WATSON, Robert (by 1515-55/59), of Norwich, Norf.

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 1515. m. (2) Elizabeth; at least 1s.2

Offices Held

?Steward of Abp. Cranmer c.1547; canon, Norwich May 1549-51.3


Robert Watson’s identity is doubtful. He was not among the townsmen assessed for subsidy at Wilton in 1547 and he had no known links with (Sir) William Herbert I, who had been granted the lordship of Wilton three years before and was to become Earl of Pembroke in 1551. He is not listed among the earl’s tenants early in Elizabeth’s reign, and he is mentioned neither in Pembroke’s will nor among those who attended his funeral in April 1570.

The only Robert Watson of any prominence at this time was a native of Norwich, who became steward to Archbishop Cranmer early in Edward VI’s reign. Described by Strype as ‘a great civilian’, he is unlikely to have been the man of that name admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1533. It was presumably he who was granted a canonry in Norwich cathedral in May 1549, although a twice-married layman, and he was probably also the Mr. Watson to whom a royal commission ‘for reformation of divers things’ was brought on 13 July 1549, the day after Ket’s men encamped on Mousehold Heath; during the following weeks Robert Watson, described as ‘a new preacher’, was one of those who urged moderation on the rebels, with some success. If elected for Wilton he was doubtless nominated for that borough by Herbert as a favour to the archbishop; his fellow-Member, Robert Warner, may also have had a hand in the matter, for he too came from Norfolk and later had property in Norwich. The canon had resigned his stall by 4 Oct. 1551, perhaps because he was already in trouble at Norwich for his extreme Protestant opinions, but this would not have affected his place in the Commons.4

The ex-canon appears to have been arrested for heresy early in Mary’s reign. On 17 Feb. 1554 the Privy Council ordered the mayor and aldermen of Norwich to deliver Robert Watson to the chancellor of the diocese, and he remained in custody for nearly 16 months. He won his freedom by publishing his belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation, only to be threatened with re-arrest after the dean and others had accused him of casuistry. Friends helped him to escape from the country and in November 1555 he described his imprisonment and its sequel in the Aetiologia; it is not clear where this pamphlet was written nor where it was first published, but it seems to have appeared abroad during the following year.5

The will of Robert Watson ‘late of Norwich’ must have been made on the eve of his arrest, if not in prison itself, for it is dated 10 Feb. 1554. In it he committed his soul to Christ, by whose merits ‘I most constantly believe that I am redeemed and saved’, and bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth all the goods which he had left in her custody, as well as a house in St. Martin’s parish by the palace gate. The sum of 40s. was set aside ‘for the debt of my son young John at Cambridge to Dr. Parker or to the college, which though my son had evil deserved of me yet I will have yet paid’; the son must have been one of the two men named John Watson who had matriculated in 1550 from Corpus Christi College, whose master was the future archbishop, himself a native of Norwich. Small gifts of clothing were made to Robert Watson’s friends at Norwich, and Thomas Beaumont (either the Elizabethan Member for Norwich or his father) and Ellis Bate were appointed executors. Nothing is known of the testator after 1555 but it is probable that he died in exile, since the will was proved on 30 June 1559.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from that of son who matriculated in 1550. DNB; PCC 31 Chaynay.
  • 3. Strype, Cranmer, i. 610; CPR, 1548-9, p. 178; 1550-3, p. 53.
  • 4. Strype, i. 610; F. W. Russell, Kett’s Rebellion, 38-40.
  • 5. APC, iv. 394; Strype, i. 610-11; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 322-3.
  • 6. PCC 31 Chaynay; Al. Cant. i(4), 348.