RIDGEWAY, Sir Thomas (c.1566-1631), of Torre Abbey, Devon
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Family and Education
b. c.1566,1 1st s. of Thomas Ridgeway† of Tor Mohun, Devon and Mary, da. of Thomas Southcote† of Shillingford St. George, Devon and coh. to her grandfa. John Barnhouse of Prestcot, Devon.2 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1581, aged 15; I. Temple 1583.3 m. by 1591,4 Cecily (d.1627), da. of Henry Macwilliam† of Stambourne, Essex and coh. to her bro. Henry, 3s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.).5 suc. fa. 1598;6 kntd. Aug. 1600;7 cr. bt. 25 Nov. 1611,8 Bar. Ridgeway of Gallen-Ridgeway [I] 25 May 1616, earl of Londonderry [I] 23 Aug. 1622.9 d. 24 June 1631.10
Customer, Dartmouth and Exeter, Devon by 1595-1605;11 commr. prize goods, Dartmouth 1597,12 investigate complaints by Dartmouth corporation 1598,13 j.p. Devon 1598-at least 1626,14 sheriff 1599-1600,15 commr. piracy 1603-4.16
Member, Anne of Denmark’s Council from 1603;22 commr. Union with Scotland 1604;23 v.-treas. and treas.-at-wars [I] 1606-16,24 PC [I] 1606-16,25 commr. levy Crown debts 1609, 1613,26 trade 1610-11,27 visitation 1615.28
Capt. of ft. [I] by 1608-at least 1611, horse by 1610.29
Member, Virg. Co. 1609.30
MP [I] 1613-15.31
Ridgeway’s family settled around Exeter by the late fifteenth century, but came to prominence only with his grandfather, John, a lawyer who represented Dartmouth and Exeter in Parliament between 1539 and 1554. Having acquired the Tor Mohun estate, at the northern end of Tor Bay, John entered local government, serving as a Devon feodary and magistrate. Ridgeway’s father, Thomas, also sat for Dartmouth, and held the county shrievalty in 1590-1.32 This comfortable gentry background afforded Ridgeway himself a fairly lengthy education. Entering the Inner Temple in 1583, after a spell at Oxford, he was apparently still studying law four years later, when he reported one of the Inn’s butlers for being an active Catholic. He subsequently became a Devon customs official, and in 1597 either he or his father supplied a ship for the Islands Voyage.33 A year later, Ridgeway inherited a patrimony consisting of at least four Devon manors, and in 1599 he purchased Torre Abbey from Edward Seymour*. The house had changed little since its monastic days, but Ridgeway ‘re-edified those almost decayed cells to a newer and better form’.34 His rising profile was confirmed by his appointment as sheriff of Devon in the same year, and he received his knighthood in August 1600 while still executing this office. Ridgeway’s wife was a maid of honour to Elizabeth I, and his brother-in-law, Sir John Stanhope I*, became vice-chamberlain of the Household in 1601. It was presumably through the latter’s influence that Ridgeway was selected to help carry the canopy over the royal effigy at the queen’s funeral in 1603.35
Ridgeway consolidated his Court ties early in the new reign when he was appointed a member of Anne of Denmark’s Council, with particular oversight of the queen’s Devon estates.36 Shortly afterwards he was returned to the 1604 Parliament as his county’s senior knight. Despite being a novice Member he emerged as one of the more active figures in the Commons, receiving 39 committee nominations and making 15 speeches during the first session. He evidently made an immediate impression on the House. In the first few days of business, he was appointed to the committee for privileges, and to select committees to consider general grievances and draft the bill for continuance of expiring statutes (22-4 March). He was also named on 28 Mar. and 12 Apr. to attend the king in connection with the Buckinghamshire election dispute.37
Some of Ridgeway’s appointments clearly reflected his personal interests, or the concerns of his constituents. His status as Dartmouth and Exeter’s customer explains his nomination to the legislative committee concerning corrupt port officials (5 May), while his support for the free trade bill and his inclusion in the committee for the pilchard trade reform bill mirrored Devon’s mercantile priorities (31 May and 20 June).38 As a magistrate he had recently helped to try 11 alleged witches, and he doubtless brought this experience to bear while chairing the committee for the bill against witchcraft, from which he reported on 5 June. He made no other speeches on religious issues but, presumably on the strength of his solidly anti-Catholic views, he was appointed on 19 Apr. to help prepare for a conference on religious grievances. Similarly he was named to the committee for the bill to bar attainted recusants from securing restitution in dignity or blood (30 May).39 Ridgeway was also nominated on 12 June to help consider the estate bill introduced by his Devon colleague, Edward Seymour. Nothing is known of his recreational pursuits, but his speech on 19 May supporting the bill against hunting with guns, and his nomination to three other legislative committees on related themes suggests that he enjoyed the customary gentry sports.40
Nevertheless, Ridgeway’s Court connections meant that the government had expectations of him. In late April a private bill was introduced to confirm the Crown’s grant of Berwick-upon-Tweed castle to the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir George Home. The measure was contested, and probably occasioned an undated letter from Sir John Stanhope to Lord (Robert) Cecil†, reporting his efforts to rally support for an unspecified bill. Stanhope confirmed that Ridgeway and another kinsman, Sir John Holles*, would ‘use their best endeavours’ during the forthcoming debate; ‘and Ridgeway, who is strong with his Devonshire crew, assures me of a good party’. Certainly, when the Home bill finally passed its second reading, he was nominated to its committee (30 May).41 Ridgeway presumably also supported the Tunnage and Poundage bill, being named to its committee on 30 May, though the text of his only speech on this subject does not survive (12 June).42
However, Ridgeway did not automatically toe the government line on every issue. He apparently used his own judgment on the bill to settle a jointure on Queen Anne from the Crown’s estates, a measure which would have interested him as a member of the queen’s Council. Appointed to the bill’s committee on 4 July, he continued to back the legislation two days later despite reservations being voiced by the queen’s lawyers.43 On the issue of purveyance, his allegiance lay firmly with his own constituents. Around the time of the Easter recess, he and Edward Seymour attended the board of Greencloth to defend Devon’s delays in compounding for this prerogative levy, and secured more time for payments. Ridgeway subsequently spoke in favour of John Hare’s* proposals for reforming purveyance, which offered much less financial compensation than the government was seeking (18 May).44
Ridgeway was even less co-operative over the Union. Although not known to have contributed to any of the early debates on this subject, he was nominated, perhaps on the strength of his Court connections, to attend a conference with the Lords (14 Apr.), and to serve on the commission for the Union (12 May). However, when the agenda for the next conference was considered on 16 May, Ridgeway apparently sought to confuse matters by proposing that the issue of wardship should also be raised with the Lords. On 24 May he secured a Commons’ resolution to the effect that the act of subscribing to the proposed draft treaty should not bar individual commissioners from expressing dissenting views when the document was debated in Parliament. Eight days later he was named to the select committee to consider the bishop of Bristol’s book attacking the Commons’ proceedings over the Union. He subsequently demanded a written retraction from the cleric, and offered several Elizabethan precedents to justify this firm line (11 June).45
On the issue of wardship, Ridgeway’s stance is harder to discern. He was appointed to two conferences with the Lords concerning the petition to the king requesting permission to discuss this topic (26 Mar., 22 May), and may have been aware that Cecil, the master of the Wards, was inclining towards reform. Certainly, his unsuccessful motion on 16 May for wardship to be discussed in conjunction with the Union indicated a greater willingness to pursue the former issue. Ten days later it became clear that the idea of compounding for wardship no longer enjoyed the government’s backing, and the Lower House, wrong-footed by this volte-face, sought to justify its actions. On 1 June Sir Edwin Sandys reported back from the latest conference on wardship that the Lords were still blocking reform. Ridgeway responded by moving that,
since it appeared His Majesty had made such an impression of mislike of the proceedings of the House ... [and] that the grounds conceived, touching wardship ... seemed to be so weakened and impugned; it were necessary and safe for the House, and dutiful and convenient in respect of His Majesty, instantly to advise of such a form of satisfaction, either by writing, or otherwise, as might in all humility inform His Majesty in the truth and clearness of the actions and intentions of the House, from the beginning ... touching the said matter of wardship.
This motion was immediately adopted, and Ridgeway subsequently chaired the committee that drafted the well-known Form of Apology and Satisfaction of the Commons. However, when he reported the text on 20 June it provoked mixed reactions, and no further action was taken.46
On the face of things Ridgeway had simply been voicing the Commons’ confusion and indignation when he proposed the Apology. Nevertheless, it has also been argued that by referring the whole matter to a drafting committee, Ridgeway sought to cool the dispute with the Crown, or perhaps defuse Sandys’s call for the House to defend itself against criticism by the Lords. If so, the tactic was successful, for while the Apology encouraged the Commons to vent its spleen on a range of issues, the three-week delay allowed time for calmer counsels to prevail - hence the decision not to adopt formally the finished declaration. At the very least, Ridgeway must have had second thoughts about the wisdom of proceeding any further with the Apology, as he did not support Sir William Strode’s attempt to revive it on 29 June. Whatever his true intentions may have been, Ridgeway cannot have incurred any lasting royal displeasure, as he was included in a small deputation sent to the king on 28 June after James was injured by a horse.47
On occasion, Ridgeway completely misjudged the mood of the Commons. On 24 May 1604 Members debated relief measures for officers recently discharged from the army in Ireland. One of his own relatives may have been affected, and he objected violently to the proposal that money should be raised by a levy on inns and alehouses. However, his own solution, that the king, the Lords and his fellow Members should collectively provide £4,000, predictably fell on deaf ears.48 He enjoyed greater success on 28 June, when he cleared the way for the Commons’ customary charitable collection by rejecting initial proposals to set compulsory rates, also arguing on 4 July against penalizing absent Members for non-payment. It is a measure of his high standing in the Commons that Ridgeway was entrusted with the task of organizing a feast which took place on 3 July at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in the City. Around 132 Members attended, along with their servants, and the delicacies included a marzipan model of ‘the Commons House of Parliament sitting’.49
Ridgeway was present for the opening of the second session, being named to committees to examine the Spanish Company’s charter and to scrutinize the bill for better execution of penal statutes (5-6 November).50 Following the prorogation necessitated by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, he remained a conspicuous figure in the House, receiving a further 22 committee nominations, and making seven recorded speeches. The Commons’ first priority was to address the immediate political crisis, and Ridgeway was appointed to committees to consider how to counter the twin threats of papist plotters at home, and Catholic mercenaries like Guy Fawkes who served in the Spanish Netherlands (21 Jan. and 6 February). He was also named on 23 Jan. to the committee for the bill to establish an annual thanksgiving for the Plot’s failure. His puritan leanings were reflected in his subsequent appointments to the legislative committee concerning deprived ministers, and to a conference on grievances relating to the ecclesiastical courts (7 Mar. and 10 April).51
As in the first session, Ridgeway attracted some business relating to West Country concerns. The subjects of the bills which he was named to consider included regulations on cloth dimensions, corrupt customs officials, impositions on merchants, and unlawful fishing (5 Feb., 15 and 19 Mar., 3 April). He was also entrusted, on 25 Jan., with chairing the committees for bills on poor relief and the Cornish estates of Sir Jonathan Trelawny*. Ridgeway reported the latter measure on 4 Feb., but failed to bring the other legislation back to the House.52
Once again, the government’s finances formed one of Ridgeway’s major preoccupations. On 28 Jan. he was nominated to the committee for the Tunnage and Poundage Act amendment bill. Much more significantly, on 10 Feb. he initiated debate on supply, delivering a detailed account of the Crown’s needs, for which he had clearly been briefed. His closing motion for a committee to draft a subsidy bill was promptly seconded by Sir Maurice Berkeley, his colleague on Anne of Denmark’s Council. Sir Edward Hoby* subsequently commented that Ridgeway had been drafted into this role because of the current dearth of privy councillors in the Commons. Named to help prepare the bill, Ridgeway reminded Members on 20 Feb. that ‘that king could not be safe, that was poor’, and on 6 Mar. again stressed James’s ‘wants and necessity’. Finally, on 25 Mar. he helped to secure a vote by which an increased grant of three subsidies and six fifteenths was agreed and scheduled.53
In addition to his quasi-ministerial interventions over supply, Ridgeway significantly modified his stance on purveyance, though this was not immediately apparent. On 30 Jan. he was named to help consider John Hare’s radical reform bill, which aimed to sweep away most of the current practices. As this approach was unacceptable to the government, Ridgeway may have sought membership of the committee in order to monitor the bill’s progress for Cecil, now earl of Salisbury. He was also appointed, on 22 Feb., to help draft a message to the Lords defending Hare’s conduct during a conference on purveyance. However, two days later he broke ranks with Hare, and instead backed Sir Robert Johnson’s proposal for a general composition, the option preferred by Salisbury. On 6 Mar., according to Robert Bowyer*, Ridgeway repeated his argument, ‘but not with much reason’. He was now an isolated figure on this issue, as most Members continued to back Hare’s bill. On 18 Apr., the last day of business before the Easter recess, he was granted indefinite leave of absence.54
Ridgeway’s departure from the Commons was probably in response to his appointment as the next vice-treasurer and treasurer-at-wars in Ireland, since news of the government’s decision reached the Irish Privy Council on 29 April. He was most likely nominated by his predecessor, Sir George Carey†, his cousin and near neighbour in Devon, who had been supplying him with an Irish pension of £66 13s. 4d. since 1602.55 Ridgeway formally took up his new offices in June 1606, though he reached Ireland only in late October, after weathering a 48-hour storm in the Irish Sea. On 22 Nov. his Commons’ seat was declared vacant, on the grounds that he held his Irish offices for life, and could therefore not be regarded as a temporary absentee from the House.56
The English government had already assured the Irish lord deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, that he would find Ridgeway ‘a gentleman of very good sufficiency’, but the new treasurer faced a massive challenge. In November 1606 he reported to London that, even with the bullion that he had personally delivered to Dublin, he was over £2,000 short of meeting his current obligations, and that Ireland’s ordinary revenues had been overestimated in England. He immediately drew up plans for reforming the Irish customs, encouraging local trade, and penalizing recusants more severely. Unfortunately for Ridgeway, however, the supply of funds from England did not increase significantly, nor did Irish trade greatly improve, which made it difficult to borrow money locally.57 In December 1611 he observed bitterly to Salisbury that ‘he had better be in his grave than long continue a treasurer here in a necessitous time’. Following Salisbury’s death the situation deteriorated still further. Under lord treasurer Suffolk, Ridgeway was obliged to offer bribes in order to obtain regular shipments of bullion, and get his accounts passed. Despite all these problems, Ridgeway claimed in 1615 that he had doubled the Irish ordinary revenues, and that ‘there was never more done in Ireland for the king’s honour and profit and stability of the kingdom, with so little money out of England, than in the same time’.58
Ridgeway was a leading player in the plantation of Ulster. His involvement began in 1608, when he helped to suppress Cahir O’Dogherty’s rising there, after which he helped to carry out a preliminary survey of escheated lands.59 This task paved the way for the plantation, and in 1610 Ridgeway travelled to London to settle the remaining issues on behalf of the lord deputy, winning praise for his ‘sufficiency’ from the king himself.60 Ridgeway became one of the principal undertakers in county Tyrone, with well over 2,000 acres in Dungannon and Clogher baronies. By now he also owned lands in county Monaghan, and an estate at Gallen, Queen’s County, south-west of Dublin.61 These were generous rewards for his services, but in the short term they also represented a significant financial burden, as he was required to develop his plantations. By late 1611, in addition to bringing in settlers from London and Devon, he had built a fort at Glascough, county Monaghan, and had castles under construction at Gallen and in Clogher barony.62
In 1613 Ridgeway was returned to the Irish Parliament as Member for county Tyrone. As a leading government spokesman, he nominated Sir John Davies* as Speaker, and helped in the ensuing contest to install him in the chair by force. Two years later, during the Parliament’s third session, he steered through Ireland’s first ever grant of subsidies, a major revenue advance. However, recognizing that some concessions were needed in return, he also backed the lifting of restrictions on the country’s recusant lawyers, a move disliked by the king.63 Visiting London in August 1615 to brief the government again, Ridgeway discovered plans to divide his two offices of vice-treasurer and treasurer-at-wars, leaving him only the latter. Although he warned that this would worsen his cashflow problems, and complained that he sat in the Irish Privy Council only in his capacity as vice-treasurer, his objections were ignored. When lord deputy Chichester was recalled three months later he lost his principal ally, and his patents were suspended in February 1616.64 By way of compensation, Ridgeway was offered an Irish barony, but this grant also was stayed when it emerged in March that he was still attempting to execute both treasurerships. He lost both posts in June, and his peerage patent was sealed only in December, after a preliminary examination of his accounts. These were not finally passed until December 1618, at which point he was charged with a deficit of £7,400 12s. ¼d.65
During the next few years Ridgeway divided his time between Ireland and Devon. In 1619 he testified for the prosecution during the earl of Suffolk’s corruption trial. The surcharge on his official accounts placed a massive burden on his already strained finances, and in 1621 he mortgaged many of his English estates to his sometime London agent, George Mynne*, and a prominent London merchant, Robert Parkhurst, who took responsibility for the bulk of his debts.66 Despite these problems, in 1622 Ridgeway agreed to exchange most of his Ulster property for the earldom of Londonderry.67 By 1623 he owed almost £17,000 to assorted creditors, and was forced to sell the same English lands outright to Mynne and Parkhurst. Thereafter, he retired almost permanently to his seat at Ballynakill, in Gallen, merely returning to England briefly in 1629 to sell more property. He died at Ballynakill in June 1631.68
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Tim Venning / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Date estimated from age at admission to Oxford.
- 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 647; D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, 151.
- 3. Al. Ox.; I. Temple Admiss.
- 4. Ridgeway’s eldest son was born c.1592: CSP Ire. 1606-8, p. 607.
- 5. Vivian, 647; CP, viii. 106.
- 6. C142/252/33.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 98.
- 8. C66/1942/16.
- 9. CPR Ire. Jas. I, 311, 551.
- 10. Lismore Pprs. ed. A.B. Grosart (ser. 1), iii. 88.
- 11. HMC Hatfield, v. 393; E351/609.
- 12. APC, 1597-8, p. 94; HMC Hatfield, vii. 486.
- 13. APC, 1598-9, p. 297.
- 14. C231/1, f. 60v; E163/18/12, f. 16v.
- 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 36.
- 16. C181/1, ff. 61v, 93.
- 17. CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 45-6.
- 18. P.S. Robinson, Plantation of Ulster, 68.
- 19. CSP Ire. 1608-10, pp. 171, 460.
- 20. APC, 1613-14, p. 517.
- 21. Ibid. 299.
- 22. Add. 38139, f. 104v.
- 23. CJ, i. 208b.
- 24. C66/1691; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 425.
- 25. CSP Ire. 1606-8, p. 6; APC, 1615-16, p. 454.
- 26. CPR Ire. Jas. I, 172; C66/1978.
- 27. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 196.
- 28. Ibid. 1615-25, p. 75.
- 29. Ibid. 1608-10, pp. 33, 507; CSP Carew, 1603-24, p. 218.
- 30. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 363.
- 31. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 362.
- 32. J. Prince, Worthies of Devon, 698; HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 197; Lysons, 523-4; List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii), 36; List of Sheriffs, 36.
- 33. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 427; 1595-7, p. 477.
- 34. C142/252/33; Lysons, 524; T. Westcote, View of Devonshire in 1630, p. 426.
- 35. CP, viii. 106; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 439; LC2/4/4, f. 67.
- 36. Add. 38139, f. 104v.
- 37. CJ, i. 150a, 151b, 152b, 157a, 169a.
- 38. Ibid. 199b, 243b, 983a.
- 39. G.L. Kittredge, Witchcraft in Old and New England, 7-8, 310-11; CJ, i. 178a, 226b, 227b, 232b.
- 40. CJ, i. 224a, 229a, 237b, 240b, 975b.
- 41. Ibid. 181a, 228b, 232b; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 264.
- 42. CJ, i. 228b, 237a.
- 43. Ibid. 252a, 1002a.
- 44. A.H.A. Hamilton, Q. Sess. from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Anne, 37; CJ, i. 974b.
- 45. CJ, i. 125b, 172a, 208b, 230a, 236b, 973a, 979a-b, 990a.
- 46. Ibid. 154b, 222b, 230b, 243b, 973a; P. Croft, ‘Wardship in the Parl. of 1604’, PH, ii. 40, 42.
- 47. Croft, 46; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iii. 212; W. Notestein, House of Commons, 1604-10, pp. 130-1; CJ, i. 248a-b.
- 48. CJ, i. 225a, 979b; HMC Hatfield, viii. 476, 500.
- 49. CJ, i. 251b-2a, 999a, 1001a.
- 50. Ibid. 256b, 257b.
- 51. Ibid. 257b, 258b, 264b, 279b, 296b.
- 52. Ibid. 260a, 263b-4a, 285a, 287a, 292b.
- 53. CJ, i. 260b, 266b, 272a, 278b, 289b; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 59- 60.
- 54. Ibid. 261b, 273a-b, 278b, 300a; Bowyer Diary, 62; P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City’, PH, iv. 23-6.
- 55. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 459; 1611-14, p. 197; Vivian, 151, 647, 698.
- 56. CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 31, 36; CJ, i. 323b-4a.
- 57. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 461; 1606-8, pp. 36, 40, 303, 612; 1608-10, p. 147; 1611- 14, p. 53.
- 58. Ibid. 1611-14, p. 181; 1615-25, pp. 88-9; ‘Star Chamber Procs. against the Earl of Suffolk’, EHR, xiii. 722, 724-5; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 57.
- 59. CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 541, 554, 563, 573-4, 599-605; 1608-10, p. 23.
- 60. T.W. Moody, Londonderry Plantation, 32, 36; CSP Ire. 1608-10, pp. 368-72, 401-2, 420-4, 460.
- 61. C66/1874/26; Robinson, 89; CPR Ire. Jas. I, 149, 183; CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 130, 144.
- 62. CPR Ire. Jas. I, p. 149; Robinson, 55; CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 124, 144.
- 63. CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 362, 400, 402-3; 1615-25, pp. 85-6; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. of Eng. 1603-42, ii. 301-2.
- 64. CSP Ire. 1615-25, pp. 85-6, 88-9; Gardiner, ii. 302; APC, 1615-16, pp. 391-2.
- 65. CPR Ire. Jas. I. pp. 305, 311; APC, 1615-16, pp. 430-1, 429; CSP Dom. 1611- 18, p. 425; Carew Letters ed. J. Maclean (Cam. Soc. lxxvi), 40; CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 143; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 447; E351/272.
- 66. APC, 1613-14, p. 643; 1618-19, p. 160; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 57; C2/Jas.I/D12/50.
- 67. CPR Ire. Jas. I, pp. 551, 554; Robinson, 123; V. Treadwell, Buckingham and Ire. 111; L. Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy, 109.
- 68. C2/Jas.I/D12/50; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), iii. 88; (ser. 2), iii. 118; APC, 1628-9, pp. 417-18.