VACHELL, Thomas I (by 1500-53), of Coley, Berks.

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



? 1539
Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1500, 1st s. of Thomas Vachell of Coley by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Cockworthy of Yarnscombe, Devon; half-bro. of Oliver Vachell. educ. M. Temple, adm. 8 Feb. 1518. m. by 1521, Agnes, da. of William Justice of Southampton, Hants and Reading, Berks. 4s. inc. Thomas II 5da.4

Offices Held

Commr. subsidy, Reading 1523, 1524, relief Berks. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1527-51; escheator, Oxon. and Berks. 1534-5, 1545-6; j.p. Berks. 1536-44; steward, duchy of Lancaster, manors of Ascot and Deddington, Oxon. 1537-d.; dep. steward, Reading 1539; overseer, lands formerly of Reading abbey and Leominster priory, and bailiff, Reading 1540; victualler, Calais and Boulogne 1544-5.5


The family of Vachell had lived in Berkshire since the early 13th century, holding land at and near Reading. The shire had sent a Vachell to Parliament in 1324 and 1329, and Reading another in 1388, but by Thomas Vachell’s time the tradition of public service had failed, his father having apparently taken no part in affairs.6

Despite the family’s long connexion with Reading, Vachell was a country gentleman, not a townsman, and his return to Parliament in 1529 for a borough which generally chose its Members from among its own governing group implies that he, and perhaps also his fellow, John Raymond I, were imposed upon it from outside. If Vachell was a court nominee, there is no indication why this youngish man, with no known household connexion or public office, should have enjoyed such support: his association with Cromwell, even if it predated the minister’s rise to power, could hardly have been of service in 1529. As a ‘King’s man’, too, Vachell would have given less than complete satisfaction in the House. His name occurs in a list of Members drawn up early in 1533 and believed to indicate those, or some of those, who opposed the bill in restraint of appeals to Rome. The fact that Vachell’s name is linked on this list with those of several other men from Berkshire, or connected with that county, besides hinting at a measure of co-ordination, suggests that one source of opposition to the bill was fear of commercial reprisals abroad damaging to two of the country’s staple occupations, sheep-rearing and cloth-making: it was probably Vachell’s interest in pasture farming which in the following session got him involved in a bill limiting the size of flocks, his name being one of seven appearing on the dorse of the resulting Act. Its reappearance in a list of Members written by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 is harder to explain. From the character of this list the Members concerned appear to have been connected in a particular way with the treasons bill then passing through Parliament. At least six of those named had appeared on the list associated with the bill in restraint of appeals, and four of them belonged to the ‘Berkshire group’ discernible in that list: thus Vachell reappears in the company of some likely opponents of the treasons bill, but whether he is to be reckoned as one of them, or as one of its presumed supporters who make up the majority of the newly named Members, it is impossible to say.7

Vachell’s restiveness—if such it was—in 1533-4 did not prevent his regular employment by Cromwell as a local watchdog. In November 1534 he reported to Cromwell that, as directed, he had been to Oxford to inquire into enclosures, and some two years later Sir George Throckmorton, riding to confer with Sir William Essex, met ‘one Fachell’ hastening to report to authority the circulation of seditious pamphlets, whose origin was investigated in December 1536 by a commission of which Vachell was a member. Vachell was rewarded for these services, first by the grant of the stewardship of two duchy of Lancaster manors, and then by being made Cromwell’s deputy in the high stewardship of Reading, an office to which Abbot Cook had appointed the minister late in 1538. Cook’s gesture did not save his abbey from suppression or himself from execution, and Vachell played a part in both episodes. In September 1539 Sir William Peniston, a neighbouring landowner who claimed to have been granted the abbey, wrote in alarm to Cromwell on hearing that the deputy steward was seeking a certain wood and fishing rights. In February 1540 Vachell was granted 20 marks a year as overseer of the abbey’s former lands and a further ten as bailiff of the town. Two months later he was disputing with a rival claimant the same office at Leominster, where John Hillesley was acting as his deputy: it is not known how either this dispute or the one with Peniston was resolved. In August 1543 Vachell bought various of the abbey’s lands for £127 and in the next year he obtained a 21-year lease of further ones. Additional income no doubt accrued from his supervision of a residence which the King started to build on the site of the abbey about 1541 and from his custodianship of Reading gaol.8

His activities and acquisitions did not endear Vachell to the men of Reading. The town had elected him and Raymond to Parliament again in 1536, doubtless in deference to the King’s call for the return of their former Members, and probably it returned Vachell at least for a third time in 1539, when the election indenture, in common with nearly every other, is lost. The fact that this last election is not mentioned in the borough records (a unique occurrence during the century) is given point by the corporation’s resolution of 11 Apr. that in future at least one of the town’s Members should be a burgess, that is, presumably, a member of the merchants’ guild. Such a protest could only have followed the return of two ‘strangers’, one of them almost certainly Vachell, who was however to continue as one of Reading’s Members in subsequent Parliaments. In 1542 he was joined with a townsman, Richard Justice, and in 1545, the resolution of 1539 notwithstanding, with a ‘stranger’ in Cromwell’s former protégé Roger Amyce; then, after missing the next two Parliaments, he attended his last in October 1553 with John Bell, another townsman.9

Vachell’s unpopularity in Reading manifested itself in September 1539, when the corporation asked Cromwell to excuse the mayor-elect, Richard Justice, from having the oath administered to him by the deputy steward who, they declared, was not their friend. Cromwell insisted on this procedure and on 9 Oct. Vachell sat in the great hall of the former abbey to confirm the election; he did so twice more before the new charter of 1542 admitted the corporation’s claim that the oath should be administered by the retiring mayor. When in August 1540, after Cromwell’s fall, the King and Council paid a visit to Reading, the deputy steward was himself examined about complaints of the town’s loss of liberties, but the continuing record of his services and rewards shows that Vachell was scarcely affected by the fate of his patron. He may have had friends in the conservative camp as his half-brother Oliver was a servant of Stephen Gardiner. The affair of the Windsor martyrs gave Vachell an opportunity to establish himself as an upholder of the Six Articles. Having been commissioned with Richard Ward I in 1543 to search for heretical books at Windsor, he was among those appointed to try the persons thus discovered: during the trial he intervened against one of the defendants, John Marbeck, who was nevertheless the only one to be pardoned, and at the end of it, although the most junior of the justices present, he passed sentence with the words, ‘It must be done. One must do it. And if no man will, then will I’. The conservatism in religion thus displayed may explain the intermission in his parliamentary career during the reign of Edward VI as well as Queen Mary’s grant of a pension of £10 a year for life ‘for service at Framlingham’, although the recipient of this reward may have been his son and namesake, who was already of age. That it was he, however, and not this son, who sat in the Queen’s first Parliament is suggested by the fact that his death on 9 Dec. 1553, three days after that Parliament ended, took place in London.10

In the will which he had made on 20 Aug. 1551, at a time of religious uncertainty, Vachell gave no hint of his own doctrinal position. He also mentioned by name only his son Thomas, sole executor and sole witness, whom he nevertheless exhorted ‘to be good to his brethren and sisters’. He asked to be buried in St. Mary’s, Reading, where several members of his family had been baptized. His wife, who predeceased him, was probably the Agnes Vachell buried in the same church on 20 Oct. 1544.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Reading Recs. i. 166-7.
  • 2. C. Coates, Reading, app. xiii.
  • 3. Reading Recs. i. 191-2.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from marriage Berks. Arch. Jnl. xl. 83-84; Quarterly Jnl. Berks. Arch. Soc. iii. 2-4; I, and A. C. Vachell, Vachell Fam. 32-33, 147-9.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, iii, iv, viii, xi, xiii, xv, xvi, xviii, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 75, 77; 1550-3, p. 142; 1553, pp. 351, 413; Somerville, Duchy, i. 631; Reading Recs. i. 172; R. R. Tighe and J. E. Davis, Windsor Annals, i. 544-5.
  • 6. I. and A. C. Vachell, passim; Reading MPs, 20.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, iv; vii. 1522(ii) citing SP/1/87, f. 106v; ix. 1077 citing SP1/99, p. 234; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 25 Hen. VIII, no. 13.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, vii, xi-xv, xviii, xix; Elton, Policy and police, 75; J. B. Hurry, Reading Abbey, 43, 435; CPR, 1553-4, p. 57.
  • 9. Reading Recs. i. 172.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII,, xii-xv; Reading Recs. i. 172; Foxe, Acts and Mons. v. 474, 490-1; Tighe and Davis, i. 544-5; Lansd. 156 (28), f. 93; C142/100/3; E150/820/6.
  • 11. PCC 25 Tashe; Reg. St. Mary’s Reading, ed. Crawfurd, i. 1-4; ii. 89.