REYNOLDS, Edward (d.c.1623), of Essex House, London and Whiteparish, Wilts.

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

2nd s. of Lancelot Reynolds of Melcombe Regis. educ. All Souls, Oxf. BA 1580, fellow 1581, MA 1584. m. (2) Catherine, wid. of John Mills.1

Offices Held

Sec. to Earl of Essex c. 1588-1601; clerk of privy seal by 1603; registrar, ct. of requests.2


Reynolds, like (Sir) Robert Sidney’s servant at court, Roland White, belongs to that small group of men who, by their close attachment to the great figures of the age, provide us with so much of the intimate detail about their masters which would otherwise be lacking and, equally important, keep us informed of the changing fortunes of those contesting for political power. Reynolds himself emerges as a devoted servant of the Earl of Essex, proud of the trust placed in him and intolerant of rivals. Not without a sense of humour, he was subject to periods of depression and even despair. Though ready to burden his family and friends with his troubles, he was always conscious of the need to maintain his reputation and self-respect.

He was born in Melcombe Regis and among his relatives was Owen Reynolds, his uncle. After leaving Oxford, Reynolds—in his own words—

served Sir Amias Paulet during the whole time of his charge of the Scottish Queen, and under him had the special trust of that service committed unto me, the importance whereof is best known to her Majesty. If that honourable knight lived he would witness my painful travails therein.

Paulet had charge of Mary from April 1585 until her death in February 1587. During part of that time the Queen was held at Chartley, Essex’s home in Staffordshire: perhaps it was there that the two men met. At any rate, by the end of 1588 Reynolds had become one of the Earl’s secretaries and had entered upon the most important phase of his career.3

It is apparent from the tone of many of his letters that Reynolds was soon won over by the charm of his new master. For his part, Essex placed considerable trust in ‘good Reynolds’. At first his new servant accompanied him on his foreign journeys. He may have gone with him to Portugal in 1589, and was certainly with him in France in 1591, when he was present at the seige of Rouen. Later, however, his experience and knowledge of the Earl’s affairs were a greater asset in London. Essex told Robert Cecil in 1596, for example, that Reynolds was to have full charge of his affairs during the Cadiz expedition. Reynolds reported that the Queen was opposed to Essex’s departure, ‘using very hard terms of my Lord’s usefulness’, and he was obviously disturbed at the use made of the Earl’s absence by enemies at court. He was glad therefore to tell Essex on his return that one of the archbishop of Canterbury’s chaplains, in a sermon at St. Paul’s, ‘sounded your lordship’s worthy tame, your justice, wisdom, valour and noble carriage in this action’. But there were so many criticisms of Essex’s part in the voyage that Henry Cuffe, another of his servants, asked Reynolds to help him concoct an account of it, purporting to have been written by an eye-witness, which would concentrate on Essex’s contribution.4

In the spring of 1599 Reynolds told a correspondent of Essex’s intended departure for Ireland. He continued:

As in his other journeys ... I am of opinion he will leave me at court to follow his business there, which will be better for me than to go to so miserable and wretched a country as that is, and will be no discredit but rather a credit to me.

Gelly Meyrick kept Reynolds informed of the events in Ireland—calling him ‘honest Ned’ and ‘my worthy choleric Ned’—and he was well prepared therefore for the crisis which was bound to follow Essex’s return. All the Earl’s closest followers were urging moderation and tact as the best way of appeasing the Queen, and Reynolds himself wrote: ‘If he speaks in a high style he will plunge himself further and overthrow his fortune forever. The safety of his person is the mark we all aim at’. There is some evidence that Reynolds helped Essex draft letters on this and other difficult occasions. The devotion and loyalty which Essex inspired is revealed in a letter written by Reynolds in 1605, more than four years after his execution, to the Earl’s son. He referred to him as ‘the perfect pattern of all true bounty, honour and nobility’ and urged the new Earl to

remember that you are the son of that great and renowned Earl of Essex whom all the world admired, and whose memory all England doth and will forever honour and reverence.5

An incident in 1596 shows that Reynolds was reluctant to share with another the honour of serving Essex, whose business affairs necessitated the engagement of a fifth secretary. Reynolds wrote:

I have served your lordship eight whole years, seven with Mr. [Thomas] Smith, without any other colleague, who—I speak it without envy—had all the credit of the place. At the time of Mr. Smith’s preferment your Lordship knoweth how I neglected the opportunity of a clerkship of the signet, having devoted myself wholly to your service, and desiring a third reversion of the privy seal which it pleased your Lordship to promise me to procure.

When Smith left, Essex had appointed four additional secretaries, ‘which makes the world to judge that he did all the service, whereas indeed the burden lay upon my shoulders for the most part’. He regarded the new appointment as a personal affront and ended:

I leave the key of my cabinet sealed up with Sir Gelly Meyrick, where your Lordship shall find all your papers in good order. For myself, I never desire to be seen more of your Lordship, but will spend my time in fighting for my hard fortune, and praying for your honourable estate and the greatest happiness your heart can wish.

Perhaps Anthony Bacon, whom he consulted, persuaded him to suppress the letter, for it was never sent.6

By 1597 Reynolds was evidently hoping to acquire a profitable government post, but Essex over-estimated his powers of patronage and Reynolds tried other channels, unsuccessfully writing directly to the Queen seeking the office of surveyor of the Ordnance. Next he tried Robert Cecil:

I have served my lord of Essex nine whole years, with what diligence I refer myself to his honourable testimony; for these services my suit is for a reversion of the offices of the privy seal and court of requests, for both which places my Lord a good while since commended me to her Majesty.

And next Bacon, for ‘a just care of my poor estate when decrepit age shall overtake me (whereof I bear already the marks in my head and face)’. He persuaded Bacon to write to Cecil at least twice on his behalf; first for the clerkship of the privy seal, then for the office of clerk of the Parliaments. Reynolds finally managed to acquire a privy seal reversion, which did not, however, fall in until 1608. In 1599 he was still hopeful that Essex might find a suitable post for him, especially if the rumour that the Earl was to be made master of the court of wards were to prove true.7

Reynolds’ secretarial duties included, perhaps in 1593, when Essex attempted unsuccessfully to find Reynolds a seat at Stafford, certainly in 1597, the management of Essex’s parliamentary patronage. The period between the issue of writs for elections to a new Parliament on 23 Aug. 1597 and its first meeting on 24 Oct. coincided almost exactly with the Earl’s Islands voyage and, as a result, Reynolds and other servants were left to conduct his election campaign. A letter which Essex sent to several boroughs seeking seats ended with the request that their reply should be sent to Reynolds, who was himself returned at Andover, where Essex had recently been made high steward.8

Reynolds was with Essex in the final dramatic gathering in Essex House and suffered a surprisingly short period of imprisonment, being released within a fortnight and even escaping a fine. He retired to Whiteparish, near Salisbury, ‘resolved to live a monastic life’, though still sufficiently interested to have himself returned to the 1601 Parliament as a Member for Weymouth and Melcombe. No activities are recorded for Reynolds in either of his Parliaments. Soon he was asking his brother Owen Reynolds (not Owen Reynolds), to find him a London house in Aldersgate Street ‘or such like open place’.9

In February 1604, Reynolds evidently intended standing again, but his uncle’s canvass had been discouraging. Edward Reynolds wrote to Owen:

You write that you have renewed your request to the mayor of Weymouth for my election to a burgess’s place. I did take it long since for a matter already granted ... I am sorry it is now made doubtful. I do hold my reputation and credit so dear as I had rather want ten such places than suffer the disgrace and indignity of a public repulse in the town where I was born. And therefore unless my friends there do see manifest possibility of speeding and the mayor make an absolute promise of his best furtherance, I pray you give charge that my name may not be propounded ... If I suffer disgrace by a repulse in this election, assure yourself I shall be much disquieted in mind for it, and shall hardly digest it.

Six days later he wrote again, declining, and when he heard that the election had taken place, he deplored that his name had been

used and abused almost this twelvemonth and in the end I am shifted off with scorn ... But the blow of my credit, in respect that I had communicated this matter to so many friends upon the strong assurances you gave me, is that which most disquieteth my mind and puts me into some distemper.10

Several years later Reynolds acquired the privy seal clerkship for which he had waited so long and the profits of which he was to enjoy for the rest of his life. He died 10 Dec. 1623, having made his will the previous 18 June. He died rich, his brothers and cousins benefiting handsomely in cash and property. Other beneficiaries included Sir John Rawlins and Sir Marmaduke Darrell, cofferer to King James, and the poor of the parish where he was buried. He left £20 to support a master at the Southampton free school, and a similar sum to All Souls, Oxford ‘for books of divinity ... my name to be inserted in each book’. His final request was for a simple funeral

with such inscription as my cousin Castle shall think meet to be engraven, together with my arms on the gravestone or in the wall near adjoining to my grave, and this with the advice of Mr. Camden if he be living.

William Camden, in fact, died in November 1623, a week or two before Reynolds.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Vis. Dorset 1623 Add. ed. Colby and Rylands, 43; HMC Hatfield, iv. 153; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 37.
  • 2. HMC Hatfield, vii. 333; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 436, 439; LC2/4/4.
  • 3. Weymouth Charters, ed. Moule, passim; HMC Hatfield, vii. 333, 419.
  • 4. W. Devereux, Devereux Earls of Essex, i. 196, 339-40, 342-3; HMC Hatfield, iv. 153, 161, 164; Birch, Mems. ii. 80-2, 95-100.
  • 5. SP/12/270/69, 273/38; SP14/15/98; HMC Hatfield, ix. 157, 343.
  • 6. Birch, ii. 105-7, 109.
  • 7. SP12/265/96; HMC Hatfield, vii. 333, 419; Birch, ii. 242-3, 349-50, 359; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 158.
  • 8. Neale, Commons, 238-40; Devereux, i. 280; HMC 5th Rep. 342; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 338.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 548; 1601-3, pp. 139, 141, 166, 171; Add. 1580-1625, p. 439; HMC Hatfield, xi. 44, 87; APC, xxxi. 485; SP14/6/56.
  • 10. SP14/1/48, 6/74, 6/82, 6/85, 6/96.
  • 11. Genealogists’ Mag. vi. 334; PCC 1 Byrde.