BABER, John (1594-1644), of Wells, Som. and Lincoln's Inn, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1640 (Apr.)

Family and Education

b. 14 Jan. 1594,1 1st s. of John Baber DD of Tormarton, Glos.,2 chan. of Gloucester dioc., and Mary, da. of John Wotton, bp. of Exeter.3 educ. Lincoln Coll., Oxf. 1608, aged 15, BA 1611; L. Inn 1614, called 1621.4 m. Elizabeth, da. of William Walrond of Isle Brewer, Som.5 suc. fa. 1628.6 d. by 8 July 1644.

Offices Held

Freeman, Wells 1625, capital burgess 1625-41;7 j.p. Som. 1625, 1640.8

Recorder, Wells 1625-d.;9 pens., L. Inn 1636, bencher 1639-41;10 fee’d counsel, Wells Cathedral 1636-?d.;11 recvr., Burton manor, Som. 1637-?d.12


Baber’s family were settled in Chew Stoke, Somerset by the early sixteenth century.13 Although his great-grandfather died a husbandman in 1527, his great-uncle, Edward Baber†, became treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn and a serjeant-at-law, and purchased several Somerset properties including the bishop of Bath and Wells’s country house at Chew Magna, and a lease of ‘Bess’ Hardwicke’s mansion at Knighton Sutton.14 Baber’s father, John, a clergyman, became a prebend of Exeter cathedral and then chancellor to the bishop of Gloucester. Baber himself, like his great-uncle before him, trained as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn, where his career was not without controversy. In 1618 he and another student were fined and suspended for three months ‘for striking and stabbing in the Hall’, and in 1626 he was fined for not receiving communion for three years. In 1641 he was fined again and removed from the bench after refusing to serve as reader.15

Baber probably had a house in Wells during the 1620s; his family’s estates lay thereabouts, and in September 1625 the corporation appointed him recorder following the death of Thomas Southworth*. Wells’s recorders had sat in every Parliament since 1601, but in January 1626 Baber was narrowly defeated by Sir Edward Rodney. Neither of the 1626 MPs stood for re-election in 1628, when Baber was returned without a contest.16 He was appointed to two committees during the Parliament, one to scrutinize a petition from Levant Company merchants against a wartime imposition on currants (added 23 June 1628), and the other an estate bill for the endowment of the London Charterhouse hospital (20 Feb. 1629).17

The incident which earned Baber considerable notoriety in Parliament in 1628 arose from the arrival in Wells of soldiers returned from the Ile de RĂ© some weeks before the start of the session. While they had a billeting warrant signed by the Somerset magistrates Rodney and Ralph Hopton*, there was no money to pay for their quarter, but Baber, fearing trouble if the soldiery were refused, advised the corporation ‘to yield to necessity rather than law’.18 Similar incidents occurred across the south of England at this time, but it was only after a vote of five subsidies opened the way to reimbursement of such expenses that the Commons felt able to address this grievance. In a debate of 8 Apr., Buckingham’s client Sir James Bagg II* was criticized for allowing soldiers to take free quarter in Devon, but few wished to provoke the royal favourite. However, on the following morning Sir Robert Phelips* produced the warrants implemented by Baber, a scapegoat conveniently unconnected to any powerful patron. John Selden asserted that ‘he that for fear in the country will do that which he ought not, may fear to do what is fit here’, while Christopher Sherland, calling for Baber to be expelled, insisted that ‘knowing the law and not having the heart to do according to it, is worthy double punishment. Nor was it fitting that such white-livered creature should sit in that council but only such as durst speak what they thought, and according to their conscience’.19 Suspended while his case was referred to committee, Baber later made some ‘ill speeches’, in one of which he compared himself to the Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus, who had contrasted the liberty of the Roman Republic with the tyranny of Emperor Tiberius.20 Baber acknowledged his billeting offence on 29 May, but was not readmitted to the House until 17 June. Meanwhile, back in Wells, householders turned the soldiers out onto the streets.21

In Wells Baber continued to court controversy, being accused of conspiring to indict a woman as an accessory to murder and of corruptly supporting alehouses.22 In January 1628 he was paid £30 by the corporation to petition William Laud, then bishop of Bath and Wells, regarding disputes over the corporation’s privileges. He apparently mishandled the case, and his subsequent attacks on Laud’s recently appointed chapter clerk, Bartholomew Cox, led the corporation and mayor to disclaim his actions and present Laud with a gilt bowl, whereupon Baber sued them both. The corporation eventually appealed to Baber to compound their differences, claiming that ‘the rumour of the said suit is so disposed abroad that this house may receive great blame for it’.23 Despite these disputes, a new bishop appointed Baber as diocesan counsel in 1636, and he was returned to the Short Parliament for Wells. Another dispute with the corporation meant that he failed to secure re-election in October 1640. ‘Articles’ were prepared against him by the corporation in the following August when he was replaced as a capital burgess, but he retained his post as recorder.24

Baber was dead by 8 July 1644. He was presumably buried in Wells, but no will or grant of administration has survived. His son, the Presbyterian Sir John Baber, became a physician to Charles II after the Restoration, when he acted as a protector of dissenters within the Court.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Simon Healy


  • 1. IGI Som.
  • 2. LI Admiss. i. 166.
  • 3. HMC Wells, ii. 334, 388; Vis Som. ed. F. Weaver, 3; J. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae ed. J. Horn and D. Bailey, 50.
  • 4. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 220.
  • 5. Som. Wills (ser. 6) ed. F. Brown, 56.
  • 6. HMC Wells, ii. 388.
  • 7. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. ed. A. Nott and J. Hasler (Som. Rec. Soc. xc-xci), 416, 424, 812.
  • 8. C231/4, f. 191; 231/5, p. 416.
  • 9. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. 416.
  • 10. LI Black Bks. ii. 330, 354, 356-7.
  • 11. HMC Wells ii. 417.
  • 12. HMC Egmont, ii. pt. 1, pp. 94, 108.
  • 13. Vis. Som. ed. Weaver, 3.
  • 14. T. Barnes, Som. 1625-1640, p. 19; Som. Arch. and Nat. Hist. xiv. 91; Som. Wills (ser. 6) ed. F. Brown, 103; J. Collinson, Hist. Som. ii. 95, 319; P. Hembry, Bps. of Bath and Wells 1540-1640, p. 113.
  • 15. LI Black Bks. ii. 199, 200-1, 204, 356-7; W. Prest, Inns of Ct. and Chancery, 67.
  • 16. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. 416, 427-8, 469.
  • 17. CD 1628, iv. 427; CJ, i. 931b.
  • 18. CD 1628, ii. 374, 383-4.
  • 19. Ibid. 361-8, 370-1, 374-5; vi. 183; C. Russell, PEP, 75.
  • 20. CD 1628, iii. 441.
  • 21. Ibid. iv. 14-19, 345; Barnes, 256-8.
  • 22. Barnes, 58n, 137n.
  • 23. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. 468-9, 485-6, 496-7.
  • 24. Ibid. 781, 795-6, 811-12, 942.
  • 25. Al. Ox.; HP Commons, 1660-90, iii. 247-9.