1st Marquess of Winchester KG, PC (c. 1483/1485 – 10 March 1572), styled Lord St John between 1539 and 1550 and Earl of Wiltshire between 1550 and 1551., was an English Lord High Treasurer, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and statesman. Paulet was the eldest of four sons of Sir John Paulet and his wife Alice of Basing Castle at Old Basing, near Basingstoke, in Hampshire and Nunney Castle in Somerset. Basing House was obtained through his grandfather.
There is some disagreement over his date of birth, with different authorities quoting 1483 or 1485. A claim that he was ninety-seven at his death would place his birth in 1474 or 1475. There is also uncertainty about where he was born, but most sources agree Fisherton Delamere in Wiltshire, one of his father’s manors.
William Paulet’s early life is obscure but after school he went to Thaives Inn and then Inner Temple. He became a protégé of William Fox, Bishop of Winchester and was an executor of his will and came to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey.
He married Elizabeth, who pre-deceased him by 14 years and she was the daughter of Sir William Capel, Lord Mayor of London in 1503, and by her had four sons and four daughters, the eldest son becoming the 2nd Marquess of Winchester.
Important offices came his way and during his long career Paulet held numerous offices which included:-.
- High Sheriff of Hampshire 1511–12, 1518–19 and 1522–23
- Joint Master of the King’s Wards 1526–34 and sole Master of the King’s Wards 1534–40
- Member of Parliament for Hampshire 1529–36
- Comptroller of the Household 1532–37
- Keeper of Pamber Forest 1535/6
- Treasurer of the Household 1537-38/9
- Master of the King’s Woods 1541
- Master of the Court of Wards 1540–42
- Master of the Court of Wards and Liveries 1542–54
- Privy Counsellor 1542
- Lord Chamberlain of the Household 1543–45
- Lord Steward of the Household 1545-1549/50
- Chief Justice in Eyre, South of Trent 1545-49/50
- Lord President of the Council 1546–49
- Joint Governor of King Edward VI
- Lord Keeper of the Great Seal 1547
- Keeper and Captain of St Andrew’s Castle, Hamble 1547-71/2
- Keeper of Alice Holt and Woolmer Forests 1548-71/2
- Lord High Treasurer 1549/50-71/2
- Lord High Steward for the trial of the Duke of Somerset 1551
- Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire 1552, 1553 and 1559
- Lieutenant of the forces in London 1558
- Speaker of the House of Lords 1558 and 1566
- Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and Middlesex 1569
- Joint Lord Lieutenant of London 1569
Paulet’s political career began, when he was elected knight of the shire for Hampshire in 1511.He accompanied King Henry VIII to Calais, France, and the following spring, he accompanied the Duke of Norfolk to join King Francis I of France in a proposed audience with the Pope, to discuss Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. On 9 March 1539 he was created Baron St John. He became steward of the bishopric of Winchester, and became a close associate of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and a friend of Thomas Cromwell. He was also Comptroller of the Royal Household, and held many other high positions.
In 1535 and 1536, he served as one of the judges for the trials of John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and the alleged accomplices of Anne Boleyn; in 1535, he became Lord Chamberlain. He partially led the royal forces against the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion that broke out in the autumn of 1536 and during this period was on the Emergency Council. In 1538, he became Treasurer of the Household. In 1540, he became the master of Henry’s Court of Wards and Liveries, a Knight of the Garter in 1543, and Governor of Portsmouth and Lord Steward of the Household in 1545. In 1546, he became Lord President of the Council. With Norfolk he made all the arrangements for Jane Seymour’s funeral and was present at the baptism of Elizabeth 1 and Edward V1, as they became. In 1547, he was an executor of the will of King Henry VIII. He spent much of his time at Court and was an intimate councillor of the King. By this time he was wealthy and his landed estate alone was at least £1,000 per annum.
It was at the time of the Dissolution,(1538) that Paulet, purchased part of the site of the Augustine Friars house and church. He pulled the building down and erected a great house on the site of the domestic buildings, on the northern part of the site, called ” Paulet House ” and afterwards “Winchester Place” The house was pulled down in1839, and “Great Winchester Street,” “Little Winchester Street” were afterwards built on and now occupy the site. (Great Winchester Street was later developed over its garden). A portion of the old house was in existence in 1844. The Pay Office for the Navy was here at one time. In 1657, it was called ” Winchester House ” and was occupied as a Glass House by the Spanish Ambassador and for the Excise Office
Paulet conducted the royal administration with Somerset of Edward’s early reign but continued his political manoeuvres in 1549 by supporting the Earl of Warwick against Somerset. In reward, on 19 January 1550 he was given the Earldom of Wiltshire and Somerset’s position of Lord Treasurer. In the following month Warwick took over the post of Lord President of the Council. When Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland on 11 October 1551, Paulet received the Marquessate of Winchester. Six weeks later, he served as Lord High Steward in the Duke of Somerset’s trial. He did however try to get Somerset’s heir some of his inheritance.
It was said that Northumberland and Winchester “ruled the court” of the minor King Edward VI. But on his death he sided with the Marion camp and Mary I affirmed him in all of his positions including Privy Councillor and Lord Treasurer. After her death, he remained Lord Treasurer under Elizabeth and retained many of his other positions, and even at an advanced age (in 1559, he was over seventy years old), he showed no signs of declining. He was Speaker of the House of Lords in 1559 and 1566. He remained in good standing with the English monarchs. Late in life, he opposed any military support of Continental Protestantism, as he feared it would cause a breach with strongly Catholic Spain. Elizabeth however had to dismiss him in the end as Speaker of the Lords because of his “considerable decay of his memory and hearing”. At the end of his life the government were undergoing financial problems which Paulet as Lord Chancellor seemed to escape blame owing to his age!
Paulet was still in office when he retired to Basing House in 1570 and died, a very old man, on 10 March 1572, a house that he helped d to rebuild and fortify. Basing House was the largest private residence in England at that time. His tomb is on the south side of the chancel of Basing church.
Paulet enjoyed a remarkably long career during the English Reformation. His greatest achievement was his rise from obscurity to great status. Starting out as a Catholic, he was quickly persuaded to see things Henry’s way once the breach with Rome had been decided on. A Henrician Catholic he was rewarded with former Church properties following the dissolution of the monasteries. Under Edward VI he became an evangelical Protestant and persecuted Roman Catholics and Henrician Conservatives alike. On the accession of the Catholic Mary he announced his reconversion and commenced persecuting his former Protestant co-religionists, even denouncing Bishop Bonner for “laxity in prosecuting the heretics.” On Elizabeth’s succession, he once again shifted his sails and became an advocate of middle road Anglicanism. All in all, he professed five changes in religious course. Once, when asked how he managed to survive so many storms, not only unhurt, but rising all the while, Paulet answered: “I was made of pliable willow, not the stubborn oak.”