CAGE, William (1575-1645), of Ipswich and Burstall, Suff.

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



27 Apr. 1614
1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 4 Nov. 1645

Family and Education

bap. 11 Aug. 1575, 1st s. of Edward Cage of Ipswich and Burstall and his 1st w. Mary. m. (1) 11 June 1602, Rabedge (d. 25 Sept. 1635), da. of Thomas Wood, yeoman, of Beaumont, Essex, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 10 Sept. 1636, Alice, da. of John Lea of Coddenham, Suff., wid. of Simon Blomvile of Coddenham, s.p. suc. fa. 1607. d. 4 Nov. 1634.1

Offices Held

Under-sheriff, Suff. 1600-1;2 freeman, Ipswich, Suff. 1605, chamberlain 1606-7, claviger 1608-9, coroner 1609-10, bailiff 1610-11, 1616-17, 1623-4, 1630-1, 1636-7, 1640-1,3 portman, 1610-d.; commr. gaol delivery, Ipswich 1610-d., Suff. 1644, Liberty of Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. 1644, bor. of Bury St. Edmunds 1644;4 j.p. Ipswich 1610-12, 1616-1618, 1621-1625, 1628-d.,5 Suff. 1641;6 gov. of Christ’s hosp., Ipswich 1611-12, 1618-19, 1624-5, 1627-8, 1633-5, 1639-40, 1641-2;7 commr. inquiry, lands of John Bacon, Suff. 1619,8 subsidy, Ipswich 1621-2, 1624, 1641, Suff. 1642;9 dep. lt., Ipswich 1624, 1642, Suff. 1642;10 commr. sewers, Suff. 1626, 1639, swans, Essex and Suff. 1635, piracy, Suff. 1640,11 propositions, Suff. and Ipswich, Suff. 1642, assessment, Suff. 1643-d., sequestration, 1643, execution of ordinances 1643, Eastern Assoc. 1643,12 oyer and terminer 1644,13 New Model Ordinance 1645;14 elder, East Bergholt classis, Suff. 1645.15 capt. militia ft., Ispwich 1645.16


Cage was an attorney, described by Sir Simonds D’Ewes† as of ‘reasonable abilities for a country gown man’.17 He probably inherited his practice from his father, who was twice elected as bailiff of Ipswich in the 1590s.18 His further ancestry is not known, although it is possible that he was related to the Cages of Long Stowe in Cambridgeshire, who had Suffolk connections, and he evidently believed his family was armigerous as he wore ‘a ring with the Cages’ arms’. Nevertheless, he must be distinguished from a namesake, who was certainly related to the Long Stowe family and was called to the Lincoln’s Inn bar in 1623.19 This Member’s first known public office was as under-sheriff to Edward Bacon†, perhaps the leading Suffolk puritan of his generation, in 1600.20 Five years later he was made free of Ipswich by patrimony, and in 1610 he was elected bailiff of the borough for the first time.

Cage was first returned to Parliament at the Ipswich election of 27 Apr. 1614, which was caused by the decision of the previously elected Member, Sir Francis Bacon, to sit for Cambridge University. He appears only once in the surviving records of the Addled Parliament, on 24 May, when he was named to the committee for the bill for limitation of actions and avoidance of lawsuits.21

Cage was re-elected for the borough to every Parliament summoned in his lifetime. In the third Jacobean Parliament he was one of a dozen Members added to the committee for privileges on 8 Feb. 1621.22 He made his first recorded speech six days later, in the debate following the first reading of the Act to deregulate the domestic wool trade. Opposing Sir William Strode’s proposal for the measure to be immediately referred to a committee of the whole House, he argued that ‘the business [was] not ripe’, whereupon the House ordered the committee to meet on the following Friday.23 Cage also took an interest in the bill against the export of wool, committed on 30 Apr., and probably attended the committee, despite not being named to it. At the third reading on 30 Nov. he explained the deletion of a clause which had said that merchants would only be liable if they had acted ‘wittingly and knowingly’, stating that it had been thought that employees could not export wool without their masters’ knowledge.24

On 19 Mar. Cage drew the attention of the Commons to ‘strange impositions’ put upon shipbuilders by the new Shipwrights’ Company, based in the suburbs of London, but with jurisdiction over the whole kingdom. The issue was referred to the committee of grievances and the following day the Company was ordered to cease exacting money until the legality of its patent had been established. The same day the master of the Company wrote to the Navy commissioner, John Coke*, complaining that Ipswich shipowners had preferred a bill to dissolve the Company. There is no trace of such a measure in the parliamentary records, however, and the patent was never reported from the grievances committee.25

Cage worked closely with his fellow Ipswich member, Robert Snelling. Indeed one speech, at the second reading of the bill ‘for avoiding the return of insufficient jurors’ on 19 Apr., is attributed to Cage in the Journal, but to Snelling in the diary of Sir Thomas Barrington*. The subject matter suggests that the lawyer Cage is more likely to have been the speaker. Amendment, he said, would be necessary for such counties as Suffolk, which for historical reasons had four sessions towns. It was also desirable that the sheriff should include ‘copyholders of good value’ and freeholders qualified by lands in another county.26 On 19 Apr. Cage was required to help confer with the Lords about the bill against informers. The following day he and Snelling were named to the committee to prevent vexatious delays arising from the removal of lawsuits to superior courts, and attended a meeting of this body later the same day.27

Cage followed up Snelling’s campaign against the lighthouse patents by speaking in favour of the seamarks bill, promoted by the Trinity House of Deptford, on 7 May. Seeking to rebut the charge that the bill would endow Trinity House with a monopoly as grievous as the lighthouse patentees, he asserted that ‘we regard not the Trinity [House] men but impose it on them because no body politic so fit, nor any will take it on those terms’.28 On 7 Dec. he warned the Commons against sending the Speaker to the king, which would require a cessation of business, a proceeding disavowed in the last Parliament. Altogether he had served on three committees and made six speeches.29

In 1624 Cage received nine committee appointments, and made two speeches. He was again confused with Snelling on 23 Feb., when one observer recorded that he preferred a bill for the observance of the Sabbath; both the Journal and other diarists ascribe this action to Snelling.30 Cage was named to help to examine abuses in the Exchequer (26 Feb.) and to consider several bills of interest to him professionally. These included measures against secret inquisitions (8 Mar.), to shorten Michaelmas term (15 Mar.), and for the speedier issue of original writs from Chancery (30 April).31 On 15 Apr. Cage was named to consider the bill to strengthen the powers of the London Clothworkers’ Company, attending a meeting of the committee on 4 May.32 In addition, on 17 Apr. he successfully moved that a bill ‘to resticia’ the worsted weavers of Norfolk should be read in a full House, ‘because it consists upon the undoing of divers shires’, and on 29 Apr. he supported the passage of a bankruptcy bill.33

When the first Parliament of the new reign met, Cage urged his fellow Members first to agree a day of fasting and humiliation among themselves, and then to petition the king for a nationwide fast (21 June 1625).34 He was named to six committees, including the committee for privileges (21 June) and a committee to restrain the issue of writs of habeas corpus (27 June). As patron of an Ipswich living, he may well have been interested in the subscription bill, which would have facilitated the acceptance of benefices by puritans; certainly, both he and Snelling were appointed to the committee on 27 June. His last appointment, on 6 July, was to resolve the questions which had arisen on the third reading of the bill to ensure that the session would not end with the giving of the Royal Assent to legislation at the end of the Westminster sitting. There is no evidence that he attended the Commons when it reconvened at Oxford the following month.35

Owing to Snelling’s ill health, the representation of Ipswich in the second Caroline Parliament devolved entirely on Cage. Named to 12 committees, including the committee for privileges (9 Feb. 1626), he was sent on 15 Feb., along with the solicitor general, Sir Richard Shilton and John Pym, to ask the attorney-general (Robert Heath*) for the bill concerning the education of recusants’ children, which the latter had presumably drafted.36 Five days later, in the debate which followed Edward Whitby’s report from the grievances committee about the wine merchants’ petition against the new impositions, Cage stated that a sub-committee had been established to deal with this matter. Later the same day he was appointed to a committee to consider Whitby’s report.37

Cage’s principal concern in this Parliament was the state of the Navy. On 6 Mar. he complained ‘there is no fleet at sea to defend the coasts’ and, 12 days later, that ‘three hundred ships at Newcastle dare not stir’ for fear of the Dunkirk privateers.38 He was among those instructed on 14 Mar. to consider the proposal of Sir Dudley Digges for a privately financed maritime war on Spain and, eight days later, to draft a bill for the increase of the wages of mariners in naval service.39 However, Cage was also appointed to consider bills in which he had a professional interest, such as that ‘for the abridging of the number of unskilful attorneys, and for reducing them to an orderly practice’ (23 March). On 25 May he was given six days’ leave. He had returned by 8 June, when he was named to the committee to frame heads for the Remonstrance against Tunnage and Poundage.40

Snelling died in 1627, leaving Cage not only the dominant figure in Ipswich politics but also increasingly influential at county level. Writing to D’Ewes on 15 Apr., Sir William Spring stated that Cage ‘sure can sway’ Ipswich and had ‘propounded’ that Sir John Rous I* should stand for the county after Sir Edward Coke plumped for Buckinghamshire.41 It is unlikely that Cage had difficulty in securing his own return to the third Caroline Parliament. During the course of the first session he was named to 12 committees, most of them concerned with trade but one of which was the committee for privileges. In addition, he made 11 recorded speeches, the first of which, on 21 Mar. 1628, concerned the Coventry election dispute, which centred on the fact that the winning candidates were not freemen. Cage felt that this could be resolved quite simply if the borough were to confer the franchise upon them.42 Save for a couple of committee appointments on 1 Apr., he was not mentioned again in the surviving parliamentary records until 17 Apr., which perhaps suggests that he was distracted by the Suffolk election. If so, he failed to secure Rous’ election.43

Cage is not known to have spoken again in the House until 17 May, when he successfully moved for the impositions on Newcastle coal to be referred to the grievances committee.44 On the same day he was named to the committee concerning the dispute between the Muscovy Company and the merchants of Hull and York about the Company’s monopoly of the whale fisheries. Cage told the Commons on 26 May that the Hull merchants would be satisfied if they were allowed to send 500 tons of shipping to the whaling grounds. On 25 June he argued that the Muscovy Company’s monopoly of the fisheries was a grievance and was accordingly named to a committee to draw up a petition that would ask the king to deregulate the industry.45

Cage remained concerned by the impact of the war on shipping. On 6 June he told the House that five Ipswich ships, worth over £40,000, had been taken returning from the Baltic. The following day he complained that in the previous year his constituency had lost 38 ships and that naval warships had arrived too late to be of use. Four days later he was among those instructed to collect certificates of losses from Trinity House and other interested parties.46 When Eliot raised the issue of the West Country’s unpaid billeting costs on 12 June, Cage called for the mariners and owners of ships employed by the Crown also to be paid, whereupon he was appointed to the committee to draft a petition to the king.47 On 24 June he was named to the committee for drawing up a petition proposed by Sir Dudley Digges to encourage shipbuilding, increase the freight payable by the Crown and settle the arrears of the Navy’s seamen.48

At the examination of Richard Burgess, the anti-puritan vicar of Witney, on 26 May, Cage accused Burgess of threatening those who denounced him with High Commission.49 Three days later he stated he was willing to acquiesce to the king’s demand that the House sit on holy days, although he agreed that the Commons had the right to adjourn if it chose.50 He seems to have had little patience with the dispute over whether to name Cambridge or Oxford first in the subsidy bill on 31 May, arguing that precedent should be followed in the matter.51 His committee appointments included bills to regulate alnage on the New Draperies (1 Apr.) and to reform abuses in the winding of wool (23 Feb.); he was first named to the latter.52

In the second session Cage, along with his colleague Edmund Day, was added to the committee to examine the information of John Rolle*, the London merchant whose goods had been seized for failing to pay Tunnage and Poundage (3 Feb. 1629). He was also appointed to four other committees. He made no recorded speeches. His notes of the turbulent closing scenes of the session were consulted in the Short Parliament but are no longer extant.53

Cage was considered the ringleader of the Ipswich riot of 1636 against the amalgamation of small benefices.54 A steadfast parliamentarian during the Civil War, he drew up his will on 15 Sept. 1645. He died on 4 Nov. and was buried near his father at Burstall, four-and-a-half miles from Ipswich, where he owned a house. His epitaph records that he was ‘seven [sic] times bailiff and served in eight several Parliaments for Ipswich’. His heir was his grandson Thomas Blosse, but no other member of the family entered Parliament.55

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Suff. RO (Ipswich), St. Matthew Ipswich par. reg.; PROB 11/110, f. 275; H.W. Birch, ‘Some Suff. Church Notes’, East Anglian, n.s. xiii. 68; Mar. Lics. from Official Note Bks. of the Adnry. of Suff. ed. F.A. Crisp, 106; Add. 19104, f. 75v.
  • 2. E134/44&45Eliz/Mich39.
  • 3. N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswche ed. W.H. Richardson, 423, 425, 434, 439, 441, 448, 460, 480, 494, 512, 523.
  • 4. C181/2, f. 130v; 181/5, ff. 232v-4.
  • 5. Bacon, 443, 446, 460, 464, 475, 482, 490, 541.
  • 6. C231/5, p. 468.
  • 7. Bacon, 448, 467, 483, 489, 503, 521.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 449v.
  • 9. C212/22/20-1, 23; SR, v. 66, 156.
  • 10. SP14/179/34; LJ, v. 245, 342, 346.
  • 11. C181/3, f. 202; 181/5, ff. 29, 144v, 176.
  • 12. A. and O. i. 94, 115, 150, 168, 234, 293, 537, 639.
  • 13. C181/5, f. 232v.
  • 14. A. and O. i. 624.
  • 15. W.A. Shaw, Hist. of Eng. Church during Civil Wars and under Commonwealth, ii. 423.
  • 16. Bacon, 540.
  • 17. Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 247.
  • 18. Bacon, 367, 391; Ipswich Bor. Archives comp. D. Allen (Suff. Rec. Soc. xliii), 289.
  • 19. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 35-7; PROB 11/195, f. 305v; LI Black Bks. ii. 238.
  • 20. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 373-5.
  • 21. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 334.
  • 22. CJ, i. 513b.
  • 23. Ibid. 521a.
  • 24. Ibid. 597a, 653b.
  • 25. Ibid. 563a-b; CD 1621, iv. 170-1; HMC Cowper, i. 111.
  • 26. CJ, i. 582a; CD 1621, iii. 20; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 478.
  • 27. CJ, i. 582b, 583a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 193.
  • 28. CD 1621, iii. 185; CJ, i. 611a.
  • 29. CJ, i. 661a.
  • 30. Rich 1624, p. 1; CJ, i. 671a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 2; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 5.
  • 31. CJ, i. 674a, 679b, 686b, 695a.
  • 32. Ibid. 767a; Kyle, 215.
  • 33. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. ff. 37v, 61v.
  • 34. Procs. 1625, p. 204.
  • 35. Ibid. 206, 239, 245, 253, 323; Bacon, 441.
  • 36. Procs. 1626, ii. 7, 44.
  • 37. Ibid. 47, 73, 76.
  • 38. Ibid. 204, 313.
  • 39. Ibid. 280, 339.
  • 40. Ibid. 348; iii. 329, 392.
  • 41. C. Thompson, ‘New Light on the Suff. Elections to the Parl. of 1628’, Suff. Review, n.s. x. 22.
  • 42. CD 1628, ii. 29, 45.
  • 43. Ibid. 227, 507.
  • 44. Ibid. iii. 453
  • 45. Ibid. 449, 620; iv. 467, 474.
  • 46. Ibid. iv. 165, 171, 208, 291.
  • 47. Ibid. 208, 291.
  • 48. Ibid. 446.
  • 49. Ibid. iii. 618.
  • 50. Ibid. iv. 16.
  • 51. Ibid. 48.
  • 52. Ibid. ii. 227; iii. 44.
  • 53. CJ, i. 926a, 927b, 930b, 931b; ii. 6.
  • 54. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 261.
  • 55. PROB 11/195, f. 303; Add. 19104, f. 75v; Add. 15520, f. 12v; Birch, 68.