SPILLER, Henry (c.1570-1649), of Holborn, London; Laleham, Mdx. and Eldersfield, Worcs.

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




Family and Education

b. c.1570, 5th s. of John Spiller (d. c.1592) of Shaftesbury, Dorset and Anne, da. of Edward Crosman of Cross, Cornw.1 educ. L. Inn, entered 1606.2 m. (1) by 1592,3 Dorothy Dicons (bur. 14 July 1624),4 2s. d.v.p. 2da.;5 (2) Anne, s.p. kntd. 20 July 1618.6 d. 29 Apr. 1649.7

Offices Held

Clerk to the ld. treas.’s remembrancer by 1594;8 commr. revenue 1620, aliens 1621, 1622, purveyance 1622, plantations 1623,9 exacted fees 1627, 1630,10 prizes 1627,11 execution of poor laws 1632,12 soap monopoly 1634,13 tobacco compositions 1634-9,14 prevention of butter exports 1636,15 timber imports 1638, cottages 1638, usury 1638,16 brick and tile manufactures 1638.17

Commr. subsidy, Mdx. 1608, 1622, 1624;18 j.p. Mdx. 1608-40, Bucks. 1619-40, Westminster 1622-40, Worcs. 1624-40;19 commr. sewers, Coln valley 1609, 1624, Mdx. 1630, 1640, Westminster 1634;20 mending highways, London 1609;21 oyer and terminer, the Verge 1610-at least 1627, the Marshalsea 1620-3, Mdx. 1627, 1631, 1638, Oxf. circ. 1629-42, London 1632, 1635,22 musters, Mdx. 1614, 1617-22,23 new buildings, London 1615, 1618, 1625, 1630, 1634, Mdx. 1624,24 survey, L. Inn Fields 1618,25 brewhouse survey, Mdx. 1620,26 concealments, London 1623;27 dep. lt. Mdx. by 1626;28 commr. Privy Seal loan, Mdx. 1626, Forced Loan, 1627,29 martial law 1627,30 knighthood compositions, Mdx., Worcs. 1630,31 repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral 1631,32 archery, London 1632, 1637,33 charitable uses, Mdx. 1633-9, Surr. 1638-40, London 1640;34 sewers, Mdx. 1634,35 survey, St. James bailiwick 1640,36 array, Bucks., Mdx. and Worcs. 1642,37 defence, Worcs. 1643,38 rebels’ estates, Bucks., Glos., Oxon. and Worcs. 1643, Berks. 1644.39


Spiller’s father migrated from Cornwall to Shaftesbury, where he was elected mayor in 1569.40 Spiller himself held property in the borough, and was to found an almshouse there before his death, but by 1594 he had established himself in London as a clerk in the office of John Osborne†, the lord treasurer’s remembrancer. Then ‘dwelling in a little lane near Holborn bridge’, he was already looking out for a country house.41 By the end of Elizabeth’s reign he had become the Exchequer official responsible for collecting recusancy revenue.42 The incongruity of his position first became apparent when his elder brother Robert, active for some years as a Catholic intelligencer, was accused of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.43 A French reporter stated that Robert (identified merely as a servant of the Jesuit Henry Garnet), was a frequent visitor to the house of his brother, ‘a procureur, near a gate of the City, having for a sign a dog with its head in a pot. The procureur is of the reformed religion, but his wife is a Catholic’.44 Spiller survived these revelations, and over a long career also weathered incessant accusations both of leniency towards recusants and corruption, mainly because his collection of recusancy fines was not as inefficient as his detractors claimed.45

The accusations began in July 1606, when Thomas Felton, a former commissioner for recusant lands, accused Spiller of using his office to protect recusants and defraud the Crown.46 He found Spiller no easy target, pleading in 1607 from the Wood Street Compter for protection against his ‘cruel practices’.47 Indeed, Felton’s first campaign met with such conspicuous lack of success that in 1608 Spiller was appointed a Middlesex magistrate. As such, he must have been a regular church-goer, and he participated, with no apparent qualms, in the proceedings against two priests who were executed that year.48 Sir Barnard Whetstone* subsequently accused Spiller of securing a discharge out of the Exchequer for the son of Edward Banester†, even though Spiller ‘knew him to be a recusant’.49 Thomas Lodge, seeking help from William Trumbull* to return safely to England, likewise wrote of ‘one Spiller ... that in this sort (upon some gratuity) yieldeth [Catholics] security’.50 Spiller met all these attacks head-on; one local adversary even described him as ‘so fiery that one must not speak to him’.51 In June 1610 Felton petitioned Parliament, accusing Spiller of ‘frustrating all laws in force’ against Catholics ‘to the behalf of the persons offending, and his intolerable gain’, and maintaining that his employment was ‘as evil to this state as if His Majesty should suffer in his kingdom a legate from the Pope’.52 The petition was referred to the Commons’ committee for grievances, before which Spiller appeared on 13 June, and answered ‘so well that he was held (though for a knave) yet for a crafty one, and the other a silly fool’, who was sent back to the Fleet.53 The House resolved on 15 June that the matter ‘shall surcease for this time’, but Sir Francis Hastings made several attempts to revive it in July.54 The case was later cited by lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) as an example of the Commons’ usurpation of judicial power.55

In 1612 Spiller received a Crown grant of the Middlesex manors of Billets, which he already held on lease, and Laleham.56 Two years later he was returned for Arundel on the interest of the earl of Arundel, doubtless in anticipation of a further parliamentary attack. It came on 9 May 1614 in the committee on recusancy, when no less a person than Secretary Winwood

urged Mr. Spiller to give the House an account that since the king had so great a benefit by recusants to know what became of it, telling him that he wondered how [as] a poor clerk he came to dispend £3,000 per annum. His answer was somewhat impertinent, but in conclusion he alleged that the king gave it away.57

However, as Chamberlain remarked, Spiller was not the only man whom the Commons had in its sights, and no further attempt on him is recorded in the Addled Parliament.58 Evidently a largely inactive Member, Spiller’s only committee appointment was for the bill to cancel the fish-packing monopoly (24 May).59 He was also required to report on Francis Lovett, a Catholic whose conformity was said to have been falsely certified by Bishop Neile, and did so on 3 June, saying ‘he had searched in his office, and Lovett’s certificate was not entered there’.60

Early in 1615 Winwood, assisted by the duke of Lennox, again attempted to have Spiller removed, but though brought before the Privy Council Spiller again cleared himself.61 Knighted in 1618, Spiller was rumoured in July 1619 to be a possible successor to Sir Fulke Greville* as chancellor of the Exchequer.62 He continued to add to his estate, acquiring Shepperton in Middlesex, Eldersfield in Worcestershire, and various lands in Buckinghamshire. ‘His tables and fair armoury’ in Eldersfield church, where he held the advowson, were later admired by the antiquary Thomas Habington.63

Re-elected for Arundel to the third Jacobean Parliament, Spiller was named to eight committees and made nine speeches. He was among those appointed to consider abuses in the Fleet prison (14 Feb. 1621).64 On 24 Feb., on the authority of Lionel Farrington, under-sheriff of Essex, Sir James Perrot claimed that the receipts from recusancy fines had fallen by two-thirds since Elizabeth’s reign, and blamed this on Spiller, whom he accused of excessively profiting from his office, and of monopolizing the prosecution of recusants.65 Spiller succeeded in discrediting two of the informants, by extracting from them signed acknowledgments that they had wronged and scandalized him, adding that one of them, to the knowledge of several Members, had stood in the pillory ‘for his misdemeanours against the Court of the Exchequer’.66 Two days later he recalled the sympathy shown to ‘one who had a wound in his head’ (Sir John Jephson*), and asked for the same consideration to be accorded to himself, ‘who hath received a greater wound in his reputation’. He complained ‘that he hath been impiously charged by a base fellow for plotting of murder’, and objected that Perrot, without reference to the rest of the investigating committee, had authorized Farrington ‘to search among the records of the Exchequer’. The chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Fulke Greville, agreed that Perrot’s behaviour had been improper; ‘but the passing of the subsidy being to be dispatched that morning, they left off further discanting of it’.67 Spiller was among those appointed to suggest improvements in working conditions in the House (26 Mar.) and his remaining committee appointments included bills to abolish trial by battle (13 Mar.), to ensure the return of qualified jurors (19 Apr.), to lower the rate of interest (7 May) and to prevent the abuse of begging licences (22 November).68

During the summer recess Spiller took part in the seizure of the papers of Sir Edwin Sandys*, but an attempt to call him to account for this when the House met again came to nothing.69 In the monopolies debate on 29 Nov. he complained that several patentees accused of plotting against Sir Edward Coke* had also delivered articles against himself, and he demanded to have copies and the whole business brought before the House, but the subsequent committee of inquiry seems to have achieved nothing.70 On 10 Dec. Spiller joined other government supporters in an unsuccessful plea to proceed with bills after the Commons became locked in a dispute with the king over its right to free speech, but before any legislation had been passed the session was dissolved.71

In the summer of 1623 Spiller was involved with various government ministers in discussions over the concessions to be made to Catholics under the proposed Spanish marriage treaty.72 Re-elected for Arundel in 1624, he was appointed to seven committees, including that for privileges (23 Feb.), but made only two recorded speeches.73 On 10 Mar. he was one of three Members ordered to ascertain whether Sir Thomas Gerrard, 2nd bt., who had been returned for Liverpool, was a convicted recusant. Three days later he was instructed to help examine Gerrard’s servant, ‘and, as justices of peace of Middlesex, to do what they think fit’.74 Having witnessed an improperly conducted contest for the other seat at Arundel, he moved for a bill to regulate elections on 15 Mar., and was appointed to the drafting committee.75 He was named to consider a bill to establish a new trust for the 2nd Viscount Montagu, the leading Sussex Catholic (5 Apr.), and another for reversing outlawries (12 April).76 His only contribution to the proceedings against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) was to support his plea for time to answer charges.77

Spiller was re-elected to the first Caroline Parliament, in which his only committee appointment was to consider a bill for Exchequer assignments (23 June).78 In 1626 he transferred to Midhurst, where Sir Richard Weston*, now chancellor of the Exchequer, exercised some control over the Montagu interest. He was among the office-holders presented as suspect in religion, ‘because neither he, nor his servants, in four or five years, in St. Andrews in Holborn received not [sic] the communion there’. However, he insisted that ‘no servant nor child of his is a recusant’, and claimed that he was accustomed to retire at Easter into the country, where he and his household received.79 He was given time to produce a certificate of a servant’s conformity, but on 10 Mar. admitted that he could not do so, and ten days later, ‘after long debate’, the House agreed that Spiller was ‘justly suspected to be ill-affected in religion’.80 At about the same time Edmund Felton, son of his old enemy, revived the old charges against him in a petition to the Lords.81 Spiller was named to seven committees, including those to consider a bill to prevent the use of the Exchequer by private creditors acting in the king’s name (27 Feb.), and a Lords’ bill ‘for the better preserving of His Majesty’s revenue’ (7 March).82 He was named to attend the defence conference of 8 Mar., and he was among those appointed to draft the arms bill moved by Thomas Wentworth I (14 March).83 ‘Sick of an ague’ he was excused on 5 Apr. from a call of the House.84

At the next general election in 1628 the earl of Arundel provided him with a safe seat at Thetford but he also contested and won a county seat in Middlesex.85 It was reported that ‘the Parliament-men already elected are displeased, and do give out that Sir Henry Spiller shall be no Parliament-man’;86 but he took his place without difficulty, opting for Middlesex, and was appointed to the committee for privileges (20 March).87 He was named to only three other committees, including that for the bill to prevent the alienation of the castle and honour of Arundel from his patron’s earldom (11 June).88 On 21 Apr., in the open committee on the bill for arms and for regulating the powers of the lieutenancy, ‘a great difference [was] debated between Sir Henry Spiller and Sir Harbottle Grimston touching raising coat and conduct money’.89 Spiller left no mark upon the records of the 1629 session. However, the younger Felton renewed his attack, this time by petitioning the Commons, though Spiller’s defences remained impregnable; his assailant escaped punishment for calumny only through the dissolution. When Felton brought his case before the Privy Council early in 1630, he was reminded that he and his father had had their day in court, and was told to stop making a nuisance of himself.90

Spiller continued to prosper in the 1630s, and to use his influence on behalf of Catholics, albeit within the limits of the law. In 1634 he told a Worcestershire neighbour that non-residents had been presented for recusancy in Middlesex, and may have prompted the inquiry into pursuivants.91 He stood for election at Tewkesbury, about six miles from Eldersfield, in the spring of 1640, but was defeated by Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper†, who described Spiller as ‘a crafty, perverse, rich man’ and ‘a great enemy to the town and puritans’.92 Felton revived his charges in the Long Parliament.93 Spiller was taken into custody in November 1640, and his wife was convicted of recusancy early in the following year.94 He served as a royalist commissioner during the Civil War, but was taken prisoner at Hereford, where he had gone ‘for recovery of his health’. He compounded in 1646 for a fine of £8,961, later abated to £8,661,95 and died on 29 Apr. 1649. His only son having died in infancy, Spiller had settled his Buckinghamshire lands on a kinsman in 1642.96 In his will he provided for Eldersfield and land in Cornwall to pass to some other relatives on the death of his wife, and left £500 each to his four granddaughters.97

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Harl. 1174, f. 29; Som. and Dorset N and Q, ii. 190.
  • 2. LI Admiss.
  • 3. Spiller’s first child, Robert*, was born c.1592.
  • 4. D. Lysons, Mdx. Parishes, 224-5.
  • 5. Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 109.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 169.
  • 7. Harl. 5176, f. 148.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 531.
  • 9. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, pp. 161, 210, 239; pt. 4, pp. 21, 63.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 168, 232; 1629-31, pp. 236-7.
  • 11. SP16/66/45; APC, 1627, p. 303.
  • 12. PC2/42, p. 54.
  • 13. C181/4, f. 186.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 395; 1635-6, p. 377; 1639, p. 231.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 162.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 363, 602.
  • 17. Ibid. 1638-9, p. 36; C181/5, ff. 118v, 119.
  • 18. SP14/31/1; E115/94/103; C212/22/21, 23.
  • 19. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 4, 11, 17, 21; C181/2, f. 331v; C193/13/2; C231/4, ff. 94, 172; C66/2859; SP16/14/45.
  • 20. C181/2, f. 90v, C181/3, f. 116; 181/4, ff. 62v, 63v; 181/5, f. 142v.
  • 21. C193/6, no. 188.
  • 22. C181/2, ff. 109, 287v; 181/3, ff. 1, 20v, 97, 198v, 217, 219, 260v; 181/4, ff. 105v, 128; 181/5, f. 2, 25v, 30, 114.
  • 23. APC, 1613-14, p. 566; C66/2137, 2234.
  • 24. APC, 1615-16, p. 121; C66/2165; C193/8, no. 58; Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 96, viii. pt. 3, p. 115; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 408; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 234.
  • 25. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 26. APC, 1619-21, p. 203.
  • 27. C181/3, f. 98v.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 188.
  • 29. E401/2586, p. 463; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 435; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 30. C181/3, f. 219.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 342; E178/5726, ff. 8, 12; 178/7163, p. 5.
  • 32. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 173; GL, ms 25475/1, ff. 12, 61.
  • 33. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 252; CSP Dom. 1637, p. 197.
  • 34. C192/1, unfol.
  • 35. C181/4, f. 191.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 208.
  • 37. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 38. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, i. 14.
  • 39. Ibid. i. 53, 69, 70, 74, 128.
  • 40. J. Hutchins, Hist. Dorset, iii. 15, 44.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 531.
  • 42. CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 279; M.C. Questier, ‘Sir Henry Spiller, Recusancy and the Efficiency of the Jacobean Exchequer’, HR, lxvi. 251-66.
  • 43. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 294, 296, 544; Spain and the Jacobean Catholics ed. A.J. Loomie (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxiv), 1.
  • 44. HMC Hatfield, xii. 231-2, xvii. 611.
  • 45. Questier, 251-66.
  • 46. H. Bowler, ‘Recusant Rolls of the Exchequer’, Recusant Hist. iv. 189; J.J. La Rocca, ‘Jas. I and his Catholic Subjects’, Recusant Hist. xviii. 258.
  • 47. Lansd. 153, f. 125; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 33.
  • 48. Mdx. Co. Recs. ed. J.C. Jeaffreson, ii. 203-4.
  • 49. Lansd. 153, ff. 150, 158.
  • 50. HMC Downshire, ii. 93.
  • 51. Q.S. Rolls ed J.W. Willis Bond (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 394-5.
  • 52. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 128-9.
  • 53. Ibid. 131.
  • 54. CJ, i. 435b, 440a, 446b, 447b, 448a; Procs. 1610, ii. 377-8.
  • 55. Procs. 1610, i. 280; C.C.G. Tite, Impeachment and Parl. Judicature, 56, 72-73.
  • 56. VCH Mdx. ii. 398-400.
  • 57. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 185-6.
  • 58. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 528.
  • 59. CJ, i. 495b.
  • 60. Ibid. 505a; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 419.
  • 61. APC, 1615-16, p. 27; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 256, 293.
  • 62. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 251, 281; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 92.
  • 63. VCH Worcs. iv. 78; VCH Bucks. ii. 282, iv. 65; Habington’s Worcs. ed. J. Amphlett (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 205, 208; Lysons, 221.
  • 64. CJ, i. 521b.
  • 65. Ibid. 550b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 91-3.
  • 66. Nicholas, i. 94.
  • 67. Ibid. i. 143-4; CD 1621, vi. 268, 359.
  • 68. CJ, i. 551a, 573a, 582b, 611a, 641b.
  • 69. Ibid. 647a; CD 1621, iv. 441.
  • 70. CJ, i. 652a; C. Russell, PEP, 133n.
  • 71. CJ, i. 661b.
  • 72. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 62.
  • 73. CJ, i. 671b.
  • 74. Ibid. 681b, 735b, 736a.
  • 75. Ibid. 686a.
  • 76. Ibid. 755a, 763a.
  • 77. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 5.
  • 78. Procs. 1625, p. 229.
  • 79. CJ, i. 828b; Procs. 1626, ii.138; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, i. 394.
  • 80. CJ, i. 834a, 838b; Procs. 1626, ii. 323.
  • 81. HLRO, main pprs. 23 June 1626.
  • 82. CJ, i. 825b, 831b.
  • 83. Ibid. 832a, 836a.
  • 84. Ibid. 844a.
  • 85. Procs. 1628, vi. 168.
  • 86. HMC Hodgkin, 44; De L’Isle and Dudley, vi. 342.
  • 87. CJ, i. 872b, 873a.
  • 88. Ibid. 911a.
  • 89. CD 1628, iii. 9.
  • 90. APC, 1629-30, pp. 265-7.
  • 91. Worcs. Recusant, i. 28; CSP Dom. 1635-6, pp. 326-9.
  • 92. W.D. Christie, Life of Shaftesbury, i. 27-8, app. p. xxii.
  • 93. HMC 4th Rep. 8, 29, 30, 37, 81, 87; CJ, ii. 33.
  • 94. Mdx. Co. Recs. iii. 150, 159.
  • 95. VCH Worcs. iv. 78; CCC, 1145-9.
  • 96. Harl. 5176, f. 148; HMC 5th Rep. 64.
  • 97. PROB 11/230, f. 239; HMC Lords, iii. 127.