CURWEN, Sir Henry (c.1581-1623), of Workington, Cumb.

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.1581, o. surv. s. of Sir Nicholas Curwen† of Workington and his 1st w. Anne, da. of Sir Simon Musgrave† of Hartley, Westmld.1 m. (1) 1 Jan. 1601, Catherine (d. 1 July 1605), da. of Sir John Dalston† of Dalston Hall, Cumb. and coh. to her grandfa. Thomas Tyrrell of Birdbrooke, Essex, 2s.;2 (2) by 1607, Margaret (bur. 2 May 1656),3 da. of Thomas Bouskell, cllr.-at-law, of G. Inn, London and Haversham, Westmld., wid. of Christopher Wright of Plowland, Yorks., 4s. 5da.4 kntd. by 1605; suc. fa. 1605, aged 24.5 d. 23 Oct. 1623.6

Offices Held

J.p. Cumb. 1617-d.;7 commr. border malefactors 1618, 1619;8 sheriff, Cumb. 1619-20;9 commr. subsidy, Cumb. 1621-2.10


Curwen traced his descent to the Scottish noble family of Gospatrick, who acquired Workington, on the Cumberland coast, in the reign of Henry II. His ancestors were regularly returned for Cumberland from 1371.11 His stepmother was a recusant, and he himself was described as a papist after he took as his second wife the widow of one of the Gunpowder plotters, a woman who had ‘little or no estate or livelihood’.12 It was perhaps for this reason that he was denied county office for 12 years after inheriting his estates. An enterprising landlord, Curwen went into the fish trade, trapping salmon on the Derwent and curing them with salt produced by means of coal from his own mines; and at his death he had £1,700 out on mortgage.13 Economic innovation brought Curwen into conflict with the 9th earl of Northumberland, who owned large tracts of land in the area. He was also at odds with Lord William Howard of Naworth, to whom he sold his Westmorland property for £3,650; in 1611 the latter ‘oppressed and terrified’ him with suits at law over the destruction of a record.14 After this episode he went to France for three months while the dust settled, and subsequently travelled to Ireland, but eight years later he was still at law with Howard.15

By 1622 Curwen had purchased the manor of Rottington for £1,600 as an endowment for his second family, as well as a former Crown property at Calder Hall.16 However, he fell into dispute with his new tenants over ‘their said pretended custom of tenant right’, or the charging of minimal entry fines in return for ‘defensive service upon the borders’, something both Curwen and the Stuart regime believed was ‘utterly and absolutely dissolved, abolished, abrogated, and determined’ by the Union of the crowns.17 There had already been attempts to modernize customary tenures on the Crown estates in the area, and on 22 Nov. 1619 the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*) directed the Council in the North to ‘set down reasonable and moderate fines’.18 Curwen’s stand against tenant-right earned him the admiration of neighbouring Cumbrian landlords, and he was returned as a knight of the shire at the next general election. His only recorded speech in the Commons reflects his personal knowledge of Ireland, as he drew the attention of the House to the export of cattle through Portpatrick in Galloway, in the debate of 9 May 1621.19 He was named to four committees, these being on bills concerning the Catholic Viscount Montagu (15 Mar.), sheriffs’ accounts (15 Mar.), the illegal export of iron ordnance (14 May) and moor-burning (26 May).20 Curwen made generous provision for his widow in an undated will, and died on 23 Oct. 1623, leaving his estates to his eldest son, Patricius*, who sat for Cumberland in all the parliaments of Charles I.21

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. J.F. Curwen, House of Curwen, 134.
  • 2. C142/514/44; Curwen, 136.
  • 3. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. v. 354.
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, xix. 4; Vis. Cumb. and Westmld. ed. Foster, 33.
  • 5. C142/292/190.
  • 6. C142/404/119.
  • 7. C231/4, f. 53; C193/13/1.
  • 8. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, pp. 38, 97.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 28.
  • 10. SP14/123/3; C212/22/21.
  • 11. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. v. 184
  • 12. HMC Hatfield, xix. 4.
  • 13. C.B. Phillips, ‘Gentry in Cumb. and Westmld. 1600-65’ (Lancaster Univ. Ph.D. 1973), pp. 199-200; C2/Jas.I/T11/55.
  • 14. STAC 8/180/24; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. lxvi. 192-3; Lowther Fam. Estate Bks. ed. C.B. Phillips (Surtees Soc. cxci), 219.
  • 15. J. Nicolson and R. Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 479; Naworth Household Bks. ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lxviii), 111, 424; M.E. James, Tudor Magnate and Tudor State (Borthwick Pprs. xxx), 7.
  • 16. C2/Jas.I/C18/16.
  • 17. C2/Jas.I/T1/1.
  • 18. C78/501/4.
  • 19. CJ, i. 615b.
  • 20. Ibid. 554a, 555a, 621b, 627b.
  • 21. Curwen, 138-9.