COVERT, Sir Walter (c.1544-1632), of Slaugham, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. c.1544, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Richard Covert of Slaugham and his 1st w. Anne, da. and coh. of Sir Walter Hendley† of Cranbrook, Kent; bro. of John†. educ. G. Inn 1567. m. (1) by 1579, Timothea (bur. 10 June 1610), da. of John Lennard of Chevening, Kent, s.p.; (2) by 1618, Jane (d.Apr. 1666), da. and coh. of Sir John Shurley* of Isfield, Suss., s.p. suc. fa. 1579; kntd. 1591. d. 27 Jan. 1632.1 sig. Wa[lter] Covert.
J.p. Suss. 1581-d.;2 sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1583-4, 1592-3;3 capt. militia ft. Suss. 1584-5;4 dep. lt. Suss. 1585-at least 1629;5 commr. recusancy, Suss. 1586, 1592,6 subsidy 1589, 1608, 1621-2, 1624,7 grain 1595,8 sewers, Suss. 1602-d., Kent 1603-17, Kent and Suss. 1604-29,9 piracy, Suss. 1608;10 commr. and collector of aid, Suss. 1609, 1612-13; collector, Privy Seal loan, Suss. 1613;11 commr. oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1617-d., Suss. 1627,12 brewhouse survey, 1620, pressing of seamen 1620, 1623, 1625, 1626,13 Forced loan 1626-7,14 martial law 1627;15 collector and commr. of knighthood compositions, Suss. 1630-d.16
Member, Virg. Co. by 1612.17
Commr. trade 1622.18
Covert’s ancestors can be traced back in Sussex to the thirteenth century, and produced a Member for Arundel in 1384; however they played no great part in the county until their acquisition of the manor of Slaugham, in Lewes Rape, in the late fifteenth century.19 Covert’s grandfather, a client of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, sat for New Shoreham in the Reformation Parliament, and was twice returned for the county under Mary.20 His father was never elected to Parliament, but Covert was returned for the county at a by-election in 1581, two years after inheriting an estate sufficiently wealthy to enable him to build an imposing new house at Slaugham around the turn of the century.21 From 1585 he was a deputy lieutenant of Sussex and his letter book, which survives in the British Library, amply documents his role as the lynchpin of the county’s administration in the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.22
Covert’s father was described in 1564 by William Barlow, bishop of Chichester, as a ‘misliker of religion and godly proceedings’. However, Covert himself was a firm Protestant, and probably a puritan.23 He was approached in early 1585, albeit unsuccessfully, by Sir Walter Mildmay† to contribute to the newly founded and puritan-influenced Emmanuel College, and in 1604 he signed the Sussex petition against the persecution of nonconformist ministers.24 In 1618 William Attersoll, rector of Isfield in Sussex, dedicated his massive Commentary on the ‘Book of Numbers’ to Covert and his second wife as persons who ‘love our nation, and are true friends of the church, and love the preachers of the Gospel’. However, Attersoll’s work does not express particularly puritan views and Samuel Harsnett, the anti-Calvinist bishop of Chichester, addressed Covert as a ‘wise and Christian knight’ in 1611. Harsnett also described Covert as a ‘student in learning’. This was undoubtedly true, but in 1622 Covert declined to accede to the request of the vice-chancellor of Oxford, William Piers, to found two lectureships, one in logic and metaphysics and the other in philology, in memory of Sir Henry Savile†, even though he had promised Savile he would do so.25
In 1614 Covert was returned for the third time for the county, together with his brother-in-law Sampson Lennard, and was named to five committees during the course of the Addled Parliament. He and Lennard were among those appointed on 8 Apr. to recommend statutes for repeal or continuance. On 11 May he was instructed to help consider the bill to prevent the export of ordnance, in which he had an interest thanks to his involvement in the Wealden iron industry. Two days later he was named with Lennard to a committee for a bill to enable a Sussex gentleman to sell land to pay his debts. After the cessation of business in response to Bishop Neile’s charge of sedition against the House, he again joined Lennard in accompanying the Speaker to see the king on 29 May. Both were named to attend the conference with the Lords of 4 June on the Sabbath observance bill.26
There is no evidence that Covert sought re-election in 1621. The following year he was summoned, along with Sir Thomas Bishopp* and other Sussex gentlemen, to explain their refusal to pay the Benevolence, to which he subsequently contributed £50.27 This was not the only extraordinary demand made on his purse, for in November 1623 he responded to a plea from the king on behalf of a cousin and namesake, a gentleman pensioner married to his niece, expressing his willingness to increase his allowance from £120 to £160 p.a., and to pay his debts of £1,000.28
Covert’s cousin, who lived in Maidstone, was knighted in early 1624, but there can be little doubt that it was this Member who was returned for Sussex in 1626, having been first selected at a meeting of the county’s gentry held during the Epiphany sessions at Lewes.29 He made no recorded speeches and was appointed to only two bills, one of them, committed on 17 Mar., for the 2nd Lord Bergavenny (Sir Henry Neville II*). The other, on 6 May, was to prevent clergymen from being compelled to subscribe to Canons that had not been confirmed by statute, one of the issues raised in the petition Covert had signed in 1604. He evidently subsequently left Westminster early, as he was one of the Members absent without leave at the call of the House on 2 June.30
This parliamentary inactivity was not a sign of failing vigour, as Covert remained one of the most active members of the Sussex bench. In July he was praised by the Privy Council for ‘the care and industry’ that he had taken over a survey of coastal defence, and the 4th earl of Dorset (Sir Edward Sackville*) was thanked for employing ‘a man so able and circumspect for the service of his country in these stirring and doubtful times’.31 He was assessed to lend £500 to the Crown on the Privy Seal loan initiated after the failure of the 1626 Parliament to vote supply, but secured a discharge from the Council on 16 September.32 He was subsequently active in enforcing the Forced Loan, and the collection of nearly £1,000 in the rape of Lewes has been ascribed to his efforts.33
Covert made his will on 29 July 1631 and died early in the following year, aged 88. He was buried on 23 Feb., according to his request, ‘in the new erected chapel adjoining to the parish church of Slaugham’. He left £5 each to the poor of nine Sussex parishes, £5 to the minister of Slaugham, Simon Aldrich, whom he had himself presented, and £40 for ‘a piece of plate in token of remembrance of the love I had borne him’ to Sir Thomas Pelham*, one of his trustees and executors. All the books in his study were to remain ‘as standards in my house to be and endure to the sole use and benefit of my next heir’. He died childless and his niece and heir outlived him by only a few months. After her death her son’s wardship was sold to Lord Goring (Sir George Goring*) for £4,000. His widow survived till 1666, taking two further husbands, John Freke* and Denzil Holles*. His great-nephew, the last of the family, was returned for Horsham in 1661.34
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates
- 1. Suss. Gens.: Ardingly Cent. comp. J. Comber, 182; GI Admiss.; PROB 11/62, f. 117; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 88.
- 2. Cal. Assize Recs. Suss. Indictments, Eliz. I ed. J.S. Cockburn 163; ASSI 35/73/7.
- 3. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 137.
- 4. Harl. 703, ff. 11, 18.
- 5. CPR, 29 Eliz. I ed. L.J. Wilkinson (L. and I. Soc. ccxcv), 187; E. Suss. RO, LCD/EW1, f. 73.
- 6. Harl. 703, ff. 21, 67v.
- 7. Ibid. f. 1; SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 8. Harl. 703, f. 83.
- 9. C181/1, ff. 27v, 57, 95v; 181/2, f. 320; 181/4, ff. 32, 74.
- 10. Harl. 703, f. 139v.
- 11. E179/283/12; E163/16/21; E403/2732, ff. 160v-1.
- 12. C181/2, f. 285v; 181/3, f. 216v; 181/4, f. 98.
- 13. APC, 1619-21, pp. 203, 248; 1621-3, p. 346; 1625-6, p. 29; 1626, p. 13.
- 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144; C193/12/2, f. 59.
- 15. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 461.