BYSSHE, Edward (-d.1655), of Smallfield Place, Burstow, Surr. 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



c. Mar. 1624
17 Apr. 1640

Family and Education

1st s. of Thomas Bysshe of Burstow and Anne, da. of John Bysshe of Worth, Suss.1 educ. Furnival’s Inn; L. Inn 1605, called 1612.2 m. by 1610,3 Mary, da. of John Turner† of Ham, Bletchingley, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.).4 d. 1655.5

Offices Held

Under-sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1605-6,6 escheator 1608-9, 1612-13;7 commr. inquiry into the lands of the earl of Somerset, Suss. 1617;8 feodary, Surr. 1614-?37;9 j.p. Surr. 1617-at least 1622, 1623-at least 1625, 1645-at least 1648, Suss. 1624-at least 1625;10 commr. subsidy, Surr. 1622, 1624, 1641-2,11 assessment 1643,12 levying money 1643,13 ?oyer and terminer, Suss. 1644, ?gaol delivery 1644, sewers,14 Kent and Surr. 1645.15

Pensioner, L. Inn 1628-9, bencher 1630, reader 1632, kpr. of Black Bk. 1640-1, treas. 1649.16


Bysshe’s son, (Sir) Edward Bysshe†, a notoriously unreliable herald, claimed that the family were descended from the thirteenth century de Burstows, lords of the manor of Burstow, a property situated just south of Bletchingley and seven miles south-east of Reigate. Aubrey, however, noted that the local inhabitants described the Bysshes as ‘a new raised upstart family of yesterday’s growth’ and that this Member’s father or grandfather had been a miller. Nevertheless, it is clear that Bysshe’s ancestors had lived at Burstow and in the adjoining Sussex parish of Worth since the fifteenth century.17

Having previously studied at one of the inns of Chancery, Bysshe was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in August 1605 at the request of Thomas Hitchcock*, then reader. In that same year he was appointed under-sheriff of Surrey to Sir Edward Culpepper, in which capacity he was charged in Star Chamber of empanelling corrupt juries.18 After serving two terms as escheator, he secured appointment as feodary. According to Aubrey he was ‘a great practiser’ in the Court of Wards, and indeed he was the second most active barrister in that court in the Easter term of 1638. Aubrey also records that Bysshe was fond of joking that he had built his house at Smallfield in Burstow ‘with wood-cocks’ heads’ - a woodcock being a synonym for a fool, simpleton or dupe.19

Sometime before 1610 Bysshe married into a significant local family with a long parliamentary connection with Bletchingley. Indeed, his father-in-law was returned there in 1601.20 Bysshe himself enjoyed close ties with the borough, and probably helped the receiver-general of the Court of Wards, Sir Miles Fleetwood, to a seat there in 1624. When Fleetwood chose instead to sit for Launceston, Bysshe himself took his place following the subsequent election.

Bysshe made no recorded speeches in 1624 and received only one committee appointment, to consider a bill for the relief of London clothworkers (15 April). He failed to attend any of the committee’s four recorded meetings but did attend one meeting of the committee for the bill to reverse a decree made in the Court of Requests concerning the estate of John Edwards, to which all lawyers had been appointed on 16 April.21

Bysshe was re-elected to the next three parliaments. In 1625 he was again named to only one committee, to consider a bill for the drainage of the Kentish parishes of Erith and Plumstead (28 June). Two days later he spoke in favour of voting subsidies, although not fifteenths, and recommended that they should ‘go hand in hand’ with the petition on religion.22 In 1626 Bysshe took the senior seat and received 29 committee appointments, delivered six reports and made 16 other recorded contributions to debates. On 11 Feb. he brought in a bill to protect creditors by limiting the fees payable to under-sheriffs and bailiffs in outlawry proceedings. The bill also sought to ensure that outlawries were not reversed until creditors could be certain that they would receive what they were owed. This measure may have been identical to a bill bearing a similar title that was introduced in 1625, perhaps also by Bysshe. The 1626 bill fared better than its predecessor, which had only received one reading. Placed in committee on 1 Mar., it was reported nine days later, when it was ordered to be engrossed. However, there were no further proceedings.23

Professional interests probably also explain Bysshe’s intervention in the debate on the second reading of the bill against secret offices and inquisitions on 14 February. He argued that the proposed penalty, a £40 fine, was too low and suggested a number of technical changes; not surprisingly he was named to the committee.24 On 23 Mar. he was appointed to help consider a measure to regulate the lower branch of the legal profession and remedy other legal grievances, including forfeitures by secret outlawries. Bysshe reported this bill on 4 May, when it was ordered to be engrossed, but the measure proceeded no further.25

Bysshe was also interested in religious issues, particularly those of a puritan nature. On 15 Feb. he defended the bill against scandalous ministers at its second reading, rebutting the criticism of John Whistler, who attacked provisions in the bill that would allow juries to meddle in the benefices of clergymen and criticized the ‘long and tedious course’ of the ecclesiastical courts. He also replied to Sir Clement Throckmorton, who claimed that the bill was inequitable because it would inflict harsher penalties for clergymen than laymen would suffer for similar offences. Quoting Juvenal, he argued that vice was worse when committed by those in the public eye and that it was ‘just’ to hold the ministry to a higher standard ‘because they are our eyes and should be lights’. Indeed, he seems to have regarded the bill as too moderate and in need of additions, because ‘hard by him’ were ministers who were ‘common drunkards and adulterers’. In one case that he knew of, he declared, a clergyman had ‘offered violence’ to a pregnant woman, who had subsequently miscarried and died. When the offending minister was sent to a house of correction, threats were issued to the local magistrate responsible, presumably by the ecclesiastical authorities. A member of the bill committee, Bysshe reported the measure three times before the House would accept it, by which time it had been retitled a bill to ‘restrain and prevent some mis-orders that are or may be in ministers’. On 10 Mar. it was ordered to be engrossed, and after successfully completing its third reading on 20 Mar. it was sent to the Lords, where it got no further than a second reading.26

Bysshe spoke in the debate following John Selden’s report on 21 Mar. concerning Sir Robert Howard, who had been excommunicated despite his parliamentary privilege by High Commission. Bysshe called the case ‘the greatest affront that ever was offered to this House’, and cited a legal precedent which demonstrated that an order against Magna Carta was invalid. He does not seem to have been opposed to the existence of High Commission, for although he proposed that the present commission be rescinded he saw this as a prelude to reform, not abolition, as he hoped that the reconstituted court would ‘be so granted and to such as shall know how to use the authority’.27 On 23 May, when the House considered the presentment of recusant officeholders, Bysshe raised the question of ‘popishly affected’ lawyers who were resident at the inns of court and yet still able to practise. His suggestion that the judges should ban them from appearing in their courts does not seem to have been taken up.28

Bysshe contributed to the debate following Sir John Eliot’s report on 22 Feb. about the second arrest of the St. Peter of Le Havre. He argued that although the judge of the Admiralty Court, Sir Henry Marten*, had ‘well acquitted himself’ in his judicial capacity, he had not ‘declared his meaning or knowledge but made it much worse’. He clearly suspected that Marten was concealing information concerning wrongdoing in the case, which, since the Privy Council had ‘dealt nobly’ and Charles I had personally ‘commanded speedy justice to be done’, would doubtless point to the lord admiral, Buckingham. Marten should be ordered to disclose this information so that the Commons could establish ‘the certain cause ... why this ship was stayed’.29

Although Bysshe was keen to pursue Buckingham, he evidently thought that bringing the duke to book should take a lower priority than the safety of the realm. On 24 Feb. he demanded rhetorically, ‘shall we talk [about] who erred till we sit safely?’, before advising the House that it should ‘first secure our own coast’.30 However, on 1 Mar. he moved for a committee to draw up questions to be put to the duke ‘and with what he shall be charged’.31 Seven days later, in the debate about the unsatisfactory answers of the Council of War to the questions put to them by the Commons, he argued that the House should not debate whether the questions were ‘fit’ as this would ‘arraign ourselves’; the proper topic of discussion was what steps, if any, should be taken against the councillors, who should, he thought be given a second chance to answer the questions put to them.32

In the supply debate on 27 Mar. Bysshe argued that four subsidies could not be levied ‘in any reasonable time’, and argued that fifteens should be retained.33 On 4 May he supported the motion of Francis Drake to consider means of increasing the Crown’s regular revenue. Remarkably, he proposed that wardship be abolished in return for a general composition, arguing that this would yield a much greater revenue than did the Court of Wards, where so much of his own practice lay, because when a wardship was sold ‘some or other begs it, so that it never comes to the king’s coffers’. After suggesting that the House should obtain the king’s consent to discuss wardship alongside its other proposals, he was appointed to a committee to draft a petition.34

On 19 May Bysshe contributed to the debate which followed the arrest of Sir John Eliot and Sir Dudley Digges, who had offended the king by the intemperate language they had used in presenting to the Lords the impeachment charges against Buckingham. Bysshe attacked the vice chamberlain, Sir Dudley Carleton, who had stated on 13 May that the king had acted on the report of several Members. Carleton claimed to have been misunderstood and declared that Charles, having heard rumours concerning the words spoken by Eliot and Digges, had sent for various Members’ papers and notebooks. At this Bysshe accused Carleton of contradicting himself, as he had previously stated that he had been present when the king learned of the offensive words allegedly spoken by Eliot and Digges. However, Carleton was defended by the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Weston, who tried to place the blame for the arrests on ‘the mistaking of some that took notes’, and the House was not inclined to pursue the matter.35

On 8 June Bysshe argued that one of the witnesses produced by Sir Francis Foljambe concerning the letter allegedly written by Sir John Savile* criticizing the Parliament’s proceedings should be committed to prison ‘to refresh his memory, and ... for abusing the House’.36 In the debate on John More II’s patent for making salt on 5 May, Bysshe remembered that More had said on 28 Mar. ‘that he had been careful to make his patent a Parliament patent’. He then ‘retorted’ More’s arguments ‘upon himself’, presumably arguing that if the patent was indeed ‘a Parliament patent’ then Parliament could condemn it.37 Bysshe clashed again with More after the latter argued on 3 June that the king would only retain his kingdom if he upheld the liberties’ of the subject. Bysshe moved to expel and imprison More and then ‘leave him to such further punishment as the king should please ...since the offence is against him’.38

In his capacity as a Surrey Member, Bysshe was appointed to the committee for the bill to prevent false measures of sea-coal on 20 Feb., which he reported on 9 May.39 On the same day he also contributed to the debate on the second reading of the bill to regulate the pressing of soldiers. He was concerned that provisions to exempt gentlemen might prove a loophole, asking whether the bill extended to Wales, ‘for there all are gentlemen’; he also moved that ‘gentlemen of blood, if they would live idle, might be pressed’. He was subsequently appointed to the committee.40 On 28 Mar. he was among those added to the committee to consider the bills to naturalize Samuel Bave and Thomas Sotherne, and attended one of its meetings. He was named to consider another naturalization bill, for Samuel Powell, the son of a London merchant born in Hamburg, on 1 June, which he reported without amendments the following day.41

Bysshe was re-elected in 1628, when he was appointed to four committees and made one report and five recorded speeches. He was appointed to the privileges committee on 20 Mar., and six days later complained of the ‘outrages’ committed by soldiers billeted in Surrey. Some of them, he alleged, ‘came to my house, made me pay what they pleased, without order from any; no, not so much as a warrant from a deputy lieutenant’, behaviour which, he thought, ‘tends towards rebellion’. He successfully moved to summon John Moulden, the constable who had conducted the offending soldiers.42 However, when Moulden appeared before the Commons on 28 Mar. he produced a warrant from the 2nd earl of Nottingham (Sir Charles Howard*), the lord lieutenant of Surrey, which Bysshe, wrongfooted, condemned as ‘very strange and very general’. He went on to attack billeting as illegal and accused the soldiers of violence and compelling local inhabitants to pay arrears of a rate imposed by the deputy lieutenants. The matter was referred to a committee, to which Bysshe was appointed.43

On 8 Apr. Bysshe was among those named to consider the bill to confirm the foundation of the Charterhouse hospital, which he reported without amendments on the 23rd of the same month.44 On 4 June he was appointed with his fellow Member John Evelyn, the gunpowder-manufacturer, to inquire into the shortage of powder and the export of ordnance, and, when the Commons debated the clause in its Remonstrance concerning the shortage of munitions a week later, Bysshe gave details of the financier Philip Burlamachi’s patent for exporting artillery.45

On the same day Bysshe supported the naming of Buckingham as the cause of all the evils in government: ‘I think the duke will take it for a dishonour if he be not named. I never heard of any man without a name but one, and that was the rich man in the Gospel’. As the anonymous author of a contemporary libel realized, this was a reference to the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19. The implication of the comparison was that Buckingham, like the rich man, was destined for damnation. At this the Buckingham supporter Charles Price protested that Bysshe was mistaken, repeating the popular, but unscriptural belief, that the rich man was named Dives.46

The day before Bysshe had unsuccessfully opposed a private bill to enable the earl of Devonshire (Sir William Cavendish I*), to sell lands to pay his debts. He claimed to have been ‘unconstant and unresolved in opinion’ until he heard Christopher Sherland defend it. He argued that although the earl was proposing to add lands to the settled estate to substitute for what was to be sold, it was unlikely that this would compensate for what was to be lost.47 Bysshe left no trace on the surviving records of the 1629 session.

In 1629 Bysshe added to his holdings in the Bletchingley area by the purchase of Bysshe Court.48 He became more prominent in the affairs of Lincoln’s Inn, becoming a bencher in 1630, but was fined £10 two years later for having meat served at his table during his Lent reading.49 He resigned his feodaryship in 1637 on the grounds of age and, as had become customary, secured a pardon for all offences committed in its execution, but he continued to practise in the Court of Wards.50 He was again returned for Bletchingley to the Short Parliament, but presumably was not a candidate for the Long Parliament, when his eldest son, Edward, was elected. Father and son were, at first, moderate parliamentarians, but were reported as disaffected in 1651.51 He drew up his will on 16 June 1655, leaving a portion of £1,000 for an unmarried daughter, and seems to have died soon after. However, his executors refused to implement the will and consequently letters of administration were granted to his eldest son in 1659. The latter again represented Bletchingley in the Cavalier Parliament.52

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 103.
  • 2. LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 145.
  • 3. Oxford DNB sub Bysshe, Sir Edward.
  • 4. Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 103; PROB 11/293, f. 344.
  • 5. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. lxxxix), 20.
  • 6. G.H. Glanville, ‘Aspects of the Hist. of the County of Surr.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1972), p. 147.
  • 7. List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii), 166.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 291v.
  • 9. WARD 9/275, unfol.; CSP Dom. 1637, p. 193.
  • 10. C231/4, ff. 35, 154, 163; 231/6, f. 30; Cal. Assize Recs. Surr. Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 239; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 16; ASSI 35/89/5.
  • 11. C212/22/21, 23; SR, v. 65, 155.
  • 12. LJ, v. 642.
  • 13. A. and O. i. 234.
  • 14. C181/5, f. 235.
  • 15. C181/5, f. 264.
  • 16. LI Black Bks. ii. 280, 291, 302, 356, 380.
  • 17. VCH Surr. iii. 180; J. Aubrey, Natural Hist. and Antiqs. of County of Surr. ed. R. Rawlinson (1718-19), iii. 72-3.
  • 18. Glanville, 147.
  • 19. Aubrey, iii. 72; W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 64; OED.
  • 20. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 533.
  • 21. CJ, i. 767b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 204-5, 215.
  • 22. Procs. 1625, pp. 257, 275.
  • 23. Procs. 1626, ii. 21, 25, 26, 158, 246; Procs. 1625, p. 269.
  • 24. Procs. 1626, ii. 33, 39.
  • 25. Ibid. ii. 297, 348; iii. 155.
  • 26. Ibid. i. 267; ii. 44, 46, 48-9, 125, 214, 247-8.
  • 27. Ibid. ii. 334.
  • 28. Ibid. iii. 312-13.
  • 29. Ibid. ii. 92, 96.
  • 30. Ibid. 117, 123.
  • 31. Ibid. 166, 171.
  • 32. Ibid. 230, 232.
  • 33. Ibid. 378.
  • 34. Ibid. iii. 156, 159.
  • 35. Ibid. 256, 260, 283, 285-6.
  • 36. Ibid. 396-7, 400.
  • 37. Ibid. 175.
  • 38. Ibid. 359.
  • 39. Ibid. ii. 72; iii. 200.
  • 40. Ibid. iii. 200, 206.
  • 41. Ibid. ii. 385; iii. 344, 346; Kyle, 229; Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in Eng. and Ire. ed. W.A. Shaw (Huguenot Soc. xviii), 39-40.
  • 42. CD 1628, ii. 29, 119-20, 127-8.
  • 43. Ibid. 11, 168, 170.
  • 44. Ibid. ii. 360; iii. 42.
  • 45. Ibid. iv. 83, 265.
  • 46. Ibid. iv. 268; Procs. 1628, vi. 245.
  • 47. CD 1628, iv. 230, 232.
  • 48. VCH Surr. iv. 293.
  • 49. LI Black Bks. ii. 303.
  • 50. CSP Dom. 1637, pp. 193, 378; 1640-1, p. 216.
  • 51. HMC Portland, i. 600.
  • 52. PROB 11/293, f. 344.