JAMES, Francis (1559-1616), of Wells and Bristol.

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. 1559, 3rd s. of John James of Little Onn, Staffs. by Ellen, da. of William Bolte of Sandbach, Cheshire. educ. fellow, All Souls, Oxf. 1577, BCL 1583, DCL 1588. m. (1) Elizabeth (d.1599), ?s.p.; (2) Blanche, da. and coh. of Francis Gunton of Gunter, wid. of Sir William Billingsley; at least 2s. 5da.

Offices Held

Adv. Doctors’ Commons 1590; judge of ct. of audience of Canterbury 1590; chancellor, diocese of London 1590; ?receiver-gen. to bp. of Bath and Wells 1599, chancellor of diocese; master in Chancery extraordinary by 1601; j.p.q. Dorset from c.1593, Som. from c.1601; commr. piracy Dorset 1602; eccles. commr. 1603-4; master in Chancery in ordinary 1614.1


James’s brother William (afterwards bishop of Durham) was chaplain to the Earl of Leicester, and attended him at his death. James himself probably remained at Oxford until 1587 when, with the warden of All Souls and another fellow, he travelled to court to resist a proposal to grant the college woods to Lady Stafford. James kept the accounts which mention the frequent journeys made to Croydon and Lambeth in this connexion. From about this time he was employed as a government agent abroad: in 1590 a warrant was issued to pay him £91 for money spent on the Queen’s service abroad. He was employed by Walsingham in 1591 and three years later sat on the commission investigating charges of atheism against Ralegh.2

As a prominent west-country civilian, James was returned to Parliament for a number of local boroughs. Dorchester was one of the towns receiving a bequest of £50 under his will, for distribution to the poor. Though this was his first Parliament, it was probably he rather than John James who was the ‘Mr. Doctor James’ who served on two committees, both 26 Feb. 1593, dealing with privileges and returns and the subsidy. His return for Corfe Castle was doubtless obtained through Robert Cecil, whose niece, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, had inherited the Corfe estate. He served on several committees in 1597—penal laws (8 Nov.), rebuilding Langport Eastover (10 Nov.), the bill for Bristol committed to him on 28 Nov. and reported by him 30 Nov., a religious bill (3 Dec.) and a legal bill (11 Jan. 1598). On 11 Nov. 1597 he spoke on the question of marriages without banns, and was appointed to the committee. In 1601 he was returned for Minehead by George Luttrell, who did not wish to sit himself. Again an active Member, James served on the committee discussing the penal laws (2 Nov.) and reported to the House, 6 Nov., the work of the committee on ‘drunkards and common haunters of alehouses and taverns’. On 16 Nov. he put forward the ‘instructions and arguments’ of Archbishop Whitgift against the bill concerning pluralities, ingeniously supporting government opinion against the bill. It was poverty rather than pluralities, he argued, that brought corruption into the Church:

To give the best scholar but as great proportion as the meanest artisan, or to give all alike, there is no equality ... a preacher, which is no ordinary person, ought to have an extraordinary reward ...

Finally, 28 Nov., he was appointed to the committee that was to thank the Queen for her message about monopolies, though, in the event, all the House attended.3

As his list of local offices shows, James was active in Dorset county affairs. It is probable that he did not himself act as receiver general for the bishop of Bath and Wells, and that the patent was held on trust for three relations of Bishop Still. In a letter to Cecil, John Budden wrote that James was ‘an inward man, and most special of all others with the bishop’ of Bath and Wells. James died 28 Mar. 1616, and in his will, proved in that year, he left £400 to each of his five daughters, and mentioned a son born after 1613. After providing £50 for the poor of Bristol, where he had ‘lived many comfortable years’, and the same for those of Dorchester, Wareham and Wells, James concluded: ‘My papers I bequeath to the fire’. An inquisition post mortem was taken 24 Apr. 1616, the heir being his son Francis, aged 12.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Vis. Durham, ed. Foster, 187; P. M. Hembry, ‘Three Bps. Bath and Wells’ (London Univ. PhD thesis, 1956), p. 278; HMC Wells, ii. 359; Mort thesis; Roberts thesis.
  • 2. DNB (James, William); Abs. Som. Wills, i. 39; All Souls Coll. mun. Wood sales, nos. 73, 85; APC, xxi. 95; Harl. 7042, f. 401.
  • 3. D’Ewes, 471, 474, 555, 564, 565, 567, 578, 623, 628, 640, 657; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 103, 104, 109, 193, 218; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 444-5; Neale, Parlts. ii. 407.
  • 4. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 660; HMC Hatfield, xii. 508; Abs. Som. Wills, i. 39; PCC 43 Cope; C142/356/110.