JOHNSON, Robert (c.1537-1622), of Crawley, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. c.1537, 1st s. of William Johnson of Crawley. m. ?Marion (d.1585), 3s. suc. fa. 1558. Kntd. 10 July 1604.1
Keeper of Gawle, forest of Dean 1591; clerk of deliveries of the ordnance 1602.2
Johnson was, according to Townshend, a surveyor. On 7 Dec. 1601 Edward Glascock thought Johnson had ‘better skill in measuring of land than men’s consciences’. He inherited from his father four houses and several parcels of land in and around Crawley with an interest in the manor of Pateshall, Little Crawley. In 1587 and 1592 he was plaintiff in two Chancery suits, one against a former servant whom he accused of having stolen his wife’s jewellery, the other for the recovery of a small debt from one John Mathew. In 1595 (in conjunction with Lord Henry Seymour and Anthony Wingfield II) he was granted by the Crown a 14-year lease of the prebend of Sutton Regis, Northamptonshire and Buckingham—both in the diocese of Lincoln—including the advowsons of Horley and Hornton and the manor of Gawcot, Buckinghamshire. He petitioned the Queen in respect of this property in 1599, when the petition was referred to Sir John Fortescue and Sir Robert Cecil. It may have been to Cecil (to whom he wrote in flattering terms) that he owed his nomination for Monmouth, a borough of the duchy of Lancaster, of which Cecil had recently been appointed chancellor. However, as Johnson held the seat until 1614, some link with the Earl of Pembroke seems a more likely explanation for his return there, though only one reference to such a connexion has been found. Johnson eventually acquired property himself at Monmouth.3
During the 1597 Parliament, Johnson was named to committees concerning weights and measures (27 Jan. 1598) and pawnbrokers (7 Feb. 1598). He may also have attended the committee concerning Newport bridge, 29 Nov. 1597, to which the burgesses for Monmouth were appointed. In 1601 he was very active, making many speeches in which he revealed himself something of a disciplinarian. He took a strong line on questions of temperance, advocating on 3 Nov. that corporal punishment be meted out to innkeepers who failed to restrain habitual tipplers. He was appointed to a committee concerning the suppression of alehouses (5 Nov.) and spoke twice on licensing laws (4, 10 Dec.). On 4 Nov. he asked that three bills concerning the abuses of the clerk of the market, patentees and theft be read. As for the clerk of the market, Johnson
durst undertake to lay open as many vile practices as almost there be men in the House.
He spoke again about the clerk of the market on 2 Dec. and was appointed to a committee on the subject the same day.
He complained several times about the growing number of subpoenas served on MPs while Parliament was in session. On 14 Nov. he described several such cases of breach of privilege, among them an experience of his own:
the informer came to his lodging this morning as he was coming out of his door and asked for him; he told him he was the man. Then said the informer, the Queen greets you well. What’s this?, quoth I. A subpoena, quoth the informer, and I charge you to appear upon it according to the contents. Then I told him that I was of this House and could not attend. He answered me again, there it is, I care not, look to it at your peril.
He complained that if one ‘set all Parliaments together, they will not match this Parliament with numbers of this nature’, and showed that
Our lenity is the cause of this contempt. And until some special punishment be inflicted, it will not be otherwise.
Johnson spoke on a variety of topics including the Denbighshire election (5 Nov.), the subsidy (7 Nov.), monopolies (20 Nov.)—when he advocated reducing pressure on the Queen to reform the abuses—and the tillage bill (9 Dec.), which he feared might be the ruin of the husbandman, ‘the staple man of the kingdom’. His committee work included topics such as the better observing of the Sabbath day (6 Nov.)—‘an excellent good bill’—the punishment of base and idle persons (7 Nov., reported by him 13 Nov.), Exchequer reform (25 Nov.) and silkweavers (10 Dec.). On 11 Dec. he was in charge of a bill concerning patents, instigated by George Brooke alias Cobham, which was refused a second reading. On 2 Dec. he demanded that Edward Glascock be called before the bar to answer for his irreverent speeches concerning j.p.s.4
After this his main preoccupations seem to have been reform of the administration and sale of crown lands (a subject upon which he more than once wrote to Cecil), and, after his appointment to office there, reforms in the ordnance office. He was an active MP in the reign of James I.5