SEWALL (SHOWELL), Henry (c.1544-1628), of Bayley Lane, Coventry, Warws.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
Master, Drapers’ Co., Coventry 1573, 1577, 1582, 1587, 1591, 1600, 1609, ?1611, ?1620, ?1623.5
Sheriff, Coventry 1581-2,6 member, Gt. Council 1585-d., mayor 1587-8, 1606-7, alderman by 1597-d.,7 commr. enclosure riots 1607,8 subsidy 1608, 1621-2, 1624,9 j.p. 1621-d.,10 commr. Forced Loan 1626.11
The Sewall family had settled in Coventry by the mid-sixteenth century, but the loss of key parish registers, and the many variant spellings of their surname, such as Shewell and Showell, makes it impossible to establish this Member’s precise parentage.12 By his own account, Sewell was aged about 80 in 1624, and a birth date of c.1544 is consistent with him being made free of the Coventry Drapers’ Company in 1566.13
Sewall became master of the Company for the first time in 1573, and may have held the office another eight times, though it is difficult after 1609 to distinguish between him and his eldest son in the Drapers’ records. Sewall served as sheriff of Coventry in 1581-2, and in 1585 was admitted to the city’s Great Council at the same time as John Rogerson*. An alderman by 1597, he achieved the rare distinction of twice being elected mayor. His second term was overshadowed by the outbreak of a bitter dispute between the city’s drapers and mercers. As mayor, it fell to him, in July 1607, to inform the merchant community that a newly granted charter awarded the Drapers a monopoly over the local sale of worsteds, which had previously been the preserve of the Mercers. The extent to which Sewall had been privy to the planning of this coup is unclear, but he certainly visited London on his Company’s behalf in 1609 in an unsuccessful bid to defend the controversial charter.14
By now Sewall was a leading city official, and in April 1609 he signed a letter from the city to the Privy Council, declining its request for subsidy assessments in Coventry to be increased.15 Later that year he spent several weeks in London on the city’s business, not the first time that he had been employed in this capacity. In 1611 he was entrusted with the negotiations for a new city charter, but despite intensive lobbying, his efforts ended in failure, possibly because of the spiralling costs. Reporting back that Sir Thomas Lake I* had demanded a fee of £100, Sewall observed that ‘motions in all courts are dearer than heretofore, but references from the king are dearer [still]’. He made at least another six official visits to London during this decade, and in 1619 also conveyed a message from the city to Prince Charles.16
By 1621 Sewall was the senior member of the Great Council, and despite his advanced years his previous experience of London affairs made him an obvious candidate to represent Coventry in Parliament. Indeed, his principal reason for being in the capital at this juncture was to renew the quest for a new city charter, a task which he finally brought to fruition. In the Commons, he made no recorded speeches, and received no personal committee nominations, but as Member for Coventry he was entitled to attend legislative committees on the Welsh cloth trade, which affected his constituency (2 Mar.), and the bishop of Lichfield’s estates (21 April). He received wages of 6s. 8d. a day for the period up to Easter, but the rate dropped to 5s. thereafter. As a reward for his labours in securing the new charter, he was awarded the distinction of being included in the quorum of Coventry j.p.s.17
By the end of his life, Sewall had invested much of his wealth in property, owning at least 40 messuages in Coventry, besides small quantities of land in the surrounding district. In his will, drawn up on 1 Sept. 1624, he left this entire estate to his wife for the remainder of her life, allowing his four children just £20 a year in the meantime. One reason for this unusual arrangement was probably a long-standing rift between Sewall’s wife and their eldest son, who was instructed to reform his behaviour towards her or lose his inheritance. The will also included charitable bequests of at least £26, and an annuity of £1 to fund sermons. Despite his great age, Sewall remained a regular presence on the Great Council until two months before his death in April 1628. None of his descendants is known to have sat in Parliament.18
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Aged c.80 in 1624: PROB 11/153, f. 498.
- 2. Coventry Archives, PA 154/2, p. 55.
- 3. PROB 11/153, ff. 498v-9.
- 4. C142/448/101.
- 5. Coventry Archives, PA 154/2, pp. 87, 94, 102, 109, 116, 132, 150, 158, 181, 189.
- 6. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 178.
- 7. Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, ff. 102, 107v, 134v, 160v, 290-1.
- 8. C181/2, f. 42 (as ‘Shevell’).
- 9. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 10. Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, f. 244.
- 11. C193/12/2, f. 76.
- 12. Coventry Leet Book ed. M.D. Harris, ii. 693; Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, ff. 103, 126.
- 13. Coventry Archives, PA 154/2, f. 63.
- 14. Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, f. 102; PA 154/2, ff. 154-5; R.M. Berger, The Most Necessary Luxuries: the Mercers’ Co. of Coventry, 143-5.
- 15. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 42.
- 16. Coventry Archives, BA H/C/20/2, pp. 84, 91, 93, 106-7, 133, 138, 143, 151, 160-1; BA H/Q/A79/105-6.
- 17. Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, ff. 228v, 244; BA H/C/20/2, pp. 181, 186, 191; CJ, i. 534b, 584b.
- 18. C142/448/101; PROB 11/153, ff. 498-9v; Coventry Archives, BA H/C/17/1, f. 290.