BOURCHIER (BOWCHER), Sir John (1567/8-1626), of Hanging Grimston, Yorks. and Lambeth, Surr.

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.1567/8,1 2nd s. of Sir Ralph Bourchier† (d.1598) of Beningborough, Yorks. and 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Francis Hall† of Grantham, Lincs.2 educ. G. Inn 1584.3 m. ?by 1593 (without portion), Elizabeth, da. of George Verney of Compton Verney, Warws. 8s., at least 3da.4 kntd. 23 May/2 June 1609.5 d. 17 Mar. 1626.6 sig. John Bourchier.

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) by 1599-at least 1608; capt. militia ft., E. Riding 1599;7 commr. sewers., E. Riding 1603-4;8 member, Council in the North 1611-d.9

Patentee, alum refinery 1607-13;10 lessee, battery works, Maidstone, Kent c.1610-22;11 partner, London Soapmakers’ Co. 1624-d.12


Bourchier’s lawyer ancestor Robert Bourchier†, the first MP in the family, was ennobled in the fourteenth century, but this title passed to the Devereux earls of Essex. Bourchier’s paternal grandfather was an illegitimate child of the 2nd Baron Berners, while his father inherited a Yorkshire estate from his maternal uncle.13 Bourchier himself should not be confused with various namesakes, the most prominent of whom was a soldier and Ulster planter, who commanded lord deputy Chichester’s bodyguard, and was knighted in 1611.14 Returned to the Irish Parliament for co. Armagh in 1613, this man died and was replaced at a by-election by Sir Francis Annesley*.15 Bourchier should also not be confused with Oliver Cromwell’s* father-in-law Sir James Bourchier of Little Stambridge, Essex,16 or with his nephew Sir John Bourchier† the regicide, who played little part in public affairs until the 1630s.

Unusually for a younger son, Bourchier was granted the manor of Hanging Grimston, Yorkshire by his father in about 1593. This was partly to compensate him for the fact that his brother-in-law, Sir Richard Verney*, was unable to afford to pay a dowry, and partly because his elder brother was a lunatic. The latter’s wardship was secured by his wife and her brother, Sir Francis Barrington*, shortly after he inherited the family estate in 1598. Bourchier objected to this arrangement, and in 1601 accused Barrington of abusing his position as guardian to break the entail on his brother’s estate. Barrington did not take this lying down, and in 1615-17 he prosecuted Bourchier ‘for certain debts supposed to be due to the lunatic’.17

Converted from arable land to sheepwalks in the 1580s, the manor of Hanging Grimston was highly profitable. Indeed, it must have yielded about £1,200 p.a., for in 1623 half the estate was sold (at 15 years’ purchase price) for £9,500. Bourchier, who was more entrepreneurial than most landowners, initially used the income from the manor to purchase other property, investing at least £6,000 in land between 1598 and 1608. He exploited his purchases to their full economic potential, leasing Spanton woods, Newton-upon-Ouse manor and probably most of his other estates at rack rents.18 The first and most complex of Bourchier’s land purchases, in 1598, was the manor of Barton-le-Street, Yorkshire, then under extent for repayment of the vendor’s debts. Though he reduced his initial offer of £2,400 when rival claimants to the estate came to light, Bourchier eventually bought out the rights of all but one man, whose claim escheated to the Crown on his death without heirs. Bourchier lost possession of the manor in 1615, when the king granted it to lord treasurer Suffolk, who ultimately sold it to Sir Arthur Ingram*.19 Bourchier next ventured into the property market at Seamer near Scarborough in 1602, paying John Thornborough† £700 and £30 p.a. rent for a 21-year lease of the manor house and lands. This was apparently an usurious loan, as Bourchier proceeded to sub-let his interest to a nominee of Thornborough’s for £130 a year. Although the manor was extended for debt in 1606, Bourchier’s lease was eventually bought out, but the ramifications of this dispute spawned years of litigation.20

While Bourchier’s estates were managed efficiently, almost all of his investments in manufacturing projects met with disaster. The first was a 21-year lease of a small alum refinery at Slape Wath, near Whitby. This lease, and the contacts he made with London financiers through his land dealings, probably explain why Bourchier was joined with lord president Sheffield, Sir David Foulis and Sir Thomas Chaloner* in the monopoly to manufacture alum, established in January 1607. The patentees quickly leased their rights and half their profits to a consortium of London merchants led by William Turner, but the availability of foreign imports meant that the scheme failed to prosper. However, it caught the attention of lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), who, having received a favourable report on the industry’s potential from the customs farmers Sir Arthur Ingram and Sir Nicholas Salter, bullied the alum farmers into surrendering their rights to the Crown in May 1609. The knighthood which Bourchier received a few weeks after this surrender was presumably intended as part of his compensation.21 Bourchier still considered the alum industry a good investment, acquiring a 25 per cent share in Turner’s farm of the Crown lease in April 1610. The partners involved later claimed to have invested nearly £60,000 during 1609-12, but their price remained uncompetitive and they ran up debts of nearly £23,000 in bills of exchange with George Morgan, their factor at Middelburg. They declared bankruptcy on 20 May 1612, and for several years Bourchier was only secured from his creditors, who moved swiftly to extend his estates, by royal protections. However, the consortium which took over the farm was required to pay compensation amounting to £37,400 to the former partners. Meanwhile, Bourchier maintained a residual interest in the industry through a lease of a Durham coalmine which supplied the alum works.22

Even before the failure of the alum farm, Bourchier was in trouble with one of his most important creditors, the London Grocer Richard Burrell. In 1602 Bourchier had arranged to mortgage to Burrell the Lincolnshire estates of his cousin, Arthur Hall, standing surety for the deal with a bond of £3,600. However, when the offer of Hall’s son to sell the estate to Burrell was refused in 1610, Bourchier was arrested upon his earlier bond. Bourchier eventually paid Burrell £1,360, and sealed a fresh bond of £1,500 as surety for any further outstanding debts. In the midst of this furore, Bourchier was also prosecuted by Hall’s daughter over her unpaid dowry.23 The bankruptcy of the alum farm in 1612 encouraged Bourchier’s creditors to clamour for payment. Indeed, one of them secured Bourchier’s outlawry for debt in October 1613, although the latter’s protection presumably rendered this invalid. Bourchier responded by reportedly going into hiding, only venturing forth ‘armed with pistols and other extraordinary weapons so as few or none dare adventure to take him’. At this time he was also prosecuted by the heirs of his financial agent Robert Gibson of York, for misappropriating £2,000 of the latter’s goods, while another creditor, who had bought a life annuity of £80 charged upon the manor of Barton, sued when the manor was seized by the Crown.24 In a desperate attempt to raise cash, he mortgaged part of the Grimston estate to Mathias Springham for £1,000 in February 1614, leased the manor of Newton-upon-Ouse to the York lawyers Sir George and John Ellis for £550, and borrowed £500 from his erstwhile partner, William Turner. Bourchier also sold half the compensation he was due from the new alum farmers to Sir John Brooke*.25

Despite his outlawry, which should have rendered him ineligible, Bourchier was elected to Parliament in 1614. Evidently he viewed parliamentary privilege as a more secure form of refuge from his creditors than a royal protection. Returned for Hull, he was almost certainly nominated by Lord Sheffield, whose former secretary, John Edmondes had represented the borough in 1604. He is noted to have spoken only once, during the debate of 25 May over Bishop Neile’s attack on the Commons for questioning the king’s right to levy impositions: he moved ‘to proceed in no business till righted’, and supported the motion of Sir Thomas Hoby and Sir Jerome Horsey to refer the matter directly to the king rather than the House of Lords.26

Bourchier’s losses from the alum farm did not discourage him from investing in other projects. Indeed, in 1610 he secured a lease of the Mineral and Battery Company’s brassworks at Maidstone and Lambeth. However, although Turner was co-opted as a partner, the business had collapsed by 1621.27 In 1614 Bourchier and Lord Sheffield were granted a patent for the manufacture of copper by dissolving the ore in water, which proved fruitless. Bourchier lost £700 of Burrell’s money while speculating in grain with Prince Henry’s purveyor, Robert Clarke, and in 1621 he was again outlawed for debt after he became involved in a contentious project for the transportation of skins to the north of England, a scheme which had been suggested by Henry Mynors, another Household official. Despite this unpromising record, Bourchier’s views on the causes of the shortage of money were treated seriously enough to be referred to lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) in 1622.28

There is no evidence that Bourchier sought re-election to the Commons in 1621, but even if he had, Sheffield’s removal from the presidency deprived him of his only patron. He was, however, involved in three separate issues which came before this Parliament. He was apparently a partner in Sir Ferdinando Gorges’† monopoly of fishing in American waters, which was investigated by the Commons at the behest of the Devon ports, and only narrowly escaped condemnation. He was also one of the subjects of George Morgan’s bill to confirm a Chancery decree awarding him damages for the £22,000 still owed him by members of the failed alum syndicate of 1610-12.29 Finally, he attempted to obtain redress in his long-running suit over the lease of Seamer manor house. According to the petition submitted by Sheffield to the Upper House on Bourchier’s behalf on 3 Dec. 1621, lord keeper Williams had passed judgment in the case with undue haste. Consequently, Sheffield’s request for a judicial review was granted, despite Archbishop Abbot’s warning that this might precipitate a flood of similar complaints. However, Bourchier’s claim that his case had not been given a hearing was refuted by the judges. Moreover, Bourchier lost the sympathy of the Upper House when, being asked to produce witnesses who had not been allowed to testify by Williams, he retorted, ‘I hope I shall not be put to that, for it will be a very hard thing for me to bring any man to speak what is contradicted by my lord keeper’. The House voted to clear Williams, imprisoned Bourchier, and ordered him to apologize to both at the bar of the Lords and in Chancery. However, the remainder of the punishment was remitted, at Williams’ request, after Bourchier submitted to the Lords.30

Bourchier was finally discharged from liability for the debts incurred during his lease of the alum farm in 1622, by which stage the business had begun to turn a profit. Bourchier remained interested in the patent through his Durham coalmine, and in 1618 he offered to buy out Sir John Brooke’s share in the farm. He also proposed a scheme to take over the alum farm and the new patent for the manufacture of soap from home-produced potash as a joint venture in 1623. This latter project was apparently backed by the London financier Sir Paul Pindar, whose great diamond, worth £35,000, was offered as an entry fine, together with £6,000 annual rent and a levy of 40s. on every ton of soap sold. However, while Bourchier bought the support of secretary of state Sir Edward Conway I* with the promise of an annuity of £2,000, Sir Arthur Ingram refused to surrender his lease.31 Bourchier thereupon claimed that Ingram’s failure to fulfil the terms of his contract had rendered the existing lease invalid. This accusation, which coincided with the fall of Ingram’s patron, lord treasurer Middlesex, was investigated by the Exchequer in January 1625. Bourchier further charged Ingram with failing to provide the contracted quantities of alum, and embezzlement of £10,000 assigned to pay for repairs to the works in 1615. The two men came to blows a few days later, and were placed under house arrest. Ingram quickly surrendered his lease, but the farm was granted not to Bourchier, but to his former partners William Turner and Sir Paul Pindar.32

While Bourchier’s plans for the alum farm came to nothing, he invested heavily in the manufacture of soap from English potash. He raised the capital by selling half of Grimston manor to Sir William Cockayne for £9,500, a sale which brought with it its own problems, as Cockayne required assurances that his investment would be freed from Bourchier’s debts. The soap patent, however, was opposed by the Eastland Company, which imported potash from the Baltic. In order to defuse the Company’s opposition, Bourchier bought up £9,000 of their stocks, and promised to take up the remainder in return for an import ban. The London soapmakers also objected to the challenge to their trade, but were overruled after trials established that the new soap was more economical.33 Bourchier paid just over £1,000 for a one-sixth share in the new soap company in May 1624, and persuaded Cockayne to invest ‘a great sum’ in the Company’s first year of operation. By the end of the year he protested at being ‘already out of purse above £5,000’, but he remained confident of success, doubling his shareholding in July 1625. However, at his death the Company’s stock was virtually exhausted. Two of the partners maintained their patent rights by manufacturing small quantities of soap until the new Westminster Soapmakers’ Company bought them out for £5,000 in 1632.34

Bourchier died intestate on 17 Mar. 1626, leaving his affairs in considerable confusion. His daughter Mary quickly secured administration of his estate in London, but in the following August letters of administration were issued at York to one of Bourchier’s servants, who was then suing a lawyer for mishandling a trust of Bourchier’s Yorkshire estates. One of Bourchier’s sons took over the administration in 1635, in a vain hope of securing a share of the £5,000 granted to the defunct Soapmakers’ Company, but his former partners quickly demonstrated that Bourchier’s outstanding debts far outweighed his share of the compensation. His estate was still being pursued for old debts in 1638.35 None of Bourchier’s direct descendants sat in Parliament, but his nephew and namesake Sir John Bourchier was returned to the Long Parliament as a recruiter Member for Ripon in 1645.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. E134/22Jas.I/Hil.29. Not in the 1564 visitation: Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 30.
  • 2. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 62-3; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. i. 305-7.
  • 3. GI Admiss.
  • 4. C2/Chas.I/B34/6; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 25; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 62-3; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. i. 305-7; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xi. 228, 243; PROB 6/12, f. 64.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 148.
  • 6. C2/Chas.I/B146/57.
  • 7. Add. 36293, f. 32v.
  • 8. C181/1, ff. 64, 153.
  • 9. R. Reid, Council in the North, 497.
  • 10. C66/1820/23; E214/1162.
  • 11. SP14/62/23-4; BL, Loan 16/2, ff. 1v, 3-5; REQ 2/296/1.
  • 12. C2/Chas.I/B146/57.
  • 13. CP sub Bourchier, Berners; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding) ii. 162-3; HP Commons, 1559-1603 (Sir Ralph Bourchier).
  • 14. HMC Hastings, iv. 39, 176; Trevelyan Pprs. III ed. W.C. and C.E. Trevelyan (Cam. Soc. cv), 131; Shaw, ii. 150. See also Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 328.
  • 15. Add. 47203, f. 88.
  • 16. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 353-4.
  • 17. C2/Jas.I/H4/45; C2/Chas.I/B34/6; WARD 9/348, f. 129; WARD 9/535, p. 245; HMC Hatfield, viii. 236; xi. 233.
  • 18. C2/Jas.I/C20/42; C2/Chas.I/E2/56; C2/Chas.I/E8/24; STAC 8/64/7; STAC 8/116/14.
  • 19. C2/Jas.I/B29/11, B36/28, S29/12; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), i. 473; A.F. Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, 83.
  • 20. C2/Jas.I/S27/63; C2/Chas.I/B162/95.
  • 21. R.B. Turton, Alum Farm, 64-8, 83-6; C66/1820/23; E214/928, 1150; E134/22Jas.I/Hil.29; Shaw, ii. 148.
  • 22. C2/Jas.I/B17/45, 47; C2/Jas.I/B24/4; Turton, 91-6, 115-16; C239/80; C66/1965/28; C66/1948/11; C66/2007/1; C66/1982/5; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 264; E134/22Jas.I/Hil.29, Bourchier’s deposition.
  • 23. C2/Jas.I/B30/19; C2/Jas.I/C20/42; C2/Chas.I/C82/27; STAC 8/64/7; LC4/195, f. 159v; REQ 2/301/3; C78/148/1.
  • 24. C2/Jas.I/B17/47, B29/11, D9/40; STAC 8/116/14.
  • 25. C2/Jas.I/B5/41, B17/45, 47; C2/Chas.I/B79/58; C2/Chas.I/B154/13; C2/Chas.I/E8/24; C78/446/12; E214/933; Turton, 119, 124.
  • 26. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 346.
  • 27. SP14/62/23-4; REQ 2/296/1; BL, Loan 16/2, ff. 1v, 3-5.
  • 28. C66/2024/29, 66/1801/12; C2/Jas.I/B14/1; C2/Chas.I/B18/32; C2/Chas.I/C20/42; Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OE78b.
  • 29. CJ, i. 640b, 641a, 669a; CD 1621, iii. 409, 441-3; v. 318, n.1, 379; C2/Jas.I/B24/4.
  • 30. C2/Jas.I/S27/63; C2/Chas.I/B162/95; HLRO, main pprs. 3 Dec. 1621; LJ, iii. 179b, 189-92; LD 1621 and 1628, pp. 106-19; Stowe 176, f. 213.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 408; 1623-5, p. 128; Turton, 118-19, 126-8, 131-6; Upton, 123, 126, 132-3, 137; SP14/155/25, 14/158/61.
  • 32. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 128, 249, 299, 336, 468-9; Upton, 137-9; Turton, 136-7, 154-5; E134/22Jas.I/Hil.29; Add. 35832, ff. 159, 168; SP16/126/58.
  • 33. C2/Jas.I/C4/49; 2/Jas.I/C14/91; 2/Jas.I/C20/24; 2/Chas.I/B102/48; 2/Chas.I/C82/27; 2/Chas.I/C127/62; SP14/158/61-2; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 230, 234.
  • 34. C2/Chas.I/B102/48; 2/Chas.I/B146/57; SP14/176/30.
  • 35. PROB 6/12, f. 64; PROB 6/15, ff. 80v, 83v; C2/Chas.I/B79/58; 2/Chas.I/B102/48; 2/Chas.I/B138/26; 2/Chas.I/B146/57; 2/Chas.I/B154/13; 2/Chas.I/B166/40; 2/Chas.I/E8/24; 2/Chas.I/J24/16; C78/446/12.