THORNHILL, William (by 1500-57), of Thornhill in Stalbridge, Dorset.

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 1500, 1st s. of Thomas Thornhill of Thornhill by Joan, da. of Thomas Hussey of Shapwick. educ. M. Temple. m. (1) by 1526, da. of William Chauncy of Charlton, Wilts., 2s. 3da.; (2) by Feb. 1550, Joan, da. of Henry Brydges of Newbury, Berks., wid. of John Gifford.1

Offices Held

Marshal, M. Temple by 1551-d.

Escheator, Som. and Dorset 1521-2, 1528-9, Hants and Wilts. 1531-2; j.p. Dorset 1530-d; commr. musters 1542, 1544, benevolence 1544/45, relief 1550; feodary, duchy of Lancaster, Dorset, Hants, Som., Wilts. by 1541-d., jt. (with Richard Brydges) receiver, Berks., Bucks., Dorset, Glos., Hants, Herefs., Oxon. and Wilts. 1541-d. 2


According to Leland there were Thornhills of Thornhill long before the Conquest, and recorded evidence exists for the main line of the family from the early 13th century. William Thornhill’s immediate forbears were gentry of moderate estate: his father inherited the manor of Thornhill and six tenements in Folke, and was active in local government, serving on the Dorset bench until 1528, the probable year of his death. Thornhill followed in the steps of his maternal grandfather and became a lawyer whose services were retained by several magnates and monasteries in the south-west. The date of his admission to the Middle Temple is not known, but he may have been the Thornhill (whose christian is not given) who was master of the revels and held other minor offices between 1519 and 1524.3

Thornhill’s public career began with his appointment as escheator in 1521, and it was while serving in this office for a second term that he was returned to Parliament. His entry into the Commons (if he had not already sat there in 1523) probably followed his father’s death and preceded his own nomination as a justice of the peace. One of the knights of the shire for Dorset, Sir Giles Strangways I, was also a Middle Templar and may have favoured Thornhill’s election, as may his kinsman Sir John Russell, who was sheriff at the time, but such connexions were perhaps less important than his family’s long association with Poole, which members of it had represented in several earlier Parliaments. Thornhill’s profession must have made him particularly useful to the borough during the course of this Parliament, when William Biddlecombe, his fellow-Member, was entrusted with its charters for a suit to the King and Council. In January 1534, at the opening of the sixth session, he received through Biddlecombe what must have been a token payment of 26s.8d. ‘for his time’ in the Parliament. He was probably returned again by Poole to the next Parliament, that of June 1536, in accordance with the King’s general wish to that effect, and he may have sat in 1539, when the Poole names are again lost. His progress in Dorset brought him within sight of its shrievalty, for which he was nominated, although not pricked, in 1535.4

Tornhill added considerably to his property by the purchase of monastic lands in Dorset: in 1539 he obtained the manor of Wolland for about £653, in 1541 he bought land in Gillingham, to which he later added a lease of mills and a fishery, and in 1546 he converted his lease of Upton in Osmington into ownership. The estates in Thornhill, Alverstone in Folke and Stalbridge, comprising some 1,400 acres, were settled upon himself and his wife in tail male early in 1550, probably soon after his marriage to the sister of a fellow-receiver in the duchy of Lancaster. His standing in Dorset is reflected in his appearance as a freeholder on the election indenture for the shire in the autumn of 1553.5

Thornhill’s will, made on 8 July 1548, reflects his local ties, for he left money to the curates, and a dole of 1d. or 2d. to every poor man, of eight parishes in Dorset and of two in Wiltshire. He bequeathed 12d.each Friday for a year to those confined in the bishop of Salisbury’s prison, and 66s.8d. towards the repair of the highway between Sherborne and Shaftesbury. He provided for his eldest daughter Alice £100 on marriage, and for her sisters Grace and Elizabeth, who were both under 21,200 marks;the stock upon Upton manor, which in 1552 was leased to his younger son Matthew, he left towards the marriages of his older son Robert’s children, should there be any. To his wife and executrix he bequeathed a lease of the parsonage of Stourpaine and all cattle and sheep on his manor of Charnhull. His best horse he gave to Sir William Paget. The overseers of the will were Sir William Portman, Robert Coker and Thornhill’s brother Robert. Thornhill died on 21 Aug. 1557 and his widow a few months later.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. K. Dale


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Hutchins, Dorset, iv. 417; PCC 10 Bodfelde, 38 Wrastley; Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. liv), 16; E150/944/13.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, iv, xi-xviii, xx; CPR, 1547-8 to 1554-6 passim; Somerville, Duchy, i. 624, 626.
  • 3. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iv. 142; Hutchins, iv. 417-18; CIPM Hen. VII, iii. 389; PCC 29 Adeane, 40 Alen; Somerville, i. 626; LP Hen. VIII, i, iii, iv, xiii; Val. Eccles. i. 277; M.T. Recs. i. 60-61, 71, 74.
  • 4. Somerville, i. 624; LP Hen. VIII, iv, ix, xiv; Hutchins, iii. 162-3; G. Scott Thomson, Two Cents. of Fam. Hist. 118-19; Poole rec. bk. 1, pp. 2, 58; SP1/184, f. 169; APC, v. 264, 289.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xvi, xxi; Hutchins, iv. 418; E150/944/13; C219/21/52.
  • 6. PCC 38 Wrastley, 9 Noodes; E150/944/13.