BAWTREE, Leonard (c.1555-1625/6), of Carlby, Lincs. 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




Family and Education

b. c.1555, 3rd s. of John Bawdry, yeoman, of Leake, Lincs.1 educ. Trin., Camb. 1570; Furnival’s Inn; L. Inn 1575, called 1584.2 m. (1) 25 Jan. 1580, Agnes Chester of Boston, Lincs., s.p.; (2) 27 Apr. 1585, Mary (bur. 14 Mar. 1618), da. of Thomas Shotbolte of Ardeley, Herts., s.p.; (3) 21 May 1618, Mary, wid. of Robert Tyghe, DD, vic. of Allhallows Barking, London, s.p.3 admon. 17 Feb. 1626. sig. Leo[nard] Bawtree.

Offices Held

J.p. Lincs. (Holland) by 1591-d., (Kesteven) 1618-d.; commr. sewers, Fenland 1604, Lincs. 1607-d., Boston 1608, Welland navigation 1618, subsidy, Holland and Boston 1608, aid, Holland 1609; freeman, Boston 1614; commr. oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1622-d.4

Bencher, L. Inn 1602-14, reader 1603, 1613, kpr. Black Bk. 1607-8, treas. 1611-12;5 sjt.-at-law 1614-d



Bawtree’s family was well established in the mercantile life of Boston by the reign of Henry VII; but he was himself probably the grandson of a yeoman who leased the rectory of Leake. A lawyer, in 1600 the 2nd earl of Lincoln (Henry Clinton†) dismissively characterized him as one of the ‘needy justices ... gotten in commission’ by Sir Edward Dymoke†. He took a keen interest in Fenland problems, appearing at the bar of the House in 1604 as counsel for a private bill that was opposed by the commoners, and asking Sir Julius Caesar* for assistance with a local drainage scheme. In 1609, together with the 1st earl of Exeter (Thomas Cecil†) and Anthony Irby*, he sought a subvention from the county for the expenditure incurred by Boston in repairing the banks of the Witham. In the following year Bawtree was called on to defend Dymoke from the consequences of a lampoon delivered by a man ‘attired like a minister’ from ‘a pulpit attached to the maypole’ at Scrivelsby one Sunday, which had ‘most profanely, in derision of the holy exercise of preaching, pronounce[d] vain and scurrilous matter’ against Lord Lincoln. Dymoke, who had strong Catholic connections, was tried in Star Chamber as an abettor, and Bawtree’s forensic skills were insufficient to bring him off without a ruinous fine.6

Bawtree’s support for improvement of the Witham doubtless helps to explain his return for Boston in 1614, when the borough’s main concern was to resolve longstanding disputes over drainage and Admiralty rights by securing statutory confirmation of their charter. The corporation clearly expected Bawtree to exert himself on their behalf, as they waived the £5 charge for his freedom and sent their charters to Westminster with £30 for expenses. No such bill reached the floor of the House, although preparatory work was clearly undertaken, as the corporation dispatched further charters at the end of April, and another tranche of funds a month later.7 While unable to pilot his constituents’ legislation through the Commons, Bawtree expressed himself freely on other issues: at the start of the session he supported calls for the validation of the Cambridgeshire election return; on 4 May, at the second reading of the bill to restrict the assignment of private debts to the Crown, he recalled an old statute with the same aim, which had provided ‘that the king shall not take of the debt of the [private] debtor as long as his own debtor [be] sufficient’ and he later voiced misgivings about a clause of the bill to simplify Court of Wards procedure.8

The impact Bawtree made upon the Commons in 1614 stemmed largely from his controversial stance on the key issue of impositions. On 5 May, two attempts to instigate a subsidy debate were brushed aside in favour of a report about impositions. After a lengthy discussion of this report, Bawtree, clearly frustrated at this diversion, ‘moved to know whether we were sent for hither to consult of that we were sent for by the king, or to cross the king’s pleasure by consulting of anything else’, and likened the House’s obsession with impositions to ‘wildfire which consumes all and ceases not till the matter be spent’. He was hissed at for his pains, but the existence of dissent clearly troubled the House, and on 16 May Sir Dudley Digges moved to allow those who disagreed with the Commons’ stance on impositions an opportunity to put their case. Thomas Hitchcock cited a single favourable precedent from the reign of King John, but Bawtree confidently maintained that ‘the king has power to lay any reasonable impositions and thereon reasons might be gathered ... to maintain it for the king’. His attempts to enlarge upon his case three days later received an ostentatious snub from his peers, who judged that ‘he was so tedious and spoke so little to the purpose as the House rose before he concluded’. If this were not enough, two days later William Jones I dissected his arguments, concluding that if Bawtree were correct in his assertion that the king had a prerogative right to confine his subjects to the realm, then the status of supposedly freeborn Englishmen was no better than that of serfs confined to their manor.9

While his stance on impositions earned him few friends in the Commons, Bawtree’s opinions received official endorsement by way of a swift promotion to serjeant, and he may later have hoped to succeed George Snygge* as baron of the Exchequer. In 1617 he led the resistance in the county to the Lincoln corporation’s proposed levy for reopening the Foss Dyke to navigation, and he was among the mediators in another Fenland drainage dispute. As counsel for Lady Suffolk during her trial in Star Chamber for corruption he tried to discredit the principal witness, Michael Humfrey* by suggesting that her letters were forgeries, though Sir Francis Bacon* warned him, ‘Mr. Serjeant, you have taken a hard province to prove those letters false’. The Boston corporation chose not to return Bawtree at the next general election in 1620: they had no need of his services in the absence of a legislative agenda, while his earlier stance on impositions may have caused offence to the town’s merchants. In April 1621 he and Irby chaired an inquiry into a charge of iconoclasm against the mayor of Boston. The two commissioners, though contemporaries at the inns of court, came from opposite ends of the religious spectrum, and clashed repeatedly at the hearing.10

Bawtree apparently never achieved financial stability, though it was as surety for the debts of others that he was granted a protection on 14 June 1622. This was renewed for a further year in July 1623, in response to his petition claiming that he had repaid almost £3,000 of the debt and hoped to clear the rest shortly. He was recommended by Sir Edward Conway I* as deputy bailiff of Westminster in 1624, and was listed as commissioner of oyer and terminer in the summer of the following year, but he was dead by 17 Feb. 1626, when a creditor took out letters of administration, which were subsequently transferred to his widow. No other member of the family entered Parliament.11

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Paula Watson / John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. Lincs. AO, Lincoln consist. ct. wills 1576, no. 189.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. i. 434.
  • 3. C142/82/11; R. Clutterbuck, Herts. iii. 607; Reg. St. Mary Woolnoth ed. Brooke and Hallen, 140; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 110; Herts. Par. Regs. ed. W. Phillimore, ii. 4; Boston (Lincoln Rec. Soc. par. regs. iii), 80.
  • 4. C181/1, f. 74; 181/2, ff. 48v, 60, 330v, 181/3, ff. 62, 126, 169, 177v, 206; C231/4, p.75; SP14/31/1, 43/107; Boston Corp. Mins. ed. J.F. Bailey, ii. 148.
  • 5. LI Black Bks. ii. 73, 78, 108, 141, 147.
  • 6. CPR, 1560-3, p. 184; HMC Hatfield, x. 69; xii. 234; HMC 3rd Rep. 57; CJ, i. 250b, 1000b.
  • 7. Boston Corp. Mins. ii. 148-51, 161, 164.
  • 8. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 108, 133-4, 235, 243.
  • 9. Ibid. 150, 157, 261, 265, 291, 293, 310-11, 314.
  • 10. HMC Hastings, iv. 16; HMC Ancaster, 396-7; APC, 1618-19, p. 293; 1619-21, p. 367; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 103-4.
  • 11. APC, 1621-3, p. 234; 1623-5, p. 36; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 244, 245, 406; 1623-5, pp. 7, 8, 17, 304; C. Holmes, Seventeenth-Cent. Lincs. 49; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. 1), 110; PROB 6/12, f. 56.