ATKINS, Thomas (b.c.1538), of Gloucester.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1538, 1st s. of John Atkins of Ashleworth, Glos. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. BA 1554, fellow of Merton 1554; M. Temple Dec. 1558. unm.

Offices Held

Procurator gen. of Wales; dep. attorney, council in the marches of Wales c.1579-91; member, council in the marches of Wales from 1586; town clerk (or dep. recorder), Gloucester 1563-79, 1598-1603; escheator, Glos. 1565-6; dep. steward, duchy of Lancaster lands in Glos. 1580.1


Atkins, supported by the popular party at Gloucester, represented the city in six successive Parliaments. He was deputy to Richard Pate the recorder, whom he defeated at the 1571 election. Pate complained to Burghley but there was no time to obtain a new writ. Atkins served on two known committees in this Parliament, dealing, aptly enough, with electoral qualifications (19 Apr.) and rogues (10 May). The popular party in Gloucester, who had supported Atkins at this election, put him forward again in the following year, and once more he defeated Pate. This time he was very active, serving on over 30 committees including those dealing with weights and measures (23 May 1572), the Queen’s safety (28 May 1572) and honour (14 Mar. 1581), the Duke of Norfolk’s execution (30 May), matters of privileges and returns (9 Feb. 1576, 6 Feb. 1581, 8 Mar. 1581), church registers (10 Feb. 1576), the poor (11 Feb. 1576), wool (16 Feb. 1576, 9 Mar. 1576, 13 Feb. 1581), alehouses (17 Feb. 1576), wine (21 Feb. 1576), sheriffs (24 Feb. 1576, 4 Feb. 1581), Norwich diocese (2 Mar. 1576), benefit of clergy (7 Mar. 1576), wharves and quays (13 Mar. 1576), forgery (26 Jan. 1581, 11 Feb. 1581) and London merchants (2 Feb. 1581). His speech in 1572 against Mary Queen of Scots, whom he called ‘the burden of the earth’, was reported at length. On 5 June 1572 he intervened in the debate on the third reading of Worcester’s bill to canalize the river Severn. Atkins, whose constituency was downstream from Worcester, was sceptical about their motives:

A great matter to alter the course of a stream. He suspecteth they would not be at so great a charge for so small a commodity as water. He feareth rather their meaning to make a leystowe there and so a monopoly. The river already being in some places but two feet, water would now be much less and so in small time the whole passage stopped.

Re-elected in 1584, he was less active, serving on one recorded committee for a private lands bill, 13 Feb. 1585. On the following 15 Feb., according to Dr. John James, he gave ‘great offence unto this whole House’ for using ‘undecent forms of speech’. The next day he was allowed to ‘interpret his said speeches in his place without being commanded to the bar’ and he ‘submitted himself to the good satisfaction of this House’. He is not mentioned in the surviving records of the House for 1586, and in 1589 he served on but one legal committee, 24 Mar. Again in 1593 his name does not appear in the records of the House but he may have served on the committee for plunkets, azures and blues (15 Mar.) to which the Gloucester burgesses were specifically appointed. By 1597 he was in debt, without lands or possessions and, according to his enemies, ‘a man noted to be very dangerous for any trust to be committed unto him, and such a one whose courses were greatly disliked’. He lost the election, brought a Star Chamber case alleging irregularities, and never sat again.2

About 1579 Atkins had been appointed deputy to another ambitious attorney in the marches of Wales, and he became a full member of the council there seven years later. Atkins proved worse than his master. ‘Quarrelsome, corrupt and partial’, before he had been in Wales a year several complaints had been raised about his ‘unjust and indirect dealings’. Fabian Phillips, with whom he carried on an interminable series of lawsuits, accused him of bribery and corruption, and many witnesses agreed. The duties and privileges of the attorney and solicitor in the marches were at that time not properly defined, and Atkins quarrelled with the solicitor, Amyas, and even attacked the president, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke; in fact, Whitgift seems to have been the only important member of the council with whom he was on friendly terms. In 1590 the Queen, at Pembroke’s instigation, ordered that he should no longer combine the attorney’s office with council membership. Atkins chose to remain on the council and unsuccessfully tried to sell the attorneyship to a follower of the Earl of Essex. During his lawsuits with Phillips, which lasted until 1594, he was barred from sitting on the council, and little more is heard of him in Wales. He seems to have been removed by 1601, when his name disappears from the council’s lists. Perhaps he had quitted the marches by October 1598, when he was re-elected town clerk of Gloucester. He resigned in January 1603, when he was ‘very old and weak’. The date of his death has not been found.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: J.C.H. / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Rudder, Glos. 119; Wood, Fasti Ox. i. 142; P. H. Williams, Council in Marches of Wales, 152-6; Somerville, Duchy, i. 637.
  • 2. St. Ch. 5/A10/6, 20/11, 1/5; Neale, Parlts. i. 266-7; D’Ewes, 171, 182, 220, 244, 247, 349, 350, 452, 502; CJ, i. 97, 99, 106, 107, 108, 110, 111, 113, 114, 120, 122, 123, 124, 125, 130, 132, 134; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. f. 51.
  • 3. Williams, loc. cit.; Lansd. 49, f. 175; 81, f. 178; St. Ch. 5/A56/27, 6/38, P24/1, 7/28, 25/24, 26/27, 8/39, 16/17, 36/38, 48/16, 13/28; Add. 37045, f. 5; SP12/204/7, 75/81; Collins, Sidney Pprs. i. 312-17; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, i. 117; Harl. 6995, f. 161; 7004, f. 274; Rudder, loc. cit.