BARKER, Richard (c.1554-1636), of Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury and Norton, Salop

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



1604 - 13 Apr. 1604
28 Apr. 1604

Family and Education

b. c.1554, 2nd s. of James Barker (d.1572) of Haughmond Abbey, Salop and his 1st w. Dorothy, da. of Richard Clive of Styche, Salop.1 educ. Shrewsbury 1563; Barnard’s Inn; G. Inn 1569, called 1576.2 m. 1583, Dorothy, da. and coh. of William Poyner of Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury 2s. 3da.3 bur. 9 Dec. 1636.4 sig. Ric[hard] Barker.

Offices Held

Freeman, Shrewsbury ?1580;5 j.p. Salop 1597-?d., Anglesey, Caern. and Merion. 1602-15, Denb. 1613-15, Mont. 1614-15;6 member, Council in the Marches 1601-15;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Staffs. and Worcs. 1606, subsidy, Salop and Shrewsbury 1608.8

Reader, G. Inn 1594; bencher, G. Inn 1595, treas. (jt.) 1595-6;9 recorder, Shrewsbury 1603-at least 1613;10 justice, N. Wales circ. 1602-10, c.j. 1610-15.11


Although Barker’s family claimed to have been resident in Shropshire since the reign of Edward II, they only rose to prominence in the middle of the sixteenth century, after the MP’s grandfather married the heiress of Haughmond Abbey, four miles east of Shrewsbury. Barker and his elder brother Rowland were listed among the pupils at Shrewsbury School on the earliest surviving register of 1563, while Barker went on to train as a lawyer at Gray’s Inn.12

By an astounding stroke of good fortune, Barker was appointed tutor to Anthony† and Francis Bacon* during their early years at Gray’s Inn. According to Anthony Bacon, he failed to capitalize upon this connection, being ‘of a solitary nature and retired life’ and spending much of his time at Shrewsbury. Perhaps merely less obsessed about Court preferment than Bacon, Barker was called to the bench of his Inn slightly more rapidly than most, and was happy to spend an afternoon exchanging professional banter with Sir Roger Wilbraham*.13

Barker played a significant part in Shrewsbury’s municipal politics. By 1581 he was advising the corporation on legal matters, and he cemented his local links by marrying an heiress who brought him an estate in the town’s Abbey Foregate upon her father’s death in 1589. His rising influence within the town was underscored by his return to the 1584 Parliament as junior burgess, having defeated (Serjeant) Thomas Harris* at a poll.14 His career prospects improved significantly with his appointment as puisne justice of North Wales, a notorious minefield of factional rivalries, in 1602. He negotiated this problem adroitly by striving to keep all parties in a constant state of mild dissatisfaction, and the only serious allegation made against him came in the form of a Star Chamber suit which arose from his hanging of a murderer at Beaumaris in 1606.15

By 1603 Barker was recorder of Shrewsbury, a post which habitually brought the incumbent a parliamentary seat, if desired. Lord President Zouche was careful to acknowledge the corporation’s right in recommending Francis Tate for the second seat at Shrewsbury in February 1604, and an agreement appeared to be in place by the end of the month. However, over the next ten days Serjeant Harris emerged as a rival candidate, and although Zouche was willing to waive his right of nomination, on the day of the election it became apparent that Harris aimed to unseat Barker. Sheriff Sir Roger Owen* canvassed for Harris and attempted to browbeat the corporation, but when these tactics failed to prevent Barker’s return he drew up a second indenture for Harris, which he forwarded to the clerk of the Crown. The Commons threw out both returns on 13 Apr. and ordered a fresh election, at which Owen proved equally obdurate in his opposition to Barker, and to equally little effect.16

Despite the efforts taken to secure his return, Barker left little trace on the surviving records of the Parliament. While his election hung in the balance he was named to a single committee, this being for the bill to confirm English liberties (29 Mar. 1604). Even after he resumed his seat at the end of April he showed little more sign of activity, being named to two more committees, one for the expiring laws’ continuance bill (5 June) and the other for the simony bill (18 June). Two days after the latter nomination he was licensed to go home, and he subsequently missed at least a week of debates in January 1606 while attending to the trial of some of the minor Gunpowder plotters in the West Midlands. He also left this session early, arriving back in Shrewsbury four days before the prorogation. In his only recorded speech of the Parliament, on 1 Mar. 1610, he responded to the request of his colleague Francis Tate for leave of absence to ride the Brecon assize circuit by reminding the House that the law allowed a dispensation for only a single justice to ride a circuit in such circumstances.17

While the official journals and private diaries give the impression that Barker was a relatively inactive Member, circumstantial evidence suggests that he may have been somewhat more energetic. The Shrewsbury corporation certainly believed this to be the case, paying him expenses of £20 for the session of 1606-7 and regularly feasting him at his return from Westminster.18 Upon closer examination, it is clear that there were a number of opportunities for Barker to lobby behind the scenes on his constituents’ behalf. The first was the 1604 statutes’ continuance bill, one of the few committees to which he was named, where it is tempting to see his influence behind a clause exempting Welsh cloth from the provisions of the anti-tentering statute of 1601. His absence from Parliament in January 1606 may explain why Sir Roger Owen took the initiative over the Welsh cloth bill that spring, but he would doubtless have been expected to keep a close watch upon the free trade bill in the following session in order to ward off any attack upon the Shrewsbury Drapers’ jealously guarded monopoly of the Welsh cloth market at Oswestry. He was certainly alive to this consideration in 1613, when he helped to draft two reports which persuaded the Privy Council to maintain the Oswestry staple.19

Barker does not appear to have stood again at the 1614 general election, when the corporation interest went to Lewis Prowde, his colleague on the North Wales circuit. His unexplained retirement from public office in the following year deprived him of any benefits which might have accrued to him during the chancellorship of his former pupil Francis Bacon in 1617-21. He lived in obscurity for another 20 years, being buried at Wroxeter on 9 Dec. 1636.20 No will, inquisition post mortem or administration has been found, which suggests that he had long since divided his property among his children. None of his descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 27-8; PROB 6/1, f. 172v.
  • 2. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium ed. E. Calvert, i. 2; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 27.
  • 3. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 27-8; Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 408.
  • 4. Wroxeter Par. Reg. (Salop par. reg. soc. x), 16.
  • 5. Shrewsbury Burgess Roll ed. H.E. Forrest, 14. The date given is 1560, which is clearly erroneous.
  • 6. C231/1, ff. 23v, 139v; JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 5-7, 23-4, 41-3, 64-5, 135.
  • 7. P. Williams, Council in Marches of Wales, 342-3; Eg. 2882, f. 84v.
  • 8. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 27; SP14/31/1.
  • 9. PBG Inn, i. 106, 108, 112.
  • 10. H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 538, 568.
  • 11. JPs in Wales and Monm. 5-7.
  • 12. Vis. Salop, 27-8; Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium, 2; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 27.
  • 13. PBG Inn, i. 37, 106; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 482; ‘Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham’ ed. H.S. Scott in Cam. Soc. Misc. x. 20-1; W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 137.
  • 14. Owen and Blakeway, i. 373, 378, 380; PROB 11/74, ff. 212v-15.
  • 15. Cal. Wynn Pprs. nos. 227, 528, 780, 1510; Clenennau Letters ed. T. Jones Pierce, 61, 79; STAC 8/203/38; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 497.
  • 16. Salop RO, 3365/2617/108; CJ, i. 154a, 170-1, 195a, 201.
  • 17. CJ, i. 232b, 241a, 244a, 403b; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 27, 34; Salop RO, 3365/570 (24 May 1606).
  • 18. Salop RO, 3365/546, 3365/570 (accts. of 6 Dec. 1605 and 7 Sept. 1606).
  • 19. T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and Welsh Wool Trade, 139-51; APC, 1613-14, pp. 34-40, 351-5.
  • 20. Wroxeter Par. Reg. 16.