STEWARD, Sir Simeon (1575-1632), of Stuntney, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. 31 July 1575, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Mark Steward† of Stuntney, and Anne, da. and coh. of Robert Huick†, MD, of Charing Cross, Mdx., physician to Q. Eliz.1 educ. Hart Hall, Oxf. 1587, BA 1591; G. Inn 1593; Trin. Hall, Camb.2 m. (1) Grace, da. of Edward St. Barbe of Ashington, Som., 1s.; (2) by 20 Sept. 1620, Mary, da. of Sir John Monson of South Carlton, Lincs., wid. of Sir Thomas Reresby of Thribergh, Yorks., s.p.3 kntd. 23 July 1603;4 suc. fa. 1604.5
Freeman, Southampton, Hants 1599;6 commr. sewers, Gt. Fens 1604, 1609;7 j.p. I. of Ely 1604-14, 1617-d., Cambs. by 1614-d., Yorks. (W. Riding) 1620-5, Cambridge, Cambs. 1624-d.;8 commr. gaol delivery, I. of Ely 1604-26,9 subsidy, 1608,10 swans, Cambs. and Hunts. 1610, 1616, 1620, 1630, Eng. 1629;11 compounder for purveyance, I. of Ely 1610-25;12 sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1611-12;13 dep. lt., Cambs. 1623-d.;14 commr. oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1625-d.,15 Forced Loan, Cambs. and I. of Ely 1626-7;16 capt., militia ft. Cambs. by 1628.17
Robert Styward or Steward, last prior and first dean of Ely, fabricated a descent from Sir Alexander Stuart, a ferocious offshoot of the Scottish Royal House. However, it has been suggested that his real ancestry involved a promotion from the keeping of pigs to the holding of manorial courts. A minor gentry family in late medieval Norfolk, their fortune, as well as their pedigree, was made by the time-serving prior, who assigned generous tracts of dean and chapter lands within the Isle of Ely to numerous relatives. Steward himself has often been confused with his cousin and namesake (died 1630), a minor poet and son of Dr. Nicholas Steward*.18
Steward’s father, a servant of the 3rd marquess of Winchester, was returned to the Commons in 1589 for St. Ives, Cornwall, but only gained the full income from his main manor of Stuntney, Cambridgeshire, worth £400 p.a., by excluding the claims of his niece, Lady Jermy to one-third of the estate. Sir Simeon, who later declared himself ‘equally dependent on both universities’, graduated at Oxford but then resided at Trinity Hall, Cambridge until his father’s death in 1604. He scarcely had time to prove the will before Lady Jermy introduced a private bill into the Commons designed to overturn the Chancery decree which had disallowed her claim to Stuntney. Sir Robert Wroth I reported it from the committee on 11 June 1604 as ‘unworthy to be proceeded in, and ... preferred for vexation’, and it was rejected by the House.19
Steward was returned for the Dorset borough of Shaftesbury in 1614 to fill a vacancy created when another Cambridgeshire man, Sir Miles Sandys, 1st bt.*, chose to sit for Cambridge University. His election hints at an electoral bargain brokered by Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, lord lieutenant of both Dorset and Cambridgeshire as well as chancellor of the university. It seems unlikely that Dr. Nicholas Steward, who represented the university in the previous Parliament, played some part in securing his nephew a seat as Sir Simeon was not on particularly good terms with his uncle, having just lost a Chancery suit protracted ‘by reason of Sir Simeon’s absence in Ireland’ and ‘his great business (as he pretended) as sheriff’.20
Steward’s presence in the House doubtless helped to ensure that Lady Jermy ‘stirred not’. He left no trace on the records of the opening weeks of the session, which he may have missed, but played a significant part in the latter stages of the session. On 7 May he was among those ordered to consider a bill for highway repair, while in his maiden speech four days later, he opposed the issue of a writ for a fresh election at Stockbridge on the grounds that it was Sir Thomas Parry* rather than the returning officer who had been at fault; but the decision went against him.21 On 13 May, when complaint was made against Sir William Herbert for taxing Sir Robert Owen with partiality as chairman of the committee investigating the allegation that ‘undertakers’ had attempted to manage the session, Steward tried to defuse the quarrel, urging that Herbert be allowed to apologize, a proposal which was eventually accepted by the House.22
Steward continued his attempts to play a conciliatory role in a divided House even after Members were affronted by Bishop Neile’s accusation that the Commons was being disloyal by reviving the earlier dispute over impositions. The House asked the Lords for an explanation of this speech, and ceased all other business pending a reply; the peers (predictably) stood by one of their own Members, and on 30 May Steward moved to go to the king for assistance, and for the Commons to resume its business agenda, ‘but with small comfort, even as a young man might go woo a modest widow while she has tears in her eyes for her lost husband’. It was ultimately decided to give the Upper House another chance to clarify the matter, but this merely allowed the peers to exonerate Neile from causing any offence, a clear rebuff to the Commons. This proved the last straw for Steward, who objected on 2 June that ‘by the Lords’ answer we were now taxed not only in our loyalties but in our discretions’. He moved to complain to both king and Lords, but clearly had little expectation of success from either quarter, as he urged the House ‘to right ourselves by our own power, as far as we had any precedents’. He was named to the committee to consider further action over their dispute (1 June), and was one of those who moved to sit on the following day, Ascension Day, to resolve this crisis, but the vote went against him.23 King James responded by threatening a swift dissolution if the Commons did not make an immediate grant of supply, but when a subsidy vote was debated on 7 June, in a doomed attempt to forestall the imminent dissolution, Steward pronounced himself ‘against any subsidies now. To consider of a course jointly how to heal king and kingdom’.24 For all his mounting frustration, Steward was not one of the firebrands interrogated by the Privy Council after the end of the session.
Having reached an agreement with his own tenants over common rights, Steward seems to have taken the side of the commoners over fen drainage, which brought him into conflict with Sir Miles Sandys, one of the leading adventurers. In 1619 the Privy Council was informed that he, his cousin Sir Thomas Steward and another magistrate, ‘being moved out of particular ends and affecting popularity, have infused into the ears of the inhabitants of those parts that, if they had not interposed themselves of late for the good of their country, their commons had been taken away and their navigation overthrown’. However, the assize judges exonerated them, certifying that the charges were without foundation, and had been brought on personal grounds. In the following year both Steward and Sandys were ordered to attend the Council to answer further questions about drainage.25
In around 1620 Steward married the sister of Sir Thomas Monson*, ‘a woman of wit, but of a masculine spirit, [and] a too great lover of sack as she grew in years’. She was also a Catholic convert and, as the marriage had been performed secretly by a popish priest, Steward was unable to prove that they were husband and wife when she changed her mind and disowned him. With recusancy high on the political agenda, Steward seems to have chosen not to stand for election to the 1621 Parliament. His absence from the Commons persuaded Lady Jermy to revive her estate bill, which was ‘by the committee found to be so frivolous that although the Parliament continued six months after it was never so much as reported’.26
At the general election of 1624 Steward stood for Cambridgeshire with Sir Edward Peyton*. They were returned on the view, but their rivals, Sir John Cutts* and Tobie Palavicino, demanded a poll, which was refused.27 When the doubtfulness of his election encouraged Lady Jermy to try again, Steward protested that if the revived bill went through it would overthrow all land purchases, ‘for no man can know when his estate will be in safety’. He claimed that he and his father had spent at least £3,000 on building and drainage, and the estate was now settled on his son Robert in return for the ‘great portion’ given ‘on his marriage into a worthy family’.28 With his status in doubt, Steward was not appointed to any committees, but he made three speeches. On 1 Mar. he insisted that the Spaniards had ‘practised to set all Christendom on fire, that by the light thereof they might see the clearer to their own ambitious designs’, and successfully moved to debate the key question of a breach with Spain in a committee of the whole House. On 2 Mar. he proposed that the forthcoming conference with the Lords on the breach with Spain should be handled by several Members, while on the following day he cautioned the committee on the courts of justice against accepting evidence from known delinquents.29 Two days later the Cambridgeshire election was declared void, and at the resulting election Peyton and Cutts joined forces, shutting out their respective partners. Peyton and Steward then fell to quarrelling about their election expenses, and were later sued by two Cambridge innkeepers for failure to pay their bills.30
Steward was reported to be standing for Cambridge University at the 1625 general election, but his candidature was opposed by the heads of the colleges, and the university returned two privy councillors instead.31 In 1626 he was hauled before the Privy Council again, facing accusations from his neighbours of embezzling purveyance money and pressing soldiers ‘upon spleen’. The petitioners were left to find a remedy in Star Chamber, where their case was taken over by attorney-general Sir Robert Heath*. In his absence from Parliament, Lady Jermy’s bill was again committed (2 Mar.), but, as before, progressed no further.32 At the 1628 general election Steward was returned for Aldeburgh, Suffolk on the Howard interest. He was bound over in £500 not to claim privilege to defer the hearing in Star Chamber, but on 30 Apr. the Commons ordered him to attend the service of the House. At the petitioners’ request, a committee was nominated on 10 May to consider their charges against Steward, but it never reported.33 However, he was not completely preoccupied with his own concerns: he spoke during the supply debate of 4 Apr., when he was cited variously as speaking for four or five subsidies; and on 16 June he found time to remind the House about the wartime sufferings of his constituents: ‘the town I serve for has lost 80 pilots in this time’.34
During the recess Steward was fined £50 for ‘an error rather than any wilful misdemeanour’ in the impressment cause, while the other charges were dismissed, having been brought ‘rather out of malice and evil will than upon any just ground’. Lady Jermy’s bill received yet another first reading on 11 Feb. 1629, but got no further. Eight days later he spoke in the debate on the distraint of the goods of the MP John Rolle* by customs officials: ‘are we fit to determine and debate anything?’ he asked. ‘We cannot defend our liberties as all courts do in the like case. To make them [the customs officials] first to know they have offended our liberties, so shall they know better they have offended against the commonwealth’.35
Steward died intestate on 10 Feb. 1632; his son died two years later, and the estate passed to his grandson, Thomas. He was the last of the Stuntney branch of the family to sit in Parliament.36
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy
- 1. Dee Diary (Cam. Soc. xix), 2; Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 11.
- 2. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; Al. Cant.
- 3. The Gen. n.s. i. 155; M. Noble, Protectoral House of Cromwell, ii. 195; Reresby Mems. ed. R. Browning, pp. xxxv-xxxvii.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 119.
- 5. C142/285/144.
- 6. HMC 11th Rep. III, 22.
- 7. C181/1, ff. 75, 120; 181/2, f. 83v.
- 8. C181/1, f. 98; 181/4, f. 87v; 231/4, ff. 45, 101, 164.
- 9. C181/1, f. 98v; 181/2, ff. 312, 348v; 181/3, f. 12v; 181/4, f. 102v.
- 10. SP14/31/1.
- 11. C181/2, ff. 126, 257v; 181/3, ff. 13, 268v; 181/4, f. 56.
- 12. APC, 1618-19, p. 293; Northants. RO, FH2815.
- 13. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 14.
- 14. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 441; APC, 1626, p. 29.
- 15. C181/3, f. 177; 181/4, f. 110.
- 16. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 144; C193/12/2.
- 17. Harl. 4014, f. 4v.
- 18. The Gen. n.s. x. 19; S.M. Healy. ‘1636: the unmaking of Oliver Cromwell?’, in Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives ed. P. Little, 26-8.
- 19. CD 1628, iv. 42; Harl. 6806, f. 13; CJ, i. 179a, 236b; C78/148/4.
- 20. WARD 5/11/1980; Harl. 6806, f. 13; C78/148/4.
- 21. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 171, 204, 208.
- 22. Ibid. 229-32.
- 23. Ibid. 380, 385, 404-5, 409.
- 24. Ibid. 439.
- 25. C78/130/2; 78/244/5; APC, 1618-19, p. 475; 1619-21, p. 144; CSP Dom. 1619- 23, p. 96.
- 26. Reresby Mems. pp. xxxv-xxxvi; Harl. 6806, f. 14.
- 27. CJ, i. 677-8; CAMBRIDGESHIRE.
- 28. Harl. 6847, f. 28; Harl. 6806, f. 14; CJ, i. 757a.
- 29. CJ, i. 676a, 725a; Holles 1624, p. 13; ‘Pym 1624’, f. 17.
- 30. CJ, i. 677b; C2/Chas.I/P56/18.
- 31. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 6.
- 32. SP16/44/82; APC, 1626, pp. 29, 70; Procs. 1626, ii. 147, 175.
- 33. CD 1628, iii. 178-81, 354-8.
- 34. Ibid. iv. 339; Procs. 1628, vi. 63.
- 35. W. Rye, Norf. State Pprs. 157-9; Northants. RO, FH2815; CD 1629, p. 223.
- 36. C142/488/89.