Peter, Paul is not known to have suffered any punishment.

In October 1569 Wentworth was ordered to lodge the 4th Duke of Norfolk at Burnham until that nobleman was moved to the Tower. At Wentworth’s house the Duke was forbidden to confer with anyone without the permission of his host Sir Henry Neville I, his servants were removed, and no letters were to be delivered to him or sent out. That the last instruction was circumvented is evident from the examination of John, Baron Lumley in 1571 about letters he had received from the Duke ‘in the house at Paul Wentworth’s’. In 1589, when Wentworth petitioned for a renewal of his lease at Burnham, the Queen granted it, ‘calling to mind the long and dutiful service of this suppliant, her Highness’s servant, [and] his loyal care, trouble and charge at the committing of the late Duke of Norfolk to his house’.

Wentworth was returned to the 1572 Parliament for a Cornish borough through the intervention of the 2nd Earl of Bedford. On 23 May 1572 he made a brief intervention in the debate on Mary Queen of Scots, urging her execution: the question was ‘whether we should call for an axe or an act’. This is the only speech in this session that can be attributed to Paul with certainty; other interventions by ‘Mr’ Wentworth on the subject of the Duke of Norfolk could as well have been by his brother Peter. Certainly it was Paul who, in an extraordinary speech on behalf of the militant puritans at the beginning of the third session of this Parliament, 21 Jan. 1581, moved

for a public fast and daily preaching, the fast to be appointed upon some one certain day, but the preaching to be every morning at seven of the clock before the House did sit, that so they, beginning their proceeding with the service and worship of God, He might the better bless them in all their consultations and actions.

This was a plain defiance of the authority of the Queen as head of the Church of England. Two days later the House received her rebuke and the matter was dropped. The end of the session ended Wentworth’s parliamentary career, but his anti-Catholic activities continued. In June 1583 some members of Oxford university wrote to him about Catholic undergraduates at Trinity College, especially one who had been sponsored by Lady Paulet. In the following year he conducted a search of Isabel Hampden’s house at Stoke Poges, seizing among other goods a ‘copy of the pope’s letter’, an instruction for the singing of mass and a book called Officium Beatae Mariae.

Wentworth died on 13 Jan. 1594, and was buried at Burnham, where ‘as he lived most Christian-like, so he died most comfortably strong in faith, steadfast in hope, fervent in love, a zealous professor of the truth, and an earnest detester of all superstition’. His will, drawn up on 7 Sept. 1593, was proved in the following February. Not surprisingly it has a puritan preamble, trusting ‘by the merits and bitter passion of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to be saved, and to have and enjoy in full measure the joys and comforts of everlasting life, which He hath prepared only for His elect and chosen servants’. Wentworth left £400 to one daughter and £300 to another. The servants were to have a year’s wages, and the widow, the sole executrix and residuary legatee, was to supervise the upbringing of the children, with the help of six of Wentworth’s friends, among them the 2nd Baron St. John, Lord St. John and Cuthbert Reynolds. The eldest son, Paul, was of age by August 1594, when the inquisition post mortem was taken.

DNB; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 206, 220; VCH Bucks. i. 315; iii. 173, 179, 181; E316/3/221; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 32; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 472; HMC Hatfield, i. 429, 433, 578; iii. 457; D’Ewes, 128, 282; CJ, i. 76; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 39, 98; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 133, 155, 680; C142/240/84; PCC 10 Dixy.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge