CHESTER, Sir William (c.1509-c.95), of Lombard Street, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1509, 2nd s. of John Chester (d.1513), draper of London, by Joan, da. of one Hill, ?wid. of Richard Welles. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. m. (1) Elizabeth (d.1560), da. of Thomas Lovett of Astwell, Northants., at least 5s. 4da.; (2) 10 Nov. 1567, Joan (d.1572), da. of John Turner of London, wid. of William Beswicke, alderman and draper of London, ?s.p. Kntd. 1557.1

Offices Held

Warden, Drapers’ Co. 1541, master 1553-4, 1556-7, 1559-60, 1567-8, 1568-9, mayor of the staple 1561; alderman, London 1553-73, sheriff 1554-5, ld. mayor 1560-1, alderman to 1573; gov. Russia Co. 1566, ?1569, ?1570, 1571; member of eccles. high commission 1559.2


Chester was one of the great merchants of Tudor England, trading to Ethiopia, the Barbary coast and Persia. Some idea of his fortune can be gained from his share in lending the Crown £30,000 at 10 per cent at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, and from a payment of £33,000 to the Exchequer for a grant of land in 1560. However, he suffered a severe loss as a result of his association with other leading city merchants in an insurance venture, the subject of extensive litigation, when a cargo was lost and the insurers refused to pay until in 1564 Lord Keeper Nicholas Bacon upheld the principle of a bill of assurance being a binding contract. Other losses included a ship to the Portuguese in 1565, and another the next year, seized while watering at the Azores.3

Chester represented the city in the Parliament of 1563, when the corporation began, for the first time, to give specific instructions to their Members. In the first session he was instructed to press the bill for discharge of the custom on corn, and during the second he and his colleagues were ‘specially moved’ to further the bill for repeal of Acts concerning wine. He was appointed to committees on bowyers (1 Feb. 1563) and the succession (31 Oct. 1566), and he was one of 30 MPs summoned to hear the Queen’s message on the succession on 5 Nov. that year. He could also have been the ‘Mr. Chester’ to whom bills concerning the export of pelts (23 Jan. 1563) and cloth (6 Mar.) were committed.4

From this point Chester’s fortunes declined. He was granted a year’s protection in 1571, and ceased to be an alderman two years later, spending the remainder of his life in Cambridge studying classics and theology. He had originally left Peterhouse without a degree but he received an honorary MA in 1567. Chester was buried in St. Edmund’s, Lombard Street. Even the date of his death, intestate, is obscure. Administration was granted to his son John on 13 May 1595.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.


  • 1. A. B. Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 172; T. A. Walker, Biog. Reg. Peterhouse, i. 300-1; R. E. C. Waters, Chesters of Chicheley, i. 33-40; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. cix, cx), 5.
  • 2. T. S. Willan, Early Hist. Russia Co. 24, 585; Muscovy Merchants of 1555, pp. 17, 87-8; A. H. Johnson, Hist. Drapers’ Co. ii. 106n, 116, 118n.2, 470-1; Beaven, i. 25, 157, 169; ii. 34; CPR, 1558-60, p. 118.
  • 3. Willan, Muscovy Merchants, 57-8, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 46, 87-8; Studies in Eliz. Foreign Trade, 94, 95, 98, 317; Early Hist. Russia Co. 24, 285; O. de Smedt, De Engelse Natie te Antwerpen, i. 176; ii. 15; J. S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy, i. 78; Sel. Charters Trading Cos. ed. Cart (Selden Soc.), p. xliii; Europeans in W. Africa (Hak. Soc. ser. 2, lxxxvii), 302-3; Camb. Hist. Br. Empire, i. 44; Docs. Illus. Slave Trade to America, ed. Donnan, i. 90; Gerson, Vaughan, Deardorff, Studies in Eng. Commerce in Tudor Period, 29; C78/20 no. 33; C33/23, ff. 203-4; CPR, 1558-60, pp. 354, 431-7; 1560-3, p. 112; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 182.
  • 4. City of London mss R.15.189; R.16.130; CJ, i. 63, 64, 68; D’Ewes, 83, 126; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34 m p. 209.
  • 5. Beaven, i. 169; ii. 221; CPR, 1569-72, p. 234; Biog. Reg. Peterhouse, i. 300-1; Stow, Surv. London, ed. Kingsford, i. 203; Willan, Muscovy Merchants, 87-8; Johnson, ii. 189; PCC admon. act bk. 1595, f. 135.