William GREY

(13th B. Grey of Wilton)

Born: 1509, Wilton Castle, Hertfordshire, England

Died: 15 Dec 1562, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: Edmund GREY (9° B. Grey of Wilton)

Mother: Florence HASTINGS (B. Grey of Wilton)

Married: Mary SOMERSET (B. Grey of Wilton) ABT 1535


1. Arthur GREY (14° B. Grey of Wilton)

2. Honora GREY

3. William GREY

Unknown man, thought to be

William Grey, 13th Baron Grey de Wilton

by Gemälde von Gerlach Flicke, 1547

Son of Edmund Grey, ninth Baron Grey of Wilton, by his wife Florence, dau. of Ralph Hastings and Anne Tattershall. Succeeded his brother Richard in 1521. He married in 1535 Mary, dau. of Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester.

Distinguished in the wars in France during the concluding years of Henry VIII's reign, under John, lord Russell, and assisted in the siege of Montreuil. Wounded at the battle of Pinkie in 1547, when he was one of the leaders of the victorious English army. There seems to have been some jealousy between Grey and the Earl of Surrey. Grey had been appointed chief captain of the army called 'the Crews', and it was arranged in 1545 that this command should be transferred to Surrey, while Grey was to be appointed lieutenant of Boulogne under Thomas, first lord Poynings. Upon letters from Guînes, however, the King ordered Grey to remain in command of his army, while Surrey was sent to Boulogne. Secretary Paget speaks of the sinister means constantly employed to set these noblemen at variance. Grey finally superseded Surrey as lieutenant of Boulogne in Apr 1546. During the French campaign Grey distinguished himself greatly, especially by his destruction of the Châtillon fortress, which he razed to the ground. The King took Grey into favour, and promised him rewards and preferment, but the promise failed in consequence of the Henry's death.

In the first year of Edward VI, Grey, then a field-marshal and captain-general of horse, was sent into Scotland. 

He placed himself at the head of the army to make the first charge against the enemy at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, on 10 Sep 1547. He was wounded in this battle. Grey recovered, and twelve days later (22 Sep) was appointed to complete the delivery of Hume Castle. On the 28th he was knighted by Protector Somerset at Berwick. The Protector returned to England, and Grey was left as governor of Berwick, warden of the east marches, and general of the northern parts. On 18 Apr 1548 Grey and Sir Thomas Palmer again crossed the border, and advanced to Haddington, which they took and elaborately fortified. After spending six weeks in improving the defences, they left a garrison of 2,500 men in charge and departed, burning Dalkeith and laying waste to the country for six miles around Edinburgh while making a leisurely withdrawal to Berwick.

In 1549 he rendered good service in suppressing the Prayer Book Rebellion in Oxfordshire and in the west of England. In Jul Grey was despatched at the head of fifteen hundred horse and foot into Oxfordshire, where he immediately restored order, though not without using considerable severity against the priests. He then marched into the West Country, and joining the Earl of Bedford, rendered signal service in the pacification of Devon and Cornwall.

In 1551 he was imprisoned as a friend of the fallen protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, but after the execution of the Protector was set at liberty. Having recovered the royal favour, Grey was appointed governor of the castle of Guisnes in the Pale of Calais. He was concerned in the attempt made by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, to place Lady Jane Grey on the English throne in 1553. He was pardoned by Queen Mary, nevertheless an act of attainder was passed.

Grey received a commission to array 350 footmen and fifty demi-lancers in the counties of Middlesex and Kent, and the city of London, for the garrison of Guisnes. When war was formally declared by the French in 1557, Guisnes was so poorly garrisoned that Grey reported that unless he was reinforced he was at the mercy of the enemy. A small detachment was sent over; but although Grey had more than a thousand men, a part only of these were English, the rest being Burgundians and Spanish. By the middle of winter moreover there was a scarcity of food at Guisnes and Calais. On 1 Dec Grey announced a successful expedition for the destruction of a French detachment. Grey was described by Froude as '... a fierce, stern man... and his blood being hot he blew up the church of Bushing, with the steeple thereof, and all the French soldiers entrenched there perished...'. A formidable French force having appeared at Abbeville on 22 Dec, Grey and Wentworth wrote an urgent joint letter to the Queen. Orders were at length given for reinforcements, but these were countermanded on a mistaken report that the alarm was ill-founded. The French appeared under the walls of Guisnes on the 31st; Calais was invested on 1 Jan 1557/8.

Grey made a brave effort to save Guisnes. On the night of the 4th he sent a letter urgently begging for reinforcements. But Calais fell on 6 Jan. All the English counties were thereupon called on by proclamation to contribute their musters. Thirty thousand men were rapidly on their way to the coast, and on the 10th came the Queen's command for the army to cross to Dunkirk, join the Duke of Savoy, and save Guisnes. But severe weather was experienced in the Channel, and the fleet was either destroyed or dispersed. Meanwhile Guisnes was left to its fate. Grey, with his eleven hundred men, abandoned the town, burnt the houses, and withdrew into the castle. The French, under the Duke of Guise, bombarded the place, and on the third day (19 Jan) attempted a storm. Grey was wounded by accidentally treading on a sword, and the first line of defence was taken. His soldiers refused to fight longer, and Grey was soon forced to surrender.

The Duke of Guise transferred Grey to Marshal Stozzy, who in turn passed his prisoner to Count Rouchefoucault, and he remained in captivity until ransomed by the payment of twenty thousand crowns, which considerably impaired his fortune, and entailed the selling of his ancient castle of Wilton-upon-Wye. Grey was elected a knight of the Garter in Apr 1558; but being then a prisoner in France, Garter king-at-arms was sent to notify his election. He was installed on 19 Apr 1558 by his proxy, Sir Humphrey Ratclyffe. On an extension of the armistice with France in Jan 1559, Grey was sent over to England with proposals for a secret peace. Grey received summonses as a peer of parliament from Henry VIIIEdward VIMary, and Elizabeth. But his honours, which were forfeited by the Act of Attainder of 1553, were not fully restored till after Elizabeth's accession (1558).

Under Elizabeth, Grey was again employed on the Scottish border, and he was responsible for the pertinacious but unavailing attempt to capture Leith in May 1560.

In Dec 1559 Grey was constituted governor of Berwick, warden of the middle marches towards Scotland, and warden of Tynedale and Ryddesdale. He went down to the border with two thousand men nominally to reinforce the Berwick garrison, but at first with large latitude of action. After the Treaty of Berwick was signed, he was soon made general of the English army sent 'in aid of the Scots against the French, who had made an invasion there with great forces'. On 28 Mar 1560 Grey, with Lord ScropeSir Henry Percy, and others, crossed the river Tweed with six thousand foot and two thousand horse. He moved by easy marches, and on 4 Apr the Protestant lords of the congregation joined him at Prestonpans. He was annoyed to find that their men had been engaged for twenty days only, twelve of which had already expired; but finding Leith too strong to be attacked without reinforcements, he proposed to utilise the Scotch force at once by seizing Edinburgh Castle, where the queen-regent Marie of Guise had taken refuge with Erskine. The Scots were apathetic, and Grey referred to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, for advice. Norfolk would not sanction the scheme for taking the castle without the knowledge of Elizabeth, and the Queen, on being appealed to, forbade Grey to think of it. He was ordered either to compose matters without force or bloodshed, or else to finish the work at once. Fighting began before Leith, but it was interrupted by an armistice, concluded in order to give time for Norfolk to go to London for instructions. Grey was incensed at being compelled to rest upon his arms. After conferences with the Duke of Châtellerault and the Scottish lords, the peace proposals fell through.

The siege of Leith at once began, and on 30 Apr a third of the town was destroyed by fire. But there were complaints of Grey's dilatory action. The blockade failed. Grey resolved to take the place by assault. This took place on 7 May. The attack was repulsed with heavy loss, half the officers and eight hundred men being left dead and wounded in the trenches. Grey clung tenaciously to his ground, dreading only that he might be driven from it before assistance could arrive. Negotiations were set on foot, and a treaty was concluded at Edinburgh, peace being proclaimed in Leith on Sunday, 7 Jul. Grey was left governor of Berwick and warden of both the marches, but afterwards Sir John Forster took the middle marches with Grey's consent; the other two offices Grey kept until he died.

Grey retired from active command in 1561 and left Berwick for the south. He died at Cheshunt, near Waltham in Hertfordshire, on 14 Dec. 1562, in the house of his daughter and son-in-law, Henry Denny, son of Sir Anthony Denny, and was buried in the parish church there, near to the communion-table. He was described by William Cecil as "a noble, valiant, painful and careful gentleman", and his son and successor, Arthur, wrote 'A Commentary of the Services and Charges of William, Lord Grey of Wilton, K.G.'.


Cokayne, George Edward (1982). The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant. VI. Gloucester: A. Sutton. pp. 183–186.

Grey, Arthur (1847). Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton. ed. A commentary of the services and charges of William Lord Grey of Wilton, by his son Arthur Grey. London: Camden Society.

Lock, Julian (January 2008) [September 2004]. "Grey, William, thirteenth Baron Grey of Wilton (1508/9–1562)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online, ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 October 2008

to Bios Page to Family Page
to Peerage Page to Home Page