STAFFORD, Sir William (by 1512-56), of Chebsey, Staffs., Rochford, Essex 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 1512, 2nd s. of Sir Humphrey Stafford of Blatherwycke and Dodford, Northants. by Margaret, da. of Sir John Fogge of Ashford, Kent. m. (1) 1533/34, Mary (d. 30 July 1543), da. of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond, wid. of William Carey (d. 22 June 1528), of Aldenham, Herts., s.p.; (2) by 1552, Dorothy (d. 23 Sept. 1603), da. of Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford, 3s. inc. Edward and John 1da. Kntd. 23 Sept. 1545.2

Offices Held

Esquire of the body by 1541; gent. pens. 1540; standard bearer, gent. pens. by 20 May 1550-3.3


William Stafford could boast royal descent, but as the younger son of a midland family whose fortunes had been depleted during the previous century he had little hope of advancement before his marriage to Mary Boleyn, an ex-mistress of Henry VIII. He attended the coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn as a servitor and this may have been the occasion of his meeting with her sister whom he could have known, however, through his Kentish relatives. Their marriage displeased the King and Queen, as well as Cromwell, and Mary Boleyn told the minister that love had triumphed over reason and that although she ‘might have had a greater man of birth and higher’ she was content to lead ‘a poor honest life’ with her youthful husband. It was perhaps the Queen’s coolness towards the pair which protected them when disaster struck her and her brother Lord Rochford: in the event they were gainers, for between 1539 and 1542 Mary Stafford was to inherit in succession her father’s lands, those held in jointure by Rochford’s widow and those of her grandmother the Countess of Ormond. Although the bulk of this property was to pass to the children of her first marriage, she was able to give her husband several manors in Essex, including Rochford which they made their home. In 1541 Stafford acquired the manor of Hendon in Kent from the crown but several months later he exchanged it for more valuable property in Yorkshire and London. After Mary’s death he inherited the manor of Abinger, Surrey, which he later sold to Edward Elrington and his cousin Thomas.4

In 1543 Stafford was committed to the Fleet together with Sir John Clere and others for eating meat on Good Friday. After his release and a rebuke from the Privy Council he served on the campaign of that year in the Netherlands. In 1544 he fought in France and in 1545 in Scotland, where he was knighted by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. It was doubtless as a Protestant courtier and a soldier known to Hertford (by then Protector and Duke of Somerset) that he was returned to the Parliament of 1547: the electors of Hastings had no part in the matter, for the indenture was evidently returned to the lord warden, Sir Thomas Cheyne, bearing one name only, that of John Isted, and it was Cheyne who added Stafford’s. He was to be joined in the Commons by his stepson Henry Carey, one of the Members for Buckingham, and by his stepdaughter’s husband Sir Francis Knollys, who sat for Camelford. Nothing is known of Stafford’s role in the House, but if his second marriage had either taken place or was in contemplation he may have supported the Act for the restitution of Baron Stafford (1 Edw. VI, no. 18) passed during the first session, and it was either he or Henry Stafford who in the last session was licensed on 22 Feb. 1552 to be absent when suffering from measles. He was not harmed by the Protector’s fall: in 1550 Somerset’s rival the Earl of Warwick granted him an annuity of £100 for his services to Henry VIII and entrusted him with the custody of three noble French hostages from Dover to London. In 1551 he accompanied the 9th Lord Clinton to Paris for the christening of one of Henry II’s sons and on his return he took part in the New Year’s tournament at court. He showed his loyalty to Northumberland by reporting a servant’s allegation that the Protector had been innocent of the charges laid against him. Whether this act assured Northumberland of his support is not known, nor whether he sat in the next Parliament summoned early in 1553 under the duke’s aegis: John Isted was re-elected for Hastings but the name of his fellow-Member on this occasion has not been discovered. A brawl with Adrian Poynings in the previous November had reduced his standing in the Council’s esteem and had led to a brief recommittal to the Fleet.5

Although Stafford’s second marriage linked him more closely to the peerage, it brought him no wealth. In the early 1550s he disposed of much of the property given him by Mary Boleyn, and mounting debts induced him in 1552 to exchange his annuity for £900 in cash. It was perhaps as much fear of his creditors as of religious persecution that drove him into exile shortly after Queen Mary’s accession. Accompanied by his wife, children, sister, cousin and servants, he settled in Geneva in March 1554, being known there as Lord Rochford. He soon became embroiled in its disputes and on returning there after the uprising of 1555 he was nearly killed in an affray. It was perhaps against a possible repetition of this incident that, as ‘excellent personnage, homme de bien et de cognoissance’, he was allowed to carry a sword. When the English congregation was set up he joined it and his son John was the first child to be baptized on 4 Jan. 1556, Calvin standing as godfather. Stafford died there on 5 May 1556, but the Privy Council was unaware of this when ten days later it ordered that ‘no payment of money by exchange or otherwise’ was to reach him. Calvin claimed the custody of his son John and forbade his widow to leave with him. She appealed to Stafford’s younger brother and the threat to invoke French aid persuaded Calvin to yield. She then moved to Basle, remaining there until January 1559, when she returned to England. Queen Elizabeth, whom she outlived, appointed her mistress of the robes.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Patricia Hyde


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. The Gen. n.s. xxxi. 177; Her and Gen. iv. 40; Arch. Cant. xxviii. 196.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xix; Stowe 571; f. 31; S. Pegge, Curialia (1791), 43; information from W. J. Tighe.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, vi. vii, xv-xviii; PCC 14 Alen; C142/72/86(1); CPR, 1549-51, p. 247; 1553-4, p. 414; APC, iv. 120.
  • 5. APC, i. 106, 114, 125; iii. 5; iv. 179, 185; LP Hen. VIII, xviii, xix; Add. 34150; CJ, i. 18; CPR, 1549-51, p. 306; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, pp. clxviii, 260, 349, 384; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, ii. 432-3; B. L. Beer, Northumberland, 136.
  • 6. CPR, 1549-51, p. 247; 1553-4, p. 352; APC, iv. 79, 188; v. 257, 271; W. C. Richardson, Ct. Augmentations, 350; C. Martin, Les protestants anglais réfugiés à Gen‘ve, 1550-60, pp. 55-58, 335, 337; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 296.