SYMONDS, William (c.1480-1547 or later), of New Windsor, 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. c.1480, s. of Andrew Symonds alias Beerman of New Windsor by Joan. educ. ?I. Temple. suc. fa. 1540.2

Offices Held

Member of guild, New Windsor 1519, bailiff 1520, mayor 1528-9, 1529-30, 1541-2; commr. subsidy 1524, 1540, 1541.3


An analysis of the many references to men of the time who bore the name William Symonds suggests that there were three whose careers may be distinguished with some clarity. The first, a son of John Simon of Exeter, was a minor official in the royal household who served as a victualler and captain in the navy during the French wars of 1513 and 1522 and later followed his father into customs administration, both in Devon and at Southampton: he died in 1537. Then there was a lawyer of Warwickshire origin, whose career can be traced at the Inner Temple between 1530 and 1559, when he died shortly after his summons to become a serjeant. Although neither of these men is to be thought of in connexion with the seat at New Windsor, the first of them was probably Cromwell’s nominee in 1532 to fill the vacancy at Lyme Regis caused by the death of John Pyne.4

It is William Symonds, the son of Andrew Symonds alias Beerman of Windsor, who may be taken to have sat in the Commons for that borough. Andrew Symonds, a rich brewer who had been mayor of Windsor in 1517, made his will on 12 June 1540. Of his two sons William was probably the elder as his brother Simon, who had been admitted to King’s College, Cambridge, from Eton in 1505 at the age of 17, entered the Church. But the terms of the will suggest that William, although the heir, may not have continued in his father’s business. Andrew Symonds left an alehouse to his daughter Christian Aley, who had married into another prosperous family of the town, and a beerhouse to his godson Andrew Aley, with lands in the parish of Burnham, while William Symonds received three tenements in Windsor, with an inn called the Saracen’s Head, and six more tenements ‘at the town’s end’, so long as he should not contest the will; all movables were bequeathed to Christian and Andrew Aley, who were to be executors, with Simon Symonds as an overseer. If William Symonds did not follow his father’s trade he could have been the lawyer who was pardoned all offices and vacations at the Inner Temple in 1533 and whose designation as ‘the elder’ distinguishes him from the Warwickshire lawyer. On the subsidy rolls for 1524-5 William Symonds had been assessed to pay only 9s. on goods worth £18; in October 1540, after his father’s death, the sum rose to 23s. on lands worth £23. He was the only townsman to be assessed on lands rather than goods in 1540 and again in 1542.5

The prominence of Andrew Symonds made his son a fitting choice for the Parliament of 1529 with Thomas Ward I, who held offices at the castle and estates in the neighbourhood. William Symonds, with ten years of municipal life behind him, and as mayor at the time of the election, was doubtless known to the King. He was active on behalf of the corporation, receiving £5 1530 ‘for divers parcels of charges at Westminster’ and a further 2s. for riding to Wallingford; at the same time the mayor’s annual fee of 20s. was trebled and paid to him for the expenses of his previous year’s term of office. In 1531 a payment to Symonds of 40s. ‘for his costs at the Parliament the 29th day of Apr. in the 23rd year of ... King Henry VIII’ presumably refers to the second session, which had in fact ended on 31 Mar. 1531; if so, it represents a rate of only some 6d. a day for that session. The fact that no payment was made to his colleague suggests that Symonds was a local choice, balancing that of Ward, the office holder.6

Although clearly not the man suggested by Cromwell for Lyme Regis, William Symonds of Windsor appears on two other lists drawn up by Cromwell in the course of the Parliament. Of these, the first may represent the opposition, both religious and economic, to the bill in restraint of appeals to Rome. The second list, which dates probably from December 1534 and includes Symonds’s fellow-Member Thomas Ward, represents a wider range of opinion and may have been connected with an attempt to reach a compromise over the treasons bill then under consideration. Thus if the first list may be taken as a pointer to Symonds’s religion, the second may illustrate his standing as a Member. He was to sit for Windsor again in the Parliament of 1542, when he was paid £4 by the borough for his expenses, and may also have sat in 1536 and 1539.7

Although there is no evidence of such a connexion as that enjoyed by William Symonds of Devon, his namesake seems to have had some influence with Cromwell. His brother Simon, a King’s chaplain, was appointed to canonries at Lichfield and Windsor on 7 July 1535, and on 18 Aug. William wrote from Windsor with thanks for this preferment but asking that Simon should also have the hospital of St. Nicholas at Salisbury, whereupon he would trouble the minister no more. This disclaimer notwithstanding, he wrote again 12 months later, with grateful reference to the appointments at Lichfield, Salisbury and Windsor, followed by a reminder that the archdeaconry of Suffolk was likely to fall vacant through death; in order that Simon should be able to keep due hospitality at Windsor his brother solicited this for him also. His preferment was not to make Simon Symonds a wholehearted supporter of the new ecclesiastical policy, for a sermon he preached at Paul’s Cross on 6 Aug. 1536 was sent with a complaint to the minister, and in the following spring the bishop of Rochester, discussing the proposed preachers for Easter Week, advised Cromwell to admonish Dr. Symonds, in the belief that he would then do well. His appointment to the archdeaconry suggests that he did.8

William Symonds gave less satisfaction with the leading part that he played in the trial of the Windsor martyrs in 1543. Foxe describes the persecutor-in-chief as a lawyer, and although the better known lawyer of this name was the Warwickshire one already mentioned, not only does Foxe make it clear that the offender was a Windsor man but it is hard to believe that the other would have lived down such an episode and have received promotion in 1559. Foxe’s description thus lends colour to the identification of Symonds with the Templar exempted from offices and vacations in 1533. According to Foxe, Symonds had campaigned against the three eventually burnt.9

Another defendant, the lawyer Robert Bennet, had been saved from trial by sickness. A Thomas Bennet shared with Andrew Symonds the highest subsidy assessment in Windsor, and Foxe says that Robert Bennet and William Symonds were ‘the greatest familiars and company keepers that were in all Windsor’ and ‘cleaved together like burrs’ in all matters save religion, where one was a reformer and the other ‘a cankered papist’. The friendship moved Symonds to procure Bennet’s release with the help of the bishops of Salisbury and Winchester, but this intervention did not lessen his unpopularity after the trial. Foxe saw evil meet its deserts when the King, told of the conspiracy behind the charges, ordered the arrest of Dr. John London, Symonds and the clerk to the court; all three were sentenced to the pillory and to ride about Windsor, Reading and Newbury with paper caps on their heads, facing their horses’ tails. That the hounding of Symonds persisted is shown by a Privy Council letter of 23 Jan. 1547 commanding the people of Windsor to cease vexing him for his past misconduct.10

At the time of the trial Symonds was in trouble of his own at Windsor over some property claimed by David Mathew, in the right of his wife Elizabeth. A suit was brought in Chancery against William Symonds ‘gentleman’, alleging wrongful detention of deed, to which he replied that he had enjoyed the premises for 18 years past, having received them from a London baker long before Elizabeth Mathew’s supposed father had acquired any claim. He added that the town bailiffs, at Mathew’s instigation, had barred him from the house and later arrested him for trespass. Amidst all this disgrace William Symonds disappears from view. He is last recorded on a subsidy roll in 1543, and after his third mayoralty in 1541 he is mentioned in the chamberlain’s accounts only once, when paid 8s. for an unspecified purpose in 1547. Then in his sixties, he may have quitted Windsor for a less hostile milieu or have succumbed under the obloquy heaped upon him.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Windsor recs. Wi/FA c.1, f. 46.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from that of supposedly younger bro., Al. Cant. i(4), 78; R. R. Tighe and J. E. Davis, Windsor Annals, i. 515-16; PCC 13 Alenger.
  • 3. Windsor recs. Wi/FA c.1, ff. 12, 13, 28v, 29v, 45v; E179/73/130; 153, 158v.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, i. iii, iv, vi-ix, xii-xiv, xxi, add.; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 95, 201; APC, vii. 18; Dugdale Soc. iv. 72; PCC 36 Mellershe.
  • 5. PCC 13 Alenger; Al. Cant. i(4), 78; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 102; E179/73/153, 158.
  • 6. Windsor recs. Wi/FA c.1, ff. 31, 33.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v; ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234; Windsor recs. Wi/FA c.1, f. 46.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, viii, ix, xi-xiii.
  • 9. Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 464-94.
  • 10. Ibid. v. 494-6; APC, i. 567-8.
  • 11. C1/1143/17-21; Windsor recs. Wi/FA c.1, f. 53; E179/73/170.