SMITH, Thomas (c.1556-1609), of Abingdon, Berks. and Parson's Green, Mdx.

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.1556, s. of Thomas Smith, ?mayor of Abingdon 1583-4, by Joan Jennings; bro. of Richard. educ. Abingdon free sch.; Christ Church, Oxf. student 1573, BA 1574, MA 1578. m. by 1604, Frances, da. of William Brydges, 4th Baron Chandos of Sudeley, Glos., 1s. d.v.p. 1da. Kntd. May 1603.1

Offices Held

Public orator, Oxf. Univ. 1582, proctor 1584; sec. to the Earl of Essex prob. by 1587, certainly by 1591-1601; clerk of PC 1587-1605; clerk of the Parliaments from 1597; Latin sec. from June 1603; master of requests from 1608.2


Smith came from a Berkshire family, and may have been related to the Richard Smith (d. c.1568) who was gentleman usher to the Queen. He probably entered the Earl of Essex’s service before 1587, if, as is likely, he obtained his clerkship of the Council through the Earl. In 1588 he was returned as a Member for Cricklade, no doubt being nominated by Giles Brydges, 3rd Baron Chandos, whose niece he was to marry later.3

In December 1591 Smith wrote to Cecil from Oxford to support his master’s claim to the chancellorship of the university in succession to (Sir) Christopher Hatton. He asserted that Essex had ‘many more voices than any other’, and appealed to Cecil against those prepared to sacrifice the university’s liberty by soliciting a court nomination, in order to keep Essex out. In September 1592 at Oxford he took a leading part in a disputation before the Queen, who thought his speech ‘too long’. He was brought into Parliament by Essex for Tamworth in 1593. No activity can be ascribed to Smith in either of his two Parliaments.4

In July 1597 Smith petitioned Cecil—having, he said, no-one else to rely on, in Essex’s absence abroad—for the clerkship of the Parliaments, left vacant by the death of Anthony Wyckes, another Abingdon man. He assured Cecil that the office was ‘of small commodity, and may well enough be executed by me, notwithstanding the place of service I have already in the court’. He obtained the office against competition from Robert Bowyer II, and may have helped to raise the standard of the Lords’ journals. He continued right up to the winter of 1600-1, to hold both his job with Essex and his clerkship of the Privy Council. He described the Earl in the generosity of his more fortunate days, as ‘yielding moisture unto the dried and withered plants’ such as himself, but during Essex’s eclipse in the autumn of 1599 declared ‘the court is the only school of wisdom in the world’ and he avoided any implication in the Earl’s final downfall: he was not the Thomas Smith imprisoned for several months after the rebellion in February 1601.5

In 1605 he seems to have been persuaded by Robert Cecil, then Earl of Salisbury, to resign his clerkship of the Council, possibly in favour of Edward Jones; but he was still fully employed as Latin secretary. In his later years Smith was a great friend of Dudley Carleton. William Knollys, then Lord Knollys, and Salisbury were godfathers to Smith’s son, Salisbury sending Sir Michael Hickes as his proxy at the christening in August 1605. Smith apologized for being absent from his post for an excessive time at his son’s birth; and the boy cannot have lived long, for it was Smith’s daughter who inherited. She married as her second husband, Sir Edward Herbert, attorney-general 1641-5. The Smith property went to her daughter by her first marriage, who married John, 1st Viscount Mordaunt. This included a lodging in the Savoy, a house at Shinfield, near Reading, lands in Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire and Wiltshire and a manor at Berwick-on-Tees: the Berwick estate he had recently purchased from his friend Hugh Middleton, perhaps in hope of obtaining the secretaryship of the council in the north, the reversion of which had been granted to him and Sir Thomas Edmonds in 1603. He bequeathed £13 6s.8d. to (Sir) Thomas Bodley for his library, and £100 to the corporation of Abingdon for the poor.

On 28 Nov. 1609 it was reported to Salisbury that Smith was dead and that his registers of Latin letters were available for return to the government. Smith’s widow married Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. DNB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 78; A. E. Preston, St. Nicholas, Abingdon, 468; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 177; Shaw, Knights, ii. 109.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 505; 1603-10, p. 14; APC, xxxii. 497.
  • 3. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 208; PCC 19 Babington; Birch, Mems. i. 112; DNB (Brydges, Grey).
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, iv. 162; Nichols. Progresses Eliz. iii. 152; Neale, Commons, 238.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, vi. 242; vii. 229, 334, 335; viii. 334, 399, 400; ix. 48, 149, 310; xi. 102. 208, 530; Neale, Parlts. ii. 332; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 360; APC, xxxii. 70.
  • 6. Lansd. 89, f. 92; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 443-4; xvii. 368, 371, 373, 379; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 63, 176, 432, 515, 552, 563; PCC 113 Dorset; DNB; CP.