WROTH, Sir Robert I (c.1539-1606), of Durants (alias Gartons), Enfield, Mdx.; Loughton (or Lucton) Hall, Essex and Leadenhall Street, 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. c.1539, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Wroth† and Mary, da. of Richard Rich, 1st Bar. Rich; bro. of John† and Richard†. educ. St. John’s Camb. ‘impubes’ 1552; G. Inn 1559. m. Susan, da. and h. of John Stonard of Loughton, 4s. inc. Robert II*. suc. fa. 1573, fa.-in-law 1579;1 kntd. by 19 Sept. 1597.2 d. 27 Jan. 1606.

Offices Held

J.p. Mdx. c.1573-at least 1604,3 Essex by 1580-at least 1604;4 commr. gaol delivery, Newgate 1577,5 London 1602-d.;6 bailiff and woodward, Enfield Chase, Mdx. by 1580-d.,7 riding forester, Waltham Forest, Essex 1589-at least 1597,8 walker 1603,9 kpr. Leyton and Ongar Walks, Essex by 1597-at least 1604, Waltham Walk and Clinton Walk, Waltham Forest by 1604;10 commr. subsidy, Essex 1581, 1585, 1589, 1591, 1603-5,11 Mdx. 1581, 1586, 1594-5, 1597, 1600, 1602-3;12 commr. musters, Mdx. 1583-at least 1600;13 capt. militia, Essex by 1587-at least 1588,14 sheriff 1587-8;15 commr. sewers, river Lea, Essex, Herts. and Mdx. by 1587-at least 1589,16 Havering and Dagenham, Essex 1597,17 Mdx. and Essex 1604, Mdx. and London 1605;18 commr. oyer and terminer, Marshalsea 1597,19 London 1601-d.,20 Mdx. 1601-d., to indict Henry Brooke alias Cobham, 11th Lord Cobham, 1603, 21 charitable uses, Essex 1600, 1604,22 the Verge 1604,23 swans, home counties 1605,24 inquiry into Gunpowder Plot, Mdx. 1606.25

Commr. trial of Dr. Parry, 1585, Anthony Babington 1586, Patrick O’Cullen 1593, Valentine Thomas 1598;26 commr. inquiry, goods of Lord Cobham and Sir Walter Ralegh† 1603, Lord Grey and others 1603;27 commr. Union 1604.28

Biography

A wealthy and important forest official in Enfield Chase and Waltham Forest, with extensive estates in Essex, Middlesex and Hertfordshire, Wroth claimed descent from William de Wrotham, a judge and master of the Stannaries, who died in 1217. The first member of the family to sit in Parliament was John Wroth of Enfield, who served as a knight of the shire for Middlesex in 1332.29 Wroth himself was a veteran of nine Elizabethan Parliaments, and also a client of secretary of state Robert Cecil†, whose offices included those of master forester and master of the game.

Shortly after the accession of James I, Wroth may have quietly sought to disrupt his patron’s plans. In mid-April 1603 Cecil, then awaiting the arrival of the new king at Theobalds, ordered fuel to be gathered in nearby Enfield Chase, which Wroth controlled as bailiff and woodward. However, as wood was scarce several of the local women obstructed his servants. Wroth and Sir Vincent Skinner* were thereupon ordered to investigate the protesters, who claimed that the ‘patent’ - meaning Cecil’s authority to collect wood - had expired on the queen’s death. The sophistication of this objection, and the women’s inability to explain the meaning of the word ‘patent’, aroused the suspicion of Skinner, who also learned that some of the women would have abandoned their protest sooner had not one of them ‘spoken with Sir Robert Wroth at London on Monday last’ and been encouraged by him to ‘go forward as they had begun’. In his report to Cecil, Skinner implicitly accused Wroth of having fomented the protest. Wroth naturally denied the allegation, and as the woman who had spread the rumour of his involvement subsequently admitted that she had lied the matter was dropped.30 However, Wroth, who lived at nearby Durants house and had long championed local issues, was no stranger to the use of covert tactics. During the 1570s and 1580s he had secretly encouraged a campaign of sabotage against the works to make the River Lea navigable, because the barges carrying foodstuffs to London undermined the local economy, which depended on the carriage of grain by cart to the capital.31

Wroth was returned for Middlesex for the eighth consecutive time in 1604. From the outset he tried to set the Commons’ agenda, for on the first day of business (23 Mar.) he suggested adopting a seven-point programme. The first item on his list was a proposal to confirm the changes to the Book of Common Prayer which had been agreed by the king at the Hampton Court Conference the previous month. The remaining proposals all concerned grievances of the subject that he wished to see redressed. These consisted of wardship, which he described as ‘a burden and servitude to the subjects of this kingdom’, purveyance and cart-taking, monopolies, dispensations to the penal statutes against recusants, the export of iron ordnance and abuses in the Exchequer Court. Perhaps the most important of these six grievances was wardship, which Wroth suggested should be abolished in return for composition.32 Wroth’s programme was initially greeted with silence by the House, but after Sir Edward Montagu added a further list of grievances for Members to consider it was decided that the motion ‘was well liked of.’ A committee was duly named to sit that afternoon to commence the drafting of bills, to which Wroth was named. A further committee was established three days later specifically to discuss wardship after Wroth raised the matter again ‘among other things’.33

On the face of it, Wroth had pre-empted any agenda the Crown might have been intending to lay before the House with a programme of his own. However, it has been argued that, in respect of wardship at least, Wroth was actually acting as Cecil’s spokesman, for as early as August 1603 Cecil was claiming that he would obtain composition from Parliament in return for abolition.34 This is certainly plausible, for although Wroth may have recently irritated Cecil as a result of his suspected involvement in the disturbance on Enfield Chase, he nevertheless continued to consider himself a client of Cecil’s, to whom he sent a brace of bucks in July 1605.35 The fact that Wroth was not on the Privy Council may have been an advantage to Cecil, who perhaps wished to sound out opinion on the sensitive matter of wardship before committing the Crown formally to an offer of abolition in return for composition.36 Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that Wroth was acting for Cecil is to be found in a speech delivered by Wroth on the morning of 26 May, in which he opposed his own earlier proposal concerning wardship. He now claimed that ‘it was impossible that any good could come of this course for the Wards’, and instead urged that the king should be petitioned ‘that every man, by his last will and testament, might dispose of his child, paying the like fine’.37 This speech, which has been described as ‘a staggering change of tack’, immediately preceded a similar change of direction in the Lords, where Members of the Commons were advised to drop any schemes for buying out feudal tenures. According to one historian, Wroth’s change of heart immediately before the alteration of direction in the Lords ‘proves beyond doubt’ that Wroth ‘was acting as the faithful and regularly briefed spokesman for Salisbury’s plans for wardship’.38

Although it seems clear that Wroth acted as Cecil’s spokesman on wardship, the other matters he laid before the House on 23 Mar. may have represented his own views. He had opposed the export of iron ordnance in Parliament in December 1601, and as early as 1589 had objected to the abuses of purveyors and cart-takers. His opposition to purveyance perhaps stemmed from the fact that much of his constituency lay within the Verge of the Court, while the economy of Enfield, where he sometimes lived, depended heavily on the use of carts for the carriage of grain to London. Thus, when the purveyance issue was debated again in 1604, Wroth was among those named to a special committee on the grounds that he could, ‘either by experience in their own particular, or the testimony of their neighbours’, provide evidence in support of the articles which the House intended to present to the king (7 May).39 Yet if Wroth’s opposition to purveyance reflected the concerns of his constituents, it is probably also the case that he would not have raised the issue in 1604 had he not been allowed to do so by Cecil.40

Wroth failed to achieve redress of any of the grievances he had itemised in the House on 23 Mar. 1604, with the possible exception of abuses in the Exchequer. Nothing more was heard of a bill to eliminate these abuses after its committal on 5 May,41 but a further bill, for regulating the Court’s procedures and rates of fees, was enacted after it was amended by the Lords. Wroth was a member of the original committee which had been appointed to peruse this measure on 4 Apr., and was one of just three Members who were ordered to scrutinize the Lords’ amendments on the bill’s return to the Commons on 22 May.42 The only other grievance listed on 23 Mar. which came close to passing into law concerned the export of iron ordnance. On 3 Apr. Wroth offered the House a bill which would have forbidden this trade, ‘which he said was agreed on by the committee’, by which he meant the committee that had been established in response to his original motion. It seems likely that Wroth had drafted this bill himself, for the day after its committal it was placed in his keeping, together with a list of the committee members. At the very least he probably chaired the committee, as it was he who reported its deliberations on 17 April.43 The bill, which rapidly completed all its stages in the Commons, was sent to the Lords with a recommendation from the Lower House on 18 Apr, but though it received its second reading in the Lords on 26 Apr., it did not emerge from committee until 11 June, and was not returned to the Commons for consideration of various amendments until the following day.44 No more was heard of this measure, either because Wroth disapproved of the amendments or, more likely, because he had obtained the Speaker’s permission, on 11 June, to take two weeks leave of absence to entertain the king, who intended to hunt in Waltham Forest.45

Wroth’s parliamentary interests were not confined to the agenda he laid before the Commons on 23 Mar. 1604, as he was appointed to no less than 87 committees and eight conferences before his death in January 1606. In 1604 he was the first-named Member to consider bills on watermen, Sir Thomas Jermy (both on 9 May), witchcraft (26 May), Bridewell hospital’s charter (9 June) and naval impressment (29 June).46 He also reported several bills, among them one for the restitution of William, Lord Paget, whose father had been deprived of his barony following his attainder for treason in 1586/7. This bill, which was subsequently enacted, perhaps underlines Wroth’s links with Cecil, for Paget and Wroth had both accompanied Cecil to France when the latter was appointed ambassador in 1598.47 Another successful bill reported by Wroth (2 May 1604) was aimed at preventing bigamy. Wroth himself was described as ‘the preferrer of the bill’, but the reason for his interest in this matter is unknown.48 Two days later he was put in charge of a bill for the ‘true employment and relief of the poor’, which he reported on 11 June.49 However, unlike a measure he had propounded in November 1601 for the relief of the poor and the punishment of sturdy beggars, it failed to reach the statute books.

As he was a forest official it is not surprising that Wroth was named to consider the assart land bill on 3 May 1604, which concerned the property rights of those who leased wasteland within royal forests,50 or that he was named to four committees concerned with hunting. On 19 May he endeavoured to defend one particular measure involving the use of guns on the grounds that ‘the king desires it’. Wroth was well placed to know the king’s mind on this matter, for Waltham Forest, where Wroth was the forester, was one of James’s favourite hunting grounds. The bill was nevertheless defeated, although a similar proposal was enacted later that session.51 Wroth’s interest in a bill concerning leather-tanning is rather more obscure. He headed the list of committeemen appointed to scrutinize its provisions on 28 Apr. 1604 and took delivery of the bill on 2 May.52 It may be significant, however, that the tanners used Leadenhall market,53 and that Wroth rented a house in Leadenhall Street.54 There is no direct evidence that Wroth was responsible for introducing, on 14 May, a bill to ban the use of barges on the river Lea, but Wroth’s hostility to the 1571 Lea Navigation Act is well documented, and he was certainly in the House that day because he was subsequently named to two committees.55 The bill failed to achieve a second reading. So far as is known, Wroth was not paid to lobby on behalf of any interest in Parliament, although it is perfectly possible that he was, for in 1597 the London Fishmongers’ Company had given him half-a-hundredweight of ling to look out for its interests in the Commons. Interestingly, Wroth was a member of the committee for the bill to preserve fish fry in 1604, which measure was partly sponsored by the Fishmongers.56

An experienced parliamentarian, Wroth was appointed to the committee for privileges in 1604.57 However, he played a relatively minor role in the important Buckinghamshire election dispute, which revolved around the suppression by Chancery of the election of the outlawed Sir Francis Goodwin in favour of Sir John Fortescue. Although appointed to four committees,58 his only recorded speech on the subject (30 Mar.) merely echoed the general feeling of dismay following the king’s commandment that Members should confer with the judges. He said that he was ‘sorry that any such bone should be thrown into the House, and was of the opinion that no speech should be had with the judges’.59 It is unclear why Wroth kept such a low profile, but perhaps he could not afford to antagonize Sir John Fortescue, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Wroth held both the manors of Enfield and Loughton from the Duchy, and at about this time was seeking to extend his lease of Loughton for a further term.60 Another reason Wroth may have wished to avoid opposing Fortescue was that the latter evidently enjoyed the support of Wroth’s patron, Cecil.61

Twice appointed to attend joint conferences with the Lords (14 Apr. and 4 May 1604), and named to the committee for the bill concerning the post-nati (3 May 1604), Wroth evidently supported the proposed Union with Scotland, as he was appointed a commissioner for the Union in May 1604 and signed the treaty made with his Scottish counterparts in the following December. 62 This is hardly surprising for, quite apart from enjoying a close connection with Cecil, Wroth seems to have been genuinely anxious to please the king, as the evidence of his support for the hunting bill demonstrates. This sycophancy towards James is also to be found in Wroth’s response to the king’s letter to the House of 26 June 1604, in which James expressed pleasure that the Commons was considering voting him a subsidy. Wroth, who had just spent two weeks hunting with and entertaining the king at his house at Loughton, urged his colleagues to instruct all the knights of the shire to show copies of the letter to their constituents, for which motion he was ridiculed by Richard Martin, Member for Christchurch. Wroth was affronted at this reaction and the following day, during the presentation of his accounts on the collection for the poor taken among Members in the previous Parliament, he ‘remembereth a scoff used by Mr. Martin upon the speech the last day’, to which Martin ‘answereth bitterly’.63

As a puritan, and being the last of the Marian exiles in the House, Wroth was alarmed at the relaxation of the penal laws which followed the accession of James I, and consequently was named to four committees concerning Catholics in 1604. He evidently took the chair at one of these committees, for the bill to prevent the restitution in blood and title of the heirs of convicted recusants and traitors, as he reported the committee’s findings on 6 June.64 Following the Gunpowder Plot Wroth’s concern at the danger posed by England’s Catholics grew. On 6 Nov. 1605 he was named to help consider a bill to ensure the execution of the penal laws, and on 21 Jan. 1606 he was appointed to help consider what legislation was needed to combat popish plots.65 Wroth’s fears for the continued safety of English Protestantism made him an ideal spokesman for Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, who had become increasingly perturbed at the flood of English volunteers who were enlisting in the Army of Flanders. Just five days before his death, Wroth introduced a bill which, had it been enacted, would have obliged all persons over the age of 14 who went abroad to take the Oath of Supremacy (22 January). This measure was received sympathetically by the Speaker who, putting it in his pocket, told the House ‘plainly and confidently that within one year last past more than 2,000 youths, of which none exceeded 16 years of age, had passed over into Spain’.66 On the same day Wroth was named to another committee to consider legislation aimed at improving the implementation of the penal laws.67

Other features of Wroth’s parliamentary activity can be briefly summarized. Wroth was evidently exercised by the problem of debt, for he was twice named to committees for bills concerning usury (9 May and 9 June 1604) and appointed to committees for bills to relieve poor debtors (14 May) and ban secret outlawries (17 May).68 On 24 Mar. he participated in a debate on the apparel bill after its first reading, but his words went unrecorded by the clerk.69 On 14 May he supported a proposal to send six Members with the serjeant-at-arms to fetch Sir Thomas Shirley I, Member for Steyning, who was being held by the warden of the Fleet.70

Between the first and second sessions of the first Jacobean Parliament, Wroth spent much of his time on forest matters. Over the summer of 1604 he clashed with a junior forest official named Henry Humbertson, who had been installed as keeper of Chapel Hainault Walk by the 11-year old earl of Oxford. Wroth, though technically subordinate to Oxford, refused to displace the former keeper. Moreover, according to Oxford, Humbertson was ‘violently and unworthily beaten by Sir Robert Wroth and his followers’ and threatened with the loss of his tenancy after Wroth put pressure on his friend, (Sir) Michael Hicks*, who was also Humbertson’s landlord.71 In June 1605 Wroth not only helped draw up a petition to the king on behalf of his Essex neighbours concerning ‘the continual charge of the deer’, but attended the king each day to await an opportunity to present it.72

Wroth was well known for his lavish hospitality. In September 1604, just three months after he had entertained the king at Loughton, he wrote to Hicks inviting him and his brother Baptist, together with alderman Sir Thomas Lowe ‘and as many other[s] as yourself and Sir Thomas will bring with you’, to spend two or three days at Loughton playing bowls ‘and otherwise’.73 The following August Wroth played host to Prince Henry and his hunting party for three days.74 However, his advancing years meant that Wroth was no longer able to enjoy these pastimes himself as he once had.75 Instead, from 1601 he increasingly devoted himself to the rebuilding of Loughton, which he hoped to purchase.76 This project was evidently urgent, for in February 1602 he alleged that part of the house ‘was in such decay that, if it be not repaired, it will fall down’.77 Nothing was allowed to interfere with the steady round of hospitality, however, and in the following September Wroth told Sir Michael Hicks that ‘I have stayed the pulling down of my kitchen chimney the better to have welcomed you and your company’.78 Although Wroth ultimately failed to purchase Loughton he continued to expand his already extensive estate. Indeed, shortly before he died he bought Basildon manor in Essex from Sir William Cornwallis†, to the chagrin of Cornwallis’s brother, Sir Charles*, who apparently owned it.79

Wroth died on 27 Jan. 1606. Buried at Enfield the following day, his funeral was not held until 3 March.80 In his will, drawn up the day before his death, Wroth rejected the doctrine of justification by works, claiming that such good works as he had committed had been pre-ordained: ‘He by forechoice hath ordained me His handiwork’. He left his three younger sons £700 each and three properties. The remainder of his estate he bequeathed to his eldest son, Sir Robert Wroth II*, whom he named as his sole executor.81

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush

Notes

  • 1. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 330; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 17; Arch. Cant. xii. 315; GI Admiss.; Al. Cant. The visitations name Wroth’s father-in-law Francis Stonard, but this is evidently incorrect: W.C. Waller, ‘An Extinct County Fam.: Wroth of Loughton Hall’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. viii. n.s. 148.
  • 2. HMC Hatfield, vii. 387.
  • 3. Eg. 2345, f. 25; SP12/145, f. 28; APC, 1590-1, p. 326; 1598-9, p. 142; C66/1620.
  • 4. SP12/145, f. 16; APC, 1597, p. 304; C66/1620.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, ii. 164.
  • 6. C181/1, ff. 22v, 127.
  • 7. D. Pam, Story of Enfield Chase, 35; HMC Hatfield, iv. 440; Ducatus Lancastriae, iii. 451; DL5/24, p. 72.
  • 8. W.R. Fisher, Forest of Essex, 379; Lansd. 83, f. 216.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 10.
  • 10. Lansd. 83, f. 216; E115/102/69; E403/1699, unfol., payment of 15 Jan. 1604.
  • 11. Lansd. 32, f. 62v; E115/28/4,13; 115/94/106; 115/146/128, 144; 115/147/86; 115/339/3.
  • 12. Lansd. 32, f. 68v; E115/28/44; 115/94/96; 115/148/10, 56, 98, 106.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, v. 524; xiii. 239; xiv. 148; APC, 1588, pp. 144, 202; 1595-6, pp. 42, 156; 1596-7, pp. 386, 388; 1597-8, p. 357.
  • 14. APC, 1587-8, p. 11; HMC Foljambe, 38.
  • 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 45.
  • 16. Lansd. 53, f. 168v; 60, f. 90.
  • 17. APC, 1597, p. 304.
  • 18. C181/1, ff. 89v, 115.
  • 19. C231/1, f. 46.
  • 20. C181/1, ff. 11, 126.
  • 21. Ibid. ff. 13v, 66v, 125v.
  • 22. C93/1/19; 93/3/12
  • 23. C181/1, f. 93v.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 113v.
  • 25. Ibid. f. 132.
  • 26. Oxford DNB; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, i. 1129.
  • 27. C181/1, f. 72v.
  • 28. Ibid. 208b.
  • 29. D.O. Pam, Protestant Gent.: The Wroths of Durants Arbour, Enfield and Loughton, Essex (Edmonton Hundred Hist. Soc. Occasional Ppr. n.s. xxv), 3.
  • 30. SP14/1/25; D. Pam, Story of Enfield Chase, 48-9.
  • 31. D. Pam, Hist. Enfield, i. 80-4.
  • 32. CJ, i. 150b-1a; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 80; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 42-3.
  • 33. CD 1604-7, p. 45
  • 34. N. Tyacke, ‘Wroth, Cecil and the Parliamentary Session of 1604’, BIHR, I, 121.
  • 35. Lansd. 89, f. 127.
  • 36. Tyacke, 123-4.
  • 37. CJ, i. 981b.
  • 38. P. Croft, ‘Wardship in the Parl. of 1604’, PH, ii. 42-3.
  • 39. CJ, i. 202a.
  • 40. P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 13.
  • 41. CJ, i. 199b.
  • 42. Ibid. 166a, 222a, 942b; SR, iv. 1052-55.
  • 43. CJ, i. 165b, 945a-b.
  • 44. LJ, ii. 281b, 284a, 318a, 319a.
  • 45. CJ, i. 236b.
  • 46. Ibid. 204a, 227a, 235b, 248b.
  • 47. Ibid. 170b; CP; SR, iv. 1016; HMC Hatfield, viii. 16; xxiii. 22.
  • 48. CJ, i. 196b; LJ, ii. 309a; SR, iv. 1028.
  • 49. CJ, i. 198a, 236b, 964a.
  • 50. Ibid. 197b; HMC Lords, n.s. xii. 83-7.
  • 51. CJ, i. 184a, 224a, 228b; SR, iv. 1055.
  • 52. CJ, i. 189a, 963a.
  • 53. HMC Lords, n.s. xii. 78.
  • 54. CLRO, Grant Bk. i. ff. 42, 58v; HMC Hatfield, v. 37.
  • 55. CJ, i. 208b, 209a, 971a-b.
  • 56. GL, ms 5570/1, p. 181; CJ, i. 209a.
  • 57. CJ, i. 149b, 256b.
  • 58. Ibid. 156b, 160a-161a.
  • 59. CD 1604-7, p. 37. He was nevertheless subsequently named to the conference with the judges: CJ, i. 166b.
  • 60. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 123.
  • 61. R.C. Munden, ‘Growth of Mutual Distrust’, Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 54-5.
  • 62. CJ, i. 172a, 197a, 199a, 208b; Reg. PC Scot. 1604-7, xxxiv.
  • 63. CJ, i. 246b, 247a, 998a, 999b.
  • 64. Ibid. 185a, 226b, 228b, 229b, 233a-b.
  • 65. Ibid. 257a-b.
  • 66. P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archduke’, HR, lxiv. 293-7; Bowyer Diary, 2.
  • 67. CJ, i. 258a.
  • 68. Ibid. 204b, 209a, 213a, 235b.
  • 69. Ibid. 935a, 984a.
  • 70. Ibid. 209b, 971b.
  • 71. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 182; Lansd. 89, f. 48.
  • 72. Lan