VILLIERS, Sir Edward (1585-1626), of Dean's Close, Westminster; later of Youghal College, co. Cork

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.1585, 2nd s. of Sir George Villiers* (d.1606) of Brooksby, Leics. and his 1st w. Audrey, da. and h. of William Saunders of Harrington, Northants. educ. Queens’, Camb. 1601; M. Temple 1618. m. by 1612, Barbara (d.1672), da. of Sir John St. John* of Lydiard Tregoze, Wilts., 5s. (1 prob. d.v.p.) 5da. (at least 1 d.v.p.).1 kntd. 7 Sept. 1616.2 d. 7 Sept. 1626. sig. Ed. Villiers.

Offices Held

Capt. and muster-master of militia, Leics. 1614-15;3 j.p. Westminster 1619-?1625; commr. subsidy, Westminster 1624;4 ld. pres. of Munster [I] 1625-d.5

Master of the Mint 1617-19, 1619-23 (jt.), warden 1623-d. (jt.), commr. for the office of master of the Mint 1625-d.; gent. of privy chamber by 1625.6

Special amb. Palatinate 1621.7


The son of a Leicestershire gentleman, Villiers achieved office on the coat-tails of his younger half-brother, the royal favourite, George, duke of Buckingham. Hacket described him as ‘true hearted to good ways,’8 but in reality he was a self-serving individual who achieved brief notoriety in the 1621 Parliament for his close association with an objectionable monopoly.

Villiers was at educated at Cambridge and married the daughter of a Wiltshire gentleman. In 1615 he was forced to resign his captaincy in the Leicestershire militia after a scandal involving regimental funds.9 Following the ennoblement of George Villiers in August 1616 he was knighted, and in December 1617 he became master of the Mint, an office thought to be worth between £1,500 and £2,000 p.a.10 Many observers thought that this appointment was merely a stepping-stone to greater things, for over the next few years it was rumoured that he would displace his wife’s uncle, Oliver St. John†, as Ireland’s lord deputy and that he would become master of either the Wardrobe or Jewel House,11 but in fact further preferment eluded him until his appointment as lord president of Munster in 1625. However, in 1620 George Villiers, now marquess of Buckingham, employed his brother to negotiate with the lord chief justice Sir Henry Montagu* for the office of lord treasurer. As a result of Villiers’ ‘persuasions’ Montagu agreed to pay Buckingham £20,000 for the post.12 Buckingham was so pleased at this good service that in January 1621 an addition was made to the grant which conferred upon Villiers’ father-in-law, the childless Sir Oliver St. John, the title of Viscount Grandison. This stated that the title should pass to Villiers and his male heirs on St. John’s decease.13

Villiers evidently possessed considerable influence over his brother. In January 1618, for instance, he confessed to the captain of the guard, Sir Henry Rich*, that he was responsible for the latter’s recent cool reception by Buckingham, an admission which nearly led to bloodshed.14 As one of the principal routes to Buckingham’s favour, Villiers’ services were often eagerly sought. In October 1616 it was reported that he had been bribed by the customs farmers to persuade the royal favourite to stop a suit against them,15 while in March 1619 the master of an Oxford college complained that his enemies ‘attempt by the underworking hand of Sir Edward Villiers to leave me destitute of the favour of his noble brother’.16 In November 1621 the 1st earl of Cork solicited Villiers’ assistance in purchasing some Irish lands which had been bought from under his nose by lord treasurer (Sir Lionel) Cranfield*. However, while Villiers agreed to intervene with Buckingham, the confident expectation that this would lead to a settlement in Cork’s favour was to be disappointed.17

Villiers’ closeness to Buckingham afforded him ample opportunities for self-enrichment. As early as April 1617 he promoted a patent for licensing Irish alehouses, which was issued to Sir Thomas Roper in July 1619. When this patent was revoked ten months later, Villiers obtained an annuity of £250 in compensation.18 In June 1618 he and his brother Christopher helped to promote a petition to the king by the artisan skinners of London, for which service they presumably exacted a fee.19 Another scheme in which Villiers was involved was the monopoly for manufacturing gold and silver thread. Though not one of the patentees himself, he was named in their articles of association and invested £4,000 in the project, from which he derived an annual return of at least £500.20 In August 1619, following the refusal of several gold and silver threadmakers to enter into bonds promising to give over their trade, Villiers persuaded the attorney-general, Sir Henry Yelverton*, to imprison the offenders.21 A few months later he helped to arraign on charges of petty larceny one Harman, whose estate was said to be worth £30,000, allegedly in the hope of making a financial killing.22 Perhaps the most lucrative business in which he was engaged was the sale of Irish offices which, in the case of the earl of Cork and Cork’s son, Viscount Dungarvan, was worth £4,500.23 Villiers used the wealth he acquired from all these schemes to create a landed estate for himself, for as a younger son he had inherited little, if any, property. In 1620 he acquired the reversion to the Suffolk manors of Terrington Howards and Overhall from Sir John Wentworth*,24 and bought the Leicestershire manor of Baggrave from the impoverished Sir Thomas Cave for £6,900. Shortly after paying the first instalment, however, Villiers petitioned lord keeper Williams to reduce the purchase price because Cave had failed to declare the existence of certain encumbrances which adversely affected the property’s value. Baggrave remained in Villiers’ possession until 1625, when he sold it to Sir William Russell* at a slight loss.25

In December 1620 Villiers was returned to Parliament for Westminster, where he had been living for the last few years. He almost certainly owed his election to Buckingham, the borough’s high steward. However, in January 1621 he was required to carry the king’s message to the Elector Palatine, Frederick V, assuring him of English support in the Palatinate.26 Before he left England, Villiers, perhaps anticipating a parliamentary attack, sought to extricate himself from the unpopular gold and silver thread monopoly, telling the king before Parliament could that ‘this allowance of making of gold and silver thread hurt the bullion’.27 James, however, was then too busy to deal with the matter, and therefore during his absence abroad Villiers was criticized in the Commons for urging the imprisonment of those gold and silver threadmakers who had refused to enter into bonds and accused of having intimidated Yelverton in order to protect his profits. Moreover, it was claimed that his election, and that of his fellow Westminster Member, William Man, was invalid on technical grounds, although a subsequent vote confirmed him in his seat.28

On learning of these attacks Villiers reluctantly returned to England in early April.29 After informing the king that Frederick had agreed to follow James’s advice and relinquish his claims to Bohemia, Villiers was advised by Buckingham to delay entering the Commons until the House of Lords had acquitted him of misconduct. However, Villiers failed to heed this good advice, but entered the Lower House on 2 May on the assumption that his acquittal was now only a formality, as Yelverton and the patentees had been examined and none of them had implicated him.30 His presumption caused uproar. Sir William Spencer, supporting William Mallory, demanded the expulsion of any Member who had benefited from the gold and silver thread patent. Villiers, clearly taken aback, retorted that since the Lords’ investigation had not given rise to any charges against him he had thought that ‘he might now come into this House without exception’. Moreover, he claimed that he had not been presented to the Lords ‘as so main a delinquent as this gentleman pretends’. However he decided to leave ‘by the private advice of some of his friends’, and it was not until 4 June, the day that Parliament adjourned for the summer, that the Lords told the Commons that he had been cleared.31 Once acquitted, he proved unable to resist bragging at Court about his supposed triumph, whereby, it was said, ‘he had like to have marred all’.32

Villiers was employed on a second, supposedly secret diplomatic errand over the autumn, this time to persuade the Elector Palatine to leave the camp of the prince of Orange. Many of Frederick’s ministers reportedly believed that he must have been chosen with Spanish advice, for being unable to speak any foreign languages he was unable to communicate with them.33 After conducting private negotiations with Frederick, who reluctantly agreed to comply with James’s request, Villiers returned to England in mid-October, and was immediately tipped to succeed the comptroller of the Household, Viscount Falkland (Sir Henry Carey I*), who was expected to become Ireland’s new lord deputy.34 However, if Villiers’ hopes of preferment were raised -and one observer later thought that ‘he aspires to a place of more profit and less show’ - they were soon dashed.35 When Parliament reconvened in the autumn Villiers, perhaps mindful of the hostility he had encountered in May, maintained a low profile. He made no speeches, and his only appointment was to confer with the Lords over the informers’ bill (1 December). On 3 Dec. he and ‘some other courtiers’ were appointed to convey the Commons’ controversial petition to the king about war with Spain and Prince Charles’s marriage.36

Following Parliament’s assault on the gold and silver thread monopoly, the king cancelled the offending patent. Consequently, in May 1622 Buckingham procured for his brother a lease of the duties on the import of gold and silver thread, in return for which Villiers was required to surrender the mastership of the Mint. By the time he did so, in July 1623,37 the farm of the duties procured for him by Buckingham had been undermined by the creation of a Company of goldwiredrawers. In order to compensate him for this second, sudden loss of income, Villiers was appointed co-warden of the Mint and granted an annuity of £500 from the profits of that department. In addition, the goldwiredrawers were also persuaded to pay Villiers an annuity.38 Despite these arrangements, Villiers resented the loss of the duties and determined to destroy the new Company. In September 1623 he complained to the Privy Council that the goldwiredrawers had used their monopoly to increase the price of gold and silver thread to ‘dearer rates than usual’.39 Moreover, in March 1624, having once again been returned to Parliament for Westminster, he accused the Company, which had applied for statutory ratification of its charter, of wasting £1,000-worth of bullion a week. He urged the House not merely to throw out the bill, which it did, but to suppress the Company itself, a demand which startled at least one Member, who penned in the margin of his diary: ‘Query: who had the first of that trade? He’. 40 Villiers himself appreciated the inconsistency of his position, since he received an annuity from the very Company that he now condemned. Consequently, before the patent was discussed on 3 Apr., he offered to withdraw ‘if the House shall think him uncapable of sitting here during the debate’.41 This was not deemed necessary despite Sir Francis Nethersole’s objections, and despite the discovery by the committee that examined the leading patentee Matthias Fowle of ‘some things that concerned Sir Edward Villiers’.42

Villiers’ appointment to the committee to consider the bill making the earl of Middlesex’s (Sir Lionel Cranfield’s) lands liable to the fine imposed at his impeachment on 19 May is obscured by the fact that the Journal mistakenly refers to him as Sir Christopher. That same day he was also appointed to consider the bill to purchase York House, which was introduced for Buckingham’s benefit. This was not the only occasion on which Villiers was associated with his brother’s interests in the House. Following complaints on 12 Mar. that gold was being exported by papists, Sir Arthur Ingram claimed that responsibility for preventing this lay with the lord treasurer, who had command of all the ports, to which Villiers replied that the responsibility ‘more properly belongs to the lord admiral and lord warden of the Cinque Ports’. However, Villiers’ subsequent appointment to the committee to consider this problem reflected his position in the Mint rather than his connection with Buckingham.43 On 19 Apr. Villiers attacked ‘the false dyeing of silks’, which he alleged stemmed from the silkmen and not the dyers.44 The remaining committees to which he was appointed were to hear the prince justify the Crown’s demands for supply (11 Mar.); to consider the Wharton decree bill (17 Mar.); and to help prepare a petition to the king about the problem of overbuilding in and around London (25 May), a measure in which, as a Westminster resident, he had an obvious interest. The only other occasion when Villiers’ name occurs in the record is on 1 Mar. when he and Ingram were required to communicate the House’s thanks to Dr. Bargrave for his sermon.45 As Member for Westminster, he was entitled to attend the committee for a bill concerning brewhouses in London and Westminster, which was appointed on 19 May.46

Following Parliament’s dissolution, Buckingham endeavoured to complete the destruction of lord treasurer Middlesex by ousting Middlesex’s elder brother, Sir Randall Cranfield, from the mastership of the Mint and restoring that office to Villiers.47 His efforts were not instantly rewarded, and as compensation Villiers was granted an annuity of £1,000, half of which was to be paid from the profits of the Mint, and the other half from the Wards.48 Buckingham was not to be thwarted in his desire to advance his brother to an important office, however, and shortly after the presidency of Munster fell vacant in October 1624 he obtained the post for Villiers, circumventing the reversionary interest of Sir Richard Moryson*.49 Villiers now prepared to leave for Ireland, but the king’s death in March 1625 obliged him to stay for fresh letters patent, which were slow to be granted. Perhaps for this reason, or because he was reluctant to leave the country at the start of a new reign, Villiers was re-elected Member for Westminster in April. However, he played no recorded part during the first sitting except to be named, on 23 June, to the joint committee for arranging a fast day. He was scarcely more in evidence when Parliament reassembled at Oxford in August. His only committee appointment was to discuss religion with the Lords on 8 August. Four days later, secure in the knowledge that, as an officer of the Mint he was exempt from the payment of subsidies, he tried to revive the motion for additional supply but was countered by Sir Thomas Wentworth, who claimed that ‘since we sat here, the subjects had lost a subsidy at sea’.50

Parliamentary affairs alone did not occupy Villiers during the spring and summer of 1625. At the beginning of April he was appointed one of the commissioners charged with carrying out the functions of the master of the Mint in place of Sir Randall Cranfield, who had finally been dismissed. Moreover, following James’s funeral in May, at which he carried ‘the standard of the dragon’,51 he obtained the grant in fee farm of Mailescot Wood in the Forest of Dean, later valued at £12,000, whose 500 acres he presumably hoped to exploit for their mineral resources.52 He also requested the grant of another piece of woodland known as Le Baily, but the king, advised that this property was too valuable to alienate, granted him £3,000 instead from the profits of the Mint ‘in consideration of the good service’ Villiers had done his father.53 During the 1626 Parliament Villiers’ grant of Mailescot was cited as evidence of the manner in which Buckingham had wasted the king’s estate to satisfy his greedy family.54

Villiers arrived in Ireland with his family in mid-October 1625. Lacking an official residence, he moved into the college of Youghal, which he rented from the earl of Cork.55 He soon found himself responsible for billeting and clothing some of the survivors of the ill-fated expedition to Cadiz, as a number of battered ships put into Youghal in December. As well as taxing the local population and borrowing £500 from the mayor of Cork, Villiers dipped into his own pocket to help out several penniless officers.56 This proved disastrous to his finances, as he later claimed that he had ‘shipwrecked’ his credit ‘for the maintenance of these miserable fleet soldiers’.57 In April 1626, therefore, he persuaded the king to grant him the wardship of the son of one of the richest men in Munster.58 That same month, Villiers met Cork to discuss a double marriage alliance which Cork had proposed five years earlier. This would have united Cork’s eldest son to Villiers’s daughter, Anne, and married Villiers’ heir, William, to one of Cork’s daughters. On the face of it Villiers was committed to this alliance, as he had already received £4,500 in advance. However, he now pointed to the disparity in age between the children concerned and claimed that he was ‘not able to perform what he covenanted to assure’ because his landed estate did ‘not exceed £800 per annum in possession’. He therefore persuaded Cork to terminate the contract. Far from promising to refund the money he had already been paid, Villiers received a final instalment of £500 the following month.59

Villiers fell ill at Youghal college on 2 Sept. 1626, perhaps a victim of the dysentery that had swept through the survivors of the Cadiz expedition. He died in the early hours of the morning of the 7th60 and was buried the following day in the new chapel which Cork had built. In his will, drafted before he left England, he entrusted his entire estate to his widow, who was required to settle his debts and maintain their children, all of whom were under age.61 His eldest son William inherited the Grandison title in 1630. Burdened with debts from her late husband, Lady Barbara proved unable to secure relief from the Crown until the mid-1660s.62

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


WCA, E151; E152.

  • 1. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 115, 117, 534; Lodge, Peerage of Ire. ii. 94; Regs. of St. Peter, Westminster ed. J.L. Chester, 65; MTR, ii. 626; V. Treadwell, Buckingham and Ire. 323, n. 9; PROB 11/340, ff. 57-8.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 159.
  • 3. T. Cogswell, Home Divisions, 88.
  • 4. C212/22/23.
  • 5. C181/2, f. 331; CP and CR Ire. 17-18, 20-21.
  • 6. C66/2136, 2300; C233/1, f. 60v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, pp. 5-6; CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 568.
  • 7. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 143-4.
  • 8. J. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata, 49. We are grateful for this ref. to Roger Lockyer.
  • 9. Cogswell, 88.
  • 10. New Hist. of Royal Mint ed. C.E. Challis, 270.
  • 11. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 187, 193, 204; Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, ii. 171.
  • 12. Bodl. Tanner ms 290, ff. 29, 32; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 68.
  • 13. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iv. 635-6.
  • 14. Ct. of Jas. I, ii. 171-3; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 2.
  • 15. Cent. Kent Stud. U269/1/OE1531. George Villiers refused to believe it, however, telling his informant that he was ‘somewhat deceived’: Cent. Kent Stud. U269/1/OEc/O8.
  • 16. Cent. Kent Stud. U269/1/Oo4.
  • 17. Lismore Pprs. ed. A.B. Grosart (ser. 1), ii. 14-17, 19.
  • 18. Treadwell, 83-5.
  • 19. Add. 10038, f. 148.
  • 20. Hacket, 49. For the patent, see CD 1621, vii. 365.
  • 21. CD 1621, vi. 311.
  • 22. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 277.
  • 23. Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), ii. 2, 4.
  • 24. W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. i. 68.
  • 25. C2/Chas.I/U13/7 (mis-filed); C24/638, pt. 1, no. 13, ff. 8-9, 11; C54/2627/31; F. Farnham, Leics. Medieval Village Notes, v. 5.
  • 26. Ibid.; APC, 1619-21, p. 331.
  • 27. ‘Hastings 1621’, 27.
  • 28. CJ, i. 538a-b, 539a, 541a, 542a, 547b, 549a, 568b, 569a.
  • 29. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 21.
  • 30. Ibid. 28-29; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 2-3; CD 1621, iii. 130-1.
  • 31. CJ, i. 638a.
  • 32. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 381.
  • 33. CSP Ven. 1621-3, pp. 131-2, 137, 141, 145-6.
  • 34. HMC 4th Rep. 285a.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 446.
  • 36. CJ, i. 654b, 657b, 661a.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 448.
  • 38. ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 78v.
  • 39. APC, 1623-5, p. 91.
  • 40. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 74; ‘Nicholas 1624’, p. 70.
  • 41. ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 78v.
  • 42. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 207; ‘Pym 1624’, iii, f. 33v; CJ, i. 701a.
  • 43. CJ, i. 684a, 705b, 734b.
  • 44. Ibid. 771a.
  • 45. Ibid. 683a, 688a, 675a, 705b, 711a.
  • 46. Ibid. 705b.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 273, 287; M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 480.
  • 48. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 300.
  • 49. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 585, 599.
  • 50. Procs. 1625, p. 475; E115/396/13, 112, 115; E115/398/28, 62.
  • 51. Nichols, iv. 1042.
  • 52. C66/2349/1; Lansd. 93, f. 99v.
  • 53. Univ. of London, Goldsmiths’ ms 195, ii. f. 8v; PSO2/61, unnumb. item; SP16/2/107.
  • 54. Procs. 1626, iii. 42.
  • 55. Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), ii. 160, 167; CSP Ire. 1647-60, pp. 55-6.
  • 56. APC, 1625-6, pp. 292, 331; CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 82, 90-93, 110, 116; HMC Cowper, i. 254-5.
  • 57. SP63/242/366.
  • 58. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 110.
  • 59. N. Canny, The Upstart Earl, 67-68, 178; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), ii. 182-3, 185; (ser. 2), iii. 186.
  • 60. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 318; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), ii. 195.
  • 61. PROB 11/151, f. 162v.
  • 62. CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 611; 1664-5, p. 118.