PYE, Walter I (1571-1635), of The Mynde, Much Dewchurch, Herefs. and Greyfriars, Christchurch, London.
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Family and Education
bap. 1 Oct. 1571, 1st s. of Roger Pye of the Mynde, and Bridget, da. of Thomas Kirll of Walford, Herefs.; bro. of Robert*.1 educ. M. Temple 1590, called 1597.2 m. (1) 22 July 1602 (with £300), Joan (bur. 10 Sept. 1625), da. of William Rudhale of Rudhall, Herefs., 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 8da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 31 Oct. 1628, Hester (d. c.1643), da. of John Ireland, Salter, of London, wid. of Ellis Crisp (d. 1625), alderman of London, s.p. suc. fa. 1591;3 kntd. by 27 Feb. 1621.4 d. 25 Dec. 1635.5 sig. Wal[ter] Pye.
Commr. sewers, Herefs. 1604, Wye valley 1621, Westminster 1627, 1634;6 j.p. Herefs. by 1614-d.,7 Brecon 1617-d., Glam. 1617-d., Rad. 1617-d.,8 Glos. by 1622-d.,9 Mon. 1623-d.,10 Bucks. c.1627-d.;11 member, Council in the Marches 1617-d.;12 commr. oyer and terminer, Wales and Marches 1617-d., Oxf. circ. 1622-d., Norf. circ. 1629-d., piracy, London, Mdx., Kent, Essex, Surr. 1619,13 subsidy, Herefs. 1621-2, 1624-5, Hereford, Herefs. 1622, 1624,14 mines, Card. 1625,15 subsidy arrears, Brecon 1626,16 Forced Loan, Glos., Herefs., Hereford, Mon., Brec., Glam., Rad. 1627;17 commr. knighthood fines, Herefs. 1631.18
Pye’s ancestors, of Welsh extraction, were in possession of property in Herefordshire by 1433. Although heir to the family estate at The Mynde, seven miles south of Hereford, Pye became a practising barrister.26 The first of his family to enter Parliament, he was probably returned for Scarborough in 1597 thanks to the patronage of Charles Howard†, 1st earl of Nottingham. His practice at the bar seems to have been highly successful; he was able to start augmenting his estates from 1602-3, and by 1620 he had spent about £7,600 in buying land and on building and improvements. One of his purchases was the manor of Kilpeck, near The Mynde, which he bought for £1,000 in 1610.27 He acquired a reputation in Herefordshire for ‘underhand dealings’, and was closely connected with the powerful Scudamore family, providing Sir John Scudamore† with legal advice and London news. In his will in 1619 Sir John’s son, Sir James Scudamore*, asked Pye to be ‘loving and kind to my children as he hath always been to me’, and indeed as reader-elect at the Middle Temple in December 1617 Pye had got (Sir) John Scudamore* admitted to the Inn gratis. 28 Pye also signed the letter to the earl of Somerset, complaining about the Council in the Marches in 1614, a cause strongly supported by the Scudamores.29
As well as his connection with the Scudamores, Pye acted as a trustee for William, 2nd Lord Compton, from whom Pye’s father had leased property in Wiltshire.30 When Pye’s brother Robert entered the service of George Villiers, later duke of Buckingham, in late 1616 or early 1617 there were natural suspicions that Pye also benefited from the favourite’s patronage. Indeed, James Whitelocke* thought that Pye’s appointment as chief justice of the Brecon circuit in 1617 was ‘by means of the earl of Buckingham’s favour’.31 Yet though Pye was willing to do Buckingham favours when his brother requested it,32 it would be a mistake to see him as simply a Buckingham client, for being a busy lawyer he enjoyed numerous connections. In addition to his relationship with the Scudamores he was also closely connected to the significant Herefordshire landowner Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex, being appointed a trustee in the settlement when Essex’s sister married William Seymour* in 1617. When Pye was Lent reader at the Middle Temple the following year, Buckingham and Sir Edward Villiers* where made honorary members of the Inn, but so too were Seymour and Sir Walter Devereux*, the last being either Essex’s half-brother or his cousin. When Essex went to serve in the Palatinate in 1620 Pye was one of those appointed to supervise the earl’s legal affairs in his absence, and he was employed as a trustee by Essex in the early 1630s.33
On 9 Nov. 1620 Pye wrote informing Sir John Scudamore† of the forthcoming Parliament, and reporting that Sir James Ley*, then attorney of the Court of Wards, was to be chief justice in place of Sir Henry Montagu*. Although he claimed not to believe this rumour,34 Ley was indeed appointed as Montagu’s successor, and Pye himself took over the attorneyship of the Wards on 2 Feb. 1621, by which time he had been elected for Brecon, where he was a familiar figure, being chief justice of the local circuit. Shortly after becoming attorney of the Wards Pye was also knighted. The precise date of his dubbing is uncertain, but it must have been by 27 Feb., when he was referred to as ‘Sir Walter Pye’ in the Commons Journal.
Pye needs to be distinguished from his brother Robert, who also sat in the same Parliament. Generally this is not difficult, but on 26 Feb. a Member described simply as ‘Mr. Pye’ spoke twice. As Pye had probably already been knighted, it seems likely that in both cases this was Robert.35 Pye was among those named to consider bills for the encouragement of works of charity (14 Feb.) and the discouragement of concealed lands proceedings (2 March). He was also appointed to attend the conference with the Lords on 16 Feb. on the address for the enforcement of the laws against recusancy. On 27 Feb. Speaker Richardson obtained leave for him to go on circuit. On his return Pye was named to attend the conference with the Lords on the Sabbath bill (24 May) and the committee to consider the bill for erecting new inns and ordering ancient inns (28 May). During the recess he assisted William Price* in persuading Lord Cranfield (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) to cancel the monopoly for the transportation of Welsh butter. In the second sitting he was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords about the informers bill (11 December).36
In March 1622 Pye wrote to his departmental superior Cranfield, the master of the Wards, applauding his reforming efforts, but he warned Cranfield against trying to exact too great a revenue from the Court of Wards. This was ironic, as Pye himself was to be criticized after his death for increasing the Crown’s revenue excessively. Following the addition of the treasury to Cranfield’s responsibilities in September 1621 it soon became clear to suitors that it was of the first importance to engage Pye’s favour in any wardship cases. Lord Zouche was advised to secure Pye’s support in a case before the court in July 1623 and Sir Thomas Wentworth* sought his favour concerning wardship cases in 1624 and 1625.37
Re-elected to the last Jacobean Parliament, Pye received 40 committee appointments, being among those instructed to consider the monopolies bill (26 Feb.) and to draft a bill against abuses of habeas corpus (3 March).38 However, he made few recorded speeches. On 2 Mar. 1624 he successfully proposed a committee for the continuance and repeal of expiring statutes. All the lawyers in the House were instructed to attend, and on the following day Pye carried a resolution that ‘every Saturday in the afternoon may be for continuance of statutes, and the rest of the time to be for private bills’. When a bill had been produced, he was the first Member named to the select committee to consider it (13 Mar.), and he was named to attend the conference on the Lords’ amendment concerning the dispensation for wines (22 May).39 His third and last speech was delivered in the second reading debate of 8 Mar. on the bill against secret inquisitions post mortem. Notices of inquisitions, he considered, should be ‘set upon the Court of Wards’ door, or in court, and not in the Court of Chancery, where no man looketh for them’. He was named to the committee and on 22 Mar. given charge of the bill; however on 10 Apr. the bill was ordered ‘to be prepared’ by Sir John Walter and (Sir) Robert Hitcham, and no report was made in this Parliament.40 His position as a trustee of the marriage settlement of William Seymour, by now earl of Hertford, explains his interest in the bill to enable Hertford and his brother Sir Francis Seymour* to sell land, which he reported on 23 Mar., and he also reported a bill to confirm a rent-charge due to the earl of Essex’s friend Thomas Morton, bishop of Lichfield, on 3 May.41 He was named to attend the conference of 15 Apr. on the repeal of a clause in the Statute of Wales empowering the Crown to issue ordinances.42 He was one of the Members appointed to hear petitions against the courts of justice (19 Apr.) and to agree upon a course for presenting the grievances to the king in a parliamentary way (28 April).43 On 27 Apr. he presented the names of two recusant officials in Breconshire.44 On 11 May he gave evidence in the impeachment of Cranfield about innovations in the Court of Wards and eight days later was named to the committees for the bills to make Cranfield liable for his debts and to confirm Buckingham’s acquisition of York House.45 On the dismissal of Cranfield it was rumoured, falsely, that Pye would succeed to the mastership because the king took exception to (Sir) Robert Naunton*.46
By 1625 Pye was sufficiently important in his native county for Sir John Scudamore’s* cousin William to consider his support vital if Sir John was to secure election as knight of the shire for Herefordshire, and it is likely that Pye played an important part in securing the election of his brother-in-law John Rudhale.47 Again re-elected for Brecon, Pye was appointed to four committees, including the committee for privileges on 21 June. Six days later he was named to three legislative committees, for bills against the export of wool, the grant of habeas corpus, and delays in writs of partition. When Hugh Cholmley asked for guidance over the correct holding of elections on behalf of his father Sir Richard*, Pye agreed with Edward Littleton II that sheriffs should take counsel’s advice, since it was not the function of the Commons ‘to make or declare the law in cases not yet in being’. He attended at Oxford, but the only occasion when he is mentioned in the surviving records was on 4 Aug., when he requested and was granted leave of absence to keep his assize circuit in Wales, his judicial partner having died.48
In 1626 Pye and Sir Robert Harley* agreed to stand together as knights of the shire for Herefordshire. However their joint candidature was almost derailed when Sir John Scudamore tried to secure the first place in the return for Pye. Harley protested that, as a knight of the Bath, he should take the first place instead, even though Pye was ranked above Harley in the commission of the peace, presumably by virtue of his office. In response Pye wrote to Harley: ‘I do really and freely desire that you may be first returned and this is done for the love I bear to Sir Robert Harley and his house, ... But that it is his right I acknowledge it not’. It seems likely that in return for conceding the first place to Harley, Pye secured agreement that he should be named first at the next election.49
Pye was also returned for Brecon, but elected to sit for Herefordshire on 11 Mar., when he took charge of the writ for his replacement at Brecon.50 During the 1626 Parliament he was appointed to 22 committees, made two speeches and reported two bills. His name headed the committee for the bill to confirm the Charterhouse foundation on 11 Feb., and he reported the measure, with amendments, 14 days later, when it was ordered to be engrossed.51 He was appointed attend the conferences of 4 Mar. on the summons to Buckingham and that of 7 Mar. on the international situation. In the debate next day on the Council of War, Pye agreed that the questions put to the Council’s members were justified by the terms of the Subsidy Act of 1624, and that their answers were insufficient. He therefore argued that ‘they are bound to make a further answer’.52 In response to the Commons’ order of 14 Mar. for one of the king’s counsel to bring in the Tunnage and Poundage bill within seven days, Pye introduced the bill on the 20th, when it was referred to a grand committee.53 He was named to the committees for the bills to prevent evasion of recusancy forfeitures (23 Feb.) and ‘to direct the true and real conformity of popish recusants’ (8 May), and was among those instructed to draft another about the children of recusants (24 Mar.).54 He was the first member appointed to consider the bill against the erection of cottages in boroughs on 4 Mar., and was named to the committee for reversing decrees (27 March).55 Pye was not mentioned in the records of the Commons between 27 Mar. and 2 May, when he was named to the committee to consider the bill for the mitigation of the sentence of greater excommunication, which suggests that he was absent at the assizes. On 8 May he made his only contribution to the debates on the impeachment of Buckingham. Unfortunately there is just one very terse account of his speech, but it suggests that Pye may have actually supported the impeachment. He spoke after Selden cited a precedent from the fifteenth century to bolster his argument that those accused of treason, such as the duke, should be imprisoned. Pye showed ‘the precedent ... in a book’, and confirmed that it did indeed concern treason.56 On 1 June he was the first member appointed to the committee to consider a bill brought from the Lords for enfranchising the tenants of the lordship of Bromfield and Yale in Denbighshire. This property had been granted to Charles I while he was prince of Wales and in 1624 the copyhold tenants had agreed to pay £10,000 in return for which their tenure was to be converted to fee-farm. Pye was probably already familiar with this agreement, having become a member of the Prince’s Council. He reported the bill without amendments the following day, but there were no further proceedings in the matter before the Parliament was dissolved 13 days later.57
On 23 Feb. a petition was read at the Lords’ committee for petitions from William Dyos in the name of his stepson, John Moigne, a ward of the Crown. The petition concerned a dispute about a Lincolnshire manor which had been heard in the Court of Wards. Pye was accused of having ruled in favour of the opposing party without examining the Dyos’ witnesses. Pye answered the petition five days later, when he defended his original ruling, whereupon Dyos sought to shift the blame onto John Goodhand, a solicitor in the Court of Wards and a servant of Pye’s. The case was reported to the Lords on 22 Apr. by the earl of Manchester (Sir Henry Montagu), who exonerated Pye but, in view of Pye’s connection with Goodhand, agreed to Dyos’ request that the case should be heard again in the Wards with the chief justice of King’s Bench and chief baron of the Exchequer assisting the master of the Wards.58
Pye paid the Forced Loan on 28 Nov. 1626 but was not active in collecting the levy, probably because his official duties kept him in London.59 Re-elected for Herefordshire in 1628, when he was awarded the first place, he was also returned for Brecon, making way at the latter for his son Walter Pye II. He was named to nine committees in the first session. On 20 Mar. he formally plumped for Herefordshire and was appointed to the privileges committee and to the committee appointed to consider the conduct of the deputy lieutenants of Cornwall at the county election.60 However he was not mentioned in the surviving parliamentary records again until 19 Apr., when he was appointed to the committee for the scandalous ministers bill. On the same day he spoke in the debate on the third reading of the revived Bromfield and Yale bill, although he had not on this occasion been appointed to the committee. Serious objections to the bill had been raised in the debate and Pye feared that the Crown would lose the second half of the composition, which the tenants had agreed to pay when their tenures were confirmed by statute. He argued that, as it was against procedure to recommit a bill after it had been read three times, the House should either adjourn the debate or let the bill sleep so that a new bill could be drawn up. This second option was taken and a new bill was introduced which passed into law.61 Two days later Pye was appointed to the committee to consider the earl of Devonshire’s (Sir William Cavendish I*) estate bill, and on 23 Apr. he was named to the committee for the bill to tighten up the recusancy laws and to attend the conference with the Lords about the liberties of the subject. The following day he was appointed to the committee to consider the names of recusants submitted by the knights of the shires, and five days later he was one of four members of the committee of privileges appointed to assess the charges incurred by the witnesses in the York election dispute. On 2 May he made his second recorded intervention in the debates of the 1628 session, when he seconded the motion of Sir Francis Seymour for the Speaker to deliver the answer of the Commons to the king’s message of the previous day. His last committee in this session was a private bill on 16 May concerning property in Derbyshire.62
Pye was again summoned before the Lords’ committee for petitions on 28 May after Sir Humphrey Ferrers and Sir Richard Broke petitioned the Upper House. They complained that proceedings in a suit in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury concerning the administration of the goods of Sir John Pakington*, to which they were parties, had been stayed because of an injunction issued out of the Court of Wards on behalf of Pakington’s son, Sir John Pakington†. On 18 June the Lords ordered the Wards to allow the case to proceed.63 Pye receives only one mention in the surviving records of the second session, when he was appointed to the committee for the bill against procuring judicial places for reward (23 Jan. 1629).64
Pye’s second marriage, to the widow of a wealthy London alderman, undoubtedly increased his capital. In the late 1620s his gross income from his lands varied between £440 and £660, rising to £800 before his death; while the value of his office in the Court of Wards was probably at least £1,500 a year. In the last decade of his life he spent nearly £20,000 on land, buildings and improvements. However he seems to have been over-ambitious in his land purchases as his son was forced to sell off part of his estates in the late 1630s.65
During the summer assizes in 1631 an aggrieved Welshman wounded Pye with his sword.66 In 1633 it was reported that as a result of Naunton’s declining health, Pye ‘does now as he pleases’ in the Court of Wards.67 On 10 Nov. 1634, as complaints of corruption and his abuse of power multiplied, he was reported to be mortally sick, Wentworth being informed that ‘he hath taken to heart the noise both of his displacing and of being called into question for his miscarriages’. However, rumours of his imminent demise were premature, and he was among those tipped to succeed (Sir) Thomas Richardson* as chief justice of King’s Bench in February 1635. In the following month Sir Daniel Norton* gave him £100 worth of plate to win his favour concerning the wardship of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper†. However, in July it was reported that he had ‘such an hard swelling in one of his legs that no art of physic or surgery can dissolve’ and he decided that ‘he had rather die in the country than be tormented with physicians and surgeons in London’.68 In fact, he remained in London until his death. He drew up his will on 22 Aug. 1635, in which he appointed his eldest son Sir Walter his executor and his widow, his brother Sir Robert, and lord keeper Coventry (Sir Thomas Coventry*) overseers. He added a codicil on 2 Nov. in which he ordered a nocturnal burial ‘without any funeral pomp’, and begged his son to perform a contract for a land purchase with £1,800 to be found in an iron chest. He died at his home in the Greyfriars on Christmas morning, leaving an estate reputedly £2,000 p.a., and was buried in accordance with his instructions at Much Dewchurch, where he had built himself a tomb, on 6 Jan. 1636, his son spending £2,000 on the funeral.69
After his death Pye was described as ‘the devil’s Christmas Pye’, and his corruption was long remembered.70 (Sir) Richard Hutton* paid tribute to his ingenuity, ability and learning, but condemned his greed and corruption, which seems to have been extraordinary even by the standards of his age.71 Pye was remembered more fondly by his nephew, the natural philosopher John Beale, who wrote that he ‘was famous for his memory. His lectures were in great estimation, and attended with great resorts. Besides his great skill in the confused mass of our voluminous and cobweb laws, ... he could name every English gentleman, (yeoman too would some say) his ancestors, pedigree, coat of arms, their chief mansions and other revenues’.72
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates
- 1. C.J. R[obinson] ‘Mems. of the Fam. of Pye’, Misc. Gen. and Her. v. 132; PROB 11/77, f. 317v.
- 2. M. Temple Admiss.
- 3. G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 309; R[obinson] ‘Mems. of the Fam. of Pye’, 132-3; Oxford DNB; F.A. Crisp, Collections Relating to the Fam. of Crisp, ii. 13.
- 4. CJ, i. 529a.
- 5. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 506.
- 6. C181/1, f. 91v; 181/3, ff. 33, 213v.
- 7. C66/1988; C193/13/2, f. 30.
- 8. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 264-8, 294-9, 327-31.
- 9. C193/13/1, f. 41v; 193/3/2, f. 28v.
- 10. JPs in Wales and Monm. 354-7.
- 11. C66/2449; C193/13/2, f. 6.
- 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 21; viii. pt. 4. p. 7.
- 13. C181/2, ff. 277, 339v; 181/3, ff. 55v, 257v; 181/4, f. 191; 181/5, ff. 3v, 6v.
- 14. C212/22/20-1, 23; Add. 11051, f. 19.
- 15. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 48.
- 16. E179/224/598.
- 17. C193/12/2, ff. 20v, 21, 36, 65, 70v, 73v, 83v.
- 18. E178/7154, f. 91C; E178/5333, f. 10.
- 19. MTR, 613, 621, 630, 711.
- 20. HMC Hastings, iv. 16; W.R. Williams, Hist. of Gt. Sess. in Wales, 132.
- 21. C66/2380/3.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 218.
- 23. LC2/6, f. 72v.
- 24. G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, Estates of Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 284.
- 25. Univ. London, Goldsmiths’ ms 195, i. f. 2.
- 26. C.J. Robinson, Hist. of Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 87; Aylmer, 309.
- 27. Aylmer, 309.
- 28. Add. 11042, ff. 10, 83, 85; Original Letters Illustrative of English Hist. (ser. 3) ed. H. Ellis, iv. 170-3; PROB 11/133, f. 403; MTR, 624.
- 29. SP14/78/77.
- 30. Lansd. 1217, f. 16; L. Stone, Fam. and Fortune, 45; PROB 11/77, f. 317.
- 31. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx).
- 32. Harl. 1581, f. 118.
- 33. Longleat, Devereux Pprs. (IHR microfilm), box vii. no. 105; box viii. no. 116; Wilts. RO, Savernake Estate, 9/4/33; MTR, 626.
- 34. C115/100/7527.
- 35. CJ, i. 529a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 100; CD 1621, v. 520.
- 36. CJ, i. 521a, 522b, 529a, 534a, 626a, 628b, 654b; CD 1621, vii. 469.
- 37. M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 236; Diary of Sir Richard Hutton 1614-39 ed. W.R. Prest (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. ix), 106; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 39; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 212-13; Strafforde Letters, i. 29.
- 38. CJ, i. 674b, 677a.
- 39. Ibid. 677a, 709a, 724a, 736b.
- 40. Ibid. 679b, 746a; Kyle thesis, 205.
- 41. CJ, i. 696b, 747b; Add. 46188, f. 112.
- 42. CJ, i. 767a.
- 43. Ibid. 692a, 770b.
- 44. Ibid. 776b.
- 45. LJ, iii. 375; CJ, i. 705b.
- 46. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 577.
- 47. Hereford City Lib., L.C. 929.2, p. 109. We are grateful to Dr. Ian Atherton for this ref.
- 48. Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 252, 253, 342, 385.
- 49. Procs. 1626, iv. 238-40.
- 50. Ibid. ii. 20.
- 51. Ibid. 20, 125.