1612, Thomas Wilson seeks a reward for sorting out the king’s records and papers

Thomas Wilson, clerk, keeper of the king’s records. SP 14/69 f. 105 (1612)

The humble peticion and complaint of Thomas Wilson your majestyes servant and clerke of your majestyes records and papers of estate in the office established att your highnes pallace of Whytehale.

Humbly sheweing and complayning unto your majesty, that having served your majestye many yeares in the said office, in reducing those things to order oute of extreame confusion, and never haveing had or made any benefyte therby, but only 30 pounds a yeare which your majesty geveth me, I was bold about Midsomer last to make a peticion to your majesty, to bestowe upon me a certayne rent and arrerages issuing out of certayne landes of my owne which I lately bought in Hartfordshire, but faling dangerously sick presently upon preferring my peticion, as I have ben ever since and yett am, of a quartayne feaver, wherby I was not able to prosecute the same suite to your majestys grante under seale. In this tyme of my sickness, John Hale your majestyes servant and cup bearer understanding of my slackness, and getting some notice of the debt, came to me and claymed the debt by vertue of a patent granted to one Edward Abbott, but when by sight of my evedence he gate more light of the matter (being a concealed debt) and per= ceyved that patent wold not carry it procures in February last a newe patent of that particuler debt and others, to Mistress Midlemore, by which he comes to me requyreing money or composicion, I agreed for quyetnes sake to geve him 200 pounds by 50 pounds a tearme provided that I might have such discharge of my land as my learned counsell shold devise, which he agreed unto, and hath taken 20 pounds in part of payment, and nowe fynding some that offereth him more then 200 pounds he goeth back of his bargayne, and I comeing on Twesday last to talke with him quietly about it, in your majestyes howse, and repeating howe the composition was, he presently even in one of your majestyes gallerys most obprobriously and disgrace fully gave me the lye, in the hearing of divers, and thretneth presently to sease my land, he yett never shewing me any right he hath. My humble suite unto your majesty is that he may make me such reparacion of the wrong and disgrace he hath done me as to your princely mynd shall seeme fitt, that I may quietly proceed in your majestyes service, having a greate worke yett to performe in that place, and office, wherin I serve your majesty and wherin I am assured your majesty will take greate contentment, when it is finished and I shall ever (as I am bound) pray for your majestyes long and happy rayne.

Your majestyes most loyall subject and servant

1 June 1612 / Thomas Wilson

Report by Alex Dunlop

Thomas Wilson’s ancestors had settled in Lincolnshire in the 15th century.  The family “was of little account” until an uncle served as Member of Parliament for Lincoln in two Elizabethan parliaments, and his nephew, Thomas, was granted a scholarship to Cambridge.[1]

Young Thomas claimed to have studied civil law for 15 years[2] during which time he married the daughter of a family connected with 1st Lord Burghley, and travelled abroad, mostly Italy, from whence he sent news of suspected Catholic conspiracies.[3] This information caught the attention of prominent English statesmen, Lord Buckhurst and Robert Cecil.[4] At this time Wilson’s “The State of England, Anno Dom. 1600”  was a respected contemporary social study.[5] The year 1604 saw Thomas as English Consul in Spain, after which he elected to be secretary to Robert Cecil,[6] where he continued his political intelligence gathering.[7] By 1606 Wilson was MP for Newtown, Isle of Wight, and still reporting to (the now) Lord Salisbury, his patron.[8]

In 1606, after only one recorded speech in Parliament, Salisbury recommended him to the King as Deputy Keeper of State Records.[9] There for 8 years, at £30 per year, he diligently attempted to obtain, collate and securely store the State Papers.[10]  This so often proved a thankless task, as senior crown officials, or their immediate families, repeatedly saw no reason to part with “their” state papers and correspondence when retiring or post mortem.  Borrowed papers suffered the same fate, and the King proved unwilling or unable to stamp out corruption.[11] However James I gave Thomas a £40 annuity in 1612, and £300 on Salisbury’s death.[12]

James I rewarded Thomas Wilson with a knighthood in 1618 for his conscientiousness as a Royal archivist.[13]  He received the annuity the same year as submitting his petition, of which we do not have the outcome. Thomas had been involved in the development of Hertford, and acquired the Castle Gatehouse.

History seems to reveal a clever, honest, diligent and wise man in Thomas Wilson. One who often failed to achieve his ambitions, for example, prestigious Cambridge academic positions for himself and a relative.[14] Due to debt Thomas was forced to sell his London properties and his lease in Hertfordshire. However to “his daughter’s great joy” he died of a stroke prior to completing the sale in Hertfordshire, the Gatehouse having been promised to her husband as dowry.[15]


[1] ‘WILSON, Thomas (c.1565-1629), of Westminster and the Castle Gatehouse, Hertford, Herts.’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010, https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/wilson-thomas-1565-1629

[2] Wilson, Thomas. “The State of England, Anno Dom. 1600.” Camden Third Series 52 (1936): 1–47. doi:10.1017/S2042171000004787

[3] ‘Queen Elizabeth – Volume 251: March 1595’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1595-97, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1869), pp. 14-25. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/edw-eliz/1595-7/pp14-25.

[4] ibid.

[5] Wilson, Thomas. “The State of England, Anno Dom. 1600.” Camden Third Series 52 (1936): 1–47. doi:10.1017/S2042171000004787

[6] ‘Wilson’, History of Parliament

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Taylor, Frank. ‘An Early Seventeenth-Century Calendar of Records in Westminster Palace Treasury’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XXIII (1939), p. 339

[10] Pollard, A. F., and Sean Kelsey. “Wilson, Sir Thomas (d. 1629), record keeper and author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/29690

[11] ‘Wilson’, ODNB

[12] ‘Wilson’, History of Parliament

[13] Shaw, William A. Knights of England, vol. II, p.  169

[14] Thomas, F.S. A history of the State Paper Office (London 1849), pp 7-8

[15]  ‘Wilson’, History of Parliament


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.