BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts

By Gordon Vowles
Published by the Gostwick Press (Willington) 2018 in association
with Willington Local History Group ISBN 978-0-9565663-6-2.
60 pages. Price £6 plus £1.50 postage & packing Available via the Willington Local History Group @
or on sale at meetings of the Group.

Sir John Gostwick was an eminent entrepreneur and one of England’s earliest national bureaucrats, servant and friend of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII. He was a man of influence, nationally and locally, and, as a wealthy landowner, founder of the Gostwick dynasty as lords of the manor of Willington. There is no full-scale biography of Sir John and the main account of his life was written by Herbert Finberg in 1939, though not published until 1956. Gordon’s book provides a well-researched, but accessible record of Sir John’s life and achievements.

Gordon will be well-known to many readers as a long-standing member of BAALHS, President of Willington Local History Group, Trustee of the Friends of St. Lawrence Church, Willington (which will benefit from all profits from the sale of this book) and author – both of a series of booklets on aspects of Willington’s history and a history of Local Education Authorities in Bedfordshire; Gordon also edited Bernard West’s Bedfordshire.

The introduction is followed by a brief account of Gostwick’s early life, born in Willington between 1480 and 1490. The suceeding chapter provides an overview of Willington in the late 15th century, touching at high level on land ownership, the field system, agriculture and aspects of daily life, the Church and manorial court, setting the context for the main chapters on Gostwick’s life. Gostwick was introduced to Cardinal Wolsey between 1511 and 1514, becoming a member of Wolsey’s household. His duties were largely ceremonial and in parallel he pursued various commercial interests, being admitted to the prestigious Mercers’ Company in 1515. In 1523 Gostwick was appointed as auditor of the castles and lordships of Wakefield, Richmond and eleven other places in Yorkshire. As an office-holder he needed a coat of arms which was granted to him in 1523. He married Joan, who bore him a son, William. In 1527 Gostwick became comptroller, the third most important post in Wolsey’s household and one with substantial financial responsibilities. Gostwick had already begun to buy small parcels of land in Willington, but in 1529 he purchased the manor of Willington for £1,300 from the Duke of Norfolk.

Cardinal Wolsey fell from grace in 1530 and was dismissed as Lord Chancellor. He was arrested and summoned to stand trial, but died before the charges could be heard. Gostwick lost his post in Wolsey’s household, but not his other appointments. During this period, Gostwick focused on building a new family home at Willington, and in the late-1530s funded work on the church, dovecote and stables. The author, John Leland, described how “Mr Gostwick hath made a sumptuous new building of brick and timber”.

Gostwick was a close friend of Thomas Cromwell, who had become a key adviser to King Henry on parliamentary and legal matters. Gostwick saw the value of a legal background and in 1530 became a member of Gray’s Inn. In 1532 Gostwick became a justice of the peace for Bedfordshire, holding this position until his death. With the Act of Supremacy in 1534, papal incomes transferred to the state and a tax was imposed on all incumbents of 10% of their net yearly income. In 1535, Gostwick was appointed a commissioner for Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire to assess this tax; in July 1535 he was appointed as Treasurer and Receiver-General at a salary of £100, excluding perquisites. His relationship with Cromwell and his role as Treasurer enabled him to take advantages to expand his land holdings, especially after the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1540. Gostwick acted as a commissioner undertaking visitations to assess the wealth and state of religious houses, including in 1539 Elstow Abbey. Gostwick was MP for Bedfordshire in 1539 and again in 1544. He was also appointed as Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1541. Sir John Gostwick died on 15th April 1545 and was buried in the chancel of Willington Church.

There is a short, but useful bibliography and three appedices: one listing the properties he acquired and when, as well as the offices he held; the second, summarising Bedfordshire religious houses and when they were dissolved; the third appendix provides an extract and example from Willington Manor Court Rolls. There are sixteen illustrations, a mixture of black-and-white and colour. There is no index.

This is an excellent readable book on a man of national and local importance, which should be of interest to those who follow Tudor high politics, as well as the history of Willington. At only £6 it represents great value for money, and the proceeds will go to the upkeep of St. Lawrence Church, Willington – an excellent cause.

Illustration of book cover