HEYWOOD, John (1496/97-1578), of London, North Mimms, Herts. and Hinxhill, Kent.

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



Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1496/97, 2nd or 3rd s. of William Heywood of Stock, Essex; bro. of Richard. educ. ?Broadgates Hall, Oxf. c.1515. m. c.1523, Joan, da. of John Rastell of London, 2s. 3da.2

Offices Held

Member of royal household 1519; sewer of chamber by July 1553-8; measurer of silks and linen cloths, London 1530-56.3


John Heywood’s father was associated with John Rastell in the office of coroner of Coventry as early as 1505 and the son may well have owed his admission to the royal household in 1519 to Rastell’s brother-in-law Sir Thomas More. His first appointment was as a singer at a salary of £20 a year: no evidence has been found to support the view that he had previously been a chorister in the chapel royal. According to Wood he was a student at Oxford but did not take kindly to ‘the crabbedness of logic’. He enjoyed a modest prosperity in the King’s service, receiving in 1521 an annuity of 10 marks and a grant (possibly unconfirmed) of the manor of Heydon in Essex; by 1525 his salary as a player on the virginals was £26 13s.4d. and three years later this was replaced by a life annuity of £20. At the King’s instance he had been admitted a freeman of the city of London in 1523 and in February 1530, when he was a member of the Stationers’ Company, he was presented by the warden of the Mercers’ as measurer of silks and linen cloths, being at the same time ‘transmuted from the ... craft of Stationer into the mystery of Mercers’, that is, from John Rastell’s Company to More’s.4

More and the Rastells were also important to Heywood’s literary career at this time. His early plays, written between about 1519 and 1522, reflect More’s influence, being characterized by anti-clerical banter, and his Play of Love of about 1528 may have satirized Wolsey as the judge who was never a serjeant. In 1533 and 1534 four of his plays were printed by his brother-in-law William Rastell, who may then have been living in Heywood’s house in St. Bride’s parish. His religious sympathies appear as early as 1534 when he wrote a ballad to Princess Mary: her expenses for January 1537 include 1s.8d. ‘to Heywood’s servant for bringing my lady grace’s regals from London to Greenwich’ and for March 1538 40s. ‘to Heywood playing an interlude with his children before my lady’s grace’. That Heywood had his own company of boy-players is unlikely, but he was clearly associated with the boys of St. Paul’s, and John Redford, master of the choir school there, may have been his pupil.5

With other members of More’s circle Heywood was involved in the prebendaries’ plot of 1543 against Archbishop Cranmer and on 15 Feb. 1544 he was indicted of treason. In April Richard Southwell was appointed to value his goods and those of Germain Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester’s nephew: Gardiner was executed but in June Heywood received a pardon. According to John Harington he was saved by the intervention of an unnamed courtier and by his reputation for ‘pleasant and harmless verses’, but he seems to have had to work his passage for besides making a public recantation at Paul’s Cross he was commissioned by Cranmer to write an interlude ‘upon the parts of Man’ which has not survived. Somewhat surprisingly, he was in favour during the reign of Edward VI, but it may have been again, in George Puttenham’s words, ‘for the mirth and gentleness of his conceit’. In March 1552 he was granted a life annuity of £40 and in the following year he attended the King’s funeral as a sewer of the chamber. He was even a welcome, if humble, guest at the board of the Duke of Northumberland. He must none the less have welcomed the accession of Mary whom he greeted on her coronation day ‘in Paul’s churchyard ... [with] an oration in Latin and English’. One of his best known works, The Spider and the Flie, begun some 20 years earlier but published in 1556, has been described as ‘a panegyric on the promise of her reign’. In 1554 he was granted the reversion of certain leases in Romney Marsh; in 1555 he exchanged his two annuities for a grant of £50 a year which he later surrendered in return for a 40-year lease of the Yorkshire manor of Bulmer; and in 1556 he surrendered his city office as measurer of cloths for an annuity of 20 marks.6

Heywood’s standing is reflected in his return to two of the Queen’s Parliaments. The first of these, for Lancaster, he evidently owed to Sir Robert Rochester as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster: there is no reason to suppose that an obscure local namesake of Heywood, near Bolton, who was barely of age, could have obtained the nomination. Rochester may have come to know Heywood either as a fellow Essexman or as comptroller of Mary’s household. His seat for Hindon in November 1554 Heywood owed to Bishop Gardiner, who had nominated William Rastell for the borough in the first Parliament of the reign and who doubtless remembered Heywood himself as a participant in the prebendaries’ plot. Nothing is known of Heywood’s role in the Commons save that he was not one of the Members who quitted the Parliament of November 1554 without leave before the dissolution.7

Heywood helped to devise an entertainment for Elizabeth at Nonsuch in August 1559 but he could not reconcile himself to her settlement in religion and in July 1564 he went overseas with his wife and settled at Malines. After her death he lived for a while in the Jesuit college at Antwerp, of which his elder son Ellis was a member. His younger son Jasper also became a Jesuit and one of his daughters, Elizabeth, was the mother of John Donne. The Jesuits were expelled from Antwerp in 1578 and Heywood fled first to Cologne and then to Louvain where he died in the summer of the same year.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 2. Aged 78 in April 1575, CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 482. R. de la Bere, John Heywood, 271; A. W. Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 30, 35, 45-46; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 288-9; DNB.
  • 3. Reed, 39; LC2/4/1, f. 25v; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 8, f. 83v; 13(2), f. 460v.
  • 4. Reed, 30, 38-40, 45-47; Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 348-52; LP Hen. VIII, iii, v, vi, xiii, xiv, xvi, xvii, xx; J. Stevens, Music and Poetry in the Early Tudor Ct. 267; Add. 24844, f. 38v; E. K. Chambers, Eliz. Stage, ii. 32; City of London RO rep. 8, f. 83v.
  • 5. Reed, 52-61, 82; N. and Q. cxcvi. 112-14, 296-7; Chambers, ii. 8, 12-13; Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary 1536-44, ed. Madden, 12, 62.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xviii, xix; Reed, 44, 51, 59-60, 65, 66, 125; R. G. Bolwell, Life and Works of John Heywood, 38, 137-52; Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 528; Lansd. 980, f. 34; J. Harrington, Metamorphosis of Ajax, ed. Donno, 102; Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne, ed. Osborn, 6; CPR, 1554-5, p. 71, 164; 1557-8, p. 437; G. Puttenham, Arte of English Poesie (1589), 230-1; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 30 and n; Emden, 288; City of London RO, rep. 13(1), ff. 162v, 166v; 13(2), f. 460v.
  • 7. J. B. Watson, ‘Lancs. gentry 1529-58’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959), 125, 561.
  • 8. Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 206; Reed, 68-70 and app. II; CPR, 1572-5, p. 28; CSP For. 1572-4, p. 582; Emden, 289.