CHALONER, Thomas (1521-65), of London; Hoxton, Mdx.; Steeple Claydon, Bucks. and Guisborough, Yorks.

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



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1521, 1st s. of Roger Chaloner of London, and bro. of John II. educ. Camb. (?St. John’s); ?Oxf. m. (1) by Oct. 1550, Joan (d. Jan. 1557), da. of William Cotton of Oxenhoath, Kent, wid. of (Sir) Thomas Lee of London, s.p.; (2) Audrey (d. 25 Dec. 1605), da. of Edward Frodsham of Elton, Cheshire, 1s. Thomas. Kntd. 18/25 Sept. 1547; suc. fa. 1550.3

Offices Held

?Servant of Cromwell 1538; teller of Exchequer 1544-52 (jt. with fa. to 1550); clerk of Privy Council 1545-c.51; j.p. Mdx. 1547-54; commr. musters, Spanish soldiers in S. Eng. 1549, relief, Mdx. 1550; ambassador, France Apr.-Aug. 1553, Netherlands 1559-60, Spain Oct. 1561-Jan. 1565; member, council in the north Sept. 1553-7.4


One of the younger, but outstanding, members of the group of Cambridge scholars and humanists which included John Cheke and William Cecil, Thomas Chaloner became an experienced government servant and a trusted diplomat whose early death alone probably prevented his rise to high office. Little is known of his youth, and Wood’s claim that he studied at Oxford as well as Cambridge cannot be verified. He was presumably the Thomas Chaloner who in 1538 appeared on a list of Cromwell’s servants as one of the gentlemen ‘meet to be daily waiters ... and allowed in [my lord’s] house’. His career nearly ended in 1541 when, having made a favourable impression on the Emperor Charles V during his membership of Sir Thomas Knyvet’s embassy in 1540, he accompanied Charles to Algiers and was wrecked on the Barbary coast; he is said to have saved his life only by catching hold of a cable with his teeth. He was granted an annuity of £50 before the death of Henry VIII.5

As a convinced Protestant, Chaloner was from the outset in favour with Edward VI’s government, and received his knighthood during Somerset’s Scottish campaign. Employed to procure evidence against Admiral Seymour, he was also a witness against both Bonner and Gardiner. He presumably exercised his Exchequer office by deputy, but there are numerous references throughout the first part of the reign to his activities as clerk of the Privy Council. In April 1548 his annual salary as one of the three clerks was raised from £10 to £40, his colleagues William Honing and Armagil Waad also receiving increases.6

Chaloner’s parliamentary career had begun under Henry VIII, when his return for Wigan, as at Lancaster in 1547, was presumably secured by the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. The same may apply to his Membership for Knaresborough, although by November 1554 he was holding considerable property in Yorkshire and was well known to the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, a Privy Councillor and president of the council in the north, who may have been responsible for his membership of that body. It is not clear whether Chaloner sat again for Knaresborough in 1555 or whether George Eden replaced him. The indenture of election is missing: Chaloner’s name (which is misread in the Official Return as ‘Chalys’) appears, with that of Henry Fisher, on the dorse of the writ, but a letter from John Crych to Shrewsbury, written from London on 22 Oct. 1555, gives the Knaresborough Members as George Eden and Henry Fisher. An ambiguous letter from (Sir) William Petre to the earl, mainly about parliamentary matters, and dated 25 Sept.1555, states that ‘for the matter you wrote me, to have one of the council there in Mr. Chaloner’s place, my Lords have not yet resolved, nor moved the Queen’s Majesty’. It is quite likely that Shrewsbury wished Chaloner to remain at his post at York in preference to his coming to London for the Parliament, but apparently no similar objection had been raised in the previous year. Perhaps, therefore, duchy of Lancaster influence, rather than that of Shrewsbury and the council in the north, accounted for all Chaloner’s elections.7

By the time Chaloner became a member of the council in the north he was well versed in border affairs, having been closely connected with the, Anglo-Scottish negotiations over the ‘debateable lands’. This work also involved relations with the French government, so that he was an obvious choice for the commission which in April 1553 set out to persuade the French King to consent to a peace with the Emperor through the mediation of the English government. Chaloner remained as resident ambassador in France until Mary’s accession, when he was recalled. However, the potential danger from his Protestant sympathies was probably averted by his removal from the London scene to the north, where he was employed for most of the reign.8

With Elizabeth’s accession he began another period of diplomatic activity, to the Emperor, the Netherlands, and finally, in 1561, to Spain. An attractive and humorous, as well as highly intelligent man, he was personally popular in Spanish society and on good terms with such Catholic exiles as Susan Tonge (aunt of George White) and, possibly, Anthony Kempe, but he achieved almost nothing towards a solution of the very difficult problems of Anglo-Spanish relations. By 1564 his health, apparently never robust, was causing concern, and in January the following year he was recalled.9

Compared with the mass of information about his public activities, relatively little is known of Chaloner’s private life. His first wife brought him property in Cumberland, Middlesex and Yorkshire, where in 1551 Chaloner himself received a large grant of land formerly belonging to Guisborough priory. Towards the end of Mary’s reign he acquired from the crown the manor of Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire and further lands in the Guisborough district. In London he built himself a large house at Clerkenwell, and in 1561 exchanged Cumberland property with Queen Elizabeth for rectories and advowsons at Cold Ashby and East Haddon, Northamptonshire.10

When in 1558 his step-daughter and ward Catherine Lee married James Blount, 6th Lord Mountjoy, much of the property in the north which Chaloner had been administering for her left his custody. Some mystery surrounds his second marriage. His brother Francis, writing in August 1565, said that Sir Thomas had ‘been ill of a burning fever, and made a new will, under evil influence, excluding his relatives, and leaving all his lands to the bastard only’. There seems no other suggestion that the heir, Chaloner’s infant son Thomas, was illegitimate, but he may have been conceived, if not born, out of wedlock. Several days before Chaloner’s death in October 1565 he drew up an indenture enfeoffing Sir William Cecil (whom he asked to take Thomas’s wardship), Dru Drury, Sir William Petre, Christopher Wray and others, of all his lands, and his final will, made on 13 Oct., refers, though only in general terms, to this document.11

Throughout an active public career, Chaloner managed to keep up his interest in literature, in the midst of his duties in Spain finding time for a Latin correspondence criticizing a friend’s poems. His own works included an English translation of Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly, a book in Latin verse called De Republica Anglorum instauranda decem libri, A Book of the Office of Servants and an English translation (from Cheke’s Latin one) of a homily of St. John Chrysostom. He also contributed to the first edition of A myrroure for magistrates, and wrote a journal covering part of his Spanish embassy.

Chaloner died on 14 Oct. 1565 at Clerkenwell, and was buried at St. Paul’s six days later. His will, in addition to reciting the arrangements already mentioned for the enfeoffment (apparently to secure the descent of the property to his son Thomas), left his Clerkenwell house and lands in Steeple Claydon to his wife, whom he wished Cecil to allow to keep the custody of her son for six years after Chaloner’s death. The executors were Cecil, the widow and the younger Thomas. Perhaps because of complications over the trust, or an attempt by Francis Chaloner and other relatives to have the will declared invalid, it was not proved until November 1579.12

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 2. C219/24/59v.
  • 3. Date of birth given in DNB. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 59-60; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 80, where the generations are confused by the introduction of an extra Thomas of Guisborough; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 109; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxiv). 42; CPR, 1554-5, p. 140; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 255.
  • 4. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 462; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xix, xx; R. Hakluyt, Voyages (ed. 1903-5), v. 70-71; CPR, 1547-8, p. 86; 1550-3, pp. 141, 285, 297; 1553, p. 351; 1553-4, p. 21; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 87, 108, 129, 260; 1553-8, pp. 5, 6, 213; 1558-9, pp. 12, 13, 362-8; 1561-2, p. 542; APC, i. 166, 356; ii. 181, 183, 261, 270, 275; iii. 224, 252, 318, 364, 393; iv. 80, 161, 246; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 493; Lansd. 155, f. 373; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 97, 186; CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 404.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiii; add. 30198, f. 10.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 12; Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 777; vi. 146-7; APC, i. 166 et passim; ii. 183 et passim.
  • 7. Reid, 181; C219/24/59v; E. Lodge, Illustrations, i. 252-3; iii. app. 16; Coll. of Arms, Talbot mss, vol. P, no. 268, calendared in HMC Salisbury and Talbot, ii. 349.
  • 8. APC, iii. 252, 318, 364, 493; iv. 80, 161; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 108, 129, 288-9; Lansd. 115, ff. 110-11.
  • 9. CSP For. 1558-9, pp. 439, 441; 1559-60, pp. 45, 340; 1560-1, pp. 41, 262; 1561-2, pp. 187, 335, 343, 389, 542; 1564-5, pp. 346, 348, 547; CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 404, 517; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 186; Lansd. 111, ff. 139-202.
  • 10. CPR, 1549-51, pp. 218-19, 357; 1550-3, p. 61; 1553, pp. 14-15, 210; 1554-5, p. 140; 1557-8, pp. 146, 391-4; 1560-3, p. 103; DNB; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 191; CSP For. 1558-9, pp.483, 503.
  • 11. CPR, 1550-3, pp. 10, 157-8; 1557-8, pp. 5-6 CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 255; Lansd. 8, ff. 165-6; PCC 47 Bakon.
  • 12. PCC 47 Bakon.