SAMMES, Sir John (c.1576-by 1630), of Langford Hall, Wickham Bishops, Essex; later of Little Totham Hall, Essex

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



25 Jan. 1610

Family and Education

b. c.1576, s. of John Sammes of Langford Hall and ?Margaret, da. of John Paschall of Great Baddow, Essex. educ. ?Emmanuel, Camb. 1586; L. Inn 1590;1 ?vol. army in Ire. 1599. m. (with £1,000),2 lic. 18 July 1595, Isabel, da. of Sir John Garrard of Lamer, Wheathampstead, Herts., Haberdasher and lord mayor of London, 1s.3 kntd. 6 Aug. 1599;4 suc. fa. 1606. d. by 27 May 1630. sig. Jo[hn] Sammes.

Offices Held

?Cornet, militia light horse, Essex 1595,5 dep. lt. 1613-at least 1619;6 sheriff, Essex Feb.-Nov. 1606;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1606,8 subsidy, Essex 1606, 1608-9, 1621-2, Colchester and Maldon, Essex 1608;9 j.p. Essex by 1607-at least 1622,10 commr. piracy 1608,11 highways’ repair 1609, 1614-at least 1622,12 sewers, (Dengie Hundred and Dunmow to Maldon), Essex 1607, (highways and bridges) 1618,13 aid 1609,14 charitable uses 1610-14, 1619-20;15 freeman, Maldon 1610,16 commr. inquiry, land sales tax, Maldon 1611,17 seizure of goods and property of Robert Meade of Haverhill, Suff. 1611,18 gaol delivery, Colchester 1613-23,19 i.p.m. Robert Rich, 1st earl of Warwick 1619;20 ?lay visitor, Maldon 1620.21

Soldier, Ire. 1599;22 gov. of Ijsendijke, Utd. Provinces, ?aft. 1625-d.23

Member, Virg. Co. 1610, cttee. 1612;24 member, N.W. Passage Co. 1612.25

Commr. cloth exports 1614.26


Sammes’s roots are entirely obscure; the efforts of one eighteenth-century antiquary to construct a pedigree have served only to muddy the waters.27 However, Sammes should certainly be distinguished from a Thaxted namesake who married in 1599, and also from a near neighbour who lived at Tolleshunt Major.28 It was probably Sammes’s father John who fined with the Alienations Office in 1578 on buying various Essex properties;29 it was definitely the elder Sammes who purchased the manor and advowson of Little Totham and Goldhanger in the early 1590s, for which he paid £1,700.30 Clearly a man of means, Sammes senior was a member of the Essex bench by March 1595, and regularly served as a subsidy commissioner for Maldon, which lay less than three miles from his seat of Langford Hall.31 In the late summer of 1599 he commanded a troop of horse raised by the county to help repel a feared Spanish invasion, though he was then well into his sixties.32

After entering Lincoln’s Inn, Sammes married the daughter of the London Haberdasher and Alderman Sir John Garrard, a match which brought him a dowry of £1,000. By 1599 he was serving in Ireland, probably as a volunteer as he is unmentioned in the army lists.33 A fellow soldier later commented on his plain attire while on service, although Sammes himself claimed to have been ‘richly and plentifully furnished with great variety of suits of apparel of very great price’, needing only ‘a black suit now and then to wear in his private lodging to save a better’.34 Knighted at Dublin in August by Ireland’s lord lieutenant, the 2nd earl of Essex, Sammes returned to England sometime before November 1601, when his father-in-law persuaded Sir Robert Cecil† not to prick him sheriff of Essex.35 Garrard’s intervention secured only a temporary reprieve, however, as Sammes was appointed in February 1606. He was later fined £100 by the Court of Wards for negligence in executing process while sheriff.36

Sammes contributed £30 to the Privy Seal loan of 1604, for which he was repaid three years later.37 Following the death of the Maldon Member Sir Edward Lewknor I in October 1605, Sammes ‘procured many voices’ from among the voters of the town, whose bailiffs assumed he would take the seat. However, he withdrew after the Privy Council intervened on behalf of Theophilus Howard, Lord Howard de Walden, declaring that he as ‘not willing to oppose himself against so worthy a man as my Lord of Walden’.38 Despite this setback, Sammes subsequently gained entry to the first Jacobean Parliament at a second by-election for Maldon occasioned by the death of William Wiseman in January 1610. Once at Westminster Sammes entered energetically into proceedings, being named to 21 committees and making several speeches. Naturally enough, the interests of his locality were reflected in some of his committee appointments. Most notably, he and several other Essex residents were named to consider land bills concerned with Humphrey Mildmay of Danbury and Sir John Wentworth of Gosfield on 20 Feb. and 21 Mar. respectively.39 He and three other Members representing Essex constituencies were also named to consider the bill to allow Sir Henry Crispe of Quex, Kent, to recover lands from his estranged wife (12 Mar.), and on 21 Apr. he subsequently participated helped to debate the bill (21 Apr.), apparently speaking in its favour.40 Sammes continued to be linked to this same group, comprising Edward Alford (Colchester), Sir Francis Barrington (Essex) and Sir Gamaliel Capell (Essex), for on 24 Mar. all four were named to consider the land bill relating to Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey, Cheshire.41 Why Sammes and three other members of this group were interested in either the Crispe or the Booth bills is unclear. Many of the legislative committees to which Sammes was appointed were not directly concerned with his home county. However, as an Essex magistrate he was naturally interested in measures such as the building of new gaols (16 Feb.), suits against magistrates (28 Mar.), the highways (30 Mar.) and bastardy (16 May).42 A handful of Sammes’s committee appointments dealt with local matters which were entirely unrelated to his county, such as the Minehead harbour (23 Feb.) and Devon ship timber (25 June).

In Parliament Sammes demonstrated an interest in national as well as local issues. Following the king’s decision to permit the Commons to discuss the abolition of feudal tenures as part of the proposed Great Contract, Sammes, incorrectly identified as Sir John ‘James’ by one diarist, contributed to the debate on 23 Mar., when he argued that the House would wrong the king if it deprived him of revenue from certain types of aid.43 He showed less sympathy towards the king’s wants when he considered the question of impositions. In the debates which followed James’s attempt to prevent the Commons from debating his right to impose, Sammes argued that it was ‘fit and dutiful’ for the House to question the general principle, an assertion immediately seconded by Nicholas Fuller (22 May).44 He was subsequently named to the small committee appointed to present a petition to James asserting the House’s right to debate the legality of impositions (24 May). After dining with the king, the committee’s members were accorded the rare privilege of being admitted to the withdrawing chamber at Whitehall.45 On 7 July Sammes returned to Whitehall as part of a 20-strong deputation sent to deliver two further petitions of grievances to the king. He probably also attended the joint conference with the Lords on 16 July, at which the Commons raised a number of additional complaints, as on the 18th he and Heneage Finch were instructed to record the Lords’ reply to two of the items raised. These concerned the imprisonment of men who refused to lend to the king and the accusation that the king’s servants commonly sheltered behind their status to avoid arrest.46 Sammes spoke against the custom of permitting exemptions in the subsidy bill on 11 July, and three days later called for the provisos regarding the universities to be struck out because of ‘some scandalous words’ allegedly spoken against the Parliament by the vice-chancellor of Oxford university, Dr. John King.47 On 21 July Sammes joined Speaker Phelips in proposing that the bill to degrade the hapless patentee Sir Stephen Procter, and ban him from holding office, should be dropped, but this unpopular suggestion merely prompted the House to resolve ‘to maintain the general scope of the bill’. It was left to the Lords to smother the legislation.48

During the poorly recorded fifth session Sammes made one known speech, on 21 Nov., in which he deplored the fact that 30 Members had attended the king at Whitehall wthout first obtaining the permission of their colleagues. Though aware that some of his colleagues thought correct procedure a matter of little importance, he regarded it as being ‘a great part of the coherence of the beauty of the House [sic] of Parliament that ancient orders should be kept’. He therefore proposed petitioning the king to ask that in future, ‘when it pleaseth him to speak with any of the House, or to be informed of anything that shall pass here, that then he will acquaint the House therewith, and that then the House may give direction’. In the meantime, those who had attended the king should explain the purpose of their summons, ‘that the House might gather what hath been done concerning the breach of the liberties thereof’. Many other Members seconded these motions, but the House concluded that no account of the proceedings of those who had been summoned by the king could be demanded as they had not been sent for as Members of the Lower House.49 However, it was also resolved to draft an order in committee to prevent a similar situation from arising again. When the king learned of this, he dispatched Speaker Phelips to the House early on the morning of 29 Nov. to order an adjournment and thereby prevent the committee from making its report. When the Commons reconvened on 6 Dec. Sammes rose to condemn the Speaker, but ‘though the House called vehemently’ to hear him he was prevented from intervening by Phelips, who proceeded to read aloud the king’s message.50

Following the death of Sir Henry Maynard† in May 1610, Essex’s lord lieutenant, the earl of Sussex, publicly promised to appoint Sammes as a deputy lieutenant in his place. However, Sammes’s aggressive attitude towards the Crown’s right to levy impositions and his attempt to lay down strict rules to govern the conduct of Members summoned to Whitehall earned him the hostility of both the king and the lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil). As the power to appoint Essex’s deputy lieutenants was vested in the Privy Council rather than the lord lieutenant, Sammes found his path to promotion unexpectedly blocked. In November 1611 he wrote in desperation to Salisbury’s secretary, (Sir) Michael Hicks*, seeking an audience with the lord treasurer to explain his conduct. Throughout the following spring Sammes, supported by Sussex and Sir William Maynard* , lobbied Hicks, but it was not until after Salisbury died in May 1612 that he was admitted to the lieutenancy. In the meantime he had to endure being the subject of local gossip.51

It was thus a chastened Sammes who was elected for Maldon to the second Jacobean Parliament in March 1614. Although appointed to help prepare for a joint conference with the Lords on 5 May,52 he unsurprisingly played no part in the subsequent debates on impositions, and far from seeking to antagonize the king he evidently tried to appear helpful. Following the second reading of the sheriffs’ accounts bill on 6 May, he suggested that James could save himself £15,000 each year by entrusting the collection of all royal revenue to sheriffs rather than to the large number of other receivers who were currently employed.53 Nevertheless, he could not resist questioning the king’s right to the duty known as respite of homage, a minor source of revenue to the Crown payable by tenants-in-chief in lieu of swearing fealty to the king. When James offered a grace bill to remove the costs involved in compounding, Sammes pointed out (2 May) that respite of homage was unheard of before the reign of Henry VIII. Most of the remainder of his speech went unrecorded, but from what survives it is clear that Sammes fell short of calling for the duty to be abolished altogether.54

Despite his brief parliamentary service, Sammes was named to the committee for privileges on 8 April. He was also appointed to ten legislative committees, half of which held no known interest for him. These dealt with Crown tenants (15 Apr.), apparel (5 May), the foundation of the Charterhouse hospital (9 May), abuses in procuring legal process (18 May) and the naturalization of two Scottish gentlemen (23 May).55 Of these, he attended attended the Charterhouse bill committee at least.56 His inclusion on the committee for the bill against false bail (16 Apr.) was doubtless occasioned by his observation that the measure was too narrowly drawn, while his membership of the committee for the bill to establish an almshouse and grammar school in Monmouth at the cost of the Haberdasher William Jones (16 May) may have been prompted by his father-in-law, a senior Haberdasher. The bill to naturalize the wife and daughter of Sir Horace Vere (17 May) presumably interested him because it concerned an ancient Essex family.57 His inclusion on the committee for the bill to repeal a statute of 1563 regarding the packing of fish (24 May) suggests that Sammes had regard for the interests of his constituents, as does his membership of a committee to consider a highways’ repair bill (7 May). This latter legislation was laid before the House by Sammes himself on 18 Apr. after he expressed dissatisfaction at another measure dealing with the same subject which had received its first reading three days earlier.58 Surprisingly, Sammes was not named to consider the bill to prohibit non-residence and pluralism in the Church, despite speaking in its favour and offering as evidence the example of a vicarage worth £300 p.a. whose incumbent was expected to meet the spiritual needs of 11-12,000 communicants.59

Sammes shared the concern of many Members who suspected that the House had been packed by ‘undertakers’, and accordingly he was named to the committee appointed on 13 Apr. to draft a formal protest to the king. However, he did not believe that these rumours were spread by papists to discredit the Parliament, for when, on 2 May, Sir Dudley Digges suggested that a protestation be presented to the king blaming Catholic troublemakers Sammes moved ‘for a general protestation without taxing any in religion’. Sammes nevertheless took the issue seriously, for though he deplored the hissing which greeted Leonard Bawtree’s speech warning of a dissolution if the Commons did not desist from debating the question of ‘undertaking’, he did not see how progress could be made until Members’ fears had been allayed (5 May).60 His own suspicion that Parliament had been packed may explain his extreme reaction (10 May) to the revelation that the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry*, had abused his authority during the Stockbridge election. He not only called for Parry to be stripped of office, but for the abolition of the duchy itself, which, he said, had only avoided absorption by the Crown because of the weakness of Henry IV’s claim to the throne. Abolition would save the cost of paying for its officials, and the business handled by its court could easily be transferred to Chancery.61 By 14 May that Sammes’s suspicion that there had been a secret plan to pack the House was allayed after Sir Henry Neville I* was identified as the author of ‘An Advice Touching the Holding of a Parliament’. He concluded that the paper’s proposals ‘were good and worthy things’, but regretted that they had not ‘sprung out of this House’.62

Although textile manufacture formed only a small part of Maldon’s economy,63 Sammes may have been closely interested in the fortunes of the cloth industry, as his seat at Little Totham Hall lay just south of Tiptree Heath, one of the principal locations in Essex for grazing sheep for wool manufacture.64 Like many Members, he resented London’s domination of the industry, and in Parliament he therefore blamed the London-based Merchant Adventurers for bringing the cloth trade, which was then in crisis, to a virtual standstill. Claiming that the entire textile industry would benefit if granted permission to export dressed rather than undyed cloths, he announced to the House on 20 May that a bill would shortly be preferred by the newly formed company led by Sir William Cockayne, which he hoped would be favourably received. However, perhaps because a Proclamation supporting Cockayne’s project was issued five days later,65 the bill of which Sammes spoke seems never to have been introduced.

Sammes’s interest in the cloth trade presumably explains his involvement in the internal politics of Colchester, the centre of the new draperies in Essex. In October 1615 the town’s bailiffs complained that the free burgesses had attempted to widen the municipal franchise at Sammes’s instigation.66 Sammes was probably the ‘Sir George Sammes of Colchester’ who was ‘much reproved’ by King’s Bench the following year for giving the charge at an Essex quarter session when there was a serjeant-at-law present to do so instead.67 That same year he purchased an Essex wardship for £70,68 but this was an expense he could ill afford. Although he enjoyed an annual income of at least £800, by 1620 he was in deep financial difficulty, having borrowed heavily to build ‘a fair mansion house at Little Totham’. Described in the eighteenth century as ‘a good brick building’, Little Totham Hall allegedly cost about £1,400 to construct.69 ‘Overladen and ready to sink under the burden of his debts’, by September 1620 Sammes was reportedly carrying dispatches to Sir Francis Nethersole* in Prague so as to avoid his creditors.70 After a brief period of imprisonment in the Palatinate, he returned to England early in 1621, but his creditors soon obliged him to flee to the United Provinces, though not before conveying all his lands and goods to his only son, Sir Garrard.71 In July 1623 (Sir) Dudley Carleton* reported from The Hague that Sammes was seeking a commission in one of the English regiments in Dutch service.72 Sometime after 1625 he became governor of the Dutch town of Ijsendijke,73 where he was buried. No will, letters of administration or any record of the date of his death, have been discovered. An effigy depicting Sammes wearing armour forms part of his widow’s funeral monument in All Saints church, Little Totham.74 No other member of his family subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


C2/Jas.I/S11/58; WARD 9/162, f. 207v.

  • 1. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.
  • 2. PROB 11/145, f. 424.
  • 3. C142/294/81; Vis. Essex ed. Howard, 79; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 260, 262; Mar. Lics. Issued by Bp. of London 1520-1610 ed. G.J. Armytage, 223; Some Acct. of Lord Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1601-25 comp. G.E. Cokayne, 6-8.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 97.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 110.
  • 6. Bodl., Firth C4, pp. 49, 53; APC, 1618-19, p. 479.
  • 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 46.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 8.
  • 9. Eg. 2644, f. 171; SP14/31/1; E115/117/160; C212/22/20-1.
  • 10. Cal. Assize Recs., Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 14, 253.
  • 11. HCA 14/39/217.
  • 12. C193/6/188; C181/2, f. 225v; 181/3, f. 68v.
  • 13. C181/2, ff. 32, 33, 318v.
  • 14. SP14/43/107.
  • 15. C93/4/4, 9; 93/5/7, 16; 93/6/6; 93/8/5.
  • 16. W.J. Petchey, A Prospect of Maldon, 266.
  • 17. E134/9Jas./Mich.38.
  • 18. E178/3791.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 182; 181/3, ff. 18, 73, 103v.
  • 20. WARD 7/60/282.
  • 21. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/289, rot. 8.
  • 22. REQ 2/424/108.
  • 23. Essex RO, T/P 196/16.
  • 24. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, ii. 47; A. Brown, Genesis of US, 544, 549.
  • 25. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 239.
  • 26. HMC Downshire, iv. 338.
  • 27. P. Morant, Hist. and Antiqs. of Essex, i. 386, appears to make Sammes his father’s gt.-gt. grandson. Further errors appear on pp. 388, 391.
  • 28. IGI Essex; Vis. Essex ed. Howard, 79.
  • 29. CPR, 1575-8, p. 510. For evidence of a subsequent purchase, see CPR, 1580-2, p. 44.
  • 30. C2/Jas.I/S11/58.
  • 31. Cal. of Assize Recs. Essex, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 430; E115/339/148; 115/340/21, 61; 115/349/97.
  • 32. E351/264.
  • 33. For e.g.s of these, see SP63/202(1)/67; 63/202(4)/66.
  • 34. REQ 2/424/108.
  • 35. HMC Hatfield, xi. 486.
  • 36. WARD 9/611, unfol.
  • 37. E401/2587, unfol., repayment of 23 Jan. 1607.
  • 38. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 455.
  • 39. CJ, i. 397b, 413b; HLRO, O.A. 7 Jas.I, c. 53.
  • 40. CJ, i. 409b, 420a; HLRO, O.A. 7 Jas.I, c. 52.
  • 41. CJ, i. 414a.
  • 42. Ibid. 394b, 415b, 416b, 429a.
  • 43. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 64.
  • 44. CJ, i. 430b. However, his speech is ignored by the author of Add. 48119: see Procs. 1610, ii. 108-9.
  • 45. CJ, i. 432a; Procs. 1610, ii. 371-2.
  • 46. Procs. 1610, ii. 286-7, 293. See also pp. 279, 385.
  • 47. CJ, i. 448b, 449b.
  • 48. CJ, i. 453b; Procs. 1610, ii. 412-14; LJ, ii. 635. For the remaining refs. to Sammes in the records of this session not mentioned above, see CJ, i. 393b, 409a, 417a-b, 418b, 422b, 423a, 438a, 442a-b, 444a, 446a-b, 453b.
  • 49. Procs. 1610, ii. 342; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 138-9; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 31v.
  • 50. Procs. 1610, ii. 347, 390-1.
  • 51. Lansd. 92, ff. 126, 153, 195, 199; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 135 (though the ed. of the Calendar has mistaken Mdx. for Essex).
  • 52. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 151.
  • 53. Ibid. 164, 167-8.
  • 54. Ibid. 119. See also p. 125, where he is recorded as having urged the Remembrancer’s office to ‘have nothing to do with receipts’.
  • 55. Ibid. 34, 85, 145, 176, 282, 320.
  • 56. LMA, Acc/1876/G/01/16/1.
  • 57. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 91, 257, 268.
  • 58. Ibid. 101-2, 84, 108, 170.
  • 59. Ibid. 216, 223.
  • 60. Ibid. 76, 122, 125, 150.
  • 61. Ibid. 188, 196.
  • 62. Ibid. 245.
  • 63. Petchey, 12-13.
  • 64. J. Norden, Speculi Britanniae Pars: An Historical Description of Essex ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. ix), 9.
  • 65. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 298-9, 304, 306.
  • 66. Essex RO, D/Y 2/7/241.
  • 67. J.H. Baker, Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 53-4.
  • 68. WARD 9/162, f. 207v.
  • 69. £800 is the figure given to Chancery by his son. The creditor who estimated the building cost put Sammes’s income at around £1,000 p.a.: C2/Chas.I/P88/42. For Sammes’s heavy borrowings, see ibid. and also LC4/197, f. 277; 4/199, f. 106; C2/Jas.I/D3/48; C3/372/21; C78/303/7. For Little Totham Hall, see T. Wright, Essex, ii. 713.
  • 70. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 322; SP81/19/16.
  • 71. SP77/14, f. 276; APC, 1619-21, p. 406. The cause of his imprisonment is unknown.
  • 72. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 305.
  • 73. In 1625 the governor was Lt.-Gen. Paulus Grenu: Resolutiën der Staten-Generaal, 1624-5 (Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatien, Groote Serie 223), p. 270.
  • 74. RCHM Essex, iii. 175. By the mid-eighteenth century it was ‘much broken and abused’: Essex RO, T/P 195/7.