CORDELL, William (by 1524-81), of Long Melford, Suff. and London.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1524, 1st s. of John Cordell, and bro. of Edward. educ. Camb.; L. Inn, adm. 1538, called Feb. 1544. m. Mary, da. of Richard Clopton of Long Melford, 2s. 2da. d.v.p. Kntd. 22 Jan. 1558; suc. fa. Jan. 1563 or 64.1

Offices Held

Bencher, L. Inn 1553, Lent reader 1554, treasurer 1555-6, gov. 1557.

Solicitor-gen. 30 Sept. 1553-15 Nov. 1557; jt. (with George St. Poll) steward, duchy of Lancaster, Bolingbroke honor, Lincs. Dec. 1553, j.p.q. Essex, Suff. 1554-d., Mdx. 1561-d.; master of rolls 5 Nov. 1557-d.; PC 5 Dec. 1557-17 Nov. 1558; chirographer c.p. 1563-79; other commissions 1554-d.; high steward, Ipswich 10 Dec. 1557, receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1558, 1559, 1563, 1571, 1572; custos rot. Suff. 1558/59-d.2

Speaker of House of Commons 1558.


William Cordell is said to have been born at Edmonton in Middlesex. His father was a servant of Sir William Clopton of Long Melford, who died in 1530, and Cordell may have been brought up in Clopton’s household. He married Clopton’s granddaughter, who brought him lands in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. In 1548 his father obtained a grant of arms and a year later he himself received one.3

Cordell was a lawyer of exceptional ability. Called to the bar at an early age, he became solicitor-general when not much over 30. He probably owed his return for the duchy of Cornwall borough of Dunheved to his membership of Lincoln’s Inn, which gave him a connexion with the steward of the duchy Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, and its receiver-general Sir Thomas Arundell; and for Steyning, then in the hands of the crown, to an official recommendation, perhaps with the sheriff Sir Anthony Browne as intermediary, since Cordell’s name was inserted in the indenture in a hand different from that of the rest of the document. It was presumably during his first Parliament that, according to the Elizabethan parliamentary diarist Thomas Cromwell, he was charged with ‘revealing the secrets of the House’. Threatened with imprisonment, he withdrew for four days and was only allowed to return after William Cecil (not otherwise known to have been a Member of the Parliament of 1545) and Francis Russell, later 2nd Earl of Bedford, had pacified the House. Nothing has come to light about his part in the succession crisis of 1553 but as a legal adviser to Mary of over two years’ standing he was an obvious choice for solicitor-general. Later she named him master of the rolls and a Privy Councillor.4

Early in 1554 Cordell bought the manor of Long Melford where he soon began to rebuild the hall, and he acquired property elsewhere in East Anglia later in the decade. In 1555 he was among the founders of the Russia Company. His legal services were retained by many figures in East Anglia as well as by corporations there; he advised the exiled Earl of Devon on the disposal of his English property, and by 1556 was legal counsel to Great Yarmouth.5

As solicitor-general Cordell received a writ of assistance to the first four Parliaments of Mary’s reign; he brought bills down from the Lords and called Members of the Commons to conferences with the Upper House. The master of the rolls was also customarily attendant upon the Lords, but as a Privy Councillor Cordell was doubtless thought more useful in the Commons. In 1558, although summoned by writ of assistance and named a receiver of petitions in the Lords, he was returned as one of the knights for Suffolk and on the assembly of Parliament was chosen Speaker ‘in the Common House by the entire voice’. Two days later he made ‘an ornate and eloquent oration’ before the Queen and both Houses, after which he was knighted. On 24 Jan. he was called to the Lords with ten or 12 of the Commons for a discussion on the defence of the realm and taxation. On the eve of the prorogation he informed the House of the Queen’s wish that it should proceed no further with the bill for answering of her revenues and attend her on the following Monday at Whitehall ‘to hear her pleasure for dissolution or prorogation’. Later the same day, following Thomas Copley’s ‘unreverent words’ in the debate on the bill for confirmation of letters patent, Cordell ordered a ‘consultation’ of the House which led to an order to him to intercede with the Queen on Copley’s behalf. On 7 Mar. he reported her decision to examine Copley before going with the Commons himself to witness the prorogation. Two days after the opening of the second session Mary asked Cordell to attend her ‘about weighty affairs’, and the House was accordingly adjourned for two days in his absence but met for a call on the first of them. When on 14 Nov. a delegation from the Lords came to the House Cordell sat with the Privy Councillors there ‘on the lowest benches’ while the chancellor asked for a subsidy. On the Queen’s death Cordell was asked to go with ‘the rest of the House’ to hear the news from the chancellor and then to attend the proclamation of Elizabeth.6

Cordell was omitted from Elizabeth’s Privy Council, but he continued as master of the rolls until his death on 17 May 1581.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from education. Add. 19124, ff. 379, 382; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 125; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 125 Vis. Suff. ed Howard, i. 247, 267; CJ, i. 47; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 62.
  • 2. CPR , 1553-4, pp. 19, 24, 27, 71; 1555-7, pp. 313, 315; 1557-8, pp. 73, 136; 1560-3, p. 439; 1563-6, pp. 22, 39, 184, 235; 1569-72, pp. 215-21; Somerville, Duchy, i. 577; APC, vi. 211, 335; J. Weever, Funeral Monuments , 484-5; N. Bacon, Annals Ipswich, 250; LJ, i. 513, 542, 580, 667, 703.
  • 3. Vis. Suff. ed. Howard, i, i. 47-51, 246; Grantees of Arms, 62.
  • 4. C219/20/127; Northants. RO, Finch Hatton 16, f. 550; E179/110/349.
  • 5. CPR, 1553-4, p. 217; 1554-5, p. 55; 1555-7, p. 46; 1557-8, p. 17; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 66; Yarmouth ass. bk. 1550-9, f. 157v; Pevsner and Radcliffe, Suff. 350.
  • 6. C218/1; CJ, i. 28, 37-40, 43, 45-47, 49-52; LJ, i. 513-15.
  • 7. C142/197/49; Pevsner and Radcliffe, 347-8.