PARRY, Sir Thomas (1510-60), of Welford, Berks. and Oakley Park, Glos.

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



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. c.1510, 1st s. of Henry Vaughan of Brec. by Gwenllian, da. of William ap Grene or Grono of Brecon. m. c.1540, Anne, da. of Sir William Reade of Boarstall, Bucks., wid. of Sir Giles Greville and of Sir Adrian Fortescue of Shirburn and Stonor Place, Oxon., 2s. inc. Thomas 3da. Kntd. 1558.1

Offices Held

Servant of Thomas Cromwell by 1536-40; clerk of the Crown and peace in Glos. 1537-43; cofferer to Princess Elizabeth by 1548; PC and comptroller of the Household 20 Nov. 1558; treasurer of the Household Jan. 1559; steward of the possessions of Westminster abbey Feb. 1559; master of the ct. of wards Jan. or Apr. 1559; j.p. Bucks., Herts. from 1554, Berks., Glos. from 1559; ld. lt. jt. (with Sir Henry Neville I) Berks. Apr. 1560.2


Sir Thomas Parry, properly Sir Thomas ap Harry Vaughan, of an illegitimate branch of the Vaughans of Tretower, Breconshire, was one of the two most influential commoners in the realm between Elizabeth’s accession and his death in December 1560, only Sir William Cecil challenging him for the position of the Queen’s chief adviser. Parry’s rise has sometimes been regarded as dependent on that of Cecil, whose great-grandfather married a Vaughan; and it has been said that Cecil introduced Parry to court. In fact, the family relationship of the two men was distant and obscure, and there is no evidence of a connexion between them before Cecil’s earliest contacts with Elizabeth in 1549, which took place through Parry, her cofferer: it may have been Parry who introduced Cecil to the future Queen.3

It is certain that Parry was one of a number of gentlemen of Welsh descent who became prominent servants of the Tudors, a group which included John, Lord Williams of Thame, Oxfordshire, and William Cecil. As Princess Elizabeth’s cofferer (1548), Parry became keeper of Hatfield House, and of her property at Cholsey, near Wallingford, Berkshire, in which county he acquired considerable property of his own.4

In Mary’s reign, Parry, like Cecil, did not go into exile; during his mistress’s imprisonment at Woodstock he insisted, to the annoyance of the government, on staying at the Bull to look after Elizabeth’s affairs. There is evidence that he was instrumental in enlisting promises of military support to ensure Elizabeth’s succession when Mary should die. Thus, when his mistress became Queen, Parry was certain of a leading position in the government: the first entry among the Acts of the Privy Council, after Elizabeth’s proclamation, records that, at Hatfield, three days after Mary’s death, Sir Thomas Parry was by the Queen’s Majesty’s commandment and in her presence appointed by her Highness comptroller of the Household and sworn of her Highness’s Privy Council’. On the same day, Cecil was appointed principal secretary.5

The relative influence of Parry and Cecil in the next two years is difficult to gauge. Having risen through service in Elizabeth’s private household, rather than in offices of state, Parry seems to have been the least known of the new Privy Councillors. When listing them for his master, Feria, the Spanish ambassador, does not give Parry’s name, but describes him as the Queen’s ‘late cofferer, a fat man, whom your Majesty will have seen at Hampton Court’. A few weeks afterwards, the ambassador reported that the Queen’s ‘present comptroller, and secretary Cecil, govern the kingdom’; soon adding, however, that Cecil ‘is the man who does everything’. Feria thought he detected hostility between the Queen’s two chief advisers. In March 1559 he wrote that Cecil, ‘clever, mischievous and a heretic ... governs the Queen in spite of the treasurer, for they are not at all good friends and I have done what I can to make them worse’. Parry appeared to Feria to be the most moderate of the Council on religious questions: ‘although he is not so good a Catholic as he should be, he is the most reasonable of those near the Queen’. Lady Parry had been on good terms with Queen Mary, and a son by her first marriage, Anthony Fortescue, later became a Catholic exile. The Spanish ambassador naturally paid special attention to Parry and seems to have elicited from him an assurance that the Queen would not take the title: ‘Head of the Church’.6

Evidence more objective than Feria’s gossip suggests that Parry had a large part in the direction of financial business and advice on foreign policy; but there is no indication that he took a lead in the religious settlement. He was appointed master of the wards on the enforced surrender of that office by the Catholic Sir Francis Englefield, much as Englefield had been appointed to that crucial office at the beginning of Mary’s reign; and he was one of the very few in the secret of Elizabeth’s negotiations with the Scottish rebels. In the Parliament of 1559 to which he was returned as senior knight for Hertfordshire, presumably because of his position at Hatfield, he headed the committee on the subsidy (30 Jan. 1559), which was also commissioned to decide on the validity of the Parliament, summoned by a writ in which supremum caput was omitted from the Queen’s titles. He took a prominent part in procedural matters in this Parliament, sending at least 15 bills to the Lords, arranging for the Speaker to be presented to the Queen and being named to at least two committees, for allowances to sheriffs (1 Mar. 1559) and about the bishop of Winchester’s lands (6 Mar.). As Privy Councillor he was also appointed to the committee concerning the petition to the Queen to marry (6 Feb.). He is not recorded as speaking in this Parliament.7

There is some evidence that Parry was—or was thought to be—the chief advocate of a plan to marry Elizabeth to Robert Dudley. Late in November 1560, an agent of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, the English ambassador in Paris, who was a vigorous critic of Elizabeth’s relations with Dudley, reported:

Mr. Treasurer received your lordship’s letter very thankfully, but when I went from him, and he had read it over, he was clean changed and not over-courteous. He fell sick the next day, so as I could not speak unto him, and I do well know that letter and the matter of the other were the occasion of his evil. He is half ashamed of his doings for the Lord Robert.

Soon afterwards Parry died, unexpectedly and intestate, on 15 Dec., the Spanish ambassador attributing his death to grief at the course of the affair between Elizabeth and Dudley. Cecil had recently returned from his mission to Scotland—during which Parry had been dealing with the correspondence—and his opposition to the Dudley match was beginning to be felt; the Queen was less decided than ever, and in November was reported to have torn up a patent of peerage drafted for Dudley. It may be true that Parry was losing ground to Cecil before his death.8

Parry’s lands, augmented by new grants from Elizabeth in Gloucestershire and Berkshire, descended to his son Thomas, aged 19, who became ambassador to France at the end of Elizabeth’s reign and a Privy Councillor under James I. Some of Parry’s influence was probably inherited by his stepson, John Fortescue I, who was made keeper of the great wardrobe on Elizabeth’s accession, sat twice as burgess for Wallingford, and became one of the Queens most trusted servants. Parry was buried in Westminster abbey.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. DNB; DWB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 191; LP Hen. VIII, xv. 510; C142/129/95.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xii(2), p. 82; APC, ii. 240; vii. 3; CPR , 1553-4, pp. 17, 20; 1558-60, pp. 12, 27, 60, 102; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 40; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 128, 152; NRA, D/DBy/1.
  • 3. T. Jones, Brec. iii. 174-5; Lansd. 102, f. 205; HMC Hatfield, i. 101, 114; Read, Cecil, 64, 118.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xi. 152; xiii(1), pp. 100, 342; xiii(2), p. 409; xiv(2), pp. 321, 330; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 28; VCH Berks. ii. 105; iii. 297; iv. 59, 117-18, 122, 170.
  • 5. Norf. Arch. Soc. iv. 155, 161, 171, 177, 187; Bath mss, Thynne Pprs. 3, ff. 21, 23, 24; Neale, Essays, 49; APC, vii. 3.
  • 6. CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 2, 7, 10, 37, 38, 96.
  • 7. J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, 244-6; APC, vii. 27, 38; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 162; HMC Hatfield, i. 151, 232; ii. 185; Read, i. 148, 156; D’Ewes, 45; CJ, i. 53, 54, 55, 56, 58.
  • 8. Hardwicke State Pprs. i. 168; CSP For. 1560-1, p. 96; PCC admon. act bk. 1559-71, f. 22; CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 180; Read, i. 221.
  • 9. C142/129/95; VCH Berks. iv. 56-7, 181; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 113.