SNAGGE, Robert (d.1605), of Hitchin and Letchworth, Herts.
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Family and Education
2nd s. of Thomas Snagge of Letchworth by Elizabeth or Ellen, da. of one Calton of Saffron Walden, Essex; bro. of Thomas I. educ. M. Temple 1559, called. unm.
Lent reader, M. Temple 1580, bencher.1
J.p. Herts from c.1575, rem. 1587.
Snagge was an able, hard-working puritan lawyer who achieved no office, and towards the end of his life was even put off the commission of the peace. While still a student at the Middle Temple he was several times excluded from commons for ‘contumacy’. One of his offences, in the autumn of 1570, was to plead ‘in English’, in a suit at the Guildhall against ‘Mr. Fleetwood’ (probably William Fleetwood I, recorder of London), who was a fellow-member of the Temple. Some years later Fleetwood wrote to Burghley sympathizing with a young minister, ‘one Tasse’, whose marriage to a daughter of Sir Robert Drury had been stopped by ‘Robert Snagge, coming into the Temple Church’. By 1580 Snagge was qualified by ‘anciency and sufficiency’ to become a reader, but it required a Privy Council letter to persuade the Middle Temple authorities to appoint him, and then he had to share the readings with another candidate who had ‘travelled and been at charges in preparing himself for the reading’.2
It is not clear how Snagge came to be returned to the House of Commons for Lostwithiel. He had no known connexions with the borough, with the duchy of Cornwall, or with the 2nd Earl of Bedford, who, in 1571 and 1572 received instructions from the Privy Council to supervise a ‘good choice’ of Members. Perhaps Snagge’s brother Thomas, who sat for Bedfordshire in that Parliament, was responsible. At any rate, once in Parliament Snagge lost no time in aligning himself with the radicals. On 9 Apr. 1571 on the first reading of the bill for coming to church and receiving communion he ‘wished great care for the avoiding of the double lash according to the argument of his brother’, and on 14 Apr. he followed ‘and far after him indeed, either for order, proof or matter’, Tristram Pistor in support of Strickland’s bill for the reformation of the prayer book, repeating a favourite puritan quip that if there must be a law about the posture at communion, then instead of kneeling let it be ‘to lie prostrate’. He saw ‘nothing derogatory or contrary to the prerogative’ in the bill’s proposals. His committees in 1571 were on religion (10 Apr.), fraudulent conveyances (11 Apr.), the preservation of woods (10 May) and Plymouth harbour (25 May). In the 1572 session of Parliament Snagge’s name appears in the journals for 21 of the 43 working days, sometimes twice or thrice in a day. His committees included those on outlawries (12 May), Plymouth almshouses (13 May), explanation of statutes (14, 19 May) and fraudulent conveyances (16 May). Some 20 interventions in debate are recorded, though sometimes there was ‘much talk and to no purpose’. On 5 June the bill concerning Worcester’s proposed canalization of water from the river Severn was under discussion following its third reading. Snagge made an ingenuous speech on behalf of William Somerset, the 3rd Earl of Worcester:
The most part of the land through which the cut should go is my Lord of Worcester[’s], who for the benefit of the town is contented therewith, and thinketh it would prove beneficial also to the country adjoining. Besides, the eight commissioners being indifferently chosen would indifferently make the price of the land. There is such provision in the bill as they would never attempt the making of the cut if it should be prejudicial to any, else were there great folly in them, since they are bound at their own costs both to stop up the cut and make recompense, which were to lease an infinite charge, and the cut being stopped up, the water must needs come to his old course.
His weightiest contributions to debates during this session were those concerning Mary Queen of Scots. On the first full working day of the session, 12 May, he moved for a petition to the Queen that ‘as she had already by ordinary course of law proceeded to judgment against certain malefactors, so likewise she would proceed further to the execution’. This was the first of a number of urgent appeals for the execution of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk had powerful friends at court who, ‘if they durst, would pluck him out of the Tower’, and who were seeking to influence Elizabeth towards leniency. When on 31 May Peter Wentworth again raised the question of the Duke, Snagge intervened to urge that the whole House should go to the Queen to show their solidarity in favour of execution. But his most passionate speeches were against Mary Stuart. ‘The axe must give the next warning. ... What have we to do with ius gentium, having law of our own? Shall we say our law is not able to provide for this mischief? We might then say it hath defect in the highest degree’. To Elizabeth’s objections to keeping Parliament in session, during an unhealthy time of the year, for the purpose of dealing further with the question of Mary, he had a typical puritan answer, ‘Refer it to God’. When the Queen decided against the bill for Mary’s execution, and declared her preference for the milder one excluding her from the succession, Snagge was in despair. ‘To deal with this second bill were not to do nothing, but to do stark nought’. There were dangerous supporters of Mary in the north of England who would take advantage of Elizabeth’s inaction, and recent incidents suggested that Elizabeth’s own life was in danger. ‘Dags [pistols] have already been taken in the court; and that which hath been, may be’. With Norfolk and Mary still living, there could be nothing but insecurity through further plots. He strongly opposed the government bill about Mary, which had been introduced first in the Lords, objecting to one clause on the ground that it might ‘seem to help her son to the succession’.
Snagge made, it is tempting to write ‘blundered into’, an extraordinarily interesting comment on the House of Lords in one of his unreported speeches in this Parliament to the effect that they ‘had not to do with the commonwealth, but that we in the Common House had only the care thereof’. He asked for the protection of the House over this (11 June 1572), when he was supported by Peter Wentworth, Recorder Fleetwood, Sir Ralph Sadler and Speaker Bell. Sir Francis Knollys was sent with a message to the Lords, and the lord keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon†, intervened. The Commons wanted to know the names of the ‘tale-tellers’ who had informed against Snagge, and would have continued to press the matter had the Lords not risen before a second message from the Lower House reached them. The matter was not raised again, and it may or may not be significant that no speeches have been recorded for Snagge in the 1576 session. Very likely this reflects only the defects in the journals, and Snagge may have been among the few radical speakers who attempted a revival of religious agitation in this session. He was active enough on committees: poor law (10, 11 Feb.), two legal committees (13 Feb.), bastardy (15 Feb.), weapons (17 Feb., 2 Mar.), leather (18 Feb.), privilege (21 Feb.), foreigners (24 Feb.), Chester (25 Feb.), church discipline (29 Feb.), aliens’ children (3 Mar.), juries (5 Mar.), land reclamation (6 Mar.), collateral warranties (7 Mar.), justices of the forest (8 Mar.), excess of apparel (10 Mar.), and wharves and quays (13, Mar.).
In 1581 he was a less active committeeman, but he made two recorded speeches: in favour of admitting Members returned at by-elections caused by illness or absence, and on 28 Jan. on purveyors. He served on committees concerning the clerk of the market (27 Jan.), bigamy (31 Jan.), slanderous words and practices (1 Feb.) and Lord Zouche (17 Mar.).3
By this time Snagge had collected a number of enemies. In 1578 he complained of charges, brought by the mayor of St. Albans, that he had spoken against the Earl of Leicester, and he brought counter-charges before the Council; in 1580 he invoked Privy Councillors in his dispute with the Middle Temple authorities over the readership; and some years later he was thanking Lord Burghley for kindness shown to him at the court at Theobalds, and asking for support against enemies who had misrepresented him to the Queen over his ‘thankless office’ of justice of the peace, from which he was finally removed. He was not, he assured Burghley, a contentious person nor a ‘contempner’ of his betters.4
By the time he made his will in 1599, Snagge had been left behind: even his radicalism had lost its edge. He believed in
the Articles agreed upon in the Parliament the thirteenth year of her Majesty’s reign as the public profession of the church of England (whereof I am a member) and consent therewith therein and according to the creed called the Apostles’ Creed, likewise professed in this our church.
And among the list of ‘friends that I ever found kind and constant’, was John Whitgift ‘by God’s providence Archbishop of Canterbury’, the man who had imprisoned Thomas Cartwright for refusing the ex-officio oath, and who, only a few years before, had engineered the banishment of those caught attending unauthorized religious meetings. Still, Whitgift had come down in favour of the Calvinist views of predestination and election in 1595, and the reason that Snagge mentioned these friends, who also included Edward Coke and George Rotheram, ‘my adopted brother, my familiar from his childhood’, was that ‘they never changed their affections towards me for any preferments of theirs nor fault of mine’.
The sole executrix, his widowed sister Anne Dallison, was to have his manor house near Hitchin, and his land at Letchworth. She was asked to see that Snagge was buried
in a comely manner without any superstition or solemnity in some church wherein Christ is served ... according to the order of this church of England, for that I hope to rise again among the rest of the Christians and be glorified with Christ Jesus as one of His church in the great day of the Lord.
He died in 1605, and the will was proved 14 May 1606.5
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Author: P. W. Hasler
- 1. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 140; Beds. N. and Q. ii. 7; PCC 31 Stafford; APC, x. 433; Lansd. 121, f. 68; M. T. Bench Bk. (1937), p. 82.
- 2. M. T. Recs. i. 151, 154, 173, 175; APC, xii. 328-9; Lansd. 20, f. 20.
- 3. CJ, i. 84, 88, 92, 94, 95, 96, 99, 101, 102, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 120, 121, 135; D’Ewes, 160, 161, 163, 167, 182, 206, 207, 212, 220, 222, 223, 247, 249, 250, 252, 253, 255, 262, 281, 289, 290, 307; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. and Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. passim.
- 4. APC, x. 433; xi. 75, 455; xii. 328-9; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 230; Lansd. 51, f. 8; 54, f. 162.
- 5. PCC 31 Stafford; M. T. Bench Bk. 82.