FREEMAN, Sir Ralph (1589-1667), of Military Street, Westminster and East Betchworth, Surr.

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

bap. 6 July 1589, 1st s. of Martin Freeman, Fishmonger, of St. Mary-at-Hill, Billingsgate, London and Leigh, Surr. and Elizabeth, da. and h. of Matthew Lawrence of London. educ. Eton 1604/5; King’s, Camb. 1605, BA 1608; M. Temple 1606. m. 21 Aug. 1617, Catherine (bur. 28 Feb.1655) da. of William Brett of Rotherby, Lincs., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (4 d.v.p.).[footnote] suc. fa. 1617;[footnote] kntd. 15 Sept. 1617.[footnote] sig. Ra[lph] Ffreman.

Offices Held

Freeman, Fishmongers’ Co. London 1617,[footnote] Winchelsea 1625;[footnote] commr. array, Surr. 1642;[footnote] j.p. Oxford, Oxon. 1644;[footnote] commr. assessment, Surr. 1661, 1664-5, subsidy 1663.[footnote]

Master of Requests 1618-?46, 1660-at least 1665;[footnote] commr. starch manufactures 1619, 1631,[footnote] logwood imports 1620,[footnote] purveyance compositions 1622, trade 1625,[footnote] sale of French prizes 1627;[footnote] commr. for revenues of Henrietta Maria 1627;[footnote] gent. of the Bedchamber by 1628;[footnote] auditor of the imprests, Exchequer 1628-32;[footnote] commr. poor laws 1632, soap monopoly 1635;[footnote] searcher of imported hops 1635;[footnote] master of the Mint (jt.) 1635-43, 1660-d.;[footnote] commr. to enforce proclamations for the regulation of gold and silver thread 1636;[footnote] farmer coal duties (jt.) 1638-64;[footnote] member, Council of Trade 1660-d.[footnote]


Several families of the name of Freeman, all ultimately bearing the same arms, migrated from Northamptonshire to London in Elizabethan times. Freeman’s father, Martin, a member of the London Fishmongers’ Company, was one of the most enterprising, with a finger in a great many pies. Settled close to Billingsgate market in the London parish of St. Mary-at-Hill, he also owned lands at Leigh, in Surrey.[footnote] Martin’s connections included fellow Fishmonger William Angell (father of John Angell*), the yeoman purveyor of the Household who, like himself, hailed from Northamptonshire and owned property in Surrey. Both men became associated with Sir Arthur Ingram* in the alum trade, as did George Lowe*. Together with Lowe and Ingram, his partner in the Irish customs, Martin leased the Yorkshire alum works from the Crown in 1615. Shortly before his death in 1617, Martin introduced into the alum business the father of Sir Thomas Bludder*, to whom he had previously sold Flanchford manor, in Surrey. Together they contracted to buy 800 tons of alum a year at £24 a ton. Both men may be accounted fortunate to have escaped by early death the disasters that befell Lowe and others of Ingram’s associates.[footnote]

Freeman may have been the godson of a London Clothworker of the same name, his father’s partner in a syndicate for the pre-emption and sole export of tin.[footnote] The Clothworker became an alderman in 1622 and died in 1634.[footnote] Freeman himself received a gentleman’s education, from which he derived an enthusiasm for Seneca, publishing two translations from the Latin and imitating his manner in a closet drama, Imperiale, which was probably never acted on the professional stage.[footnote] In April 1614 he was granted a reversion to an office in the ordnance department, the clerkship of the deliveries,[footnote] perhaps with the aid of the elder Bludder, a naval victualler. However, a few years later both he and the younger Bludder married into Buckingham’s kindred and became destined for higher things. Freeman succeeded (Sir) Robert Naunton* as master of Requests in January 1618,[footnote] and although he surrendered his reversion to the clerkship of the deliveries four months later he obtained, in August 1621, a further reversion, this time to an auditorship in the Exchequer.[footnote]

During the early 1620s it was Freeman, together with John Packer*, who was responsible for bringing the puritan divine John Preston to Buckingham’s notice.[footnote] In 1623 Buckingham promised him that, as an old boy of the school, he should succeed Thomas Murray as provost of Eton, and in April he was thought ‘like to carry it’ by the countess of Bedford.[footnote] However, during Murray’s long illness, Sir Henry Wotton* continued to insinuate himself into his patron’s favour, and in August Freeman, recognizing defeat, offered to give up his mastership of requests to Wotton’s nephew, Sir Albertus Morton*, if he might succeed Wotton in the Venice embassy. [footnote] Unfortunately for Freeman this request was not granted: indeed, no compensation came his way following Wotton’s appointment as provost in July 1624 except a grant of arrears of rent on Crown lands due from the previous reign.[footnote]

By virtue of Freeman’s ‘work and place’ as a master of Requests, Buckingham considered himself ‘careful of your good’ in commending him to the corporation of Winchelsea at the general election of 1625.[footnote] Returned in his absence,[footnote] Freeman was initially named to help manage the conference with the Lords of 23 June on the general fast, but his name, along with five others, was crossed out to reduce the Commons representation to its proper proportions,[footnote] and he left no other trace on the records of the first Caroline Parliament. Following the dissolution Freeman was granted an annual pension of £100.[footnote] At the next general election, in 1626, he was replaced by another Surrey knight, Sir Nicholas Saunders of Ewell, who probably needed parliamentary privilege to stave off his creditors. However, Freeman was re-elected for Winchelsea in 1628. One of the four bedchambermen appointed to carry three petitions to the king on 20 June, Freeman was, the following day, sent with five other courtiers to desire access for the Speaker to present the address for a recess. On 24 June he reported that he had read the three petitions to Charles, who had promised to consider two of them.[footnote] In the 1629 session Freeman was among those to whom petitions against the postal monopoly were referred (9 February).[footnote] His chief interest in this Parliament was probably the bill to enable Sir Henry Neville II* to sell land, as shortly thereafter he bought from Neville the manor of East Betchworth for £1,080. However, he was not named to the committee.[footnote]

In 1635 Freeman and another man were given a lump sum of £1,800 and an annuity of £1,200 by the Crown. The grant was obtained at the request of Susan, countess of Denbigh, sister to the late duke of Buckingham.[footnote] That same year Freeman became joint master of the Mint, although he, like his fellow appointee, Sir Thomas Aylesbury, was permitted to retain his office as master of Requests. Freeman and Bludder took shares in the Newcastle coal farm in 1638, and the following year, on the death of Sir Dudley Digges*, Freeman is said by George Garrard to have ‘offered fair’ for the post of master of the Rolls, only to be outbid by Sir Charles Caesar*.[footnote] As master of Requests he joined the king at Oxford in the first winter of the Civil War.[footnote] He remained there for the duration of the war, and on 1 Oct. 1646 petitioned to compound for his delinquency on the Oxford articles. He paid his whole fine of £1,330 on 6 June 1650, and, though under suspicion, lived as an obedient citizen of the Commonwealth.[footnote] In this he was unlike his nephew and namesake, whose incorrigible loyalty forced him into exile after the battle of Worcester.[footnote] Freeman regained his two offices, his pension and the coal farm at the Restoration.[footnote] He drew up his will on 5 June 1667, and one week later he was dead.[footnote] His grandson Ralph represented Reigate in two of the Exclusion parliaments as a Court supporter.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Peter Lefevre / John. P. Ferris / Andrew Thrush


WCA, F354, unfol., overseers of the poor acts. 1627-8.