Sir John Butler of Watton - The Broket Archive

Sir John Buttler of Watton at Stone
b 1511/14 d 1576

Watton at Stone was some 8 m NW of Wheathampstead, and John had various dealings with Sir John Brokett I. Like him he was on various commissions in Hertfordshire 1551-68. He also would have known Edward Brokett of Letchworth who was Sheriff of Essex and Herts two years before John. They both had to officiate at the burning of heretics, for which John’s expenses claim has been found. Here is John’s signature from another expenses claim he submitted with Sir John Brokett I during the reign of Edward VI (1547-53):1

TNA E117_14_193 John Buttler's signature

Contents of this page:

  1. Officiating at the burning of heretics
  2. Other records

Officiating at the burning of heretics

At the top of the relevant bundle of Sheriffs’ Accounts and Petitions in the National Archives are two documents:2

1. A royal writ dated 29 July 1557 commanding John to burn Rose Allen, Margaret Thurstone, John Johnson alias Alyker, William Monte and Alice Monte at Colchester in a public and open place. For a translation 3+Read more

For an image of the writ4 click here.

2. John’s expenses claim of £9 2s 8d for bringing the heretics from London and supervising their executions:

Essex & Hertf
The Costes and charges of Sir John Butler knight Sherife ther laide forthe Abowte the execucion of the prysoners heretyckes burned at Colcester by vertue of the kinge and Quenes maiestis wrighte herunto Annexed viz
In primis for my dynnar and horsemete at Waltam whenne I was sente for to Rychmonde xiijs vjd [the writ was issued at Richmond]
Item for my Supper and horsemete for me and my Servantes at London xiiijs
Item for my dynner & my Servantes at Rychmonde viijs
Item for our Supper there the same nighte ixs
Item for our horsemete there and at London ij nightes xviijs
Item for our dynnars at Brentewoodde vijs vjd
Item our horsemete there vs
Item our Suppers at Wytham xjs
Item our horsemete there vijs
Item our dynnars at Colchester xjs
Item for our Charges there by the space of A daye and ij nightes whenne the saide prysoners were executed xxxiijs viijd
Item for our horsemete there by the same [Spa]ce xxviijs
Item for woodde and Reedes to burne the said prysoners there xviijs
Sum ixli ijs viijd

England’s official religion under Queen Mary had reverted to Catholicism and many Protestants were burned at the stake during her reign. Like Edward Brokett of Letchworth before him, during his tenure as Sheriff of Essex and Herts 1556-7, John had to officiate at at least one such burning. As representatives of the Crown Sheriffs up and down the country were presiding at fires of execution. It was the ecclesiastical authorities, notably Edmund Bonner Bishop of London, who examined suspects and condemned them to death; Sheriffs were the secular authorities at the end of the process carrying out the royal commands.

In his biography of John for the History of Parliament, Coros said: “Nothing is known of Butler’s religious views. His Membership of Mary’s first Parliament implies that he was a reliable servant of the new regime, but he served continuously on the Hertfordshire bench under Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. When, in August 1557 his under sheriff unlawfully reprieved a heretic who was to be burnt in Colchester, Butler was fined £10 by the Privy Council.”5

Privy Council 1557 p 144

Foxe graphically recounted the stories and the burning on the afternoon of 2 Aug 1557 by the “sheriff of the shire” of William Mount of Much Bentley, Essex, aged 61, his wife Alice, aged 41, and her daughter Rose Allin, aged 20, John Johnson alias Aliker of Thorpe, aged 34.6 John Thurston and his wife Margaret had been found in the Mount’s house and taken likewise to Colchester Castle, but John died there before his execution.7 Foxe didn’t mention Margaret’s burning; she was probably the one reprieved by Butler’s under sheriff.

Other records

Cambridge University Library document Hh 2/4/94v

Page Last Updated: April 8, 2020


For full bibliographical details please see the sections Publications or Glossary.


[1] TNA E117/14/193. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[2] TNA E 199/76/1, comprising 103 membranes.

[3] For the original Latin contact the Archivist of this website.

[4] Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[5] (accessed 21 Aug 2018). The following image is from Dasent 1893 vol 6 p 144. Thanks to David Bethell for the reference.

[6] Cattley's 1838-41 edition, vol 6 pp 392, full account pp 381-93.

[7] Cattley's 1838-41 edition, vol 6 pp 393.