GODWYN, Thomas (b.bef.1561), of Barnwell, Som.

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

b. bef. 1561, 1st s. of Thomas Godwyn, bp. of Bath and Wells 1584-90, by Isabel, da. of Nicholas Purfrey of Shelston, Bucks. m. (1) Frances (d.1588); (2) Margaret, da. of William Bowerman of Wells.

Offices Held

Porter of the south gate, Canterbury 1578; collector of tithes and subsidies, diocese of Wells 1586; freeman, Wells 1586.


In 1584 Godwyn’s father, a widower aged 67, suffering from gout and ague, and with a grown-up family, was rewarded for several years’ service as dean of Canterbury by being made bishop of Bath and Wells. Godwyn himself, who at Canterbury had risen no higher than porter of the south gate, now obtained opportunities for financial advancement of which he quickly availed himself in partnership with his enterprising brother-in-law Thomas Purfrey, the pair gradually taking over the management of the bishop’s affairs in Somerset and acquiring for themselves leases of episcopal estates on favourable terms. As a side line they obtained (December 1587) the four grist mills in Wells known as the In Mills and the Out Mills. Even the demesne lands of the manor of Wells fell into their hands through a grant, 27 Apr. 1588, of a 21-year lease of various closes normally reserved for the maintenance of the bishop’s household. These they promptly assigned to others ‘for a great sum of money’. The bishop, too, was quite in their hands, and leased the manor of Wiveliscombe to his son despite the Queen’s wish that Sir Walter Ralegh should have it; she forbade the dean and chapter to put their seal to the lease.

Through the influence of his father Godwyn was once, but only once, returned to Parliament for Wells, presenting the corporation with 12 pairs of gloves on being admitted a freeman. In 1588 the city authorities, still attempting to obtain a new charter, offered him £100 and £10 for three years if he ‘obtained the goodwill’ of the bishop. They obtained their charter, which was fortunate for Godwyn, who would otherwise have had to return the money, with 10% interest, for by this time he was in the hands of the London moneylenders and defaulting in his payments to the Exchequer as collector of clerical subsidies and tenths. He sold his father’s plate while the old man still lived, and on the day of his death a horde of relatives and hangers-on helped Godwyn to remove everything of value, clothes, linen, silver, pewter, furniture, pictures, books and farm stock, before the sheriff or special commissioners could arrive—as arrive they did, too late—to extend the property for the debts due to the Crown. Godwyn first decamped to Waverley, Surrey, possibly to visit a Mr. Pike, who acquired some of the bishop’s plate, and he then vanished, possibly abroad. Inquiries into the bishop’s assets continued into the reign of James I. All the leases held by Godwyn and Purfrey were confiscated, and Godwyn’s patent as receiver was suspended by the new dean.1

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.


This biography is based on E. M. Hembry ‘Bps. of Bath and Wells’ (London Univ. PhD thesis, 1956), 200-58, and ‘The death of Thomas Godwyn, bp. of Bath and Wells’, Procs. Som. Arch. Nat. Hist. Soc. xcvi. 78-107.

  • 1. E178/1966; Wells Charters (Som. Rec. Soc. xlvi), 189; HMC 10th Rep. III, ii. 307, 311, 312, 319.