EARLE (ERLE), Christopher (c.1590-1634), of Sturminster Marshall, Dorset and the Middle Temple, 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.1590,1 2nd s. of Thomas Earle of Charborough, Dorset and Dorothy, da. of William Pole† of Shute, Devon; bro. of Walter*.2 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1608, aged 18; M. Temple 1609, called 1617.3 m. 26 Apr. 1623 (with £1,600), Elizabeth, da. of Sir Edward Denny of Bishops Stortford, Herts., 1s. 2da.4 d. 29 Mar. 1634.5 sig. Christofer Erle.

Offices Held

Freeman, Poole, Dorset 1614,6 Weymouth, Dorset 1621,7 Lyme Regis, Dorset 1631;8 commr. subsidy, Poole 1621-2.9

Member, Virg. Co. 1620,10 Dorchester New Eng. Co. 1624.11

Recorder, Lyme Regis from 1631;12 ancient, M. Temple by 1633.13


Although Earle received no legacy from his father, he was provided for financially while still a minor through the purchase on his behalf of two small Dorset manors, Sturminster Marshall and Newton Peverel.14 To augment his income he commenced training as a professional lawyer in 1609. Two years later he moved into the chamber in Middle Temple Lane that he would occupy for the rest of his life.15 The extent of his legal practice is hard to determine, but he probably relied heavily on West Country contacts. He represented his brother (Sir) Walter in a Star Chamber case in 1622, and later dealt with the Company of Mines Royal on behalf of his Cornish kinsman, Sir Richard Edgcumbe*.16 Earle seems to have shared Sir Walter’s puritan sentiments, and also followed his lead in investing in the Virginia and Dorchester New England Companies. The fact that both men sat for the same three Dorset boroughs, albeit at different times, suggests that Earle owed his returns there in part to his brother’s local prestige.17

Representing Weymouth in the 1621 Parliament, Earle began his Commons’ career quietly. In the first two months he was named to just two legislative committees, concerning trial by battle and the Devon estates of Sir Warwick Hele* (10 and 13 March). Following the Easter recess, however, he became somewhat more active, particularly on economic affairs. Entitled as a port town burgess to help scrutinize the bill for freer fishing on the American coast, he chaired the committee, and on 24 May reported the measure. On 2 May he preferred a bill to regulate apprenticeship payments, but this legislation received only a first reading. He also clarified a legal point during the debate on 7 May on the bill against extortionate customs officials.18 Following Sir Benjamin Rudyard’s call on 15 May for a bill to bar ecclesiastical patrons from selling benefices, Earle preferred such a measure the next day, but it was not read as he omitted to provide the Speaker with a breviate. Also on 16 May he commented on the bill concerning probate of suggestions in cases of prohibitions. His remaining two nominations concerned bills on the cloth trade and legal procedures (20 Apr., 24 May); he failed to attend the committee for the latter measure.19 During the Parliament’s heated second sitting, he maintained a lower profile, merely securing appointment to two bill committees concerning land ownership (23 and 30 November).20

Earle did not sit in the next two parliaments, but in 1626 he was returned at Poole alongside John Pyne, for whom he had stood surety at the Middle Temple seven years earlier.21 Of the ten legislative committees to which he was named, six concerned private matters, and he certainly attended one meeting of the committee for the bill to naturalize Samuel Bave and Thomas Sotherne (28 March). The remaining four appointments related to legal issues, including the penalizing of outlaws and the suppression of unskilled attorneys (23 and 27 March). In a solitary speech on 3 May, he persuaded the Commons to send a message to the king, requesting that Philip Burlamachi be barred from exporting iron ordnance.22

Representing Lyme Regis in the third Caroline Parliament, Earle was named during the 1628 session to four bill committees, one of which concerned the problem of recusancy (28 May). Surprisingly for a lawyer, he remained silent during the debates about the liberties of the subject, though he was appointed on 28 Mar. to help check the precedents assembled by John Selden*. Nominated on 4 June to the committee to investigate ordnance exports, he may have delivered its report (11 June), and certainly accused Burlamachi on 7 June of misleading the Commons over the Crown’s recruitment of foreign mercenaries.23 Earle chaired the committee which considered the claims of the rival patentees for the foreign postal service, reporting on 24 June in Henry Billingsley’s favour. He was also added on 23 June to the committee to consider a petition from the clerks of the London customs house.24

During the 1629 session Sir Walter Earle was one of the leading figures in the Commons. Earle’s own standing apparently rose through association, and he was named to five committees on which his brother also served. Of these, two were concerned with religion, namely an investigation into suspected government tinkering with the Thirty-Nine Articles, and a bill against simony (5 and 23 February). More significantly, Earle was appointed on 14 Feb. to help consider the Exchequer barons’ refusal to release John Rolle’s* confiscated merchandise, while six days later he was added to the committee established on 22 Jan. to investigate Rolle’s treatment. Independently of his brother, he was added to the committee to consider a fresh petition from Henry Billingsley, and nominated to a legislative committee concerned with a private legal dispute (13 and 21 February).25

Despite having been promised the recordership of Weymouth in succession to Hugh Pyne*, Earle was denied this office in February 1629 through the machinations of the borough’s mayor.26 Nevertheless, he was elected recorder of Lyme Regis two years later, and around this time also achieved the rank of ancient in the Middle Temple. Earle made his will on 18 Apr. 1632, bemoaning his sinful condition and ‘vile body, full of corruption’. He bequeathed dowries of £900 and £800 respectively to his two daughters, though these legacies depended heavily on the repayment of loans made to Sir Walter and his brother-in-law Sir Richard Strode*. Earle’s wife, Elizabeth, who stood to acquire most of his property as her jointure, was required to apply some of the revenues towards the education of their son, Christopher, who was still a minor. To his mother, who had remarried to Sir Walter Vaughan*, he left one of his best bibles, with ‘many thanks for her motherly care’. Earle died in March 1634, and was buried at the Temple Church in London. His will was proved on 30 May by his widow, but administration was regranted on 7 May 1635 to his cousin, Sir John Pole, possibly because Elizabeth now lived in Hertfordshire. The infant Christopher was found to be a royal ward, but his mother obtained his wardship. He sat for Essex in the 1653 Parliament.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Date calculated from age at admiss. to Christ Church, Oxf.
  • 2. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 502; Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 37.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. PROB 11/165, f. 348v; C142/509/19; Dorset RO, D/BLX/T23.
  • 5. C142/509/19.
  • 6. Dorset RO, DC/PL/B1/1/1, f. 59.
  • 7. Dorset RO, WYP/AD1/3, f. 16.
  • 8. Dorset RO, DC/LR/B/6/11, f. 16.
  • 9. C212/22/20-1.
  • 10. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 61.
  • 11. F.R. Troup, John White, Patriarch of Dorchester, 452.
  • 12. Dorset RO, DC/LR/B/6/11, f. 16.
  • 13. MTR, ii. 810.
  • 14. PROB 11/90, ff. 323v-4; Dorset RO, D/BLX/T19, 23.
  • 15. MTR, 537, 604, 613, 810, 821.
  • 16. STAC 8/138/14; Cornw. RO, ME 2502, 2770; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 142; E. Herts. Arch. Soc. ii. 257-8.
  • 17. PROB 11/165, f.348v.
  • 18. CJ, i. 548a, 551a, 592a, 626a; CD 1621, v. 148, 361.
  • 19. CJ, i. 583a, 625b; CD 1621, iii. 270; iv. 344, 351; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 193.
  • 20. CJ, i. 643a, 652a.
  • 21. MTR, 634.
  • 22. Procs. 1626, ii. 348, 374, 385; iii. 141; Kyle, 229.
  • 23. CD 1628, iv. 3, 83, 187, 265, 258 n. 129; Procs. 1628, vi. 105.
  • 24. CD 1628, iv. 307, 424, 446.
  • 25. CJ, i. 926b, 929b-30a, 931b, 932b.
  • 26. Diary of William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 103.
  • 27. PROB 11/165, ff. 348v-9; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 603; C142/509/19; WARD 9/163, f. 54v.