CAWARDEN, Thomas (by 1514-59), of Blackfriars, London and Bletchingley, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1514, s. of William Cawarden of London by Elizabeth. m. by 1542, Elizabeth, d.s.p. Kntd. 30 Sept. 1544.3

Offices Held

Gent. privy chamber by 1540; various keeperships and stewardships inc. manors of Bletchingley 1540, Donnington, Berks. 1541, Nonsuch, Surr. 1544, Hampton Court 1550; master of revels and tents 1544-d.; commr. benevolence, Surr. and Southwark 1544/45, chantries, Surr., Suss. and Southwark 1547, Surr., Suss. and Chichester 1548, relief, Surr. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1548-d.; j.p. Surr. 1547, 1558/59; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1547-8; jt. (with Sir Edward Warner) lt. of Tower 17 Nov.-10 Dec. 1558.4


Thomas Cawarden used the arms of a landed family which had moved from Cheshire to Staffordshire by the end of the 14th century, but a document among those of his papers long preserved at Loseley House (whose owner William More II was one of his executors) shows that his grandfather was a Thomas Cawarden of Everton, a village on the borders of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire.5

All that is known of Cawarden before 1538 is that ten years earlier his father, who is variously described as a shearman, clothworker and fuller of London, had apprenticed him to a mercer. There is, however, no evidence that he became free of the Mercers’ Company, while the affiliation with the Drapers implied by his description, in the deed of sale of the Everton property, as citizen and draper is likewise unconfirmed by the records of that Company. How Cawarden spent these years is thus a matter of guesswork, but that they were not without rewards is shown by his acquisition in 1538 of an interest in monastic property at Chertsey, Walton and Weybridge, still more by his appearance in 1540 as a gentleman of the privy chamber and as keeper of the royal manor of Bletchingley, which had just been granted to Anne of Cleves. If his rise from obscurity was due in the first place to his own ability and energy, of the patronage which must have brought these talents to light there seems to be no indication, although it is natural to think of Cromwell in this connexion. From 1540, however, Cawarden could probably look with growing confidence to the King himself: his appointment in 1544 to the keepership of the new royal palace of Nonsuch and neighbouring manors was a mark of high favour, and it was in the same year that he was given the office which was to make his name, the mastership of the revels. (His combination of the twin offices of the tents and revels was formalized in the following year by two patents granting him their masterships from 16 Mar. 1544.) The great expedition against France in 1544 was the first test of its new holder. Cawarden was among those appointed to accompany the King, leading a retinue of 51 horsemen and 200 foot, and as master of the tents he was in charge of this branch of the logistics. The royal approval of his contribution was bestowed by the knighthood conferred on him at the end of the campaign ‘at the King’s lodging at Boulogne’. In the following year he was granted a licence to keep 40 liveried retainers and he was among those whom the King remembered in his will, by which Cawarden received the considerable sum of £200 and land to the clear value of 100 marks a year.6

Cawarden’s office of the revels, which he substantially reorganized, made him an early patron of English drama. Nicholas Udall, author of Ralph Roister Doister, was Queen Mary’s favourite dramatist and at her command Cawarden supplied Udall ‘with all such garments as he judged proper’ for the ‘setting forth of dialogues and interludes before her highness for her disport and recreation’. William Baldwin gave him first choice of his play Love and Life ‘because your worship now three years passed offered in a sort to set forth some of my rude devices’. Cawarden’s earlier association with another writer, the poet William Grey II, which probably did not arise out of his office, was a closer one: early in 1550 he stood surety for Grey, and his servant Thomas Blagrave (whom he was to appoint an overseer of his will) was Grey’s kinsman by marriage. Grey may have been a friend of Robert Testwood, one of the Windsor Martyrs, and Cawarden’s involvement with another member of that Protestant circle, Anthony Peirson, had brought him into danger in 1543. Peirson’s friends in the Household, who also included Sir Philip Hoby and Thomas Weldon, were then summoned before the Council but pardoned shortly afterwards and immediately restored to favour.7

The execution in 1539 of Sir Nicholas Carew, who had previously owned Bletchingley manor, deprived the borough of its patron, and through his office as keeper Cawarden filled the vacuum thus created. In 1546 he was granted the reversion of the property, which he occupied from that year. His hand may thereafter be traced in the choice of most of the Members elected for the borough; he was himself returned there to the Parliaments of 1542 and 1547, and probably also to that of 1545, for which the return is missing. The deaths of Sir Anthony Browne in April 1548 and (Sir) Christopher More in August 1549 cost Surrey both its knights of the shire, and Cawarden and John Vaughan I were chosen to replace them, Cawarden presumably replacing Browne and so qualifying for first place on the list of Members as revised in 1551-2. This vacancy arose before the second session, which opened on 24 Nov. 1548, and if the by-election was held before 3 Dec. Cawarden, as sheriff, must have returned himself; more probably it took place after that date, but soon enough for him to receive support from Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Cawarden had been associated with Seymour since 1544 and he was to help sequester Seymour’s estates in January 1549. He was himself replaced at Bletchingley by Henry Polsted. Of his role in the Commons all that is known is that on 8 Jan. 1550 a bill for appointing holidays was committed to him after its second reading.8

In accordance with the Council’s wishes, which were not, however, obeyed in the case of Vaughan, Cawarden was re-elected for Surrey to the Parliament of March 1553. The discrimination doubtless reflects his attachment to the regime of the Duke of Northumberland. Of his relations with the Protector Somerset nothing is known unless his friendship with Somerset’s follower William Grey is an indication, but after the Protector’s overthrow he was given signal proofs of confidence and favour: entrusted with the reinforcement of the Tower garrison to ensure the security of the prisoners there, he was given many further offices in royal manors and palaces, and on 12 Mar. 1550 his ‘service in war and peace to Henry VIII’ was rewarded by a grant of the house and site of the Blackfriars in London. His Protestant zeal made him an active commissioner for church goods, and he removed much of the furniture, carving, rood screen and other ‘idolatry’ from his own parish church and had it carted to the Blackfriars. Cawarden may have been connected with Northumberland by marriage. The duke’s half-sister Bridget was married by 1550 to a William Cawarden, whose relationship, if any, with Thomas Cawarden is not known: he cannot have been the latter’s nephew and heir, who was alive in May 1560, nearly 12 months after Bridget was described as a widow, but he was probably the author of a will proved in the archdeaconry court of London on 6 Mar. 1551.9

Cawarden could not but be involved in the succession crisis of 1553. Two days after Edward VI died the Council wrote to the deputy lieutenants, sheriff and justices of Surrey a letter which it instructed the bearer to deliver to ‘Mr. Carden or Mr. Saunders’, the latter evidently (Sir) Thomas Saunders, Cawarden’s fellow-Member in the Parliament of March 1553: Cawarden may have been one of the deputy lieutenants for the shire. He appears to have co-operated with the Duke of Suffolk who on 16 July sent him a warrant for tents for the garrison at the Tower. Three days later Queen Jane sent what was probably the last warrant of her brief reign to Cawarden, requiring him to provide tents for the troops who had already forsaken her. Another glimpse of Cawarden’s part in the events of these days is contained in Sir William Cecil’s defence of his actions in connexion with Queen Jane: ‘I procured a letter from the Lords of the Council that the Queen’s tenants of Wimbledon should not go with Sir Thomas Cawarden’.10

Cawarden emerged unscathed from this misadventure but six months later Wyatt’s rebellion saw his first rift with the Marian government. On 25 Jan. 1554 he was arrested by Lord William Howard, James Skinner and John Skinner II. After being taken before the Council in the Star Chamber, where he was questioned by Gardiner, he was discharged and ordered to arm his servants in readiness for the suppression of the rebellion. It is clear that Howard, who had received a commission for the affairs of Kent and Surrey, continued to mistrust Cawarden, and after issuing a warrant to Sir Thomas Saunders as sheriff to seize the weapons in Cawarden’s house at Bletchingley he again arrested Cawarden and held him first at Bletchingley and then at James Skinner’s house at Reigate; from there Cawarden was taken to Gardiner’s house at the Clink, Southwark, and finally required by certain Councillors to stay in his own house in the Blackfriars until his discharge. This he received a month later, and by 9 Mar. 1554 he was back at his official duties. Cawarden’s petition to the Queen for the restoration of his arms elicited a Council letter to Saunders to restore it but he got no satisfaction until Elizabeth came to the throne.11

Cawarden did not sit in either of Mary’s first two Parliaments but he was returned as senior knight for Surrey to her third: his ex-colleague and erstwhile captor (Sir) Thomas Saunders, who was still sheriff, does not seem to have shared his cousin William’s animosity towards Cawarden, who had to bear with William Saunders as his junior partner. Cawarden proceeded to justify any misgivings harboured about him: he was among the Members who left the Parliament early without permission, and in Easter term 1555 he was informed against in the King’s bench for doing so. His failure to appear caused him to be distrained in the following Michaelmas term, but the sum involved was erased from the record when he appeared in that term and was given a day in the following one on which to answer: no further process is recorded. Among Cawarden’s papers there is an order from the Council, dated 24 July 1555, for the immediate payment of £1,000 due to the Queen: this demand was unconnected with the prosecution in the King’s bench but its provenance has not been established.12

Cawarden gave further trouble to the government in 1556 and 1557. In March 1556 details of a plot to rob the Exchequer and replace Mary by Elizabeth were uncovered. On 30 Mar. evidence was given which implicated Cawarden: with other gentlemen, he was to intercept any treasure sent by the Queen to her husband overseas. In his confession John Daniel told how some of the conspirators who were Members at ‘the late session’ (presumably the Parliament of 1555) ‘with great wilfulness intended to resist such matters as should be spoken of in the Parliament other than liked them and ... did very sore mislike such catholic proceedings as they perceived the Queen and all Catholic men went about ... declaring themselves to be right Protestants’. Although Cawarden was not a Member of the Parliament of 1555 it is no surprise to find him involved in the Dudley plot. On 3 May 1556 Cawarden gave a bond to remain in his own house in the Blackfriars until further notice: two months later this bond was cancelled and he was allowed home, after giving a new one of £4,000 to reappear before I Nov. The cause of his being committed to the Fleet on 15 May 1557 has not been ascertained. On 15 June he was made a close prisoner and by September he had been released.13

At about this time, after the grant of Nonsuch Palace to Henry, 12th Earl of Arundel, Cawarden was evicted from it by John, Baron Lumley, the earl’s son-in-law, with the help of William Saunders. There was continuing ill will between Cawarden and Saunders, who were neighbours at Bletchingley. Cawarden was also involved in several lawsuits. Among his papers there is a draft of a bill against one Philip Paris for stating that Cawarden was ‘the principal at the killing of Robert Paris, gentleman’, perhaps the Member for New Romney. The murder had been committed at Newbury, Berkshire, where Cawarden was steward of the King’s manors, and in October 1550 John Cheyne II was presented for it but later pardoned: Cawarden was claiming damages of £1,000 for slander. In a suit in the Star Chamber brought towards the end of Edward VI’s reign, William Sackville, who had been Cawarden’s fellow-Member for Bletchingley in 1542, sued him for enclosure and oppression.14

Another suit was brought against Cawarden in the court of requests. After a dispute had arisen over a lease of land formerly belonging to Lingfield college, the plaintiff, according to Cawarden, ‘in the rebellion time ... traitorously raised the number of 200 persons and came to [his] mansion house ... intending to have killed him’. This incident doubtless took place in the summer of 1549, when as an enclosing landholder Cawarden may have been the object of local resentment. His mastership of the revels also involved him in disputes after the removal of his office from Warwick Inn to the dissolved Blackfriars, where he turned the parishioners of St. Anne’s out of their church.15

Cawarden amassed a considerable estate in the dozen years before Mary’s accession. In 1541 he acquired an interest in the Austin Friars, Oxford, and in the following year he had a grant of property in Warwickshire previously belonging to Kenilworth priory. Two months after he had taken up his duties as master of the revels he was granted lands in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. He received a new grant of all his property in December 1546 together with the reversion of the lordship of the manor of Bletchingley, where he had been keeper for Anne of Cleves since 1540. In April 1547 the Council wrote to Anne asking her to surrender her title and interest to Cawarden in return for a rent of £34 15s.2d.; Cawarden was in possession from 1547 and seems to have lived there in great style. He acquired other properties on his own account such as the manor of Tillingdon, Surrey. Under Edward VI he was granted property in the Blackfriars worth £19 a year and had a 21-year lease of the manor of Nonsuch at a yearly rent of £5 5s.8d.16

Although his disaffection under Mary had not cost Cawarden his office, he must have welcomed her passing. When in Edward VI’s time Elizabeth had written to thank him for a kindness shown to one of her servants it had been as his ‘loving friend’, and on her accession she appointed him joint lieutenant of the Tower for the time being. Returned a knight of the shire for Surrey to the Parliament of 1559, he died on 25 or 29 Aug. of that year, immediately after making his will. As he had no children his heir was his brother Anthony’s son William.17

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Ibid; Hatfield 207.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from apprenticeship. HMC 7th Rep. 601; Guildford mus. Loseley 345/7; LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xv, xvi, xix, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 90; 1548-9, p. 135; 1550-3, pp. 142, 395; 1553, pp. 316, 357, 415; HMC 7th Rep. 607, 614; E. Straker, Wealden Iron, 114; Guildford mus. Loseley 1075; Lansd. 2(10), f. 32.
  • 5. Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 300-1; Guildford mus. Loseley 344/18; 345/24, 28, 55; U. Lambert, Bletchingley, i. 257; Staffs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxiii), 47; HMC 7th Rep. 601; Erdeswick, Staffs. 230; CIPM Hen. VII, iii. 638; LP Hen. VIII, i.
  • 6. Information from Jean Imray, Mercers’ Hall; Guildford mus. Loseley 345/22; LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xix, xxi; HMC 7th Rep. 604; CPR, 1547-8, p. 17; Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 88, 100.
  • 7. E. K. Chambers, Revels Office, 2, 9, 11, 14, 15; Lambert, i. 259; HMC 7th Rep. 613; LP Hen. VIII, xviii.
  • 8. CJ, i. 14; APC, iii. 470-1; HMC Bath, iv. 117; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 12.
  • 9. Royal 18c. xxiv. f. 290v; Straker, 457; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 12; APC, ii. 400; iii. 44, 45; HMC 7th Rep. 606, 607. Following refs. ex inf. A. J. Malkiewicz: London IPMs (Brit. Rec. Soc. xv), i. 195; Collins, Sidney Pprs. i. 30; DNB (Plantagenet, Arthur); CPR, 1549-51, pp. 228, 336; 1558-60, p. 7; City of London RO, Guildhall, archdeaconry ct. of London, reg. 2, f. 46.
  • 10. HMC 7th Rep. 609, 610; Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, ii. 194.
  • 11. Loseley Mss, ed. Kempe, 140-4; HMC 7th Rep. 610, 611, 614, 615; APC, iv. 399.
  • 12. KB27/1176 rex roll, rot. 17, 29; HMC 7th Rep. 612.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 76-82; HMC 7th Rep. 613; APC, v. 305, 372; vi. 86, 103, 123; SP11/7/48, 8/35; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 190, 210, 228, 265.
  • 14. Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 88; Lambert, ii. 416; Guildford mus. Loseley 1739/1, 2; St.Ch. 3/3/49.
  • 15. Req.2/5/305, 22/43, 23/81; ECP, x. 132; C1/1330/39, 1405/39-41.
  • 16. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix-xxi; APC, ii. 472; HMC 7th Rep. 605, 612; VCH Surr. iii. 267; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 17-18, 53; 1550-3, p. 81; 1557-8, p. 233; C142/126/90.
  • 17. HMC 7th Rep. 609, 611-14; APC, vii. 6, 11; PCC 4 Mellershe; C142/126/90; Nairn and Pevsner, Surr. 214.