PAGET, William (by 1506-63), of Beaudesert Park and Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs., West Drayton, Mdx., and London.

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 1506, 1st s. of John Pachett alias Paget of London. educ. St. Paul’s; Trinity Hall, Camb., adm. by 1520, ?BCL 1526; Paris 1526-7. m. by 1536, Anne, da. of Henry Preston of ‘Preston’ (?Preston Patrick or Preston Richard, Westmld.), 4s. inc. Henry 1da. suc. fa. aft. 1530. Kntd. 1/19 Jan. 1544, KG nom. 17 Feb. inst. 23 May 1547, degrad. 22 Apr. 1552, rest. 27 Sept. 1553; cr. Lord Paget of Beaudesert 3 Dec. 1549.3

Offices Held

Clerk, the signet by Nov. 1531, Privy Council 10 Aug. 1540-Apr. 1541, the Parliaments 15 July 1541-Dec. 1549/July 1550; keeper, Maxstoke castle, Warws. 1531; j.p. Mdx. 1537- d., Bucks. 1547-d., Derbys. 1547, Staffs. 1547-d.; sec. to Queens Jane Seymour by 1537, Anne of Cleves 1540, Catherine Howard 1540; ambassador to France Sept. 1541-Apr. 1543; PC 23 Apr. 1543-d.; principal sec. 23 Apr. 1543-June 1547; jt. (with John Mason) master, the posts 29 Sept. 1545; custos rot. Derbys. by 1545, Staffs. by 1545-d.; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1 July 1547-July 1552; high steward, Camb. univ. 1547-53, Aug. 1554-d.; comptroller, the Household 29 June 1547-3 Dec. 1549;,. commr. to visit Eton, Camb. univ. 1548, Winchester, Windsor, Oxf. univ. 1549, relief, Mdx., Staffs. 1550; steward for Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, unknown property by 1548; jt. ld. lt. Mdx., Staffs. 1551; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of Oct. 1553, ?Apr. 1554, Nov. 1554, 1555, 1558; ld. privy seal 29 Jan. 1556-Nov. 1558; numerous minor offices.4


William Paget’s origins are obscure. According to Dugdale his father John was born at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, a county where a Pachett family is found in the early 14th century. A wealthy lawyer Thomas Pachett died in 1465 in the adjacent county of Worcestershire, leaving a son John, then under age, who was to be apprenticed as a mercer in London, as well as a brother and a cousin of the same christian name. Between 1515 and 1518 one of the numerous John Pachetts was a suitor in Chancery for lands in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, his claim being one which his grandson was making in vain 40 years later. The fact that Paget’s father lent small sums of money, a pound or two at a time, to Bromsgrove residents suggests that he was related to the Worcestershire Pachetts.

John Pachett settled in London, where he appears to have been a jack-of-all-trades, being described in 1502 as a barber, in 1511 as a shearman and in 1530 as a clothworker. The Earl of Surrey’s pejorative remarks of 1547 imply that John Pachett also served as a constable or bailiff. Dugdale says that he acted as a serjeant-at-mace to the sheriffs of London, a statement which is confirmed by an acquittance of 1511 in which he is referred to as ‘serjeant of London’. His regular small loans to the inhabitants of Staffordshire and Worcestershire notwithstanding, his means were moderate: the visitation of Staffordshire of 1583 describes him as mediocrae fortunae vir.

The eldest son William Paget was educated at St. Paul’s school, where he studied under William Lilly, the high master (1512-22) whom he was later to defend against Erasmus’s friend William Gonell. Among school-fellows with whom he formed lasting friendships were Edward North, Anthony Denny, Thomas Wriothesley and John Leland, who wrote a 58-line Latin poem, Encomia, which is the principal biographical source for Paget’s early life. Paget continued his studies at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was apparently one of the deserving scholars maintained by Thomas Boleyn. His protestant sympathies were observed— he presented a contemporary with the works of Luther and other German divines, openly read Melanchthon, and supported the religious radicals at the university— but also tolerated by the master of the college, Stephen Gardiner, whose friend he became. On leaving Cambridge he went to Paris where he perfected his knowledge of languages: by June 1528 he had been brought by Gardiner into the service of the crown.

Paget probably accompanied Gardiner during the negotiations with Francis I in 1527 and 1528, as the French ambassador thought him well enough known in France to mention his bout of sweating sickness in a despatch of 1528. His appointment as clerk of the signet, one offering considerable administrative opportunity, he presumably owed to Gardiner, who in July 1529 had become secretary to the King. A chance to display his talents came when Cranmer proposed that the European universities should be canvassed about the divorce: in June 1530 Paget joined Edward Foxe, Reginald Pole and Sir Francis Bryan at Paris, and a year later he obtained from Orleans a condemnation of the papal summons to Henry VIII to appear in Rome. In the following September he was sent to discuss with the Landgrave of Hesse English support for the Schmalkaldic League and to solicit the opinions of theologians there; he returned to Germany in 1532 to encourage the League and to consult with Melanchthon, going by way of France so that English and French policy could be co-ordinated. When Gardiner’s opposition to the King’s policy brought him into disfavour Paget swiftly deserted him for Cromwell, assuring that minister in February 1533, ‘I speak without dissimulation, I esteem myself more bounden to your mastership than to all other.’ Cromwell knew his skill in diplomacy and when the decision was taken to break with the papacy he was appointed to the mission sent to the German princes. Between February and June 1534 he visited Luneberg, Mecklenburg, Prussia and Poland.

By that time Paget had begun his career in Parliament. This is clear from the inclusion of his name in a list compiled by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of those Members particularly connected with the treasons bill then being debated, perhaps as belonging to a committee. Paget had presumably been returned at a by-election held before the beginning of the seventh session. Either the King or Cromwell could have nominated him, and his election may have signalled his break with Gardiner: perhaps the obsequious letter he sent to Cromwell not long after the opening of the fourth session was part of its aftermath. Which constituency he represented is not known, but with such backing he could have been returned almost anywhere. His mission to northern Europe early in 1534 must have cut short his attendance during the sixth session, but later ones would not have done so to the same extent: in 1536 Edward Foxe asked for him to be sent to Germany again, but he is not known to have gone.5

Paget was probably returned to the Parliament of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members, and as one who remained close to Cromwell he may also have sat in the following one, that of 1539. His diligence continued to commend him and he was rewarded with the secretaryship to Queens Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves (later also to Catherine Howard) and numerous confidential tasks; his honorary admission to Gray’s Inn was a measure of his growing stature. The fall of Cromwell did not adversely affect Paget’s career. It is clear that before the end of 1539 his role as clerk of the signet was expanding, and amid the subsequent adjustments to the administrative machine, especially the Privy Council, came his appointment as the first regular full-time clerk of that body with responsibility for keeping its register. In the following year he became clerk of the Parliaments, but the duties of that office he seems never to have discharged in person: the surviving parliamentary records yield evidence of the work of others but none of his.

It was shortly after accompanying the King to York in 1541 for the proposed meeting with James V of Scotland that Paget replaced Lord William Howard as ambassador to France. The success with which Paget fulfilled his task of discovering French policies without divulging his own King’s negotiations with the Emperor made him unacceptable to Francis I, especially after the defeat of the Scots at Solway Firth: he presented his letter of recall on 24 Feb. 1543 but was not allowed to depart until 18 Apr., when his exchange for the French ambassador in England was arranged. On his return Paget was appointed a principal secretary and admitted to the Privy Council: until his colleague Wriothesley’s appointment as chancellor he was the junior of the two secretaries but with the advent of William Petre it was Paget who became the senior and who began to be addressed as chief secretary. His embassy of 1541 presumably debarred him from election to the Parliament of the following year, but his recall may have enabled him to enter it at a by-election. It has been suggested that he replaced Sir John Dudley as one of the knights for Staffordshire, but no evidence has been found to corroborate this: even if he had done so, his mission to the Emperor during 1544 would have prevented him from being in the House for the only session, the third and final one, which he could have attended.6

As secretary, Paget gained the ear and confidence of the King so that in the closing years of the reign, apart from his five embassies, he was rarely permitted to go far from the court. Contemporaries observed the growth of his influence and increasingly directed their letters to him. His desire to see the King well served and the diligence of others rewarded, his experience in foreign affairs, his knowledge and understanding, all these were readily appreciated by the King, who with the onset of painful illness confided in him more and more: eventually Henry came to use Paget as the main intermediary not only between himself and the Council, but also between himself, the court and the kingdom.

In 1545 Paget was returned to Parliament as one of the knights of the shire for Middlesex: as principal secretary he also received a writ of assistance to the Lords. His proximity to the King might have been expected to leave many traces of his hand in the preparations for this Parliament, but in fact there are few, one of them being his letter to the deputy of Calais on behalf of Richard Blount. He was also to play little part in the proceedings of the first session, for it had hardly begun when he departed on a mission to the Netherlands and had to be kept informed of its progress by Petre. On 27 Dec. he wrote to Petre regretting his absence from the Parliament and especially from ‘the most godly, wise and kingly oration’, which if he had heard his eyes

would largely have uttered the affections of my heart, hearing it expressed tam florida et viva voce as I know his Majesty can, and I doubt not did, when the reading your recital but of a piece of it my heart doth yearn.

The second session of the Parliament coincided with the King’s protracted final illness. Despite Henry VIII’s supposed unwillingness to let him leave the royal presence, on 13 Jan. 1547 Paget served on the panel presiding over the Earl of Surrey’s trial: when the jury appeared unwilling to condemn Surrey, he hastened to the King’s bedside and returned to procure the verdict of guilty. After the King’s death on 28 Jan. and Edward VI’s arrival in London, Paget was one of those who went to the Parliament House on 31 Jan. to announce the death and accession: after he had read the late King’s will to the assembly, Parliament was dissolved.7

The direction of the wars with Scotland and France had absorbed much of Paget’s time during the closing years of the reign. The military commanders had come to depend on him for communication with the King while they were campaigning, and among them the Earl of Hertford, soon to be raised to the dukedom of Somerset, developed a relationship with Paget which was to be of great importance after the change of sovereign, when Paget became the Protector Somerset’s constant companion. In February 1547 the imperial ambassador rated Paget ‘the person most in authority’, but this was an overestimate. True, he did stand at the centre of affairs, but the late King’s will (of which Paget was perhaps at least part-author) is a surer guide to his position: he was not one of the principal beneficiaries, receiving only £300 in cash and lands worth 400 marks a year. It was the new King, or the Protector Somerset in his name, who gave Paget the Garter, and upon his resignation as secretary made him comptroller of the Household and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.8

While Somerset was with the army in Scotland during the summer of 1547 Paget was the effective head of the government and to him there fell the supervision of the elections to the Parliament summoned for the autumn. Although in this matter he was more an agent than a principal, the unusually large number of crown officials returned may reflect his intervention. His personal influence is most evident in the duchy of Lancaster boroughs and in Staffordshire, where he was responsible for the re-enfranchisement of Lichfield and where he himself was elected one of the knights of the shire. There is little trace of his role during the first session, but he presumably began to play the part of government manager and spokesman in the Commons, and liaison-officer with the Lords, which he was to continue in the second. Then the bill for cattle breeding was committed to him after its second reading on 16 Jan. 1549, as was that for abstaining from flesh on the following 25 Feb. and the ‘new’ bill for curriers, cordwainers and girdlers after its first reading on 13 Feb. He served on the committee to hear the matter against (Sir) Nicholas Hare, carried bills up to the Lords on 16 Feb. and 10 Mar., and on 4 Mar. was ordered by the House to ‘require the Lords, that, if necessity require to have the Lords come down, that upon a further suit they may come down’ to the Commons. He resumed his activity in the third session until his elevation to the peerage, whereupon Sir Ralph Bagnall replaced him in the Commons. On 15 Nov. 1549 the bill for the continuance of the Act of sewers was committed to him after its first reading and on 30 Nov. he was ordered to attend the Lords for an answer to the petition for the relief, reporting back the King’s pleasure and the permission to treat on it. In the Lords he was a fairly regular attendant for the remainder of the session and he was appointed to the committee for the bill concerning enclosures. The Acts for a general pardon and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset, passed during this session, were signed by Paget, and another (3 and 4 Edw. VI, no.25), introduced after he had left the Commons, enabled him to acquire the churchyard at West Drayton in exchange for other property.9

During 1548 Somerset became increasingly aloof from the Council, consulting only his closest supporters and minions. This estrangement alarmed Paget, who in June of that year wrote to the duke about the dangerous direction in which he was moving. Other warnings were to follow with growing frequency in the months that followed, and with Somerset’s consulting him less often and less openly Paget recognized that he had become Somerset’s Cassandra, an embarrassment to be avoided. His advice was none the less to the point, as in his exhortation of 12 Mar. 1549, ‘for God’s sake to end the Parliament’; he argued that the session had fulfilled its purpose once the subsidy (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.36) had been granted and that the Members should return to their homes to maintain the peace and defend the realm, a recommendation which Somerset followed two days later. Despite his doubts Paget continued to cling to Somerset until the autumn of 1549 when the Protector was toppled from power: then the duke’s decision to surrender to the Earl of Warwick was probably made on Paget’s advice, and it was Paget who arrested him on Warwick’s behalf. His role in the crisis brought Paget his peerage.10

Initially that role did not alter with the change of regime, but once Warwick’s supremacy was assured Paget’s support was no longer necessary and by the summer of 1551 he had almost ceased to have any say in affairs. Worse was to follow: at first directed to stay away from the court, when in the autumn Somerset’s old supporters were rounded up he was confined to his house in the Strand, then transferred to the Fleet and finally put in the Tower. He escaped a charge of treason but was accused of malversation as chancellor of the duchy (the case appears to have been trumped-up, evidently being modelled on that against John Beaumont), deprived of his offices and stripped of the Garter. On 31 May 1552 he signed a submission of guilt: two weeks later he made his confession orally before the Council and was then released from the Tower. On 20 June his fine was fixed at £8,000 and he was ordered to remove to Staffordshire within six weeks, but before that time he secured permission to stay in the vicinity of London. The fine was later reduced to £4,000, a sum which the Council agreed to accept in land to a yearly value of £200, and in December he sued out a pardon. By February 1553 he had paid enough of the fine for the King to forgive the remainder; early in March he was allowed to kiss the royal hand in gratitude for his restoration to favour, and he took his place daily in the Parliament of that month, voting against two minor measures. Three months later he witnessed the King’s will.11

The former Warwick, now Duke of Northumberland, sought Paget’s support in the succession crisis which followed the death of Edward VI, and Paget put his name to the order sent to Richard Rich, Baron Rich, to hold Essex against Mary. Despite this initial show of solidarity it was Paget who rode to Framlingham to inform Mary of the Council’s decision to recognize her as Queen. His recent degradation now redounded to his credit, the Queen completed his restoration and for the first weeks of the reign her government was virtually headed by Paget and the 12th Earl of Arundel. His championship of the Spanish marriage— for some unknown reason he accompanied the supporters of an English marriage when they waited on Mary— and his tireless negotiations at first earned him the Queen’s trust, but this he was soon to forfeit. An opponent of extremism, he refused to support the religious settlement advocated by Gardiner, with whom he disagreed openly and violently in the Council, in Parliament and in public, to the detriment of the regime. King Philip interceded for him but the Queen could not be persuaded that Paget meant well: on Gardiner’s death she refused to accept his nomination for the chancellorship but agreed to his becoming lord privy seal, an office which retained him in the government without making him one of its leaders. The appointment was not renewed at the accession of Elizabeth, but Paget remained a Privy Councillor and his advice was often sought in the last few years of life.12

Throughout his career Paget invested the profits of office in land. As early as 1534 he had secured from the 5th Earl of Northumberland a lease of Northumberland place in Aldersgate. Three years later he took a lease of a manor in West Drayton, Middlesex, which in later years he expanded into a large estate. At the Dissolution he acquired much property, including the site and nearly all the possessions of Burton abbey in Staffordshire. It was the late 1540s which saw his aggrandizement at its peak: during 1546 ‘his special good service’ earned him from the crown six Staffordshire manors including Beaudesert, and when in 1548 the bishop of Exeter was obliged to surrender his town house in the Strand to the King, Paget obtained it and renamed it after himself.

Paget was one of the more conscientious peers in attending the Lords during the reign of Mary, missing only the opening weeks of the Parliament of November 1554 while he was conducting Cardinal Pole to England, and the second session of the Parliament of 1558 from which he obtained leave of absence. On 23 Feb. 1554 he was one of the Councillors approached ‘to consider what laws shall be established in this Parliament and to name men that shall make the books thereof’, and shortly before the opening Mary asked him and several others to decide what was to be laid before Parliament. He was chosen to serve on the committees for bills in which the Queen had a personal interest, but angered by Gardiner’s failure to consult him over religious legislation he encouraged his colleagues to reject the heresy bill and amended that to extend the protection of the treason laws to Philip. It was not uncommon for Paget to vote against private bills, but his opposition to legislation of official origin was unusual. Ill health prevented him from taking his place in the Lords in the Parliament opened in 1559 by Elizabeth and allowed him to make only a few appearances in the second Parliament of her reign.13

Paget did not show, even if he possessed, any strong religious convictions, and contemporary judgments of his beliefs varied. In 1545 Petre was sure that he was a Protestant; later Renard was convinced that he was deep with heretics, Soranzo called him an acknowledged anti-Catholic and the Jesuit Persons was certain that he had been a convert to Reform. On the other side, Foxe and Ponet were certain that he was a Catholic. Paget himself explained to Renard that one of the Henrician and Edwardian bishops had led him into error over transubstantiation but he had long since seen and renounced that heresy. What emerges is that Paget’s faith was moderate, conservative and private.

Paget made his will on 4 Nov. 1560. He provided for his wife, children and kinswomen and gave £100 to be distributed among his servants. The lands assigned to his widow for life had been conveyed earlier in the year to Thomas Carus, Richard Cupper, George Freville and Edmund Twyneho, and about the same time other lands had been entrusted to James Bedell, Cupper, Freville and Twyneho to the use of Paget’s son Sir Henry, whom he also made his residuary legatee and sole executor. As overseers he appointed Edmund and William Twyneho, Cupper and Robert Jones. Paget lived for nearly three years after making his will, dying on 9 June 1563 at West Drayton where he was buried with considerable pomp nine days later. A cenotaph was erected in his honour by the 2nd Lord Paget in Lichfield cathedral. His descendants were to become earls of Uxbridge and marquesses of Anglesey. There remain several portraits of Paget from the last 20 years of his life.14

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from admission to Cambridge. This biography rests on S. R. Gammon, Statesman and Schemer: William, 1st Lord Paget; CP; DNB.
  • 4. EHR, lxxvii. 82; LP Hen. VIII, xv, xx; Somerville, Duchy, i. 394, 545, 612; C66/985 ex inf. J. C. Sainty; E163/12/17, nos. 38, 51, 54; LJ, i. 447, 464, 492, 513.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1552(ii).
  • 6. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xxiii. 322-3.
  • 7. SP1/210/126; C218/1.
  • 8. Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 87-105.
  • 9. CJ, i. 6, 8-12, 14-15; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), 336-8; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 24, 31.
  • 10. The Letters of William, Lord Paget of Beaudesert, 1547-63 (Cam. Misc. xxv), 1-141; B. L. Beer, ‘The Paget letter bk.’, Manuscripta, xiv. 176-9; ‘A critique of the Protectorate’, HL Quarterly, xxxiv. 277-83; ‘Sir William Paget and the Protectorate, 1547-9’, Ohio Academy of Hist. Newsletter, ii. 2-9.
  • 11. Graves, 337-8.
  • 12. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 13(1), ff. 129, 206v, 213; Graves, 337-8; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 11-238 passim.
  • 13. Graves, 336-8; LJ, i. 541-618.
  • 14. PCC 27 Chayre; C142/137/47; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 309, 395-6; S. A. J. McVeigh, Drayton of the Pagets, passim; R. C. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 241-2.