William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys

William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys of the Vyne KG (1470  4 December 1540) was an English Tudor diplomat, Lord Chamberlain and favourite of King Henry VIII.


William was a younger son of Sir William Sandys (1440-1496) of The Vyne, a Tudor mansion in Sherborne St. John, near Basingstoke, Hampshire. In the 1520s William Sandys, (later Baron Sandys), built a very large Tudor mansion over the site previously occupied by the far smaller original house. The mansion now belongs to the National Trust. His mother was his father's second wife, Margaret Cheyne, the daughter of Sir John Cheyne of Shurland on the Isle of Sheppey. His sister was Edith Sandys, who married firstly, Ralph Neville, Lord Neville (d. 1498),[1] the son and heir of Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl of Westmorland. As a young man, he gained preferment at Court and was soon associated with the future King Henry VIII, assisting at his knighthood and the reception of his future wife, Catherine of Aragon.

As Knight of the Body to Henry VIII he would have been a close companion to the King in the early years of the reign. In 1517 he was appointed Treasurer of Calais. He was made a Knight of the Garter, the following year (1518), and was apparently instrumental in organising the Royal meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He was created Baron Sandys of The Vyne, soon afterwards. In 1530 he was made Henry's Lord Chamberlain. Later that same year he was appointed Captain of Guisnes, a position he held until his death in 1540. Guines, to give it its modern spelling, is some 7 miles south of Calais. At the time of his appointment it was the main outpost of English authority in the Pale of Calais. Its strategic importance was considerable and this appointment was no sinecure. His responsibility for the castle and county of Guisnes took him out of England frequently, especially in the years 1526 to 1529 and again between 1538 and 1540.

It was almost certainly at Guisnes that he first contracted the sweating sickness which, in later life sometimes kept him from Court. In January 1529 he was so ill that he could not walk[2]; in October 1533 the sweating sickness returned, and by March 1534 he was so ill that he almost died[3]. This was almost certainly malaria which was rife in marshy areas of Europe at that time[4]. Guines is a low lying area, once marshy and subject to frequent flooding from the sea and land.

King Henry VIII visited him three times at the Vyne, once with his queen, Anne Boleyn, whom Sandys was later to escort to her imprisonment in the Tower. He is known to have disapproved of the King's marriage to Anne, and as a result spent less time at Court. Although his sister Edith had married, secondly, Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Darcy,[5] one of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536), Sandys certainly played no part in the uprising. Indeed, in October 1536 he was summoned to "attend upon the King's own person" with 400 men[6], and, on 10 October, was ordered to muster at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, and to "prepare victuals and lodging for the King and his train"[7], a task for which he would have been well qualified as Henry's Lord Chamberlain. Later he accompanied the Duke of Norfolk as far as Cambridge but took no further action in the suppression of the rebellion.

In his later years Sandys seems to have taken no great part in court life but his responsibilities at Guisnes kept him very busy in the early years of his appointment and between 1538 and 1540. Most of his work at Guisnes involved the refortification of the castle and town. Nevertheless, despite his frequent attention to these tasks, the castle in particular was reported as being practically indefensible for much of that period. In 1540 Lord Lisle, the Lord Deputy of Calais was accused of having let the defences of Calais and Guisnes to be so reduced that they could easily have been taken by an enemy. Under suspicion, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Remarkably, Sandys does not appear to have been implicated.

He returned to The Vyne from Calais in October 1540. On 7 December lord Matravers, the Lord Deputy of Calais, received a message from England announcing that Sandys had died at The Vyne. On that same day Henry VIII wrote to the Council of Calais advising them that "the Lord Chamberlain, who was captain of Guisnes is dead.". On 10 October the French ambassador in London reported back to France that "lord Sens (sic) died four days ago, who was much esteemed here and was one of the few ancient captains left."[8] Sandys was the founder of the Guild of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke and was buried in its chapel, amongst the ruins of which parts of his tomb may still be seen. He had married Margaret, the daughter of his cousin, John Bray, half-brother to Sir Reginald Bray (d.1503), one of Henry VII's powerful counsellors. They had at least three sons and four daughters, including Thomas, 2nd Baron Sandys of the Vyne, and Mary, who married Sir William Pelham, and was the mother of Sir William Pelham and Sir Edmund Pelham, Lord Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer.

William Sandys and Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII fell for Anne Boleyn in 1526, the same year in which Sandys was appointed Lord Chamberlain and Captain of Guisnes. By 1529 Anne Boleyn was accompanying Henry as frequently as if she were the Queen. During those years Sandys spent some 18 months in Guisnes but, otherwise, his responsibilities at Court as Lord Chamberlain would have meant that he had frequent occasion to make provision for Anne Boleyn and her household, and that he would have known her well.

In 1532 he attended the ceremony at which she was raised to the peerage as the Marquess of Pembroke[9]. In 1533 he was one of the several lords who accompanied her from Greenwich to Westminster for her coronation[10]. In October 1535 he hosted her and Henry's visit to The Vyne, when she was Queen[11]. On the following 9 May Sandys was summoned to a meeting of the Privy Council to consider "matters relating to the surety of [the King's] person, his honor, and the tranquillity of the realm"[12]; on 12 May he attended the trial of the four men accused of committing adultery with the Queen and on 15 May, after escorting her from Greenwich to the Tower of London, he was one of the jury which found her guilty of adultery, incest and treason[13].

Cultural references

He is a minor character in the historical novel The Man on a Donkey by H.F.M. Prescott.

He appears in William Shakespeare's Henry VIII as Lord Sands, who flirts with Anne Boleyn when she arrives at Court and comments unfavourably upon the new fashions brought over from France.


  1. G.E. Cokayne; with other editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959), volume XII/2, page 552. Hereinafter cited as The Complete Peerage.
  2. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII 23 January 1529
  3. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII 28 March 1534
  4. Reiter, Paul, From Shakespeare to Defoe. Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age EID Journal Vol. 6 No.1 - February 2000
  5. Cokayne 1959, pp. 552–3; Richardson III 2011, p. 253.
  6. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII 7 October 1536
  7. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII 10 October 1536
  8. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 7 & 10 December 1540
  9. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1 Sept. 1532
  10. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 31 May 1533,
  11. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 19 & 22 October 1535
  12. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 9 May 1536
  13. Letters and State Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, 12 & 15 May 1536


  • Archbold, William Arthur Jobson (1897). "Sandys, William (d.1540)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 50. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 295–296.
Political offices
Preceded by
William FitzAlan, 18th Earl of Arundel
Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
William Paulet

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