BOURNE, John I (by 1518-75), of Battenhall and Holt, Worcs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1518, prob. s. of Walter Bourne of Wick, Worcs. m. by 1546, Dorothy, da. of Richard Lygon of Madresfield, Worcs., 2s. 3da. educ. L. Inn. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.2

Offices Held

Servant, household of William Fitzwilliam , Earl of Southampton by 1539-42; clerk of the privy seal by 1539-42; j.p. Worcs. 1545, q. 1554-58/59; escheator, Worcs. 1546-7; commr. chantries, Herefs., Worcs. and Worcester 1548, relief Worcs. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, sale of crown lands 1554, heresy 1557; steward, Churchdown, Glos. by 1552; PC Aug. 1553-Nov. 1558; principal sec. 11 Nov. 1553-Apr. 1558; master of the hunt, Malvern chase, Worcs. Dec. 1553; steward, manor of Edmonton, Mdx. Dec. 1553; surveyor, estates of Bp. Gilbert Bourne of Bath and Wells 1555; high steward, lands of the ‘house’ of Worcester by 1564.3


It is known that John Bourne came of a minor family of Worcestershire gentry, but there has been confusion about his parentage and his relationship to Gilbert Bourne, bishop of Bath and Wells under Queen Mary. In his History of the Reformation Peter Heylyn called them brothers whereas a generation later Anthony Wood made them uncle and nephew, a relationship which was adopted by the Dictionary of National Biography. Neither statement is correct. It was to his ‘cousin’ Sir John Bourne that on 20 Oct. 1554 Bishop Bourne granted the reversion of the office of surveyor of all the episcopal manors, and this relationship is confirmed by a visitation of 1634 in which the pedigree of Bourne of Worcester begins with Sir John and his cousin Richard Bourne, merchant taylor of London and Wells, Somerset, who was Gilbert Bourne’s brother. Richard and Gilbert were the sons of Philip Bourne of Worcester, John Bourne almost certainly a son of Walter Bourne of Wick. In a case before the court of requests in 1526 Walter Bourne is found holding this manor, which by the end of Henry VIII’s reign was in the hands of John Bourne and remained with him throughout his life. It is not known when Walter Bourne died, but he was alive in 1532 when called ‘old Bourne’ by John Scudamore.4

After a spell at Lincoln’s Inn Bourne entered the household of William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton. Described by Southampton in March 1539 as his ‘clerk’ Bourne was in that year placed second on the list of the earl’s household gentlemen compiled by the Sussex muster commission, and when Southampton became lord privy seal after the fall of Cromwell he frequently signed the warrants issuing from that office. It was as Southampton’s servant that Bourne began his long parliamentary career. This may have begun in 1539 when in the course of his electioneering tour in Sussex and Surrey the earl told Cromwell that the borough of Guildford had asked him to nominate to one of its seats and that, unless the King wished it for one of his household, he intended to name William Fitzwilliam or Bourne, either of whom was ‘like enough to do well’. The loss of the return conceals the result on this occasion, but in 1542 Bourne was elected for Southampton’s own borough of Midhurst.5

The earl’s death in the autumn of 1542 left Bourne masterless and without employment. Of his advancement outside Worcestershire before his appointment as Privy Councillor and secretary 11 years later the only indication is his return to the Parliament of 1545 for a duchy of Lancaster borough with (Sir) Ralph Sadler: he and Sadler were an ill-matched pair, but both presumably owed election to Sir John Gage, Fitzwilliam’s successor as chancellor of the duchy. Gage and Fitzwilliam had been friends, and it is possible that after 1542 Gage took an interest in Bourne. In the House he was joined by (Sir) John Baker, an associate of both Gage and Fitzwilliam, and a Member for a neighbouring borough. These ties with eminent Catholics perhaps account for Bourne’s otherwise unexplained promotion at the accession of Mary. During the closing years of Henry VIII’s reign he rose to prominence in Worcestershire, in 1545 buying various properties, including Battenhall which he had leased before the Dissolution from Worcester priory. Under Edward VI he was active in local affairs. He perhaps declared for Mary in the succession crisis, as in 1554 he received the gift of a manor from the Queen ‘in consideration of his service, especially against the traitor Northumberland’, although this may refer to his part in examining the duke after his surrender. Bourne’s knighthood at Mary’s coronation was as much a recognition of his status in Worcestershire as a sign of the Queen’s trust.6

The Spanish ambassador de Feria was to describe Bourne in 1558 as a retiring man about whom he knew little. De Feria’s ignorance was shared by nearly everyone except those who had to work closely with Bourne. He supported the scheme for Mary to marry the Earl of Devon, and after the earl’s imprisonment for conspiring with Sir Thomas Wyatt II he asked the Queen for the earl’s release. It was perhaps for this reason that in the summer of 1554 his removal from the Council was briefly but unsuccessfully mooted. In the course of his official duties he assisted in the examination of those suspected of treason and heresy; Edward Underhill’s description of Bourne’s appearance at his interrogation as ‘looking as the wolf doth for a lamb’ started a tradition, followed by Foxe, that Bourne was a cruel man, yet a Protestant who was whipped for his beliefs in 1546 recalled how Bourne stopped the punishment, took him home to Battenhall to attend to his cuts and tried to reason with him. In 1555 Bourne was one of the founder-members of the Russia Company. Although he lost his secretaryship six months before Mary’s death, he was not dismissed as a Councillor until the accession of Elizabeth.7

Bourne sat in each of Mary’s Parliaments. In the autumn of 1553 he was elected at Worcester, which usually returned residents, and after an initial payment of 6s. he remitted the rest of his wages. A kinsman of Bourne by marriage, (Sir) Thomas Russell, was one of the knights of the shire on this occasion, but Russell’s opposition to the reunion with Rome led to his being supplanted by Bourne at the next four elections. As one of the secretaries Bourne received a writ of assistance to the Lords, but this did not prevent him from taking a leading part in the Commons: only in the second Parliament of the reign, when he was briefly ill and his opposition to the Spanish marriage made him a doubtful spokesman for the government, does he appear to have been less active. In 1553 he served on the committee to consider the validity of the election to the House of Alexander Nowell and John Foster II. On 10 Dec. 1554 he spoke in the debate on the unsuccessful bill to prevent benefices being let by married priests, and in January 1558 after the committal to him of the measure for captains, soldiers and armour he headed a panel of 12 in drafting the version which emerged as the Act for the taking of musters (4 and 5 Phil. and Mary, c.3). Other bills were committed to him, only one of which was enacted, that for the keeping of kine and breeding of calves (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.3): the bill to revive Edward IV’s statute of artificers failed after its committal to him on 26 Dec. 1554, as did those to bring the liberty of Blackfriars within the jurisdiction of the city of London on 20 Nov. 1555 and for the felling of wood on 26 Jan. 1558, but two for the attendance of Members and for the preservation of trees introduced in the autumn of 1558 were brought to an end by the Queen’s death.8

During Mary’s reign Bourne prospered. In 1554 he obtained the lordship of Upton and bought the manor of Oddingley for over £500. Three years later he purchased the manor of Ombersley for £700 and added to it Pircote Grange, an estate on the Staffordshire border, and the lordship of Holt, situated four miles above Worcester on the Severn. A letter from Sir Philip Hoby to Cecil in 1556 suggests that Bourne had good resources and a keen interest in the land market. Hoby complained that the price quoted for land he wished to buy had been arbitrarily increased. ‘Master Secretary Bourne’, he continued, ‘though therewith in hand, will surely not buy anything out of mine to the hindrance of a young man, my son-in-law, unable to overbid him’. The sum involved was £400. Bourne also acquired the advowson of several livings, and in 1556 he received a licence to retain 40 men. In 1555 he had petitioned the Queen for a new charter for Worcester, and when this was granted it included a privilege for him in a proviso, exempting him, his heirs and household servants from payment of tolls within the city and from the jurisdiction of its court of record.9

Dismissed from office for reasons unascertained in June 1558, Bourne soon lost his place on the Worcestershire bench. In a letter written to Francis Yaxley in 1560 he spoke of his inability to forget his recent past or to interest himself only in estate management. He wished to be remembered to his former colleagues including Francis Allen, (Sir) William Cordell, Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Thomas Heneage, William Smith and (Sir) Thomas Wharton II. If Bourne thought Worcestershire a ‘dead world’ after life at court, his opposition to Bishop Sandys did much to enliven the area. He criticised Sandys’ behaviour. ‘I openly confess’, he wrote, ‘my continual misliking of priests’ marriages especially his and all priests and ministers appertaining to him as the thing that showeth their covetousness, wantonness and carelessness to do in their office that they are chiefly bound unto.’ In 1564 Sandys called him an ‘adversary of true religion’. After several incidents involving their servants and partisans, and after Sandys had accused Bourne of refusing to destroy an altar which he had removed from the parish church to Battenhall, hearing mass in his house, maintaining transubstantiation and calling Peter Martyr unlearned, Bourne was summoned before the Council and briefly put in the Marshalsea. On his release he submitted to Sandys, but the two were never reconciled. In 1569 Bourne subscribed to the Act of Uniformity, but in the following year he was expelled from Lincoln’s Inn for failure to obey the ecclesiastical laws, ‘partly in not attending church, partly by not receiving communion, but largely in using other rites and ceremonies prohibited by law’.10

By the will which he made on 18 May 1563 Bourne provided for his wife, son, the poor of St. James in Bredwardine, Worcester, and servants, and left a ring of gold to Francis Allen. He appointed as executors his wife, Thomas Martin and Sir Edward Bray. Bourne died during May 1575 and was succeeded by his son Anthony. Most of the property which Bourne had acquired was sold by Anthony, whose chequered career included exile, imprisonment in the Tower and a case disputing his custody of his daughter. Thus the Bourne family’s remarkable rise was matched by as swift a decline.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII , xiv(1), 520 citing Cott. Cleop. 4, f. 176.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Req.2/7/51; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 14; PCC 18 Darcy.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1548-9, p. 137; 1553 to 1557-8 passim; E101/73/14; APC, iv. 323; v. 4; vi. 415 seq.; P. M. Hembry, Bps. Bath and Wells, 1540-1640, pp. 90-91; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 4.
  • 4. P. Heylyn, Ref. 40; DNB (Bourne, Gilbert); Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 13; Williams, Worcs. MPs, 33; HMC Wells, ii. 278; Req.2/7/51; LP Hen. VIII, xvii.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiv.
  • 6. Ibid. xvii; VCH Worcs. iii. 433, 515; C1/1409/25; CPR, 1554-5, p. 24.
  • 7. CSP Span. xii. 151, 167, 221, 316; xiii. 101, 455; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 68, 73; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 72n, 92, 158n, 160; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(1), 51; APC, v. 171; vi. 270, 415 seq.; Narr. Ref. (Cam. Soc. lxxvii), 68; Foxe, Acts and Mons. vii. 733; T. S. Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, p. 82.
  • 8. Worcester Guildhall chamber order bk. 1540-1601, f. 46v; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 91; C218/1; CJ, i. 27, 30, 39, 40, 42-44, 46-49, 51.
  • 9. CPR, 1553-4, pp. 81, 486; 1554-5, pp. 77, 81; 1555-7, p. 224; 1557-8, p. 160; VCH Worcs. iii. 220, 298, 404-5, 454, 459; iv. 289, 389n; Habington, Survey of Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1895), 299-302; Nash, Worcs. i. 180; ii. 201; A.D. Dyer, Worcester in the 16th Cent. 193, 214, 219, 238; HMC Hatfield, i. 137.
  • 10. Lansd. 7, f. 48; 156, ff. 102v, 105; SP12/11, f. 37; 28, f. 125 seq.; VCH Worcs. ii. 47-48; Worcs. Recusant, iii. 3-5; Strype, Annals, i(2), 15-42; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 5; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 371-2.
  • 11. PCC 29 Pyckering; C142/172/142; Worcs. Recusant, iii. 5-7.