EARLE (ERLE), Walter (1586-1665), of Charborough, Dorset and Bindon House, Axmouth, 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



1640 (Apr.)

Family and Education

b. 22 Nov. 1586,2 1st s. of Thomas Earle of Charborough and Dorothy, da. of William Pole† of Shute, Devon; bro. of Christopher*.3 educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1602; M. Temple 1604.4 m. 7 May 1616,5 Anne (d. 26 Jan. 1654), da. and h. of Francis Dymocke of Erdington, Warws., 1s. d.v.p. 2da. (1 d.v.p.).6 suc. fa. 1597;7 kntd. 4 May 1616.8 bur. 1 Sept. 1665.9 sig. Wa[lter] Erle.

Offices Held

Freeman, Poole, Dorset 1613,10 Lyme Regis, Dorset by 1631,11 Weymouth, Dorset 1640;12 j.p. Dorset 1615-26, 1628-36, 1641-2, by 1660-d.,13 Devon 1647-9;14 sheriff, Dorset 1618-19,15 commr. piracy 1622,16 subsidy 1624,17 dep. lt. 1625-6, by 1642-3,18 collector, Privy Seal loan 1626,19 commr. sewers 1638,20 charitable uses 1638-9,21 oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1641-2, 1659-d.,22 assessment, Dorset 1641-8, 1657, 1660-d.,23 Poole 1660-1,24 sequestration, Dorset 1643,25 suppression of enclosure riots 1643,26 accounts 1643,27 member, county cttee. from 1644,28 disposal of chapter rents, Westminster Abbey 1645,29 militia, Dorset 1648, Mar. 1660,30 scandalous ministers 1654,31 gaol delivery, Poole 1655;32 col. militia ft., Dorset 1660.33

Cttee. Virg. Co. from 1620;34 member, Council of Virginia 1621;35 gov., Dorchester New Eng. Co. 1624-7.36

Vol. in Dutch service 1629;37 col. horse (parl.) 1642-3.38

Recvr. of funds for reformado officers 1644;39 lt. of the Ordnance 1644-5, 1647-9;40 commr. Admlty. 1645-8,41 propositions for relief of Ireland 1645,42 exclusion from sacrament 1646,43 sale of bps.’ lands 1646,44 treaty of Newcastle 1646,45 to receive king from Scots 1647,46 indemnity 1647,47 scandalous offences 1648.48


Earle was descended from minor Devon gentry stock whose roots stretched back to thirteenth-century Somerset. His grandfather, Walter, a Privy Chamber officer under Edward VI and Elizabeth I, acquired through marriage and purchase substantial estates in both Devon and Dorset, including the seats of Charborough and Bindon House. In 1597 Earle inherited over 11,000 acres, of which around two-thirds lay near Charborough. Then aged only ten, he became a ward of the Crown. His wardship was eventually sold to Sir Carew Ralegh* in 1605, and in the meantime his stepfather, Sir Walter Vaughan*, apparently acted as his guardian.49 Earle attended Oxford University and the Middle Temple, but left without formal qualifications. Having come of age, he initially concentrated on improving his estates. He acquired the Dorset manor of Langton Matravers in 1609, but his legally dubious efforts to evict a sitting tenant at Axmouth were ‘much misliked’ by lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), and condemned by Chancery that same year. Earle also resumed the construction of a pier begun at Axmouth by his father, doubtless hoping that improved trade there would enhance the value of his own property.50

The spiralling costs of the Axmouth project apparently prompted Earle to enter Parliament in 1614. Having secured election at Poole, a borough barely five miles from Charborough, he brought in a bill ‘for the repairing and maintaining of an ancient harbour and a new erected quay or pier near Axmouth’, by which a supplementary levy on goods entering the port would be introduced to cover repairs to the pier. The bill received its first reading on 20 Apr., but on 21 May its provisions were vigorously attacked by the Lyme Regis Member, George Browne, who feared the emergence of an economic rival to his own borough. The measure was committed, with Earle himself entitled as a Dorset burgess to help with its scrutiny, but proceeded no further. It is unclear whether Earle spoke in support of his bill. His only other recorded business was a nomination to help survey old bills, some on religious topics, which had previously passed the Commons but not been enacted (8 April).51

Earle became a Dorset magistrate in 1615, and apparently exercised his powers vigorously. Seven years later he allegedly gaoled on his sole authority three poachers apprehended at Charborough, and then sued a gentleman who interceded on their behalf.52 He was knighted in 1616, three days before his marriage to a Warwickshire heiress, and served as sheriff of Dorset in 1618-19. Soon afterwards, he began to display a keen interest in trading ventures to North America. Having acquired five of its shares in May 1620, he almost immediately began to attend meetings of the Virginia Company. A year later he was appointed to the Council of Virginia, the government-led body which officially oversaw American colonial enterprises.53

Earle again sat for Poole in 1621, when he made more of an impact on the Commons, delivering at least 29 speeches, and attracting nominations to 11 committees, including that for privileges and returns (5 February). Despite his relative inexperience, he already had firm views on procedure. On 27 Feb. he successfully opposed allowing the bill on duchy of Cornwall leases to receive two readings on the same day, reminding Members that a similar attempt to rush through the bill to naturalize the Elector Palatine in 1614 had meant that a major drafting error had almost gone undetected. He also objected on 19 Apr. when Sir John Bennet* sent a message to the House via his lawyers, on the grounds that counsel should be heard only on points of law.54 Earle showed little interest in private legislation, though he was added to the committee for Sir Warwick Hele’s* estate bill after expressing concern at its provisions (10 March). He also steered clear of the great inquiry into monopolies, except on 3 Mar., when he called for a report on the escape of the notorious patentee, (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, from the Commons’ clutches. Possibly he felt at a disadvantage in debates dominated by lawyers, though on 19 Apr. he was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords concerning the bill against informers.55

One of Earle’s primary concerns during the first sitting was trade. He twice backed calls for a bill against the export of ordnance (12 Feb., 30 Apr.), and also favoured a ban on imported Spanish tobacco, arguing on 18 Apr. that Spain already restricted imports of English goods. Probably on account of his own trading interests, he was sharply critical of the levies imposed on shipping to pay for the lighthouse at Dungeness, Kent (18 Apr.; 7 May). Although not named to the committee for the bill for freer fishing in America, he apparently attended its meetings, as he was able to comment in the House on its deliberations (1 March).56 It was presumably his ties to Sir Edwin Sandys through the Virginia Company that led him on 2 June to invite the Commons to clear Sandys of abusing the privilege of freedom of speech.57

Earle also emerged at this juncture as a leading advocate of godly religion. Nominated on 5 Feb. to help prepare a petition to the king requesting firmer treatment of recusants, he was appointed ten days later to the conference with the Lords on this same subject. On 11 May he was also added to the legislative committee concerned with recusancy laws, after complaining about its slow progress.58 Meanwhile, on 7 Feb. he nailed his colours firmly to the puritan mast by reintroducing the late Nicholas Fuller’s bill of 1614 promoting Sabbath observance. When this measure received its second reading on 15 Feb., it was vigorously attacked by the Shaftesbury Member, Thomas Sheppard, who asserted that it had been preferred by ‘a sectary, and disturber of the peace’. In reply, Earle alleged that there were ‘particular matters’ which divided him and Sheppard, whose intemperate language earned him ejection from the Commons the next day. Earle was named to the bill committee, and once the measure had been amended to avoid crossing James I’s Book of Sports it successfully completed its passage through both Houses on 29 May. However, owing to the adjournment, it was never presented for the Royal Assent.59 Another measure preferred by Earle, which may also have been a revival of a bill introduced by Nicholas Fuller in 1614, concerned scandalous clergy, but it received only one reading during the sitting (28 April). On 15 May Sir Benjamin Rudyard suggested that Earle might draft a bill against the sale of benefices by ecclesiastical patrons; such a measure was preferred the next morning by his brother Christopher Earle, but it failed to secure a reading.60 Surprisingly, Earle took no recorded part in the heated debate on how to punish the seditious Catholic, Edward Floyd (1 May), though he apparently followed carefully the resultant dispute between the Commons and Lords, on 7 May announcing that three other Members had found relevant precedents.61

In the opening stages of the second sitting, Earle was doubtless preoccupied with his bill to punish scandalous clergy, which finally received its second reading on 23 November. It is unclear whether he was named to the committee, and the measure was never reported. On 29 Nov. he was nominated to help investigate claims that an Exchequer official, (Sir) Henry Spiller*, had failed to enforce recusancy fines. The following day, concerned by reports that the government had pushed the London Brewers into agreeing to a new levy on malt, he warned of moves to introduce this imposition nationally.62 Earle apparently remained silent during the lengthy debates on the Palatinate, intervening only when it emerged that the Commons had inadvertently offended the king by petitioning him on this subject. On 5 Dec. he successfully moved for Members to be given copies of both the petition and James’s letter alleging invasion of the royal prerogative. He also secured a ban on Members absenting themselves before this dispute was resolved (6 December). With the king seemingly intent on restricting freedom of speech in the Commons, Earle on 15 Dec. backed calls for a firm defence of this privilege, and three days later advised the House to continue discussing its rights despite James’s latest offer of concessions. However, he seems not to have contributed directly towards the preparation of the Protestation.63

By 1623 Earle had formed close ties with the godly community at Dorchester, Dorset, some 13 miles from Charborough, and particularly with the town’s leading preacher, John White. Actively involved in the early stages of White’s scheme for a new plantation on the Massachusetts coast, which would promote both trade and the Protestant faith, Earle was named as governor when the Dorchester New England Company was formally established in March 1624. His brother-in-law, Sir Richard Strode*, was another of the Company’s leading members.64

Earle’s puritan sensibilities seem to have rendered him particularly acceptable to the electors of Poole, who returned him to Parliament for a third time in 1624.65 The diary that he kept during this session shows that he attended the Commons assiduously. The only proceedings that are missing are those of 10 May, when he is known to have been in the House, as he delivered a committee report that day. The manuscript may have been compiled from rough notes after the session, as it initially fails to take account of the Easter recess, and misdates the period 1-10 Apr. as 25 Mar.-3 April. Earle also inserted descriptions by other authors of the joint conference concerning supply on 1 Apr., and the king’s speech to the Lords on 5 May. Not untypically, the coverage of events is quite thorough at the start of the session, but gradually becomes more selective, thus providing a useful guide to those subjects that Earle found interesting. Major pronouncements by the king and his ministers, particularly on foreign policy, were carefully recorded, perhaps with a view to disseminating this information after the Parliament. In marked contrast, he noted only six of his own 23 speeches, and just three of his 25 committee appointments.66

Once again, Earle was named to the committee for privileges. Although he attended ten of its meetings, he apparently spoke only once, on 4 Mar., during a discussion on the Cambridgeshire election dispute, which case he also commented on in the House (16 March). The fact that he supported the exercise of a broad franchise in Chippenham’s elections (12 Mar.) suggests that he shared a similar outlook to the committee’s chairman, John Glanville. On 25 Feb. he opposed the establishment of a sub-committee to sort through the petitions presented to the committee for the courts of justice, on the grounds that some parties might be denied a fair hearing. He subsequently secured nomination to, and attended, the committee to list all petitions delivered into the House (19 and 21 May). His attitude to Sir John Eliot’s controversial speech on parliamentary privilege on 27 Feb. is not known, but he was named to the committee to consider the issues raised by Eliot.67

Earle was more closely involved with private legislation than he had been in 1614. This included several items of West Country business. On 16 Mar. he was named to the committee for the Mohun family’s estate bill, after blocking an attempt to have the measure engrossed without this stage of scrutiny. He attended six of the eight committee meetings on the bill to confirm the customs of the Dorset manor of Beaminster Secunda (appointed 13 April). He was also nominated to legislative committees concerning the endowment of Wadham College, Oxford, and the estates of William Seymour*, 2nd earl of Hertford (9-10 March). On 9 Mar. he insisted that the second reading debate on the bill concerning Magdalene College, Cambridge should not proceed until the college’s master, Barnaby Gooch*, withdrew from the chamber; again, he was named to the committee.68

Judging from his diary, Earle once more showed relatively little interest in monopolies, apart from the Merchant Adventurers’ patent. However, he raised the issue of the fees charged in the Subpoena Office, and was named to the committee to examine the patents cited in the monopolies bill (19 and 22 April).69 Not surprisingly, given his leadership of the Dorchester New England Company, he followed closely the progress of the bill for freer fishing in America. This aimed to relax the privileges granted to Sir Ferdinando Gorges’ Council for New England, which had licensed Earle’s own venture. Although not named to the bill committee, Earle attended it three times, and made his own views perfectly clear on 3 May, when he praised the settlers in America as being ‘more beneficial to the commonwealth, than the fishers’. On 8 Mar. he resumed his attacks on Dungeness lighthouse, which he claimed was costing some western ports up to £40 per annum in shipping levies. It is unclear why he was added on 4 May to the legislative committee for the relief of London’s Feltmakers, but he attended its four remaining meetings.70

Another major priority was, predictably, religion. Earle attacked the usury bill on 8 Mar., on the grounds that it countenanced a practice generally deemed to be contrary to God’s law. On 25 Feb. he called for the revival of the previous Parliament’s proposals for dealing with recusants, and attended the conference with the Lords concerning the newly drafted petition on this subject (6 April). Unusually for a borough representative, he handled the presentment of Dorset recusants on 27 Apr., and was doubtless gratified to be able to name only one, the 1st earl of Castlehaven (Sir Mervyn Audley*). Appointed the same day to examine the collected recusancy certificates, he was added on 1 May to the committee examining corruption in religion and education, and four days later secured a warrant to investigate a Catholic schoolmaster in Suffolk.71 One of the by-products of the work of the religious corruption committee was John Pym’s report of 13 May attacking the writings of Richard Montagu. This was the first occasion that the subject of Arminianism had been raised in the Commons, and Earle, apparently unfamiliar with the concept, confused it in his diary with Arianism, an ancient Christian heresy. It is not known whether it was Earle who introduced the bill against scandalous ministers, but he was the first Member named to the committee on 22 March. It continued to meet until early May, but, as in 1621, the measure was never reported. Earle certainly introduced a bill against simony in elections to university fellowships, which was designed to limit court patronage (13 March). He chaired the committee, reporting the measure on 10 May and again, with amendments, three days later. The bill successfully completed its passage through the Commons on 15 May, but received only one reading in the Lords.72

Given his anti-Catholic sentiments, Earle naturally took a close interest in the political manoeuvrings aimed at bringing about war with Spain. He attended both of the early meetings at Whitehall during which the Spanish Match negotiations were explained (24 Feb., 2 Mar.), as well as the joint conference on 4 Mar. to discuss the text of the petition urging the king to break off the Spanish treaties. Having secured nomination to the third of these gatherings, he found himself automatically entitled to attend subsequent conferences with the Lords on the same issue, and his diary contains copious records of the discussions on 17 and 22 Mar., and 1 and 17 Apr., besides audiences with the king on 14 and 23 March.73 However, he did not himself contribute to the Commons’ foreign policy debates, and seems to have taken the politically motivated attacks on lord keeper Williams and lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) at face value. He attended both meetings of the bill committee to confirm Lady Darcy’s ecclesiastical patronage rights, which Williams had blocked, and carefully recorded in his diary the corruption charges levelled at Middlesex. On 10 Apr. he called for a committee to prepare the case against the lord treasurer for transmission to the Lords, and was present at the initial impeachment proceedings and the final judgment (15 Apr., 13 May).74

With the accession of Charles I, Earle’s local standing rose conspicuously. In May 1625 he was appointed a Dorset deputy lieutenant, replacing Sir John Strangways, whose patron, the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), was another major political casualty of the drive to war.75 Earle’s promotion confirmed a shift in the county’s balance of power, as a few weeks earlier he had also supplanted Strangways as a Dorset knight of the shire. With only four recorded speeches and ten committee appointments during the first Caroline Parliament, he was markedly less prominent than in the previous two sessions, though he was once again appointed to the prestigious committee for privileges. As usual, he was mainly associated with matters of religion and trade. During the Westminster sitting, his nominations included committees to consider the bill against Sabbath abuses and frame a petition on assorted religious grievances, and the conference with the Lords about the petition for a general fast (22-4 June).76 He also displayed the first signs of opposition to arbitrary taxation. Having been named on 29 June to help consider a petition complaining about the new imposition on imported wine, on 5 July he addressed the government’s claim that the collection of the pretermitted custom on cloth was permitted under the terms of the Act granting Tunnage and Poundage to James I for life in 1604. Arguing that the Crown was neglecting its duty to protect merchant shipping, the time-honoured justification for the collection of Tunnage and Poundage, he proposed that the Commons should break with tradition, and award these levies to Charles for one year only, until the issue of the pretermitted custom was resolved. This open appeal to Members to pursue their objectives by employing financial blackmail caused an immediate outcry, particularly in the Lords, and as a result Parliament failed to grant Tunnage and Poundage at all.77 During the Oxford sitting, Earle renewed his complaint that the Crown was failing to fulfil its obligations to guard the English coast (11 Aug.), but he also raised new religious grievances. On 2 Aug. he effectively accused the government of undermining the general fast by overpricing the official books of directions. Four days later, he revealed that secretary of state Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) had intervened to protect a Dorset recusant, Mary Estmond, who had been caught in possession of Catholic artefacts by local magistrates. Although it was generally understood that Conway was acting under pressure from the French ambassador, Earle’s evidence heightened perceptions that the Crown could not be entirely trusted to uphold the Protestant faith.78

Following the Parliament, Earle took steps to rebuild his relations with the government. In December 1625 he sent Secretary Conway a project for raising a troop of carabiniers in Dorset, and noted Conway’s ‘good acceptance of some late endeavours of mine tending to the advancement of His Majesty’s service and the weal public’. Around a month later he was appointed the county’s collector of Privy Seal loans, though he was spared from contributing himself, at the request of the lord lieutenant, the 1st earl of Suffolk. This concession was probably very welcome, as the Dorchester New England Company was starting to fail. Earle and Sir Richard Strode obtained the Privy Council’s permission in March 1626 to export cattle to America, but by the following year the Company’s investors had lost around £3,000, and the plantation was abandoned. These circumstances may explain Earle’s decision to sell his Warwickshire estates in April 1626.79

At the 1626 parliamentary elections, Earle was returned for Lyme Regis, five miles from his Devon estates, the borough’s opposition to his Axmouth pier project having clearly receded. With 37 recorded speeches and 30 committee appointments, he was now one of the more prominent figures in the Commons. Named as usual to the committee for privileges, he took a close interest in High Commission’s excommunication of Sir Robert Howard*, twice condemning this as a breach of the Commons’ privileges, and earning a nomination to the committee which investigated the case (17 Feb.; 21 March).80 Firmly established as one of the leading godly Members, he was named on 9 Feb. to monitor Members’ receipt of communion, and the next day to help consider a range of religious grievances, such as inadequate clerical stipends. Eight of his legislative committee appointments had religious themes, ranging from scandalous clergy and corrupt presentations to benefices and university posts, through to the establishment of a new church at Weymouth, Dorset (14-15 and 25 February). Significantly, he had now grasped the potential threat posed by Arminianism. On 13 Feb. he called for an investigation into Richard Montagu’s books, and was named to the committee set up on 6 Mar. for this purpose.81

With the Commons seeking explanations for the previous year’s military disasters, Earle on 25 Feb. revived his old complaint about the government’s failure to guard the Channel, drawing on his recent experience as a deputy lieutenant to highlight the inadequate supplies provided for coastal forts. He returned to this theme on 6 Mar., insisting that the root problem was government inactivity rather than a shortage of money. On 28 Feb. he called on Sir Robert Mansell*, officially still a member of the Council of War, to brief the House on the direction of the war effort, and he was appointed on 9 Mar. to help gather written evidence from those councillors of war who were pleading illness in order to avoid Members’ questioning. Nominated to consider Sir Dudley Digges’s* proposal for a privately funded naval war (14 Mar.), his main concern was that this enterprise should be free from government interference (14 April).82

Although identified by (Sir) James Bagg II* as a client of the 1st Viscount Saye and Sele, one of the duke of Buckingham’s fiercest opponents, Earle initially played an ambiguous role in the Commons’ attack on the royal favourite. On 11 Mar. he reminded the House of the previous day’s outburst by Clement Coke, who had implied that the government was tyrannical. If he hoped thereby to stir up debate, he was soon disappointed, as most Members were unwilling to revisit this incident. However, when the king demanded that Coke be punished, Earle - who presumably attended the Privy Council several times at this juncture in connection with his American export licence - found himself accused of prompting this unwelcome royal intervention. On 15 Mar. he was obliged to defend his own conduct, assuring the House that he had intended merely to let Coke clear his name.83 Despite this setback, Earle served on the so-called committee for the ‘causes of causes’, which amassed evidence against Buckingham (20 Mar.), and he was also named to help search for precedents when Charles called on the Commons to punish Samuel Turner* for levelling accusations against the duke on the strength of common fame (21 March). By now, Earle had revised his opinions about the adequacy of the military budget, and began to pursue the argument that resources were either being squandered or embezzled (16 and 27 March). Indeed, his main task on the ‘causes’ committee was to inquire into Buckingham’s misappropriation of government revenues. On 24 Mar. he backed the claim by his erstwhile Dorset rival, Strangways, that funds provided for patrols in the Channel had not been used for this purpose. He also complained that the duke was encouraging both Catholics and Arminians such as Richard Montagu.84

The king having threatened on 29 Mar. to dissolve Parliament if the Lower House persisted in attacking Buckingham, Earle two days later supported (Sir) John Eliot’s call for a Remonstrance to be drawn up defending the Commons’ conduct. The House agreed with Eliot’s proposal, and on 5 Apr. Earle was appointed to help deliver the resulting protest to Charles. Later that day, he served as teller for the noes when the House voted on whether to heed the king’s request that it adjourn for a week.85 Named on 21 Apr. to the committee to prepare impeachment charges against the duke, he defended the necessity of assembling some of the evidence in secret, but also publicly backed one of the most controversial claims, that Buckingham had interfered with James I’s treatment during his final illness (24 and 27 April). Earle was appointed on 3 May to present two of the impeachment articles, namely that the duke had extorted money from the East India Company, and that he had delivered English ships to the French government for use against the Protestants of La Rochelle. Later that day, however, he unexpectedly moved that John Glanville be assigned this task instead.86 It is unclear whether Earle, with his limited legal training, had developed doubts about his competence, or whether his political nerve simply failed. Either way, this was a major blow to his credibility. He was named on 9 May to the committee to consider how to request the Lords to imprison Buckingham, but he made no further speeches in the House until the arrest of Digges and Eliot once more aroused his passions. On 17 May he ridiculed the government’s defence that Eliot had been arrested both for what he had said during the impeachment hearings and for offences uncovered since his committal. Two days later he insisted that the Commons should continue to protest against this flagrant breach of privilege, even though Digges himself was now back in the House and calling for normal business to be resumed.87 With the session now drawing to a close, Earle was added to the committee to draft the subsidy bill’s preamble (25 May). He remained committed to pursuing the Digges-Eliot affair, though he seems to have favoured a broad exploration of the privilege issue rather than the more sweeping Remonstrance finally agreed by the Commons. In his final act of this Parliament, Earle acted as teller for the noes in a vote on whether the treasurers of war should reimburse the military financier Philip Burlamachi. He doubtless shared the opinion of his fellow teller, William Coryton, that the money would be better spent on reimbursing local billeting expenses, but the vote was lost.88

On 16 June, the day after Parliament’s dissolution, Earle complied with Secretary Conway’s instruction to hand over a copy of the Remonstrance that he had presumably intended to circulate in the country. The next day, he and the other Members who had prepared the impeachment charges against Buckingham were summoned before the attorney-general, Sir Robert Heath*, but shortly thereafter they were discharged, having declined to divulge any further information on that subject. Nevertheless, the Crown’s retribution followed swiftly, and in July Earle and Strangways were both removed from the Dorset bench ‘for being so busy last Parliament’.89 Far from being cowed by this mark of displeasure, Earle became more firmly opposed to the government’s policies, and in January 1627 he was one of only four Dorset men, including Strangways, who refused to pay the Forced Loan. Although summoned before the Council and imprisoned in the Fleet, he declined to back down, and in August he was subjected to close confinement after repeatedly obstructing the Council’s efforts to transfer him to Bedfordshire, further away from the public eye.90 This treatment temporarily dampened his spirits, and in early September, concerned for his health, he petitioned the Council for his release. The government, however, was still prepared only to offer him easier detention in Bedfordshire. Earle was almost certainly already collaborating with a network of other refusers linked to his patron, Viscount Saye and Sele, and he now jointly sued out a writ of habeas corpus. The celebrated Five Knights’ Case in November attracted considerable attention around the country, but this strategy failed in its primary objective. Earle and his fellow defendants hoped that if they could force the Crown to admit that they were being detained for opposing arbitrary taxation they would be able to challenge the legality of the Loan itself. In the event, the government, on a technicality, avoided revealing the cause of detention, and the King’s Bench judges deferred judgment. The stalemate was broken only in January 1628, when all the Loan refusers were released as part of the build-up to a new Parliament.91

When the election was called, Earle and Strangways were returned unopposed as Dorset’s knights of the shire, doubtless on the strength of their stand against the Forced Loan.92 Given his new-found national celebrity, Earle not surprisingly now achieved an even greater degree of prominence in the Commons. During the 1628 session alone he made 57 recorded speeches and received at least 37 committee appointments. Named once again to the committee for privileges, he also participated in the inquiry into the slandering of John Selden* by the 2nd earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard, Lord Walden*), attending two of that committee’s meetings (appointed 14 April). In addition he helped to secure the rejection of a bill which would have barred borough residents from participating in shire elections unless they were 40s. freeholders within the county. Earle denounced this measure on 22 Apr. as an attack on the popular franchise, but he was no doubt mindful that the godly inhabitants of Dorchester routinely participated in Dorset elections, a practice that had presumably twice benefited him personally.93

Earle maintained his customary interest in matters relating to religion and trade. Appointed on 21 Mar. to attend the conference with the Lords concerning the proposed petition for a general fast, he received seven nominations to scrutinize bills with religious themes, from encouraging attendance at sermons to barring clergy from serving as magistrates (17 and 21 April). He spoke on two of these measures, on 16 May defending the provisions of the bill against scandalous clergy, and five days later arguing that the bill on subscription to the articles of religion was justified because of the innovations that had been introduced by Convocation. He was named on 24 Apr. to help examine the recusancy presentation certificates, and subsequently to examine and prepare charges against Richard Burgess, the anti-puritan vicar of Witney, Oxfordshire (12 and 19 May).94

Earle’s attitude to settlements in the New World had apparently changed since the Dorchester Company’s collapse, for he chaired the committee for the bill on freer fishing in America, reporting this measure on 30 April. Nevertheless, when the bill for restoring Carew Ralegh in blood raised concerns about the legal titles to estates formerly owned by the late Sir Walter Ralegh†, Earle spoke up for the Protestant settlers who now occupied disputed properties in Ireland.95

Given Earle’s recent record as a Loan refuser, it was inevitable that he would take a close interest in the Commons’ campaign to secure subjects’ liberties. On 24 Mar. he asserted that the righting of grievances must take precedence over the granting of supply, while the next day he proposed a framework for discussing the recent abuses affecting personal liberty and property rights. Among the final issues on his list were the ‘billeting of soldiers, ... and taxes laid by deputy lieutenants’, and these particular concerns preoccupied him for much of the first session. On 8 Apr., for example, he recited a litany of Dorset grievances:

In my country, under colour of placing a soldier, there came 20 in a company to take sheep. They disturb markets and fairs, rob men on the highway, ravish women, breaking [into] houses in the night and enforcing men to ransom themselves, killing men that have assisted constables that have come to keep the peace. ... This kingdom never knew this wrong. In Queen Elizabeth’s time there were soldiers, but none were forced on us, and men were paid. Nay, in some places they were glad of them, and made a gain of them.

Earle chaired the committee set up on 28 Mar. to investigate billeting abuses in Surrey, which was then (3 Apr.) assigned a wider brief to consider billeting and the behaviour of deputy lieutenants generally.96 His report on Surrey abuses was ready by 10 Apr., but on the previous day his committee was instructed to hear complaints against John Baber*, the recorder of Wells, Somerset, who was accused of collaborating with the lieutenancy over billeting. Earle delivered an interim report on this case on 16 May, but Baber remained suspended from the Commons until cleared by a second report on 17 June.97 The committee continued throughout the session to investigate alleged abuses by deputy lieutenants, though in practice it achieved little: George Browne’s* complaint that Sir John Stawell* had billeted soldiers at Taunton, Somerset in such a way as to revenge himself on leading residents who had opposed his electoral ambitions, was thrown out on 15 May. No final resolution was reached by the Commons in the case of the Lincolnshire deputy lieutenant, Sir William Welby, despite Earle’s three hostile reports on this subject (9 May, 23-4 June). Earle himself on 10 May presented a petition from the Isle of Ely, alleging that Sir Simeon Steward* had misappropriated public funds, but this charge, having been referred to the committee, never resurfaced in the House.98

Meanwhile, however, Earle was also active on other fronts. On 3 Apr. he was named to committees to consider the Commons’ next moves concerning subjects’ liberties, and to frame a bill on impressment. He confirmed Sir John Eliot’s claim on 11 Apr. that West Country magistrates had been prevented from applying the Common Law to billeted soldiers. Still keen not to squander the Commons’ financial leverage on the Crown, he argued on 4 Apr. for a less than generous grant of four subsidies, while on 11 Apr. he and Eliot attempted to postpone a key debate on supply.99 Nominated on 28 Apr. to help draft the bill to confirm subjects’ liberties, he responded firmly when Charles I challenged the House to trust him to uphold the rule of law. Calling for a Remonstrance to defend Members’ recent actions, he insisted ‘that the subject has suffered more in his liberty in two or three years than in many hundreds before’. Having served on the drafting committee for the bill of liberties, he probably then went on to help frame the Petition of Right (6 May).100 He certainly opposed the Lords’s proposal for a joint committee to resolve the final areas of disagreement between the Upper House and the Commons over the Petition (24 May). Once the peers had agreed to endorse the Petition, Earle finally argued for faster progress on supply, presumably believing that this would encourage the king to accept the Petition as well (26 May). Nominated to help decide how the Petition should be presented to Charles (27 May), he blamed Buckingham for the king’s unsatisfactory first response, and on 5 June insisted that an attack on the duke by the Commons should take priority over any further steps to protect the subjects’ liberties.101

As the Remonstrance against Buckingham took shape, Earle returned to his 1626 theme of the neglect of shipping and coastal defence, expressing concern on 6 June that the Irish Catholics currently stationed in Kent might assist a Spanish invasion mounted from Flanders. Having raised on 9 June the issue of shipping lost to Turkish pirates, he chaired the committee appointed four days later to gather precise figures from the Trinity House mariners, and reported back with a schedule on 16 June.102 Nominated to help draft the subsidy bill’s preamble (7 June), he supported calls on 12 June for the money raised to be used to settle outstanding billeting expenses, not least in Dorset, and he was duly named to the drafting committee for the petition requesting Charles to address these problems.103 By now his anxieties about the government’s soundness on religion had resurfaced. He informed the House on 13 June that Richard Montagu had tried to suppress celebrations in Windsor following the king’s second, acceptable response to the Petition of Right, and the next day he joined calls for the two leading Arminian bishops, Neile and Laud, to be named in the Remonstrance. When Charles added to the general tension by denying the Commons advance notice of the heads of the general pardon, Earle moved for him to be requested to reconsider, and helped to compose this message (21 June). Two days later, after the draft pardon was sent down from the Lords, he was appointed to examine its text.104

In December 1628 Earle was restored to the Dorset bench. Despite this conciliatory gesture, he returned to the Commons in 1629 in no mood for compromise. Although he made only six recorded speeches during this session, he received 13 committee nominations, many of them relating to key developments. By now firmly allied with the more radical group of Members led by Eliot and Selden, he was named on 21 Jan. to investigate how the Petition of Right came to be published with the king’s first, unsatisfactory answer. Nine days later he was added to the committee that examined the manner in which the Petition had been enrolled at Westminster. He was subsequently nominated to the committee to investigate the confiscation of John Rolle’s* merchandise, the issue that emerged as the principal obstacle to the formal granting of Tunnage and Poundage by Parliament (22 January).105

The dispute over the alleged breach of Rolle’s parliamentary privilege distracted Earle only temporarily from his religious agenda. Named on 26 Jan. to help draft a petition requesting another general fast, and the next day to attend Charles when the petition was presented, he probably summed up the views of many Members on 27 January. Responding to the Crown’s latest appeal for Tunnage and Poundage to be given priority by the Commons, he observed:

I am of the number of those that at our last meeting thought the time best spent in vindicating those rights and liberties of the subject which had formerly been impeached and were then in most eminent danger; and in that respect thought it not amiss (for a while) to postpone the business of religion. ... Now give me leave to tell you, that religion offers itself to your first consideration at this time, challenging to herself the right of precedency, and the employment of our best endeavours. ... I know full well that the cause of justice is God’s cause as well as the cause of religion. But what good will those rights and liberties do me, or any man else, that resolves to live and die a Protestant? Nay, what good will they do any man, of what religion soever he be, that resolves to live and die a freeman and not a slave, if popery and Arminianism, joining hand in hand as they do, be a means, together with the Romish hierarchy, to bring in a Spanish tyranny amongst us; under which those laws and liberties must of necessity cease?

Citing recent evidence that the government now favoured Arminianism, he concluded that until true religion was properly safeguarded he had no interest in improving the Crown’s revenues.106 Appointed the following day to help draft the Commons’ negative reply to the king’s latest request for faster progress over Tunnage and Poundage, he again reverted to his religious concerns. Having argued correctly that Bishops Neile and Laud must have been instrumental in obtaining Richard Montagu’s recent pardon (3 Feb.), he was appointed on 5 Feb. to examine recent innovations in the printed text of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. He was also named to attend attorney-general Heath concerning the pardoning of a group of Jesuits, and to help scrutinize the bill against corrupt presentations to benefices (14 and 23 February).107

The Tunnage and Poundage issue was brought back to the fore by a flagrant breach of parliamentary privilege on 9 Feb., when a Star Chamber subpoena was served on John Rolle. Earle, who had argued only two days earlier that it was now time to make progress on the Tunnage and Poundage bill, to ‘give ... to Caesar those things that be Caesar’s’, now found himself appointed to the committee to investigate this summons (10 February). As the dispute over Tunnage and Poundage came to a head, he was also nominated to help consider the Exchequer barons’ continuing refusal to reconsider the legal status of Rolle’s confiscated goods (14 February). There is no evidence that Earle was involved directly in planning Eliot’s final gesture of defiance on 2 Mar., but he was certainly sympathetic. After the initial reading of Eliot’s Remonstrance, he questioned whether the Speaker had the necessary authority to adjourn the sitting before urging him to permit a second reading: ‘you cannot be ignorant in what a desperate condition the whole kingdom is: and you know not how far that which is in that paper may conduce to the helping of it, and to the service of His Majesty’.108

Now thoroughly disillusioned with the government, Earle in July 1629 offered his services to the international Protestant cause as a volunteer in the Dutch army, serving briefly under Lord Vere during the successful siege of ’s-Hertogenbosch. Upon his return, and enormously proud of his exploits, he had the garden at Charborough ‘cut into redoubts and works’ representing the fortifications that he had seen. In 1634, he also brought over a Dutchman to construct a decoy pool for hunting wildfowl.109 Still concerned to promote godly religion, Earle retained close ties with John White’s puritan network, and in 1632 he endeavoured to prevent a mere ‘conformable clerk’ from securing a local living. He was again removed from the Dorset bench in 1636 for refusing to pay Ship Money, and although the government employed him on minor local commissions two years later, he declined to contribute towards the costs of the first Bishops’ War.110

In May 1639 Earle arranged for his son Thomas† to marry Viscount Saye and Sele’s daughter, thereby affirming his commitment to political reform. Returned for Lyme Regis to the Short Parliament, he was briefly arrested following its dissolution. Sitting for Weymouth in the Long Parliament, he helped to organize the impeachment of Strafford (Sir Thomas Wentworth*), though he failed ignominiously to substantiate the charge that the lord deputy had planned to subdue England with Irish troops.111 Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Earle emerged as the principal parliamentarian leader in Dorset, but he fled the county in August 1643 rather than confront superior royalist forces, who burnt Charborough a few months later.112 As Parliament’s lieutenant-general of the Ordnance from early 1644, he redeemed his earlier conduct by actively assisting the creation of the New Model Army. Having latterly sided with the Presbyterians in the Commons, and supported peace negotiations with the king, he was imprisoned during Pride’s Purge, and deprived of his offices.113 He spent the next few years in retirement, rebuilding his seat at Charborough, but gradually resumed local office under the Protectorate, and represented Dorset in the parliaments of 1654 and 1659. Already aged 73 at the Restoration, he accepted the new regime, sat for Poole in the 1660 Convention, and remained active in local government until his death.

Earle drew up his will on 12 Aug. 1665. His only son had predeceased him, and his main concern was to provide for his grandchildren, one of whom, Anne Trenchard, he named as his executor. He died a few weeks later, and was buried at East Morden, near Charborough, on 1 September. The will was challenged by his nephew, Christopher Earle†, but upheld on 29 Jan. 1667. Earle was succeeded by his grandson Thomas, a notable soldier who himself sat in 14 parliaments.114

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Imprisoned and excluded from the Commons at Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648. Readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. C142/251/169.
  • 3. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 502.
  • 4. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 5. Regs. St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, London ed. A.W.C. Hallen, i. 54.
  • 6. Hutchins, iii. 502; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 400.
  • 7. C142/251/169.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 158.
  • 9. Hutchins, iii. 513.
  • 10. Ibid. i. 32.
  • 11. Dorset RO, DC/LR/B/6/11, p. 16.
  • 12. H.J. Moule, Cat. of Docs. of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, 113.
  • 13. C231/4, ff. 2, 261v; 231/5, pp. 223, 475, 530; Harl. 286, f. 297; A Perfect List of ... JPs (1660), p. 13.
  • 14. A.H.A. Hamilton, ‘Devon JPs’, Trans. Devon Assoc. x. 312.
  • 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 39.
  • 16. C181/3, f. 72v.
  • 17. C212/22/23.
  • 18. Eg. 784, f. 50; A.R. Bayley, Gt. Civil War in Dorset, 49.
  • 19. APC, 1626, p. 168.
  • 20. C181/5, f. 113v.
  • 21. C192/1, unfol.
  • 22. C181/5, ff. 189v, 221; 181/6, p. 377; 181/7, p. 326.
  • 23. SR, v. 83, 150, 211, 572; A. and O. i. 90, 147, 544, 964, 1081; ii. 1066.
  • 24. SR, v. 211.
  • 25. A. and O. i. 111.
  • 26. Ibid. 139.
  • 27. Ibid. 140.
  • 28. Ibid. 460.
  • 29. Ibid. 804.
  • 30. Ibid. 1236; ii. 1430.
  • 31. Ibid. ii. 970.
  • 32. C181/6, p. 95.
  • 33. Parl. Intelligencer, xvi (9-16 Apr. 1660), p. 242.
  • 34. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 345.
  • 35. Ibid. 473.
  • 36. F.R. Troup, John White, 63, 98.
  • 37. E157/14, f. 56.
  • 38. Army Lists of the Roundheads and Cavaliers ed. E. Peacock, 50.
  • 39. A. and O. i. 394.
  • 40. LJ, vi. 439a; ix. 208b; B. Whitelocke, Mems. of the Eng. Affairs ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 498.
  • 41. A. and O. i. 669.
  • 42. Ibid. 723.
  • 43. Ibid. 853.
  • 44. Ibid. 905.
  • 45. Whitelocke, ii. 47.
  • 46. Ibid. 102.
  • 47. CJ, v. 327b.
  • 48. A. and O. i. 1209.
  • 49. Hutchins, ii. 126; iii. 497-8, 502, 511; C78/132/4; C142/251/169; WARD 9/159, f. 188; Som. and Dorset N and Q, iv. 68.
  • 50. C66/1819; C78/132/4; Harl. 7607, f. 425.
  • 51. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 35, 115, 308, 313; Harl. 7607, f. 425.
  • 52. STAC 8/138/14.
  • 53. Recs. Virg. Co. i. 345, 375, 415, 473; iii. 61.
  • 54. CJ, i. 508a; CD 1621, iii. 23; iv. 112.
  • 55. CJ, i. 535b, 548a, 582b.
  • 56. Ibid. 517a, 533a, 581a, 597b, 611a; CD 1621, iii. 10.
  • 57. CJ, i. 635b; CD 1621, iii. 389-90; T.K. Rabb, Jacobean Gentleman, 258, 356.
  • 58. CJ, i. 522b, 617a; CD 1621, ii. 27; iii. 221.
  • 59. CJ, i. 511b, 521b-2a, 523a, 533a, 538a, 628b, 630b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 60; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 97; Kyle thesis, 348.
  • 60. CD 1621, iii. 270; iv. 344; v. 353, 376; Kyle thesis, 330.
  • 61. CJ, i. 612b.
  • 62. Ibid. 643a-b, 652a-b.
  • 63. Ibid. 659a, 666a; CD 1621, vi. 227, 337.
  • 64. D. Underdown, Fire from Heaven, 37, 93, 132; Troup, 61-3; K.R. Andrews, Trade, Plunder and Settlement, 332-3; Hutchins, iii. 502.
  • 65. J. Sydenham, Hist. Poole, 338.
  • 66. CJ, i. 702a; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 120, 171v.
  • 67. CJ, i. 671b, 684b, 687a, 706b, 720a; ‘Holland 1624’, f. 30; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 26; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 187v; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 82.
  • 68. CJ, i. 680a, 681a, 687a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 206; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 59v.
  • 69. CJ, i. 771a, 773a.
  • 70. Andrews, 332; Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, 203, 221; CJ, i. 697a; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 62.
  • 71. ‘Pym 1624’, f. 22v; CJ, i. 692a, 695b, 718b, 776a, 783b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 25; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 115v.
  • 72. CJ, i. 702a, 704a-b, 735b, 746a, 784a; LJ, iii. 393b; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 182; Russell, PEP, 198.
  • 73. ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 16, 42, 49, 79, 89, 100, 103v, 109, 147v; CJ, i. 676b.
  • 74. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, 212; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 3v; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 142v, 183.
  • 75. Eg. 784, f. 50; Russell, 172.
  • 76. Procs. 1625, pp. 205, 215, 228, 241.
  • 77. Ibid. 268, 313, 317.
  • 78. Ibid. 380, 414-15, 460; Russell, 247.
  • 79. SP16/12/71; APC, 1625-6, pp. 305, 329, 376-7; Troup, 98; BRL, ms 3889/Acc1926-008/348127.
  • 80. Procs. 1626, ii. 7, 61, 64, 333.
  • 81. Ibid. 8, 13, 28, 32, 44, 125; HMC Var. iv. 171.
  • 82. Procs. 1626, ii. 132, 150, 154, 209, 240, 280, 441.
  • 83. Ibid. 258, 262, 289, 292; N and Q (ser. 4), x. 326.
  • 84. Procs. 1626, ii. 299, 327, 336, 358, 360, 381.
  • 85. Ibid. 416, 430-1.
  • 86. Ibid. iii. 38, 55, 86, 140, 142.
  • 87. Ibid. 201, 273, 278, 285.
  • 88. Ibid. 329, 355, 383.
  • 89. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 354-5; Letter-Bk. of Sir John Eliot ed. A.B. Grosart, 6- 7; Eg. 784, f. 59v.
  • 90. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 16; Eg. 784, f. 62v; APC, 1627, pp. 30, 40, 395, 430, 490.
  • 91. SP16/77/12; APC, 1627-8, pp. 58, 218; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 233, 237; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 280, 291, 294-5, 309; R. Lockyer, Early Stuarts, 223-4.
  • 92. J.K. Gruenfelder, ‘Dorsetshire Elections, 1604-40’, Albion, x. 10-11.
  • 93. CD 1628, ii. 29, 446; iii. 29; Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, 235.
  • 94. CD 1628, ii. 42, 510, 564; iii. 3, 44, 61, 369, 440, 465, 514.
  • 95. Ibid. iii. 174; iv. 380.
  • 96. Ibid. ii. 84, 98, 105, 168, 276, 360.
  • 97. Ibid. 377-9, 399; iii. 429; iv. 350.
  • 98. Ibid. ii. 564; iii. 336, 357, 419; iv. 424, 446.
  • 99. Ibid. ii. 277, 308, 413, 417.
  • 100. Ibid. iii. 123, 209-10, 218, 297.
  • 101. Ibid. 596, 613, 623; iv. 128.
  • 102. Ibid. iv. 146, 155, 202, 290, 331.
  • 103. Ibid. 178, 280, 283.
  • 104. Ibid. 298, 326, 403, 410, 428.
  • 105. CJ, i. 921a, 924b.
  • 106. Ibid. 922b-3a; CD 1629, pp. 18-19; Russell, 405.
  • 107. CJ, i. 923b, 926b, 932b; CD 1629, pp. 35, 211.
  • 108. CD 1629, p. 47, 254, 257; CJ, i. 928b, 930a.
  • 109. E157/14, f. 56; H. Hexham, Historicall Relation of the Famous Siege of the Busse (Delft, 1630), sig. C.5v; Mems., Letters and Speeches of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury ed. W.D. Christie, 26-7; Eg. 784, f. 104.
  • 110. Underdown, 174; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 402; 1635-6, p. 395; 1637-8, p. 396; PC2/50, p. 300; 2/51, p. 79.
  • 111. Dorset RO, D/BLX/F2; Hutchins, iii. 502; CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 152-3; Whitelocke, i. 113, 123.
  • 112. HMC 5th Rep. 42-3, 83; Underdown, 202-4; A.R. Bayley, Gt. Civil War in Dorset, 48, 79-80, 102-3, 129.
  • 113. CJ, iv. 42b, 65a, 66a; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 69, 102, 147, 251, 373.
  • 114. Hutchins, iii. 505, 513; PROB 11/322, ff. 158-9v; 11/325, ff. 48v.