BAGG, James I (1554/5-1624), of Plymouth, Devon

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



Family and Education

b. c.1554/5,1 yr. s. of George Bagg, shoemaker, of Weymouth, Dorset and Elizabeth, da. of one Reynolds of Dorset. appr. c.1572. m. (1) 15 Jan. 1588, Joan (bur. 8 Feb. 1591), wid. of John Miller alias Baker, merchant, of Plymouth, s.p.; (2) by 1592, Margaret, da. of John Stone of Trevigo, Cornw., 7s. (5 d.v.p.) 7da. (3 d.v.p.).2 bur. 6 Apr. 1624. sig. James Bagg.

Offices Held

Freeman, Plymouth 1588,3 common councilman 1590,4 mayor 1595-6, 1605-6,5 alderman to Apr. 1615, June 1615-?d.; capt. militia ft., Plymouth by 1599, paymaster Plymouth garrison by 1599;6 commr. for purchasing corn, Plymouth 1599;7 commr. piracy, Devon 1606-at least 1620, Cornw. 1624;8 v. adm. Devon (jt.) 1606-7;9 surveyor of Admlty. affairs (jt.), Cornw., Devon, Som. and Hants 1608;10 commr. to administer oath of allegiance, Plymouth 1608;11 comptroller of customs (jt.), Plymouth and Fowey, Cornw. c.1608-14.12

Factor for Philip Corsini by 1593-at least 1599;13 freeman and dep. for Plymouth, Spanish Co. 1605;14 cttee. Virg. Co. 1606.15


Bagg’s father, said to be of Shropshire origin, was a shoemaker, but was of sufficient importance by 1569 to sign a letter on behalf of the Melcombe Regis corporation.16 Bagg himself was a younger son, and was apprenticed to Nicholas Ball†, a Totnes merchant who died in 1586, in which year Bagg described himself as being of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.17 By 1588 Bagg had settled in Plymouth. Appointed to the corporation in May 1590, he soon became prominent both in civil government and local commerce, serving as factor to the Italian merchant Philip Corsini, who employed him to melt down and export large quantities of tin. A capable administrator, his abilities soon came to the attention of the Crown, which employed him in various capacities during the second half of the 1590s. He proved particularly attentive in the gathering of intelligence, even sending out a pinnace of which he was part-owner in 1599 to discover the intentions of the Spaniards.18 It was doubtless his kinsman Edward Reynolds† who induced him to lend £1,370 to the 2nd earl of Essex.19

The first of his family to enter Parliament, Bagg was re-elected for Plymouth in 1604. He evidently claimed to have attended throughout the opening session of the first Stuart Parliament, as he was promised wages for 123 days, which probably included a week on the road in either direction.20 Named to the conference of 14 Apr. on the proposed Union with Scotland, he was appointed to legislative committees on free trade (24 Apr.), bankruptcy (14 May) and the garbling of spices (30 May).21 These last two measures were introduced by the corporation of London, while the free trade bill was sponsored by the out-port merchants, who tended to resent the capital’s domination of the kingdom’s trade. Whether Bagg was one of the bill’s sponsors is unknown, but in the summer of 1605 he laid before the newly formed Spanish Company a petition from the West-country merchants against London’s pre-eminence.22 Four months after the prorogation of July 1604 Bagg, together with William Stallenge†, applied unsuccessfully for a share in the customs farm of the outports.23 He was back in London by the spring of 1605, when he secured the wardship of his wife’s nephew, which he reportedly claimed to be worth £500.24 He subsequently took the oath of office as deputy for Plymouth on the board of the Spanish Company.

Bagg was elected mayor of Plymouth in 1605, but despite a recent ruling that mayors were not permitted to serve in Parliament he retained his Commons’ place.25 During the course of the second session he was named to legislative committees on poor relief (23 Jan. 1606), kerseys (5 Feb. 1606), the double payment of debts on shop books (18 Apr. 1606) and Mary Fowler’s jointure (17 May 1606).26 He also attended the committee for the bill to relieve the vicar of the Dorset parish in which he was probably born.27 He made no recorded attempt to defend the Spanish Company, which succumbed to parliamentary assault in 1606. On 28 Feb. 1606 he was granted privilege in respect of a family lawsuit, the Speaker writing to the judges of assize on the Western circuit on his behalf.28 Bagg seems to have falsified his time-sheet in the second session, for as well as seeking payment for 139 days when the Commons sat in the New Year he also claimed attendance from 23 Oct. to 9 Dec. 1605, despite the interruption caused by the Gunpowder Plot.29

During the summer of 1606 Bagg spearheaded a campaign to displace the vice-admiral of Devon, Sir Richard Hawkins*. Following an appeal to the lord high admiral, the earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard†), Hawkins was suspended from duty in August. Along with the former deputy vice-admiral of Devon, Christopher Harris†, Bagg was empowered to act as vice-admiral ‘until such time as Sir Richard shall have purged himself of those foul imputations against him’.30 However, Bagg’s tenure as joint vice-admiral was brief, for in the spring of 1607 Hawkins was restored.31 Nevertheless, Nottingham continued to distrust Hawkins, and in February 1608 he appointed Bagg and another man to act as surveyor of Admiralty affairs in Devon and three other counties in which he evidently suspected the vice-admirals of dishonesty.

Bagg left no trace on the records of the third session of Parliament (1606-7), for which he was allowed 81 days’ attendance. The sum owing amounted to £27, but no payment was made as the town’s coffers were almost empty. However, Bagg did receive £1 for obtaining an opinion from Sir Edward Coke* on market tolls.32 During the session Bagg wrote to Sir John Bennet, with whom he had served on the Radipole vicarage committee, in defence of the vicar of Plymouth, summoned before High Commission ‘for not denouncing of certain process of excommunication granted out against divers poor and miserable women of our town’.33

In 1608 Bagg lent the Plymouth corporation £540 to enable it to erect a new Guildhall, a sum which was to be repaid by instalments over the next six years.34 He also assisted the Strand development of the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) by shipping blue slates to London,35 a favour which may have helped to obtain for him appointment as joint comptroller of the customs at Plymouth and Fowey at about this time. When Parliament reassembled in 1610, Bagg was appointed to consider bills concerning Minhead harbour (23 Feb.), the import of wine at seasonable times (22 Mar.), Sir Francis Hobart (27 Mar.) and Pennington (2 July). He was also one of the Members instructed to search the port books regarding impositions (16 June).36 He played no recorded part in the poorly recorded fifth and final session.

In Plymouth, Bagg made himself increasingly unpopular with his fellow corporation members. In 1608 he spoke rudely in public to the mayor, Robert Trelawny, and the following year he and Thomas Sherwill* conspired to remove from office Trelawny’s successor, John Battersby. Two years later he denounced mayor Thomas Fownes as ‘an insolent fellow’ and, in a separate incident, turned his hindquarters towards Fownes and told him loudly and publicly to ‘come and kiss’.37 While the corporation owed Bagg so much money there was little alternative but to endure these insults, but by the end of 1612 the debt to Bagg had probably been repaid in full, leaving the town free to exact its revenge. In January 1614 most of the leading townsmen, including Bagg’s former ally Sherwill, agreed to finance a legal action in the Exchequer against Bagg and his fellow customs officials for charging extortionate fees.38 Four months later Bagg was threatened with removal from the corporation unless he apologized for having insulted his colleagues, whereupon he replied that he would ‘overthrow and make void the charter of the borough’.39 However, he was now thoroughly alarmed, and on 31 May surrendered the comptrollership of the customs to his eldest son, James Bagg II*.40 His resignation came not a moment too soon, as the Exchequer soon discovered that Bagg had not only been trading on his own account but had also ignored a direct order from Sir Julius Caesar* to forbear the levying of duties on imported corn, grain, and salt.41 Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that Bagg did not seek re-election to Parliament in March 1614. Dismissed from municipal office in April 1615, Bagg initiated legal proceedings in King’s Bench. He was rapidly reinstated, for although his abusive behaviour was documented in great detail, the court found no legal grounds to merit his removal.42

Despite being a wealthy merchant, Bagg refused to contribute to the Benevolence raised in 1615, and in March 1620 he was briefly arrested for debt as surety for his deceased brother-in-law Thomas Stone.43 In 1620 the Virginia Company noted that he had ‘divers times taken great pains for the Company and laid out much money, ... and may hereafter also pleasure them in divers kinds’.44 His will, dated 23 Mar. 1624, was evidently drafted on his death-bed, as it shows signs of having been written in haste, the amounts to be left to his younger son George and the vicar being left blank. However, he did bequeath £5 to the poor of Plymouth, and also set aside £350 to provide portions for his three unmarried daughters. He was buried at St. Andrew’s, Plymouth on 6 Apr. 1624.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. HCA 13/26, f. 83. We are grateful for this ref. to Geoffrey Harris.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 34; Dorset RO, D413/35; Plymouth St. Andrew Par. Reg. (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc.), 214, 302, 328; PROB 11/72, f. 20v; 11/145, f. 252; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 310.
  • 3. W. Devon RO, W46, f. 303.
  • 4. E. Coke, 11th Rep. 94.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, v. 489; xviii. 257.
  • 6. BL, RP 3261, 23 Aug. 1591, Bagg to Philip Corsini.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, ix. 83.
  • 8. Cal. Plymouth Mun. Recs. ed. R.N. Worth, 23, 133; C181/2, ff. 25, 52, 200; 181/3, ff. 1, 113; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 325.
  • 9. HCA 14/39/204.
  • 10. HCA 14/37/45.
  • 11. C193/6/167.
  • 12. E134/12Jas.I/Mich.40.
  • 13. Plymouth and W. Devon RO, ms 1010/1; BL, RP 3261.
  • 14. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 24, 40; Harl. 1855, p. 3.
  • 15. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 66.
  • 16. H.J. Moule, Docs. Bor. Weymouth, 22.
  • 17. HCA 13/26, f. 83.
  • 18. HMC Hatfield, v. 489-90; vii. 378; ix. 323.
  • 19. Ibid. x. 348. For evidence that Bagg was in close contact with Reynolds, see CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 292; 1611-18, p. 3.
  • 20. W. Devon RO, W132, f. 149,
  • 21. CJ, i. 172a, 183b, 209a, 228b.
  • 22. Spanish Co. 44.
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 340, 348.
  • 24. C2/Jas.I/539/79.
  • 25. CJ, i. 245-6, 997b.
  • 26. Ibid. 258b, 264a, 300a, 310a.
  • 27. C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 183.
  • 28. CJ, i. 276a.
  • 29. W. Devon RO, ms W132, f. 154r-v.
  • 30. W. Devon RO, ms 1/359/16, 17; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 257-8, 309-10; HCA 14/39/204.
  • 31. The last known warrant from Nottingham directed to Bagg and Harris is dated 25 Apr. 1607. Hawkins had been restored to office by 12 May 1607: HCA 14/37/114, 179.
  • 32. W. Devon RO, ms W132, f. 158.
  • 33. W. Devon RO, ms 1/359/42.
  • 34. W. Devon RO, ms W132, f. 155v.
  • 35. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 459.
  • 36. CJ, i. 399a, 414a, 415a, 449a, 445a.
  • 37. Coke, 95.
  • 38. Cal. Plymouth Mun. Recs. 236-7.
  • 39. Coke, 96-7.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 325.
  • 41. E134/12Jas.I/Mich. 40.
  • 42. Coke, 99.
  • 43. Cal. Plymouth Mun. Recs. 149; C2/Jas.I/539/59.
  • 44. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 380.