John Gostwick: Willington’s great survivor

Willington Dovecote

From relatively humble beginnings, John Gostwick appointed himself lord of the manor at Willington, received a knighthood and became a Member of Parliament, proving time and again that he was a great survivor under the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII.

Gostwick started his career in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s powerful advisor. He is likely to have accompanied them both in June 1520 to a summit with the French King Francis I at the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ in France.

Records show Gostwick expanded his business interests and gained influence in the early years of 16th Century, demonstrated by his promotion to Comptroller of Wolsey’s household. 

By 1529 Wolsey’s support enabled him to buy the parish of Willington and become lord of the manor himself, an impressive development for a family with a long history as tenant farmers on its land. 

Rising in favour with King Henry VIII

Gostwick’s fortunes continued to improve, despite the accusations of treason against Wolsey and the execution of his colleague Thomas Cromwell.

Having declared himself head of the Church of England, King Henry VIII promoted Gostwick in 1535, making him responsible for collecting the revenues from religious houses in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. 

Soon after, Gostwick was made responsible for collecting and accounting for all the money due to the king as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. 

Gostwick’s other duties for the king were varied. He formed part of the welcoming party for Anne of Cleves when she arrived in England to marry King Henry. He escorted the chief mourner at Catherine of Aragon’s funeral in Peterborough. In 1536 he was paymaster for the king’s forces as they put down a rebellion north of the Trent.

Royal visit to Willington

Following Gostwick’s knighthood in 1540, it is believed the king held a meeting of his Council at Willington on 21 October 1541. This was a great honour for the new lord of the manor and opportunity to show off his splendid new manorial complex. 

When the king returned to London after the Council had sat he was met with the news of his wife Katherine Howard’s infidelity, which led to her subsequent execution.

Sir John Gostwick became Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1541 and Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire in 1544. He died on 15 April 1545, leaving his son William a large estate in and around Willington. Sadly, William died only eight months later and the manor passed to John Gostwick’s brother, also called William.