DRURY, Sir Robert (1575-1615), of Hawstead, Suff. and Drury House, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

b. 30 Jan. 1575, 1st s. of Sir William Drury† of Hawstead, gov. of Bergen-op-Zoom 1588-90, and Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Stafford† of Chebsey, Staffs.1 educ. privately (Richard Brabon); Corpus, Camb. 1588, MA 1599.2 m. 30 Jan. 1592 (with £1,600), Anne (d. 5 June 1624), da. of Sir Nicholas Bacon†, 1st bt. of Culford, Suff., 2da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1590;3 kntd. ?27 Sept. 1591.4 d. 2 Apr. 1615.5 sig. R[obert] Drury.

Offices Held

Vol. Normandy 1591,6 Low Countries 1600;7 capt. of ft. [I] 1599,8 1601-2 (Dutch army).9

Commr. musters, Suff. 1598;10 gamekpr. (jt.), Thetford, Norf. 1607;11 j.p. Suff. by 1606-d.,12 dep. lt. by 1609-d., capt. militia ft. 1613-d.13

Member, embassy to Spain 1605;14 gent. of the privy chamber by 1605.15

Member and cttee. Virg. Co. 1609;16 member, E.I. Co. by 1614.17


The Drurys claimed descent from one ‘Drieu’, supposedly a companion of William the Conqueror. They settled in west Suffolk, where the senior branch resided at Rougham, four miles from Bury St. Edmunds, and first represented the county in 1391. However, by the sixteenth century the Rougham branch had been overshadowed by their kinsmen at nearby Hawstead. Consequently, although this Member needs to be distinguished from the head of the elder line, a namesake knighted at James I’s Coronation, there can be little doubt as to his identity. Indeed, Sir Robert Drury of Rougham is not known to have held any significant public office.18

The Hawstead branch was founded in the fifteenth century by Roger Drury, whose son, Sir Robert, sat for Suffolk and served as Speaker in 1495.19 Sir Robert’s son also represented the county, as did his grandson, Sir William, this Member’s father. Sir William married one of Elizabeth’s ladies of the Bedchamber and became receiver of Crown lands for Essex, Hertfordshire, London and Middlesex. Mortally wounded in a duel with a brother officer in the Low Countries in January 1590, he left debts of over £6,000, of which more than half was due to the Crown. As Drury was then still a minor, his mother was obliged to purchase his wardship for £166 13s. 4d. However, in 1591 the Drury estate was confiscated by the Crown for Sir William’s debts, and the wardship was regranted to lord keeper Puckering (John Puckering†). Sir William’s former sureties, led by Nicholas Bacon†, thereupon agreed to pay off the debt in return for a lease of the estate, while Drury’s mother and stepfather, Sir John Scott*, bought out Puckering.20

Drury was knighted at the siege of Rouen in 1591 by Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex (a distinction remembered in his epitaph), and married Bacon’s daughter four months later on his seventeenth birthday. Under the settlement £300 p.a. was set aside for his wife’s jointure and £700 for the heirs male of the marriage. Two years later Bacon purchased Drury’s wardship.21 In 1596, ‘desirous to follow the wars’, Drury was given command of a company in the Ostend garrison, but there is no evidence that he took up the appointment.22

In September 1598 Drury was reportedly intent on accompanying the English general Sir Francis Vere† to the Low Countries, but he was evidently still in England the following 1 Mar., when he was attacked by Sir William Woodhouse, with whom he had served in Normandy and his rival for a commission in the Netherlands. Chamberlain reported that although Drury had been ‘left ... for dead’, he was ‘like to recover’, and indeed later that year he served under Essex in Ireland.23 During the winter of 1599-1600, Drury visited Paris on an unofficial mission to the duke of Bouillon, submitting a report to Sir Robert Cecil† on 15 January.24 The following summer he distinguished himself as a volunteer in the Netherlands, rescuing Vere at the battle of Nieuwpoort. Back in England the following December, he was arrested for having criticized Elizabeth over her treatment of Essex. However, the accusation, which came from a disgruntled servant, was not corroborated, and the ensuing investigation meant that he was unable to participate - had he wanted - to in the Essex rising of February 1601. He was subsequently allowed to return to the Netherlands, where he took command of an infantry company.25

Drury remained in Dutch service until his men went into winter quarters in 1602. In November of that year he distinguished himself in the accession day tilts. He subsequently journeyed to Italy; certainly Joseph Hall, the future bishop of Norwich, then rector of Hawstead, thought Drury was beyond the ‘snowy Alps’ on the accession of James.26 Back in England by early 1604, he was returned for Suffolk, probably thanks to his father-in-law’s influence. Drury appears only twice in the records of the 1604 session, being appointed to two legislative committees: to frustrate a release unduly procured by Edmund Penning, the younger son of an Ipswich family (8 June), and to enable Sir Christopher Hatton* to secure some part of the lands of his cousin Sir William Hatton alias Newport† (29 June).27

By 1605 Drury was a gentleman of the privy chamber. The remainder of his father’s debt to the Crown, amounting to almost £626, was remitted before he accompanied the 1st earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard†) on his mission to Spain, where it was rumoured, falsely, that he had killed Sir Robert Killigrew* in a duel.28 After being offered substantial remuneration to serve with the Army of Flanders,29 Drury subsequently made his way to the Spanish Netherlands, where he received assurances that Protestants were acceptable in the Spanish forces. He nevertheless decided to return to England, but on crossing over to the United Provinces in September his baggage was searched, whereupon letters of recommendation from the king of Spain were found. To his great indignation he was detained as an enemy agent. The commander of the English garrison at Flushing, John Throckmorton, though highly amused at his predicament, secured his release, and found him ‘by his manner of discourse’ very much ‘Spaniolized’.30

Drury may not have returned to England by the time Parliament reconvened in November 1605. After the Christmas recess, and in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot, Cecil, by now earl of Salisbury, determined to clamp down on English recruitment for the Spanish forces, and on 6 Feb. 1606 the Commons resolved to find a remedy for ‘the danger of such as do or shall serve in the Spanish wars’. It was perhaps unwise of Drury, whose cousin, Ambrose Rookwood, had been executed for his complicity in the Plot, to intervene in the ensuing debate, in which he related the assurances he had been given that Protestants were welcome in the Spanish forces. Experience, he was told, proved the contrary: English officers had been discharged ‘merely because they would not take that oath and become Romish’. At this suggestion that he was not being truthful, Drury found himself ‘somewhat touched’, whereupon ‘the House gave him leave to speak again’.31 He was subsequently appointed to a committee to consider whether to proceed by bill, petition to the king, or conference with the Lords.32

Salisbury, whose nephew William Cecil†, Lord Burghley, had married one of Drury’s sisters, sent for Drury to explain his speech. Drury argued that the proposal to prevent Englishmen from serving in the armies of Spain threatened ‘that liberty we have now in going beyond the sea’. He had not, he claimed, been motivated to speak ‘by any particular respect’, but had merely intended ‘to move others to that which I thought substantially concerned all gentlemen; wherein I did jealous [sic] the disposition of the House something too unsensible’.33 However, on 13 Feb., presumably attempting to repair his anti-Catholic credentials, Drury offered an additional clause to the bill against recusancy. This aimed ‘to prevent the ordinary recourse of recusants to and near the city of London’, and was described by the diarist Robert Bowyer as ‘well penned’. It was referred to a committee.34

Drury made four further speeches in the 1605-6 session. He contributed to the debate on the third reading of the bill for better observance of the Sabbath on 17 Feb., when he appears to have joined with Sir Edward Greville in calling for allowance for ‘sufficient recreation’ on Sundays. Five days later he objected to the conditional submission offered by the sheriff who had imprisoned the coachman of Sir Edwin Sandys*.35

On 8 Mar., possibly trying to ingratiate himself with Salisbury, Drury spoke in favour of compounding for purveyance, arguing that James would not surrender his prerogative without recompense, as ‘the king will not depart with any thing, [that] must be left to his successors’, and that the law was sufficient guarantee that the Crown would adhere to any agreement. In the supply debate six days later he urged ‘a necessity to grant more’.36

Writing to Salisbury on 1 Apr. to justify his conduct over the recruitment of soldiers for the Spanish army, Drury tried to mitigate the earl’s displeasure by claiming that he had been helpful on ‘two matters particularly concerning the king’. One was presumably composition for purveyance, while the other was the subsidy. He claimed that it was a result of his ‘good hap by my coming at the instant’ into the chamber that the motion for an additional subsidy was carried by a single vote on 18 March. In the same letter Drury warned Salisbury that it was ‘very injurious’ that the king should ‘be wrongly informed of men’s words in particular and our meaning wrested by the carriers, contrary to all honest construction’.37

Drury was named to five further committees during the course of the session, among them the committee for the bill to pave Drury Lane (19 Mar.), which had acquired its name from the town house built by his father near its junction with the Strand. However, he can have taken no part in the discussion of the measure, for he was attacked by a burning ague and confined to his chamber for a fortnight. On Heigham’s motion he was given leave to go into the country on 31 March.38 There is no evidence that he returned before the prorogation.

Drury made no recorded speeches in the third session, but was named to two committees. On 4 Dec. 1606 he was among those appointed to consider a bill for the relief of Norfolk widow. He was again given leave to depart from Westminster on 11 Mar., on this occasion because his wife and daughter were ill.39 He was interested in a bill which had been brought down from the Lords on 3 Mar. for restraining new building in and around London, and, anticipating a conference with the Upper House, wrote a memorandum Edward Alford*, one of the committee appointed to consider the measure on 21 April. He urged that, in any discussions with the Lords, ‘distraint may not be omitted for barns and stables, which grow daily to the extreme annoyance of the town’. He also said that if the Commons agreed to a proviso ‘that all may be enjoined to build of brick there may be an exception for such as shall bring sufficient proof that they are already engaged’.40 Drury had returned to the Commons by 15 May, when he was named to the committee to consider the bill for endowing poor parish churches, but there is no evidence that he contributed to the debate on buildings bill after it was reported on 19 June, when the Commons rejected it.41

On 18 May Drury was granted of two-thirds of the Rookwood estate, forfeited for recusancy.42 He managed his own interests so prudently that by 1609 he had cleared his father’s debts. With an income approaching £3,000 he was able to look round for investments. He enlarged his property by the purchase of Hardwick for £1,100, rebuilding the manor house and founding almshouses, and he later adventured £200 in the first joint stock of the East India Company. A more modest subscription of £10 earned him a seat on the Virginia council.43 Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, wrote to Sir Charles Cornwallis in July 1609 that Drury was doing everything he could to succeed Cornwallis as ambassador to Spain ‘to make use of those parts which he conceives to rust’, but in this ambition Drury proved unsuccessful.44

In the fourth session Drury was named to four committees, including that for the purveyance bill on 26 Feb. 1610. He made no recorded speeches, but acted as teller against recommitting the answer on the Great Contract on 2 May. 45 His chief concern was on a personal matter, the revocation of a trust established before he went on his travels. The bill received its first reading on 17 Mar. and was committed ten days later. Lady Drury’s uncle, Sir Francis Bacon, was the first Member named to the committee, but progress was not rapid. It was not until 11 June that it was reported by Heneage Finch. It passed a week later and was carried up to the Lords with eight other bills by Sir George Carew II.46

In August 1610 Drury took his wife and daughter to Spa. He appears to have returned to England by December, when the daughter, his only surviving child, was buried at St. Clement Danes. He left no trace in the meagre records of the fifth session. John Donne* wrote two of his most elaborate poems on the death of Drury’s daughter, and the two men travelled together on the Continent in the winter of 1611-12, taking in Amiens, Spa and Heidelberg, where Drury formed a poor opinion of the Elector Palatine. On his return to England, Drury was reproved by the Privy Council for scandalous speeches about the king’s intended son-in-law.47 In the following year Sir Henry Wotton reported:

Sir Robert Drury runneth at the ring, curveteth his horse before the king’s window, haunteth my Lord Rochester’s chamber, even when himself is not there, and in secret divideth his observances between him and the house of Suffolk; and all this (they say) to be ambassador at Brussels.48

Later Chamberlain reported that he was willing to pay £2,000 for the Venice embassy.49

On 14 Feb. 1614 Drury wrote to Sir Robert Cotton* that ‘the statesmen’ attending the king at Newmarket believed that a new Parliament was imminent. He was willing, he added, to leave the Suffolk county seat to ‘some younger spirit which may be ambitious of it’, and for this reason had applied instead for a seat at Thetford, where he was keeper of the king’s game. However, the corporation had replied that ‘their love did engage them to the commandments of my Lord of Northampton’. Drury asked Cotton to find out Northampton’s ‘disposition in it’ and, if Drury was ‘forced to seek a knightship of the shire, that he will do me the favour to let his tenants know his favour to me’.50 However, Thetford re-elected Northampton’s client Sir William Twysden, and Drury was instead returned at Eye, where his father-in-law, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was influential.51

Drury was nominated to three committees in the Addled Parliament. Two were for bills - to naturalize Sir Francis Stewart* (23 May) and repeal an Elizabethan statute regulating fish packing (24 May) - while the third was to recommend what action to take in view of Bishop Neile’s disparaging remarks about the Commons (25 May). He was probably the ‘Sir John Drury’ who moved unsuccessfully for the putting of the question in the final supply debate on 7 June.52

Surviving less than a year after the dissolution of his last Parliament, Drury died of a fever on 2 Apr. 1615, and was buried at Hawstead the following June. In his will he left £100 to be spent on a monument, but his widow, who never married again, paid £140 to Nicholas Stone, the leading sculptor of the day. He had originally provided for £5,000 ‘to be paid unto a noble person, who I have been justly bound that acknowledgement for many favours and assistances in my necessity’; but in the last year of his life he was able to halve his obligation to this unidentified benefactor. His inventory shows that he had received at Lady Day no less than £1,660 in rent. A correspondent of his widow reported from London that it was said that James had declared ‘that he could not tell how [Drury] had been frustrated of his suits but he was willing he should been cofferer’ of Prince Charles’s Household. The estate was to be divided among his three surviving sisters, the youngest subsequently marrying Sir Edward Cecil*. Hawstead went to Sir William Wray*, whose grandson sold it in 1656.53

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. J. Cullum, Hist. and Antiqs. of Hawsted, 69; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 58-9.
  • 2. PROB 11/126, f. 252v; Al. Cant.
  • 3. Cullum, 31-2, 69-70; R.C. Bald, Donne and the Drurys, 19, 26, 156
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 89.
  • 5. Cullum, 32
  • 6. Shaw, ii. 89.
  • 7. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 103
  • 8. CSP Ire. 1599-1600, pp. 127, 462.
  • 9. D.J.B. Trim, ‘Fighting "Jacob’s Wars". The Employment of English and Welsh Mercenaries in the European Wars of Religion: France and the Neths. 1562-1610’, (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 2002), p. 423.
  • 10. APC, 1597-8, p. 307.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 387.
  • 12. C66/1682; 66/1918
  • 13. Harl. 3786, f. 35v; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 438; Add. 39245, ff. 8v, 25v.
  • 14. R. Treswell, Relation of Such Things as were Observed to Happen in the Journey of Right Hon. Charles Earl of Nottingham (1605), p. 3.
  • 15. HMC Buccleuch, i. 57
  • 16. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 210, 232.
  • 17. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-16, p. 305.
  • 18. Oxford DNB sub Drury fam.; HP Commons, 1386-1421, ii. 803-4; Shaw, ii. 125; Cullum, 32.
  • 19. HP Commons, 1509-58, ii. 57-8.
  • 20. Ibid. 58-9; Bald, 20-5; WARD 9/158, ff. 17v-18; CPR 33 Eliz. ed. S.R. Neal (L. and I. Soc. cccviii), 176.
  • 21. Bald, 25-6; Cullum, 55.
  • 22. APC, 1596-7, p. 134-5.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 97; Chamberlain Letters, i. 69. 72-3.
  • 24. Bald, 39-40; SP78/44/30.
  • 25. Chamberlain Letters, 103, 114; Bald, 43-6.
  • 26. HMC 7th Rep. 526; Bald, 47-8.
  • 27. CJ, i. 234b, 249a.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 216; HMC Cowper, i. 62.
  • 29. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 96.
  • 30. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 50; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 206, 210-11.
  • 31. Birch, i. 50; P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archduke: Robert Cecil’s Management of the Parlty. Session of 1606’, HR, lxiv. 289-304.
  • 32. CJ, i. 264b
  • 33. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 94.
  • 34. Bowyer Diary, 36; CJ, i. 267b.
  • 35. CJ, i. 269b, 273a.
  • 36. Ibid. 281a, 284b, 286a-b.
  • 37. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 94.
  • 38. CJ, i. 287a, 291a; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 94.
  • 39. CJ, i. 327b, 351b.
  • 40. Ibid. 346b, 328b, 364a; Harl. 6806, f. 63.
  • 41. CJ, i. 374a, 386a.
  • 42. Add. 34765, f. 18.
  • 43. A. Simpson, Wealth of the Gentry, 210-11; Bald, 65; CSP Col. E.I. 1513-16, p. 305; Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 82.
  • 44. Winwood’s Memorials iii. 55, 91.
  • 45. CJ, i. 400a, 424a.
  • 46. CJ, i. 412b, 415b, 436a, 442a.
  • 47. Bald, 67-9, 85, 102; Chamberlain Letters, i. 322, 382.
  • 48. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 28.
  • 49. Chamberlain Letters, i. 548.
  • 50. A.R. Campling, Hist. of Fam. of Drury, 62.
  • 51. Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 127.
  • 52. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 320, 332, 346, 441.
  • 53. PROB 11/126, ff. 252-3; Bald, 135; Campling, 72.