MOMPESSON, Giles (1584-c.1651), of Little Bathampton, Wilts. and London
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Family and Education
b. 14 Aug. 1584, 1st s. of Thomas Mompesson of Little Bathampton and 2nd w. Honora, da. of Giles Estcourt of Salisbury, Wilts.1 educ. Hart Hall, Oxf. 1600; L. Inn 1601.2 m. 1606/7, Katherine (d.1633), da. of Sir John St. John of Lydiard Tregoze, Wilts., 1ch. d.v.p.3 suc. fa. 1587;4 kntd. 18 Nov. 1616, degraded 26 Mar. 1621.5 d. c.1651. sig. Gyles Mompesson.
J.p. Wilts. 1614-21.6
The Mompessons acquired Bathampton, Wiltshire in the fifteenth century, and the first MP in the family was returned for Wilton in 1453. They were not particularly prominent in county society: Mompesson’s wardship was sold to his relatives for only £70 in 1587. However, his wife came from the well-connected St. John family of Lydiard Tregoze, and his return to the Commons for Great Bedwyn in 1614 was almost certainly arranged by the 1604 Member, his wife’s stepfather (Sir) Anthony Hungerford.12
Despite his youth and inexperience, Mompesson contributed to several debates in the final weeks of the 1614 session. When Richard Martin* was accused of exceeding his brief as counsel while examining witnesses for the Virginia Company on 17 May, Mompesson ‘moved to have the ancient Parliament men to consider of his fault according to the order of the House’. On 25 May, the Commons was outraged to learn that Bishop Neile had spurned a request for a conference over impositions on the grounds that MPs would use it as a forum to attack the prerogative. Amid calls for a suspension of debates until this dispute was resolved, Mompesson declared himself ‘against the cessation of public business’, but his advice was ignored. On the following day the House debated whether to go to the Lords or the king for redress: most of those who spoke recommended the Lords, but Mompesson warned that ‘if we resort to them as judges and they punish him, though slightly, then by what precedent we may resort further to the king?’ When Sir Edward Hoby was sent to the Lords, Neile claimed to have been misquoted, throwing the onus back on the Commons to substantiate their allegations. Debating this rebuff on 30 May, Sir Robert Phelips observed that the precise form of words used by Neile mattered less than the insult. He therefore recommended renewing the complaint to the Lords, a motion seconded by Mompesson, who also moved ‘to let the Lords know that the bishop had taxed their lordships as well as us, which peradventure may move to draw them with us’. The following morning the draft of this new message was reported, whereupon Mompesson called for the message to be delivered to the Lords in writing, a motion which, because it contravened precedent, was denied. Neile, predictably, was exonerated by his peers, leaving the Commons little option but to appoint a committee to prepare an approach to the king for redress, a course of action of which Mompesson apparently approved. However, this dispute was thereafter overshadowed by John Hoskins’ anti-Scots tirade on 3 June, which provided James with a pretext to dissolve the Parliament.13
Only weeks after the dissolution the king met George Villiers, who swiftly supplanted Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, as royal favourite. Villiers soon began to distribute patronage benefits across his extensive kinship network, including Mompesson, whose wife’s sister had married George’s half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers*. In the autumn of 1616 Mompesson promoted a patent for the licensing of inns, a duty previously assigned to the assize judges by a statute of 1552, but rarely enforced. Villiers (now earl of Buckingham) was directly involved in the negotiations for the granting of this patent with the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon*. Mompesson was awarded an annuity of £100 and a 20 per cent share of the takings, and though ill-health kept lord chancellor Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†) from sealing the grant in March 1617, the king sent for the Great Seal and performed the task in person.14 The inns patent quickly became a national scandal: Mompesson’s agents licensed premises which had been denied approval by magistrates; and, on at least one occasion, prosecuted an alehousekeeper who had provided an impromptu lodging for the night. Some 1,200 innkeepers bought licences at between £5 and £10 apiece, but around 4,000 who refused were prosecuted by common informations laid in King’s Bench. Bacon’s successor as attorney-general, (Sir) Henry Yelverton*, later made the sensational claim that when he refused to sign these informations, Mompesson threatened to have him sacked.15 At the same time as he was granted the inns patent, Mompesson also received a commission to sell timber worth up to £25,000 from the Crown estates. This patent, which returned some £7,270 to the Exchequer over the following year, was attacked by the surveyors of Crown woods, whose jurisdiction it undermined. Furthermore, Mompesson was later accused of felling timber suitable for the navy, which was excluded from his grant.16
Mompesson’s success in acquiring the inns and timber patents led him to explore other lucrative schemes. In 1619, following an investigation into the profitability of the New River Company, the Crown decided to take a half share in the project. Mompesson, who had served as one of the investigating commissioners, was appointed surveyor of the Company, a sinecure worth £200 p.a.17 He also joined the patentees for the manufacture of gold and silver thread, a project promoted by Sir Edward Villiers. He and his colleagues proceeded to render themselves odious by waging a sustained campaign of harassment and imprisonment of London goldsmiths whose trade infringed their monopoly.18 In 1620 he was granted two further patents, one for the manufacture of coking coal and the other for the discovery of concealed lands worth £200 p.a. In the event both grants proved abortive, although in the case of the second patent the surviving records show that concealments worth over £40 p.a. were quickly identified, and that Mompesson had designs on lands held for charitable purposes by the London livery Companies. Among other charges over the concealment patent, Mompesson was accused of taking bribes to drop proceedings, and of undervaluing lands identified as concealments.19
The summons of a fresh Parliament in November 1620 led lord chancellor Verulam (Francis Bacon) to advise Villiers, now marquess of Buckingham, to suppress certain odious patents, among them the inns patent, before the session opened; this timely suggestion was disregarded. Mompesson, who naturally wished to refute his parliamentary critics in person, was returned once again for Great Bedwyn. His decision to sit was immediately vindicated, for on the second day of business, 6 Feb., Sir William Spencer, supported by Edward Alford and Sir Edward Sackville, attempted to turn a debate on the scarcity of coin into an attack on the gold and silver thread patent. At this Mompesson moved to seek general advice from refiners and merchants about ‘all means of this want of bullion’, whereupon the issue was referred to the grievances’ committee. Two days later, during the debate on the Leicestershire election, Mompesson spoke in support of Sir Thomas Beaumont, another of Buckingham’s kindred.20
At the start of the 1621 session the Commons moved cautiously in gauging the prospects for an attack on the patentees, but the vote of supply on 16 Feb. opened the way to a full-scale assault. On 20 Feb. Mompesson was summoned from his sickbed by the grievances’ committee and grilled about the inns patent. His protests that his partners were not present were swept aside by William Noye, who observed that ‘by law he is to answer for his deputy’, and a detailed investigation commenced, which was reported to the House on 27 February. On hearing complaints about his other patents the following day, the House resolved to notify the Lords of his abuses and to request that he be punished. In the meantime he was committed to the serjeant-at-arms. Mompesson was understandably downcast at his looming fate, although one newsletter writer noted that ‘he makes such humble submission and promises such service in discovery of secrets in case he may find favour, that it is likely he may [e]scape’.21 On 1 Mar. Mompesson wrote to Buckingham protesting that ‘if I clear not myself of all imputation as far as becomes an honest man and a faithful servant in His Majesty’s censure, let me endure as great punishment as ever delinquent did’. He asked that the king instruct the Commons to submit detailed charges against him in writing, as he had hitherto been
traduced in general terms, and so must be so infamous before I come to my justification (which if they can avoid they will never suffer me to come to) that almost an indifferent party that doth converse with the world will have a prejudice to me beforehand.22
On the following day he was allowed home under escort to collect papers for his defence. However, feigning sickness, he went into his wife’s chamber unaccompanied, from whence he fled abroad. When the Commons learned of his escape on 3 Mar., uproar followed: instructions were made for a strict search, a Proclamation was issued for his apprehension, and he was expelled from the House. In the aftermath of his flight, the confiscation of his papers brought the full scale of Mompesson’s extortions to light. Buckingham hastened to distance himself from his former client, declaring ‘how much he had been wronged and abused by this offender Sir Giles Mompesson, who even lately wrote to his lordship protesting his innocency’. Sentence was pronounced by the Lords on 26 Mar.: Mompesson was to be degraded of his knighthood, outlawed perpetually, exempted from general pardons, barred from Court, fined £10,000, deprived of his lands and goods for life, and ‘be ever held an infamous person’.23
Mompesson’s disgrace was completed by a Proclamation of 30 Mar. in which the king declared it ‘hateful and offensive ... that his people should be so injured, molested, vexed or oppressed’. James endorsed the sentence of Parliament, and banished Mompesson, ‘as a person infamous and unworthy to partake of any the comforts of His Majesty’s happy government’. Wits quickly observed that Mompesson’s name was an anagram of ‘mo[r]e Empsons’; like Richard Empson†, his reputation as a grasping patentee quickly passed into common fame, and was confirmed by ‘shameful ballads and pictures’ which were widely circulated.24 For example, he was satirized as Sir Giles Overreach in Philip Massinger’s 1622 play, A New Way to Pay Old Debts:
I would be worldly wise, for the other wisdom
That does prescribe us a well-govern’d life,
And to do right to others, as ourselves,
I value not an atom.25
While never readmitted to Court, it was not long before Mompesson was partially rehabilitated. In July 1621, only a month after Parliament adjourned for the summer, his wife’s relatives Sir John St. John, 1st bt.* and Edward Hungerford* were granted the benefit of the financial penalties imposed upon him. His wife joined him in France in June 1622, and seven months later Mompesson was licensed to return to England to settle his estate, over which his wife and brother Thomas were apparently in dispute. By July 1623, with the Spanish Match imminent and a fresh Parliament unlikely, there were rumours that his patents were to be revived, but on 8 Feb. 1624, with a new parliamentary session only days away, he was unceremoniously ordered abroad.26 Mompesson had returned to England again by 1628, when he attempted to obtain compensation for a reversion of an Exchequer auditorship he had secured a decade earlier. In his absence, the vacancy had fallen due, and had been filled by Sir Ralph Freeman*. He subsequently managed a coalmining venture in the Forest of Dean for his sister-in-law Lady Villiers, which was overthrown by rioters in 1631, and he was ordered to inventory the goods of Sir Mervyn Audley*, 1st earl of Castlehaven following the latter’s execution.27
A royalist during the Civil War, Mompesson surrendered at Hereford, and was rated to compound for his estates at £561 9s. in 1649. His disgrace still rankled, for in his will of 14 July 1651 he referred to ‘that small estate which it hath pleased God of His infinite goodness and mercy to afford me after so many and grievous crosses, afflictions and calamities’. His entailed lands passed to his nephew Thomas, while he bequeathed his goods to another nephew. Assessed at the punitive rate of £200 by the committee for advance of money on 1 Sept. 1651, he presumably died shortly thereafter, although his will was not proved until 1663.28
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. C142/215/266; Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv), 133-4.
- 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
- 3. Vis. Wilts. 133-4; PROB 11/312, f. 46.
- 4. C142/215/266.
- 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 160; LJ, iii. 72a.
- 6. C66/1988 (dorse); C231/4, f. 123.
- 7. E101/539/4.
- 8. C66/2096/3.
- 9. C231/4, ff. 35-6.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 91.
- 11. C66/2224/10; C66/2235/14.
- 12. WARD 9/221, f. 204v; Vis. Wilts. 132-3, 168-9.
- 13. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 278, 344, 358, 390-1, 404, 409; C. Russell, Addled Parl. 21-3.
- 14. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 4-5, 12-24; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 98-102; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 59; C66/2096/3; APC, 1616-17, pp. 137, 174.
- 15. E351/3155-6; Add. 74242; CJ, i. 530a; LJ, iii. 62a, 82a, 115a, 121b; KB9/752-62, 1086-90, 1103-4; KB27/1461-1503.
- 16. E401/2427-8; APC, 1616-17, pp. 209-10, 284-5; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 473-4; Autobiog. of Phineas Pett ed. W.G. Perrin (Navy Rec. Soc. li), 118; Add. 64876, f. 43; CD 1621, v. 519-21; P.A.J. Pettit, Royal Forests of Northants. 62-3.
- 17. J.W. Gough, Sir Hugh Myddelton, 69-71; APC, 1618-19, pp. 157-8; LR2/34/2; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 91.
- 18. E112/100/1113, 112/101/1203; HLRO, main pprs. 22 May 1618, 19 Jan. 1620, 14 Dec. 1620; LJ, iii. 62a-b.
- 19. C66/2224/10; C66/2235/14; HLRO, main pprs. 9 July 1620; LJ, iii. 62b; CJ, i. 532a.
- 20. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 148; CJ, i. 510-1, 513b; CD 1621, ii. 30-1; iv. 19-20; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 17-18.
- 21. R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, pp. 37-49; CD 1621, ii. 108-11; CJ, i. 530-2; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 347.
- 22. HLRO, main pprs. 1 Mar. 1621.
- 23. CJ, i. 535-6; LJ, iii. 34b, 62-3, 71-2; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 499-500; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 350-1.
- 24. Stuart Royal Procs. i. 502-3; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 236; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 350, 506.
- 25. Act 2, Scene 1.
- 26. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 273, 493; 1623-5, pp. 52, 161; APC, 1621-3, p. 253; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 505-6.
- 27. Exchequer Officers comp. J.C. Sainty (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xviii), 137; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 341; M. Ingram, ‘Ridings, rough music and the reform of popular culture’, P and P, cv. 91; PC2/43, f. 64.
- 28. CCC, 1738; PROB 11/312, ff. 46-7; CCAM, 1388.