Sir William Wynter

WynterSir William Wynter

Born: c. 1528

Died: 20 February 1589

William was the second son of John Wynter, Merchant, Sea Captain and Treasurer of the Navy, of Bristol and Deptford, and Alice, daughter and heir of William Tirrey of Cork. He was born about 1528 in Brecknock in Breconshire, Wales.

His first recorded Naval Service was in 1544 while his father was Treasurer of the Navy. His father used him to collect money from the Exchequer and to discharge Naval accounts. When his father died in 1546, he expected to succeed to the office of Treasurer, but that appointment went to Robert Legge. He was appointed to the office of Keeper of Naval Stores, a lesser office which did not give him membership on the council.

His first sea service was in one of the ships that supported the Earl of Hertford’s incursion in Scotland in 1544. He also served under John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, in the channel in July and August 1545. He was at sea again in September 1547 under Lord Clinton in support of Protector Somerset’s expedition to the north, ending in the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. In 1549 he enjoyed notable success; while captaining the Minion (or Mynyon) in the channel, he took a French prize, which probably became the Black Galley. He and his crew received prize money of £100.

When Benjamin Gonson became Treasurer of the Navy on the death of Robert Legge, in 1549, Wynter succeeded to Gonson’s former position as Surveyor of the Navy and entered the Council for Marine Causes entering the inner circle of Naval Administration for the first time.

In the summer of 1553, Wynter invested in and sailed on Thomas Wyndham’s voyage of Guinea. Wyndham died but Wynter returned safely and appears to have gained a handsome profit. The journey may have also saved him from dangerous involvement in the succession crisis of July 1553, because he was close to many of those in the Duke of Northumberland’s circle who supported Jane Grey.

December 1553, he sailed to the low countries to escort to England the ambassadors whom the Emperor sent to negotiate Queen Mary’s marriage, even though like most Englishmen, he did not agree with the marriage. Though his religious position is not recorded, he was a favorite of King Edward VI’s government and at one time, he was owed £471 by the king for a voyage to Ireland in 1552. By the end of 1553 he was involved in conspiracy against Mary. He was thought to have acted as an intermediary between Nicholas Throckmorton and Sir Thomas Wyatt, but he played no active part. He was arrested in 20 February 1554 and was sent to the Tower of London. He was in there at the same time as Elizabeth and there were some stories that they became friends while they were both there. He was pardoned 10 November and was never brought to trial. While in the tower he was never deprived of his office of Surveyor of the Navy.

In November 1557 he was appointed Master of Naval Ordinance as well as holding his position of Surveyor of the Navy.

In 1559 he was under Clinton in command of the Jesus of Lubeck in service to the Lords of Congregation in Scotland. In December he was put in command of 34 ships and instructed to prevent French assistance from reaching Mary of Guise. He assisted the Duke of Norfolk’s army by remaining on station in the Firth of Forth in the first half of 1560. It was a feat of seamanship that earned him universal respect and it brought the French to terms in July 1560. After the Treaty of Berwick, several sons of Scottish noblemen were delivered to Wynter as hostages to be brought to England for fosterage with English nobility. He had a friend in Lord Burghley who reported to the Privy Council about his exploits and that “he was to be cherished”.

Wynter invested in John Hawkins voyage of 1564. He owned one ship, the George which was used mainly for privateering, but he was primarily a navy man and was well known for his commitment both on land and sea.

He served under Lord Clinton in the Le Havre campaign of 1563. He was at sea with the Queens’ ships in 1568 and 1570. In 1580 he was in command of the fleet that bombarded the Fortress of Smerwick to stop Spanish involvement in Ireland.

He carried the rank of Admiral for much of his service and even in his advancing years he was with Lord Seymour at the time of the Spanish Armada as a Vice Admiral. They joined Lord Howard on 27 July 1588 to confront the Spanish off the coast of Calais. It is alleged to have been Wynter’s idea to use fireships against the Armada. In a letter to Walsingham about the Battle of Gravelines it was clear that his strategic understanding of the importance of the English victory was superior to Francis Drake or Charles Howard.

He held the positions of Surveyor of the Navy and Master of Naval Ordinance until his death. Upon William Gonson’s death he expected to be appointed to the office of Treasurer and it is said that when it was given to John Hawkins, he resented him for it and once called him a “dissembling knave” in a letter to his friend Lord Burghley. The two men accused each other of incompetence and malpractice, the accusations appear to have not been justified. By the time of the Armada they had settled their differences.

Besides his ship George, he also owned properties in Lydney, Gloucestershire and Bristol. He also had connections to the Duchy of Lancaster. He was a Member of Parliament for Portsmouth in 1559 and 1563, Clitheroe in 1572, and Gloucestershire in 1586. He mainly concerned himself with naval affairs while in Parliament. In 1580 he became steward and receiver of all duchy lands of Gloucester and Hereford. He was knighted personally by the Queen in Greenwich in August 1573, the last person to be personally knighted by her. He had a house in London “in the abbey place Beinge the Manor howse of Eastsmithfield” and divided his time between London, Deptford and Lydney.

His wife’s name was Mary, daughter and co heir of Thomas Loughton of Gloucestershire. They had four sons and four daughters. When he died in February 1589 at his home in Lydney, the only heirs mentioned were his eldest son Edward and another son William. Edward was his heir and executor and William received half the London house along with weapons and plate.

William Wynter’s professionalism and honesty was sorely missed at the admiralty and after John Hawkins death in 1595 for about 25 years the organization was bedeviled by inefficiency and corruption. Wynter died a rich man, but was a positive and constructive force at the admiralty for over 40 years, during its most effective periods.