HOLSTOCK, William (d.1589), of Billingsgate, London and Orsett, Essex.

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

m. Agnes or Anne, da. of Thomas Powell of Horsley, Horsley Essex,1 1s. 3da.

Offices Held

Dep. treasurer of Admiralty by Aug. 1547; keeper of storehouses at Deptford 1549, Portsmouth 1558, Chatham 1559-61; jt. surveyor of victuals for navy 1560-3; comptroller of navy 1561; warden, Grocers’ Co. 1562-3, 1569-70; dep. to ld. adm. against Channel pirates c.1572.2



Details of Holstock’s birth and early career are lacking; he became a naval official as a young man. As early as September 1544 he was with the lord admiral at Boulogne and he was still dealing with naval accounts at the time of the Armada after nearly 45 years of continuous office. He is not known to have had any personal connexion with Rochester and he no doubt owed his return to Parliament to his official position. He served on committees concerned with the navy (8, 21 May), and the river Lea (26 May).3

His work included several periods of active service at sea, once in 1551, as ‘captain of one of the King’s Majesty’s pinnaces on the Narrow Seas’. He commanded the Swallow during the expedition of (Sir) William Wynter to Scotland in January 1560, losing touch with the fleet in a storm off Flamborough Head. He is reported as on the seas several times in the 1560s, bringing information from France and commanding a ‘great ship’, the Elizabeth Jones, on her removal from Portsmouth to Gillingham. In February 1572 he and Benjamin Gonson were granted a commission to capture pirates of various nationalities off the Kent coast, and to arrest their English accomplices; and from this time until 1578, and possibly later, he was repeatedly sent on similar expeditions. Detailed instructions survive for one voyage in August 1576, when he was ordered to watch for Flushing pirates operating in the Torbay district and to bring in any ships of Flushing, Holland and Zeeland. But next month the Sandwich corporation complained that too many prisoners had been landed in the town, and the Privy Council told him that he was in future to take only ‘open offenders’ from the Netherlands.4

During 1585-9 Holstock was one of the officials who attempted to combine efficiency with economy in naval administration. He and Wynter reported from Tower Hill in December 1587 their satisfaction that John Hawkins had ‘faithfully performed all the conditions of his offer’ to undertake repairs and new building. The Acts of the Privy Council for 1588 contain frequent references to Holstock’s services. Between 1580 and 1589 he also sat on a number of commissions, including those for surveying the Tower armoury, the repair of Dover haven, the defences of the Isle of Sheppey and (in 1587) the general state of the navy.5

His main residence was at Orsett, near Tilbury, and he also owned land at Barking, Blackmore, Ilford and Wanstead. In London he lived at St. Mary-at-Hill, Billingsgate, where he served as churchwarden during part of Mary’s reign; in June 1573 he bought the advowson there.6

He died on 24 Oct. 1589. His will, proved in the following December, might be that of any prosperous London merchant, the only indication of his connexion with the navy being a bequest of mourning gowns to Hawkins and William Borough, a colleague as victualler and comptroller. Holstock asked to be buried in St. Mary-at-Hill church, ‘where now I am a parishioner, before my pew there’. His goods, according to the London custom, were to be divided into three parts, one to his widow, another to his son Henry, the sole executor, and the last to be used for general purposes. Besides legacies to members of his family, including a brother, Christopher, there were bequests totalling £8 to the poor of his parish and ‘the poor children in Christ’s hospital’, and considerable charities to the Grocers—£20 ‘to be bestowed on spice bread to be given among the company’ and other neighbours and friends, and £10 to buy ‘a carpet for ... the parlour at Grocers’ Hall’, or for a memorial dinner if the Company would prefer this. There was to be a funeral feast for friends, costing £10, and £5 was to be set aside ‘towards the making of scutchings of my arms to serve at my burial’. As overseers Holstock appointed his sons-in-law, John Reynolds and John Newman. No inventory of the property is given, but it must have been considerable. The subsidy list for Billingsgate ward in September 1590 names him as one of those dead since the previous year, when he had been assessed on £100.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C142/266/175; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 422; PCC 99 Leicester.
  • 2. APC , ii. 120 et passim; viii. 65, 83; M. Oppenheim, Admin. of Royal Navy , 104, 140, 149; CPR , 1557-8, p. 404; 1558-60. pp. 237, 303; 1560-3, p. 63; W. W. Grantham, Wardens of the Grocers’ Co. 20.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xix(2), p. 398; APC, xvi. passim; CJ, i. 88, 91, 93.
  • 4. APC, iii. 361-2; ix. 200-1; HMC Hatfield, i. 281 seq.; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 8; HMC 5th Rep. 570; Lansd. 155, ff. 169, 364.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 443; APC, xii. 81; xiii. 80; Lansd. 104, f. 89.
  • 6. C3/96/17; PCC 99 Leicester; C142/226/175; H. Littlehales, Medieval Recs. of a London City Church, 404 seq.; Parish of St. Mary-at-Hill (anon.), 23.
  • 7. C142/226/175; PCC 99 Leicester; Stow, Survey of London (1633), 227a; Lansd. 63, f. 33.