STEWART, Sir Francis (c.1589-1635), of Westminster

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



[23 Mar. 1626]

Family and Education

b. c.1589, 2nd s. of James, 2nd earl of Moray [S] (d.1592) and Elizabeth, suo jure Countess of Moray, da. and coh. of James, 1st earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland 1567-70.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1604, aged 15, BA 1606, MA 1616.2 unm.; 1da. illegit.3 cr. KB 2 June 1610.4 d. Jan. 1635.5

Offices Held

Cupbearer by 1616-25;6 gent. of the privy chamber 1625-d.7

Kpr. Windsor Forest, Berks. 1616-d.;8 freeman, Portsmouth, Hants 1622.9

Capt. RN 1618,10 v.-adm. 1621,11 adm. 1623,12 r.-adm. 1625;13 v.-adm. under the 2nd earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*), privateering expedition 1627.14


Stewart, a cousin of James VI and I, was orphaned in early infancy when his father was murdered in 1592. He was taken under royal protection, and granted an annual pension of 200 marks, later increased to £200, to cover his education at Oxford.15 While a student there he appeared as a witness against the fraudulent demoniac, Anne Gunter, whose case was personally investigated by the king.16 At the investiture of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales, Stewart received a knighthood of the Bath. By 1616, when he was reported to be preparing to fight a duel ‘beyond seas’ with (Sir) Henry Rich*, he had taken up a post at the English Court.17 His pension was raised to £400 a year in 1617.18 As a member of the renowned Mermaid tavern circle, Stewart kept company with the leading wits and poets of the age, including Ben Jonson, who dedicated The Silent Woman to him in 1620.19 The marriage of Stewart’s sister, Margaret, to lord admiral Nottingham (Charles Howard†) gave Stewart an opening to a career in the English Navy; his first official duty was to command the escort of the Spanish Ambassador Gondomar in 1618. In 1621 he was promoted to vice-admiral and given command of nine ships guarding the English Channel. He went on to serve as admiral on the voyage of Prince Charles and Buckingham to Spain in 1623, and as rear-admiral of the fleet sent to fetch Queen Henrietta Maria in 1625.20

The countess of Nottingham had been naturalized by Act of Parliament in 1604; but it was not until 1624, after abortive efforts in 1614 and 1621, that an Act to the same effect was passed in favour of Stewart himself, who thus became qualified for a seat in the Commons.21 Both Nottingham and the 3rd the earl of Pembroke spoke to the 1614 bill in the Lords, bearing witness to Stewart’s conformity with the Church of England.22 In 1625 Stewart was preoccupied with naval duties, which came to the attention of the Commons when it was alleged on 11 Aug. that, as commander of a modest fleet detached by lord admiral Buckingham to clear the coasts of pirates, he had suffered one of them ‘to take an English ship before his face’.23 Stewart, justifying his conduct to the duke, observed that Parliament might have been more usefully employed in legislating for fair winds.24 At about this time John Drake* complained to (Sir) James Bagg II*, the vice admiral of South Cornwall, that Stewart had granted a press warrant to an improper person, commenting that if he had heard what was said in Parliament he would have been more careful. Stewart himself was frustrated by the corruption and inefficiency of the press, which earlier in the year had obliged him to discharge 40 landsmen, ‘known by testimony to be pressed rather out of malice than the care of His Majesty’s service’.25 After dealing with the pirates, he was supposed to rejoin the fleet at Plymouth and sail as rear-admiral in the expedition against Cadiz, but his ship proved unseaworthy and he was forced to remain behind, thus, according to one report, depriving the expedition of ‘the only man of skill and experience almost who could give direction at sea for such a navy’.26 Bagg, in less friendly tone, described Stewart as ‘negotiating’ at Court, presumably for the continuance of his commission, and dividing his time between a house near Plymouth and his ship, ‘where he seems a demi-god’.27

Stewart entered Parliament in 1626 for Liskeard, one of five Cornish Members whom Bagg described as nominees of the 3rd earl of Pembroke, lord warden of the Stannaries. According to Bagg, the nominations were made through William Coryton*, Pembroke’s deputy in Cornwall, ‘before the writs (that summon the Parliament) were out’.28 If this is correct, it is at first sight difficult to account for Stewart’s appearance, six days before the date of the Liskeard return, as a rival to Pembroke’s nominee for the senior seat at Oxford University, Sir Thomas Edmondes*. Given the manner in which the Liskeard nomination seems to have been sewn up, Stewart was hardly likely to have sought election at Oxford without Pembroke’s approval. The only explanation seems to be that, in the heat of the moment, he was chosen by those younger members of Convocation who resented Edmondes’ nomination (perhaps because he was not a graduate), and that neither Stewart nor Pembroke was forewarned. Certainly one account of the election suggests that many of those who shouted Stewart’s name were unsure of his identity. Edmondes was returned by the vice-chancellor, but a petition was lodged on Stewart’s behalf.29

When Parliament met Stewart took his seat for Liskeard. His reasons for seeking election may have been to vent his growing frustration with the administration of naval affairs, for he evidently took a more prominent part against the duke of Buckingham than his handful of recorded speeches would indicate. He bore witness on 1 Mar. to the delivery of gold and silver from the French ship, St. Peter of Le Havre, into the hands of Buckingham, ‘to be safely kept’.30 He was named to committees for a Merton College bill (16 Feb.); to draft the arms bill proposed by Thomas Wentworth I* (14 Mar.); and to consider the motion of Sir Dudley Digges* for a war at sea ‘by the voluntary joint stock of adventurers out of all counties in England’ (14 March).31 On 23 Mar. he was perversely returned for Oxford University after the initial by-election was declared void, and therefore on 4 Apr. he desired ‘a direction from the House’ on whether he needed to choose between his two seats.32

Stewart clashed with Buckingham on 29 Mar. ‘when they came forth of the House’, the duke chiding him that ‘though you have not spared me in this Parliament time, yet I have spared you’, insinuating that culpability for pillaging French ships should fall on Stewart as much as himself. Stewart retorted that ‘I have been very silent in your affairs’ hitherto but threatened to ‘fall upon’ him the next morning.33 It was presumably for his opposition to Buckingham, however expressed in the House, that Stewart was expelled from Court on 27 Apr., notwithstanding a vigorous defence by Pembroke.34 On the following day he added weight to the speculation surrounding James I’s death and the medication allegedly given him by Buckingham, observing that the late king ‘could not endure hot drinks, as Chambers said; therefore how [the] king could desire it, judge’.35 On 9 May he was named to the committee to consider in what form the Commons should move the Lords for the favourite’s imprisonment.36 He came to the defence of one of his fellows on that committee, Sir Dudley Digges, on 13 May, after Digges was accused of suggesting that the king had a hand in his father’s death; this Stewart vigorously refuted, adding that ‘whosoever informed these words, he is a traitor in his heart’.37 Later in the month, after Digges and Sir John Eliot* had been released from the Tower, it was rumoured that Stewart would take their place.38 Undeterred, he testified further against Buckingham in committee of the whole House on 10 June.39

Before the next Parliament Stewart again went to sea, under the command of the 2nd earl of Warwick, who held a privateering commission. He fought a sea-battle against Spanish ships, during which an eyewitness recalled that Stewart ‘showed himself a most valorous, warlike gentleman and soldier in the face of his enemy, not to be persuaded by any means once to descend or go below from the deck’. Nevertheless the voyage was not a success, and he was deeply unpopular with his crew, who came close to mutiny.40 Stewart was re-elected for Liskeard in 1628, and named to committees to draft an arms bill (24 Mar. 1628), and to consider the decay of shipping (25 April).41 In the grand committee on supply on 2 Apr. it was he who observed that ‘a stranger had been an hour in the House’, and he was appointed to the committee which established that the intruder was a harmless Oxford scholar.42 In the subsidy preamble debate of 31 May Stewart joined in the Lower House’s procrastination over the rightful precedence of the two universities, naturally to defend Oxford’s claim.43 On 4 June he was appointed to the committee to inquire into the scarcity of gunpowder and the perennial problem of the export of ordnance.44 In committee of the whole House on 6 June discussing the heads of the Remonstrance, Stewart inveighed against the military powers assumed by Buckingham, arguing that ‘since the Ile de RĂ© we have had a commissioner-general with martial law, reinforcement of soldiers. This trenches near to that of a dictator’, and warning that it presaged ‘innovation of government’.45 The following day, in response to a motion by Sir Edward Giles* on a rumoured excise tax, Stewart spoke of ‘one that came from the king of Denmark that laid down ways, and gave them to the king’.46 He was named to a further committee on shipping (13 June), and to a committee to examine a petition on the postal system (14 June).47 He left no trace on the records of the brief second session of 1629.

Stewart’s claim for wages for his naval service, including the Cadiz expedition in which he failed to serve in 1625, went unpaid until 1632, and he also attempted without success to recover £853 10s. in expenses dating back to the Spanish voyage of 1623.48 Though readmitted to favour at Court, when he made his will in December 1634, he was still owed £650. His only other asset was a reversionary interest in property held by his sister in Chelsea. He hoped nonetheless that his executors, both Scots, would be able to settle his debts, or some of them, and provide £600 for his bastard child, Frances, ‘the assured daughter of Mrs. Cecily Reyman’.49 He died without leaving legitimate offspring in January 1635.50

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Scots Peerage, vi. 318.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. PROB 11/168, f. 197.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 158.
  • 5. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 358.
  • 6. Lansd. 273, f. 28.
  • 7. SP16/2/118; LC5/134, p. 85.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 394.
  • 9. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 349.
  • 10. Ath. Ox. iii. 521; M. Butler, ‘Sir Francis Stewart: Jonson’s overlooked patron’, Ben Jonson Jnl. ii. 110, 123.
  • 11. HMC Cowper, i. 114.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 558-60; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 491, 497; HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 162, 178.
  • 13. SP16/187/65; HMC Cowper, i. 201, 206, 209-10.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 143.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 31, 119, 368; Lansd. 156, f. 122.
  • 16. HMC 11th Rep. VII, 135; D.P. Walker, Unclean Spirits, 81.
  • 17. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 400; E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/CPW, 212.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 440.
  • 19. Wood, Fasti, i. 369.
  • 20. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 491, 497; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 558; HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 162, 178.
  • 21. HMC 4th Rep. 120; CJ, i. 482a, 493b, 503a, 538a, 576b, 706b, 744b; LJ, ii. 698b, 700a, b, 701b; iii. 25b, 27a, 36a, 113a, 254b, 255b, 265b, 268a, 405a.
  • 22. HMC Hastings, iv. 247, 248.
  • 23. Procs. 1625, pp. 457, 460, 468.
  • 24. Ibid. 721-2.
  • 25. HMC Cowper, i. 201, 209; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 85.
  • 26. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 55; CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 49, 281; 1631-3, p. 464.
  • 27. HMC Cowper, i. 222.
  • 28. N and Q (ser. 4), x. 325.
  • 29. Oxf. Univ. Arch. Reg. Convoc. N. (23), ff. 214v-15; Bodl. Lib, Bodl. ms 594, ff. 133-5; Procs. 1626, ii. 55, 305-7; A. Wood, Univ. Oxf. ii. 356-7.
  • 30. Procs. 1626, ii. 162, 165, 169.
  • 31. Ibid. 53, 279, 280.
  • 32. Ibid. 427.
  • 33. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 95.
  • 34. Ibid. 97-8.
  • 35. HMC Lonsdale, 9; Procs. 1626, iii. 93.
  • 36. Procs. 1626, iii. 201.
  • 37. Ibid. 255, 258, 261.
  • 38. Birch, i. 105.
  • 39. Procs. 1626, iii. 418.
  • 40. Birch, i. 214, 227, 266, 276; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 366; N.P. Bard, ‘The earl of Warwick’s voyage of 1627’, in Naval Misc. V (Navy Recs. Soc.), 26, 46, 57, 70.
  • 41. CD 1628, ii. 78; iii. 71.
  • 42. Ibid. ii. 265.
  • 43. Ibid. iv. 43, 48.
  • 44. Ibid. 83.
  • 45. Ibid. 147, 159, 168, 171.
  • 46. Ibid. 184, 187.
  • 47. Ibid. 290, 307, 459.
  • 48. CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 286, 367, 464, 466.
  • 49. PROB 11/168, f. 197.
  • 50. Strafforde Letters, i. 358.