FRERE, William (d.1612), of Oxford and Water Eaton, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

1st. s. of Edward Frere of Oxford by Anne, da. of John Bustard of Adderbury. m. 1560, Mary (d.1573), da. and coh. of William Bamfield of Turnworth, Dorset, at least 2s. 4da. suc. fa. 1565.1

Offices Held

Hanaster (freeman, paying guild merchant fee) of Oxford 1571, member of mayor’s council by 1583-1603; j.p. Oxon. from c.1591, sheriff 1596-7.2


Frere’s grandfather was a brewer who speculated in Oxford monastic property and was mayor of the city seven times. Some of the family remained Catholic, and a William Frere of Oxford, ‘worth £2,000’, was reported in 1577 for not going to church. Frere probably carried on the family trade, though later in life he spent much of his time at Water Eaton, an estate three miles outside Oxford. Within the city he owned the site and demesnes of the convent of Augustinian Friars, which the corporation bought from him about 1586 for over £600. He had at least one other house in the city sufficiently large and well furnished to accommodate Lord Knollys, the high steward, when he stayed at Oxford in 1611.3

Frere was a member of the mayor’s council for over 20 years. In September 1581 the corporation agreed that he need not wear a scarlet gown, and would not be forced to serve as mayor or alderman. A dispute between him and other members of the council was settled on 18 Sept. 1583, when the mayor

alderman [William] Noble and Mr. Frere agreed ... to remit every one to the other all quarrels and controversies betwixt them for any words spoken or imprisonment suffered before this day.

Frere was involved in the rivalry between city and university; in October 1586 he was one of the 58 burgesses who with three aldermen refused to take the oath to respect university privileges. The corporation, who had had experience of his tenacity in disputes, appointed him in June 1599 as one of two commissioners to take the city’s answer to a Chancery bill about common land. Early in James I’s reign Frere resigned his position on the city council as

he thinketh fit in his conscience that such only should be of the thirteen [assistants to the mayor] that shall take upon them the office of mayor and alderman ... which the whole house gainsaid and entreated him to the contrary, but he would not be entreated; so the house granted to his request and he actually resigned.

Until his death his name appears, with the recorder’s, after those of the first thirteen councilmen.4

Frere’s year as sheriff coincided with serious riots in the county caused by economic depression. He had made his Water Eaton estate profitable by ditching and draining, and the villagers claimed he had enclosed common land. A witness examined in January 1597, after the disturbances had been suppressed, stated that Frere had ‘destroyed the whole town of Water Eaton’, and admitted that the rioters had intended to ‘spoil’ his house. The attorney-general brought an enclosure case against Frere and others in the Star Chamber, still unsettled in February 1598, with Frere still claiming that the district had profited by his improvements and that no one had suffered injury.5

Frere died on 7 Feb. 1612. His will, made less than a fortnight before, has a preamble commending his soul to God

with full hope and certain knowledge and belief to have remission for my manifold sins ... by the only death and passion of my blessed Saviour ... and by no other means.

He left £600 to each of his three grand-daughters, and gave nearly £40 in legacies to the poor of Oxford, Water Eaton, Godford and Kidlington, and £5 to the provost of Oriel, who was appointed overseer of the will. The testator’s son Edward, aged about 44, was the executor and residuary legatee. Frere was buried at All Saints’, Oxford, on the day after his death; his inquisition post mortem was taken on 5 Nov.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C142/326/64; Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 138-9; Three Oxon. Parishes (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxiv), 108; Antiqs. Oxf. (ibid. xxxvii), 154, 210.
  • 2. W. H. Turner, Oxford Recs. 338; Oxf. Council Acts (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxvii), 2, 157.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xix(2), p. 86; Antiqs. Oxf. 153; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii. 99; Oxf. Topog. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxix), 132-3; Oxf. Council Acts, 212-13.
  • 4. Oxf. Recs. 415, 434; Reg. Oxf. Univ. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. x), 305; Oxf. Council Acts, 125, 157, 170.
  • 5. Three Oxon. Parishes, 105; St. Ch. 5/A11/9, A50/32; APC, xxvi. 438, 449; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 343, 345.
  • 6. PCC 13 Fenner; Antiqs. Oxf. 212; C142/326/64.