STEPHENS, Richard (d.1599), of Eastington, Glos. and the Middle Temple, London.
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Family and Education
1st s. of Edward Stephens of Eastington by Joan, da. of Richard Fowler of Stonehouse; bro. of Thomas. educ. Corpus, Oxf. 1567, BA 1568, fellow 1569; Furnival’s Inn; M. Temple 1572, called by 1582. m. by 1587, Margaret (d.1591), da. of Edward St. Loe, of Knighton, Wilts., 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1587.1
J.p.q. Glos. 1592.
Stephens’s family—established at Eastington since the twelfth century—were traditionally lawyers. His uncle and namesake, who died in 1577, was a bencher of the Middle Temple and Lent reader in 1574, and Stephens himself continued to occupy chambers in the inn after succeeding to the family estates in 1587. His puritan religious views emerge from a series of letters exchanged between him and his ‘sister’ (step-sister or sister-in-law), Elizabeth Palmer in 1589. She was contemplating a second marriage, to Sir William Bowes, and Stephens was concerned not only in the material aspects of the arrangement but with inquiries into Bowes’s ‘soundness for judgment in religion and sanctification’. The conclusion he reached was adverse, for in conference with a group of puritan preachers—including Cartwright, Travers and Egerton—Bowes had shown himself defective in the doctrine of justification and the question of church government. Consequently, in spite of their shared preference for the preaching of Whitfield, Stephens counselled Mrs. Palmer to reject her suitor.2
How Stephens came to be returned to Parliament for Newport in 1593 is not clear. Presumably his legal career was the determining factor, for several of the Newport Members during this period were Middle Temple lawyers. It is also possible that he had connexions at court. He certainly had with the Earl of Essex, though it is not possible to see Essex as a direct patron in a Cornish constituency. In 1590, while Elizabeth Palmer was still pondering her matrimonial future, she was visited at Parham by Essex, who was pressing the suits of both Henry Savile II and Henry Bromley. At the beginning of the 1593 Parliament it was Stephens who introduced Bromley and his fellow county-Member Walsh into Peter Wentworth’s group of young hotheads who intended to raise the succession question in the House. Stephens was apparently disconcerted by the youth and inexperience of the others, wishing there were ‘more ancient gentlemen’ present, but his attempt to stiffen them by the addition of two knights of the shire—albeit both in the early thirties—was disastrous for all three. The presentation of Wentworth’s bill was forestalled by the Privy Council, Wentworth was sent to the Tower, and Stephens, Bromley and Walsh to the Fleet. By including Stephens among the few to suffer imprisonment the authorities warned that imprudent conspirators were no fit company for men who had reached years of discretion.3
After remaining in prison until Parliament was dissolved, Stephens presumably returned to his legal practice and his duties in Gloucestershire. He died 8 Aug. 1599, 1599, and his inquisition post mortem was taken at Gloucester castle on the 29th of that month. His heir was his son Nathaniel, then aged just over ten.4