LEWIN, William (c.1545-98), of London and Otterden, Kent.

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. c.1545, s. of Edmund1 Lewin of Cuffley, Herts. by Juliana, da. of William Gooch of Good Easter, Essex. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1559, BA 1562, MA 1565, LLD 1576; DCL Oxford 1582. m. Anne, da. of Francis Goldsmith of London and Crayford, Kent, 4s. 7da.2

Offices Held

Fellow, Christ’s Camb. 1562-71; proctor, Camb. Univ. 1568, public orator 1570-1; dean of the peculiars to abp. of Canterbury 1576-83; judge of PCC from 1576; commissary of the faculties, see of Canterbury; dean of the arches from 1577; chancellor, diocese of Rochester by 1580; prebendary, Chichester from 1581, eccles. commr. by 1581; j.p.q. Kent by 1583; commr. inquiry St. Asaph 1584, prebendary from 1587; master in Chancery from 1593.3


Lewin, of humble origin, had a brilliant career at Cambridge and became an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer. By special permission he received his first degree after only eight terms, and became a fellow of his college while still in his teens. Among his contemporaries at Christ’s were three future bishops of the Anglican church, this being a decade before puritanism began to take hold of that college. By the time he took his doctorate Lewin was known to courtiers such as Burghley, Walsingham and Archbishop Grindal, having been chosen to deliver a Latin address to Elizabeth on the occasion of her visit to Cambridge in 1564, and having acquired the post of tutor to Burghley’s daughter Ann. Some authorities date the appointment as early as 1565 when she was nine, but the positive evidence dates from 1576, by which time she was married to the Earl of Oxford, and asking her father to recommend Lewin to the Queen. In fact, his name may already have meant something to the Queen, for his cousin Elizabeth Lewin was one of her nurses when she was a child, and Thomas Lewin, her brother, had also been in the Princess’s household. The tutor wrote to the lord treasurer in flattering terms, referring to his pupil as ‘my lady, the goodness of whose both wit and nature is from you, her father derived’. This tone is repeated in other letters from Lewin to Burghley: as early as 1567, in letters composed in Latin, he was extolling Burghley’s patronage of learning and gratefully acknowledging the facility of access to him which he allowed members of the university. Twenty years later Burghley was still ‘my singular good lord’.4

Lewin worked under both Grindal and Whitgift, acquiring a reputation for honesty and integrity. Perhaps the most important ecclesiastical court over which he presided was the court of arches, an office which came to him remarkably quickly. In his will he asks

the advocates of the arches that if, in the execution of mine office, I have seemed somewhat strict unto them, that they will impute it to the desire I had that causes might proceed in an ... orderly and speedy course.

Among his close colleagues in the church were Richard Bancroft, with whom he was given an honorary admission to Gray’s Inn in 1589, John Young, bishop of Rochester, whose chancellor he became, and William Hughes, bishop of St. Asaph, whose pluralism had singled him out for particularly vehement puritan attack. Lewin himself held the most profitable prebend in Hughes’s see.5

The date of Lewin’s first appearance on the ecclesiastical commission is not known. His academic qualifications and his orthodox religious views made him a suitable choice in a period when ecclesiastical judges were increasingly influencing the commission’s procedure. In the last 20 years of the century he took part in several of the most controversial and significant sittings of the commission, including the appearance of Thomas Cartwright in 1591 for refusing to take the ex officio oath. Lewin dwelt on the point that the oath came from the temporal power, and a refusal to take it was dangerous. Lewin was also on the commissions to examine John Penry (charged with slandering the government and publishing treason and heresy) and Robert Cawdry, in what proved to be a test case on the validity of the oath. On this latter occasion, when a particularly formidable body of examiners was present, Lewin played only a minor role. He was also involved in several of the inquiries concerned with the publication of the Marprelate Tracts, and acted as a censor for school textbooks.6

As might be expected, Lewin’s parliamentary career shows him to have supported government policy in the Commons. Though several Rochester Members owed their seats during the last quarter of the century to Lord Cobham, and Lewin was indeed on good terms with that nobleman, he owed his return to three consecutive Parliaments to his own standing with the Rochester corporation as chancellor of the diocese. In the 1586 Parliament he was appointed to the committee on Mary Queen of Scots (22 Nov.), and on that to see that ‘some good course might be taken to have a learned ministry’ (8 Mar. 1587). His only recorded activity in the Parliament of 1589 was his appointment to the subsidy committee (11 Feb.) and he was also on the subsidy committee in his next Parliament (26, 28 Feb. 1593). On 27 Feb. 1593 he presented the government case against James Morice’s attack on the ex officio oath, defending the need for bishops and refuting Morice’s condemnation of the commission and of the oath under the three headings of Inquisition, Subscription and Absolution. Inquisition he defended, firstly because ‘it had been so long used, and in the greatest monarchies allowed’, secondly because it was infinitely preferable to the previous method of trial by accusation, and thirdly because it was lawful by ecclesiastical and common law. Subscription was permitted, even in the church at Geneva, and Absolution was ‘no other than the common law’. Lewin was appointed to the committee on the bill against recusants (28 Feb.), and, predictably, argued on 13 Mar. that puritan deviants should be brought within its scope as well as Catholics. He returned to the charge on 4 Apr. He did not sit in the Commons in 1597, but acted as a receiver of petitions in the Lords.7

Lewin purchased his main estate of Otterden from Sir Humphrey Gilbert. The dean and chapter of Rochester had owned land there since 1542. He contributed money towards local defence, especially in the critical years before 1588, and in 1593, but was not an active local justice. He died 15 Apr. 1598 and was buried at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch. A monument was erected in Otterden church.8

Lewin’s will, dated 15 Nov. 1597 and proved 23 May 1598, gives instructions for the welfare of his wife and three surviving sons. He left money or gifts to his old college, Christ’s, to the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Rochester, ‘my special good lord’ the Earl of Oxford, to several of his colleagues in the church courts, to many relatives and servants, and to the poor of Otterden. He asked Dr. (later Sir Nicholas) Donne to educate his son Justinian in civil law at All Souls; another son, Thomas, was to study divinity, but only if he so desired, and Lewin expressed the hope that the archbishop might teach him himself. Burghley was singled out for ‘his lordship’s ancient goodness and favour to me’. Lewin hoped that a procuratorship in the court of arches could be found for his pupil, John Lear. One passage reads:

Because I am doubtful how safely my wife may keep such ready money, credits and revenues as are ... appointed to come to her hands during her widowhood ... all such ready money ... before assigned to the education and advancement of my children ... shall be bestowed and kept in mine iron chest and three locks and keys, whereof the greater to be kept in the custody of my wife and the other two in the several custodies of Dr. Donne and my brother Anthony Luther in such safe house and place as they shall agree upon.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Cooper, Ath. Cant. ii. 245, gives the father’s name as John.
  • 2. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 103; Ath. Cant. ii. 245; J. Peile, Biog. Reg. Christ’s, i. 69, Christ’s, 74; T. E. Watson, Fam. of Lewen, 146.
  • 3. Peile, Christ’s, 80; Al. Cant. i(3), p. 80; Gabriel Harvey, Letter Bk. (Cam. Soc. xxxiii. n.s.), 7; Lansd. 22, f. 52; C. Coote, Civilians, 52; Arch. Cant. xxiv. 165; G. Hennessy, Chichester Diocese Clergy Lists, 17; Royal 18 D 111, f. 23; Strype, Whitgift, i. 411; CSP Dom 1591-4, p. 311; G. Inn Adm. Reg. 74.
  • 4. Peile, Christ’s, 74; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.) ser. 2, 276-9, 281-4; Nichols, Progresses Eliz. iii. 32; Arch. Cant. xxiv. 98; Strype, Annals, iii(i), p. 82; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 291, 302.
  • 5. Lansd. 39, f. 163; PCC 1 Lewyn.
  • 6. R. G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 305, 354; Strype, Aylmer, 55-6, 60, 84-97; Lansd. 68, ff. 114-16; A. F. S. Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and English Puritanism, 458-463; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 74-81; iii. 232-5; B. Brook, Memoir of Thomas Cartwright, 346-51; W. Pierce, John Penry, 174-6; APC, xviii. 225-6; xix. 292-3; E. Arber, Marprelate Tracts, 169-72.
  • 7. HMC 5th Rep. 138, 139; Arch. Cant. ii. 81; D’Ewes, 405, 413, 431, 474, 495, 477, 478, 500, 507, 517, 525.
  • 8. Hasted, Kent, v. 536, 537, 542, 546, 548; Twysden Lieutenancy Pprs. 1583-1668, ed. Thomson, 100; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 46.
  • 9. PCC 1 Lewyn; Peile, Christ’s, 69-70.