Mildmay was the fourth and the youngest son of Thomas Mildmay of Chelmsford, by his wife, Agnes Read. As the Commissioner for receiving the surrender of the monasteries, his father Thomas had made a large fortune and in 1540 granted the manor of
Moulsham, near Chelmsford, and here built a fine mansion.
Mildmay's older brother Sir Thomas (d. 1566), was an auditor of the Court of Augmentation, (which had been established in 1537 for controlling the property taken by the Crown from the monasteries), was the grandfather of Thomas (d. 1626), who was created a baronet in 1611, and of Henry (d. 1645), who was knighted. The latter claimed, in right of his mother Frances Ratcliffe, daughter of Henry, third baron Fitz-walter, and second earl of Sussex, the barony of Fitz-walter, and his grandson Benjamin (d. 1679), on 10 February 1670, was summoned to the House of Lords by that title. Benjamin's two sons, Charles (d. 1728) and Benjamin, were in succession Lords Fitz-walter, the latter being further created Viscount Harwich and Earl Fitz-walter in 1730. On his death, in 1756, the earldom became extinct and the barony fell into abeyance (cf. Burke's Extinct Peerages, p. 368).
Education and work
Mildmay was educated at
Christ's College, Cambridge, but apparently failed to take his degree. He later became a student of law at Gray's Inn(1546), and there obtained some employment under his father in the Court of Augmentation. When that court was reconstituted, in about 1545, he was made one of its two surveyors-general.
During Edward VI's reign, Mildmay extended his official connection. On 22 February 1546-7 he was knighted, and on the 14th September prepared, along 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 Councilon 12 November 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.
For his services he received many grants of land in
Gloucestershireand Berkshire, some of which he exchanged for manors in Oxfordshireand Northamptonshire; other grants of land in Cornwall, Essexand London soon followed. He fixed his country residence at Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, which was granted to him in 1552, and was confirmed to him in 1556. When 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 Warwickand 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 January 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.
Mildmay was elected MP for Maldon on 1 March 1552-3, and then for Peterborough on 5 October 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 January 1557-8 he was appointed treasurer of the forces sent to the relief of Calaisand was chosen to represent Northamptonshire in the parliament meeting in January 1557; after this he represented that constituency until 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 December 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 October 1560), and in selling crown lands (May 1563).
On 21 April 1566 Sir
Richard Sackville, the then chancellor of the exchequer, died, and Mildmay was appointed as his replacement; he was also made auditor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Busily occupied in the duties of his offices until his death, he concerned himself little with general politics. As the brother-in-law of Walsinghamand the friend of Burghley, 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 Scotsalso 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 Castleand 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 Davisonin 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 VIexpressed great readiness to receive him. Mildmay's illness, however, brought the suggestion to nothing.
Mildmay died at Hackney on 31 May 1589, and is buried beside his wife in the church of
St Bartholomew the Greatin London, where an elaborate monument still exists to his memory. The decorations are heraldic, but the Latin epitaph merely records names and dates. The tomb was restored in 1865 by Henry Bingham Mildmay, Esq. Epitaphs on Mildmay and Sir John Calthropwere licensed by the Stationers' Companyon 29 July 1589. They are not known to be extant.
Mildmay displayed his interest in education with much effect. On 23 November 1583 he purchased for £550 the site at
Cambridgeof 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. Here, on 11 January 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 are dated 1 October 1585 and 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 KnolePark, Sevenoaks. There are also 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 Fitzwilliam of Gains Park, Essex; Martha, wife of Sir William Brouncker; and Christian, wife successively of Charles Barrett of Aveleyin Essex, and Sir John Levesonof Kent, Knight.
The eldest son, Sir
Anthony Mildmay(d. 1617), who inherited the family estate of Apethorpe, delivered an oration with much success at Peterhouse, Cambridge, when the queen visited the college 9 August 1564. He entered Gray's Inn in 1579. He was knighted in 1596, when he was appointed ambassador to Henry IV. "I always knew him," wrote Chamberlain soon after Mildmay had settled in Paris, "to be paucorum hominum, yet he hath ever showed himself an honourable fast frend where he found vertue and desert".
The French King complained of Mildmay's ungenial manner and of the coldness with which he listened to the praises of the
Earl of Essex. At an interview in March 1597 Henry ordered him out of his chamber and threatened to strike him. He returned home later in the year, and declined an invitation to resume the post in 1598. He died on 11 Sept. 1617, and was buried at Apethorpe, where an elaborate monument was erected to his memory. A portrait is at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. By his marriage in 1567 with Grace (d. 27 July 1620), daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Sheringtonof Lacock, in Wiltshire, he left an only child, Mary, who married Francis Fane, first Earl of Westmorland, and was mother of Mildmay Fane, second Earl of Westmorland.
* [http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/WalterMildmay(Sir).htm History of Parliament - Biography]
*Dictionary of National Biography - (piece written 1894)
*Visitation of Essex (Harl. Soc.), 1612, pt. i. pp. 251, 452;
*Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 51-5;
*Bridges's Northamptonshire, ii. 425;
*Mullinger's Hist. of Cambridge University, ii. 310 sq.;
*Cal. of Hatfield MSS, vols. i-iv.;
*Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. iv. (Westmorland MSS.);
*Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 507; Wright's Elizabeth.
*'Lady Mildmay's Journal: A Study in Autobiography and Meditation in Reformation England', by Retha M. Warnicke in the "Sixteenth Century Journal", Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 55-68.
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