SAUNDERS, Edward (1506-76), of Whitefriars, London; Westminster, Mdx. and Weston-under-Wetherley, Warws.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. 4 Apr. 1506, 1st surv. s. of Thomas Saunders of Sibbertoft, Northants. by Margaret, da. of Richard Cave of Stanford, Northants.; bro. of Robert. educ. Camb.; M. Temple, adm. 3 May 1524. m. (1) by 1540, Margery (d. 11 Oct. 1563), da. of Sir Thomas Englefield of Englefield, Berks., wid. of George Carew (d.1538) of (?Bury St. Edmunds) Suff., 1da.; (2) by 1566, Agnes, da. of one Hussey. suc. fa. 8 Mar. 1528. Kntd. 27 Jan. 1555.[footnote]

Offices Held

Autumn reader, M. Temple 1539, bencher 1539.

Servant of Cromwell by Dec. 1537; j.p. Northants. 1539-d., Warws. 1544-d., Cumb., Yorks. (W. Riding) 1554-8, Leics. 1554-d., Berks., Glos., Herefs., Oxon., Salop 1562-d.; serjeant-at-law 1540-7; recorder, Coventry 1541-53; King’s serjeant 1547-53; j.c.p. 4 Oct. 1553-7; c.j. Lancaster 1554; c.j.KB 1557-9; retained of council, duchy of Lancaster 1558-d.; receiver of petitions in the Lords., Parlts. of 1558, 1559, 1563, 1571, 1572; chief baron of the Exchequer 29 Jan. 1559-d.2


Edward Saunders came of a minor Northamptonshire family, connected by descent and marriage with some of the leading families in the midlands. He was not the first-born, but his elder brothers did not survive childhood: Thomas Saunders gave him lands worth 20 marks a year with a reversionary interest in the lands left to his mother. As a lawyer Edward Saunders showed early promise and his services were enlisted by Cromwell in return for a fee: he was never an established member of the minister’s household but was expected to answer Cromwell’s call. In 1538 he signed a letter to Cromwell about the rights of the townsmen of Saltash and perhaps with Cromwell’s approval he married the daughter of a leading light of the Middle Temple. As one who stood close to the minister he may have sat in Parliament during the 1530s, but in the absence of nearly all the returns this remains hypothetical.3

Saunders’s advancement suffered no setback on Cromwell’s fall from power. In the autumn of 1540 he became a serjeant-at-law and in the following year he succeeded Roger Wigston as recorder of Coventry. In the Parliament of 1542 Wigston took the senior seat for Coventry as he had done on previous occasions, but he died on 27 Nov. 1542, two months before the second session opened. Saunders may have filled the vacancy during that session but he is not known to have done so until the third (1544), for which he received payment. Coventry expected its recorders to take a lease of a house there and to be frequent in their visits: Saunders complied with the first condition, but pressure of business in London prevented him from appearing as often as the corporation wished. It was perhaps for this reason that he was not re-elected for the city during his recordership, although in 1545 a link with Queen Catherine Parr, through his kinsmen the Throckmortons, may have helped him to obtain a seat elsewhere. In 1544 he had campaigned with the King in northern France.4

On the recommendation of the chancellor, Saunders was promoted early in 1547 to King’s serjeant. The Protector Somerset may have taken exception to him as one of the last recipients of Chancellor Wriothesley’s favour and he did not find a seat in the Commons later in the same year, although as a King’s serjeant he received a writ of assistance to the Lords; he brought a number of bills from there to the Commons and in the first session he served on the Lords committee to scrutinize the bill for vagabonds. The extensive property owned by the duchy of Cornwall in Coventry may explain his return for a duchy borough to the second Edwardian Parliament, but it is more likely to have been the work of Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford at the request of Humphrey Cavell, a colleague at the Temple: Cavell was to sit twice for the borough a year later. As an assistant in the Lords in this Parliament Saunders may not have taken his place in the Commons, but he appeared there as the bearer of bills at least twice, bringing down three on 21 Mar. and six days later another for the restitution of Sir Edward Seymour.5

Saunders did not sign the document by which Jane Grey succeeded to the throne, and he proclaimed Mary Queen at Coventry. His movements at this point are not certain, but before Mary left Framlingham he had sworn allegiance to her. The Queen gave him an annuity worth £20 and made him a judge, whereupon he relinquished his recordership in favour of John Throckmorton I. He was to become a prominent figure on the bench during the reign, presiding over the trials of Sir Peter Carew, Archbishop Cranmer, Guildford and Ambrose Dudley, Jane Grey and (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton. He heard the case brought in the common pleas disputing the return made for Anglesey in the autumn of 1553 and gave judgment in favour of Sir Richard Bulkeley. He does not appear to have been compromised by the arrest for heresy of his younger brother Lawrence, to whom he wrote in prison urging him to

reform your error in the opinion of the most blessed and our most comfortable sacrament of the altar the accustomable using whereof I am fully professed unto during my life, and to give more faith unto the confessions of holy Bernard than to Luther ... for that the antiquity, the universality of the ... Church and the consent of all saints and doctors do confirm the same.

Two days before his brother was arraigned, Saunders was knighted by King Philip. As a judge he was summoned to the Lords in each Parliament of the reign and in 1558 he served for the first time as a receiver of petitions.6

Elizabeth initially confirmed Saunders in his appointments, but following a dispute with an admiralty judge and an appearance before the Privy Council he was removed as chief justice within a few weeks of her accession and transferred to the Exchequer, where he remained until his death. Although she thus eliminated a possible source of embarrassment, Elizabeth did not neglect Saunders’s proven abilities, frequently calling on his advice. One of the first cases referred to him at the Exchequer was the dispute over the election of the knights for Monmouthshire in 1558, although this was settled at the assizes. His judgements were highly thought of in the profession and were widely reported.7

Saunders made his will on 10 Nov. 1576, asking to be buried at Weston. He made provision for his wife, children and kinsmen, remembered his servants and tenants, and left money to relieve paupers in Coventry. He appointed his friends Humphrey Duke, Laurence Eyton, (Sir) Walter Mildmay and Edmund Plowden as executors. He died two days later and was buried at Weston, where a monument was erected to his memory.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Coventry mayors’ accts. 1542-61, f. 21.
  • 2. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 555-6; Stowe 571, f. 18v; CPR, 1547-8, p. 182; 1553-4, p. 71; 1555-7, p. 363; 1558-60, pp. 58, 65; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 61; Somerville, Duchy, i. 320 n. 3, 456, 470; LJ, i. 513, 542, 580, 666, 703.
  • 3. PCC 31 Porch; LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii; Elton, Policy and Police, 337.
  • 4. Coventry mayors’ accts. 1542-61, p. 21; letters i. 63-64; treasurers’ accts. 14, 19, 23, 28; council bk. 17; statute merchant rolls 43, 49; LP Hen. VIII, xix.
  • 5. APC, ii. 25; C218/1; LJ, i. 295, 302-4, 371, 402, 404-5, 409, 411, 436, 438, 440, 442; CJ, i. 13-14, 19, 20, 25-26; information from G. Haslam. The tradition cited in DNB that Saunders sat for Lostwithiel in the Parliament of 1547 is unfounded.
  • 6. Dyer, Reps. ii. 113v; Coventry annals 1553; State Trials, ed. Howell, i. passim; APC, iv. 21; v. 22; vi. 187, 296, 310, 419; Foxe, Acts. and Mons. vi. 636; Machyn’s Diary, 342.
  • 7. Select Pleas Ct. Admiralty (Selden Soc. xi), pp. xii-xvi, 22-23; T. W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 49; APC, vii. 12-397 passim; E159/333, Mich. 86; Plowden, Reps. passim; Dyer, passim; L. W. Abbott, Law Reporting in Eng. 144.
  • 8. PCC 41 Carew; C1/1472/8-9; 142/180/32(2); Req. 2/4/105; VCH Warws. vi. 252, 254.