TOMSON, Laurence (1539-1608), of London; later of Laleham, Mdx.

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. 1539, of a Northants. family. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1556, BA 1559, MA 1564, fellow 1559-69; Heidelberg 1568. m. Jane, 1da.

Offices Held

Sec. to Francis Walsingham 1575-90.


Tomson’s parentage is obscure and the details of his later life are not known with certainty, but he stands out as an interesting figure among Elizabethan MPs. His epitaph in the church at Chertsey suggests an imposing list of accomplishments. He could speak 12 languages; had travelled in Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and France; was versed in theology and ‘literaturae politioris scientiae’; and had lectured on the Hebrew tongue in Geneva. Perhaps he first intended to follow an academic career. The only incident in his early life which suggests more worldly interests is his visit to France in the suite of Sir Thomas Hoby, the English ambassador in 1566. In May 1565 his college granted Tomson permission to study on the Continent for a year, his leave later being extended until July 1567. It is possible that he spent part of his time in Geneva, but in March 1568 he and three other Englishmen matriculated at Heidelberg. He was to be a Calvinist for the rest of his life. Already before his travels, he no doubt had puritan sympathies, which he perhaps derived from the master of Magdalen, Laurence Humfrey, for whom Tomson had voted in the election of 1561. In 1569 Tomson resigned his fellowship at Magdalen—it is not known whether he returned to England in that year—and by November 1572 he was living in Leicester, a puritan stronghold under the protection of the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. Tomson was, at this time, a correspondent of Anthony Gilby, who was protected by Huntingdon when he advocated puritan views at Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Another friend was Huntingdon’s brother, Francis Hastings, whom Tomson later coupled with Walsingham in the dedication of his translation of Beza’s New Testament (1576). The letters Tomson wrote to Gilby show him to have been writing for the secret puritan printing press, including a reply to Whitgift’s Answer to the first puritan Admonition to Parliament. Tomson’s last letter to Gilby from Leicester was written in April 1573. In June 1575 he was said to be ‘attendant’ on Walsingham, and he was probably appointed one of his secretaries early that year, for in December 1586 he stated that he had held the office for almost 12 years. A matter of interest to both Tomson and Walsingham that occurred soon after the former’s appointment was the dissension at Magdalen College, originating in a disagreement between the master and some of the senior members of the college, as a result of which three fellows were expelled. Tomson wrote to the master urging him to take a more lenient course, and Walsingham was asked to write to the bishop of Winchester, the visitor of the college. Their intervention was resented by some of the fellows. Three years later an informant wrote to Tomson that some of them

speak their pleasure against you after their bitter manner of carping, saying that you go about to seek the ruin of our Church and established religion under the presence of reformation, the subversion of our colleges, namely of our famous and noble mother Magdalen College, the alienation, sale and spoil of our lands, farms and possessions appertaining to the same, and your reason should be for that as monasteries, so also colleges were erected by Papists.

The writer added that if they dared they would have said the same about Walsingham.

Tomson accompanied Walsingham, and William Brooke, 10th Lord Cobham, to the Netherlands in 1578, and while staying in Antwerp they worshipped in the Merchant Adventurers’ church, for which Tomson and William Davison had provided a minister, Walter Travers. When the Merchant Adventurers suspended Travers for deviating from the prayer book, both Tomson and Walsingham wrote to Davison to support the minister, and at the same time requested the States to confirm the reformed character of the church.2

In 1580 Walsingham sent Tomson to Boulogne to interview a papal agent who had information to sell about Esme Stuart’s activities in Scotland. England’s trade with the Hanse towns also came within the purview of Tomson’s work for Walsingham.3

Tomson’s parliamentary career coincides exactly with his period of service under Walsingham. Both men came into the 1572 Parliament at a by-election in 1576, and both sat in each subsequent Parliament until Walsingham’s death, so it is a fair inference that Walsingham wished Tomson to be of the House, albeit his own interest in the Commons was slight. It was actually the 2nd Earl of Bedford who provided the seat for Tomson, at Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. He naturally became involved in the dispute over the unification of the two towns. In 1581 Weymouth was attempting to have the 1571 Act repealed, in the face of opposition from Melcombe. It was stated that while Tomson was no enemy to Melcombe he would not venture to displease Bedford. At the next election Tomson was insured against losing the seat by being returned at Poole through the Earl of Leicester. In the event he was returned for Weymouth and Melcombe, and again in 1586. In 1588 Tomson was returned for Downton, probably through the offices of Thomas Wilkes, another of Walsingham’s servants.

Tomson’s name is recorded on one committee in his first session, 7 Mar. 1576, on a bill to remove the benefit of clergy from rapists. In 1581 his committees were concerned with the subsidy (25 Jan. 1581), the bill against the Family of Love (16, 27 Feb.), the creditors of Sir Thomas Gresham (20 Feb.) and the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.). On 16 Dec. 1584 he was appointed to the committee to consider the petitions of unsatisfactory ministers. He described Whitgift’s answer to the petition drawn up by this committee as ‘rather a discourse than any resolution of a divine’, adding that it was not the practice in any church to demand a declaration of belief in all the articles of the religion. On 19 Feb. 1585 he was put on a committee dealing with the law on libel, and on 22 Mar. he was appointed to one concerning the ecclesiastical courts, which topic the Queen had already ordered the Commons to drop. No activity has been recorded for him in the 1589 Parliament.4

At Walsingham’s death Tomson retired from public life, spending his last 18 years at Laleham, the only surviving record of any dealings with the central government being an inquiry by Cecil in 1599 about some of Walsingham’s books and papers. Tomson died there 4 Apr. 1608, having made his will 18 Mar. Until his debts were paid his lands were to be held by his son-in-law Thomas Stapley, Tomson’s widow receiving £100 a year. Stapley proved the will on 18 Apr. 1608.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A. M. Mimardière


This biography is largely based upon DNB and A. F. S. Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism, 1535-1603.

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. C2Eliz./T10/46; Wood, Ath. Oxon. ii. 45; J. R. Bloxham, Reg. Magdalen Coll. iv. 113, 118, 138; SP12/103/62, 195/69; Reg. Magdalen Coll. ed. Macray, ii. 160; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 499; Collinson thesis, 128, n. 2, 370.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 448, 490; 1584-90, pp. 373, 659; 1595-7, p. 569; Read, Walsingham, ii. 372; D. H. Willson, King James VI and I, 32.
  • 4. Roberts thesis, 83-4, 191-2, 196, 204; Weymouth Charters, ed. Moule, 35; CJ, i. 111, 119, 120, 127, 128, 130, 134; D’Ewes, 288, 306, 340, 353, 371. 5 Wood, ii. 45; HMC Hatfield, ix. 29-30, 400; PCC 36 Windebanck.
  • 5. Wood, ii. 45; HMC Hatfield, ix. 29-30, 400; PCC 36 Windebanck.