Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 May 2021

Gates, Sir Johnfree

  • Narasingha P. Sil

Gates, Sir John (1504–1553), courtier, was born into an Essex gentry family, his grandfather William Gates having purchased the manor of Garnetts in High Easter; this remained the property of his descendants until 1582, and it was where John was born. John's father, Sir Geoffrey Gates (d. 1526), was a JP for Essex and served as sheriff of the county. With his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Clopton, he had three sons, of whom John was the eldest, and two daughters, Anne, who married Thomas Darcy, uncle of Thomas, Lord Darcy of Chiche, vice-chamberlain of Edward VI's household, and Dorothy, who was at court in Katherine Howard's household (1540–42) and married Sir Thomas Josselyn.

Having trained as a lawyer at Lincoln's Inn from 1523, John Gates became a groom of Henry VIII's privy chamber in 1533. He may have owed his advancement to Anthony Denny, whose sister Mary he married. In January 1535 he was one of the commissioners who drew up the valor ecclesiasticus for Essex, and in October the following year was directed to keep the peace in that county during the Pilgrimage of Grace. On 10 October 1537 he became a page of the wardrobe of robes. A member of a closely knit circle of royal servants, Gates was Denny's deputy within the privy chamber and in charge of the king's coffer. Licensed to retain ten men in his livery, in addition to bailiffs and other servants, he supplied sixty soldiers to the French expedition of 1544, and even commanded 3073 men remaining with the king at Boulogne. It is a sign of his growing importance that on 20 September 1545 he should have been authorized to authenticate all official documents with the king's dry stamp, an appointment which gave Gates and Denny substantial political influence in the last twelve months of the reign. He was a witness to Henry's will on 30 August 1546 and received a bequest of £200 from the king.

Gates probably first sat in parliament in 1542, for Chipping Wycombe, while in 1545 he was MP for New Shoreham. Elected for Southwark in 1547, he became a knight of the shire for Essex in 1551. In Edward VI's reign he was also made knight of the Bath (20 February 1547) and in 1549 sheriff of Essex. In the latter capacity he was ordered to act against Princess Mary's plans to escape to the continent in the summer of 1550. In the same year he became one of the four chief gentlemen of the privy chamber (designated principal knights in 1552), while in the following year he was appointed successively vice-chamberlain of the household and captain of the guard (8 April), a privy councillor (10 April), and lord lieutenant of Essex (14 April). On 7 July he was made chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and on 14 December he was entrusted with the king's signet. On 19 April 1552 he was licensed to have twenty-five retainers. As well as being actively involved in raising money by selling chantry lands, he was appointed to the revenue commission of 1552, and to commissions to 'demande alloawances for the fall of … monie' and for the sale of crown lands.

Gates's increasing prominence reflects his closeness to the duke of Northumberland. He became implicated in the latter's conspiracy to alter Henry VIII's will in order to transfer the succession to the throne away from Princess Mary in favour of Jane Grey, the daughter of the duke of Suffolk, who was Northumberland's daughter-in-law. But he was not the young king's confidant, even though he had close access to Edward's person, and he did not, as has been claimed, mastermind the 'Devise' for the alteration of the succession. Nor, although he was regarded by Nicholas Ridley and others as an educated and God-fearing man, and died professing his faith in scripture, does he seem to have been primarily influenced by religious motives. Probably it was because he was a conscientious and capable man of affairs that he wished to carry out his superior's orders and therefore joined Northumberland's expedition against Mary. None the less, Mary was proclaimed queen and Gates was arrested with his patron and executed on 22 August 1553. He seems to have been singled out for the scaffold less for his complicity in Northumberland's rebellion than for his acting against Mary in 1550 and also preventing her from attending mass.

Gates acquired several valuable monastic properties, starting in 1537, and came to possess manors in Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, and Northamptonshire, and also at Westminster, where he was granted the site of St Stephen's College. The capital value of the properties he acquired under Edward VI was said to have amounted to more than £13,600, and he also received £147 3s. 10d. per annum from sinecures and held three wardships. Following his attainder and execution most of his properties were confiscated by the crown, a judgment which even John Strype, who regarded Gates as covetous, thought 'somewhat hard and unjust' (Sil, King's men, 269).

Sir John Gates's younger brother Sir Henry Gates (b. before 1523, d. 1589) sat with his brother in parliament as the other MP for New Shoreham in 1545, had become a gentleman pensioner by 1546, and as a protestant flourished during the protectorate of the duke of Somerset, who knighted him in Scotland on 28 September 1547. MP for Bridport in the latter year, in 1551 he became a gentleman of Edward VI's privy chamber, and was also appointed controller of the petty custom at the port of London and receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall. Like his elder brother, Sir Henry became involved in Northumberland's conspiracy against Mary, and was arrested and condemned to death. But though he lost his government offices he was soon pardoned and restored to favour, being entrusted with a command for the defence of the north during the Anglo-French war of 1557. Although he was MP for Bramber in 1559, he became increasingly settled in Yorkshire, where he acquired an estate at Seamer, and was MP for Scarborough in 1563 and 1572, and a knight of the shire for Yorkshire in 1571 and 1586. He became a member of the council of the north and gave valuable service against the northern rising of 1569, when he risked being murdered during an official mission to Scotland. Sir Henry Gates married twice. His first wife, Lucy Knyvet, with whom he had four sons and four daughters, died in 1577, and by 1584 he had married Katherine Vaughan, who survived him. When he died, on 7 April 1589, his heir was his eldest son, Edward.


  • N. P. Sil, ‘The rise and fall of Sir John Gates’, HJ, 24 (1981), 929–43
  • N. P. Sil, ‘King's men, queen's men, statesmen: a study of the careers of Sir Anthony Denny, Sir William Herbert, and Sir John Gates, gentlemen of the Tudor privy chamber’, PhD diss., University of Oregon, 1978
  • N. P. Sil, Tudor placemen and statesmen: select case histories (2002)
  • D. E. Hoak, The king's council in the reign of Edward VI (1976)
  • W. K. Jordan, Edward VI, 2: The threshold of power (1970)
  • W. K. Jordan, Edward VI, 1: The young king (1968)
  • R. C. Braddock, ‘The royal household, 1540–1560’, PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1971
  • N&Q, 148 (1925), 350, 394
  • CSP Spain, 1553
  • CSP for., 1569–71
  • CSP dom., 1547–80, with addenda, 1566–79
  • CPR, 1547–58
  • J. Strype, Ecclesiastical memorials, 3 vols. (1822)
  • P. Morant, The history and antiquities of the county of Essex, 2 vols. (1760–68)
  • will of H. Gates, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/73
  • will of D. Josselyn, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/65
  • private information (2010) [N. Green]


  • BL, Lansdowne MS 205, fols. 56, 152–3
  • BL, Harley MS 284, fols. 127–8
  • BL, Harley MS 6164, fol. 58

Wealth at Death

£13,600—property: Strype, Ecclesiastical memorials

British Library, London
Historical Journal
W. B. Turnbull & others, eds., (1861–1950)
Notes and Queries
G. A. Bergenroth, P. De Gayangos, & others, eds., , 13 vols., PRO (1862–1954); M. A. S. Hume, ed., , 4 vols., PRO (1892–9); repr. (1971)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
P. W. Hasler, ed., , 3 vols. (1981)
S. T. Bindoff, ed., , 3 vols. (1982)