BANKES, John (1589-1644), of Gray's Inn, London; later of Corfe Castle, Dorset

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. 1 May 1589, s. of John Bankes (d.1616) of Keswick, Cumb., merchant and Jane, da. of one Multon.1 educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1605;2 G. Inn 1607, called 1614;3 DCL Oxf. 1643.4 m. 1618, Mary (d. 11 Apr. 1661), da. of Ralph Hawtrey* of Ruislip, Mdx., 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 8da. (3 d.v.p.).5 kntd. 7 June 1631.6 d. 28 Dec. 1644.7 sig. Jo[hn] Bankes.

Offices Held

Dep. reader, Staple Inn 1617-18, reader 1627-8, ancient, G. Inn 1627,8 Lent reader 1631, bencher 1631-41, treas. 1631-4;9 att.-gen. to Prince Charles 1630-4;10 counsel, Camb. Univ. 1634;11 att.-gen. 1634-41;12 king’s sjt. 1641;13 c.j.c.p. 1641-d.;14 just. assize, Norf. circ. 1641-2.15

Commr. sewers, Bucks., Herts. 1624-5, 1638-9, Mdx. 1624-5, 1637-9,16 Westminster 1634,17 Lincs., Northants. 1638-41, Hunts. 1638, 1641,18 Dorset 1638, Notts.,19 Surr. 1639, Kent 1639-40, Norf. 1641,20 piracy, London, 1630-9, Mdx. 1639;21 dep. lt. Dorset from 1633;22 commr. oyer and terminer, London, Mdx. 1634-41,23 Western circ. 1635-42, Northern circ. 1635-41,24 Verge 1637-at least 1639, Norf. circ. 1641-2,25 Norwich, Norf. 1643, Dorset, Som. from 1643;26 j.p. Essex, Kent, Mdx., Surr., Westminster 1634-at least 1640,27 Cumb., Dorset c.1635-at least 1640, Bucks., Herts. c.1636-at least 1640,28 Beds., Norf., Suff. from 1641,29 Devon, Hants, Som., Wilts. from 1643, Oxon. Feb. 1644-d.;30 commr. inquiry, Fleet prison, London 1635,31 gaol delivery, I. of Ely 1641,32 Devon, Dorset, Hants, Som., Wilts. 1643,33 array, Dorset 1642,34 inquiry into treasonable acts, Lincs. 1642.35

Commr. plantation of Virg. 1631,36 inquiry into customs evasion 1632;37 PC 1641-d.;38 commr. Treasury (roy.) from 1643, Admlty. (roy.) from 1643.39

Speaker, House of Lords Feb.-Mar. 1641.40


Described by Clarendon (Edward Hyde†) as ‘a man of great abilities and unblemished integrity’, Bankes came from relatively humble stock. His father, a Cumberland merchant, was wealthy enough to provide him with a thorough education, but Bankes was doubtless expected to make his own fortune. He left university without a degree, but at Gray’s Inn, ‘applying himself most severely to the study of the Common Law, [he] became a barrister and a counsellor of note’, according to Anthony Wood.41 Bankes’s parliamentary record indicates a strong interest in mercantile law, but like any up-and-coming lawyer he accepted what work he could find. His first identifiable client was another Cumberland resident, Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle, who began consulting him as early as 1619, mostly on estate business.42 By now, he had already served a term as deputy reader at Staple Inn, and his burgeoning reputation brought with it financial rewards, for when he married in 1618, he was able to settle on his wife a manor he had acquired in Lincolnshire.43

Bankes first entered the Commons in 1624 as Member for Wootton Bassett. His patron has not been identified, but he presumably relied on one of his clients. He launched his parliamentary career confidently, making seven speeches and attracting 32 committee nominations. Appropriately, in his maiden speech on 23 Feb., during a debate on the bill concerning probate of suggestions, he proposed an amendment to benefit residents of the four northernmost counties.44 The majority of his Commons’ business related to legal affairs, though he was selective in the issues that he pursued. He attended two meetings of the committee for the bill to reverse a decree involving the Edwards family, despite not having been specifically named to do so. Conversely, he was appointed to scrutinize two bills on the levying of debts and fines (24 Mar., 3 Apr.), but failed to turn up.45 Bankes was nominated on 3 Mar. to help draft a bill against abuses of habeas corpus, and on 30 Apr. to attend a conference with the Lords about the bills for limitation of actions, and Exchequer court pleadings. He chaired the legislative committee concerned with the discharge of sheriffs’ accounts, reporting the measure with amendments on 22 May. Added to the committee to consider the bill for continuance or repeal of expiring statutes, he was also appointed to the conference to consider the Lords’ amendments to the bill (25 Mar. and 22 May).46

Bankes quickly emerged as an expert on economic matters. On 3 Mar. he was named to the drafting committee for a bill on the assize of bread. His status as a Wiltshire Member perhaps explains why William Mallory proposed on 17 Mar. that Bankes be required ‘instantly’ to ‘draw a bill to prevent the abuses of the clerk of the market’, as that county was one of the worst affected areas. Bankes brought the measure into the House on 12 Apr., and was appointed to its committee two days later. However, while discussions continued as late as 20 May, the bill was never reported. Perhaps in consequence of these activities, he was appointed on 10 Apr. to help draft the subsidy bill’s preamble.47

Bankes was appointed on 7 Apr. to a conference with the Lords on the bill against monopolies, presumably because of his specialist knowledge of patents relating to the cloth trade. He was the first Member named on 3 Apr. to the committee to examine the Merchant Adventurers’ charters, while six days later he was added to the committee for the bill to restore free trade to the merchants of the Staple. On 10 May he attacked the Merchant Adventurers’ privileges, arguing both that their charters were illegal and that their monopoly over cloth exports was a grievance. Calling for more parliamentary regulation, he asserted that ‘trade ... should not be left to be governed by a few private men who seek but their profit’.48 He was equally critical of the pretermitted customs, on 6 Apr. questioning the legality of this levy imposed by the government on cloth exports. Ten days later, when the solicitor general, Sir Robert Heath, delivered a lengthy defence of the Crown’s actions, Bankes provided the decisive response. After demolishing Heath’s claim that the pretermitted customs were a long-standing duty authorized by statute, he then demonstrated that the duty had no basis in Common Law either, and that even the government’s calculations for assessing the levy were flawed. This highly technical argument paved the way for the Commons’ ruling on 3 May that the pretermitted customs were illegal. Bankes was naturally appointed to help draft the formal justification of this verdict (5 May).49 Despite the controversy aroused by this issue, Bankes seems to have viewed his own interventions dispassionately. In this instance he considered that the Crown had a bad case, but he happily supported Heath’s objections on 21 Apr. to a clause in the bill against removing suits from inferior courts. Similarly, on 10 Apr. he cautioned against rushing to bring charges in the Lords against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), not because he wished to protect the minister, but rather on the grounds that the case against him was not yet ‘fully ripe’.50

Bankes did not sit in the first Caroline Parliament, but was elected in 1626 to represent Morpeth, on the nomination of his long-standing patron, Lord William Howard. He had some prior knowledge of the borough, having been consulted four years earlier about Howard’s seigneurial rights there.51 During this session Bankes received only 11 committee nominations, but made 15 speeches, doubling his previous total. There were some elements of continuity with his earlier performance. He was named to consider two private bills, one of which concerned the estates of Henry, Lord Morley (14 March). Added on 6 Mar. to the committee for two bills on trade and cloth exports, he subsequently reported both measures, and twice intervened during the third reading of the latter bill (14 and 25 March). It is unclear whether he was included on the committee for the bill against the surveyorship of coal at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland because of his economic expertise, or because he was sitting for a neighbouring borough (1 June).52 On the legal front, Bankes was appointed to scrutinize legislation on grants of administration, and the quality of attorneys, and he expressed reservations about the bill on citations issuing from ecclesiastical courts (7 and 23 Mar.; 18 April). He also took time out from the Commons, apparently without permission, to act as counsel in the Lords on behalf of the 6th earl of Derby, who was claiming the office of lord great chamberlain (1 April).53

Bankes was nominated on 25 May to help prepare the Commons’ grievances for presentation to the king, a telling appointment in the charged atmosphere of this Parliament. Compared with his performance in 1624, he was now taking a more assertive view of the Commons’ rights and powers. On 21 Mar. he insisted that the House enjoyed its privileges by long custom, rather than by royal permission. Following John More’s inflammatory remarks about tyranny, Bankes argued on 3 June that the Commons must punish him themselves, for their liberties would be infringed if they waited until the king intervened.54 Similarly, during the inquiry into the failed Cadiz expedition, he favoured trying to force the Council of War to divulge the advice that it had given to the Crown, after its members declined to brief the House on this point (8 March). Two days later, he spoke in favour of grievances being addressed before supply was granted: ‘originally subsidies [were] granted for times, then for years, then for life, which now may be drawn to an annual supply if other considerations go not with it’.55

Even so, Bankes took a constructive approach towards the current military crisis. Named to two committees to help devise naval reforms (22 Mar. and 15 Apr.), he argued that the root problem was the misapplication of resources, rather than corruption on the part of the lord admiral, the duke of Buckingham (24 March).56 Not surprisingly, he was unenthusiastic about the latter’s impeachment, warning on 1 May that if the Commons adopted the duke’s arrest of the St. Peter as a grievance, it would justify France’s retaliatory trade embargo. He also objected to the attempt to have Buckingham arrested during the impeachment hearings, as he believed this demand to be legally unsound.57

During the next 18 months, Bankes’s career developed apace. In August 1626 he was noted as counsel to another peer, the Irish baron of Kerry and Lixnaw. In the following year he was chosen as reader at Staple Inn, and promoted to the rank of ancient at Gray’s Inn.58 Re-elected at Morpeth in 1628, his Commons’ record of just 12 committee nominations and 19 speeches belied his increasing prominence in the House. On 21 Mar. he was requested to bring in the paperwork on 21 grievances that he had retained since the previous session. Appointed on 13 June to the sub-committee of the grand committee on grievances, five days later he chaired a meeting to prepare the final selection of complaints for presentation to the king.59 He was nominated on 17 Apr. to help check the minutes taken by the clerk of the Commons, a role normally assigned only to leading Members. More predictably, he was selected on 23 June to help examine the contents of the new general pardon. He also chaired the bill committees concerning Lord Morley’s estates, with which he was probably familiar from 1626, and the naturalization of two Scots, delivering his reports on 30 Apr. and 2 May.60

Bankes’s principal strength was his forensic grasp of legal complexities. Thus he argued with conviction on 25 Apr. that London’s common council had exceeded its powers by imprisoning a citizen who refused to contribute towards a communal loan to the Crown. Similarly, he pinpointed specific grounds on which patents for the office of royal exchanger and a clerkship in the Council in the North were illegal (30 May and 23 June). He objected strongly to the growing use of royal Proclamations because they blurred the normal processes of law (11 June).61 However, like many members of his profession, Bankes was reluctant to embrace reforms that might undermine the country’s traditional constitutional balance. As he explained on 16 Apr.: ‘I will not derogate from the power of kings. Subjects have their rights, and kings their prerogatives. ... I will speak nothing to oppose authority. We will not be authors of new opinions, but maintain the old’. Accordingly, he opposed a bill to reform billeting abuses, believing that this would indirectly undermine the rights of the subject by acknowledging the legitimacy of billeting in certain circumstances (8 April). Again, he believed that the Commons’ proposed bill of liberties should not ban arbitrary imprisonment, but merely condemn the practice, arguing optimistically on 29 Apr. that this would be enough to constrain the king and the judiciary.62

Such caution and cavilling ensured that Bankes remained a minor player in the campaign to secure the subjects’ liberties. On 16 Apr. he was appointed to assist the main speakers at the forthcoming conference with the Lords about these issues. The next day he was named to help check the accuracy of the precedents deployed by John Selden during that conference. He was also nominated on 13 June to draft the writs for the enrolling of the Petition of Right in the Westminster courts. Nevertheless, on the same day he demonstrated his doubts about the petition strategy, introducing a new bill to strengthen subjects’ rights by confirming Magna Carta. It is unclear how far this measure differed from the similar bill that the House had already abandoned in the face of royal hostility, but it failed to progress beyond its first reading.63

By comparison, Bankes’s command of financial issues continued to earn him the respect of his fellow Members. On 8 Apr. he chaired the committee of the whole House which debated the bill to grant Tunnage and Poundage to Charles I. The next day, he reported the text of a Remonstrance against the king’s decision to collect these customs revenues without first securing parliamentary approval. However, this issue was not an immediate priority for most Members, and when Bankes requested further discussion of the Remonstrance on 11 Apr. it was referred to the grand committee on trade.64 Tunnage and Poundage finally reappeared on the Commons’ main agenda only after the Petition of Right was approved by the king. On 13 June Bankes was appointed to help consider the best approach to handling the bill. Between 19 and 25 June he chaired the committee of the whole House five times, while it debated this legislation and related matters, such as Sir Edmund Sawyer’s* work on a revised book of rates. By 25 June Members had abandoned any attempt to complete work on the Tunnage and Poundage bill in the few remaining days of this session. Instead, as Bankes reported that day, the committee instead settled on a further Remonstrance requesting Charles not to collect these duties until an Act was passed. The king’s response was to prorogue Parliament.65

Perhaps chastened by this signal of royal displeasure, Bankes played little part in the 1629 session. He was appointed on 23 Jan. to consider the bill against procuring judicial offices by bribery, and on 29 Jan. to help draft a bill on church benefices. On 5 Feb. he was granted leave to act as counsel in the Lords on behalf of Algemon, Lord Percy*.66 His only recorded speech, on 21 Feb., concerned the question of whether John Rolle* was entitled to claim parliamentary privilege, following the confiscation of his merchandise for non-payment of Tunnage and Poundage. Bankes expounded at length on the terms under which the king was collecting the duties pending parliamentary approval, and concluded that these in no way interfered with Rolle’s rights. He was no doubt mortified when Charles begged to differ two days later.67

As it turned out, Bankes’s occasional criticisms of Crown policy had not damaged his chances of promotion. Around the end of 1629 he helped Sir Robert Heath assess an official report into the Ulster plantation, while in July 1630 he was appointed attorney-general to the infant Prince Charles.68 In the following year, as Lent reader at Gray’s Inn, he lectured on the 1624 Act for limitation of actions, which he had probably debated during his first stint in the Commons.69 As a matter of course he was then elevated to the rank of bencher, and in November 1631 he was chosen as the Inn’s treasurer, a post that he occupied for the next three years. Knighted in June 1631, he bought Corfe Castle around this time, and shortly became a prominent figure in the county’s administration.70 By July 1634 Bankes was actively involved in preparing the writs for Ship Money, a factor that doubtless contributed to his appointment the following month as attorney-general, following the death of William Noye*.71

Within government circles Bankes was seen as a protégé of lord treasurer Portland (Sir Richard Weston*), and consequently the latter’s rival, Archbishop Laud, lobbied hard to block his selection as the Crown’s chief law officer.72 In the event, he proved to be a staunch enforcer of royal policy during the remainder of Charles’s personal rule. In 1637, for example, he handled the notorious prosecution of William Prynne† for libel, and sued John Hampden* in the famous test case over Ship Money.73 Bankes was again promoted in January 1641, becoming lord chief justice of Common Pleas. As acting Speaker of the Lords in March that year, he presided over the opening of the impeachment trial of the earl of Strafford (Sir Thomas Wentworth*). Despite his record during the 1630s, and his loyal support for the king at the outbreak of the Civil War, Bankes was initially well-regarded by Parliament, which in February 1643 recommended that he be retained as lord chief justice.74 Nevertheless, he was himself impeached by the Commons in July 1644 for denouncing various prominent parliamentarians as traitors.75 Bankes drew up his will on 24 Sept. 1642, providing for the foundation of a workhouse at Keswick, and bequeathing property in Dorset, Cumberland, Westmorland, Middlesex and Lincolnshire to his wife and children. He died at Oxford in December 1644, and was buried in Christ Church cathedral. His estates were sequestered after his death, but recovered by his family. His second son and eventual heir, Ralph, sat for Corfe Castle from 1659 until his death 18 years later.76

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Crosthwaite Par. Reg. transcr. H. Brierley, i. 97; ii. 267; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), v. 62.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 215.
  • 4. Ath. Ox. iv. (Fasti), 44.
  • 5. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), v. 62; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 240; CCC, 898.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 199.
  • 7. Smyth’s Obit. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliv), 22.
  • 8. Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 56, 217-18.
  • 9. PBG Inn, i. 298, 300, 308, 311, 317, 323.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 551.
  • 11. W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 342.
  • 12. Ibid. 1634-5, p. 218.
  • 13. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 188.
  • 14. E. Foss, Judges of Eng. vi. 252, 254.
  • 15. C181/5, ff. 188v, 217v.
  • 16. C181/3, ff. 116, 184; 181/5, ff. 81, 114v, 122, 136v.
  • 17. C181/4, f.191.
  • 18. C181/5, ff. 101, 149, 181, 196, 214v.
  • 19. Ibid. ff. 113, 149.
  • 20. Ibid. ff. 153, 168, 196.
  • 21. C181/4, f. 37; 181/5, ff. 26v, 130v.
  • 22. Eg. 784, f. 93v.
  • 23. C181/4, ff. 188-9; 181/5, ff. 213-14.
  • 24. C181/4, ff. 193v, 197v; 181/5, ff. 194, 221.
  • 25. C181/5, ff. 89v, 154v, 190, 218.
  • 26. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 80-1, 90-1.
  • 27. C231/5, p. 149; C66/2859.
  • 28. C66/2654, 2859; SP16/405, ff. 7, 31v.
  • 29. C231/5, pp. 431, 434.
  • 30. Docquets of Letters Patent, pp. 94-5, 142.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 466.
  • 32. C181/5, f. 195.
  • 33. Docquets of Letters Patent, pp. 86, 90-1.
  • 34. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 35. HMC Buccleuch, i. 530.
  • 36. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 192.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 253.
  • 38. PC2/53, pp. 85, 230.
  • 39. Docquets of Letters Patent, pp. 14, 109-10.
  • 40. LJ, iv. 172a, 198b.
  • 41. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, ii. 114; Ath. Ox. iv (Fasti), 44.
  • 42. Household Bks. of Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lxviii), 114-15, 200, 209.
  • 43. CCC, 898.
  • 44. CJ, i. 672a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 4.
  • 45. C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 205, 209, 222; CJ, i. 748b, 754a.
  • 46. CJ, i. 677a, 695a, 709a, 750b, 793a.
  • 47. Ibid. 677a, 739a, 762a, 763a, 766a, 791b; Kyle thesis, 138.
  • 48. CJ, i. 754b, 757b, 758b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 199r-v.
  • 49. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 116r-v, 159v-60; CJ, i. 698b, 768b-9a, 782a; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 146v-7v; Holles 1624, pp. 84-5; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 68r-v.
  • 50. CJ, i. 688b; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 4.
  • 51. Household Bks. of Lord William Howard, 200.
  • 52. Procs. 1626, ii. 200, 278-9, 367; iii. 340.
  • 53. Ibid. i. 243-4; ii. 216, 348; iii. 16.
  • 54. Ibid. ii. 331; iii. 332, 354, 360.
  • 55. Ibid. ii. 231, 233, 251.
  • 56. Ibid. 339, 362, 446.
  • 57. Ibid. iii. 114, 204.
  • 58. APC, 1626, p. 234.
  • 59. CD 1628, ii. 50; iv. 290, 366.
  • 60. Ibid. ii. 509; iii. 176, 217; iv. 427.
  • 61. Ibid. iii. 77; iv. 24-5, 30, 244, 430, 436.
  • 62. Ibid. ii. 363-4, 481-2; iii. 150, 165.
  • 63. Ibid. ii. 480, 510; iv. 290, 298.
  • 64. Ibid. ii. 386-7, 411.
  • 65. Ibid. iv. 289, 373, 395, 406-7, 411, 453, 468.
  • 66. CJ, i. 922a, 924a; CD 1629, p. 128.
  • 67. CD 1629, pp. 90, 164, 230-1; CJ, i. 932b.
  • 68. APC, 1629-30, p. 236.
  • 69. Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery, 56.
  • 70. Prest, 100.
  • 71. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p.161; HMC Cowper, ii. 59;
  • 72. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 196, 206; P.E. Kopperman, Sir Robert Heath, 242-3.
  • 73. State Trials (1730) ed. T.B. Howell, i. 459, 493.
  • 74. Foss, vi. 252-3; HMC Buccleuch, i. 300; Clarendon, ii. 442.
  • 75. LJ, vi. 643a-b; Foss, vi. 254.
  • 76. PROB 11/197, ff. 89-90v; Ath. Ox. iv (Fasti), 44; CCC, 898-9.