ST. POLL, Thomas (c.1539-82), of Snarford and North Carlton, Lincs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1539, 2nd s. of George St. Poll by Jane, da. of Sir William Ayscough of S. Kelsey. educ. L. Inn 1555. m. Faith, da. of Vincent Grantham, wid. of Thomas Moigne, 2s. inc. George 1 or 2 da. suc. bro. 1560. Kntd. 1580.

Offices Held

J.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) from c.1561, (Kesteven and Holland) from c.1564; sheriff, Lincs. 1565-6, 1579-80; commr. sewers from 1564, piracy from 1577.1


St. Poll was connected with the Ayscoughs, Wrays, Girlingtons, Foljambes, Thymblebys and Tyrwhitts. Either of the two last named could have assisted him to a seat at Grimsby in 1571 and at the next election he was returned for the county, where he was already established as an active and reliable justice of the peace, and frequently employed by the government. The bishop of Lincoln, who asked his advice on the religious beliefs of justices, described him as earnest in religion and fit to be trusted, and there are numerous references to him enforcing the recusancy laws. During his second period as sheriff he joined the bishop and chancellor of the diocese in an energetic attack on recusants, receiving several letters of thanks from the Privy Council. A list survives which he sent to Burghley in July 1580, giving the names of those indicted in Lincolnshire for hearing mass. Sometimes these activities brought him into conflict with his Catholic relatives and friends, the Tyrwhitts.2

St. Poll was active and constructive in both his Parliaments. He first spoke 7 Apr. 1571, within a day or two of the opening of Parliament, on the subsidy, which he ‘liked well’. He criticized the subsidy collectors, ‘mean men’ who retained ‘their charge sometimes a year, sometimes more in their own hands ... convert it to their own uses, and are perhaps never able to satisfy the same’. He was appointed the same day to the committee to inquire into this and other abuses, and to the subsidy committee itself. On 11 Apr. on the question of presentation to church livings, he thought it ‘injurious and unreasonable’ to take away a right that might have been ‘given to a schoolmaster for his service’. On 20 Apr. he ‘argued to prove that the inconvenience or evil which groweth by the sheriffs is not so great but the doings of the justices may as well be doubted of’. He was on the committees for church attendance the next day and 2 May, and on the 23rd he was named to the committees on promoters and tellers and receivers. His other committees in the 1571 Parliament were on the preservation of woods, and privilege (10 May), jeofails (12 May), land conveyances (14 May), respite of homage (17 May), tillage and the navy (21 May), and tellers and receivers (26 May).

In 1572 St. Poll was made a member of the conference discussing Mary Queen of Scots (12 May), but his only speech on the subject (25 June) is moderate in tone, though her death was ‘very necessary’ and there were precedents for judicial execution. St. Poll liked his precedents. On 17 May ‘he never knew in any Parliament liberty of speech so freely granted that a man might say what he listed’ and referred to Henry VIII’s laws against Rome, Edward IV and the Duke of Clarence. On the vagabonds bill (20 May), he thought it unreasonable that rogues should be imprisoned without bail. ‘Considering there is diversity in rogues’, it would be fair to allow bail to ‘small felons’ but ‘not great’. On the same subject (24 May) ‘the execution of law the life of the law. Leave out the punishment and the negligence will take away the severity of others.’ He was put on the committee of the bill (29 May). On the third reading of the fraudulent conveyances bill (3 June)—St. Poll was on the committee—his remarks went beyond the usual interests of the country gentlemen, when they were considering what the position would be if the parties to a dispute were father and son. St. Poll thought ‘the purchaser ought rather to be holpen than the son’ for ‘the son would have it for nothing, the purchaser payeth dear for it’. On a question of privilege (27 June), St. Poll quoted a precedent where a debtor was freed after claiming privilege and the debt never paid. The next day he had ‘no liking’ for a bill concerning fugitives from justice, and less for the proviso. It had not hitherto been necessary to employ a barrister for such actions as debt and trespass: if this were made mandatory, litigants would be ‘driven to greater charges than ever before’. He suspected that the bill was brought in so as to get the proviso. St. Poll’s interest in law reform is also reflected in his appointment to the committee for the explanation of statutes (14 May).

On 8 Feb. 1576, the first day of the session, St. Poll was named to the large committee appointed to examine Wentworth on his motion about liberty of speech. Given his interests, it is difficult to imagine that St. Poll took no part in the proceedings, but in the only extant account the speakers are not identified. Two interventions by him are recorded in this session, both on the question of privilege concerning Arthur Hall’s servant Smalley. On 20 Feb. he quoted a precedent for Henry VII’s reign, and on 7 Mar., on the same subject, he reported that his researches had shown that ‘the judges being required to declare their opinions ... they answered ... that of the privileges of the Parliament that they could not judge’. St. Poll was put on the committee to deal with the matter. His other committees this session included the subsidy (10 Feb.), promoters (10 Feb.), the poor law (11 Feb.), ports (13 Feb.), actions upon the case (13 Feb.), wine (21 Feb.), sheriffs (24 Feb.), reciprocal treatment for foreign merchants (24 Feb.), the universities and church discipline (2 Mar.), children of aliens (3 Mar.), juries (5 Mar.), land reclamation (6 Mar.), removal of benefit of clergy from rapists and burglars (7 Mar.), rogues (7 Mar.), wharves and quays (8, 13 Mar.), justices of the forest (8 Mar.), the Queen’s marriage (12 Mar.), Lord Stourton (12 Mar.), vicars and curates (13 Mar.) and the London goldsmiths (13 Mar.).

St. Poll, recently knighted, continued to be active in 1581. On the first day of business, 19 Jan., he opposed Thomas Norton’s contention that the House of Commons rather than Chancery should take the initiative over by-elections when Members were sick or absent on the Queen’s service. This was clearly against an increase in the area of the prerogative of the House, and so was his next speech, 24 Jan., over Peter Wentworth’s proposal for a public fast in face of the Queen’s prohibition against meddling in affairs of religion. St. Poll was for ‘aggravating the fault of the House and urging submission’. He spoke on purveyors, 28 Jan., and was appointed to the ensuing committee. The subjects of his 1581 committees were: the subsidy (25 Jan.); the clerk of the market (27 Jan.); the preservation of woods (28 Jan.); the defeasance of the statute staple (28 Jan.); slanderous words and practices (1 Feb.); cloth (4 Feb.); sheriffs (4 Feb.); corporations (11 Feb.); too many attorneys (17 Feb.); fortifying the frontier with Scotland (25 Feb.); tenants in tail (27 Feb.); the Family of Love (27 Feb.); London merchants (2 Mar.); Sir Thomas Gresham’s debts (9 Mar.); fines and recoveries (10 Mar.); fraudulent conveyances (14 Mar.); Lord Zouche’s lands (14 Mar., reported by him 16 Mar.); the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.); navigation (15, 17 Mar.); seditious rumours against the Queen (17 Mar.); and iron mills (18 Mar.).3

This is an extraordinarily active parliamentary career for any Member, let alone a country gentleman who had, so far as is known, no ambition for office and no other axe to grind. What turn, if any, his life might have taken, or what his future parliamentary conduct might have been, cannot be known. A little more than a year after the end of his second Parliament St. Poll died in his early 40s, 29 Aug. 1582. He was buried at Snarford and his estates went to his heir George, who reached his 21st birthday in time to prove his father’s will in September 1583.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 845; CPR, 1558-60, p. 446; 1563-6, p. 40; Lansd. 146, f. 19.
  • 2. Lincs. Episc. Recs. 1571-84, p. 241; Lincs. Wills, ed. Maddison, i. 98-100; Cam. Misc. ix(3), pp. 27, 28; Lansd. 27, f. 84; 30, f. 196; E351/540, f. 10; 351/541, f. 167; APC, viii. 250; x. 425; xi. 188; xii. 18, 68, 70-1, 105-6, 130, 155; xiii. 257, 336, 345; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 240.
  • 3. D’Ewes, 158, 159, 176, 178, 181, 182, 183, 184, 187, 189, 206, 220, 221, 241, 247, 249, 250, 253, 254, 255, 260, 261, 262, 281, 284, 289, 291, 294, 298, 301, 304, 305, 306, 307, 308; CJ, i. 83, 85, 87, 88, 89, 93, 95, 96, 99, 100, 104, 105, 107, 108, 110, 111, 112, 114, 115, 119, 120, 121, 122, 124, 127, 129, 130, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 12, 33; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 21, 28, 29, 43, 65, 67, 68, 122, 129; HMC Lords, xi. 8.
  • 4. C142/202/195; Lincs. N. and Q. vii. 1-4; x. 56; Lincs. Wills, 98-100; HMC Rutland, i. 142.