NEWPORT, Richard (1587-1651), of High Ercall, Salop.
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Family and Education
b. 7 May 1587, 1st. s. of Sir Francis Newport† of High Ercall and Beatrice, da. of Rowland Lacon† of Kinlet and Willey, Salop.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1604, BA 1607.2 m. settlement 22 Feb. 1614 (with £3,500), Rachel (d. 31 Jan. 1661), da. of Sir John Leveson* of Halling, Kent and Trentham, Staffs. 2s. 7da.3 kntd. 2 June 1615;4 suc. fa. 15 Mar. 1623;5 cr. Bar. Newport of High Ercall, 14 Oct. 1642. d. 8 Feb. 1651.6 sig. Ric[hard] Newport.
J.p. Salop 1617-42;7 commr. subsidy, Salop 1621-2, 1624, 1641, Shrewsbury, Salop 1624, oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1623-42;8 burgess, Much Wenlock liberty, Salop 1624;9 sheriff, Salop 1626-7;10 commr. Forced Loan, Salop 1626-7, knighthood fines 1630, Poll Tax 1641, assessment 1642, Irish aid 1642, array 1642.11
The Newports, who traced their ancestry back to the thirteenth century, were already a significant local family when Thomas Newport alias Goch was returned as MP for Shropshire in 1380. By the end of the Tudor period, most of their 10,000-acre estate lay across the middle of the shire, between Shrewsbury and the Wrekin, although in 1558 they purchased the manor of Cressage in Wenlock liberty, which presumably explains why Newport’s father married into the Catholic Lacon family, who lived nearby.12 The MP himself made a lucrative match on the eve of his first return as knight of the shire in 1614, and the two events may not have been unconnected: his wife’s brother had inherited a substantial estate at Lilleshall, Shropshire, and another family member had been returned for the county in 1604.
Newport was among a delegation sent to the king during the quarrel over Bishop Neile’s insult to the Commons (28 May) and was named to three bill committees, but otherwise left little mark on the Addled Parliament.13 Leveson died in the following year, and as one of the executors of the will, Newport helped his mother-in-law to secure the wardship of her two granddaughters, the heirs general. Deprived of the Leveson interest, Newport had no prescriptive claim upon a county seat at the general election of December 1620, when he signed the indenture returning Sir Robert Vernon and Sir Francis Kynaston.14 He himself was returned for Shrewsbury, a notable break with tradition for a borough which habitually chose townsmen or lawyers as its representatives; he was perhaps recommended by sheriff Walter Barker, whose brother John had married one of Newport’s sisters.15
Shrewsbury’s MPs were expected to earn their keep, particularly in 1621 when the town’s role in the finishing of Welsh cloth came under attack in the form of a bill to break its semi-official monopoly of the trade. This industry provided a livelihood for nearly half the town’s population, and was stoutly defended by the Shrewsbury Drapers’ Company, which co-ordinated resistance between the town’s MPs and the shire knights. When the Shrewsbury MP Francis Berkeley spoke against the clause to allow the export of undressed cloth from Wales on 2 Mar., he was seconded by Newport, who moved to allow both sides to be represented by counsel at the bill’s committal, a motion guaranteed to lengthen proceedings, if nothing else. At the report stage on 20 Mar. Sir William Strode and Sir Walter Earle insisted that the committee was content to allow the export clause to stand, whereupon Newport retorted ‘that he was of the committee and yet not satisfied’. He also reminded the House of the economic damage the clause would do, not only to Shrewsbury but also to carriers, innkeepers, and Christ’s Hospital, London, which received a fee for each cloth sold at the Blackwell Hall. These objections apparently hit their mark, as the bill returned to the floor of the House six days later shorn of the export clause.16
With one of their key aims achieved, Shrewsbury’s MPs approached the bill’s third reading on 24 Apr. hoping to reinstate the town’s monopoly of the inland trade. Newport led off, speaking generally of the ways in which ‘this bill crosses corporations by charter erected and overthrows them, gives way to forestallers, lets every man sell by retail to sell where they will, crosses former Acts of Parliament’. Berkeley filled in the legal technicalities, and the debate looked to be going well until Sir Edward Coke weighed in with a ringing endorsement of free trade, which carried the day. The Shrewsbury Drapers continued their resistance in the Lords, but their MPs played no part in this process.17 However, Newport’s work for his constituents was not yet finished. On 26 Apr. he submitted a petition against the merchants of the French Company, who would have gained by the export clause in the Welsh cloth bill, and on 2 June he tabled a bill to settle the assizes at county towns, which would have benefited Shrewsbury at the expense of Bridgnorth.18
As head of his family from 1623, Newport acquired a much stronger claim to one of the shire seats, although the fact that he became a burgess of Much Wenlock at round the time of the 1624 election suggests that he was not entirely confident of his chances at the county court. The shire elections were usually agreed in advance by a gentry caucus, which made for a regularly rotating slate of knights, but the abrupt termination of the 1624 Parliament on the death of the king apparently moved the county to allow the re-election of Newport and Sir Andrew Corbet the following year. The pair stood aside without demur in 1626, signing the indenture for those returned in their stead, and were re-elected as the result of a similar consensus in 1628.19
The county electorate had little in the way of a political agenda, and Newport was consequently much less active as a shire knight than he had been in 1621. Named to a committee for scrutinizing payments of local military expenses drawn upon the account of 1624 subsidies (10 Aug. 1625), he twice reported on recusants holding public office in Shropshire, among them his cousin Sir Francis Lacon*, but in 1624 he tactfully declined to name lord president Northampton for his absence from Easter communion.20 At the opening of the 1628 session he questioned the failure of the sheriff of Warwickshire to make any return from that county’s election, and on 10 May he acted as teller in a vote over the estate bill for the 1st earl of Devonshire (Sir William Cavendish I*). The handful of bill committees to which he was named included two of local interest. One was to repeal the Crown’s right to make law for Wales by Proclamation (6 Mar., 14 Apr. 1624), while the other was for the Gerard estate bill (7 May 1628), a measure sponsored by his neighbour, Robert Needham*.21
In November 1627 Newport married one of his daughters to the heir of Sir Thomas Bromley*, offering a large dowry of £5,000 payable by instalments, on condition that Bromley’s manor of Shrawardine, Shropshire, worth £600 a year, would be cleared of debt and entailed upon the couple in present possession. Any hopes for an amicable settlement vanished as Bromley’s long-term creditors vied with each other to lay their hands on the cash, and once Bromley’s son came of age in 1630, Newport found himself mired in a prolonged legal battle which dominated the next decade of his life. Several claimants secured writs for the seizure of Shrawardine and other properties, but Newport and his son-in-law trumped them by having Shrawardine extended for debt and then leasing it back from the Crown. Bromley was thus technically unable to entail the estate upon his son, and Newport therefore had no legal obligation to meet the instalments upon his daughter’s dowry, leaving the creditors with nothing until they jointly agreed to accept whatever percentage of their debts the Bromleys decided to offer them. After many lawsuits and at least two appeals to the Privy Council, the creditors appear to have come to a composition at the end of the 1630s.22
With much to occupy his mind, Newport kept a relatively low public profile during the Personal Rule, although in 1637 he was sent to knock some sense into the Shrewsbury corporation, then engaged in internecine disputes over the renewal of its charter.23 He did not stand for Parliament in 1640, but found a seat for his son Francis at Shrewsbury. As the king’s army marched through Shropshire on a recruitment drive only weeks before Edgehill, his son’s tactful inquiries established that Charles might be prepared to bestow a peerage upon him in anticipation of services to be rendered. Not surprisingly, then, his elevation to a barony on 14 Oct. was swiftly followed by a cash donation of £6,000 to the royalist cause. Newport, however, had a disastrous war: High Ercall was garrisoned and badly damaged; his eldest son was incarcerated after his capture at Oswestry in July 1644; and Newport himself went into exile, allegedly for the sake of his health. His wife and son paid £10,000 composition to regain control of the family estates in 1648, but two years later Newport was threatened with a fresh sequestration for remaining abroad without leave. His will of 1648 understandably bemoaned ‘the malignity of the times’, and he was only able to leave a few personal keepsakes to his immediate family. He died at Paris on 8 Feb. 1651, and his heir proved the will at London four months later. The family quickly recovered their fortunes after the Restoration, when his younger son sat in the Commons and his heir was elevated to the earldom of Bradford.24