BYRD (BIRD), William (c.1561-1624), of London and Walthamstow, Essex

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



21 Oct. 1609

Family and Education

b. c.1561, 2nd s. of William Byrd (d.1568)2 of Saffron Walden, Essex, and Mary, da. and h. of James Woodhall, yeoman, of Saffron Walden.3 educ. All Souls, Oxf. 1581, aged 20, BCL 1583, DCL 1588; adv. 1589.4 m. aft. 1613, Jane (bur. 1 Mar. 1645), da. and coh. of John Johnson, Merchant Taylor, of London, wid. of Richard Trafford of Low Leyton, Essex, s.p.5 kntd. 20 Mar. 1617.6 bur. 5 Sept. 1624.7

Offices Held

Fell. All Souls, Oxf. 1587-1604, dean 1593; member, Doctors’ Commons 1590, treas. 1608-11;8 j.p. Saffron Walden, Essex 1602-3, Mdx. 1620-d.9 ; commr. piracy, London and home counties 1603-d.,10 sewers, Mdx. 1604, Essex 1604, 1620,11 Admlty. causes, Mdx. and home counties 1603-19,12 assurances, London 1615,13 survey, Jersey 1617,14 oyer and terminer, Essex 1622.15

Judge, High Ct. of Delegates 1597-1622;16 master in Chancery (extraordinary) 1598, (ordinary) 1610-d.;17 judge, Prerogative Ct. of Canterbury 1611-d.;18 dean of arches 1617-d.;19 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1620-d.20


Byrd, a younger son of a modest gentry family, proved himself a precocious scholar at Oxford, where he proceeded to the rank of doctor of Civil Law and advocate.21 He received a grant of arms in 1606.22 His stepfather, William Woodhall, was registrar of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and the ‘loving cousin’ of Sir Daniel Dunne*, and it was probably via this connection that Byrd was returned for Oxford University at a by-election to succeed the deceased Sir Thomas Crompton* as Dunne’s colleague in the first Jacobean Parliament.23 Byrd was named to three committees, to consider a bill for the herring industry (13 Mar. 1610), a private bill to confirm a Chancery decree (2 Apr.), and to draft a bill on excommunication (4 May).24

In 1611 Byrd joined Sir John Bennet* as a judge of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and in 1617 he succeeded Dunne as dean of the Arches, although (Sir) George Newman* had a patent for the reversion.25 For the rest of his life he was so busy in the various fields open to a civilian that, as he complained in a letter to Sir Edward Conway I*, he was able to visit his house in Walthamstow (a leasehold held in right of his wife) for only a few weeks in the year.26 He was one of three masters in Chancery charged during the 1621 Parliament with ‘taking fees contrary to the statute’, but he seems to have suffered no loss of office or standing. According to the gossip John Chamberlain, Byrd was at his death ‘generally so well spoken of that his successor ... will have much ado to make it good’.27 In his funeral sermon it was observed that he had seldom employed deputies, ‘saying, I will do what I may possible by myself; I (and not they) must answer if wrong be done. And when I shall be upon my deathbed, clamours will trouble me if any be injured’.28 He died of a burning fever, ‘the disease of the time’, making a nuncupative will without preamble on 27 Aug. 1624, by which he left the lease of his London house to his wife, with whom he had no children.29 He was buried on 5 Sept. at Christ Church, Newgate.30

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. R.L. Poole, Univ. Archives, 34.
  • 2. R. Griffin (Lord Braybrooke), Hist. Audley End, 291-2.
  • 3. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 365-6.
  • 4. Al. Ox.
  • 5. The Gen. ii. 155.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 161.
  • 7. Lansd. 984, f. 31.
  • 8. B.P. Levack, Civil Lawyers in Eng. 211-12; G.D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 48.
  • 9. C181/1, ff. 35v, 65v; C231/4, f. 109; C193/13/1, f. 64v.
  • 10. C181/1, f. 67; 181/2, ff. 12v, 101v, 214, 220v, 299v, 339; 181/3, f. 79v.
  • 11. C181/1, f. 89v; 181/3, f. 19.
  • 12. HCA 1/32/1, ff. 29, 38, 55, 90.
  • 13. C181/2, f. 237.
  • 14. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 564, 582, 590; APC, 1616-17, pp. 187, 302.
  • 15. C181/3, f. 68v.
  • 16. Levack, 211.
  • 17. C216/1/5; T.D. Hardy, Principal Officers of Chancery, 90.
  • 18. Levack, 211.
  • 19. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 53; Levack, 211.
  • 20. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 346.
  • 21. Morant, Essex, ii. 596.
  • 22. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 24.
  • 23. H.F. Waters, Gen. Gleanings in Eng. 51-2.
  • 24. CJ, i. 410a, 418a, 424b.
  • 25. Chamberlain Letters, ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 105.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 84.
  • 27. CD 1621, vi. 92; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 579.
  • 28. S. Price, Two Twins of Birth and Death (1624) STC 20334, pp. 39, 40, 42, 46.
  • 29. PROB 11/144, f. 126.
  • 30. Lansd. 984, f. 31.