VALENTINE, Benjamin (?1584-1652), of 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



1640 (Nov.) - June 1652

Family and Education

bap. ?9 Mar. 1584, s. of ?Lay Valentine of St. Giles Cripplegate, London, and his w. Sarah.1 m. 11 Nov. 1610, Elizabeth (bur. 18 Sept. 1616), da. of Matthias Springham of London and Richmond, Surr., Merchant Taylor, 1s.2 bur. 9 June 1652.3 sig. Ben[jamin] Valentine.

Offices Held

Servant of 1st earl of Somerset by 1613-15.4


Valentine’s origins are obscure. Given his unusual name and the evidence of his later life, it is probable that a baptismal record from the parish of St. Giles Cripplegate in 1584 refers to him rather than a namesake. However, nothing is known about his parentage except that his presumed father, Lay, claimed the title of gentleman. His family may have originated in Suffolk, as in 1580 one ‘Ley’ Valentine was living at Freston, near Ipswich. Given the vagaries of seventeenth-century Latin, Lay may have been the ‘Leodigarius’ Valentine of Ipswich who entered the Inner Temple in 1572. Certainly, no link has been established with any other branch of the family resident in London around this time.5

Valentine’s career can be plotted with certainty only from July 1610, when he joined in a property transaction with Matthias Springham, a wealthy London merchant whose daughter he married five months later.6 By early 1613 he had entered the service of the royal favourite, the earl of Somerset, and was on friendly terms with a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Sir John Graham (or Grimes), who helped him obtain for a third party the lease of a Welsh manor from the Crown in February 1613. Valentine allegedly also used his influence with Somerset to secure royal protection for the alum farmers who went bankrupt that year.7 However, if he entertained any hopes of personal advancement these ended with the earl’s fall in October 1615 and Graham’s death in the following spring. Financial difficulties followed, and in August 1619 he was briefly imprisoned for debt.8

Valentine may have tried to recover his position at Court by attaching himself to the 3rd earl of Pembroke. The summer of 1624 saw a rather desperate attempt to undermine the then royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, by promoting a handsome rival, Arthur Brett. Acting with Pembroke’s client William Coryton*, and almost certainly with the earl’s approval, Valentine not only encouraged Brett to try his hand, but even accompanied him on one of his abortive visits to Court.9 Although this particular scheme failed miserably, during the next few years Valentine continued to associate with Buckingham’s opponents, particularly Forced Loan refusers in Lincolnshire such as Sir William Armyne, 1st bt.* and Sir Henry Darnell. This geographical concentration of contacts was probably coincidental. Valentine may have first encountered Darnell through helping to manage the finances of the latter’s mother-in-law, Susan Fisher, a wealthy London widow who was also on close terms with government critics such as Robert Mason I* and John Selden*. By contrast, Valentine’s ‘brother’, Thomas Godfrey of Grantham, Lincolnshire provided the link with the puritan Armyne. The strength of some of these ties is difficult to ascertain, but Valentine was clearly moving in circles hostile to both arbitrary government and High Church innovations.10

Godfrey presumably introduced Valentine to another of his close friends, (Sir) John Eliot*, who was familiar with many of that same Lincolnshire group. The two men became intimate acquaintances, and during the 1626 Parliament Eliot kept Valentine abreast of discussions in the committee which prepared the impeachment charges against Buckingham.11 Eliot also provided Valentine with his parliamentary seat at St. Germans in 1628. As befitted a novice Member, Valentine played a low-key role in the opening stages of the first session. Why he was nominated to bill committees concerned with the earl of Devonshire’s estates and the River Medway (21 Apr. and 12 May) is unclear. However, his appointment on 24 Apr. to the committee for scrutinizing the latest lists of recusants doubtless reflected his religious outlook, and it was hardly surprising that on 9 May he was added to the committee investigating Eliot’s political opponents in Cornwall. His personal affairs intruded on 27 May, when he was granted privilege after a subpoena was served on him by Sir Edward Fisher, who was involved in a long-running financial dispute with Susan Fisher.12 Valentine finally found his voice as the confrontation with the king came to a head in mid-May, when he proved to be one of the more outspoken orators in the Commons. On 14 May he moved to expedite a conference with the Lords about the Petition of Right. When Eliot launched his barely veiled attack on Buckingham on 3 June, Valentine backed his call for a Remonstrance in the most provocative terms: ‘I fear Mr. Speaker will be pulled out at these undoings: our dangers grow. I had rather die at sea with my sword in my hand against an enemy than with a faggot on my back’. He continued in this vein when the attack on Buckingham was renewed two days later, alleging that the duke was ready to cut the throats of his opponents: ‘he is the common enemy of the kingdom and is, and must, and shall be, and can be no other’. According to a contemporary libel, when others hesitated to name the duke in this debate, ‘Valentine, clapping his hands on’s breast, stoutly resolves that so he thinks it best’.13 The violence of his rhetoric was remarkable. Even when he expressed his loyalty to the Crown on 6 June, it was in terms of the murderous fate which he wished upon the king’s enemies. Valentine was particularly fixated on England’s perceived military vulnerability, warning that the country’s weaknesses were well known abroad, and questioning the loyalty of a sea captain whom he alleged to be a papist (9 and 16 June). He also strongly suspected that the government was recruiting troops in the Netherlands in order to suppress domestic opposition (6 and 7 June). On 6 June he was appointed to a committee to inquire into the Crown’s toleration of Irish recusants.14

In November 1628, during the parliamentary recess, Valentine wrote to Eliot with news of several of their mutual friends in Lincolnshire, including Armyne, and reported how he had helped out Walter Long II*, another of Eliot’s allies, who was being pursued by the government for having been elected to the Commons while serving as a sheriff.15 When Parliament resumed in January 1629, Valentine was one of Eliot’s more conspicuous allies. On 7 Feb. he contributed to the latter’s attack on Bishop Neile and Arminianism by reporting the actions of the bishop’s chaplain at Grantham in support of the Forced Loan, and, like Eliot, he took great interest in the dispute with the Crown over Tunnage and Poundage. On 3 Feb. he was added to the committee for examining Rolle’s Case, and four days later he moved for the Commons to resume its discussion of the Tunnage and Poundage bill, which had been suspended since the Arminian issue first surfaced on 26 January. He again backed Eliot’s position on 23 Feb. when he argued that the customers who had seized Rolle’s goods should be punished before compensation was arranged.16 This issue brought the Parliament to the brink of collapse. During the ensuing recess, Valentine attended the secret meetings at the ‘Three Cranes’ tavern where Eliot laid his plans for a final showdown with the government on 2 March. Some resistance from Speaker Finch was clearly anticipated, since Valentine arrived in the House early enough that morning to occupy one of the seats next to the Speaker’s chair normally filled by privy councillors. When Finch indeed attempted to leave the chair to prevent Eliot from addressing the House, Valentine helped Denzil Holles to hold him down, and demanded that Eliot be heard.17

The government responded swiftly to this outrage. Valentine was brought before the Privy Council on 4 Mar., and confined to the Tower, but he refused to answer any questions on the grounds of parliamentary privilege, and repeatedly sued for a writ of habeas corpus.18 The government piled pressure on him, keeping him in close confinement until October, seizing his papers and resuming the Welsh manor granted to him in 1613.19 However, Valentine’s friends did not desert him. Armyne visited him in the Tower, while the Fisher circle in London generated his principal lawyers during the court proceedings, Robert Mason and Henry Calthorpe, the latter of whom had defended Sir Henry Darnell during his Forced Loan prosecution.20 More importantly, Valentine’s own convictions were unyielding. Like Eliot, he refused all the government’s offers of bail because he was required to give bond for good behaviour, and this might be construed as an admission of guilt. When his case finally came before King’s Bench in November 1629, he refused to accept the competence of the court to rule on events in Parliament. The judges thought differently, however, and on 12 Feb. 1630, along with Eliot and Holles, he was found guilty of conspiracy and sedition. Fined £500, he was sentenced to imprisonment during the king’s pleasure.21

An unrepentant Valentine remained in prison until 1640, although he was not closely confined, and was able to visit Eliot at the Tower until the latter’s death in 1632.22 Appointed an executor of Susan Fisher’s will in 1630, he was accused by the Darnells of defrauding them of their rightful inheritance, and although nothing was proved against him in court he may well have acquired his lands in Cheshire through his involvement in the Fishers’ property dealings there.23 Finally released to placate public opinion ahead of the Short Parliament, Valentine was hailed as a martyr, and re-elected at St. Germans in the autumn of 1640. However, although the Commons ruled that the judgment against him was illegal, compensation was slow to materialize, and he eventually received only half of the £5,000 awarded to him in 1647.24 He died in June 1652, and was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. His only son, Matthias, died childless 18 months later.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. GL, ms 6419/1, f. 81v.
  • 2. Familiae Minorum Gentium (Harl. Soc. xl), 1307; GL, ms 4392, pp. 32, 36; C.M. Clode, Early Hist. of Merchant Taylors, ii. 345.
  • 3. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 630.
  • 4. C2/Chas.I/U10/56.
  • 5. GL, ms 6419/1, f. 81v; IGI, Suffolk; I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 6. C54/2027; E179/146/390.
  • 7. C2/Jas.I/U1/55; 2/Chas.I/U12/63; 2/Chas.I/U10/56; C66/1948/7; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 264.
  • 8. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 623; C2/Jas.I/U1/55.
  • 9. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 201-2; SP14/170/44.I.
  • 10. R. Cust, Forced Loan, 172, 175, 189, 237 n. 48; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 30; PROB 11/159, f. 174r-v; C2/Chas.I/F15/60; De Jure Maiestatis and Letter Bk. of Sir John Eliot ed. A.B. Grosart, ii. 24.
  • 11. H. Hulme, Sir John Eliot, 181, 274, 342-3; Procs. 1626, iv. 301.
  • 12. CD 1628, iii. 3, 61, 336, 367, 623; C2/Chas.I/F10/57.
  • 13. Ibid. iii. 408; iv. 76, 120, 125, 130, 132; vi. 245.
  • 14. Ibid. iv. 154, 157-8, 164, 180, 201, 208, 214, 334, 338.
  • 15. De Jure Maiestatis, ii. 23-5.
  • 16. CJ, i. 926a; CD 1629, pp. 52, 133, 177, 235.
  • 17. Hulme, 307; I.H.C. Fraser, ‘Agitation in the Commons, 2 Mar. 1629’, BIHR, xxx. 88; CD 1629, pp. 240, 253, 256.
  • 18. APC, 1628-9, pp. 351-2; De Jure Maiestatis, ii. 83-4; CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 495, 548; 1629-31, p. 71.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 593; 1629-31, pp. 77, 83; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 36; APC, 1629-30, p. 170.
  • 20. HMC Cowper, i. 383; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 555; Oxford DNB, ix. 563.
  • 21. Birch, ii. 30-1, 45, 56-7; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 72; Hulme, 329, 336.
  • 22. S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. 1603-42, ix. 87; C115/106/8397; Birch, ii. 64, 96, 163; De Jure Maiestatis, ii. 195, 203.
  • 23. PROB 11/159, f. 174r-v; PROB 6/13, f. 175v; C78/349/1; SP16/257/47; 16/257/48 and 48.I; Cal. Lancs. and Cheshire Exchequer Depositions ed. C. Fishwick (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. xi), 123; CJ, iii. 656b. A key ms re: the Cheshire lands, E134/8 Chas.I/East.12, is currently missing.
  • 24. CJ, ii. 203b; v. 56; vii. 172.
  • 25. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 630; PROB 11/239, f. 135r-v.