MARTIN, Thomas (1520/21-92/93), of Winterbourne St. Martin, Dorset; Steeple Morden, Cambs. and London.

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



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1520/21, 1st s. of John Martin of Cerne, Dorset. educ. Winchester adm. 1533; New Coll. Oxf. adm. 7 Mar. 1538, fellow 1540, BCL by 1547, DCL 1555; Bourges Univ. c.1550, DCL by 1554; Paris 1551; adv. Doctors’ Commons 15 Jan. 1554; Camb. LLD 1587. m. (1) by Jan. 1555, Mary, da. of John Roys of London, 2s. 1da.; (2) Margery, wid. of William Denton (d.1565) of Southwark, Surr. and Stedham, Suss. 1da.2

Offices Held

Warden of Swansea, Glam. 8 May 1554; official, arch-deaconry of Berks. by 1554; chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, bp. of Winchester by 1554-5; commr. visit Oxf. univ. 1555, collect surveys and accts. religious houses 1556, heresy 1557, heretical books 1557; Queen’s proctor at trial of Cranmer 1555; master of requests by July 1556, in Chancery by May 1557; jt. prothonotary, Chancery 16 June 1557-60.3


Thomas Martin’s origins appear to have been humble although his family may have been related to its better-known neighbours, the Martins of Athelhampton. The colourful details of Martin’s life before the accession of Mary come mainly from his detractors, John Ponet and John Bale. While he was at Oxford, Martin played the fool of Christmas, and Ponet concludes that it was then ‘he did learn his boldness and lost his wit and began to put off all shame and to put on all impudence’. On leaving the university he travelled on the Continent and by his example he corrupted ‘several young Englishmen committed to his charge’. According to Bale, Martin’s life at Bourges was scandalous: he lodged with a syphilitic priest whose house was ‘a common stew’, frequented brothels, and practised buggery. He left Bourges under a cloud, but took care first to purchase ‘privily a bull of doctorship’. In the spring of 1551 he was studying at Paris, where he bought ‘false and detestable’ books on behalf of John White, the warden of Winchester College, and arranged for them to be smuggled into England. This activity signifies that Martin was always a Catholic, although at Bourges he attacked clerical celibacy and belittled Stephen Gardiner, and Bale saw letters from him to Cranmer assuring the archbishop of his Protestantism. Martin was, in Bale’s opinion, a ‘natural Proteus ... who hath learned this rule of loiterer’s logic,

Go thou better or go thou worse,

Go after him that beareth the purse.’4

The advent of Queen Mary enabled Martin to return to England and, notwithstanding his earlier disparagement of Gardiner, he soon joined the service of the new chancellor and recently restored bishop of Winchester. He became Gardiner’s right hand man and a harrier of Protestants, being often entrusted by the Council to deal with heretics. Martin was presumably the Member for a Cornish borough in the first Parliament of the reign: a namesake held a minor appointment in the duchy of Cornwall, the feodaryship of Trematon, about two miles from Saltash, but the man returned for the borough was evidently not of its choosing nor a local figure, as his name was inserted over an erasure on the indenture. On 8 Nov. 1553 the bill for coppices was committed after its second reading to Martin, who not surprisingly did not support the Protestant opposition in the House. In the next three Parliaments he sat for a Wiltshire borough controlled by Gardiner as bishop of Winchester: on the first occasion that he appeared for Hindon, Martin’s name was added to the indenture in a different hand. His A traictise declaryng that the pretensed marriage of priestes is no marriage, which shows signs of improvement by Gardiner, defended the re-introduction of clerical celibacy by the Marian regime and was published in May 1554, about the end of Martin’s second spell in Parliament. Gardiner died during the Parliament of 1555, and Martin attended his funeral at Southwark: not long afterwards on 6 Dec. he and another brought a message from the Lords for a conference on Gabriel Pleydell’s summons before the Council. He was not returned for Hindon again three years later, although his long-standing friendship with John White, Gardiner’s successor as bishop and the former recipient of the books from Paris, might have been expected to procure his election there once more. Instead he served in the Commons for another Wiltshire borough with its lord, Sir Richard Brydges. White may have helped him to obtain his place at Ludgershall, but Martin was probably introduced there by John Story, a former Member for the borough and his fellow-proctor at Cranmer’s trial. Martin was a busy man in the last Parliament that he attended: he sat on the committee to consider Walter Ralegh’s complaint against the Admiralty, and he brought four important bills down from the Lords, on 8 Feb. 1558 for the Queen’s revenue and against the abduction of heiresses, on the following day for the customs, and on 2 Mar. for the continuation of several statutes.5

Martin’s activities under Mary were by no means confined to the Church and to Parliament. As a civilian he was made a master in Chancery, and he was sometimes appointed to deal with questions arising from suits in the court of admiralty. In May 1555 he accompanied Gardiner to Calais to negotiate with the French commissioners; from Calais he wrote to the Earl of Devon, for whom he had approached Gardiner for a licence to study abroad; Martin had already recommended the earl to Anthony Hussey, the governor of the Merchant Adventurers and registrar to Cardinal Pole, and to Alderman John White, brother of the warden of Winchester. In September 1556 the Council proposed to King Philip that Martin should replace Nicholas Wotton as ambassador to France, but this did not materialize, and a month later Martin was sent to Philip to confer on the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and on trading relations between the Merchant Adventurers and the Netherlands. Perhaps in connexion with these duties, Martin obtained in the following November a grant of arms. In 1557 he was appointed to treat with the commissioners of Mary Queen of Scots. Other tasks assigned to him during the closing years of the reign included the examination of fugitives from Calais and a journey to the marches of Wales to investigate a Star Chamber suit.6

Such an enthusiastic Marian cannot have welcomed the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth, and after 1558 his importance in national affairs declined although he took the oath of supremacy. Apart from the loss of his prothonotaryship, he apparently did not suffer for his role in Mary’s reign and he continued to practise as a civilian until shortly before his death, his services being in frequent demand over appeals from the prerogative court of Canterbury and the courts of Admiralty and the arches. The year 1566 was not a happy one for Martin for Ponet’s answer to his own treatise was published posthumously, with additional material by Archbishop Parker. Wisely he turned away from polemic: he devoted many hours to a study of William of Wykeham (he corrected some errors in John Stow’s Chronicle, but his work was not published until his death), and in 1578 he advised Burghley on gardens, orchards and ponds. By 1561 he had acquired some land in Cambridgeshire and by his death he had taken several leases in Steeple Morden and that of a house in Knightrider Street, London. His title to various properties in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, was disputed in the court of requests in the last years of his life, and the question was not settled on his death.7

Martin made his will on 8 July 1590, providing for his wife and children, and remembering his brother, friends and servants. He left to his wife a portrait of Queen Mary; to his son Henry his ‘books of divinity, law, philosophy and humanity’, saving those bestowed by him on New College, Oxford, or any college in Cambridge, and those in Spanish, Italian, French and English bequeathed to his younger son; to his son Thomas pictures of himself and his first wife, together with his freedom of the Russia Company and his stock in it, and to his daughter an ‘ivory chest with lock and key and jugs of silver, sometime Queen Mary’s, that hath the story of the New Testament engraved upon it’. Martin was still alive in March 1592, but his will was proved on 7 Aug. 1593. His son and executor Thomas subsequently brought an action in Chancery to obtain from his stepmother and half-sister the administration of Martin’s personal estate.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 2. Aged 12 on entering Winchester College. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 47; Emden; Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 384; PCC 60 Neville.
  • 3. Emden, 384; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 281, 370, 485, 555; 1557-8, p. 14.
  • 4. DNB (Bale, John; Ponet, John); Strype, Eccles. Memorials, iii(1), 267, 524; J. Bale, A declaration of Edmund Bonner’s articles (1561), ff. 15-45 passim; APC, iii. 242; F. Rose-Troup, Western Rebellion of 1549, p. 444; HMC Hatfield, i. 83, 85.
  • 5. Narr. Ref. (Cam. Soc. lxxvii), 181, 187; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, iii(1) 130-1, 289; Crammer, i. 505; Foxe, Acts and Mons. vi. 649; vii. 78; viii. 44-49; Works of Cranmer (Parker Soc.), ii. 212-446 passim; Burnet, Hist. Ref. ii. 446, 531-2; APC, v. 182; Letters of Gardiner, ed. Muller, 511; J. A. Muller, Stephen Gardiner and the Tudor Reaction, 317; J. Ames, Typ. Antiq. ed. Herbert, 726, 830, 1587; Lansd. 982, f. 43; Writings of J. Bradford (Parker Soc.), i. 516; C219/21/21, 22/94; Duchy Cornw. RO, 127/8v. 129/7v, 225/1, 22811; CJ, i. 29, 46, 48, 50.
  • 6. APC, v. 333; vi. 256, 276, 377; Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, ii. 471, 477-9; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 166; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 87; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, iii(1), 505; Lansd. 170, f. 131 seq.
  • 7. Foxe, viii. 44; APC, vii. 325; x. 131; xvi. 16; CPR, 1563-6, pp. 34, 258, 492; W. S. Hudson, John Ponet, 84-89; T. B. Reed, Old Eng. Letter Foundries, 67; Corresp. Parker (Parker Soc.) 483; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 174; Lansd. 101, ff. 43-48; HMC Hatfield, ii. 225; Req.2/157/296, 159/103, 165/148, 189/25, 242/17, 244/28-30.
  • 8. PCC 60 Neville.