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Portrait of Sir Walter Mildmay

Sir Walter Mildmay (1520?-1589)

SIR WALTER MILDMAY, (1520?-1589), chancellor of the exchequer, and founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, was fourth and youngest son of Thomas Mildmay of Chelmsford, by his wife, Agnes Head. The latter was buried at Chelmsford, 6 Oct. 1557. As commissioner for receiving the surrender of the monasteries, the father had made a large fortune. In 1540 he was granted the manor of Moulsham, near Chelmsford, and built there a fine mansion. He received a general pardon from Queen Mary, 1 Oct. 1553.

Walter was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, but apparently took no degree. He subsequently became a student of law at Gray's Inn (1546), and obtained some employment under his father in the court of augmentation. When that court was reconstituted, about 1545, he was made one of its two surveyors-general. During Edward VI's reign Mildmay extended his official connection. On 22 Feb. 1546-7 he was knighted, and on 14 Sept. following prepared, with three others, an inventory of the late king's wardrobe. Sixteen days later he was appointed a commissioner to report upon the crown revenues. In 1548 he acted on commissions for the sale of lands (March) and for the maintenance of such grammar schools as had belonged to the dissolved chantries.

After the Duke of Somerset's arrest he was ordered by the privy council, 12 Nov. 1549, to examine the royal palace at Westminster, which had been in the duke's custody, and on 8 March 1550-1 to take charge of the duke's property at Sion House. He received for his service many grants of land in Gloucestershire and Berkshire, some of which he exchanged for manors in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire ; other grants in Cornwall, Essex, and London soon followed. He fixed his country residence at Apethorpe, Northamptonshire, which was granted to him in 1552, and was confirmed to him in 1556. In London he lived in the parish of Great St. Bartholomew's.

Mildmay soon proved himself a skilful financier. In 1550 he was directed, together with the Earl of Warwick and Sir William Herbert, to examine the accounts of the king's mints, and in 1551 superintended the establishment of a new mint at York. In December 1551 he was a commissioner to inspect the courts which controlled the crown lands. On 2 Jan. 1552 he was commissioned to levy the king's debts; on 21 Nov. to settle with the crown accountants the effect of a fall in the value of money; in December to audit the funds belonging to the king's officers; and in that and the next year he superintended the receipt by the crown of plate, jewels, bells, and the like surrendered by dissolved monasteries or chantries.

He was elected M.P. for Maldon on 1 March 1552-3, and for Peterborough on 5 Oct. 1553. Although he was a convinced Calvinist, Queen Mary's accession did not appreciably depress his fortunes, and before her death he was employed on government business. On 9 Jan. 1557-8 he was appointed treasurer of the forces sent to the relief of Calais. He was chosen to represent Northamptonshire in the parliament meeting in January 1657, and represented that constituency till his death.

Under Queen Elizabeth, with whom he regularly exchanged New-Year's gifts, his influence steadily grew. On her accession he was at once made treasurer of her household, and was appointed a member of a small committee of ways and means to supply the empty exchequer. He was soon busily employed in preparing a census of the farms of the royal revenues (22 Dec. 1558), in examining Queen Mary's grants of land, in compounding with those who refused knighthood (28 March 1559), in directing the issue of a new coinage (29 Oct. 1560), and in selling crown lands (May 1563). On 21 April 1566 Sir Richard Sackville, chancellor of the exchequer, died, and Mildmay was appointed in his stead. He was also made auditor of the duchy of Lancaster.

Busily occupied in the duties of his offices till his death, he concerned himself little with general politics. As the brother-in-law of Walsingham and the friend of Cecil, he was, however, always heard with attention in the privy council, the Star-chamber, and in parliament. He used what influence he possessed to shield the puritans from the attacks of the bishops, and often urged the queen to intervene on behalf of the protestants in the Low Countries. In his speeches in parliament he argued that a liberal grant of subsidies placed the government under an obligation to redress grievances, and thus identified himself with the popular party in the commons.

In 1572 he helped to prepare evidence against the Duke of Norfolk, who, nevertheless, after his condemnation gave him some rich jewels. The affairs of Mary Queen of Scots occasionally occupied his attention. When she arrived in England in 1567 he strongly advised her detention. In October 1577 he and Cecil visited her at Chatsworth, after she had announced that she had important secrets to reveal to Elizabeth. In 1586 he went to Fotheringay and informed her of her forthcoming trial, in which he took part as one of the special commissioners. In March 1587 he urged the condemnation of William Davison in the Star-chamber.

Although four times nominated an ambassador to Scotland, in 1565, 1580, 1582, and 1583, he was on each occasion detained at home, but when his name was suggested for the office in 1589, James VI expressed great readiness to receive him. Mildmay's illness, however,brought the suggestion to nothing. He died at Hackney on 31 May 1589, and was buried beside his wife in the church of St. Bartholomew the Great in London, where an elaborate monument still exists to his memory. 'The marble panelling and gilded mouldings produce a gorgeous effect.' The decorations are heraldic, but the Latin epitaph merely records names ind dates. The tomb was restored in 1865 by Henry Bingham Mildmay, esq.1 Epitaphs on Mildmay and Sir John Calthrop were licensed by the Stationers' Company on 29 July 1589. They are not known to be extant.

Mildmay was a man of cultivation and of great piety, with some popular reputation as a believer in second sight. Henry Caesar, dean of Ely, was directed by the Star-chamber to retract a report that he had circulated to the effect that Mildmay had endeavoured to see by conjuration the person of Cardinal Pole after his death. Henry Roberts, in his 'Fames Trumpet Soundinge,' 4to, 1689, mentions a book by Mildmay, and describes it as 'in print now extant.' It was entitled 'A Note to know a Good Man.' Sir John Harington, in his 'Orlando Furioso,' bk. xxii. p. 175, gives a stanza in Latin with an English translation; the former he says he derived from Mildmay's Latin poems, which are not otherwise known. A 'memorial' by Mildmay, written for his son Anthony in 1570, consisting of sensible moral precepts, was printed from a manuscript at Apethorpe by the Rev. Arundell St. John Mildmay in 1893. Many of his official letters and papers are at Hatfield or in the state paper office.

His interest in education Mildmay displayed with much effect. On 28 Nov. 1583 he purchased for £550 the site at Cambridge of the dissolved house of the Dominicans or Black Friars, which was situated in what was then called Preachers Street, but is now known as St. Andrews Street. Upon this land, on 11 Jan. 1583-1584 he obtained the queen's license to set up Emmanuel College. The architect was Ralph Symons, and in 1588 the new building was opened with a dedication festival which Mildmay attended. He installed in the college a master, Laurence Chaderton, three fellows, and four scholars; but subsequent benefactions soon increased the fellowships to fourteen and the scholarships to fifty.

According to Fuller, Mildmay, on coming to court, after the college was opened was addressed by the Queen with the words: 'Sir Walter, I hear you have erected a puritan foundation,' to which Mildmay replied: 'No, madam; far be it from me to countenance anything contrary to your established laws; but I have set an acorn, which when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof.' His statutes for the government of Emmanuel College bear date 1 Oct. 1686. They are attested by his sons, Anthony and Humphrey, John Hammond, LL.D., William Lewyn, LL.D., Thomas Byng, LL.D., Timothy Bright, M.D., and Edward Downing. Mildmay deprecated perpetual fellowships, and warned the fellows against regarding the college as 'a perpetual abode;' they were to look forward to spreading outside the knowledge they acquired within its walls.

Mildmay otherwise showed his interest in education by acting as an original governor of Chelmsford School,founded in 1550-1; by giving an annuity of 52s. to Christ's Hospital (10 April 1556); and by bestowing £20 a year on Christ's College, Cambridge (10 March 1568-1569), to be expended on a Greek lectureship, six scholarships and a preachership to be filled by a fellow of the college. He also contributed stone for completing the tower of Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge, and he helped to found the free-school at Middleton, Lancashire.

There are three portraits of Mildmay at Emmanuel College — one with his wife. A fourth painting is at Moulsham Hall, near Chelmsford, and a fifth at Knole Park, Sevenoaks. There are engravings by J. Faber and E. Harding, and an unsigned plate is known.

Mildmay married Mary, daughter of William Walsingham, by Joyce, daughter of Edmund Denny, baron of exchequer, and sister of Sir Francis Walsingham. She died 16 March 1576. His children were Sir Anthony; Humphrey of Danbury Place, Essex, father of Sir Henry Mildmay; Winifred, wife of Sir William Fitz-william of Gains Park, Essex; Martha, wife of Sir William Brouncker; and Christian, wife successively of Charles Barrett of Aveley in Essex, and Sir John Leveson of Kent, knight.


(Sidney Lee)

1. Norman Moore, The Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, pp. 41-2.



      Excerpted from:

      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XIII. Sidney Lee, ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909. 374-376.




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Images:

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Medieval English Drama

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