DENNY, Sir Edward (1569-1637), of Abbey House, Waltham Abbey, Essex

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



1604 - 27 Oct. 1604

Family and Education

b. 15 Aug. 1569,1 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Henry Denny (d.1574) of Cheshunt, Herts. and Waltham Abbey and his 1st w. Honora, da. of William, Lord Grey of Wilton. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1585. m. c.1590/1, Mary (d. 18 Mar. 1638), 4th da. of Thomas Cecil†, 1st earl of Exeter, 1da. d.v.p. suc. bro. Robert 1576; kntd. 26 Oct. 1589;2 cr. Bar. Denny of Waltham 27 Oct. 1604, earl of Norwich 17-24 Oct. 1626.3 d. 24 Oct. 1637.4 sig. Edw. Denney.

Offices Held

J.p. Essex and Herts. by 1593-1636;5 commr. charitable uses, Herts. 1600, 1608-at least 1609, 1612, 1621, Essex 1600-at least 1601, 1604, 1607, 1610-at least 1614, 1619-20, 1629-at least 1630;6 kpr. Epping Walk, Waltham Forest, Essex 1602-d., Chingford Walk and New Lodge (jt.) 1605-36, (sole) 1636-d.;7 commr. subsidy, Essex 1602, 1606-8, 1621-2, 1624, Herts. 1621-2, 1624;8 sheriff, Herts. 1602-3;9 commr. sewers, Lea valley, Essex and Herts. 1607-at least 1623,10 highways and bridges, Essex 1609, 1618,11Chipping Ongar bridge to Ilford bridge 1620, Havering and Dagenham levels 1622-at least 1631, Rainham bridge to Mucking mill 1627,12 oyer and terminer, the Verge 1613-17, Essex (highways’ repair) 1614-at least 1622, Herts. 1622, Home circ. 1635,13 Forced Loan, Essex and Herts. 1626-7,14 to construct trench for an aquaduct bet. Hoddesdon, Herts. and London 1631.15

Member, Virg. Co. 1612-at least 1620, cttee. 1612.16

Member, Lord Hay’s extraordinary embassy, France 1616.17


Denny’s paternal grandfather Sir Anthony†, confidant and groom of the Chamber to Henry VIII, acquired a substantial estate in Essex and Hertfordshire following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Denny’s father, Henry, was a Marian Protestant exile who lived at Dallance, one-and-a-half miles north-east of the ruins of Waltham Abbey.18 Educated at Basle, he became a friend and correspondent of Bullinger, counted himself among the elect, and appointed the puritan Sir Walter Mildmay† as overseer of his will.19 On Henry’s death in 1574, Denny’s elder brother Robert inherited the family’s estates, but two years later these descended to Denny himself at the age of seven when Robert also died. Denny’s wardship was purchased for £700 by Sir Thomas Cecil,20 whose father, Lord Treasurer Burghley (Sir William Cecil†), had recently erected a house at Theobalds a few miles west of Waltham Abbey. This connection with the powerful Cecil family helped shape Denny’s early life. In 1585 he was admitted to Burghley’s former Cambridge college, and in the following year Denny thanked the lord treasurer fulsomely for his patronage.21 On reaching his majority Denny married one of the younger daughters of his former guardian, whose residence at Wimbledon perhaps provided the model for the new house built by Denny during the early 1590s on the site of Waltham Abbey.22

At college Denny befriended the future Calvinist divine Thomas Playfere.23 In 1589 he may have done some soldiering in Ireland, where his uncle, Sir Edward Denny† the elder, was serving; certainly he was knighted there by the lord deputy that same year. It was probably Denny’s uncle who was returned to Parliament in 1593 rather than Denny himself, who had no known connection with Westmorland. However, while the Parliament was sitting Denny failed to attend the Essex assizes because he was ‘in service’.24 Four years later Rowland Lytton† offered to support Denny for election as junior knight of the shire for Hertfordshire, but Denny refused to stand.25 Towards the end of the 1590s Denny’s relationship with his uncle deteriorated, culminating in an attempt by the elder Sir Edward to block the Crown’s sale to Denny of Amwell manor, Hertfordshire. Denny, who had purchased the manor for the sake of his health, having ‘no other good air to build upon’, was furious, and appealed to his father-in-law’s brother Sir Robert Cecil†. He also complained of the large sums obtained from him by his uncle during his minority. However, the dispute was abruptly ended by the elder Denny’s death.26

In around 1601 one William Pureveye complained to Cecil that Denny had attempted to murder him, but the accusation sounds far-fetched and Denny was evidently not prosecuted.27 The following year Denny was appointed keeper of Epping Walk ‘in consideration of his service’,28 an office his uncle had previously coveted. He was also refunded the £300 he had paid for Amwell manor, though not without some difficulty.29 As sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1602-3 Denny was technically forbidden from residing in Essex, but since his house at Waltham Abbey lay just across the county border the queen granted him a special dispensation.30 On Elizabeth’s death Denny, who was still sheriff, provided a uniformed escort of 150 men to accompany the new king to Theobalds, presumably at his own cost.31

Denny may have sought election to the first Jacobean Parliament for Essex to further the interests of Sir Christopher Hatton* of Ilford, his near neighbour and the heir of his wife’s late brother-in-law, Sir William Hatton alias Newport†. An overseer of Sir William’s will, in June 1604 he was named to the committee for the bill to enable Sir Christopher to convey part of his lands to the Crown.32 However, Denny’s decision to stand for the senior county seat threatened to upset the plans of Robert, 3rd Lord Rich, the largest landowner in Essex. When news of Denny’s candidature reached him, Rich began to campaign vigorously for his chosen candidate, Sir Francis Barrington*, securing the support of the 3rd Lord Darcy and the county’s lord lieutenant, the 5th earl of Sussex. By 15 Feb. 1604 Rich was hopeful that Denny would withdraw in the face of such strong opposition.33 This did not happen, however, probably because Denny also enjoyed the support of three key figures. The first was Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, the new lord chamberlain and an important ally at Court of Denny’s kinsman by marriage, Sir Robert, now Lord, Cecil. The second was Sir Thomas Mildmay II†, the custos rotulorum, who, from his house at Moulsham, dominated nearby Chelmsford, where the election was to be held. On 20 Feb. Barrington reproved Mildmay for taking up, on Denny’s behalf, most of the town’s inns. Mildmay denied having acted in Denny’s interest, but his explanation that he needed the houses for his own friends rings somewhat hollow.34 The third key figure who may have backed Denny was the sheriff, Sir Henry Maynard†, who had formerly served Cecil’s father as a secretary.35

Although Denny could count on some important backers, his support was less impressive than might at first appear. According to Rich, just one member of the gentry in Hinckford Hundred - Sir Thomas Gardiner - refused to support Barrington. Moreover, Suffolk’s influence in Essex was comparatively slight. Indeed, on 24 Feb. the earl sternly rebuked his tenants at Saffron Walden who, without consulting him, had promised to vote for Barrington rather than ‘my good friend Sir Edward Denny’.36 It was undoubtedly at Suffolk’s insistence that, on the previous day, the Privy Council wrote to the county’s magistrates prohibiting ‘all factious labouring for the places of knights’. Although not mentioned in person, Lord Rich correctly interpreted the Council’s attempt to forbid all canvassing as a thinly disguised attack on him.37 The weakness of Denny’s position was such that, as one historian has observed, it became imperative for his supporters to ‘find a solution that would forestall defeat for their candidate at the county court’.38 Consequently, on 28 Feb. Maynard approached Lord Rich with the suggestion that Sir Gamaliel Capell*, the sole candidate for the second parliamentary seat, should be persuaded to withdraw to ensure the election of both Denny and Barrington. He also summoned an extraordinary meeting of the magistracy to debate this proposal. Fortunately for Denny, Capell stood aside without protest, so saving Denny from a humiliating defeat. This left only the question which of the two remaining candidates should have first place. In order to avoid a contest, the county’s magistrates proposed that the issue should be decided by the drawing of lots the day before the election, an idea welcomed by both Denny and Barrington.39 The latter must have drawn the short straw, since Denny’s name was accorded first place in the election indenture.

Denny played only a modest role in Parliament’s proceedings, making no recorded speeches. On 7 May he was listed among those who could furnish the House with details regarding the abuses of the royal purveyors.40 Three days later the Commons authorized him to disregard a court summons obtained by one Ezekiel Helyer, who was called to the bar of the House and accused of breach of privilege.41 Denny was named to just eight committees. As well as the Hatton land bill, these dealt with the Buckinghamshire election dispute (28 Mar.); fen drainage (12 May); the maintenance of archery (7 June); the undue release of Edmund Penning (8 June); and the relief of Thomas Lovell (2 July).42 They also concerned the propositions for ecclesiastical reform advanced by Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar.) and Sir Francis Hastings (16 Apr.),43 indicating, perhaps, that Denny held puritan sympathies. It is noticeable that Denny’s time as a student at St. John’s College, Cambridge had partly coincided with the mastership of the puritan William Whitaker.

Shortly after Parliament was prorogued in July 1604, Denny and the king entered into negotiations for a marriage between Denny’s daughter, Honora, and James’s Scottish favourite, Sir James Hay, later 1st earl of Carlisle. Shrewdly, Denny exacted a heavy price, demanding a barony, the grant of lands worth £1,000 p.a., the payment of £3,000 worth of debts and the waiving of rent arrears on various Crown lands. Denny was accordingly elevated to the peerage in October 1604, and so lost his Commons’ seat, but it was not until the end of 1606, after James had conferred both office and title on Hay, that he consented to the marriage.44 Created earl of Norwich in 1626, presumably by purchase, he died in October 1637, having failed to produce a male heir. His estates and his barony, though not his earldom, descended on his grandson James Hay, 2nd earl of Carlisle. In his will, dated 22 Aug. 1636, he requested to be buried without pomp, considering it fitter for his widow to pay off his debts than spend money on solemnities for ‘a dead corpse’.45 He was interred in the east end of Waltham’s parish church.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. C142/173/71.
  • 2. CP; Al. Cant.; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 87.
  • 3. 47th DKR, 100; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 576; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 167.
  • 4. W. Winters, Waltham Holy Cross, 62. His i.p.m. incorrectly records the date as 31 Dec.: C142/718/143.
  • 5. Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 393, 538; Cal. Assize Recs. Herts. Indictments, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 97, 168; Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 1, 253; Cal. Assize Recs. Herts. Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 7, 284.
  • 6. C93/1/12, 18, 19; 93/3/3, 12; 93/4/4, 9, 13, 16; 93/5/5, 7, 16; 93/6/6; 93//8/5; 93/9/10; C192/1, unfol.
  • 7. PSO 5/2, unfol. July 1602; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 230; 1635, p. 602; W.R. Fisher, Forest of Essex, 382-3.
  • 8. Eg. 2644, f. 171; 2651, f. 14v; SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 64.
  • 10. C181/2, f. 50; 181/3, f. 91v.
  • 11. C193/6, no. 188; C181/2, f. 318v.
  • 12. C181/3, ff. 19, 42v, 233; 181/4, f. 76.
  • 13. C181/2, ff. 179, 225v, 287; 181/3, ff. 68v, 69; 181/5, f. 8.
  • 14. Bodl. Firth C4, p. 257; C193/12/2, f. 23.
  • 15. C181/4, f. 93.
  • 16. A. Brown, Genesis of US, ii. 542; Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 322.
  • 17. R.E. Schreiber, The First Carlisle (Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. lxxiv. pt. 7), p. 14.
  • 18. P.J. Huggins, ‘Excavations at Waltham Abbey’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc.(ser. 3), iv. 34.
  • 19. Al. Cant.; PROB 11/58, f. 131.
  • 20. WARD 9/221, f. 50.
  • 21. Lansd. 51, f. 25.
  • 22. A.E.S. Musty, ‘Waltham Abbey’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), x. 130. For a contemporary illustration of the house, see Huggins, facing p. 126.
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, x. 43.
  • 24. Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Eliz. 393.
  • 25. HMC Hatfield, vii. 396.
  • 26. Ibid. x. 26, 80; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 386.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, xi. 561-2.
  • 28. PSO5/2, unfol. It is not clear what service was being referred to.
  • 29. HMC Hatfield, vi. 419; xii. 318, 321.
  • 30. Ibid. xii. 534.
  • 31. G.P.V. Akrigg, Jacobean Pageant, 19.
  • 32. PROB 11/89, f. 320; CJ, i. 249a.
  • 33. Eg. 2644, f. 128. However, there is no evidence to support Kishlansky’s assertion that Rich encouraged Barrington to believe that ‘Denny might seek a seat elsewhere’. His description of Denny as a ‘government official’ is also misleading: M.A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection, 66.
  • 34. Ibid. ff. 130-1.
  • 35. C. Thompson, Parliamentary Selection and Essex Election of 1604, p. 10.
  • 36. Eg. 2644, f. 138.
  • 37. Ibid. ff. 135, 149.
  • 38. Thompson, 7.
  • 39. Eg. 2644, ff. 139, 147, 153.
  • 40. CJ, i. 202a.
  • 41. Ibid. 205b.
  • 42. Ibid. 157a, 207b, 233b, 234b, 251a.
  • 43. Ibid. 151b, 173a.
  • 44. Schreiber, 9; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 186; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 62.
  • 45. PROB 11/175, f. 158.