JERMYN, Sir Robert (d.1614), of Rushbrooke, Suff.
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Family and Education
2nd but e. surv. s. of Sir Ambrose Jermyn by his 1st w. Anne, da. and coh. of George Heveningham. educ. ?Corpus, Camb. 1550; m. Temple 1561. m. Judith, da. of (Sir) George Blagge†, at least 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 1577. Kntd. 1578.1
J.p. Suff. from c.1577, rem. c.1583, rest. c.1585, sheriff 1578-9, dep. lt. 1585-c.1608.2
Jermyn was one of the inter-related group of puritans—Heighams, Wingfields, Waldegraves and others—who caused trouble to successive bishops of Norwich. His local standing was sufficient to gain him the county seat twice, in 1584 as junior knight and in 1586 as senior. In 1589, when his nephew Thomas Jermyn obtained a seat at Sudbury, he himself had to go outside Suffolk for a seat. Presumably he had hoped to be elected again for Suffolk. The date of the county return is missing, but East Looe returned one Member, Anthony Everard, as late as 10 Nov., to a Parliament summoned to meet two days later. There is no second return for the borough, and Jermyn’s name is supplied by the Crown Office list. It is likely that, left without a seat, he had to appeal to one of his friends in London, perhaps Burghley or Walsingham, to get him returned for a borough open to court influence.
He was a very active committeeman, being appointed to 22 committees between 1584 and 1589. During his first Parliament he was named to committees concerning church attendance (27 Nov. 1584), Suffolk cloth (7 Dec.), reform of church discipline (16 Dec.), ecclesiastical livings (19 Dec.), the Norfolk sea coasts (9 Feb. 1585), the explanation of statutes (13 Feb.), fraudulent conveyances (15 Feb.), the subsidy (24 Feb.) and unlawful marriages (26 Feb.). He was granted leave of absence on 4 Mar. 1585. In the following Parliament he introduced a bill (7 Nov.) concerning clothiers and cloth-making in the counties of Suffolk and Essex, which he assured the House he would not have moved if Members ‘should have been in anyways occupied in the great cause [that of Mary Queen of Scots], the speedy course and proceeding whereof he most earnestly desireth and prayeth’. As knight for Suffolk he was appointed to the subsidy committee (24 Feb. 1587) and he was named to committees concerning Mary Queen of Scots (4 Nov. 1586), Orford harbour (6 Mar. 1587), reform of church discipline (8 Mar.), the subsidy for the Low Countries (1 Mar.), the puritan Members in the Tower (13 Mar.), recusancy (16 Mar.) and cloth (16 Mar.). In 1589 he was named to committees concerning purveyors (27 Feb.), pluralities (I Mar.), alien retailers (12 Mar.) and the city of Lincoln (15 Mar.).3
Jermyn suffered from the usual defects of the puritan movement—religious intolerance and inability to find a modus vivendi with his opponents. His ecclesiastical influence could not be ignored by the bishop of Norwich, since he presented to ten or more parsonages in west Suffolk. By 1578 a quarrel had begun between Bishop Freke and a group of Suffolk justices over the position of Thomas Becon, chancellor of Norwich, whose disputes with the bishop led to his dismissal. Freke described Jermyn, together with Nathaniel Bacon and other justices, as his ‘adversaries’, complaining that they used their membership of a commission on the Becon affair to make unjust allegations against their bishop’s ‘private actions’, unconnected in any way with the matter in hand. The quarrel was exacerbated by the general behaviour of Jermyn and his friends on the commission—for example at Bury St. Edmunds, where in their frequent meetings at the Angel they exercised their position as justices in a manner infuriating to the bishop, assuming wide responsibilities in moral and religious matters, and encouraging the townspeople to delegate their rights in electing ministers to two local clergy, one of whom was the puritan John Knewstub. In January 1583 the bishop drew up a schedule of articles against four Suffolk justices, including Jermyn, for their handling of ecclesiastical matters in the western part of the county. During the protracted dispute, Jermyn received sporadic and rather ineffectual help from the Privy Council, but the Queen and the justices of assize gave their support to the bishop.
In the outcome, Jermyn was removed from the commission of the peace—perhaps during or after the assizes of 1583—probably because he and his fellow-justices had imprisoned several local vicars on various charges. Jermyn was reported to have stated that the commissary’s court was unlawful, and should not deal with these cases. One story says that he was not only suspended from the commission, but that Judge Anderson forced him to serve on a common jury—a great humiliation for a country gentleman. The dates and details of his suspension from the commission are vague, and it seems inconceivable that he should have been a deputy lieutenant, mustering and despatching troops for the Netherlands in 1585, without having been reinstated as a justice. But a memorandum of Burghley’s, dated February 1586, notes that the Earl of Leicester had asked him to persuade the Queen to restore Jermyn, Heigham and another Suffolk gentleman to the commission. Lord North, the most influential magnate in Suffolk after his purchase of Mildenhall in 1577, and a supporter of puritans, who himself quarrelled violently with Justice Anderson, was presumably responsible for Jermyn’s appointment as deputy lieutenant.4
Jermyn saw the war in the Netherlands as a protestant crusade, and was indefatigable in raising men and money for it. Writing to William Davison in August 1585, he prayed that God would ‘bless with His fear’ the soldiers embarking, ‘that they may be valiant in the Lord’s cause and fight His battles with courage. The cause without controversy is good’. Later in the year Jermyn himself went to the Netherlands.
I do love and honour you [he wrote to Burghley before leaving], and shall ever be ready to serve you ... I cannot but reverence your lordship as patrem patriae, and do fear that when the Lord for our sins shall take you from us, we shall too late, though too truly, cry out.
Unfortunately, Jermyn’s health, which had caused him to leave the 1584-5 Parliament before the end of the session, was not up to the rigours of campaigning. In September 1586 Leicester wrote to Walsingham:
Good Mr. Secretary, this good gentleman, Sir Robert Jermyn, one that hath declared every way his hearty zeal and love both to religion and her Majesty, I have thought good, even in manner against his will, to send him home, for winter is come to us here already, and he hath a sickly body, yet would not forsake the field. I have prayed him to deliver some matter to her Majesty, which he shall impart also to you.
Jermyn’s reputation as an uncompromising puritan was widespread. Soon after he returned from the Netherlands he received a delegation from the Dedham classis, and agreed to write on their behalf to Lord Rich. He continued to be on bad terms with the bishops of Norwich, and in 1596 was carrying on a dispute with the ecclesiastical authorities over a public fast, which he and his friends were anxious to introduce, but which the bishop opposed.5
After the end of Elizabeth’s reign there is less information about Jermyn, although he remained an active local official. He died in 1614, leaving charitable bequests to the poor of ten parishes, and to the almhouses which he had founded at Rushbrooke. The town of Bury St. Edmunds (where he complained that idle youths had been breaking down his gates) was to have £20 towards the foundation of a poor house. There were legacies to Cambridge colleges—Trinity, St. John’s and Emmanuel: he had sent his son