PORTMAN, William (by 1498-1557), of Orchard Portman, nr. Taunton, Som. and London.

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



? 1536

Family and Education

b. by 1498, 1st s. of John Portman of Orchard Portman by Alice, da. of William Knoyle of Sandford Orcas, Dorset. educ. M. Temple, adm. 19 May 1517. m. by July 1521, Elizabeth, da. of John Gilbert, wid. of Giles Brent, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 5 July 1521. Kntd. 6 Feb. 1547.2

Offices Held

Bencher, M. Temple 1532, Autumn reader 1532, Lent 1539.

J.p. Som. 1524-d., Devon 1541, Berks., Glos., Herefs., Mon., Oxon., Salop, Staffs., Worcs. 1542-d.; member, council in the west Apr. 1539; serjeant-at-law 1540; King’s serjeant 23 Nov. 1540; j.KB 14 May 1546, c.j. 16 June 1555-d.; custos rot., Som. c.1547; commr. relief Bath, Som. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, chantries 1553; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of Mar. 1553, Oct. 1553, Apr. 1554, Nov. 1554, 1555.3


Like his father, William Portman was by profession a lawyer, and his career is epitomised in the list of his offices and duties. He spent an average length of time in study and practice of the law before becoming a serjeant, but his advance in the next six years through the grade of King’s serjeant to the bench, and his subsequent appointment as chief justice, suggest either outstanding ability, or the enjoyment of favour, or both. Although Cromwell, his fellow-Member for Taunton in 1529, can have had little influence on his later career, he and Portman must have known each other well, for Portman was probably legal counsel to Wolsey as bishop of Winchester, as he was later to Wolsey’s successor Gardiner. Apart from this connexion with the bishop, who was lord of Taunton, Portman himself had extensive property there and he may have had some part in the nomination of Cromwell on the eve of the meeting of Parliament in November 1529. Portman’s name appears twice on Acts passed by that Parliament, on the dorse of the Act regulating the keeping of sheep which was passed in its sixth session and on the front of that concerning Sir Piers Dutton and Corpus Christi college passed in its eighth. In the Parliament of 1536 he was called on by Cromwell to draft a bill, a summons which suggests, even if it does not prove, that Portman sat in this Parliament, as indeed he is likely to have done in the light of the King’s request for the return of the previous Members and of the appearance of his name for Taunton on a list drawn up by Cromwell, seemingly of nominees for the bishop of Winchester’s boroughs. He may have sat once again, in 1539, but thereafter, as King’s serjeant or judge, he received a writ of assistance to the Lords, where he was to be regularly named a receiver of petitions. He was knighted at the accession of Edward VI.4

Portman was frequently cited by reporters, especially Dalison and Plowden, and he took part in several notable trials, including those of the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and of (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton in 1554. His main interest seems to have remained in the west country, where besides performing judicial duties he served on a number of local commissions. He added considerably by purchase to his landed inheritance in Somerset and at his death he left several manors and extensive property in and around Taunton.5

By Portman’s will, dated 25 Jan. 1557, these lands descended, together with the residue of his goods, to his son and executor Henry. He gave his daughter Mary £200 besides sheep and clothes, and made small bequests to his sister, brother and mother. He named among his overseers (Sir) John Baker I, Nicholas Halswell and (Sir) Nicholas Hare. He died on 5 Feb. 1557 and was buried with great pomp at St. Dunstans-in-the-West, London.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, x. 40 (ii) citing Cott. Otho C10, f. 218.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/37/112. Vis. Som. ed. Weaver, 126; Wriothesley’s Chron. i. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 181; C142/108/112.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, iv-xxi; CPR, 1547-8 to 1557-8 passim; Foss, Judges, v. 387-9; Rep. R. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. of Brit. Hist. and Culture iii), 113; LJ, i. 430, 447, 464, 492; C66/801; 193/12/1; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 61.
  • 4. Eccles. 2/155877, 155886-7; C142/108/94; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 25 Hen. VIII, no. 13, 27 Hen. VIII, no. 53; LP Hen. VIII, xi; Cott. Otho C10, f. 218; C218/1.
  • 5. Howell, State Trials, i. 870-902; Jordan, ii. 93; L. W. Abbott, Law Reporting in Eng. 120, 223; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xix, xx; CPR, 1547-8 to 1557-8 passim.
  • 6. PCC 5 Wrastley; C142/108/94; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 125.