MEAUTYS, Thomas (1590-1649), of Gorhambury, Herts. and Angel Court, Charing Cross, 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



1640 (Apr.)

Family and Education

b. c.1590, 3rd s. of Thomas Meautys (d. c.1618) of St. Julian’s Hosp., Herts. and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Henry Coningsby of North Mimms, Herts.; bro. of Henry*.[footnote] educ. L. Inn 1608; G. Inn 1626.[footnote] m. May 1641, his cos. Anne (bur. 20 Sept. 1680), da. of Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Culford, Suff., 1da.[footnote] kntd. 25 Feb. 1641.[footnote] d. 31 Oct. 1649.[footnote]

Offices Held

?Servant to Robert Cecil†, 1st earl of Salisbury, to 1612;[footnote] sec. to Sir Francis Bacon* by 1616-22;[footnote] clerk of the PC (extraordinary) 1619, (ordinary) 1622-42;[footnote] clerk of writs and processes, Star Chamber 1626-31;[footnote] recvr. tobacco fines 1634-41;[footnote] jt. muster-master-gen. 1636-42;[footnote] commr. maltsters and brewers 1637;[footnote] sec. to depopulations commission 1640.[footnote]

Freeman and alderman, Cambridge, Cambs. 1620-d.;[footnote] commr. boundaries, London 1626, 1631;[footnote] overseer of poor accts., St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster 1628-9.[footnote]

Treas., Starchmakers’ Co. 1638-41.[footnote]


Meautys’ father, a native of Essex, had taken up residence on the outskirts of St. Albans in Hertfordshire by the time this Member was admitted to the inns of court. Meautys himself must be distinguished from his cousin, a professional soldier knighted in 1611, who spent most of his life in the Dutch service.[footnote] It was probably via his uncle (Sir) Thomas Wilson* that Meautys was first introduced to Sir Francis Bacon*, who had inherited the manor of Gorhambury, lying adjacent to St. Albans, in 1602 and proceeded to build a stately home on the estate.[footnote] Two of Meautys’ brothers also entered Bacon’s household, and when Bacon became lord chancellor in 1618 Meautys and Richard Young* became his private secretaries and were rewarded with a grant of the profits of sealing 6d. writs in Chancery for a term of 30 years.[footnote] Soon thereafter Bacon appealed to the favourite, the marquess of Buckingham, to help advance Meautys’s career further, and in 1619 Meautys was admitted as an extraordinary clerk of the Privy Council, replacing Sir Albertus Morton*, who had just been promoted.[footnote]

Bacon, as high steward of Cambridge, nominated Meautys for election to one of the borough’s seats in 1620. Returned in his absence, Meautys was the first of his family to sit.[footnote] His presence in the Commons proved useful to Bacon once the latter faced charges of corruption. On 14 Mar. 1621 Meautys admitted that ‘how much he is bound to the lord chancellor; all that know him know it’, but nevertheless asserted that he ‘perceiveth the lord chancellor’s actions shall pass purgatory, and he hopeth others shall do the like, for he seeth the way is already chalked out’.[footnote] This expression gave offence, and consequently his demand to be given copies of the petitions against Bacon was rejected as unparliamentary.[footnote] On a complaint arising out of a conflict in jurisdiction between Chancery and the Court of Wards, Meautys tried on 16 Mar. to brush aside the objections of ‘an honourable gentleman [Robert Heath, the solicitor-general] that was deceived in his expectation, notwithstanding he sat so near the infallible chair’, but instead urged the House to consider ‘how worthy this business is to trouble so worthy an assembly withal’.[footnote] On a further report of Bacon’s trial, delivered on 21 Mar. by Sir Robert Phelips, Meautys was dismissive of the ‘parties that informed’ against his master, describing one as ‘a common solicitor’ and the other as ‘a guilty registrar by his own confession’, both of whose intent was only to save themselves from being implicated. Meautys added that ‘for my own part I must say I have been observer of my lord’s proceedings, I know he hath sworn [sown] a good seed of justice, and I hope that it will prove that the envious man hath sown these tares’, and moved not to send the charges against Bacon to the Lords without more reliable testimony.[footnote]

Meautys’s own record did not remain unsmirched, for two witnesses claimed to have paid him £1,000.[footnote] However, he escaped further censure after Bacon accepted full culpability. Bacon, drafting his will shortly after his disgrace, put down £500 for Meautys, in gratitude to a good servant in adversity.[footnote] Over the next few months Meautys negotiated on Bacon’s behalf with Buckingham for the sale of York House and (less realistically) for a return to Court; and during the recess he acquired for himself the reversion of an easy but profitable post in Star Chamber.[footnote] On 7 Jan. 1622 he commented bitterly on the Proclamation for the dissolution of Parliament, ‘wherein there is nothing forgotten that we have done amiss; but for most of these things that we have well done we must be fain, I see, to commend ourselves’.[footnote]

In July 1622 Meautys and Sir John Hippisley* acted as go-betweens in an exchange of property between the impoverished 5th earl of Sussex on the one hand and Buckingham on the other. Meautys’ cousin, Frances Shute, had lived for many years as Sussex’s concubine, and the transaction afforded him an opportunity to further his connection with the royal favourite.[footnote] During the autumn he gave up his claim to a mastership of requests in favour of Buckingham’s henchman John Coke*, for which he was gratified with a promotion in the Privy Council secretariat.[footnote] He had to pay £450 to his predecessor Sir Francis Cottington*, which he was to recoup ‘out of the making of a baronet’.[footnote] Negotiating in March 1622 on Bacon’s behalf with lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), Meautys encountered difficulties with the latter’s ‘evasive and slippery’ agent Sir Arthur Ingram*.[footnote] Meautys was also disliked by Bacon’s successor lord keeper Williams, who resented his profits in Chancery, and while Buckingham was in Madrid in 1623 he heard that his ‘poor servant Meautys is much threatened ... and must suffer till you come back’.[footnote]

Meautys does not appear to have stood at the next general election, in 1624, but was returned for Cambridge again in 1625.[footnote] He left no trace on the records of the first Caroline Parliament. At the 1626 general election the new high steward of Cambridge, lord keeper Coventry, nominated his secretary John Thompson* for one of the seats, and Meautys was also re-elected, presumably with Coventry’s approval.[footnote] Ten days after the opening of the session, on 16 Feb. 1626, Meautys wrote to his cousin Lady Jane Bacon that ‘Parliament falls not as yet upon the main of business, it being but early days with us and many Members absent’. Anticipating the exclusion of Sir Edward Coke*, who had been returned despite being a sheriff at the time, Meautys was hopeful that ‘we shall have a tame House and the king will master his own ends without much ado’.[footnote] His optimism proved ill grounded, however; he wrote again in April, lamenting the time lost by the Commons’ attacks upon Buckingham, and foreseeing that they would soon ‘be roundly put to it for a present supply to defend the kingdom and setting of a new fleet to sea; for our dangers threaten us by the great preparations of our enemy, whereof there is daily advertisement’.[footnote] In the committee of the whole House on 25 Apr., he accordingly urged putting a vote of two subsidies and two fifteenths to the question. He warned the House that ‘nothing more hinders the success of great actions than when time for action is spent in consultation’, and berated his colleagues for concentrating only on grievances.[footnote] His only other recorded contribution to this debate was to call upon to Sir Richard Grosvenor* to explain his motion that further revenue might be raised not from subsidies but by other means in ‘an unparliamentary way’; however, Meautys was overruled by the House.[footnote]

While the Parliament was still in session, Meautys, through Buckingham’s mediation, was able to buy out the first reversioner to the Star Chamber post for £900, two-thirds of which he borrowed from Lady Jane Bacon, and to take possession.[footnote] On the arrest of (Sir) John Eliot* on 11 May, it fell to Meautys to seize Eliot’s papers, which included parliamentary proceedings; he refused to allow a note to be taken of them.[footnote] Throughout the session Meautys kept Lady Jane regularly informed of the proceedings of the House. On Eliot’s release on 19 May he noted that ‘the king withdraws not his countenance or protection one jot from the duke. God send us all the light of his countenance, and then all will be well’.[footnote] Not unnaturally, he was entirely convinced by Buckingham’s defence when the latter faced impeachment for incompetence and corruption in the conduct of the war, as he reported to his cousin somewhat optimistically that the favourite had given ‘an ingenuous and clear answer, and very satisfactory, as is conceived, to all indifferent ears’.[footnote] His attendance was affected by ‘a sharp fit of the tertian ague’ at the end of May;[footnote] but after the dissolution on 15 June he expressed some surprise that no MPs had yet been committed, though ‘some of the most active amongst them commanded not to depart the town till His Majesty’s pleasure further known’.[footnote]

In the following year Meautys was at last able to offload his baronetcy warrant on Lady Jane Bacon’s spendthrift son, Sir Frederick Cornwallis†, inside knowledge enabling him to secure precedence over Sir Robert Crane* and other Suffolk aspirants to the dignity.[footnote] On 7 Feb. 1628 Coventry recommended him for re-election as ‘one whose forwardness and abilities to do you service and to discharge the trust you shall repose in him are partly known to you ... as well out of Parliament as in Parliament’.[footnote] Despite this last proviso, Meautys took no ascertainable part in the proceedings. He wrote to Lady Jane on Good Friday that since the resolution to give the king five subsidies ‘we have not spoken a word more of them, but gone on with our own business to provide for the liberty of the subject both in person and estate’. From those who knew the king’s mind he perceived that a sharp message might be expected to expedite supply, otherwise ‘if it take not effect, which I fear to think of, our Parliament will not be long lived’.[footnote] On the clause in the Petition of Right denying the Crown the power of commitment without cause shown, he expected a direct confrontation between Lords and Commons, leading to dissolution.[footnote] It fell to him to convey to the Upper House from Whitehall the king’s second answer to the petition, which, as he wrote to his cousin, ‘caused such expression of joy in general, as, where tongue left, bells and bonfires began’.[footnote] Nevertheless, his optimism was again countered by the Commons, and he added that ‘we go with a Remonstrance or information to His Majesty containing the general grievance of the realm, which ...ended in these very terms, that the excessive power of the duke of Buckingham and the abuse of that power is the chief cause of these evils and dangers to the king and kingdom’.[footnote]

Under Bacon’s revised final will, Gorhambury was conveyed to trustees for Meautys’s use, but he could ill afford to live there. As administrator he purchased the manor of Redbourne for himself and leased Gorhambury to Sir Edward Radcliffe*, Sussex’s cousin and heir.[footnote] His landed income in the 1630s has been computed at not less than £700 per annum, while from his offices he must have enjoyed something in excess of £1,000.[footnote] He was knighted February 1641 in recognition of his services to the council, and a few months later, aged 50, he married Lady Jane Bacon’s daughter. Having suffered all his life from poor health, notably ‘the humour wherewith my lungs were wont to labour’, presumably asthma, he fell ill in the winter of 1641, and was not expected to live. He retired at last to Gorhambury in January 1642, and recovered well enough to survive the Civil War, in which he was a passive parliamentarian.[footnote] He died intestate and was buried on 31 Oct. 1649 in St. Michael’s, the parish church of Gorhambury, at the feet of the monument which he had erected to Bacon.[footnote] His widow married Harbottle Grimston*, who bought the estate after her daughter’s death in childhood.[footnote] A full-length portrait of Meautys remains at Gorhambury. No later member of the family sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Sabrina Alcorn Baron / Rosemary Sgroi