WOODHOUSE, Sir William (by 1517-64), of Hickling, Norf.

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. by 1517, 2nd s. of John Woodhouse of Waxham, and bro. of Sir Thomas. m. (1) Anne, da. of Henry Repps of Thorpe Market, 2s. inc. Henry 2da.; (2) settlement 11 Nov. 1552, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir Philip Calthrope of Erwarton, Suff., wid. of Sir Henry Parker of Morley Hall and Hingham, Norf. and Furneux Pelham, Herts., 2s. 2da. Kntd. 13 May 1544.2

Offices Held

Escheator, Norf. and Suff. 1538-9; bailiff, manor of Gaywood and receiver of King’s rents, Lynn, Norf. 1541; jt. v.-adm. Norf. and Suff. 1543-63; master of naval ordnance 1545-52; lt.-adm. Dec. 1552-d.; keeper, Queenborough castle, Kent c. 1546-50; commr. of Admiralty in Nov. 1547, relief, Norf. 1550; j.p. 1554-d.; custos rot. 1561-d.3


William Woodhouse was one of the most distinguished and active naval commanders during and after the Henrician reconstruction of the navy. Born the younger son of a Norfolk gentleman, he found advancement through service to the King. Its long coastline and busy intercourse with the Continent made Norfolk a nursery of seamen, and Woodhouse probably took to the sea from his youth. He may have been the William Woodhouse who was a prisoner in Scotland in the early months of 1535, but if so he was back in England by November of that year. By May 1541, when granted various offices in and near Lynn, he was the ‘King’s servant’ and was to remain so for life.4

In September 1542 Woodhouse commanded the Primrose and in the following February was appointed admiral of four ships in the North Sea with which he probably saw action and took prizes: by November 1543 he was in charge of ten ships at Portsmouth waiting to attack the French fishing grounds. Made vice-admiral of the fleet which accompanied the Earl of Hertford’s expedition to Scotland in 1544, he was knighted at Leith in May. He returned south at the same time as Hertford, and between July and November he commanded the fleet in the Channel and at Boulogne under Sir Thomas Seymour II: on 30 Nov. Seymour was ordered to send him and John Winter to report to the Council. In August 1545 he was again with the fleet at Portsmouth but reported to be very sick. In January 1546 the admiral, Viscount Lisle, wrote to Sir William Paget that if Sir Thomas Clere were appointed to a certain office he thought Woodhouse ‘meet for his place, who may take charge of the artillery of the ships withal and so save a fee’: Paget himself recommended Woodhouse to the King through Sir William Petre—‘not that I gain one penny from it, but because he is his majesty’s good servant’—and on 24 Apr. 1546 Woodhouse was formally appointed master of the ordnance to the navy. He was the first holder of the office and a member of the Admiralty Board set up at this time under Sir Thomas Clere, who was made lieutenant of the Admiralty.5

Woodhouse continued to serve afloat: he was with the Channel fleet in March 1546, when he was again reported to be very ill, and in the following summer he was vice-admiral of the fleet against Scotland. Following the death of Sir Thomas Clere he was appointed lieutenant of the Admiralty. On the outbreak of war in 1557 he was appointed to the command of the Channel fleet with orders to assist at Calais and Dunkirk but was unable to avert the fall of Calais. Pardoned in January 1559 as ‘vice-admiral general of the fleet’, he was again sent to sea in 1562 with instructions to clear the Channel of pirates and to watch the French coast. This was his last active service, although he probably continued with the other duties of his office.6

Woodhouse was well but not excessively rewarded for his 20 years of service. His two admiralty posts brought in salaries of 100 marks and £100 plus allowances, he received several grants of land and he was granted licences to import and export goods. He seems to have been a keen businessman as well as a good sailor, and he built up a considerable landed estate. In November 1535 it was reported to Cromwell that Woodhouse had anticipated the Dissolution by agreeing with the prior of Ingham to buy the priory’s possessions, to the annoyance of Edward Calthrope, heir of the priory’s founder, who offered Cromwell £100 to prevent the transaction. Woodhouse kept the lands, and in April 1542 made a profitable exchange with the bishop of Norwich by which he obtained the priory of Hickling with Hickling manor and other lands. In April 1545 he had a grant of numerous manors and lands in Norfolk and Suffolk formerly of Heringby college and in March 1550 he joined with his brother Sir Thomas Woodhouse to buy chantry lands in Norfolk valued at £36 10s. a year. In April 1542 he had obtained a 21-year lease of the Black Friars house in Yarmouth. A number of his acquisitions he later re-sold, and when he remarried he settled ten manors and other lands on himself and his wife for life with remainder to his heirs. Apart from these and two manors which he bequeathed to his step-sons Edward and William Parker, he left the reversion of all the rest of his lands to his eldest son by Elizabeth Calthrope. Like his brother, he was a founder-member of the Russia Company and it is likely that he engaged in other commercial ventures.7

His periods at sea and on official duty doubtless kept Woodhouse away from Norfolk for long spells and it was not until February 1554 that he was put on the commission of the peace: he had been named to few previous commissions and was never sheriff. In 1549 he and Sir Nicholas Lestrange had been forced by Ket’s rebels to leave hostages in their hands but were themselves released: it is possible that they had supported the Protector Somerset’s action against enclosure—Lestrange was certainly suspected of sympathy with the rebels—and although Thomas Woodhouse helped to put down the rising he showed no desire for revenge. Yet Woodhouse was to benefit from Somerset’s fall, being no less trusted by the Duke of Northumberland, to whom as Viscount Lisle he had been beholden for his naval promotion. He seems to have shown little enthusiasm in either politics or religion, serving the government of the day and prospering under every ruler from Henry VIII to Elizabeth. The William Woodhouse arrested at Lynn in July 1553 as a follower of Sir Robert Dudley was certainly a different person.8

Woodhouse’s parliamentary career falls into two phases; each of them saw him sit in three successive Parliaments but they were separated by another four. If this pattern shows any correspondence with that of his life at sea, it is in the coincidence of his Membership with his active service, not the reverse, and it seems to follow that he was most needed, or felt himself to be most needed, in the Commons when he was also busiest in his profession. His first constituency, Yarmouth, was certainly a suitable one for a sailor who was also a local man. In so far as he required patronage he could have looked to successive admirals, in 1545 Lisle, in 1547 Thomas Seymour (who was also high steward of the borough) and in March 1553 the 9th Lord Clinton, with Lisle, now Duke of Northumberland and a vigorous electioneer, also at hand. It is true that at his first election Woodhouse seems to have been only a second choice, the town assembly first choosing Sir Humphrey Wingfield, who presumably withdrew, perhaps because of the onset of the illness which was to kill him that year; but no similar doubt attaches to the next two occasions. It was for his ‘gentleness to this town showed and hereafter to be showed’ that in 1550 the borough made Woodhouse a gift of 500 ling and 100 cod. The phraseology suggests that the ‘gentleness’ may have extended to an agreed reduction of the wages payable to Woodhouse, for in December 1553 he was given 50 ling ‘for certain money due to him for burgess-ship’ after having been paid £5 by the chamberlain for an unspecified reason in the previous June.9

There is no reason to connect Woodhouse’s absence from the first four Marian Parliaments with the Catholic Restoration. At the elections to the Parliament of November 1554 he was approached by the 2nd Earl of Sussex, on behalf of the Queen, to lend his support to the crown’s nominees. Yarmouth may have been closed to Woodhouse by the town’s restriction, perhaps in deference to the government’s wishes, of its representation to townsmen, and elsewhere the 4th Duke of Norfolk, to whom Woodhouse had probably yet to commend himself, was beginning to reassert the patronage lost during his grandfather’s eclipse under Edward VI. For the first four years of the reign, moreover, the country was at peace: it was not until the outbreak of war in 1557 again focussed attention on the army and navy that Woodhouse reappeared in the Commons, this time as a knight of the shire. By then he had established the close connexion with the duke which he was to maintain for the rest of his life. On a copy of the list of Members of this Parliament Woodhouse’s name is one of those marked with a circle.10

Woodhouse died on 22 Nov. 1564.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first office. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 320; CPR, 1550-3, pp. 272, 329; E150/648/2; PCC 6 Morrison; LP Hen. VIII, xix.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xxi; EHR, xxiii. 747; CPR, 1549-51, p. 308; 1550-3, p. 403; 1553, p. 356; 1553-4, p. 22; Mariner’s Mirror, xiv. 30, 42-43, 51; HCA 14/2.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, viii, ix, xvii.
  • 5. APC, i. 60, 344; LP Hen. VIII, xviii-xxi; Mariner’s Mirror, xiv. 42-43.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; CSP Scot. i. 14; APC, ii. 415; iii. 37, 77; vi. 233, 236; vii. 82; CPR, 1557-8, p. 193; 1558-60, p. 176; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 203.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, ix, xi, xvii, xx; APC, iv. 250; CPR, 1547-8, p. 373; 1548-9, p. 86; 1549-51, p. 308; 1550-3, p. 29; 1554-5, p. 56; 1560-3, pp. 103, 338; E150/648/2; PCC 6 Morrison.
  • 8. F. W. Russell, Kett’s Rebellion, 209; Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, i. 195; APC, iv. 305.
  • 9. C.J. Palmer, Gt. Yarmouth, 197; Gt. Yarmouth ass. bk. A, ff. 3, 77v, 102v.
  • 10. Strype, Cranmer, i. 493-4; A. Hassell Smith, County and Ct. 39, 41; Wm. Salt Lib. SMS 264.
  • 11. E150/648/2.