GRIMSTON, Sir Harbottle, 1st Bt. (c.1578-1648), of Bradfield Hall, Essex

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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 19 Feb. 1648

Family and Education

bap. 20 Oct. 1578, 1st s. of Edward Grimston of Rishangles, Suff. and Bradfield, master in Chancery, and Joan, da. and coh. of Thomas Risby of Lavenham, Suff. educ. G. Inn 1594. m. by 1600 (with £1,000), Elizabeth (bur. 8 Dec. 1649), da. of Ralph Copinger of Allhallows, Hoo, Kent, and sole surv. h. of Ambrose Copinger of Allhallows, 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 1da.1 kntd. 14 Mar. 1604. suc. fa. 1610; cr. bt. 25 Nov. 1611.2 bur. 19 Feb. 1648.3 sig. Harbottell or Harb[ottle] Grimeston.

Offices Held

J.p. Essex 1611-27, 1628-d., Harwich, Essex 1618, Suff. by 1614, Maldon, Essex by 1626, Mdx. by 1637;4 capt. militia ft. Essex 1613-19, dep. lt. 1625-6;5 sheriff, Essex 1614-15;6 commr. highways’ repair, Essex 1614-at least 1622, sewers, Colchester, Essex 1618, Essex (highways and bridges) 1618,7 Lexden and Winstree hundreds, Essex 1641,8 subsidy, Harwich 1621-2, 1624, Essex 1622, 1624, 1625, 1641;9 treas. (jt.), construction of Landguard Fort, Suff. and repair of Harwich defences 1625-6;10 commr. Forced Loan 1626-7,11 oyer and terminer 1629, 1640-at least 1645,12 Home circ. 1630-at least 1642,13 St. Paul’s Cathedral repair, Essex 1633,14 gaol delivery, Colchester 1629-at least 1638,15 charitable uses, Essex 1637,16 poll tax 1641, Irish aid 1642,17 array 1642,18 assessment 1644-at least 1648, sequestration of delinquents 1643, levying money 1643, Eastern Assoc. 1643, New Model Ordinance 1645;19 elder, Essex classis 1646-8.20

Member, cttee. for plundered ministers 1646;21 commr. exclusion from sacraments 1646.22


The Grimstons identified their earliest ancestor as Sylvester Grimston, who held land in Yorkshire after the Conquest.23 By 1421 Robert Grimston, land overseer to William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, had moved to Suffolk, where he established a collateral branch of the family at Rishangles, near Ipswich. Robert’s son, Edward (d.1478), served as ambassador to Burgundy during the 1440s.24 His descendant, Edward Grimston of Rishangles (d.1600), was comptroller of Calais when the town surrendered to the French. He escaped from the Bastille shortly after his capture, and represented Suffolk constituencies five times during Elizabeth’s reign. His son and heir, also named Edward (d.1610), was a master in Chancery and an Essex magistrate,25 by whose marriage to Joan Risby, granddaughter and coheiress of John Harbottle of Crowfield, Suffolk (d.1577), the Grimston estates were greatly enlarged. Among the properties thus acquired was the manor of Bradfield Hall, in north-east Essex. In acknowledgement of Harbottle’s significance to the Grimston family fortunes, Edward Grimston the younger’s eldest son was baptized ‘Harbottle’ at Bradfield in 1578.26

Raised a Calvinist by his father, who held sublapsarian views on predestination,27 and educated at Gray’s Inn, Grimston married Elizabeth Copinger, one of the two daughters of the wealthy Kentish gentleman Ralph Copinger, a match which brought him a dowry of £1,000. He settled initially in Suffolk, where he probably took possession of Rishangles and the Ipswich properties,28 but resettled at Bradfield following his father’s death in August 1610, assuming control of a company of foot in the Essex militia in the following year. His landed inheritance comprised over 2,670 acres,29 and may have yielded an annual income of about £2,000.30 In addition, the goods he inherited from his father were worth at least £4,022 4s. 4d.31 Consequently, Grimston probably mustered the £1,095 needed to purchase a baronetcy between 1611 and 1613 without much difficulty, though in November 1612, a few weeks before he paid the second instalment to the Exchequer, he sold a water mill and 50 acres in Thetford, Norfolk, for £200.32

In 1614 Grimston was elected to Parliament for Harwich, which lay just over three miles west of Bradfield. His decision to serve at Westminster may have been prompted by fears that his newly purchased title would be attacked in Parliament. Certainly his surviving papers include copies of ‘A Collection of the chief things belonging unto Baronets’, a proposed petition to the king in favour of abolishing the order of baronetcy, and the ‘Motives to induce ... the Commons House ... to petition His Majesty’ for its abolition, which was read in the Commons on 23 May.33 However, Grimston took no recorded part in the baronetcy debates, nor in any other aspect of the Parliament’s activities. Despite his inactivity, Grimston was rewarded by his constituents, who sent him crayfish worth 5s.34

Grimston served as sheriff of Essex in 1614-15, and was later fined £5 for a failure in connection with his duties.35 In March 1619 he was permitted to resign his captaincy in the militia because of his ‘good and commendable performance ... for a sufficient time past’.36 After concluding the arrangements for the marriage of his eldest son Edward* in June 1620, he spent some time abroad, including three weeks in the Dutch Republic. He subsequently penned a short treatise on the country, which he described as ‘the buttock of the world, full of veins and blood, but no bone in it’. However, he also termed it ‘the Christian world’s Academy of Arms, whither all nations resort to be instructed’. Though never published, the manuscript was clearly intended for circulation, as one of the two surviving copies is dedicated to an unnamed friend.37 During his absence Edward represented Harwich in the third Jacobean Parliament.

Grimston was summoned before the Privy Council in February 1622 to explain his failure to contribute towards the Palatinate Benevolence, and was subsequently induced to donate £40.38 Later that year he became embroiled in a complex legal dispute with his wife’s stepmother Ann Copinger and her sons George and John. According to Grimston, Ann had attempted to persuade her late husband Ralph Copinger to disinherit his only son by his first marriage, Ambrose, in favour of her own sons. When Ambrose died unmarried and without male heir in July 1621, his interest in his father’s property, comprising lands worth £400 p.a. and goods valued at around £2,000, reverted to his sister Elizabeth, Grimston’s wife. As Ann Copinger had failed to compensate Ambrose for his disinheritance as she was required to do by Ralph’s will, it could be argued in law that the entire Copinger estate rightly belonged to Elizabeth.39 However, despite some early victories in Chancery, the case rumbled on until at least November 1630. Before it ended Grimston claimed to have expended more than he could ever have hoped to obtain from his adversaries.40

In May 1625 Grimston was appointed a deputy lieutenant for Essex. Following the outbreak of war with Spain he alerted his superiors to the parlous state of Harwich’s defences, whereupon he was appointed, without his knowledge, co-treasurer for repairing the fortifications by Essex’s joint lord lieutenant, the 2nd Earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*). In the event, the money for rebuilding Harwich’s defences and constructing a new fort at Landguard Point was received and disbursed by his fellow treasurer, Richard Scott.41 During September 1625 Grimston helped to direct the provisioning and billeting of the troops stationed at Harwich, a task for which he felt himself singularly ill-equipped.42 In January 1626 he was re-elected to Parliament, having not sought a seat since 1614. Initially returned for Colchester rather than Harwich, where he probably used his influence to return his son-in-law Christopher Herrys, he was subsequently acclaimed junior knight by the freeholders of Essex, presumably with the backing of Warwick, who controlled the county elections. After plumping for the county seat,43 he made only a slight impression on the parliamentary records, briefly intervening in the debate following the receipt of the king’s letter urging the House to proceed more speedily on 20 Mar.,44 and being named to just six legislative committees. These concerned fishing (27 Feb.), the Vincent Lowe land bill (1 Mar.), Welsh butter (6 Mar.) and the king’s revenue (7 Mar.); the remaining two committees dealt with the employment and religious instruction of prisoners (8 Mar.), and recusants (8 May). None of these subjects are known to have interested Grimston personally, but it is striking that in four cases his colleagues on the committee included the Welshman Sir John Stradling, which hints at some connection now lost.45 Grimston was mentioned again on the afternoon of 5 Apr. for having been absent when the House was called that morning, and was referred to for the last time on 14 June, when the Commons extended the right of parliamentary privilege to his bailiff, who had been arrested at Colchester.46 Despite his low profile, Grimston probably took a keen interest in the Commons’ proceedings, especially in the attempted impeachment of the king’s chief minister, the duke of Buckingham. Among his surviving papers are copies of Digges’s speech introducing the articles of impeachment against the duke (8 May), and the speeches made by Sherland and Wandesford respectively on Buckingham’s sale of honours and his administration of medicine to James I on the latter’s deathbed (10 May).47

Following the collapse of the 1626 Parliament, Grimston was punished for his association with Warwick, whom Buckingham had counted among his enemies ever since the failure of the York House Conference. On Warwick’s removal as joint lord lieutenant of Essex early in September 1626 Grimston was excluded from the county’s deputy lieutenancy at Buckingham’s behest despite opposition from the newly restored lieutenant, the 5th earl of Sussex.48 At the same time he was specially selected to contribute £300 towards a punitive Privy Seal loan.49 Buckingham’s suspicion of Grimston was soon confirmed, for though named to the Essex commission for the Forced Loan, Grimston refused to pay his contribution of £25 and was imprisoned in the Fleet on the orders of the Privy Council. Released on bail in June 1627 owing to sickness, he was subsequently committed to the custody of the sheriff of Northamptonshire and stripped of his seat on the Essex bench.50 Sometime during his confinement Grimston drafted an appeal to the king. Far from expressing regret for his refusal he lectured Charles on the illegality of the Loan, drawing upon several fourteenth-century statutes to support his case and questioning the king’s wisdom in failing to demand a Benevolence which, he argued, would have produced a greater yield. Though Charles had promised not to use the Loan as a precedent, Grimston observed that subsequent monarchs might exhibit no such qualms to justify similar exactions in future. Whether Grimston ever submitted his appeal to the king - which is to be found among his own family’s papers - is unknown.51

Grimston’s final release was not ordered until the general amnesty of 2 Jan. 1628.52 His stand against the Loan was enormously popular among the Essex freeholders who, at the urging of Warwick, unanimously returned him as junior knight of the shire in the following March.53 On taking his seat at Westminster, Grimston drew upon his recent experience to inveigh against arbitrary imprisonment, and in so doing revealed something of the treatment he had received during his confinement. Speaking on 29 Apr., he asserted that

to commit without a cause is great injustice, for the cause of commitment ought ever to precede; for after a man is committed his house may be searched, an unlawful book may be found and a man may be questioned for that which at the first was never intended. I speak this because I have known it so.54

One week later he expressed dismay that even though the House had voted that none could commit without showing cause, Secretary Coke (John Coke) had maintained that it was essential for the Crown to retain this power. Unless Parliament took action, he added, ‘I think I shall be quickly where I was this time twelvemonth - in prison’.55

Beyond his pronouncements on arbitrary imprisonment, Grimston seldom spoke that session. However, on 4 Apr. he announced that he favoured granting four subsidies, and on 23 May he proposed that the speeches made by Glanville and Marten that morning at a joint conference with the Lords be copied and distributed to each Member.56 These two Members had opposed adding a clause to the Petition of Right suggested by the Lords for fear of destroying the Petition’s effect. Grimston was named to only a handful of committees in 1628, of which none were concerned with legislation. Apart from the committee for privileges (20 Mar.), they included committees to examine the complaints against some Cornish gentlemen (9 May) and a petition against the exaction of metage and portage in London (25 June). He was also required to help search for records and precedents (21 May) and to explain a clause in a Jacobean recusancy Act, 3 Jac. I. c.4 (28 May).57 On 15 Apr. he attended the committee for the courts of justice, at which a private case in which he was involved (perhaps his long-running battle with his wife’s step-mother and her family) was examined. Six days later he became embroiled in a dispute with Sir Henry Spiller over the raising of coat and conduct money at the committee for examining the powers of deputy lieutenants, but regrettably no details of the disagreement survive.58

Grimston undoubtedly welcomed the news of Buckingham’s assassination, not least because it was quickly followed by his restoration to the Essex bench. He played only a marginal role in the 1629 session, receiving just three mentions in the records. These concerned his appointments to committees to provide an enlarged preaching ministry (23 Jan.), to prevent the begging of forfeitures before attainder (23 Jan.) and to halt the sending of victuals to Spain (26 January).59 Though there is no evidence that he remained at Westminster for the rest of the session, a copy of Eliot’s denunciation of popery, Arminianism and the illegal collection of Tunnage and Poundage (2 Mar.) is included among his family’s papers, although this may have been acquired by his son Harbottle, who had been returned at a by-election for Harwich in October 1628.60

Grimston fell foul of High Commission in 1631 for supporting the corporation of Harwich against its puritan minister, William Innis, for which offence he was arraigned before the Privy Council in January 1632.61 Returned for Essex to the Short Parliament, he subsequently represented Harwich in the Long Parliament until his death in February 1648, when he was buried at St. Lawrence, Bradfield. His will, drawn up in 1641, echoes the sublapsarian Calvinism of his father.62 A portrait of Grimston, painted in 1625 by an unknown artist, hangs at Gorhambury, the Hertfordshire property later acquired by his son, Harbottle. Described as ‘dismally bad’ by one historian, unlike the ‘delightful’ companion portrait of his wife painted at the same time, it depicts him wearing a black satin doublet and high ruff.63

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Essex RO, microfiche D/P 173/1/1; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 207; J.E. Cussans, Hist. Herts.: Hundred of Cashio, 246-7; IGI, ‘Suff.’; Add. 19090, f. 161; GI Admiss.; C3/340/29, ff. 1,6; S. Lewis, Hist. St. Mary, Islington, 204. P. Morant, Hist. and Antiqs. of Essex (1768), i. 464, incorrectly dates his wife’s death to 12 Dec. 1649. Regs. Westminster Abbey ed. J.L. Chester, 66, suggests the birth of a 2nd da., as does Cussans, but this actually refers to a granddaughter: Essex RO, D/P 173/1/1.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 130; CB, i. 104.
  • 3. Essex RO, microfiche D/P 173/1/1.
  • 4. C231/4, ff. 71, 228, 260; HMC 10th Rep. iv. 502-10; C193/12/2, f. 80v; C66/1988.
  • 5. Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 1608-39 ed. B.W. Quintrell, 15-16, 46, 141, 348; HALS, Verulam ms IX A.8.
  • 6. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 46.
  • 7. C181/2, ff. 225v, 308, 318v; 181/3, f. 68v.
  • 8. C181/5, p. 373.
  • 9. C212/22/20-1, 23; Bodl. Firth C4, p. 188; SR, v. 62, 84.
  • 10. AO1/2519/595.
  • 11. Bodl. Firth C4, p. 257.
  • 12. C181/5, pp. 366, 507.
  • 13. Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 213; C181/4, f. 60v; 181/5, ff. 8v, 222.
  • 14. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 9.
  • 15. C181/4, f. 6v; 181/5, pp. 112, 239.
  • 16. C192/1, unfol.
  • 17. SR, v. 107, 141.
  • 18. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 19. A. and O. i. 112, 169, 229, 292, 536, 621, 638, 965, 1082.
  • 20. H. Smith, ‘Presbyterian Organisation of Essex’, Essex Review, xxviii. 16.
  • 21. CJ, iv. 545b.
  • 22. A. and O. i. 853.
  • 23. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 205.
  • 24. Cussans, 246; N. King, Grimstons of Gorhambury, 1.
  • 25. Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 3.
  • 26. Morant, i. 464; Cussans, 247; RCHM, Essex (NE), 11. For John Harbottle’s own acquisition of Bradfield Hall manor in 1572, see Essex RO, D/DH VI.A.13-14.
  • 27. PROB 11/116, f. 304.
  • 28. E115/160/5. His children were bap. at Thorndon: IGI, ‘Suff.’
  • 29. Essex RO, D/DH VI. B.43.
  • 30. Harl. 991, f. 14v, estimate made in the late 1650s by Richard Symonds. We are grateful to J.T. Cliffe for this ref.
  • 31. HALS, Verulam ms IX. A.1. The first part of this inventory, dated Feb. 1611, is missing.
  • 32. SCL, EM 1284(a); Essex RO, D/DCm T99/14.
  • 33. HALS, Verulam ms XII. A.9.; XII. B.18. The compiler of HMC Verulam, p. v, thought that these papers, and others, were ‘probably connected with the Bacon family’.
  • 34. Harwich bor. recs. ms 99/1, unfol. 1613/14 chamberlain’s acct.
  • 35. SP14/135/41.
  • 36. Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 46.
  • 37. HALS, Verulam ms IX. A.6A-B. It has been claimed that this treatise was written in 1660 by his son Harbottle, but the fair copy (6B) is clearly endorsed 1621: King, 13.
  • 38. SP14/127/82; 14/156/15. See also CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 90 (mis-dated).
  • 39. For the wills of Ralph and Ambrose Copinger, see PROB 11/136, ff. 131-3; 11/138, f. 49v. The key points of the case are outlined in C78/445/1; C2/Chas.I/G45/62; C3/340/29.
  • 40. C2/Chas.I/G22/41; C127/83.
  • 41. Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 84-6, 90, 124; CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 96, 150, 566; AO1/2519/595. Grimston’s purely nominal involvement was to confuse the Exch., which later demanded that he furnish accounts of his expenditure.
  • 42. Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 85-6, 90; Essex RO, D/Y 2/8/11.
  • 43. Procs. 1626, ii. 20.
  • 44. Ibid. 321.
  • 45. Ibid. 134, 158, 201, 214, 226; iii. 190.
  • 46. Ibid. ii. 430; iii. 444.
  • 47. HALS, Verulam ms XII. B.27-9.
  • 48. SP16/35/24; Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 141.
  • 49. E401/2586, p. 461.
  • 50. APC, 1627, pp. 262, 449; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 61, 204; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 236; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 199, 262.
  • 51. HALS, Verulam ms IX. A.250.
  • 52. APC, 1627-8, p. 218.
  • 53. CD 1628, vi. 123, 146-8.
  • 54. Ibid. iii. 153. See also pp. 157, 167-8.
  • 55. Ibid. 276, 286.
  • 56. Ibid. ii. 309; iii. 586.
  • 57. Ibid. ii. 29; iii. 336, 511; iv. 3, 467.
  • 58. Ibid. ii. 469; iii. 9.
  • 59. CJ, i. 921b, 922a.
  • 60. HALS, Verulam ms B.33.
  • 61. CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 145, 256; PC2/41, pp. 357, 370, 404; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. xxii. 392-3.
  • 62. PROB 11/203, f. 404r-v.
  • 63. King, 10.