GREY, William II (by 1514-51), of London and Reading, Berks.

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



Family and Education

b. by 1514. m. by 1543, Agnes, da. of Thomas Pyke of Ilford, Essex, wid. of Robert Blagrave of Reading and London and Robert Cowper, s.p.2

Offices Held

Chamberlain and receiver, ct. gen. surveyors of the King’s lands by 1545; King’s plumber in 1547; j.p. Berks. 1547; commr. relief 1550.3


William Grey’s origins are unknown. He was not, as has been claimed, the William Grey who sat for Bridgnorth in 1542, but he could have been the monk of Abbotsbury, Dorset, who in 1535 charged his abbot with various crimes, although this man was apparently still a member of his community at its dissolution in 1539. In 1535 Bishop Shaxton of Salisbury listed ‘William Grey, who wrote it’ among those to whom he had shown ‘my book’, dealing apparently with some religious or political matter: Grey may have been Shaxton’s amanuensis. Shortly afterwards Robert Testwood, later one of the Windsor Martyrs, wrote to thank Richard Morison for his kindness to the writer’s ‘brother and friend’ William Grey. A popular ballad, ‘The Hunt is up’, ascribed to Grey in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), was known by 1537 and in the next year appeared Grey’s detailed attack on papist superstitions, ‘The Fantassie of Idolatrie’, which included a reference to Reading among places of pilgrimage and which was written under the aegis of Cromwell. In June and August 1538 Grey was in Paris with Miles Coverdale and Richard Grafton whom Cromwell had commissioned to produce an English translation of the Bible. In 1539 a man of his name was admitted to Gray’s Inn and in the following year Grey, described as ‘sometime servant to the late Lord Cromwell’, became involved in a battle of ballads which had begun with the writing of a Catholic attack on the fallen minister, ‘Trolle on away’. Thomas Smith, clerk of the Queen’s council, wrote in defence of ‘Trolle on away’, and on 4 Feb. 1541 Grey, Smith and Grafton, who confessed to printing some of the ballads, were committed to the Fleet by the Privy Council. They were released after seven weeks and thereafter Grey prospered, his wit winning favour with the King, and with Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later Duke of Somerset.4

In 1545 Grey was a receiver and chamberlain of the court of general surveyors and perhaps also captain of the Grey of Lowestoft: in August the Council ordered £100 to be delivered to him ‘in prest for the King’s new vessels at Gravesend’. Chancellor Wriothesley employed him as an auditor for the navy in the following month, which may have brought him a position in the court of augmentations, and in December the Council ordered that he should have £56 ‘for the keepers of the King’s privy boats’. In 1546 a William Grey, plumber, was in trouble before the Council for attempting to confer with Dr. Crome, who had preached against the mass. Crome was one of those to whom Shaxton had shown ‘my book’ and a grant in November 1547, explaining that Grey, described as the King’s plumber, had married Agnes, widow of Robert Cowper, serves to identify Shaxton’s William Grey with the plumber and the Member for Reading.5

By 1547 royal favour had made Grey a landowner in and around Reading, where his wife’s first husband, Robert Blagrave, had also owned property, but despite the corporation’s resolution of 1539 that one Member should in future be a freeman, Grey took no more part in the town’s affairs than his fellow-Member John Marshe. This is indeed the only occasion between 1510 and 1558 on which neither Reading Member was a local man by birth or career, and it must be put down to the intervention of the Protector Somerset. The Protector was to acquire the manor of Reading in the year before his fall, and on Grey’s death the vacant seat went to Somerset’s relative, John Seymour, whose imprisonment for treason was however to involve his exclusion and his replacement by John Mason before the final session (1552) of the Parliament.6

Grey was paid £50 for conducting 200 soldiers westward in August 1549, but on 13 Oct., some three weeks before the opening of the third session of the Parliament, he was brought before the Council at Windsor as one of the ‘principal instruments and counsellors’ of Somerset and the next day he and seven others accompanied the duke to the Tower. On 17 Feb. 1550, two weeks after the closing of the third session, his release was ordered on payment of £200, only to be countermanded by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who made the prisoners’ freedom dependent on their acknowledging that they owed enormous sums to the King. Whether or not he was guilty of peculation, Grey had to promise to pay £3,000, was stripped of all offices and surrendered ‘all his stuff, plate and other things sealed up by reason of his committing to the Tower’. He had addressed some verses to Somerset in the Tower as a New Year’s gift and wrote again a year later, urging him to re-assert his authority. The duke had been released on 6 Feb. and on 28 June he presided over the Council when it decided to compensate Grey for his ‘good services’ with £400.7

Grey did not live to see his master’s final imprisonment and execution, dying on 19 May 1551—not, as usually stated, on 1 Feb. He had accumulated a considerable estate in a very few years, especially in Reading, but also in Essex, Oxfordshire and elsewhere. He was described as of London in a grant of former monastic property which he received in October 1545. His London property is not known but he paid £2,133 for his Reading lands and in 1552 it was recorded that he had owned 197 houses, tenements and closes, out of 518 there, while his tenants included six sometime Members: Thomas Aldworth, John Bell III, John Bourne II, Robert Bowyer III, William Edmonds and Richard Justice. Grey wrote a bitter epitaph for himself, denouncing popery and commenting on the shortness of his career that ‘of wicked wives this is the lot, to kill with spiteful tongues’. It is not known where he died or was buried. His wife, who had children by her first two husbands but none by Grey, later married John Ockham, perhaps a former recorder of Reading, and lived until 1579. The inquisition post mortem held after Grey’s death could not say who was his next heir and his Reading property eventually passed to the Blagraves.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. LP Hen. VIII, xviii; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 70; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 80; E. W. Dormer, Gray of Reading, 58-60.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xx; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 63, 81; 1553, p. 351.
  • 4. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), v. 44; LP Hen. VIII, viii, ix, xiii-xv; Dormer, 17-35; Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 403-9; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 496-7.
  • 5. Dormer, 36-37; LP Hen. VIII, xx, xxi; DNB (Crome, Edward); CPR, 1547-8, p. 63.
  • 6. Reading Recs. i. 203, 218-20; C. Coates, Reading, 263; Dormer, 46; Reading M.P.s, 37.
  • 7. APC, ii. 309, 343-4, 393-4, 398, 401; iii. 57; Dormer, 46-50; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, ii. 70 and n.
  • 8. Dormer, 39-42, 51-55, 58-60, 125, 147; C142/93/3, 194/6; LP Hen. VIII, xviii, xx.