BRITTON, Henry (1576-at least 1629), of Slyfield, Great Bookham, Surr. and Drury Lane, Westminster
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Family and Education
b. 1576, 1st s. of George Britton of Monkton Farleigh, Wilts. and North Chapel, Suss. and Anne, da. of William Pound of Belmont, nr. Farlington, Hants.1 m. by 1598, Anne, da. of Edward Yate of Buckland, Berks., at least 1s. 2da.;2 kntd. 4 Apr. 1617.3 d. aft. 2 Oct. 1629.4
Britton came from an Essex family seated at Layer Breton, but he was born at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire, which his grandfather had leased from the bishops of Salisbury in 1548. As a recusant, Britton’s father found himself at odds with his landlord, and not long after Britton’s birth he sublet Monkton Farleigh and withdrew to the Sussex-Hampshire borders.7 He nonetheless suffered several terms of imprisonment and, according to a Catholic source, was condemned to death for harbouring a priest, ‘but escaped by means of good friends’ and was able to make over his estate to Britton.8
Britton set up home in his early married years with his great-aunt, the sister of the 1st earl of Southampton, who resided at Soberton in Hampshire.9 He was living at High Holborn in 1608, when the benefits of his recusancy were granted to three of Prince Henry’s servants,10 but had moved to Great Bookham in Surrey by 1613, when his house there was searched for arms.11 The following year the Catholic 1st Lord Arundell of Wardour, whose first wife had been a Wriothesley, successfully nominated him as Member for Christchurch, promising the borough that Britton would serve without wages.12
Although Britton received no committee appointments during the Addled Parliament, he made two recorded speeches. The first was at a committee of the whole House on 5 May 1614, when Sir John Sammes claimed that he had proof of the existence of a parliamentary undertaking. At this Britton cited the name of his witness, ‘but nothing was gathered thereby, and so an end to that’.13 On 10 May he moved for the sequestration of Sir Thomas Parry*, to be followed by a further consideration of Parry’s manipulation of the Stockbridge election. ‘The greater the person’, he observed, ‘the more the offence’.14
Five months after the dissolution Britton was appointed to a commission to compound for the granting of warrens and parks. He was the originator of the project, with two courtiers fronting for him and receiving £500 each for their pains.15 The commission was renewed in 1615 and in 1618, when the commissioners’ office was given as Britton’s house in Drury Lane.16 In 1618 Britton also became one of the chief commissioners under Sir John Townshend* for compounding with landlords who had converted arable to pasture.17 He subsequently obtained an interest in the sealing-wax patent, granted to Sir Thomas Hatton* in 1619, and was promised a pension of £50 by the London goldbeaters for helping them with their incorporation.18
In 1618 Britton prosecuted several Dutch merchants in Star Chamber for exporting bullion. He was to be rewarded with a substantial proportion of their fines,19 but instead he was accused of having ‘unduly and corruptly gotten to himself £5,000’. His accuser, one Thomas Philpott, the husband of the widow of Sir Thomas Caesar†, was in dispute with Britton over £3,000 or more, which sum, he claimed, Britton had fraudulently obtained from his wife. In 1620 Britton sued Philpott for slander in Star Chamber. As well as having been falsely accused of corruption, he complained that Philpott had described him as ‘a base fellow, a base rogue, a rascal, a cozening mate and a cheating companion’.20
Britton’s Catholic connections again stood him in good stead at the general election of 1620, when he was returned for Gatton. His sister was in the same Augustinian convent in Flanders as two daughters of William Copley, the lord of the manor of Gatton, seven miles from his home. However, his election on 12 Dec. was highly irregular, as it took place at a private meeting of inhabitants of the borough; a public meeting of the freeholders the following day produced a different result. Present when the Gatton case was considered at the privileges committee on 6 Feb., Britton was allowed to present a defence of his election to the House the following day after Sir George More had delivered the committee’s report. He spoke well enough to convince Sir Samuel Sandys that he had justice on his side, but as Sandys ruefully observed, there would be ‘other causes to put him out’. Britton’s Catholic sympathies, to which Sir George More had referred in his report, may have been decisive in causing the House to unseat him on 7 February.21
Sir Edward Coke, who had spoken against the validity of his election on 7 Feb., chaired the committee for grievances in its examination of Britton’s various interests. Britton appeared before the committee on 23 Mar. for the warrens commission, admitting that he was the prime mover in the project. He also admitted that he had ‘sent out ... 600 process of all kinds, and made about 60 compositions, which yielded £30 or £40 apiece’, but denied being familiar with the Crown law officers who had approved the patent. On 26 Mar., the House decided that the two commissions, although ‘inconvenient’, were not grievances, but on 27 Apr. it judged the goldbeaters’ patent a grievance both in creation and execution.22 Both his commissions and the goldbeaters’ patent were called in by the Proclamation of 10 July 1621, which left the legality of the sealing wax patent to be decided by the courts.23
Britton was living in 1629 at Yateley in Hampshire, whence he wrote to one of the deputy lieutenants to excuse the default of his son Beverley in the county musters.24 His date of death is unknown and no will or grant of administration of his estate has been found. His son became a partner in the soap monopoly in 1631 but nothing further is known of the family.25
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates
- 1. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xx. 91; A.T. Everitt, ‘Thomas Pounde, S.J.’, N and Q (ser. 10), iv. 268-9.
- 2. Harl. 1111, f. 56v; Harl. 1181, f. 56; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 26; Vis. Berks. (lvi), 109, 149; GI Admiss. 149.
- 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 161.
- 4. Hants RO, 44M69/40/26.
- 5. CD 1621, vii. 466-7.
- 6. Ibid. 449.
- 7. VCH Wilts. iii. 88-89; vii. 67; Recusant Rolls ed. H. Bowler (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxi), 233; Cal. Assize Recs. Suss. Indictments, Eliz I. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 361.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 140; Chron. of Eng. Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Lateran ed. A. Hamilton, i. 151;
- 9. A.T. Everitt, ‘Thomas Pounde, S.J.’, N and Q (ser. 10), v. 96.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 414.
- 11. Surr. Hist. Cent. LM/1380/4; VCH Surr. iii. 329.
- 12. Oxford DNB sub Arundell, Thomas; Dorset RO, DC/CC, acc. 7998, unfol. (Arundell to Mayor, 14 Feb. 1614).
- 13. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 160.
- 14. Ibid. 189.
- 15. CJ, i. 573a.
- 16. CD 1621, vi. 466.
- 17. Ibid. vii. 449.
- 18. CJ, i. 580a, 603a; CD 1621, vii. 527-31.
- 19. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 599.
- 20. STAC 8/72/5.
- 21. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 20, CJ, i. 512a-b; CD 1621, ii. 33; iv. 24.
- 22. Nicholas, i. 337-40; CJ, i. 573a, 603a; CD 1621, iv. 188-9; v. 322.
- 23. CD 1621, vii. 372, 450, 467.
- 24. Hants RO, 44M69/40/26.
- 25. C66/2501.