BAGG, James II (c.1592-1638), of Plymouth, Devon; later of Saltram, nr. Plympton Erle, Devon and Queen Street, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx.

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

bap. 23 Feb. 1592, 1st. s. of James Bagg I† and 2nd w. Margaret, da. of John Stone of Trevigo, St. Minver, Cornw. educ. Leiden Univ. c.1609-12. m. by 1614, Grace, da. of John Fortescue of Buckland Filleigh, Devon, 1s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1624; kntd. 19 Sept. 1625.1 d. 26 Aug. 1638. sig. James Bagg.

Offices Held

Comptroller of customs, Plymouth, and Fowey, Cornw. 1614-at least 1621;2 commr. piracy, Devon 1620, Cornw. 1624-at least 1626;3 v. adm.-S. Cornw. (sole) 1622-11 June 1638, (jt.) 11 June 1638-d.,4 Devon (jt.) 1626-d.;5 dep. mayor, Plymouth 1623;6 commr. to press seamen, Devon 1625-8;7 collector of Admlty. tenths, Cornw. 1625;8 victualler to the fleet, Plymouth 1625-8,9 dep. commr. French goods 1626;10 commr. martial law, Devon and Cornw. 1625,11 Plymouth 1626-8,12 to investigate Sir John Eliot* as v.-adm. of Devon’s accts. 1626-7;13 j.p. Devon 1626-d., Cornw. 29 June 1638-d.;14 collector of new impositions, Western ports 1626-d.;15 commr. to investigate abuses of officers in V.-Admlty. of Devon 1627,16 Forced Loan, Devon 1627,17 sick and injured soldiers and seamen, Plymouth 1628,18 inventory goods aboard St. Peter of Hamburg 1628;19 dep. lt. Devon 1629;20 gov. (jt.) of Plymouth Fort and St. Nicholas Isle, Plymouth 1629-d.;21 commr. knighthood fines, Devon c.1630;22 steward, ‘annexed lands’, duchy of Cornw. c.1630/1;23 commr. survey, Cattewater harbour, Plymouth 1636;24 commr. revenues of duchy of Cornw. by 1637-d.,25 to appraise goods taken in the White Falcon, Plymouth 1638.26

Member, Virg. Co. 1620-4;27 cttee. New Eng. Co. 1632;28 Member, Westminster Co. of Soapmakers 1636.29


Few early Stuart figures have enjoyed a worse reputation than Sir James Bagg. Vilified by contemporaries and historians alike, he has frequently been characterized as a corrupt local tyrant, whose fraudulent dealings were exposed in Star Chamber during the 1630s. To some extent this view of Bagg is justified: from at least 1628, Sir James was dubbed by his enemies ‘the bottomless bag’. Moreover, like his father, who was unquestionably dishonest, Bagg resorted to extortion whenever it suited his purposes. He was also arrogant and foul-mouthed to his enemies, and yet servile to the point of obsequiousness to those whose favour he courted. Yet, for all his faults, Bagg was also a loyal servant of the Crown, whose energy and efficiency in an age of sluggish administration aroused widespread admiration at Court and in the Navy. During the war years of the 1620s, moreover, Bagg jeopardized his own finances in order to discharge his official duties.30

The eldest son of a Plymouth merchant, Bagg was educated at the University of Leiden. While still a minor his father, who from about 1608 was debarred from trading on his own account by a post in the customs, used his name to take over and operate shipping importing goods from Portugal and Spain.31 When the elder Bagg was compelled to resign for extortion in 1614, Bagg, who had by now attained his majority, took his place. Nothing more is heard of him until June 1619, when he was considered for inclusion on the Devon piracy commission.32 In May 1620, one month after he was actually appointed to the piracy commission, Bagg, Sir Edward Seymour* and Robert Bateman*, were ordered by the Privy Council to refrain from helping Roger North prepare for a voyage to the Amazon.33 Seven months later Bagg was returned for Bodmin as ‘James Bagg, junior’,34 probably on the interest of his mother’s family, the Stones, who were prominent on the corporation. He naturally had himself named to the committee for the customs extortions bill (7 May 1621), but played no other recorded part in the third Jacobean Parliament.35

Although now a piracy commissioner, customs official and Member of the Commons, Bagg was ambitious for further preferment. In October 1621 he wrote to the de facto head of the Navy commission, John Coke*, offering to perform ‘any service that in these parts you may be pleased to command me ... in such business as concerns the Navy’.36 This offer was too good to pass up, and in 1622 Bagg was employed to victual the ship that carried England’s ambassador to Spain, Lord Digby (Sir John Digby*), for which service he received the latter’s commendation.37 The lord high admiral, the marquess of Buckingham, was delighted, and in August 1622 he appointed Bagg vice-admiral of South Cornwall. The following spring Bagg, now deputy mayor of Plymouth, was employed to press seamen for the Navy, a business which he found ‘fuller of trouble than I did imagine’.38 In June 1623 he also loaded a small ship full of victuals on his own initiative and sent it to Corunna, having learned that the fleet would shortly be sent to fetch home Prince Charles and Buckingham from Spain. Naturally, he acquainted Buckingham, now a duke, with this act of generosity, and promised that ‘if your honour please ... to esteem me as your servant in this place, I shall, by the performance of your commands, give a true testimony’. A few weeks later, in anticipation that the fleet would put in at Plymouth on its homeward journey, he baked some meats ‘for the duke my master’.39

Following the summons of a fresh Parliament in 1624, Bagg, by now a familiar figure in South Cornwall, was returned as junior Member for West Looe. He almost certainly owed his seat there to Sir Bernard Grenville*, who owned the local manor of Killigarth and whose son Bevill Grenville* owed Bagg or his father £120.40 However, Bagg’s sojourn at Westminster may have been cut short, as his father died on 6 April. His only committee appointment of the session concerned a naturalization bill (24 Apr.), although, as a burgess of a port, he attended two meetings of the committee for the revived customs extortions bill, on 10 and 17 April.41 After the Parliament, Bagg returned to Plymouth, from where he kept Buckingham and the Navy commissioners informed of local maritime affairs.42 In January 1625, hearing of the preparations for the forthcoming war with Spain, and knowing that the Navy’s victualler had no deputy based there, he applied for the right to victual the king’s ships at Plymouth.43 As he had assiduously discharged his duties as vice-admiral, gathering more than £1,200 in Admiralty droits in just one year, Bagg was authorized not only to prepare £10,000 worth of victuals for the fleet, but to take charge of the impressment of seamen in Devon and Cornwall.44

Bagg’s enhanced authority aroused the jealousy of another of the duke’s clients, the vice-admiral of Devon, Sir John Eliot*. Following the death of James I in March 1625, Eliot, correctly observing that Bagg’s commission was no longer in force, dismissed the seamen pressed at Exeter by the latter’s officers.45 Bagg responded, with equal justification, by accusing Eliot of seeking ‘to hinder’ rather than ‘further the service’. He was equally dismissive of reports that he and his subordinates, in return for secret payments, had discharged seamen of ability and replaced them with men unfit for service. ‘Business of this nature’, he declared on 6 May, ‘hath few friends and less tongues to speak well of the actors’ care or service’, and he assured Buckingham, who continued to trust him, that ‘I and my people are free from corruption’.46 Yet if Bagg did not stoop to line his own pockets he may not have been above a little electoral malpractice. In April 1625 he was returned to the first Caroline Parliament as senior Member for East Looe, perhaps with the aid of his fellow Buckingham clients, the Mohuns. Although there were only nine voters in the borough his indenture bears 11 signatures, some of which may have been forged.47

Despite having been re-elected to the Commons, Bagg was obliged to remain at Plymouth to oversee the victualling of the fleet. However, in early August he wrote to Buckingham stating that he might still be able ‘to do your lordship some Parliament service’ in respect of the Tunnage and Poundage bill, which had still to be enacted. Many of the local coastal towns, he observed, had written to their parliamentary representatives about the havoc being wrought by North African pirates on West Country shipping. Indeed, within the last week, three local vessels had been captured off the Lizard. This was good news for the king, thought Bagg, as it ‘will invite those of the Parliament to capitulate in passing that bill’.48 However, Bagg’s optimism was misguided. Far from smoothing the passage of the Tunnage and Poundage bill, news of the spoils committed by the North African corsairs merely led to complaints at Westminster about the Navy and its head, Buckingham.

In September 1625 the king and Buckingham visited Plymouth to inspect the naval preparations and hasten the departure of the fleet. Some of the victuals provided had been found to be defective,49 but Bagg was held blameless and was knighted for his services. Hopes of a successful expedition were soon dashed, however, for not only did the fleet fail to seize Cadiz, but many soldiers and seamen died on the return journey, victims of rotten victuals. Understandably, many blamed these deaths on the victualler of the Navy, Sir Allen Apsley, and on Bagg. One contemporary, for instance, thought that both men were ‘worthy the halter’.50 However, it seems extremely unlikely that Bagg at least had failed to discharge his duties properly as to have done so would have jeopardized his standing with Buckingham. The real source of the problem was not dishonesty and corruption but the lengthy delay in putting the fleet to sea. Many of the victuals had been provided in the spring, whereas contemporary methods of preserving meat - salting and pickling - were generally regarded as being efficacious for only about four months. By the time the fleet headed for home its provisions were six or seven months old, and had endured the battering of a severe storm.51 Had the fleet managed to capture Cadiz and take on fresh supplies, many of the deaths that occurred on the return journey would probably have been avoided. As Bagg wrote bitterly in late December, had the expedition achieved its objectives ‘then never had there been an army better manned, armed, victualled or clothed’.52

In the aftermath of the Cadiz expedition, Bagg was fully occupied in providing for the sick and injured survivors and in finding fresh crews for the ships.53 He also helped examine members of the crew of the St. Peter of Le Havre, a French vessel suspected of carrying contraband goods.54 His efforts impressed the admiral of the Channel squadron who, in January 1626, found him ‘wondrous industrious to do all things for His Majesty and my lord duke’s benefit’.55 Buckingham, too, was appreciative, and in the following month Bagg was rewarded with the reversion to the captaincy of Plymouth fort and St. Nicholas Isle.56

The calling of another Parliament saw Bagg once more returned for East Looe. This time he travelled to Westminster, and by 22 Feb. at the latest he had taken his seat. Among his parliamentary colleagues was his local rival, Sir John Eliot, who was appointed chairman of the committee to investigate the complaints of those merchants whose goods had recently been seized by the French. Eliot and his committee quickly discovered that the French were responding to the news that English officials had seized certain French goods on suspicion that they were contraband. Among those implicated was Bagg, who had raided the lodgings of a Frenchman in Plymouth and confiscated a gold chain and a hatband set with precious stones. During the course of its inquiries, Eliot and his committee were informed that Bagg had profited from the seizure of £150 worth of pistoles that were found aboard the St. Peter. Buckingham had ordered this money to be restored to its owner, but instead of complying with this instruction Bagg had forced the Frenchman to sell his coins for £80. Under questioning, Bagg hotly denied that he was guilty of any wrongdoing. The gold chain and hatband, he declared, had been seized on suspicion that they belonged to a Spaniard. As for the failure to restore the pistoles to their owner, this was not his doing. On the contrary, he protested, he had not only offered to mediate in the dispute between the Frenchman and the relevant Admiralty official, but had actually paid more than the £75 that had been demanded. Eliot and his fellow committee members were unimpressed by this story, however, as the Frenchman complained that he been forced to compound with Bagg against his will.57

In the absence of hard evidence of any wrongdoing, it is not surprising that Bagg escaped punishment for his role in the seizure of French goods. Moreover, it soon became clear that although Eliot detested Bagg, his prime target was not his local rival but his former patron, Buckingham, whom he had come to loathe. The ruin of Buckingham was an objective also shared by the 3rd earl of Pembroke and his clients in the Commons. Astonishingly, in early March, Bagg learned of the plot to topple Buckingham from one of Pembroke’s own chief supporters, William Coryton*, who also revealed that Pembroke was secretly behind the election to Parliament of one of the duke’s most troublesome critics, Sir Robert Mansell. Bagg was appalled, and shortly after 3 Mar. he warned the duke of the impending attack. He also identified key members of Pembroke’s circle with seats in the Commons, among them, he suspected, Eliot, whose conduct ‘tends to the depraving of the present government, and crossing His Most Sacred Majesty’s princely and just demands’.58

Bagg played only a marginal role in the ensuing struggle between Buckingham and his enemies in the Commons, although he did what little he could to defend his patron. On 7 Mar. he was appointed to attend a conference with the Lords on the international situation, and on 25 Mar. he was sent with Thomas Fotherley to notify Buckingham of the Commons’ charges against him.59 On the loan of a squadron of English warships to the French government the previous year, which had been used to help suppress the Huguenots of La Rochelle, Bagg told the Commons on 21 Apr. that Buckingham was ‘in no fault in that business’.60 He denied having been instructed to tell this to the House, but was willing to explain the circumstances more fully to ‘two or three particular persons’, an offer that was not taken up. Bagg also leapt to the defence of Buckingham on 4 May, when the duke was accused of having knelt to take the sacrament three years earlier in Spain. Bagg demanded to know who else had seen this and how long Buckingham had knelt, ‘for making a low congé might be taken for kneeling’. His only other committee in this Parliament, and the last in his career, was for the parliamentary privilege bill on 13 June.61

After the dissolution Bagg determined to exact his revenge on Eliot. On 1 July the commissioners for Buckingham’s estate reported that Bagg had ‘made a collection of sundry exceptions against Sir Jo[hn] Eliot’s accounts and some proceedings in his office of Vice Admiralty’. One month later, apparently at Bagg’s suggestion, Buckingham established a commission of inquiry into Eliot’s conduct that was dominated by Bagg and his allies.62 This body initially got off to a slow start, but by 25 Oct. it had uncovered enough incriminating evidence to cause the Privy Council to order Eliot’s suspension. Three weeks later, on 16 Nov., Bagg and his wife’s cousin Sir John Drake* were instructed to execute the office of vice-admiral of Devon in Eliot’s place. Bagg, however, remained dissatisfied, and relentlessly continued to pursue Eliot, whom in letters to Buckingham he depicted as ‘that ungrateful villain’, in the hope of finally ruining him.63

Parliament’s failure to vote subsidies in 1626 led the king to demand a Forced Loan. Bagg heartily approved of this levy, and deplored the clamour among the common sort for a fresh Parliament. Consequently, he was appalled when Eliot and others refused to contribute. In his view the statutory prohibition on the levying of taxes without parliamentary consent did not bar the subject from lending the king money in times of necessity. Those who hid behind Magna Carta to justify their refusal to pay were relying upon ‘an extorted concession to a rebellious army’. Far from guaranteeing English freedoms, Magna Carta ‘is now made a chain to bind the king from doing anything, and a key to admit the rascal to everything’. As well as serving as one of the commissioners for Devon and Cornwall, Bagg drew up for Buckingham a list of those individuals whom he thought would also make ideal commissioners. Chief among these was John Mohun who, upon Bagg’s recommendation, became vice-warden of the Cornish Stannaries in place of William Coryton.64 Bagg himself was added to the Devon bench in July 1626, and in the following December, shortly after becoming joint vice-admiral of Devon, was appointed co-collector of the new impositions in the Western ports.

In March 1627 Bagg was ordered to help furnish victuals for the forthcoming expedition to relieve the Huguenots of La Rochelle. As money was short, Bagg was instructed to use his own credit and also whatever else he could raise from the sale of prize goods locally. On receiving these instructions, Bagg immediately set about gathering the necessary provisions with his customary energy, and in mid-June, shortly before the fleet sailed, a grateful Buckingham sent him a letter of thanks.65 Over the summer, Bagg also dispatched small quantities of additional supplies and men to the duke, whose forces were engaged in a lengthy siege on the Ile de Ré.66 By September, however, it was clear that nothing less than a major relief expedition would save Buckingham from a humiliating defeat. In order to hurry things along, Sir Henry Mainwaring* was dispatched to Plymouth. Bagg was offended at this, but he need not have worried as Mainwaring, who found that he had little to do on his arrival, discovered Bagg to be ‘most dexterous in his undertakings’ and ‘sine qua non’.67 The earl of Holland (Henry Rich*), who commanded the relief expedition, was equally impressed with Bagg’s diligence, especially as Bagg had strained his credit to the tune of £10,000,68 as was the duchess of Buckingham’s steward, who, after describing Bagg as ‘active, able and quick in his dispatches’, lamented that ‘I could wish His Grace had many such servants all along that sea coast’.69

Following Buckingham’s return to England, Bagg was charged with billeting 1,200 sick and wounded soldiers and sailors in and around Plymouth, and was assigned £3,500 for the purpose. He set about this new task with his customary energy, for which he was once again praised by Buckingham, who also instructed him to sell for his own benefit a quantity of salt brought back from the Ile de Ré.70 However, the duke subsequently ordered him to release one of the salt ships, the Costly of Dover, whose cargo was needed by the deputy victualler at Portsmouth, Henry Holt.71 Bagg was aghast, as he was now desperate to redeem his credit, having been forced to borrow from the farmers of the customs on unfavourable terms.72 Claiming that he had Buckingham’s authority, he waived aside Holt’s objections, unloaded the Costly by force and sold her cargo.73 Sir Allen Apsley was so disgusted that he vowed to have nothing more to do with Bagg, who ‘never looks further into the business ... than to get monies into his hands’.74 Bagg retorted that Apsley was inclined to ‘make use of my undertakings when he is out of money, but when any is advanced unto him thinks me too good to be his friend’.75 Nevertheless, he apologized to Buckingham for his ‘boldness without order’. He hoped, nevertheless, that the duke would forgive him when the ‘many persuading circumstances’ were taken into account.76 Buckingham was scarcely able to do otherwise, of course, as it was hard to blame Bagg from seeking to prevent the collapse of his own finances, which remained precarious,77 and Bagg’s money and credit would soon be required again. Moreover, another Parliament was now on foot, and Bagg was needed to secure seats in the West Country for the duke’s allies. These were certainly forthcoming, for as well as ensuring his own election at Plympton Erle, the borough next door to Saltram, his newly acquired seat overlooking Plymouth harbour, Bagg provided Buckingham’s client Sir Francis Cottington with a burgess-ship at Saltash. He also gave the duke two blank indentures, relating to West Looe and Grampound, to dispose of as he pleased.78

Bagg was initially prevented from taking his seat in the new Parliament by the preparations for setting out a new fleet for La Rochelle. However, he promised to come to Westminster ‘as soon as I can see this fleet off the coast, or fitted’. In the meantime, he penned a letter of advice to Buckingham on parliamentary affairs, which began by denouncing the methods employed by the supporters of Coryton and Eliot, who had recently triumphed in the county election for Cornwall. A commission of inquiry should be instituted, he suggested, staffed by nine of the leading members of Cornwall’s gentry, all of whom happened to be his own friends and allies. Had the duke acted upon this advice, however, he would quickly have provoked a privilege dispute with the Commons, which ever since 1604 had claimed the sole right to judge election returns itself. Equally misguided was Bagg’s observation that the Commons would never accept as Members Eliot, or his allies, Bevill Grenville and John Arundell, who had been returned for Launceston and Tregony respectively, on the grounds that all three men were outlaws. Outlawry had not been a bar to membership since 1604. However, not all of Bagg’s advice was quite so obviously flawed. He sensibly suggested that the duke’s followers should enlist the support of the clerk of the Commons, John Wright, whose office made him ‘the most usefullest man of the House’. Hitherto Wright had ‘done worst service to His Majesty’, whereas, remarked Bagg, ‘it is much in his power to do good’. Perhaps less wisely, Bagg recommended that the new Speaker, (Sir) John Finch II, should not ‘insinuate’ himself with Members of the Commons, but ‘endure their frowns, and hazard his credit with them for His Majesty’s service’.79 Two days after penning this missive, Bagg sent the duke’s Admiralty secretary, Edward Nicholas*, written proof that Coryton had canvassed for votes contrary to law.80

Bagg’s hopes that the Commons would investigate the activities of his opponents in the recent election for Cornwall were quickly dispelled. Rather than take action against Eliot and Coryton, the House turned its attention to Bagg’s allies, who had employed underhand means in a futile attempt to prevent the election of both men. Bagg was horrified that these ‘honest western gentlemen’ should be ‘so troubled’, but he was powerless to prevent them from being brought before the bar of the House. Shortly thereafter, he himself was called into question by the Member for Bere Alston, William Strode, who on 8 Apr. claimed that he had embezzled the £3,500 delivered to him by Buckingham in November 1627 for billeting the sick soldiers and seamen on their return from Ré. Strode also alleged that Bagg, in order to make good the deficit, had then double-charged the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside. Bagg was unperturbed by these accusations, which were evidently groundless, and reassured Buckingham on 21 Apr. that he would show that he was ‘your faithful servant’. Were it to be proved that he was guilty of any error, it would be of form rather than substance.81

Bagg was kept abreast of developments in Parliament by Buckingham, who wrote him an optimistic letter, now lost, on 4 April. Bagg was delighted to receive this missive, and to learn of ‘the happy and blessed way of the Parliament’, but he hoped that the king’s subjects would not prove so demanding ‘as hereafter to forget their prayers’.82 Eighteen days later, Bagg informed the duke that he wished the Parliament to be ‘the garden of His Majesty’s delights’, provided that ‘in it the roses of his prerogative be perfumed’. Perhaps thinking of Charles’s recent promise to confirm the rights and liberties of the subject as they had been enjoyed ‘under the best of our kings’, he added the warning that ‘what His Majesty now consents unto binds him’, and would be difficult to rescind. He ended by regretting that he was not able to advise Buckingham in person.83

Bagg was granted his wish to come up sooner than expected, for on 30 Apr. he set out for Westminster to answer the charges levelled against him by Strode. He presumably performed this task satisfactorily, as the Commons subsequently failed to initiate formal proceedings against him, but on 13 May he was accused by Thomas Sherwill, a former mayor of Plymouth and now one of the borough’s parliamentary representatives, of having had a hand in the attempt to rig the county election in Cornwall. Bagg, who had recently been threatened with gaol by Sherwill at a meeting of Plymouth’s mayor’s court for employing bad language in public, deflected this accusation by replying that he would ‘be ready to sign any charge’ against those who had openly sought to deter Eliot and Coryton from standing, four of whom were now found guilty of misconduct.84

Bagg was not permitted to remain long at Westminster, for in mid-May the fleet returned to England, having failed to breach the defences around La Rochelle. The king immediately resolved to set out a second, much larger force, and on 18 May Bagg was instructed to provide as many ships, men and provisions as he could in Devon and Cornwall, using his own credit and that of his friends if necessary.85 By 22 May Bagg had returned to Plymouth, where he resumed his naval duties. However, he did not forget the Parliament, for on his arrival he again warned Buckingham that a single rose of the royal prerogative was not worth the grant of five subsidies.86 Following the king’s acceptance of the Petition of Right, Bagg complained that it had become much harder to press ships, as ‘every man now pleads his property so in his goods’. Unless the king’s prerogative powers were preserved, he added, ruin would swiftly follow.87

Bagg was at Plymouth when he heard of Buckingham’s murder, of which he claimed to have had a premonition. Bereft of his patron, he was now dangerously exposed, and not surprisingly he appealed to the duke’s former client, Secretary Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) for protection. The king had no intention of cutting him adrift, however, and by early September, despite the widespread lack of enthusiasm for further military adventures, he had succeeded in amassing an armada of 51 ships in Plymouth Sound.88 Shortly thereafter he journeyed to London, probably to attend Buckingham’s funeral, which took place on 18 September.89 He subsequently resumed his naval duties at Plymouth, and appears not have attended Parliament when it reassembled in 1629.90

Following the end of the wars with France and Spain, Bagg, who had frequently expended money without waiting for a formal warrant owing to the distance between Plymouth and London, found it difficult to recover the sums he had laid out in the king’s service. However, in July 1630, after declaring that Bagg had had an eye ‘for the good of our service’ rather than ‘delayed the same for want of warrants’, the king instructed the Exchequer to set aside its normal procedures,91 and over the next couple of years Bagg received more than £26,000 in full settlement from lord treasurer Portland (Sir Richard Weston*).92 Portland was impressed with Bagg, and in February 1632, following the death of Secretary Dorchester (Dudley Carleton*), he discussed with Bagg the possibility of the latter becoming secretary of state.93 In the event nothing came of this, but rumours that Bagg was destined for high office persisted. Indeed, following Portland’s own death in 1635 it was supposed that Bagg would replace as chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Francis Cottington, who was tipped to become the new lord treasurer.94 This speculation, too, proved ill-founded, and Bagg was forced to settle instead for a seat on the duchy of Cornwall’s revenue commission.

Perhaps the main reason Bagg failed to achieve high office was the cumulative damage done to his reputation at Court during the mid-1630s. Serious trouble first erupted in 1633, when the Admiralty commissioners who had taken office on Buckingham’s death commenced an investigation into Bagg’s recent Vice-Admiralty accounts. They eventually calculated that the Admiralty was owed more than £29,000, but Bagg replied that, deducting various allowances and an unpaid loan of £16,000 to the king, he was actually more than £7,000 in credit. While Portland, the senior Admiralty commissioner, was alive this investigation proceeded at a snail’s pace, but in July 1635 Bagg was ordered to attend the Admiralty Court judge Sir Henry Marten*, and in May 1636 he was instructed to respond to a list of objections to his accounts.95 It was presumably as a result of this investigation that in 1634 a manor belonging to Bagg was seized for debt by the Crown.96

Unlike the Admiralty’s investigation, which was conducted out of the public gaze, a lawsuit filed in Star Chamber by one of the king’s creditors, Sir Anthony Pell, attracted more attention. Sometime during the early 1630s Pell had paid Bagg £2,500 to intercede with Portland to obtain repayment of his debt. However, after parting with his money, Pell had been horrified to learn that he would receive nothing at all unless he relinquished almost half of his debt and lent more money to the king. In the subsequent Star Chamber case Bagg pleaded that every penny of the money he had received from Pell had gone into Portland’s pocket. However, in November 1635 the judges ruled by the narrowest of margins that he was guilty of extortion. Only the intervention of the king, who remained deeply grateful for his loyalty during the war years of the 1620s, prevented Bagg from being punished. Bagg was so relieved at this narrow escape that he openly celebrated, ‘for which’, according to George Garrard*, ‘even his friends condemn him’.97 However, he was by no means out of the woods yet, as the outcome of another Star Chamber case was still pending. In 1634 his former ally, John Mohun, now a peer, accused him of having embezzled much of the £80,000 he had received during the war years for victualling the fleet, and of providing ‘stinky and unwholesome victuals such as dog would not eat’ which had caused 4,000 men to die. He also alleged that Bagg had cheated his suppliers, leaving some unpaid and forcing others to compound for the sums they were owed. These charges were dreadful if true, but on close examination it became apparent that many of the witnesses produced by Mohun were either confused or dishonest themselves. Consequently, in June 1637 all but three of the 16 judges in the case found in favour of the defendant.98

Bagg did not live long to savour his triumph over Mohun. He may have been seriously ill by 11 June 1638, on which date the newly appointed lord high admiral, Algernon Percy*, 10th earl of Northumberland, agreed to allow him to hold the post of vice-admiral of South Cornwall jointly with his son George. Certainly he was confined to bed by mid-August.99 He died of the stone on 26 Aug. at his house in Queen Street, reportedly owing £60,000, and was buried in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Following his death his estate was extended by the Crown, presumably in connection with his Vice-Admiralty accounts.100 He was succeeded by his son George who, being a minor, was not permitted to retain office. None of Bagg’s descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 34; Index to English Speaking students at Leyden Univ. ed. C. Peacock (Index Soc. xiii), 5; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 189.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 235; E351/624.
  • 3. C181/3, ff. 2, 113, 195v;
  • 4. HCA 30/820/10; HCA 25/215, bdle. of warrants 1619-44; CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 362-3.
  • 5. Add. 37816, f. 183v; HCA 30/849, f. 395.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 612.
  • 7. HMC Cowper, i. 193; Bodl. Rawl. A210, ff. 11, 13-14, 16, 20, 27.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 116; 1628-9, p. 282.
  • 9. A. Thrush, ‘The Bottomless Bagg? Sir James Bagg and the Navy, 1623-8’, The New Maritime Hist. of Devon, I ed. M. Duffy et al. 115.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 511.
  • 11. C193/8/56.
  • 12. APC, 1627-8, p. 79; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 384, 394; SP16/103/1.
  • 13. H. Hulme, Life of Sir John Eliot, 153-4; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 445; J. Forster, Eliot, ii. 32-3, 36.
  • 14. C231/4, f. 207; 231/5, p. 301.
  • 15. Harl. 3796, ff. 30-1; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 3.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 316, 349.
  • 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p.144.
  • 18. APC, 1628-9, p. 208.
  • 19. HCA 14/44, f. 86.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 19.
  • 21. Ibid. 1628-9, p. 526; 1638-9, p. 3.
  • 22. E101/668/12.
  • 23. E306/12, pt. 2, ff. 14v, 21v.
  • 24. PC2/45, f. 419.
  • 25. E306/12, pt. 2, pkt. 22, no. 33; pkt. 25, no. 9.
  • 26. HCA 30/849, f. 395.
  • 27. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 383; iv. 80.
  • 28. Procs. American Antiq. Soc. (1867), p. 107.
  • 29. [footnote]
  • 30. Thrush, ‘Bottomless Bagg?’, 114-15; A. Thrush, ‘The Navy under Charles I, 1625-40’ (Univ. London Ph.D. thesis, 1990), pp. 265-73.
  • 31. E134/12Jas.I/Mich.40, deposition of Walter Carfeete, 13 Sept. 1614; E190/1023/16, 18.
  • 32. For the 1619 draft commn. see HCA 1/32/1, f. 27v. For the completed commn. see C181/2, f. 348.
  • 33. APC, 1619-21, p. 193.
  • 34. C219/37/52.
  • 35. CJ, i. 611b.
  • 36. Add. 64878, f. 31.
  • 37. Harl. 1580, f. 120v.
  • 38. Thrush, ‘Bottomless Bagg?’, 114.
  • 39. SP14/147/3, 83.
  • 40. Roy. Inst. of Cornw., BRA.B/328/3. We are grateful to James Derriman for this ref.
  • 41. CJ, i. 689b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 218.
  • 42. HMC Cowper, i. 168, 173.
  • 43. Ibid. 179.
  • 44. SP14/185/80, 89.
  • 45. HMC Cowper, i. 190.
  • 46. Add. 64883, f. 44.
  • 47. EAST LOOE.
  • 48. Procs. 1625, p. 719.
  • 49. HMC Cowper, i. 203.
  • 50. Diary of Walter Yonge ed. G. Roberts (Cam. Soc. xli), 89.
  • 51. For a detailed discussion of this point, see Thrush, ‘Navy under Charles I’, 296-8.
  • 52. SP16/12/22.
  • 53. HMC Cowper, i. 234; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 176.
  • 54. Add. 69901, ff. 69, 71.
  • 55. Thrush, ‘Bottomless Bagg?’, 114.
  • 56. SO3/8, unfol.
  • 57. Procs. 1626, ii. 86, 89, 93, 163, 166.
  • 58. N and Q (ser. 4), x. 325-6.
  • 59. Procs. 1626, ii. 216, 370.
  • 60. Ibid. iii. 40.
  • 61. Ibid. 163.
  • 62. Forster, ii. 6-7, 10.
  • 63. Ibid. 36; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 316. For Bagg’s description of Eliot as a villain, see CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 435, 456.
  • 64. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 455-6; 1626-7, p. 473; JOHN MOHUN.
  • 65. Add. 37817, ff. 28v-9, 36r-v.
  • 66. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 283, 299.
  • 67. SP16/79/62.
  • 68. SP16/82/58.
  • 69. SP16/81/59.
  • 70. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 444; Add. 37817, ff. 138, 144v, 146.
  • 71. Add. 37817, f. 161v.
  • 72. SP16/90/66, 122; 16/91/35.
  • 73. SP16/90/6.
  • 74. SP16/94/42.
  • 75. SP16/96/36.
  • 76. SP16/91/35.
  • 77. SP16/96/38.
  • 78. Procs. 1628, vi. 139.
  • 79. Ibid. 138-9.
  • 80. Ibid. 140.
  • 81. Ibid. 64, 140, 209; CD 1628, ii. 365.
  • 82. Procs. 1628, vi. 206.
  • 83. Ibid. 210.
  • 84. CD 1628, iii. 392; DWL, Morrice ms 37.J, p. 36.
  • 85. Eg. 2552, f. 30v.
  • 86. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 121.
  • 87. SP16/107/100.
  • 88. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 273, 314, 322.
  • 89. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 457. For his presence in London on 22 Sept., see CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 336.
  • 90. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 370, 478.
  • 91. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 359; SP16/170/50. For a detailed discussion of Bagg’s willingness to act without waiting for written permission, see Thrush, ‘Bottomless Bagg?’ 116.
  • 92. AO1/1798/372; E403/1743, unfol., payments of 21 and 25 Jan. 1631; 403/1744, unfol., payment of 7 May 1631; 403/1745, unfol., payment of 31 Mar. 1632; 403/1746, unfol., payment of 23 Aug. 1632.
  • 93. C115/106/8392.
  • 94. CSP Dom. 1635, p. 277.
  • 95. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 356; 1635, p. 277; 1635-6, p. 239; HCA 49/106, pkt. B, no. 3.
  • 96. CCC, 1362.
  • 97. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 337, 489; CSP Dom. 1635, pp. 445-6.
  • 98. Thrush, ‘Navy under Charles I’, 265-70; Thrush, ‘Bottomless Bagg?’, 115; Bodl. Rawl. C827, ff. 76v-84.
  • 99. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 591.
  • 100. Ibid. 1638-9, p. 158; C115/109/8822; D. Lysons, Devon, 412.