CANON, Sir Thomas (c.1568-1639), of Haverfordwest, Pemb. and 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



Family and Education

b. c.?1568, 2nd s. and h. of Maurice Canon of Cilgetty, Pemb. and Elizabeth, da. of John Voyle, mercer, of Haverfordwest; bro. of John†. educ. Jesus, Oxf. 1585, aged 17; Clifford’s Inn; L. Inn 1593. unm. suc. fa. 1587;1 kntd. 30 June or 18 July 1623.2 d. by 13 Nov. 1639.3

Offices Held

Appropriator and clerk of the ct., lordships of Bromfield and Yale, Denb. 1587; bailiff itinerant, lordship of Haverfordwest alias Rhos, Pemb. 1587-at least 1616;4 bailiff, bor. of Haverfordwest, Pemb. 1588-9, sheriff 1596-7, mayor 1598-9, 1601-2, 1605-6, 1611-12, 1631-2,5 alderman 1610;6 j.p. Pemb. 1601-16, 1617-d., Haverfordwest 1603-38,7 feodary, Pemb. 1601-d.;8 bailiff and rent coll., former lands of Sir John Perrot†, Pemb. 1602-at least 1604;9 dep. constable, Haverfordwest castle 1603;10 commr. debts of William Morgan, Pemb. 1605,11 subsidy, Pemb. and Haverfordwest 1608, 1622, 1624;12 dep. lt. Pemb. by 1609-at least 1616;13 commr. aid, Pemb., Card., Carm., Carmarthen, Haverfordwest 1609,14 inquiry, Carew castle, Pemb. 1610,15 i.p.m. Pemb. 1611, 1637,16 mises, Pemb. 1612;17 surveyor-gen. S. Wales by 1616-at least 1625;18 commr. survey lands of the Prince of Wales, Pemb. 1620-1,19 survey castles of Pembroke, Haverfordwest and Carew, Pemb. 1624,20 mines, Card. 1625,21 subsidy arrears, Haverfordwest, Pemb. 1626,22 Forced Loan, Pemb. and Haverfordwest, Pemb. 1627,23 knighthood compositions, Carm., Card. and Pemb. 1630-2, collector Card. and Pemb. by 1634,24 Exch. arrears, Wales 1632,25 piracy, London 1633-5,26 exacted fees, Card., Carm., Pemb., Carmarthen, Haverfordwest 1635,27 inquire into death of William Baynham, Pemb. 1636-7,28 lands flooded by the sea, Card., Carm., Glam. and Pemb. 1637, concealed lands, Card. and Pemb. 1638.29

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.30

Commr. exacted fees 1627-d.,31 goldsmiths’ abuses 1635.32


Canon’s grandfather migrated to Haverfordwest from Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.33 His father married into a family of Pembrokeshire merchant-princes and became an attorney at Haverfordwest, where he was described as one of ‘the principal officers’ of the borough in 1581 and was a member of the Pembrokeshire bench two years later.34 As his elder brother was ‘simple’, most of the estate was settled on Canon, who was recommended in his father’s will to the protection of the local magnates, the Perrot family.35 Canon acted as solicitor for Sir John Perrot and as trustee for the widow of Sir Thomas Perrot† when she married the 9th earl of Northumberland. Sir James Perrot*, however, believed that Canon had profited unduly from his services, especially after Sir John’s attainder in 1592, and bore him a lifelong grudge. Towards the end of the century they were at odds in the Exchequer Court over property in Haverfordwest, said to be worth £200 a year, which Canon had first held as a sub-tenant of the Perrots. Canon’s younger brother, also a lawyer and later town clerk, sat for Haverfordwest in the last Elizabethan Parliament, and in the same year Canon himself secured the post of feodary of Pembrokeshire.36

Early in 1605 Canon was in London to further the countess of Northumberland’s suit for Perrot lands,37 and later that winter Sir James Perrot tried to implicate him in the Gunpowder Plot. It was alleged that he had imported a ‘great store of armour’ from Ireland, robbed a multitude of poor people ‘against this time’, and had been again en route to London when the Plot was revealed.38 It is possible that Canon was a crypto-Catholic; in the mid-1630s he was fined for going to confession, presumably with a Catholic priest.39 However, there is no evidence that he was a recusant, or indeed that the authorities took Perrot’s accusations seriously.

Canon was part of the antiquarian circle of Sir Robert Cotton*, from whom he borrowed manuscripts.40 He almost certainly put his learning to practical use in the protracted dispute that resulted when he and other tenants engaged with their landlord, George Barlow of Slebech in Pembrokeshire, who tried to revive various ancient dues and obligations in his manors in the hundred of Narberth.41 Canon’s antiquarianism was employed in a less interested field in preserving the monumental inscriptions in St. David’s Cathedral.42 He also joined with like-minded gentlemen in ‘a friendly contest’ to assert the past sovereignty of the South over the North in Wales.43

Canon was an early investor in the Virginia Company, and initiated an abortive project in 1619 for planting English settlers in the waste parts of Wales.44 He was an efficient administrator, both as feodary and, subsequently, as surveyor of Crown lands in South Wales, in which capacity he claimed to have augmented Prince Charles’s income by raising entry fines by 400 per cent ‘with contentment of the tenants’.45 Nevertheless he was temporarily removed from the Pembrokeshire bench for non-residence in 1616.46

Replying to a bill preferred by Canon in Chancery in 1622, Lewis Powell* of Greenhill, on the southern side of Milford Haven, described the former as a ‘very troublesome, litigious and contentious person, much given to vex and trouble other men with suits of law’, and there is ample evidence of Canon’s taste for legal proceedings.47 When Canon sought to represent Haverfordwest in the fourth Jacobean Parliament two years later, he was opposed by Powell, probably in alliance with Canon’s old enemy, Sir James Perrot, who had previously represented the borough. As mayor of the borough at the time of the election, Perrot was able to ensure that Powell was returned. Canon petitioned the Commons to overturn the result, but the case was still unsettled when the session ended.48

The following year Canon was elected to the first Caroline Parliament, apparently without opposition. His success may have been due to the temporary eclipse of Perrot’s power: no longer mayor of Haverfordwest, he also failed to secure a county seat. Canon left no mark on the records of the Parliament. In 1626 the Haverfordwest seat was contested by Canon and Perrot. On 13 Jan. Perrot joined with two other deputy lieutenants to complain to Secretary Conway that they were ‘interrupted in our services and vexed by one Sir Thomas Canon ... who hath commenced several suits against us and sundry others, but hath prosecuted few to any effect’.49 On the following day Perrot added the more specific charge that Canon had intercepted the writ for the election. He offered to prove this to Conway, ‘with the hazard of my life’, and reiterated the accusation that Canon’s litigation was obstructing local administration a week later.50 Nevertheless, it was Canon who was returned for the borough at the end of the month and, although Perrot travelled to London apparently intending to overturn the result, the dispute left no trace in the parliamentary records, possibly because Perrot found another seat.51 Canon was granted a stay of trial in an unspecified suit on 24 Mar. and was added to the committee for considering two naturalization bills on 28 Mar., attending one undated meeting.52 In addition he was named to consider the bill for the sale of Richard Fust’s lands on 1 June.53 He made no recorded speeches.

In 1627 Canon was named a commissioner for exacted fees, and he became one of the commission’s most assiduous members.54 The prosecution he brought against one Floyd for extortion in Star Chamber the following year may have been connected with the work of the commission. The case was thrown out, partly because the court ruled that the plaintiff ‘cannot say, that the defendant did extort divers sums from divers men generally’, but also because ‘the voluntary payment of a greater sum where a lesser is due’ did not constitute extortion.55

Perrot was re-elected for Haverfordwest in 1628. Canon, however, was able to find an alternative seat at Haslemere, where the dominant electoral patron, Sir George More*, had previously nominated men connected with the earl of Northumberland. Canon again made no recorded speeches, but was nominated to five committees in the first session, one of which was the committee for privileges (20 March). According to one diarist, Canon himself was questioned before this body on 10 Apr. ‘for his election in a town in Cornwall’, but it seems likely that the diary’s author was confusing him with Thomas Cotton or Thomas Cary, both of whom had been returned for boroughs in Cornwall. As well as the privileges committee, Canon was appointed to consider bills to mitigate sentences of excommunication (14 Apr.) and to prevent judicial corruption (23 Apr.) and the begging of forfeitures before attainder (14 May). He was also added to the committee for preparing a list of the names of recusant officeholders for presentation to the king (12 May). The last appointment suggests that his crypto-Catholicism was either of a later date or not widely known.56 In the second session, in 1629, Canon was again appointed to consider the bill against judicial corruption (23 Jan.), and to the committee for a bill to prevent abuses in the presentation to benefices and college places (23 February). He was also named, along with Perrot, to consider an Essex estate bill (12 February).57 He left no further trace on the records of the third Caroline Parliament.

Canon continued to undermine Perrot’s power in South Wales. His attack on the ‘frivolous jurisdiction’ of the Admiralty in South Wales in 1632 was almost certainly aimed at the latter, who was deputy vice admiral for Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire.58 He also became embroiled with the bishop of St. David’s, who sought unsuccessfully to prevent the Windsor chapter from renewing his lease of a Carmarthenshire rectory. Canon petitioned against the bishop’s interference, reminding the king of his services to the Crown of ‘near 40 years’ and adding that he was ‘in a good way ..., to raise a manufacture in my country by the wools ..., to suppress idleness and raise industry and His Majesty’s customs’.59

Despite the Proclamation of 20 June 1632 ‘commanding the gentry to keep their residence in the country’, Canon took up lodgings in the parish of St. Dunstan-in- the-West, and was brought into Star Chamber.60 As a commissioner for exacted fees he was responsible for the investigation into the conduct of Bishop Bridgeman of Chester.61 Having first contributed the collection for repairing St. Paul’s in 1631, in 1635 he was called in to assist the commissioners, raising over £1,000 by lending idle capital to the East India Company.62

In his will of 20 Oct. 1638, Canon left £165 in various ways to Haverfordwest. He gave the Pembrokeshire rectory of Lambston ‘towards the pious work of the cathedral church of St. Paul’s’, but on condition that the bishop of London, lord treasurer Juxon, should procure the Pembrokeshire feodaryship for his nephew and heir Maurice, son of his ‘simple’ brother. Other legacies to the church, including the augmentation of the income of one rectory by a grant of tithes, had no such strings attached. His brother, John Canon, was to receive a life annuity of £50, which was then to pass to his heirs forever, and all his relatives were similarly provided for in their degree. His seven executors included the archdeacon of St. David’s and Hugh Owen*, as well as Maurice Canon, but when he died in the following year, seised (it was said) of a real estate of the value of £1,000 p.a. and possessed of a personal estate of £20,000, the nephew managed to block payment of the legacies. By his own will, made in December 1639, the younger man even pretended to have the disposition of his uncle’s estate by a will dated 20 May 1628. He then took the precaution of leaving £100 to his ‘much honoured friend’ Sir Henry Marten*, judge of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and of naming one of Marten’s household an executor; but when he himself died during the Commonwealth some at least of Canon’s legacies were paid. No later member of the family entered Parliament.63

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Dwnn, Vis. Wales, i. 109; Cal. of Recs. of Bor. of Haverfordwest ed. B.G. Charles (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xxiv), 19; Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.; PROB 11/71, f. 39.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 182.
  • 3. PROB 11/181, f. 350
  • 4. E315/309, f. 62; 315/310, f. 27; Exch. Procs. (Equity) Concerning Wales comp. E.G. Jones. (Univ. Wales Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. iv), 301.
  • 5. Cal. of Recs. of Bor. of Haverfordwest, 65, 205, 237; information from Maj. Francis Jones, Wales Herald.
  • 6. LR1/237, f. 200.
  • 7. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 209-12, 214-17, 234-40.
  • 8. WARD 9/275, unfol.; C181/5, f. 26v.
  • 9. E315/309, f. 142v; 315/310, f. 27.
  • 10. Information from Maj. Francis Jones, Wales Herald.
  • 11. E178/3484.
  • 12. SP14/31/1; C212/22/21, 23.
  • 13. Cheshire Archives, DNE16; Some Names in Hist. of South Pemb. comp. B.H.J. Hughes, 7.
  • 14. SP14/43/107.
  • 15. E178/208.
  • 16. WARD 7/49/233; F. Green, ‘Wogans of Boulston’, Y Cymmrodor, xv. 126.
  • 17. C181/2, f. 167v.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 55; SP16/231/7.
  • 19. LR2/206, f. 246.
  • 20. DCO, Letters and Warrants, 1623-6, f. 107.
  • 21. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 49.
  • 22. E179/224/598.
  • 23. C193/12/2, f. 73.
  • 24. SP16/231/7; E178/7154, ff. 62, 140, 142; 178/5901, ff. 4, 8, 12; 178/5938, f. 5; 198/4/32, f. 5.
  • 25. NLW, Bettisfield 1672.
  • 26. C181/4, f. 138v; 181/5, f. 26v.
  • 27. C181/5, f. 16.
  • 28. C181/5, ff. 45v, 82v.
  • 29. E178/5854; 178/5856.
  • 30. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 222.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 232; 1629-31, p. 236; E215/173A; G.E. Aylmer, ‘Charles I’s Commission on Fees’, BIHR, xxxi. 61.
  • 32. Rymer, viii. pt. 4, p. 123.
  • 33. Dwnn, Vis. Wales, i. 109; information from Maj. Francis Jones, Wales Herald.
  • 34. F. Jones, ‘Some recs. of a 16th century Pemb. estate’ Bulletin of the Bd. of Celtic Studies, xiii. 93; Pemb. County Hist. III: Early Modern Pemb. 1536-1815 ed. B. Howells (Pemb. Rec. Soc.), 53; APC, 1580-1, p. 364; JPs in Wales and Monm. 207.
  • 35. PROB 11/71, ff. 39-41.
  • 36. Exch. Procs. (Equity) Concerning Wales, 307-10; C66/1669.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 201.
  • 38. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 555.
  • 39. Pemb. County Hist. III: Early Modern Pemb. 1536-1815, p. 152.
  • 40. Harl. 6018, f. 179.
  • 41. B. Howells, ‘Eliz. Squirearchy in Pemb.’ Pemb. Historian, i. 24.
  • 42. R. Fenton, Historical Tour Through Pemb. (1903), p. 44.
  • 43. R. Vaughan, British Antiquities Revived (1662), dedication.
  • 44. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 55.
  • 45. H.A. Lloyd, Gentry of S.W. Wales 1540-1640, p. 28; SP16/231/7.
  • 46. JPs in Wales and Monm. 212.
  • 47. C2/Jas.I/C21/36; Howells, 32.
  • 48. J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 112-14.
  • 49. SP16/18/50.
  • 50. SP16/18/63, 16/19/14; Procs. 1626, iv. pp. 237-8.
  • 51. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 91.
  • 52. Procs. 1626, ii. 356, 385; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 229.
  • 53. Procs. 1626, iii. 340.
  • 54. Aylmer, 62; J.S. Wilson, ‘Sir Henry Spelman and the Royal Commission on Fees’, Studies Presented to Sir Hilary Jenkinson ed. J. Conway Davies, 452-3.
  • 55. J. Godbolt, Reps. of Certain Cases Arising in Several Cts. of Rec. at Westminster (1652), no. 583.
  • 56. CD 1628, ii. 29, 404, 444; iii. 44, 369, 404.
  • 57. CJ, i. 840b; CD 1628, ii. 404.
  • 58. CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 430, 562.
  • 59. Ibid. 507; SP16/231/6-7; APC, 1630-1, pp. 44, 590.
  • 60. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, ii. 291; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 105.
  • 61. CSP Dom. 1633-4, pp. 8, 78; 1634-5, p. 404.
  • 62. GL, ms 25475/1, ff. 3, 7v, 26v; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 16; Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. 1635-9, p. 187.
  • 63. PROB 11/243, f. 206; 11/247, f. 237; Cal. of Recs. of Bor. of Haverfordwest, 72, 77, 93, 132; HMC 5th Rep. 5.