FORTESCUE, Sir John (c.1533-1607), of Salden House, Mursley, Bucks.; Westminster and Hendon, Mdx.

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



1604 - 23 Mar. 1604
20 Feb. 1606 - 23 Dec. 1607

Family and Education

b. c.1533, 1st s. of Sir Adrian Fortescue of Brightwell, Oxon. and his 2nd w. Anne, da. of Sir William Reade of Boarstall, Bucks., wid. of Giles Greville of Lasborough, Glos.; bro. of Thomas† and half-bro. of Sir Thomas Parry*.1 educ. travelled abroad? m. (1) by 1556, Cecilia (d. 7 Feb. 1571),2 da. and coh. of Sir Edmund Ashfield† of Ewelme, Oxon., 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 2da.;3 (2) lic. 22 June 1576,4 Alice (bur. 23 Jan. 1621),5 da. of Christopher Smith† of Annables, Herts., clerk of the pipe 1551-89, wid. of Richard Robson of London, 2da.6 suc. fa. 1539, restored in blood 1551;7 kntd. Sept. 1592.8 d. 23 Dec. 1607.9

Offices Held

Servant to Princess Elizabeth c.1555;10 kpr. of the Great Wardrobe 1559-1603;11 PC 1589-d.;12 under-treas. of the exch. 1589-1603; chan. of the exch. 1592-1603;13 chan. of the duchy of Lancaster 24 Sept.-3 Oct. 1601, 4 Nov. 1601-d.;14 member, High Commission, Canterbury province 1601-d.;15 commr. merchants losses, 1601,16 discovery of Jesuits and seminary priests 1603.17

Kpr. of Cornbury Park, Oxon. and ranger, Wychwood Forest, Oxon. 1560-d.;18 j.p. Bucks. 1569-d.,19 Mdx. by 1593-d.,20 Lancs. 1600-d.,21 Herts. and Oxon. by 1601-d.,22 Cambridge 1601-d.,23 Buckingham 1603;24 high steward, Buckingham by 1584,25 York 1596,26 Wallingford, Berks. by 1601;27 commr. to levy volunteers for Low Countries, Beds. and Bucks. 1586;28 kpr. (jt.), Hatfield House, Herts. 1593-d.;29 custos rot. Bucks. c.1594-1600,30 Mdx. by 1594-1605;31 recorder, Cambridge 1600-d.;32 commr. oyer and terminer, London and Mdx. 1601-d.,33 Norf. circ. 1602-d.,34 the Verge 1604-d.,35 Bucks. 1607,36 gaol delivery, Newgate, London 1601-d.,37 Cambridge, 1602-d.,38 sewers, Thames 1603,39 Mdx., Oxon. and Berks. 1604-6,40 Lea valley 1604-d.41


Fortescue’s ancestors originated in Devon, and included his namesake, the famous fifteenth-century political theorist Sir John Fortescue†.42 His grandfather married a Boleyn. Fortescue’s father, a younger son, acquired property in the Chilterns by his first marriage to a Stonor heiress, but was attainted along with Cardinal Reginald Pole in May 1539, and executed for treason a few months later.43 The manner of his father’s death did not greatly impair young Fortescue’s prospects. On the contrary, he was said to have studied on the Continent, perhaps making use of his family’s contacts with Pole, and became widely respected for his classical scholarship.44 After securing a private Act of restitution in 1551 he took possession of his ancestral estates, and in about 1555 entered the service of his cousin, Princess Elizabeth. He owed his subsequent advancement to his step-father, Sir Thomas Parry†, who became comptroller of the royal Household in 1558. Parry was responsible for Fortescue’s appointment as keeper of the Great Wardrobe in 1559 and his election at Wallingford in Elizabeth’s first Parliament; he also obtained for him the grant of the manor of Salden in Buckinghamshire in 1559.45 Fortescue held high office throughout Elizabeth’s reign, and was praised by her above all for his integrity.46 He conformed to the established Church, though his son Sir Francis† sheltered Jesuits in his official residence and his steward was a Catholic.47

On Elizabeth’s death Fortescue was alleged to have suggested attaching conditions to James’s accession, and to have deprecated the rush to greet the new monarch.48 He was consequently distrusted by James, who deprived him of his offices in both the Great Wardrobe and the Exchequer in May 1603, in return for the grant for life of the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster. In the following July the king also ordered Fortescue to hand over Duchy House, his residence in the Savoy, to Sir George Home, the former Scottish treasurer who had succeeded him in the Exchequer and the Wardrobe. Fortescue, however, appealed to his friend (Sir) Robert Cecil†, who presumably found Home a satisfactory alternative.49 Fortescue subsequently entertained James on several occasions at Salden, Hendon (where he owned a house), and Cornbury (where he served as keeper of the park), but never succeeded in earning the favour of the new king, who was widely reported to have snubbed his host by farting as he left Fortescue’s house in August 1605.50 Perhaps as compensation for loss of office he received grants of Crown land in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.51

At the general election of 1604 Fortescue had considerable electoral patronage at his disposal in the form of boroughs controlled by the duchy of Lancaster. He consequently arranged for his younger son Sir William to be elected at Stockbridge, and tried to persuade the corporation of Leicester to elect his son-in-law Sir John Pulteney.52 When Leicester refused, Fortescue altered the returns, placing Pulteney at the more compliant borough of Wigan. Several other Members probably also owed their places to Fortescue. His Buckinghamshire neighbour Sir John Dormer was elected for Clitheroe, while Sir John Luke, Fortescue’s distant relation by marriage, was returned at Newton. Two Duchy officials, Sir Thomas Hesketh and Thomas Fanshawe, were elected at Lancaster, while the Exchequer auditor, Sir Vincent Skinner, was returned at Preston. Fortescue himself decided not to represent a Duchy-controlled borough, but instead sought a more prestigious position as knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire. However, he was beaten at the polls for the first seat by Sir Francis Goodwin*, and stood down to avoid the humiliation of being elected to the second, which was taken by Sir William Fleetwood. This defeat may have reflected Fortescue’s unpopularity at Court rather than in the county at large. Indeed, as it has been suggested that Buckinghamshire’s freeholders were mobilized against Fortescue by a faction connected to Fleetwood, who had Scottish links.53 Fortescue refused to accept this result, however, and persuaded the sheriff to declare Goodwin ineligible to serve in Parliament on the grounds that he had been outlawed. He then procured another return, and took his seat. When Parliament opened he was among those appointed to administer the Oath of Supremacy to his fellow Members (19 Mar. 1604).54

It was Fleetwood, rather than Goodwin, who brought the election to the attention of the Commons on 22 March.55 It was assumed that Fortescue had been able to exploit his influence as a privy councillor in order to overturn the first election result, and this led the Commons to champion Goodwin’s cause, immediately declaring him and not Fortescue to have been lawfully elected.56 Some of the Privy Council meanwhile rallied support for Fortescue, and three days later the Commons received a message from the Lords desiring a conference to reconsider the case, because the king ‘conceived himself engaged and touched in his honour’.57 James, declaring his indifference to the result, proposed that the case should be resolved by the judges, who had agreed that Goodwin was technically an outlaw.58 This interference outraged the Commons, and the matter now threatened to escalate into a constitutional crisis over who should ultimately adjudicate on disputed elections. It continued to dominate proceedings for the first two weeks of the session, as the Commons’ case was fortified by the revelation that Fortescue had apparently forged the evidence of Goodwin’s outlawry.59 The Commons, though, failed to notice Fortescue’s cavalier manipulation of electoral procedure in the Duchy boroughs, or the fact that he was responsible for securing the return of Sir John Pulteney, who was still underage. Eventually a compromise was reached: on 11 Apr. the Buckinghamshire election was declared void, and both candidates were precluded from standing at the resultant election.60 Following the death of Sir Thomas Hesketh in October 1605, Fortescue had the opportunity of a seat at Lancaster, but he was still too proud to sit for a borough, and instead nominated Sir Thomas Howard, the 18 year-old son of the lord chamberlain, Thomas, 1st earl of Suffolk. He waited until the death of Sir Robert Wroth I* on 27 Jan. 1606 created a vacancy in Middlesex, the consitutency which he had represented in Elizabeth’s last Parliament. James now let it be known that he would be glad to see both Fortescue and his rival Goodwin in the House, and he was elected in the following month.61 Rumours in March 1606 that he was to receive a peerage proved unfounded.62

Fortescue was prevented from becoming an active Member by the ill health which had dogged him since the late 1590s.63 On 6 Mar. 1606 he spoke on purveyance, but in such a low voice that all the diarist was able to catch was that the king on his accession had pardoned fines of £80,000 for unlicensed alienations.64 When the date for paying the subsidies was discussed on 25 Mar., he urged the House ‘not to lose the thanks of our gift by a difference of a few months’.65 On 11 Apr. he defended the impositions on currants, pointing out that in Elizabeth’s time the Levant merchants had levied £4,000 p.a. on them to cover foreign duties and expenses. The queen, having taken the imposition into her own hands, farmed it out to the merchants, who were satisfied with the arrangement.66 He added that if the Commons denied the king this imposition on the grounds that it was a grievance,

by the same reason you may take from him the 6s. 8d. upon a cloth, which amounteth unto £30,000 per annum, and likewise the imposition upon alum and the like, and then must we be driven to seek new ways to aid the king for the maintenance of the state.67

On 14 Apr. he carried two recusancy bills to the Lords, and returned with a message concerning the proposed Union with Scotland.68 In the third session he was among those ordered to attend a meeting with the Lords on the Union (24 Nov. 1606) and to consider the Cavendish relief bill (4 December).69 On 23 Feb. 1607 he informed the Lords that the Commons would be ready to discuss naturalization on the next day, and brought back a message proposing a conference in two days’ time.70 No further parliamentary activity is recorded.

Fortescue died intestate on 23 Dec. 1607. His epitaph gave his age as 76, although he had elsewhere stated that he was born in the same year as Queen Elizabeth - 1533.71 He was buried at Mursley, the funeral being deferred till 6 July 1608 so that his friend William Camden, Clarenceux herald, could recover from a broken leg.72 He was succeeded in his estate by his eldest son, who declared himself a Catholic; no further members of the Buckinghamshire family entered Parliament. A funeral monument in Mursley church contains kneeling effigies of Fortescue and his first wife, and various other likenesses of Fortescue survive in private collections; one is reproduced in Lord Clermont’s History of the Fortescue Family, while the Bodleian Library, to which Fortescue donated many books, holds a nineteenth-century copy of a contemporary portrait.73

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. T. Fortescue [Lord Clermont], Hist. Fortescue Fam. 3, 254, 312, 313; VCH Glos. xi. 287.
  • 2. Bucks. Recs. i. 93.
  • 3. Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 58.
  • 4. London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 502.
  • 5. Memorials of St. Margaret’s Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 319.
  • 6. Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 164.
  • 7. HLRO, O.A. 5 and 6 Ed.VI. c. 31.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 89.
  • 9. WARD 7/41/189; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 430.
  • 10. Fortescue, 312.
  • 11. CPR, 1558-60, p. 90.
  • 12. APC, 1588-9, p. 76.
  • 13. Exchequer Officerholders comp. J.C. Sainty (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xviii), 39, 200.
  • 14. R. Somerville, Hist. Duchy of Lancaster, 397.
  • 15. HMC Hatfield xvi. 290; R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 350.
  • 16. C231/1, f. 107v.
  • 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 61.
  • 18. CPR, 1558-60, pp. 426-7; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 566; V.J. Watney, Cornbury, 69, 92, 97.
  • 19. CPR, 1569-72, p. 223; Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1549; C181/1, f. 47.
  • 20. APC, 1592-3, p. 407; Hatfield House, ms 278; SP13/case F/11, f. 22b; C66/1620.
  • 21. Lancs. RO, QSC2-3.
  • 22. C66/1549, 1620.
  • 23. C181/1, ff. 25v, 39, 47; C181/2, f. 16.
  • 24. C181/1, f. 47v.
  • 25. Cent. Bucks. Stud. Buckingham corp. bk. 1574-1835, f. 1.
  • 26. HMC Hatfield, vi. 436.
  • 27. Berks. RO, Wallingford min. bk. f. 88.
  • 28. APC, 1586-7, pp. 80, 115.
  • 29. HMC Hatfield, xiii. 483; SC6/Jas.I/1646, f. 32v; SC6/Jas.I/1648 unfol.
  • 30. C66/1421; C231/1, p. 171.
  • 31. C66/1421, 1682.
  • 32. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, ii. 599-600; C181/1, f. 25.
  • 33. C181/1, ff. 10v, 13, 34, 43v, 77v, 87v, 102, 125v, 126, 132v; 181/2, ff. 3v, 11v, 18, 30.
  • 34. C181/1, ff. 16, 30, 37, 52, 76v, 96v, 104v, 116, 131v; 181/2, ff. 7, 26, 38v.
  • 35. C181/1, ff. 93v, 117v; 181/2, ff. 13, 57.
  • 36. C181/2, f. 35.
  • 37. C181/1, ff. 11v, 22, 35, 42v, 48v, 68v, 102v, 126v; 181/2, ff. 5v, 18v, 52v, 53.
  • 38. C181/1, ff. 25v, 45v, 99v, 124: 181/2, ff. 11, 36.
  • 39. C181/1, f. 46.
  • 40. Ibid. ff. 85, 88, 100v; C181/2, f. 19v.
  • 41. C181/1, f. 89v; 181/2, f. 50.
  • 42. VCH Herts. iii. 102.
  • 43. VCH Oxon. viii. 179.
  • 44. Fortescue, 312.
  • 45. VCH Bucks. iii. 401-3.
  • 46. D. Lloyd, State Worthies (1670), p. 556.
  • 47. HMC Hatfield, ix. 187; H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. vi. 730; J. Morris, Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers, i. 174-6, ii. 373; J. Gerrard, Autobiog. 161
  • 48. Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, i. 24n; Secret Hist. of Ct. of Jas. I ed. W. Scott, i. 150, 211.
  • 49. Fortescue, 403.
  • 50. London and Mdx. Arch. Soc. Trans. n.s. vii. 236-7; J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, i. 165, 189-90; Secret Hist. of Ct. of Jas. I, i. 215; Fortescue, 368-9; Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I. Jeayes, 131.
  • 51. Lansd. 1217, ff. 12v, 70.
  • 52. HMC 8th Rep. i. 434.
  • 53. R.C. Munden, ‘The defeat of Sir John Fortescue: Court versus Country at the Hustings?’, EHR, xciii. 811-16.
  • 54. CJ, i. 140n.
  • 55. Ibid. 149a.
  • 56. Ibid. 151b-152a; 934a-b.
  • 57. Ibid. 156a-b.
  • 58. Ibid. 158a-b.
  • 59. E. Lindquist, ‘The Case of Sir Francis Goodwin’, EHR, civ. 675; CJ, i. 159a-160a, 161a-b, 162a, 162b-165b, 165b-166a, 166a-b, 167a, 939a-940b; CD 1604-7, pp. 21-4, 29-37, 39-41; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 91-114.
  • 60. CJ, i. 168a-169a.
  • 61. Bowyer Diary, 15, 52.
  • 62. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 198.
  • 63. HMC 4th Rep. 335; De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 262, 276; Hatfield, xxii. 385.
  • 64. Bowyer Diary, 64; CJ, i. 279a.
  • 65. CJ, i. 289a.
  • 66. Ibid. 297a.
  • 67. Bowyer Diary, 118.
  • 68. CJ, i. 298a; LJ, ii. 414b.
  • 69. CJ, i. 324b, 327b.
  • 70. Ibid. 339b; LJ, ii. 470b, 475b.
  • 71. Bucks. Recs. i. 89; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 248; Lipscomb, iii. 430.
  • 72. Fortescue, 374.
  • 73. Ibid. opp. pp. 312, 372.