FLEETWOOD, William (c.1525-94), of the Middle Temple, London Great Missenden, Bucks.

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




Family and Education

b. c.1525 (?illegit.) s. of Robert Fleetwood of Heskin, Lancs. and London by Anne, da. of William Tyldesley of Lancs. educ. Eton; Brasenose and/or Broadgates Hall, Oxf. c.1538-43; Clifford’s Inn c.1543; M. Temple, called. m. Marian, da. of John Barley of Kingsey, Bucks., 6s. inc. William 2da. suc. fa. 1561.1

Offices Held

Autumn reader, M. Temple 1564, Lent 1568.

Common pleader, London 10 Mar. 1558; serjeant-at-law, duchy of Lancaster 28 Jan. 1559, steward and bailiff, the Savoy ?1559-d., apprentice-at-law and counsel 29 May 1560, steward, manor of Penwortham, Lancs. 1567-d., Mildenhall, Suff. 1571-80, feodary, Beds. and Bucks. 1577-82, dep. chief steward, south parts 1586, master of the Savoy 1592-d.; commr. eccles. causes 1559-d.; steward, Wigan church by 1559, Newton, Lancs. by 1559, Rushock, Worcs. 1564, Farnham Royal and St. Helens, Berks. c.1576, Bernwood forest, Bucks. 1577; j.p. Durham 1561-d., Bucks. 1569-d., London, Mdx. and Surr. 1571-d., Lancs. 1577-d.; recorder, London 1571-92, Preston by 1584; serjeant-at-law 1580; member, Antiq. Soc. c.1591; Queen’s serjeant 1592; escheator, Durham temp. Eliz.2


The Fleetwood family had been established for at least two centuries in Lancashire before Thomas Fleetwood and John Fleetwood moved to London, whither they were followed by their younger brother Robert. When Robert Fleetwood, scrivener, Middle Templar and clerk of the petty bag in Chancery, made his will on 14 Nov. 1560 he named as one of its overseers his son William, whom he urged to ‘diligently apply his learning’ in the cause of justice.3

William Fleetwood had left Oxford without taking a degree before being admitted to the Middle Temple by February 1551. In the early 1540s he had spent some time in Calais, which as he told Lord Burghley in 1586 he then knew

as well as I do now know London, and lodged at a constable’s house there, and did myself many times write his book of views and was at the delivery thereof unto the secretary of the Lord Maltravers being deputy there.

In a further reminiscence, this time to (Sir) Nicholas Bacon in 1571, he wrote of having stayed 20 years previously in Bury St. Edmunds ‘at the house of one Mr. Eyre, an old servant unto my especial good lord and patron the Lord Audley of Walden’; it may have been Fleetwood’s father, or his uncle John, a chancery clerk from 1535, who had brought him to Audley’s notice. Another patron was Sir Ambrose Cave, whom Fleetwood was to call in a further letter to Burghley his ‘very good master’ and whose appointment as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster on Elizabeth’s accession was to be followed by his own entry into duchy service.4

Fleetwood’s family was divided in religion. Robert Fleetwood’s views are not easily discernible from his will, but his eldest brother John, a Protestant who bought Penwortham priory, founded a branch in Lancashire and another in Staffordshire which remained Catholic; from the second brother Thomas descended the Buckinghamshire Fleetwoods of The Vache, among them the regicide George, and Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law Charles; and another brother, Edward, had been a Carthusian monk at Sheen. Foxe records that Fleetwood himself was among the friends to whom Bartlett Green, a fellow-lawyer, addressed a letter from prison shortly before being burned as a heretic in January 1556. His later association with Burghley and Leicester and his rigorous enforcement, as recorder of London, of the laws against recusants suggest that it was religious dissent which kept Fleetwood out of public affairs until near the end of Mary’s reign.5

The Fleetwoods had neither kin nor property in the neighbourhood of Marlborough, the borough for which Fleetwood was returned to the Parliament of 1558. His fellow-Member William Daniell had also been educated at Eton, but he was also an important local figure who may well have been instrumental in Fleetwood’s election. On 28 Feb. 1558 the two Members for Marlborough, of whom only Daniell is named, were licensed by the Speaker to be absent on business at the assizes in Wiltshire. This, together with his application to be one of the common pleaders of London earlier in the month, is the earliest reference to Fleetwood’s practice of the law, a profession which he was to adorn during the next reign. He was also to become a leading figure in the Elizabethan Commons, active in debate and in committee. He died intestate on 28 Feb. 1594.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Date of birth given in Recusant Hist. vii. 106. Brasenose Coll. Reg. i (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lv), 2; Pembroke Coll. (ibid. xxxiii), 91; PCC 23 Loftes; Lancs. Funeral Certs. (Chetham Soc. lxxv), 28-29.
  • 2. DKR, xxxvii(1), 79; CPR, 1560-3, p. 445; 1563-6, p. 29; 1569-72, pp. 223, 277, 440-2; 1572-5, pp. 551-2; Somerville, Duchy, i. 433, 452, 456, 505, 592, 602, 614-15; C. M. Clode, Merchant Taylors’ Co. ii. 272-3; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 14, f. 14; 17, f. 144; G. T. O. Bridgeman, Wigan (Chetham Soc. n.s. xv), 134; Lansd. 24(80), f. 196; 52(50), f. 133; H. W. Woolrych, Serjeants-at-law, i. 136, 149, 158; J. Evans, Hist. Antiq. Soc. 12.
  • 3. Fleetwood Fam. Recs. ed. Buss, 2, ped. i; CPR, 1558-60, pp. 77-78; PCC 23 Loftes.
  • 4. Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 598; Lansd. 52(50), f. 134; 81(63); 255, f. 231.
  • 5. Foxe, Acts and Mons. vii. 742-3.
  • 6. CPR, 1553, p. 116; CJ, i. 50; City of London RO, rep. 14, f. 4v.