HILLESLEY, John (by 1508-?66), of Beenham, Berks and Leominster, Herefs.

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. by 1508, prob. 2nd s. of William Hillesley of East Ilsley and Beenham, Berks. by Anne, da. of William Bradbury of Braughing, Herts. m. Joan, da. of John Rafe of Merswood, Dorset, 2s. at least 2da.1

Offices Held

Dep. bailiff, Leominster in 1540; capital burgess in 1554.2


Little is known for certain, although more may be surmised, about John Hillesley of Leominster. His local importance is clear, for in a subsidy list of November 1543 his goods were valued at £34 and his assessment of 22s.8d. was the highest in the town. Some of the property in his tenure in 1549 had belonged to the Trinity and St. Mary chantries, Leominster. He may have been the Mr. Hillesley to whom in 1556 the town repaid the 14s.10d. which he had laid out for paving.3

In April 1540 Hillesley was Thomas Vachell I’s deputy as bailiff of Leominster, and in that capacity he reported to Cromwell the arrest of a man for stealing plate formerly part of a shrine in Leominster priory. Vachell’s claim to the office was disputed, and Hillesley’s letter to Cromwell coincided with one from Bishop Rowland Lee asking for the King’s decision in the matter, so that the council in the marches of Wales might act accordingly. This link between Hillesley and Vachell, and the earlier subordination of Leominster priory to Reading abbey, suggest that Hillesley was a member of the Berkshire family of that name. If this origin, which is adopted here, is the right one, Hillesley was probably also related to John Hilsey, Fisher’s successor as bishop of Rochester, who according to Anthony Wood was a kinsman of the family at Beenham, and earlier at East Ilsley (a corruption of Hildesley). There were, however, Hillesleys at Ross in Herefordshire, including one named John who in November 1507 is mentioned in connexion with property in the county (although not at Leominster) and with William Rudhale, father of John Rudhale who sat for the shire in the Parliament of 1529. Thus even if the Member was of Berkshire origin, he may have had kinsmen already established in the county where he was to make his career.4

There is one further piece of evidence which may bear on both Hillesley’s identity and his role in Parliament. The name ‘John Hilseleye’ appears on a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell in the spring of 1533. That the Member concerned was John Hillesley of Leominster admits of no doubt: he was the only man of that name then sitting in the House and he appears on the list immediately after his Hereford neighbour Thomas Havard. It must therefore have been in error that his name was bracketed with the one which follows, John Brennyng’s (or Braughing’s), as ‘of Worcester’: Braughing was rightly so described, but there is nothing to connect Hillesley with Worcester save its relative proximity to Leominster. The list itself is thought to record the names of Members opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals, and one of its features is its inclusion of several men connected with Berkshire, among them Hillesley’s associate Thomas Vachell: if, as seems likely, this group was concerned at the possible effect of the measure in provoking reprisals against the wool and cloth trades, it could well have enlisted the support of Hillesley, whose namesakes, and probably kinsmen, of Berkshire are reported to have flourished as sheepmasters and who himself was in touch with the wool trade at Leominster. Whether he also shared the religious conservatism which was affronted by the bill does not appear, but the Hillesleys of Berkshire were later to be prominent as recusants.5

Hillesley may be presumed to have sat again for Leominster in the Parliament of 1536, in accordance with the King’s general request for the return of the previous Members, but is not known to have done so thereafter. Little has come to light, indeed, about his later career in the borough and nothing to suggest that he was active elsewhere. If he is to be identified with the John Hillesley of Leominster, gentleman, who made his will on 28 June 1566, he spent the rest of his life in the town and chose to be buried in St. Peter’s church there. This testator left a wife Alice, presumably a second or later one, and a daughter Joan, probably the daughter of an earlier one of that name; this daughter was married to John ap Morgan, perhaps the John Morgan who was returned to Parliament for Leominster in 1563, and was herself the mother of three daughters Eleanor, Alice and Anne. The only other relatives mentioned in the will are John Hillesley ‘the youngest’ and Alice Hillesley ‘the younger’, each of whom had small conditional bequests, but whether they were the testator’s children is not clear. The widow was named sole executrix and was to receive all the household goods. The will bears no date of probate. Nearly seven years later a John Isdelye of Beenham, Berkshire, gentleman, made a will: dated 10 Feb. 1573, it was to be proved on 4 Apr. 1575. This testator seems to have been a man of limited means, possessing goods worth £90 and making modest provision for two sons named William and John, whom he named executors, and a daughter Margaret. He appears less likely to have been the former Member than his namesake of Leominster.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Presumed to be of age at election. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 37; VCH Berks. iv. 28; HP, ed. Wedgwood, 1439-1509 (Biogs.), 100.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xv; CPR, 1553-4, p. 396.
  • 3. G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 54, 75; CPR, 1549-51, p. 11.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xv; Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 112; CCR, 1500-9 p. 313; CFR, 1485-1509, p. 107.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234; D. Maclean, Pembroke Coll. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxiii), 165; Townsend, 25.
  • 6. NLW Hereford consist. ct. wills box 6, Hi(2); Bodl. wills Berks. 9, f. 359v.