Born at Moulsham, Essex, Mildmay was the fourth and the youngest son of Thomas Mildmay, Auditor of the Court of Augmentations for Henry VIII, 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 was granted the Manor of Moulsham, near Chelmsford, where he built a fine mansion.
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 the Court of Augmentation was reconstituted, about 1545, Mildmay 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 14 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 Council on 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 Syon House.
For his services he received many grants of land in Gloucestershire and Berkshire, some of which he exchanged for manors in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire; other grants of land in Cornwall, Essex and 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 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 January 1552 he was commissioned to levy the King's debts;
- On 21 November 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 Lostwithiel in 1545, for Lewes in 1547 and Maldon on 1 March 1553, 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 1558 he was appointed treasurer of the forces sent to the relief of Calais and was chosen as knight of the shire to represent Northamptonshire in the parliament meeting in January 1557; after this he represented that constituency eight times 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 Francis Walsingham and the friend of Lord 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 Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who, nevertheless, after his condemnation gave him some rich jewels. The affairs of Mary, Queen of Scots also 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 Castle 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.
Mildmay died at Hackney on 31 May 1589, and is buried beside his wife in the church of St Bartholomew the Great in 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 Calthrop were licensed by the Stationers' Company on 29 July 1589. They are not known to be extant.
Founding Emmanuel College
Mildmay displayed his interest in education with much effect. On 23 November 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. Here, on 11 January 1583-1584 he obtained the Queen's licence 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 was at Moulsham Hall demolished in 1809, near Chelmsford, and a fifth at Knole Park, Sevenoaks. There are also engravings by J. Faber and E. Harding, and an unsigned plate is known.
Character and publications
Sidney Lee wrote that 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, 1589, 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.
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), and was the grandfather of Thomas (d. 1626), who was created a baronet in 1611, and of Henry (d. 1654), 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.
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 Aveley in Essex, and Sir John Leveson of Kent, Knight.
- Lee 1894, p. 388, cites: cf. John Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, ii. 287
- "Mildmay, Walter (MLDY538W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Lee 1894, p. 388
- Lee 1894, p. 388, cites: cf. Strype, Grindal, p. 92.
- Lee 1894, p. 389, cites: cf. his discourse in Cott. MS. Calig. C. ix. 49.
- Lee 1894, p. 389
- Lee 1894, p. 389, cites: cf. his opinion in Burnet's Reformation, pt. ii. bk. iii. No. xii.
- Lee 1894, p. 389, cites: Norman Moore, The Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, pp. 41-2
- Lee 1894, p. 389, cites: cf. University and College Documents, iii. 483-526; Willis and Clark's Architectural Hist. of Cambridge, ii. 687 sq.
- Lee 1894, p. 390
- Lee 1894, p. 388, cites: (cf. Burke's Extinct Peerages, p. 368).
- History of Parliament MILDMAY, Walter (by 1523-89) of Apethorpe , Northants
- Lee, Sidney (1894). "Mildmay, Walter". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 388–390. Cites:
- Visitation of Essex (Harl. Soc.), 1612, pt. i. pp. 251, 452;
- Charles Henry Cooper, Athenæ Cantabrigienses. ii. 51-5;
- John Bridges, Northamptonshire, ii. 425;
- John Strype, Annals;
- James Froude, Hist.;
- James Bass Mullinger, History of Cambridge University, ii. 310 sq.;
- Calendar 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.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "Mildmay, Walter". Dictionary of National Biography. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 388–390.
- '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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