Weston, William (d.1540) (DNB00)

WESTON, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1540), prior of the knights of St. John in England, was the second son of Edmund Weston of Boston, Lincolnshire, by his wife Catherine, daughter and heir of John Camell of Skapwick, Dorset. Sir Richard Weston (1466?–1542) [q. v.] was his brother. His family had already been intimately connected with the order of the knights of St. John; two of Sir William's uncles had held the post of ‘Turcopolier,’ or commander of the light cavalry, an office generally conferred on the most illustrious knights of the ‘ English language,’ and a third had been lord prior of England (Sir John Weston, thirty-first prior, from 1476 to 1489); the William Weston who defended Rhodes against the Turks in 1480 was probably his uncle (Harl. MS. 1561; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xi. 201).

The earliest trace of Sir William Weston occurs in 1508, when on 27 Oct. he arrived at Calais on some diplomatic mission (Chron. of Calais, p. 6). In 1510 he was at Rhodes, and in 1522 he distinguished himself at its siege; he was one of the few English knights who survived, and was himself wounded. After evacuating Rhodes the knights made for Crete; here, early in 1523, Weston was appointed ‘Turcopolier’ in place of Sir John Bouch, who had been slain during the siege. He was also placed in command of the Great Carack, ‘the first ironclad recorded in history. … She was sheathed with metal and perfectly cannon-proof. She had room for five hundred men, and provisions for six months. A picture of this famous ship is in the royal collections at Windsor’ (Harrison). In the same year Weston, with the universal consent of the English knights, was granted the right of succession to the priories of England and Ireland. In 1524 he was sent on an embassy to the court of Henry VIII on behalf of the order; on 27 June 1527 he was appointed, by a bull of the Grand Master, lord prior of England, on the death of Prior Thomas Docrai or Docwra. The lord prior had his headquarters at Clerkenwell, and ranked as premier baron in the roll of peers. There was some difficulty over the appointment, and a rumour was current that Henry intended, after conferring the office on a favourite of his own, to separate the English knights from the rest of the order, and to station them at Calais. The matter was settled by a personal visit of the grand master—Villiers de Lisle Adam, the heroic defender of Rhodes—to England, Henry assenting to the appointment of Sir William Weston and withdrawing his first claim for a yearly tribute of 4,000l. from the new prior (Taafe, iii. 280).

In 1535 Weston was present at a ball given by Morette, the French ambassador; he is characterised as one of the influential adherents of the papacy (Friedmann, Anne Boleyn, 1884, ii. 54).

He died 7 May 1540, the same day on which the order was dissolved. A pension of 1,000l. a year for life had been settled upon him at the dissolution. He was buried on the north side of the chancel of the priory church of St. John's, Clerkenwell, under ‘a faire marble tombe, with the portraiture of a dead man lying upon his shroud: the most artificially cut in stone that ever man beheld’ (Weever, Funerall Monuments, 1631, p. 430). The ruins of the church and this monument were removed in 1798. Weston is entitled to rank as the last prior, although an abortive attempt was made to revive the ‘English Language’ under Mary [see arts. Shelley, Sir Richard, and Tresham, Sir Thomas, d. 1559]; and titular English priors, in most cases Italians by birth, continued to be appointed till the dissolution of the order in 1798.

[Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner, passim; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xi. 201, and authorities there cited; Hutchins's Dorset, ii. 553, iii. 676; Porter's Hist. of the Knights of Malta, 1858, ii. 285, 290, 322, 323; Taafe's Hist. of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, 1852, iii. 148, 243, 276–81, iv, App. xxx; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey, i. 133; Harrison's Annals of an old Manor House, 1893, pp. 66–71.]

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