GODSALVE, John (by 1505-56), of London and Norwich, Norf.

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



? 1542

Family and Education

b. by 1505, 1st s. of Thomas Godsalve of Norwich by 1st w. Joan. educ. G. Inn, adm. 1525. m. (1) by 1530, Agnes, da. of one Widmerpole, 2s.; (2) by 1553, Elizabeth, da. of Henry White of London, s.p. suc. fa. 1542. Kntd. 22 Feb. 1547.[footnote]

Offices Held

Clerk, the signet by Jan. 1531-?d.; jt. common meter, cloth of gold, silver, etc. Nov. 1532; jt. (with Ralph Sadler) prothonotary, Chancery July 1537-?d.; constable, Norwich castle and keeper, Norwich gaol 1539; commr. chantries, Norf. and Suff. 1546; j.p. Norf. 1547-d.; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1547 Mar. 1553, Oct. 1553, Nov. 1554 and 1555; comptroller, Tower I mint 24 June 1548-25 Mar. 1552.[footnote]


John Godsalve may have owed his early advancement to his father, registrar of the Norwich consistory court and later a monastic visitor in East Anglia, but he soon obtained more powerful patrons. In June 1531 Stephen Gardiner, who as secretary had charge of the signet office in which Godsalve had recently become one of the four clerks, recommended him to Cromwell. A namesake and possible kinsman who had been in the household of Wolsey may have been a further source of influence and he was later to claim kinship with a fellow clerk of the signet, Thomas Wriothesley.[footnote]

In 1532 Godsalve obtained a grant in survivorship of the office of common meter of cloth of gold and silver in the city of London. The office was presumably one that a mercer would normally hold, and Godsalve, who in 1541 had to maintain his right to it against the mayor and aldermen of London, was to describe himself as a mercer when in December 1544 he was admitted to the freedom of Norwich; but no evidence has been found that he was ever a member of the London Mercers’ Company, although a William Godeshalf had been a member in 1489. Godsalve was appointed prothonotary in Chancery in 1537 jointly with Ralph Sadler; it was doubtless he who performed the duties of the office as he tended to do those of the signet while his colleagues were employed elsewhere. Two years later Cromwell secured his return for Norwich to the Parliament of 1539. The city had already made its own choice of Members and on 12 Apr., while expressing their willingness ‘to accomplish the King’s Highness’s pleasure and your lordship’s request’ by returning Godsalve whom they knew to be ‘very able and meet’, the mayor and aldermen reminded the minister of the statutory obligation to elect residents and asked for ‘some lawful discharge’ and a new writ to warrant a second election. These were evidently forthcoming since Godsalve sat with Augustine Steward, both being involved in the collection of the subsidy granted in the second session: the man whom Godsalve displaced may have been Edmund Grey. Unaffected by the fall of Cromwell, Godsalve may have been re-elected to the Parliament of 1542, when only the christian name of the junior Member for Norwich is known: on both occasions he could have been countenanced by the 3rd Duke of Norfolk— a John Godsalve witnessed the returns for Horsham to the Parliaments of 1545 and 1547 and a ‘Mr. Godsalve’ had a chamber at Kenninghall in the latter year. Godsalve was employed to carry bills from the Lords to the Commons in the Parliaments of 1542, 1545, 1547 and 1555 and served as a receiver of petitions in the Lords in five out of the six Parliaments between 1547 and 1555.[footnote]

Godsalve accompanied the King on the French campaign of 1544 with a retinue of four soldiers and two clerks; although one of his portraits shows him in armour it was evidently the clerks who were of most assistance to him. His father had died in 1542 but it was not until May 1545 that he obtained livery of the extensive inheritance which he had already augmented, his acquisitions including a grant for life of Caister St. Edmund, near Norwich—which he surrendered in 1554 in exchange for a grant in fee—and the purchase from Sir John Williams of the freehold of the house in Old Fish Street, London, where he already lived. An account for 1547-8 of his property, which included 49 houses in Norwich, shows him possessed of a landed income of some £195 a year. His local standing was recognized in Edward VI’s reign by his appointment to the Norfolk bench. (It was to be acknowledged in a different way by the Norfolk rebels of 1549, who took prisoner his younger son Thomas and used him to compose their written pronouncements, an activity amounting to misprision of treason for which the youngster afterwards sued out a pardon.) Godsalve was knighted at the coronation and retained his offices, adding to them in June 1548 the comptrollership of the Tower mint. His four years’ tenure of this post coincided with the last period of the debasement of the coinage begun by Henry VIII in 1544 and he was among the officials who sued out a pardon in that connexion in June 1552. He received a pension of £60 on surrendering the comptrollership but seems to have retained some interest in mint affairs since he and Thomas Egerton are credited with devising the coins showing the ‘double face’ of Philip and Mary issued in 1554. In 1552 he sought Cecil’s help in obtaining a chamberlainship of the Exchequer.[footnote]

Appointed a visitor of the dioceses of Ely, London, Norwich and Westminster in 1547, Godsalve was ordered by the Council on 12 Sept. to give up this work and return to his duties as clerk of the signet and prothonotary. Shortly before this he had written to Gardiner advising him to conform with the injunctions of 1547: only Gardiner’s reply has survived in which he thanked Godsalve ‘for the declaration of your good mind towards me (as ye meant it)’. Foxe records that Godsalve, who was then comptroller of the Tower mint, attended the feast held in the Tower in June 1550 to celebrate Gardiner’s expected release. Strype adds that ‘one Mistress Godsalve’ was kept by the bishop. No evidence has been found to substantiate this calumny and no Godsalve is mentioned in Gardiner’s will.[footnote]

Nothing is known of any part Godsalve may have played in the struggle for the succession to the throne in the summer of 1553; he sued out a pardon on the accession of Mary but he had done the same on that of Edward VI. He continued in office and in June 1555 received £20 ‘for his pains taken in writing the submission and other instruments’ sent to the pope. Moreover, his second marriage to a sister of Robert White brought him into a Catholic circle connected with Gardiner: relatives whom he appointed feoffees for his London property in March 1556 included, besides his brother-in-law, Sir Francis Englefield, Sir Edward Waldegrave and (Sir) Thomas White II. He made his will on 6 Nov. 1556, asking to be buried near his father in St. Stephen’s church, Norwich, and died at Norwich on the following 20 Nov.: his elder son William was then aged 26 and more. He named his wife and his younger son Thomas executors and Englefield and Dr. Miles Spencer, a Norfolk cleric, supervisors. A miniature, a drawing and a painting of Godsalve survive; the last, attributed to Holbein and executed in 1528, shows him with his father.[footnote]

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Only the first part of the christian name ('John...') can be read on the defaced return, C219/18B/58.