WAAD, William (1546-1623), of Belsize House, Hampstead, Mdx. and Battles Hall, Essex.

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. 1546, 1st s. of Armagil Waad by his 1st w.; bro. of Thomas. educ. G. Inn 1571. m. (1) 1586, Anne (d.1589), da. and h. of Owen Waller of London, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) c.1599, Anne, da. and coh. of Sir Humphrey Browne, j.c.p., 1s. at least 8da. suc. fa. 1568. Kntd. 20 May 1603.2

Offices Held

Servant of Burghley by 1576; diplomatic agent in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands between 1576 and 1587; sec. to Walsingham 1581; clerk of PC 1582-1613; j.p. Mdx. from 1591; commr. musters c.1595; commissary gen. of England; muster master for troops for Low Countries 1600; inspector of Irish forces; eccles. commr. diocese of Canterbury by 1603; lt. of the Tower 1605-13; member, council of Virginia Co. 1609.3


Waad’s father was well known to Sir William Cecil, with whom he worked on the Council in Edward VI’s time, and Waad’s own close relations with Cecil and his circle were doubtless responsible for his return for three duchy of Lancaster boroughs during Elizabeth’s reign. He seems to have had no direct connexion with Sir Ralph Sadler, chancellor of the duchy in 1584, but in 1589 the chancellor was his old master Walsingham, who had tried unsuccessfully to have him returned for Gatton in the previous Parliament. In 1601 Sir Robert Cecil used a blank return to nominate him at Preston. His name occurs once only in each of his Parliaments; he was on a committee concerning the letters patent of Queen’s College, Oxford, 5 Feb. 1585; on a conference concerned with dress, 29 Mar. 1589; and on 17 Dec. 1601 he was nominated to distribute the collection for the poor.4

Waad’s usefulness to the government was largely due to his fluency in French and other European languages, and to the experience he gained of continental courts in more than ten years of almost constant service abroad. He seems to have begun his travels, possibly sponsored as a future government agent by Burghley or Walsingham, soon after leaving Gray’s Inn, and between September 1574, when he wrote to the lord treasurer from Paris, and June 1587 (the date of his return from a last mission to France), he must have conducted more difficult negotiations than almost any other government official below the rank of ambassador. After some time in France, where Sir Amias Paulet employed him and in 1576 took him in his train to Blois, he continued his journey to Italy, sending Burghley news of the large numbers of troops being raised there in 1580 for the service of Philip II: he reported that they were almost certainly to be used to further Philip’s claims to the throne of Portugal. Instructions survive for Waad as ambassador to Portugal in 1580, but there is no evidence that he went. His letters to the lord treasurer, with their constant expressions of gratitude for favours and fear lest he should have incurred Burghley’s displeasure, suggest that he owed his advancement, after the death of both his parents in 1568, to Cecil patronage—an interpretation borne out by contemporary comments. Thomas Digges, with whom he quarrelled at one time, described him to Burghley as ‘a gentleman by your lordship advanced and favoured’. Waad carried out personal commissions for Burghley abroad, or procured for him presents which he knew would suit his tastes—during his Italian journey he sent him over 50 kinds of rare seeds—but, if he is to be believed, he did not try to exploit this relationship with Elizabeth’s chief minister for his personal profit. Writing to Sir Robert Cecil in 1593 to further his petition for a relatively unimportant wardship, he claimed that it was the first favour of this kind that he had ever asked from Burghley.5

His early work on the Continent evidently convinced the government that he was a vigorous and efficient agent, and after a short time in England as one of Walsingham’s secretaries he was sent abroad again—with Lord Willoughby to Denmark and then, within three years, on three exceptionally delicate missions. In January 1584 he went to Madrid in a hopeless attempt to explain the expulsion from England of the Spanish ambassador, Mendoza, and was himself expelled from Spain. In the following year he was sent to Mary Queen of Scots, who was in the Earl of Shrewsbury’s charge at Sheffield, to induce her to come to terms with Elizabeth. She objected to his breaking into a conversation which she was carrying on in French, telling him that ‘he was not of calling to reason with her’. Waad, according to his own story, retorted that he was not of calling either ‘to hear his own mistress found fault with’, and that there were ‘few princes in Christendom who would not have made shorter work with her’. Another assignment came his way in March 1585—a journey to France to persuade the government to surrender the English conspirator, Thomas Morgan. Here again he had to leave without achieving his purpose. On his way back to the coast he became involved in an affray with the Duc d’Aumale and his men, in which he received a severe beating. He was also employed in Germany, Vienna and the Netherlands. He played a prominent part, during the Babington affair, in the seizure of Mary Stuart’s papers from Chartley, and the arrest of her secretaries—a task for which he received a reward of £30. His last, and perhaps his most thankless, assignment abroad was in February 1587, when he went once more to France to explain the reason for the execution of Mary, and to demand the recall of the French ambassador in London, who was suspected of complicity in the Stafford plot. With his usual courage and persistence, he at last achieved the audience with the French king which was for some time refused him, and finally returned, in June, to report negotiations over British and French shipping.6

Between this date and the end of Elizabeth’s reign, he was employed largely in tracking down plots against the state, or in examining recusants and suspected traitors. He was at times as rigorous and brutal as Richard Topcliffe, who described him to Sir Robert Cecil as a ‘good ancient friend’. Waad was prepared to recommend torture, or to carry out examinations with its help, but he showed a trace of humanity in objecting to further proceedings against an old man who was ‘surely crazed’ and could not be dangerous. He played a large part in the inquiries into the Lopez affair, and assisted Sir Robert Cecil and Edward Coke to draw up an account of it for publication. He was also active against the Essex conspirators in 1601.7

His career during the reign of James I, when he was returned to Parliament at a by-election for a Cornish borough, lies outside the scope of this biography. He was dismissed from his office of lieutenant of the Tower on trumped-up charges in 1613, the Countess of Essex finding his integrity an obstacle to her proposed murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. One set of Waad’s letters during this period to the Earl of Salisbury, describes in charming detail the behaviour of a lioness and her cubs he had ‘watched a great while’ at the Tower.8

The majority of references to Waad are concerned with his official work, including the routine duties of his clerkship of the Council—another office which he was forced to resign in 1613, when his great patron, Salisbury, was no longer alive to protect his interests. Comparatively little is known about his private or domestic life. He seems to have lived mainly at Belsize House, Hampstead, which his father had leased from the dean and chapter of St. Paul’s, and he also held the manor of Manuden or Battles Hall, Essex, from the duchy of Lancaster honour of Mandevill. His first wife inherited lands in East Ham, and Waad was involved in complicated lawsuits over the property. He was granted several patents and monopolies, probably the most rewarding being one, jointly with a jeweller Henry Mekins alias make sulphur, brimstone and oil: he still held this in 1601. With these, and the perquisites of office, he was obviously a very wealthy man.9

The picture of Waad which emerges from the official records is that of an energetic, efficient servant of the state, who sometimes regretted that, like (Sir) Christopher Hatton I, he was unable to spend more time on his estates. Waad wrote to Walter Cope on 8 Sept. 1602:

I sought you yesterday in the afternoon at London before I went forth of the town 30 miles to a little farm I have in Essex for a sevennight, where I have not been these seven or eight years.

As an ambitious official he obviously came under fire from such men as Lord Cobham at the time of the ‘main’ and ‘bye’ plots.10

Several of his letters refer to ill health, generally in the form of minor disorders—fits of ague, a ‘vehement and grievous indisposition in my stomach’, or a face ‘so swollen with toothache as I am not fit to come abroad, wherewith of late I have been miserably tormented’. He must, however, had had a strong constitution to endure the strain and discomfort of constant travel and ceaseless activity in public affairs. He lived to be over 75—by contemporary standards a considerable age—dying at Battles Hall in October 1623. His will, drawn up in 1618, was proved by the heir, his second son, James, still a minor when the will was made. Waad left £100 a year for sending him to a university or inn of court, to be trained as a civilian or common lawyer. He asked the lords of the Council to help his family if there should be trouble over the execution of the will, since he was an ‘ancient servitor ... at this time the most ancient in the kingdom’ who had given 30 years’ service as a clerk, and whose father had held the same position. After instructions about the disposal of his goods, and the care of his daughter Anne ‘in respect of her infirmity’, Waad commended his soul

into the hands and great mercy of my sweet Saviour and Redeemer our Lord and merciful God Christ Jesus, by whose death and passion, through His sufferings and precious blood, I do hope, and leave this world with assured belief to receive pardon of my grievous and manifold sins.

There was to be no ‘solemnity of funeral charges’.

He was buried in Manuden church, his epitaph advising servants of the Crown to set their conscience and care

By this true watch of state; whose minutes were Religious thoughts; whose hours heaven’s sacred food; Whose hand still pointed to the kingdom’s good And sovereign safety; whom ambitious key Never wound up to guiltiness, bribe or fee. Zeal only, and a conscience clear and even

Raised him on earth, and wound him up to heaven.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 33; PCC 20 Alenger, 116 Swann.
  • 3. DNB; HMC Hatfield, ii. 254-5, 322; xv. 233; EHR, xxxviii. 56; APC, xxiii. 258; xxv. 156; xxx. 667; Morant, Essex, ii. 620.
  • 4. Neale, Commons, 188; D’Ewes, 346, 454, 687.
  • 5. CSP Ven. 1581-91, pp. 475-533 passim; Lansd. 23, f. 172; 72, f. 176; HMC Hatfield, ii. 254; iv. 488.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 198; Birch, Mems. i. 24, 31, 45, 48; CSP Span. 1580-6, pp. 516, 520-1, 625-6; Froude, Hist. xi. 448-51; xii. 160 seq.; APC, xiv. 211; CSP Ven. 1581-91, loc. cit.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, iv. 242; v. 491; vii. 33, 203, 253, 257-8, 260; viii. 414; ix. 209; CSP Dom. 1591-1603, passim.
  • 8. DNB; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 384-5, 397-8, 402-3; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 452.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 198; DNB (Waad, Armagil); Morant, Essex, ii. 620-1; APC, xiv. 235; xviii. 105; xxv. 444-5; Lansd. 22, f. 78; 58, f. 174; 114, ff. 104 seq.; D’Ewes, 650; Neale, Commons, 335; King’s Lynn congregation bk. 1569-91, f. 389v.
  • 10. DNB; HMC Hatfield, xii. 356.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, iv. 424; ix. 209; xvii. 384-5 seq.; PCC 116 Swann; Morant, Essex, ii. 620.