TOWNSHEND, Hayward (c.1577-c.1603), of Lincoln's Inn, London.

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.1577, 1st s. of Henry Townshend of Cound, Salop by his 1st w. Susan, da. of Sir Rowland Hayward. educ. St. Mary Hall, Oxf. BA 1595; L. Inn 1594, called 1601. m. Francasina, illegit. da. of Edmund Neville (claimant to earldom of Westmorland) by Francasina or Francelliana, prob. da. of John Townshend of Dereham Abbey, Norf., s.p.1

Offices Held


Described by A. F. Pollard as ‘incomparably the best of the Elizabethan parliamentary journalists’, Townshend was returned, while still under age and studying at an inn of court, for Bishop’s Castle, where his father was a ‘foreign burgess’ and its recorder or legal counsel. Two others of his family were in the 1597 Parliament and four in that of 1601. In his first Parliament he was feeling his way, noting precedents and procedural points, but making no contribution of his own. But by 1601 he had not only ‘increased in knowledge and confidence’, but had also, in all probability, learned shorthand. His journal for that Parliament is excellent, and has been recognized as being so from the early seventeenth century. It provides comprehensive information about proceedings, debates, behaviour and customs of the House, and, unusually for the period, the reactions of Members to speeches, including his own; in sum, ‘the personal touch of the participant MP’.

Townshend himself took an active part in the proceedings of the 1601 Parliament. On 9 Nov. he introduced a bill against

the lewd abuses of prowling solicitors and their great multitude who set dissension between man and man like a snake cut in pieces crawl together to join themselves again ...

His steering this through committee was a real achievement for a man of 24 in his second Parliament. On 17 Nov. he asked that a bill against perjury, suggested by ‘a gentleman well experienced’, should be read, and, 21 Nov., during the monopolies debate, his suggestion that the Speaker should petition the Queen to allow the Commons to proceed by statute was commended by his relative Francis Bacon who spoke of the wisdom of ‘the young gentleman, even the youngest in the assembly’. Here Bacon exaggerates — there were at least 25 younger.

Townshend was a popular speaker whose legal training enabled him to supply the current demand for precedents. On 12 Dec. he intervened at the last minute to support the painters in their demarcation dispute with the plasterers, as it ‘seemed likely to go against the painters’. He quoted precedents from the reigns of Edward III, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VI and Henry VIII to the effect that plasterers had intruded themselves so that ‘they take not only their own work but painting also, and leave nothing to do for the painters’.

Workmanship and skill is the girl of God ... if plasterers may be suffered to paint, workmanship in painting will decay, for no workman will keep a prentice four or five years to practise and not able to get a penny ... painters, their wives and children go a begging for want of work ... it is a curious art, and requireth a good eye and steadfast hand, which the infirmity of age decayeth quickly, and then painters beg. Plasterers take money generally from the highest patronage to the lowest, or meanest cottagers whose walls must needs be made. Painters take money but of a few, for their delight ...

‘so I think the bill very reasonable and fit to be passed’, Townshend concludes, ‘and so it did’. He was less successful over a bill concerning silk weaving, offering ‘to speak before the question was half asked, but could not be suffered, the "Noes" were so great'. This is the only failure he reports. During a debate on privilege, 15 Dec., he supported a solicitor, one Curwen, a servant of one of the Cumberland Members: 'At length I stood up', he reports, 'and showed the House that he ought to be privileged; for we had given judgement in the like case of the Baron of Walton's solicitor this Parliament. And thereupon it was put to the question, and ordered he should be privileged'. Townshend obviously enjoyed influencing the House. Sometimes he played to the gallery:

It is not unknown to you that by profession I am a lawyer, and therefore unfit to be a professor of the art of war ... Therefore I pray ... it would please you to admit of a proviso for all lawyers. At which the House laughed heartily, it being done for mirth.

But if for nothing else deserves the gratitude of posterity for his descriptions. 'They in the rebellious corner in the right hand side of the House' on 27 Jan. 1598 has been seen as the first mention of an opposition, and his accounts of the recurring shambles at the openings and closings of the parliamentary sessions are almost too good to be true. He was unable to get into the House of Lords at the beginning of the 1597 Parliament to hear the lord keeper's speech 'by reason of my late going in and want of knowledge in the fashion of the Parliament', and later could only take the word of others 'for I could not hear three words together'. At the end of the session, when 'we waited at the Upper House door some half an hour and then were let in [there] was the greatest thrust and most disorder that ever I saw'. In 1601

the first day of the Parliament ... the knights and burgesses of the lower house being sent for, the door kept so that they were not all in, notwithstanding some were within by some special means before, and heard the lord keeper's speech made unto them ... So that after the burgesses the knights had stayed a good while, it was told them the lord keeper's speech was done, and thereupon every man went out discontented.

The final entry in his journal, after reporting the close of what was to be the Queen's (and by great misfortune his own) last Parliament is typical:

Memorandum: as the Queen came out of the parliament house, among the Commons, very few said 'God bless your Majesty' etc. as in all assemblies they were wont: and when she came by the Speaker she only offered her hand to kiss, and went by. And the press being great, and the room she was to pass not above a yard in breadth, she stood still, and with her hand she bade 'Make more room'. And the gentlemen ushers said, 'Make more room behind'. To which one behind answered aloud 'By God, I can make no more, if you would hang me', which doubtless the Queen might hear, it was so loud spoken, for I stood next to her and heard it. But she looked that way from whence it was spoken, very sternly, and said not one word, but went presently through.2

It is not known when Townsend died. His name appears in the Lincoln's Inn records until November 1602, when he was appointed to the library committee. As he was not among the members of this committee who reported in April 1605, he had probably died in the meantime. At a guess he died before the elections for the 1604 Parliament, for it is unlikely that so promising and well-connected a Member would not have wished to sit again, and inconceivable that he could not have arranged to be returned if he had wanted to be. This it is likely that he died aged only 25 or 26, shortly before or after the Queen herself. He was certainly dead by 2 Apr. 1621, when his father made his will.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 463-5; Vis. Norf. ed. Dashwood (Norf. and Norwich Arch. Soc. 1878), i. 307, 311; Shrewsbury Burgess Roll, ed. Forrest, 287; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 520; J. A. C. Durham, Townshends of Raynham, 26.
  • 2. Bp's. Castle minute bk., list of burgesses; H Townshend, Hist. Colls. (1680); Bull. IHR, xii. 1-31; xiii. 9-34; xiv. 149-65; xv. 1-18; Stowe 362, ff. 56-261, transcribed by Miss Helen Miller.
  • 3. PCC 107 Dale.