CORBET, Sir John, 1st Bt. (c.1589-1628), of Sprowston, Norf.

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.1589,1 1st s. of Sir Thomas Corbet of Sprowston, Norf., and Anne, da. of Edward Barrett of Belhouse Hall, Aveley, Essex; bro. of Miles*.2 educ. BA Camb. 1612.3 m. Anne (d. c.1625), da. of Sir Arthur Capell* of Hadham, Herts., 2s. 3da.4 suc. fa. 1617; cr. Bt. 4 July 1623.5 d. 19 Jan. 1628.6 sig. John Corbett.

Offices Held

J.p. Norf. 1617-d.,7 commr. oyer and terminer 1624-d.,8 seabreaches 1625,9 Forced Loan 1626;10 capt. militia ft. Taverham Hundred, Norf. at least 1626-7.11


Corbet could trace his lineage back to the Normans. Originally of Morton Corbet, in Shropshire, the Norfolk branch of the family acquired Sprowston manor in 1545.12 Corbet himself was the eldest of five sons, and entered into his inheritance in 1617. Created a baronet in 1623, he was apparently informed by the messenger who delivered his patent that the king would forgo the fee. However he later paid the standard sum of £1,095, despite the support of the earl of Arundel.13

Corbet stood as a knight of the shire for Norfolk in 1624, and with the assistance of Sir Dru Drury* also solicited the lord warden for a seat in the Cinque Ports, though he subsequently retracted this request.14 In a heated electoral contest, Sir Thomas Holland*, who easily won the senior county seat, mustered his supporters behind Corbet for the second seat, who was declared elected by the sheriff.15 Sir Robert Gawdy†, who had seemed to withdraw after having unsuccessfully stood for the first seat, subsequently complained of electoral misconduct, but his petition was eventually dismissed by the privileges committee.16 Corbet made only one recorded speech, at the grievances committee on 3 May, when he defended those ministers silenced by the bishop of Norwich, Samuel Harsnett. He was later appointed to the committee to prepare charges against Harsnett (15 May).17 A conscientious Protestant, Corbet presented the names of Norfolk recusants to the House on 27 Apr., and two days later, the Norfolk certificate for recusants.18 He was also named on 28 Apr. to the committee to consider petitions against popish schoolmasters.19 His other committee appointments concerned bills for Edward Alcocke’s manor of Rampton, Cambridgeshire (6 Apr.); the naturalization of a Norwich grain merchant, Peter Verbeake (12 Apr.); the sale of Abbot’s Hall, Essex (30 Apr.) and the sealing of original writs (30 April).20

At the 1625 general election Corbet again stood for Norfolk, but he apparently attracted only 98 votes. This was such a derisory number that, as one observer remarked, ‘he [would] have been as good ... [as to] have had nobody’.21 Corbet also solicited a place at Great Yarmouth, and, in another closely fought contest, won the first seat against three other candidates.22 He made no recorded contribution to the Parliament, even though the corporation appointed a committee to consider its parliamentary business.23 Re-elected for Yarmouth ‘with one entire voice without any opposition or contradiction’ in 1626,24 Corbet was this time named to several committees. Once again he emerges as a committed Protestant, as his appointments included bills on the quiet of ecclesiastical persons (14 Feb.), adultery (4 Mar.), citations from ecclesiastical courts (9 Mar.), subscription (6 May) and the true conformity of popish recusants (8 May).25 Corbet was also named to estate bill committees concerned with the lands of John Thecker (22 Feb.) and the tenants of Feltwell manor, Norfolk (6 May), and was required to consider a measure to void an Exchequer decree (23 March). That same day he was appointed to the committee for the perennially hopeful bill (in a House of lawyers) to abridge the number of attorneys.26

The failure of the 1626 Parliament to supply the king led to the Forced Loan. Corbet was among the highest rated men in Norfolk, but he refused to pay his contribution of £20.27 A warrant for his arrest was issued on 21 Feb. 1627, and he was imprisoned in the Gatehouse, Westminster, the following day.28 In late June he was allowed to travel to Norfolk to settle ‘urgent estate business’, but was ordered to return by the end of July, when he was again imprisoned with four other defaulters, Sir Thomas Darnel, Sir Walter Earle*, Sir John Heveningham*, and Sir Edmund Hampden.29 Together they petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus cum causa in what became known as the ‘Five Knights Case’. With the king’s approval, Corbet and his fellow plaintiffs were brought before King’s Bench on 15 Nov. 1627, where they were represented by Serjeant John Bramston, Sir Henry Calthorpe (for Corbet), William Noye* and John Selden*. They argued that, under Magna Carta, ‘no man should be imprisoned but by the legal judgment of his peers or by lex terrae’. After hearing the attorney-general, Sir Robert Heath*, the judges remanded the Five Knights back into prison, but refused to deliver judgment.30

Corbet did not live for much longer. Although released by the king on 2 Jan. 1628, he contracted smallpox as a direct result of his imprisonment and died three weeks later.31 In his will, dated 1 Sept. 1624, Corbet asked to be buried in the chancel of Sprowston church, but perhaps because of the nature of his final illness, which made transporting his body risky, he was interred in the north aisle of St. Margaret’s, Westminster.32 He was succeeded by his son, John, whose wardship was procured by Sir Thomas Crewe*.33 Corbet’s younger brother, Miles, sat for Great Yarmouth in 1628.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. C142/362/177.
  • 2. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 146.
  • 3. Al. Cant.
  • 4. Norf. RO, 15577/43 (b); Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 84-5.
  • 5. CB, i. 219.
  • 6. C142/441/14.
  • 7. C231/4, ff. 50, 150, 153.
  • 8. C181/3, f. 117.
  • 9. Ibid. f. 189v.
  • 10. W. Rye, Norf. State Pprs. 48.
  • 11. Ibid. 31, 77.
  • 12. F. Blomefield, Hist. Norf. x. 459.
  • 13. SP14/147/12, 65; SCL, EM 1284(b); Eg. 2552, f. 18b.
  • 14. SP14/155/32.
  • 15. HMC Townshend, 21; Official Pprs. of Sir Nathaniel Bacon ed. H.W. Saunders (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. xxvi), 39; FSL, L.d. 238.
  • 16. CJ, i. 749a-b; ‘Pym 1624’, i. ff. 40v-41.
  • 17. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 74v; CJ, i. 705a; APC, 1623-5, p. 466.
  • 18. CJ, i. 776b, 779a.
  • 19. Ibid. 692b.
  • 20. Ibid. 755b, 694b, 762b, 695a; HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 72.
  • 21. Corresp. Lady Katherine Paston ed. R. Hughey (Norf. Rec. Soc. xiv), 82.
  • 22. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 323.
  • 23. Ibid. f. 323v.
  • 24. Ibid. Y/C19/6, f. 10.
  • 25. Procs. 1626, ii. 34, 196, 238; iii. 180, 190.
  • 26. Ibid. ii. 86, 348; iii. 180.
  • 27. SP16/75/94; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, iii. 1.
  • 28. APC, 1627, p. 74; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 197.
  • 29. APC, 1627, pp. 369, 395.
  • 30. State Trials, iii. 1-59; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. 1603-42, vi. 213-17; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 61, 115; KB21/9, Mich. 3 Chas.I; KB29/276, m. 80; KB145/15/3, Hilary.
  • 31. APC, 1627-8, pp. 217-8; Birch, i. 318.
  • 32. PROB 11/154, ff. 302v-5v; A.M. Burke, Memorials St. Margaret’s Church Westminster, 548.
  • 33. WARD 9/163, f. 3v.