TEY, John (1562/3-?1611/12), of Fish Street Hill, London

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. 1562/3. educ. appr. Merchant Taylor, London to 1585; Clement’s Inn by 1602.1 m. (1) by 1587, Margaret (bur. 20 July 1601), 3s. d.v.p., 4da. d.v.p.; (2) 8 June 1602, aged 39, with £400, Catharine, da. of John Cowper, notary public, of Cornhill, London, 1s.;2 bur. ?3 Jan. 1612.3 sig. John Tey.

Offices Held

Freeman, Merchant Taylors’ Co. London 1585; dep. alnager, London 1602-6; bailiff, Elsing Spital and Halliwell priory, London by 1606.4

Servant to ld. treas. Dorset (Thomas Sackville†) by 1602-8.5


Tey’s origins are obscure. A freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Company by apprenticeship, he never assumed the livery. In 1587 he sub-let a house on Fish Street Hill owned by the London Bridge trustees, and five years later he extended this lease for 21 years. He may have practised as an attorney, as his 1602 marriage licence gave his address as Clement’s Inn.6

In June 1602 lord treasurer Buckhurst appointed Tey, probably one of his household servants, as deputy alnager of London. The Crown claimed alnage of 4d. per broadcloth upon all domestic cloth, but in London the corporation collected similar dues; his appointment represented a challenge to the London aldermen, who complained of Tey’s ‘abuses’. He responded with Exchequer suits, which were still ongoing at the 1604 general election, when Buckhurst (now 1st earl of Dorset) recommended Tey for a seat at Arundel; he was returned on condition that he serve without wages.7

Tey was a vociferous and opinionated MP, speaking chiefly but not exclusively upon matters relating to London and the cloth trade.8 On 4 Apr. 1604 he was named to the committee for a bill to prohibit the export of unfinished cloth. Two more bills for the cloth and wool trades were later assigned to this committee, but Tey’s attempt to promote another bill to further his own claims to the alnage, drafted with the advice of lord chief justice Sir John Popham†, was scotched on 12 Apr. by Speaker Phelips. In an indignant letter to the Speaker, Tey insisted that ‘what is desired is the king’s pleasure and express commandment’, and threatened to inform James of this obstruction. Coming so soon after the resolution of the Buckinghamshire election dispute, Tey’s letter ‘was conceived not to be fit’ when referred to the House by Phelips on 17 Apr., and Tey was forced to apologize.9 This public rebuke did not deter him from speaking: four weeks later he blamed the leniency of Sir George Hervey* as lieutenant of the Tower for the recalcitrance of the warden of the Fleet in the privilege case arising from the imprisonment of Sir Thomas Shirley I*. He struck a chord on 26 May when he alerted the Commons to the contents of Bishop Thornborough’s book, which tended ‘to the derogation and scandal of the proceedings of the House in the matter of the Union’; his call for a conference with the Lords was heeded, and he was one of those ordered to study the book and prepare for the meeting. At the second reading of the bill to prevent importation and distribution of popish books on 6 June he noted that ‘bishops have licensed popish books, and against the state’, and apparently called for censorship to be handled by a committee of MPs. Later the same day he vehemently opposed the third reading of the free trade bill, objecting to ‘the imputation of the name of monopoly to be given to the merchants of London ... order must be had, otherwise decay cometh. It is a matter of state’. He later raised a technical point about the wording of the bill for implementation of statutes against Catholic priests, and spoke in a debate on the swearing bill.10

For all his activity in the 1604 session, Tey was unable to prevent the passage of a proviso in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act which waived the alnage on the cheapest Welsh cottons and relaxed the strict standards imposed on other Welsh cloth in 1601. Within a few months, Tey had discovered another requirement with which to plague the clothiers: a manufacturer’s seal specifying the length, breadth and weight of a cloth, stipulated under the 1552 Cloth Act, but long since fallen into disuse. His seizures provoked the London corporation into renewed sparring over the alnage in September 1604. In February 1605 Tey petitioned the aldermen about duty on imported canvas: the corporation’s response led Tey to pen an intemperate letter to recorder Sir Henry Montagu* censuring the corporation as ‘capable of nothing but for their own private profits’, and alleging that the aldermen had pocketed alnage fines of £5,000; the resulting Star Chamber case produced nothing but ill-will.11 Meanwhile, Tey continued to collect alnage and seize defective cloth at Blackwell Hall, to the annoyance of the clothiers. At Bartholomew Fair in August 1605 the Court of Aldermen deputed two of their number to hear disputes arising from Tey’s activities, and by the following month the Shrewsbury drapers were complaining of his ‘wolfish, insatiable and turbulent spirit’ in seeking to impose alnage on Welsh cloths already sealed elsewhere, and recommended sending a formal complaint to the Privy Council.12

In the next parliamentary session Tey was named to the committee for the better execution of penal statutes (6 Nov. 1605), and another for the bill concerning debts owed to shopkeepers (18 Apr. 1606), but otherwise his sole concern during the session was the defence of the alnage patent, which came under attack from different directions: on 12 Feb. 1606 two bills received a first reading in the Commons: one, for the ‘making and searching of woollen [sic: linen] cloths’, promoted by Nicholas Fuller* on behalf of the London corporation, was perhaps designed to resolve the dispute with Tey over canvas, while the other, for the ‘true making of woollen cloths’, commended by lord chief justice Popham, was probably a revival of Tey’s draft bill which Speaker Phelips had rejected in 1604. The Londoners’ bill was rejected by the House on 7 May, while Tey’s, amended not entirely to his satisfaction, was sent to the Lords on 19 May, where it failed for lack of time.13 Having blunted the main attack on the alnage patent, Tey was outmanoeuvred over a third bill, promoted by the Shrewsbury drapers, which dealt specifically with Welsh cottons. Following the first reading of this measure on 28 Feb., Tey had his men prowl the Blackwell Hall accompanied by a Privy Council pursuivant; the Shrewsbury men responded by closing the market. At this point Tey, true to form, insulted the 1st earl of Suffolk, whose manor of Oswestry, Shropshire hosted the staple for the Welsh cloth trade. Nevertheless, the bill, with amendments, passed the Commons in under two weeks. In the Upper House lord treasurer Dorset, chairman of the bill committee, used ‘his utmost ability’ to dash the measure, but it was ably defended by the factor William Spurstowe†, and enacted.14

Dorset’s servants surrendered their interest in the London alnage on 14 Aug. 1606, and thus played no part in the passage of the cloth bill in the next parliamentary session that autumn; in fact, Tey left no trace on the session at all, when he was involved in suing a runaway apprentice for embezzlement, whom he alleged had frequented ‘lewd houses and evil company’ in 1606, when he should have been in attendance on his master ‘at the Parliament House’. His prospects for advancement faded with Dorset’s death in 1608, and in the following year, when his father-in-law left £200 to his wife, it was with the proviso that ‘the same not to come to the hands of the said John Tey’.15

Tey may have stayed away from Westminster at the start of the spring session of 1610. However, on 1 May he was summoned to give evidence on precedents for impositions, and ten days later his Arundel constituents complained that he was suing them for parliamentary wages, despite Dorset’s earlier promise that he would serve without payment. He first spoke in the House on 2 June, during a debate on the precise terms of the Great Contract, advising against compounding for the rights of the junior officers of the Board of Greencloth, lest their jobs be revived later; he also urged that

if we shall find ourselves able to give more [than] £100,000 per annum ... we might buy out a general statute of explanation of the king’s prerogative, so far as it might tend to the right and liberty of the subject in his body, lands, or goods.

In the subsidy debate of 13 June, Tey was one of many who argued against a vote of supply before the Great Contract and the grievances were settled; he also called for a fresh law to codify purveyance (a subject he returned to a month later), and warned that ‘if we should now return into our country with nothing for the good of the commonwealth, they would say that [we have] been all this while like children in catching butterflies’. When the same debate resumed on 11 July, he argued against adding any tenths and fifteenths to the one subsidy then proposed. Harking back to his former employment as alnager, when the duke of Lennox’s patent for alnage of new draperies was cited as a grievance on 5 July, he recommended that other patents bought out by Lennox should receive similar censure. In his final speech on 18 July, he attempted to defend Sir Edward Herbert* over a charge that he had insulted Speaker Phelips, insisting that

if he had been as Sir Edward Herbert, he would have complained to the House, first because Mr. Speaker said he would complain to the king before he had acquainted the House withal, and that he thought not fit any man should be evil thought of for his countenance, for then many might have cause to think somewhat of Mr. Speaker’s countenance.

On Phelips’ protest Tey explained that he meant no harm, ‘wherewith the House was satisfied’.16

Nothing is known of Tey after 1610; he probably left Fish Street Hill shortly after the baptism of his son in 1603, and may have been the John Tey buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster on 3 Jan. 1612. No will or administration has been found which might verify this possibility.17

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Simon Healy


  • 1. GL, freemen index.
  • 2. Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 1520-1610 ed. G.J. Armytage (Harl. Soc. xxv), 269; CLRO, Remembrancia 1579-92, f. 339v; REQ 2/165/133, 2/176/15; GL, ms 17607; St. Michael Cornhill (Harl. Soc. Reg. vii), 17; PROB 11/114, f. 66; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), ii. 344.
  • 3. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 496.
  • 4. CLRO, BH/GB1, f. 42v; Remembrancia ed. W.H. and H.C. Overall, 71; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 373; C2/Jas.I/S28/48.
  • 5. STAC 5/T2/27.
  • 6. REQ 2/165/133; Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 269.
  • 7. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 457; CLRO, Reps. 26/1, ff. 20, 24, 81v, 105v, 107-8, 166-8, 284v; E112/94/473, 475.
  • 8. For which see most of his cttee. nominations: CJ, i. 183b (casks), 204b, 235b (usury), 209a (bankrupts), 240a (brokers), 243b (wharves).
  • 9. CJ, i.165b, 175; CD 1604-7, p. 69.
  • 10. CJ, i. 226b, 230a, 251b, 971b, 981a, 986b, 987b, 998b; CD 1604-7, p. 82. Other cttee. nominations: CJ, i. 252a (annexation), 993a (colleges).
  • 11. SR, iv. 1051; E112/95/591; CLRO, Reps. 26/2, ff. 435, 460, 513, 530v, 542v, 552v; Reps. 27, f. 13; STAC 8/6/8.
  • 12. AO1/594/1; E124/1, f. 258; Salop RO, 1831/14; T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade, 139-41; SHREWSBURY.
  • 13. CJ, i. 257a, 270b, 300a, 306a, 310a-b; Bowyer Diary, 37.
  • 14. Salop RO, 1831/14; 1831/6/1, p. 357; CJ, i. 275b, 281b, 285b. 287b; LJ, ii. 402a, 408-9, 412a, 423a; SR, iv. 1092.
  • 15. E112/95/591; C2/Jas.I/S28/48; PROB 11/114, f. 67.
  • 16. CJ, i. 423a, 427b, 437-8, 448-9, 452a; Procs. 1610, ii. 147, 373; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 46-7, 55; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 26.
  • 17. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 496.