WOTTON, Edward (1548-1628), of Boughton Malherbe, Kent and London.

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. 1548, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Thomas Wotton of Boughton Malherbe by Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Rudston, ld. mayor of London; half-bro of Sir Henry Wotton. educ. abroad. m. (1) 1 Sept. 1575, Hester (d. 8 May 1592), illegit. da. and h. of Sir William Pickering, of London and Yorkshire, at least 3s. 2da.; (2) Sept. 1603, Margaret (d.1659), da. of Philip, 3rd Baron Wharton and gd.-da. of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland. suc. fa. 1587. Kntd. 1592; cr. Baron Wotton 1603.

Offices Held

Ambassador to Portugal and Spain 1579, Scotland 1585, France 1586, 1610; gent. of privy chamber by 1589; comptroller of the Household 22 Dec. 1602-Nov. 1616; PC Dec. 1602-Apr. 1625; commr. of the Treasury 16 June 1612-14; treasurer of the Household Nov. 1616-Jan. 1618; j.p.q. Kent from c.1593, sheriff 1594-5, ld. lt. 20 Apr. 1604-May 1620; commr. trial of Ralegh 1603, against Jesuits 1603-22, recusant lands 1606, for the surrender of Flushing and Brill 1616, eccles. causes 1620.1


Wotton’s diplomatic career was in some respects similar to that of his Kent neighbour and friend, Sir Robert Sidney, though Sidney had advantages derived from the prestige of his father, Sir Henry, and the fame of his elder brother, while Wotton’s father was a country gentleman. After a period of study on the Continent learning French, Italian and Spanish, Wotton served as secretary to the embassy at Vienna in the winter of 1574-5. The young Philip Sidney was there also and records in his Defence of Poesie that they learned horsemanship together. Later, Sidney was to make Wotton a bequest in his will.2

In 1577 ‘young Mr. Wotton’ was appointed to meet the new French ambassador on his arrival in Kent, undertaking a similar task the following year. In 1579 he received his first important mission: to visit Lisbon to congratulate the King of Portugal on his accession, and, in view of the designs Philip of Spain was known to have on Portugal, to assess how secure he was on the throne. Wotton spent 10 days in Lisbon, sending home an appraisal of the chances of success of the three claimants to the throne, and concluding that Philip’s strength and resources were likely to prevail. On his way back he visited the King of Spain to convey a friendly greeting from Queen Elizabeth.3

In 1585 he went to Scotland to persuade James VI to join Elizabeth’s proposed protestant league of defence against the Catholic powers; if he could persuade the King to enter into a suitable marriage as well, so much the better. He was to hint at the prospect of an English pension. At first he made good progress, the King congratulating Elizabeth on her choice of ‘so honourable and so wise a gentleman’. But James, still only 19, was influenced by the Earl of Arran, who was hostile to England, and it was not long before one of Wotton’s pessimistic despatches produced a characteristic reaction:

Her Majesty hath written ... to the King, beginning her letter with her own hand in French, in most loving and motherly sort, but, before she had finished it, your advertisements made her forget her French clean and fall to as plain English as ever she wrote in her life, whereof I doubt not but you shall hear soon enough.

After Arran’s brother had insulted him in James’s presence, Wotton applied for his recall, evidently in fear for his own safety. By the time this was granted he had already fled to Berwick without taking leave of the King.4

Within two months Wotton’s name was being canvassed as a likely ambassador to France, and in October 1586 he set out. Armed with a dossier showing Mary’s approval of the Babington conspiracy, he tried to persuade the French King of Mary’s perfidy and Elizabeth’s good faith. Elizabeth later expressed disapproval of Wotton’s handling of the embassy, and it was the last he undertook for her, even declining a similar mission in 1601.5

After his succession to the family estates he was as much country gentleman as courtier. Already, in 1584, he had represented his county in Parliament, being named to two committees (Rochester bridge 5 Feb. 1585; shoemakers 9 Feb.). As knight of the shire he could have attended the subsidy committee on 24 Feb. 1585. Now he undertook many other duties in Kent, including the shrievalty and the organisation of military defences. The culmination of his work in the county came with the lord lieutenancy, which he received early in James’s reign. His patent of appointment was the first one specifically to exclude the Cinque Ports from his jurisdiction. In 1614 his name was suggested to fill the vacancy of lord warden, but his half-brother the diplomat and author, wrote:

My lord my brother will none of it (as I heard him seriously say) though it were offered him, for reasons which he reserveth in his own breast.6

During the last years of Elizabeth’s reign no lucrative court appointment came his way. Walsingham helped him to press a claim for a pension (with unknown result), and even his knighthood came late in life. The court was full of rumours of promotion, his name being mentioned as a possible secretary of state—he was confident of this in 1591—vice-chamberlain, lord warden of the Cinque Ports, and Privy Councillor. He himself sought the treasurership of the chamber from Burghley and was reported to have paid £1,000 to a lady at court to persuade the Earl of Essex to help him acquire a barony. Now that Walsingham was dead, he had to seek a patron elsewhere, and it was fortunate for him that by the time of Essex’s disgrace he had established himself as a supporter of Cecil and as a friend of his Kent neighbours, the Brooke-Cobhams. He played an active part in examining witnesses to Essex’s behaviour in the streets of London. At last, only a month or two before her death (and perhaps through the influence of Lady Walsingham), Elizabeth gave him the high office which he had sought so long, making him comptroller of her Household, accompanied by admission to the Privy Council.7

With James I’s accession Wotton became a prominent courtier, with a barony, lucrative offices and grants of land and revenues. So high was he in favour that in 1608 court opinion thought he was about to receive an earldom. On the death of the Earl of Salisbury he was one of the group of commissioners to whom the Treasury was entrusted, and in 1616 received his most profitable office, that of treasurer of the Household. Within two months of his appointment to this position he was negotiating its sale. However, attempts to secure a viscountcy as well as money failed, and opinion turned against him, John Chamberlain writing:

The world thinks somewhat hardly of the Lord Wotton that he would not rather prefer his brother, Sir Henry, to the place, and withal talk somewhat freely that offices of that nature and especially counsellorships should pass, as it were, by bargain and sale.

In January James summoned him to Theobalds to return his white staff of office. Wotton said he was too ill to come, the King replied that ‘his staff was not sick’. At last he obtained his £5,000, but not his promotion in the peerage.8

Wotton’s religious position is interesting. He was apparently making overtures to Rome from August 1610, the Pope agreeing in February 1612 that he should not be expected to give any public declaration of his renunciation of the established church. He continued to present to the livings under his control, and was even appointed a commissioner for ecclesiastical causes. The truth came out in 1624, when he made a full confession at Maidstone assizes, his widow later inscribing on his tomb the declaration that he ‘died a true Catholic of the Roman Church’. By James I’s death Wotton was a sick old man, and his dismissal from the Privy Council probably meant little to him. The year before, he had been permitted to absent himself from the House of Lords, and he now retired to his estates in Kent, whence he complained about his subsidy assessment being raised from £200 to £300, writing in his own hand, 7 Nov. 1626, to assert that he had had to become a debtor to pay the smaller amount. His life was saddened by the death of many of his family, including his eldest son Pickering. His own death occurred 4 May 1628, and he was buried at Boughton Maiherbe. Malherbe. On his son’s death in 1630, the title became extinct.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. DNB; CP; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 79; G. Inn Adm. Reg. 72; N. and Q. (ser. 7), x. 310; L. P. Smith, Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, i. 284; Add. 33924, f. 16; Hatfield ms 278; Rymer, Foedera, xvi. 489, 597, 691, 783; xvii. 93, 201, 367; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 182.
  • 2. G. Eland, Thomas Wotton’s Letter Bk. 1574-86, passim; CSP Span. 1568-79, p. 677; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 244; J. Buxton, Sir Philip Sidney and the Eng. Renaissance, 76, 79.
  • 3. CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 517; CSP Span. 1568-79, pp. 672, 677, 678, 683-4; CSP For. 1578-9, p. 519; 1579-80, pp. 45-8; APC, x. 437; C. Read, Walsingham, ii. 26.
  • 4. CSP Scot. 1584-5, pp. 611-14, 642-83; 1585-6, intro. pp. ix-xv. pp. 4-129; Border Pprs. i. 191, 198-9; Hamilton Pprs. ii. intro. pp. xxxi-xxxiv. pp. 643-709; Reg. PC of Scot. iii. 748 n; Read, Walsingham, ii. 240-51; Lansd. 45, f. 15; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 268, 269-70.
  • 5. Add. 33256, ff. 172-205; Lansd. 50, f. 189; CSP For. 1585-6, p. 212; 1586-8, pp. 96-8, 105, 119-20, 137, 190; CSP Ven. 1581-91, p. 219; CSP Span. 1587-1603, p. 178.
  • 6. Hasted, Kent, vols. iv-viii passim; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 549-50; D’Ewes, 346; Add. 33924, f. 16; Lansd. 43, f. 171; 78, ff. 138 seq.; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 525; 1611-18, pp. 316, 328; Egerton 860, ff. 6-39; G. S. Thomson, Twysden Lieutenancy Pprs. 8-9, 113-14; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, iv. 607; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 351; ii. 306; Life of H. Wotton, ii. 41.
  • 7. Lansd. 53, f. 122; 79, f. 62; CSP Span. 1587-1603, p. 215; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 97; 1598-1601, pp. 11-18, 282, 407, 580; Life of H. Wotton, i. 295 and n., 317-18; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 286, 293; HMC Hatfield, vi. 192; viii. 30, 128; ix. 430; xi. 12, 58-9, 66-8; xvi. 186; HMC Downshire, iii. 306; Read, Walsingham, i. 423-43; Strype, Annals, iv. 346-7; Collins, Sidney State Pprs. ii. 25, 27, 30, 54, 85-8, 262; APC, xxxi. 170-1, 187; xxxii. p. 490; Chamberlain Letters, i. 179-80; ii. 609.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 221; 1611-18, pp. 407, 418, 446, 512, 519; 1619-23, p. 148; HMC Downshire, ii. 219; Chamberlain Letters, i. 358, 359; ii. 50, 125, 129, 133; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 199; Fortescue Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 38-9, 43.
  • 9. Cantium, ii. 45-7; SP16/39/36 ex inf. J. McGurk; C142/451/99 ex. inf. J. McGurk.