DAWTREY, William (d.1591), of More House, Petworth, Suss.

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

2nd s. of Sir John Dawtrey of More House, being 1st by his 2nd w. Joan or Jane, da. and h. of William Skarfeild or Skardeville, wid. of one Ashby. m. (1) Margaret (d. by 15 Feb. 1578), da. of William Roper of Eltham, Kent, by Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas More, 4s. 1da.; (2) 27 Nov. 1581, Mary, da. of Edward Stoughton of Singleton, 1s. suc. e. half-bro. Richard 1554.1

Offices Held

J.p. Suss. by 1559, rem. by 1565, rest. by 1568, rem. by 1570, rest. by 1591; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1566-7.


The Dawtrey family which had been settled in Sussex from at least the twelfth century, may have obtained some lands there from an ancestor of the Percys, earls of Northumberland. In the late fifteenth century they acquired by marriage a house known as ‘the More’, about a mile outside Petworth, and this remained their home for over 250 years. Dawtrey’s great-grandfather John (who was perhaps knighted on Flodden Field) and his father had been sheriffs. His elder half-brother Richard, who succeeded their father contrary to his will in December 1549 at the age of 31 and was later declared an idiot, died unmarried on 10 Feb. 1554. Dawtrey then entered on his lands, but suits were brought against him in Chancery and in the Star Chamber by one Nicholas Dawtrey of Woodcote, Hampshire, who claimed to be the rightful heir. William replied that the lands had been conveyed to him before his father’s death, though part was subject to a settlement on his mother during her lifetime—a statement which was denied by the plaintiff. When Richard’s inquisition post mortem was taken in 1575 after a delay perhaps due to the dispute, it named Nicholas as his heir but remarked that ‘after the death of the said Richard, one William Dawtrey esquire intruded himself into all his possessions and has taken the issues thereof down to the time of this inquisition’. The ‘intrusion’ persisted, and William and his heirs continued to enjoy the disputed lands, as his father had evidently intended.2

In 1564 Dawtrey was described by the bishop of Chichester as a ‘misliker of religion and godly proceedings’, and as ‘very superstitious’. Perhaps this accounts for the absence of his name from the Sussex commission of the peace in 1565 and 1566. The date of his reappointment is uncertain, as the list for 1567 is missing, though he reappears on that for 1568. His appointment as sheriff in 1566 shows that despite his faults, he was still thought trustworthy. However, his reinstatement proved to be short-lived. In 1569 he refused to subscribe to the Council’s order for the uniformity of public worship, and in 1570 was again dropped from the commission of the peace. Thenceforward, little is known of him, apart from his religious opinions, until within a few years of his death. The only mention of him in the parliamentary records is on 22 Mar. 1563, when he was given leave of absence.3 He was one of a number examined for popery in 1576, and on 15 Aug. 1580 he was reported to the bishop as having long been absent from divine service and from Holy Communion, although he had attended some sermons in Petworth church. One of his servants was ‘examined’ in 1584.

At the end of his life he modified his views, presumably under the influence of his second wife. His first wife, a grand-daughter of Sir Thomas More, lived until 1578. Nine years later, a report on Sussex j.p.s, after mentioning that Dawtrey had been ‘put out of commission’ as a recusant, continues: ‘but now since his last marriage he doth diligently come to the church and publicly receiveth the sacrament’. It was therefore suggested that he should be restored to the commission as an encouragement to him and an inducement to others to conform. He was reinstated in 1591, but on 13 June of that year he died.4

His will, made on the day of his death, contains a pious preamble, along with bequests to the poor of Petworth and to household servants as well as to his wife, sister and surviving children. His inquisition post mortem shows that his eldest son William, who had married Dorothy, daughter of Richard Stoneley of London, a teller of the Exchequer, had predeceased him. Thus the grandson, Henry, succeeded to the family estate, including More House to which his grandfather had added a fine panelled room shortly before his second marriage, enjoining in his will that ‘the wainscot about the house of More shall not be removed but continue for my heirs’.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.E.M.


  • 1. PCC 85 Sainberbe; Suss. Rec. Soc. iii. 97; xiv. 69; W. Berry, Co. Genealogies, Suss. (Comber’s copy at Chichester), 46; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 26; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 31-2.
  • 2. Lady Maxse, Petworth in Ancient Times, 10 seq.; Mousley thesis, 493-4; Shaw, Knights, ii. 42, 58; PCC 1 Coode; Suss. Rec. Soc. iii. 97; xiv. 69; St. Ch. 5/D13/23.
  • 3. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 10; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 352; 1581-90, p. 199; Suss. Arch. Colls. iii. 90; W. Suss. RO, DRO 90/1/37, f. 57; D’Ewes, 89.
  • 4. Suss. Arch. Colls. ii. 60; Suss. Rec. Soc. xiv. 70.
  • 5. PCC 85 Sainberbe.