DRAKE, John (c.1560-1628), of Mount Drake and Ash, Musbury, Devon

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.1560,1 1st s. of Sir Bernard Drake of Mount Drake and Ash, and Gertrude, da. of Bartholomew Fortescue of Buckland Filleigh, Devon.2 educ. M. Temple 1579.3 m. (settlement 2 Mar. 1585),4 Dorothy (bur. 13 Dec. 1631), da. of William Button of Alton Priors, Wilts., 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1586.5 d. 11 Apr. 1628.6 sig. J[ohn] Drake.

Offices Held

Capt. militia ft. Devon by 1596,7 lt.-col. 1599, col. 1614-d.;8 j.p. Devon by 1601-d.,9 Dorset by 1614-d.,10 commr. piracy, Devon 1603-4, 1624, Dorset 1622,11 inquiry into lands of Henry Brooke alias Cobham†, 11th Lord Cobham, Devon, Som., Dorset 1603;12 sheriff, Devon 1604-6;13 commr. subsidy, Devon 1608, 1621-2, 1624, Dorset 1621-2, 1624,14 inquiry into Sir Walter Ralegh’s† lands, Devon 1612;15 collector, Privy Seal loan, Devon 1612,16 dep. lt. 1614-d.;17 freeman, Lyme Regis, Dorset 1614;18 commr. oyer and terminer, W. circ. 1617-at least 1626, Dorset 1626;19 collector, Palatine Benevolence, Devon 1622;20 commr. impressments, Devon 1623, 1625,21 fees 1623,22 collector (jt.), Admlty. tenths, Devon, Som. and Bristol 1625-d.,23 Privy Seal loan, Devon 1625-6;24 commr. billeting and martial law, Dorset 1626,25 Forced Loan, Devon and Dorset 1627,26 inquiry into v.-admlty. Devon 1627.27

Member, Virg. Co. 1612, New Eng. Co. 1620.28


Drake’s ancestors held property at Musbury, in south-east Devon, from the early fifteenth century, but their local standing developed slowly. The first member of the family to enter Parliament was this Member’s uncle Richard, a courtier living in Surrey, who sat for Morpeth and Castle Rising in the 1580s. Drake’s father, Sir Bernard, who owned over 1,000 acres in the Musbury district, died of typhus contracted during Devon’s Black Assizes of 1586, the source of the outbreak allegedly being the crew of a Portuguese ship that he had captured off Newfoundland.29 Sir Bernard had mortgaged Ash, one of his main seats, to Sir Francis Drake†, whom the family treated as a cousin even though no direct kinship can now be demonstrated. Drake recovered this property within the next decade, and then gradually became active in local government, securing militia commands in the late 1590s, and joining the Devon bench by 1601. As county sheriff at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, he remained in office for several months longer than the customary term. In 1612 he invested in the Virginia Company, and around this time also became a Dorset magistrate. Besides living just a few miles from the Dorset border, he also owned property in Lyme Regis.30

Drake first entered Parliament in 1614 representing Devon. He had probably cleared the way for his own election by providing a seat at Lyme Regis for Sir Edward Seymour, a potential rival as knight of the shire. From the outset he engaged actively with the Commons’ business, making four speeches, and receiving 14 committee nominations. On 8 Apr. alone, he was appointed to the committee for privileges, chosen to help prepare a bill for the repeal or continuance of expiring statutes, and instructed to search for precedents on the eligibility of the attorney-general to sit in the Lower House. For the most part he focused on local concerns. Named on 16 Apr. to the committee for the bill against ‘knights of the post’, or false bail, he complained on 18 May about the practice of procuring bonds for good behaviour from the central courts, which he termed ‘a great vexation’. He apparently supported the bill for preserving fish stocks by destroying weirs, and was appointed to the committee (21 May). During the debate on 31 May on the bill for better regulation of alehouses, Drake proposed that ‘one man in every town may be appointed to take care of the abuses in alehouses, and that he may have part of the forfeiture’. Again, he was named to help scrutinize this measure. He was also nominated to the legislative committee concerned with corrupt customs officials (25 May).31 Drake’s other main priority was to address religious grievances, and he was named to bill committees on Sabbath observance, nonresident clergy, and the unpopular ex officio oath (7, 12 and 31 May). By comparison, he showed little interest in the political rows that eventually wrecked the session. He was appointed to attend the king on 28 May when the Commons explained their suspension of business during the dispute over Bishop Neile’s offensive remarks. However, his only recorded comment on these issues was a brief speech on 7 June, when he seconded Francis Ashley’s motion against granting supply while the House was threatened with dissolution, urging ‘that we may sit without intermission’.32

While he was away at Westminster, Drake was appointed a Devon deputy lieutenant. Shortly afterwards he courted controversy by allowing the puritan separatist John Traske to use his house as a base for his proselytizing activities. In 1616, however, he significantly enhanced his family’s social prospects by marrying his son Sir John* to a kinswoman of the new royal favourite, George Villiers, the future duke of Buckingham. It was probably no coincidence that the following year he was promoted to the prestigious local oyer and terminer commission.33 Nevertheless, membership of Buckingham’s circle did not prevent him from criticizing some government policies, particularly the patent for licensing inns, which was granted to another of Buckingham’s relatives, (Sir) Giles Mompesson*. Around the end of the decade, Drake and other local magistrates banned a particular innkeeper, William Quick, on whose premises ‘a notorious robbery and murder’ had been plotted. Mompesson, however, granted him a new licence upon production of a certificate signed by two bogus justices, Roger Preston and William Martin, who were in reality the patentee’s own agents. When Drake again tried to close down the inn, Quick appealed to Mompesson, who wrote to Drake expressing surprise that ‘he would so discourage His Majesty’s tenants’, and warning that, but for their ties of kinship, ‘he would take another course’ with him, ‘as he had done with others’.34

Drake once again represented Devon in the 1621 Parliament, this time partnered by Seymour. Named to the committee for privileges and 30 other committees, he also made 11 recorded speeches. Evidently a staunch Protestant, he was appointed on 15 Feb. to confer with the Lords about the proposed petition against recusants. Two days later he complained at some length of the ploys adopted by Catholics to avoid paying taxes and minimize their recusancy fines: ‘he knew one in the county of Devon’, (probably Sir William Courtenay†), ‘that had £3,000 per annum, who was rated but at £50 per annum’.35 He was subsequently nominated to consider bills to improve the Crown’s revenues from recusants’ lands, and encourage papists to conform (2 Mar., 4 May), and to inquire into allegations that (Sir) Henry Spiller* was failing to collect recusancy fines efficiently (29 November). In addition, he was named to legislative committees on the catechizing of children, and the punishment of scandalous ministers (16 May, 23 Nov.), while on 21 Mar. he was teller for the yeas in a division on whether to proceed with a bill to enforce the payment of tithes in London.36

On 17 Feb., following allegations of maltreatment at the Fleet prison, Drake agreed that the warden should himself be detained, further proposing that he be brought face to face with his accusers at the committee of inquiry, to which he was duly appointed. He was also nominated on 19 Apr. to the conference with the Lords about the bill against informers. On 25 Apr. Drake supported Sir Dudley Digges’s* petition calling for reform of the county benches, and urged that no one ‘whose wife, alliance, or children are papists’ should become a magistrate. Three days later he backed the bill to prohibit commoners from hunting game with guns. A member of the committee for the bill to prohibit corn imports (8 Mar.), he brought his local knowledge to bear during the debate on 17 May. Disputing the general assumption that a ban on imported corn would lead to famine, he explained that in Devon ‘the poor complain of the cheapness of corn; for now the farmer will not set the poor husbandman and labourer to work, because he can get nothing for corn; whereby the poor are like now to starve in a time of plenty’.37

Drake’s most memorable contribution to this Parliament began on 20 Feb., when he described Mompesson’s actions in licensing Quick despite the opposition of local j.p.s., dramatically producing the patentee’s offensive letter to support his claims. Members promptly agreed to a warrant for the arrest of Preston and Martin, though the deputy serjeant-at-arms entrusted with this task was set upon and beaten when he located the offenders at Quick’s tavern, Drake announcing on 15 Mar. that he had returned empty-handed.38 Meanwhile, three days earlier Drake had been appointed to a conference with the Lords on monopolies, and on 16 Mar. he informed the Commons that the peers wished to see the letter from Mompesson, and to take evidence from Drake himself under oath. The Commons firmly rejected the proposal that one of its Members should be sworn, not least because the charges against Mompesson had been brought by the Lower House and thus represented its collective judgment. Drake confirmed that, although he was personally prepared to testify under oath, he would not undermine the Commons’ privileges, and on 19 Mar. the Lords agreed not to force the issue.39 He was nominated on 24 Apr. to help draft a bill to regulate inns and alehouses, and lent his support to complaints by William Mallory and John Delbridge against the patentees for militia equipment and tobacco imports (17 and 23 April). On the latter issue, he was also named on 3 May to scrutinize the bill to restrain the narcotic’s excessive use. Having thus significantly contributed to the Commons’ proceedings, he was appointed on 26 Apr. to help set the business of the House in order.40

Drake helped to collect the Palatine Benevolence in 1622, subscribing £10 towards it himself. Now well over 60 years old, he remained a highly active figure in local government, and in 1624 he was chosen for the third consecutive time to sit for Devon in Parliament. He successfully recommended his son Sir John to the electors of Lyme Regis, and the two men were joined in the Commons by their Surrey cousin, Francis Drake, who was returned at Sandwich.41 The latter, a novice Member, seems invariably to have been referred to in the Journal by his full name during this session. That presumably means that all other references to ‘Mr. Drake’ were to this Member, who seems to have delivered five speeches and been named to 25 committees, one of which was the committee for privileges. Still vocal on behalf of his own constituents, Drake repeated on 10 Apr. his argument against cheap grain, claiming that ‘he would have it lawful to transport corn when it is at 4s. a bushel’. He produced on 26 Apr. a letter of complaint from Devon against the growing practice of directing charitable briefs to the high constables, which distracted them from their proper duties. The next day, during the presentment of recusants, he named the county’s most prominent example, Sir William Courtenay. Having helped to survey Sir Walter Ralegh’s† lands 12 years earlier, he was well equipped to scrutinize the bill for the restitution of his heir, and is known to have attended the committee (16 April).42

Once again appointed to investigate the mismanagement of the Fleet prison, Drake was also nominated to consider better regulation of the courts of justice, and to scrutinize the bill against wrongful imprisonment (9 Mar., 17 and 19 April).43 However, considering his close ties to the duke of Buckingham, he contributed relatively little towards the discussions on the impending anti-Habsburg war. On 26 Feb., during the debate on the internal threat posed by English Catholics, he informed the House of a kinsman who had been temporarily converted to Rome while attending the inns of court, and had, during that episode, been persuaded by his new Catholic friends to provide himself with arms. Nominated to conferences with the Lords to discuss Parliament’s advice to the king about war, and to hear Prince Charles clarify the government’s financial demands (3 and 11 Mar.), he was also selected, on 16 Apr., to help draft a bill for finding arms. He attended both meetings of the legislative committee for confirming Lady Darcy’s rights over the advowson of Sutton parish (7 May), but it is unclear whether he understood that this case had been exploited by Buckingham as part of his campaign against lord keeper Williams.44

In the elections for the first Caroline Parliament, Drake was replaced as a shire knight by Sir William Courtenay’s son Francis, which must have been galling. He was forced to settle instead for a seat at Lyme Regis, and was presumably also responsible for the election there of Thomas Paramour, secretary to his kinsman Sir James Ley*. Drake was generally recorded by his full name during this session, to distinguish him from his cousin Francis, but on a handful of occasions the two men are not clearly differentiated. Drake was again named to the privileges committee, and also to at least ten other committees, most of them on religious subjects, such as Sabbath observance and restrictions to benefit of clergy (22 and 25 June). He was twice appointed to confer with the Lords, once about the petition for a general fast and once about the pardoning of a Dorset recusant (23 June and 8 August). He was probably the ‘Mr. Drake’ nominated on 23 June to scrutinize the bill against recusants. More surprisingly, given his links with Buckingham, Drake may also have opposed sending a fleet against Spain, as on 10 Aug. either he or his cousin argued that it was too late in the year for such an expedition, which would be ill-advised given the threat posed to England by both foreign and domestic enemies, the plague and the danger of famine. He backed further supply ‘so it be in a parliamentary manner’, but wanted taxpayers assessed at £5 or less to be spared.45

Drake arrived home from Oxford on 15 Aug., and promptly wrote to his kinsman James Bagg II*, reporting that Parliament was ‘unhappily dissolved’. However, he hoped that the duke, who had recently given Drake and his son responsibility for collecting the Admiralty tenths on prizes brought into local ports, would bear up despite his enemies. In December 1625 he reported to another of Buckingham’s leading clients, (Sir) John Coke*, that he feared ‘great labouring for places already by some that wish not my lord duke best’. Early in the following year, the favourite acknowledged these gestures of support by staying briefly at Ash.46

Determined to get into the Commons for the 1626 Parliament, Drake took the precaution of securing a seat at Tiverton, but he once more stood successfully as a knight of the shire, and opted on 17 Feb. to represent his county. Francis Drake also sat again, and in most cases both he and this Member are identified by their full name in the records. Drake himself was easily the more active of the two, receiving nominations to a minimum of 31 committees, and consequently most of the business concerning ‘Mr. Drake’ ought probably be ascribed to him. Added to the committee for privileges on 11 Feb., he informed the House on 24 Mar. that Sir Thomas Monck, a Devon gentleman returned for Camelford while in prison, was not eligible for bail, news that led to the voiding of Monck’s election. It was probably also Drake who moved on 15 Mar. for the stay of a trial involving Sir Francis Leigh, 1st bt.*, another of Buckingham’s kinsmen.47

As usual, many of Drake’s nominations related to religious issues. The topics covered by his legislative committees included stopping most clergy from becoming j.ps., mitigation of the sentence of greater excommunication, and clerical subscription (10 Mar., 2 and 6 May). He was probably the man appointed on 10 Feb. to suggest ways of improving poor ministers’ livings, for on 9 May he was named to the committee for the bill to increase the allowances paid to preaching curates. He definitely attended the legislative committee concerned with augmenting the revenues of the parish of Freeford, in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and was presumably the Member appointed to scrutinize proposals for a new church at Weymouth, Dorset (18 and 25 February). As in 1624, he was nominated to consider a bill for the restitution of Carew Ralegh.48

Drake was appointed on 4 Mar. to attend the conference at which the Lords criticized the Commons’ demand that Buckingham account for the controversial second arrest of the St. Peter of Le Havre. He probably also served as teller for the noes in the division a week later on whether this arrest should be designated a grievance. Presumably Drake was the Member nominated on 5 Apr. to help present the Remonstrance about Clement Coke* and Dr Samuel Turner*; certainly he was teller for the yeas when the House voted on whether to accept the king’s request for an adjournment while the latter considered his answer. Yet, despite this show of support for the king, Drake did not invariably support the government. It must have been Drake who backed Sir John Eliot’s claim on 6 Mar. that Sir John Coke had countermanded a Privy Council order for ships to be sent to protect the Channel coast, for he described the state of alarm in the West Country at the time. Two days later he seems to have acted as teller for the noes in the division over whether to respond to the Lords’ urgent request for subsidies to fit out the fleet and maintain the Danish army. On 14 Mar. he was appointed to the select committee to consider Sir Dudley Digges’s proposal for a privately funded naval war. He apparently remained silent throughout the debates on Buckingham’s impeachment, but was added on 25 May to the committee to draft the subsidy bill’s preamble.49

In July 1626 the commissioners for Buckingham’s estate identified Drake as ‘well affected’ to the duke, and in the following year he participated in the inquiry into Eliot’s conduct as vice admiral of Devon. Although initially criticized by some of his colleagues for his apparent lack of enthusiasm, in October 1627 he informed Edward Nicholas* that he believed that more than enough evidence had been gathered against Eliot. ‘It is not only in deceiving my lord, as it is manifestly proved, but also by violence [he] has taken true men’s goods. ... You would think it impossible that any man that carries the face of an honest man should do such things’.50

Drake is not known to have stood for election in 1628. He died on Good Friday, 11 Apr., and was buried privately at Musbury the same night. In his will, drawn up in 1621, just before he set off for his second Parliament, he described himself as a ‘great sinner’, anxious to ‘redeem the time that is past’. He left his younger son several leasehold properties, and his wife their bedroom furniture and a coach and horses. His eldest son, Sir John, was appointed his executor and residuary legatee.51

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Aged 46 in 1606: REQ 2/409/83.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 297.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. C142/211/175.
  • 5. Vivian, 297.
  • 6. Yonge Diary ed. G. Roberts (Cam. Soc. xli), 112.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, vi. 34.
  • 8. HMC 15th Rep. vii. 43.
  • 9. C66/1549; E163/18/12, f. 17v.
  • 10. C66/1988; 66/2449.
  • 11. C181/1, ff. 69v, 93; 181/3, ff. 73, 130.
  • 12. C181/1, f. 72.
  • 13. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 36.
  • 14. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 170.
  • 16. E403/2732, f. 32.
  • 17. APC, 1613-14, p. 428; SP16/90/55.
  • 18. Dorset RO, B7/B6/11, p. 11.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 269v; 181/3, ff. 207, 212.
  • 20. SP14/156/14.
  • 21. APC, 1621-3, p. 436; 1623-5, p. 499.
  • 22. Bodl. Tanner 287, f. 72.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 261; 1628-9, p. 282.
  • 24. E401/2586, p. 222; APC, 1626, p. 168.
  • 25. APC, 1626, pp. 221, 224.
  • 26. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144; C193/12/2, ff. 10v, 12.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 413.
  • 28. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 282.
  • 29. W.G. Hoskins, Devon, 441; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 55; C142/211/175; 142/444/76; F. Willcocks, ‘Black Assizes in the West’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xvi. 598-9.
  • 30. E.F. Eliott-Drake, Fam. and Heirs of Sir Fra. Drake, 124, 147; C142/444/76.
  • 31. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 33-5, 91, 281, 309, 339, 392.
  • 32. Ibid. 172, 218, 377, 393, 438.
  • 33. D.S. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews, 19; Vivian, 297;
  • 34. S.K. Roberts, ‘Alehouses, Brewing and Govt. under the Early Stuarts’, Southern History, ii. 50; CD 1621, vi. 256; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 71.
  • 35. CJ, i. 507b, 522b; Nicholas, i. 56; CD 1621, ii. 97-8.
  • 36. CJ, i. 534a, 565a, 607b, 622a, 643a, 652a.
  • 37. Ibid. 526b, 545a, 582b, 590b, 595a; Nicholas, i. 315; ii. 89; CD 1621, iii. 282.
  • 38. CD 1621, ii. 231; vi. 256; Nicholas, i. 71-2; CJ, i. 556a.
  • 39. CJ, i. 551a, 556a, 557a, 558b; LJ, iii. 48b, 50a, 51b.
  • 40. CJ, i. 590a, 578a, 586b, 592b, 605b.
  • 41. A.H.A. Hamilton, Quarter Sessions from Queen Eliz. to Queen Anne, 65.
  • 42. CJ, i. 671b, 776a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 137, 177; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 226.
  • 43. CJ, i. 680a, 769b, 770b.
  • 44. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 24; CJ, i. 676b, 683a, 768a; Kyle, 212.
  • 45. CP, viii. 489; Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 215, 226, 228, 246, 422, 445, 451.
  • 46. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 85; 1628-9, p. 283; HMC Cowper, i. 242; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 415.
  • 47. Procs. 1626, ii. 21, 60, 288, 356.
  • 48. Ibid. ii. 13, 69, 125, 246, 356; iii. 120, 180, 199; Kyle, 230.
  • 49. Ibid. ii. 195, 203, 209, 216, 227, 257, 280, 430-1; iii. 329.
  • 50. SP16/31/2; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 349, 357, 387, 396, 413.
  • 51. Yonge Diary, 112; Vivian, 297; PROB 11/153, f. 297v.