BOROUGH (BURGH, BURROUGHES), John (1583-1643), of Old Palace Yard, Westminster

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



12 Apr. 1621

Family and Education

bap. 1 Sept. 1583, 3rd s. of William Borough of Sandwich, Kent and Jacomine, da. of one (Daniel?) Godschalk of Nieuwkerk, Brabant.1 educ. G. Inn 1612; DCL, Oxf. 1643.2 m. (1) lic. 3 Oct. 1608, Sylvester (d.1609), da. of Robert Denne of Denne Hill, Kingston, Kent, wid. of Thomas Coppin of Manston, Kent, ?2ch. d.v.p.;3 (2) by 1622, Dorothy, da. of one Cassey, 2s. 2da.4 kntd. 17 July 1624.5 d. 21 Oct. 1643.6

Offices Held

Clerk of recs. in the Tower (jt) 1612, kpr. by 1622-d.;7 servant to Sir Francis Bacon* by 1618, sec. by 1620-at least 1621;8 gent. of the privy chamber by 1622-at least 1623;9 Mowbray herald (extraordinary) 1623, Norroy king of arms 1623-33, Garter 1633-d.;10 clerk of PC (extraordinary) 1623-at least 1639;11 commr. to revive rights of order of the Garter 1633;12 sec. to Thomas Howard, 21st or 14th earl of Arundel, amb. to Holy Roman Empire 1636.13

Commr. new buildings, London 1630.14


Borough’s father, a Brabanter by birth, is said to have been a brewer in Sandwich.15 None of the family seems to have achieved local office. By his first marriage, Borough became connected with Sir Robert Cotton*, who described him as ‘cousin’ in 1621.16 Cotton may have had a hand in his admission to the Tower record office in 1612, as well as in his subsequent entry into Bacon’s service. It was as ‘a secretary of my lord chancellor’s ... born in Sandwich’ that he was nominated at Sandwich for the junior seat at the general election of 1620, but he was defeated by the lord warden’s candidate, Sir Robert Hatton*, on the narrow franchise. He borrowed ‘a book of records gathered concerning the Cinque Ports, especially Yarmouth and Sandwich’ from Cotton, and successfully petitioned against Hatton’s return, on the ground that the commons had been improperly barred from voting. On 22 Mar. 1621 the House ordered the issue of a new writ, over the protest of Sir Dudley Digges that nothing should be done until Borough had been cleared of the charge of corruption brought against him as one of Bacon’s secretaries.17 He was returned at the subsequent by-election, apparently unopposed, but left no further mark on the records of the Parliament, and the charge of corruption seems to have been quietly dropped. He nonetheless maintained some contact with Bacon, serving as his research assistant in the preparation of his History of Henry VII, and explaining as late as January 1622 that he hoped within a few days ‘to be at liberty to wait upon your lordship’.18

On Bacon’s fall Borough attracted the patronage of the earl of Arundel, probably through Cotton. His second wife seems to have come from a Gloucestershire recusant family,19 a connection that would have been helpful when he was sent to Venice in February 1622 to fetch home Lady Arundel and her children. He remained in Venice over the summer, where he purchased books and manuscripts on the earl’s behalf.20 Although no gentleman by birth, as his rivals were quick to point out, he was granted arms by Sir William Segar,21 and in 1623 was appointed a herald and a clerk of the Privy Council extraordinary ‘upon His Majesty’s pleasure, signified by the earl marshal’. In 1624 he was returned for Horsham on Arundel’s interest. By this time he was Cotton’s neighbour in Old Palace Yard, living in one of ‘the two houses adjoining to the Parliament’ around which Sir John Pakington* reported suspicious nocturnal activities. Both Borough and Cotton spoke to clear themselves, and insisted that their houses should be searched to remove all fears of inadequate security.22 On 6 Apr. they were among the Members appointed by the committee for privileges to find out how many other towns might be affected by the decision to re-enfranchise three Buckinghamshire boroughs.23 A week later Borough was ordered to fetch some records from the Lords to the committee for drafting the subsidy bill. He produced precedents in the debate on heraldic abuses. 24 Knighted in July 1624, he was re-elected in 1625, and again in 1626, when he kept a volume of notes taken mainly in grand committee. These covered a period of ten days between 27 Feb. and 23 Mar., and primarily concerned matters of defence, the Council of War and the king’s financial needs.25 Despite his later reputation as ‘an admirable note-taker’, they are remembered chiefly for his report of Secretary Coke’s financial statement of 23 Mar., in which he added two noughts to the grand total.26 It is not clear whether it was the herald or the soldier Sir John Burgh who was granted a pension of £200 later in the year.27 Outside Parliament Borough was engaged about this time, at the behest of Sir Julius Caesar*, on a study of the means used by Edward I to raise money, including distraint of knighthood.28 Edmund Bolton counted him among the 84 ‘essentials’ for his proposed Royal Academy.29

In 1633 Borough accompanied the king to Scotland.30 That same year he wrote The Soveraignty of the British Seas, published in 1651, and his antiquarian knowledge was again called upon for a justification of Ship Money.31 As Garter king of arms he revived the controversy with his fellow heralds, visiting a number of counties by deputy; he also secured the grant of a gold crown for the Garter, having observed the Lyon king of arms wear one at Charles’s Scottish coronation.32 He accompanied Arundel on his embassy to the emperor in 1636. He acted as secretary at the meetings of Charles and the Covenanters at Berwick in 1639, of the Great Council at York (concerning the summoning of which he had again been consulted as an historical expert), and of the commissioners for the treaty of Ripon in 1640.33 When the Civil War broke out he joined the Court at Oxford. He died there, intestate, at the Half Moon inn, on 21 Oct. 1643, and was buried at Christ Church. His widow was prepared to swear in May 1646 that she was not worth £100. No other member of the family entered Parliament, though his younger son, a lawyer, was knighted, and appointed to the Kent commission of the peace by James II as a Catholic.34

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Soc. Gen. St. Peter’s, Sandwich par. reg. 17, 20, 23, and mar. entry, 4 Dec. 1575; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xv), 319. The Oxford DNB misidentifies Borough’s parentage.
  • 2. GI Admiss.; Al. Ox.
  • 3. Canterbury Mar. Lics. 1568-1618 ed. J.M. Cowper, 55; E. Hasted, Kent, vi. 357; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 100; Harl. 1823, f. 29.
  • 4. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 35; Index to Admons. in the PCC 1631-48 ed. M. Fitch (Brit. Rec. Soc. c), 47; GI Admiss. 208, 217.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 185.
  • 6. Life, Diary and Corresp. of Dugdale ed. W. Hamper, 55.
  • 7. C66/1956; Coll. of Arms (London Survey Cttee. xvi) 50; APC, 1621-3, p. 111; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 383-4.
  • 8. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 336; CD 1621, vii. 568.
  • 9. APC, 1621-3, pp. 133, 454.
  • 10. Coll. of Arms (London Survey Cttee. xvi), 49, 280; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 4, p. 60.
  • 11. APC, 1623-5, p. 127; 1625-6, p. 14; CSP Dom. 1639, p. 116; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 614.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 332.
  • 13. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 63.
  • 14. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 115.
  • 15. Ath. Ox. iv. (Fasti), 62.
  • 16. Harl. 6018, f. 149.
  • 17. Ibid.; CJ, i. 566a, 568b; CD 1621, iv. 181; v. 315; vi. 386; vii. 568.
  • 18. D.R. Woolf, ‘John Selden, John Borough and Francis Bacon’s History of Henry VII 1621’, HLQ, xlvii. 47-53; Works of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 324.
  • 19. For this fam., see Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 244; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. lxxiv. 128-52. Borough’s 2nd w. is not, however, mentioned.
  • 20. APC, 1621-3, p. 133; M.F.S. Hervey, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, 200; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 426; CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 262; Cott. Julius C.III, ff. 33, 35-6.
  • 21. A. Wagner, Heralds of Eng. 235; Add. 12225, f. 19v.
  • 22. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 57; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 57; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 170.
  • 23. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 51v.
  • 24. CJ, i. 765b.
  • 25. Procs. 1626, i. 13. The vol. of notes is now Harl. 6445.
  • 26. Oxford DNB; C. Russell, PEP, 270. The addition of the noughts to the grand total is not apparent from Procs. 1626, ii. 353. For a more accurate transcript, see Sir John Borough’s Notes of Procs. in Cttees. of House of Commons transcribed C. Thompson.
  • 27. C66/2374/10. For this man, see Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 209; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 497; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 384-5, 396-7.
  • 28. H.H. Leonard, ‘Distraint of Knighthood: the last phase 1625-41’, History, lxiii. 24.
  • 29. E. Portal, ‘The Academ Roial of James I’, PBA, vii. 207.
  • 30. Northants. RO, IC4313.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 148; 1633-4, p. 332.
  • 32. Wagner, 91.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1639, p. 172; 1640-1, p. 15; Treaty at Ripon ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. c), pp. xxxvii, 3.
  • 34. Life of Dugdale, 55; CCAM, 695; G. Duckett, Penal Laws, 353.