EDEN, Thomas II (by 1579-1645), of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and Doctors' Commons, 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



1640 (Nov.) - 18 July 1645

Family and Education

b. by 1579,1 2nd s. of Richard Eden† (d.1604) of South Hanningfield, Essex, and Margaret, da. of Christopher Peyton of Bury St. Edmunds, Suff.2 educ. Sudbury g.s. Suff.; Pembroke Coll. Camb. c.1593; Trin. Hall 1596, LLB 1600, LLD 1614. unm. d. 18 July 1645.3 sig. Thomas or Tho. Eden.

Offices Held

Fellow, Trin. Hall 1599-1626, master 1626-d.4

Prof. of civil law, Gresham Coll. London 1613-40;5 adv. PCC 1614;6 member, coll. of advocates 1614, 1615-42 (full admiss.), treas. 1634;7 judge, Ct. of Delegates by 1617-at least 1622,8 Ct. of Audience by 1619-at least 1621, Ct. of Arches, Canterbury prov. by 1619-at least 1625, PCC by 1619-at least 1624;9 commissary, archdeaconry of Sudbury 1621-at least 1640,10 Westminster;11 proctor, Ely dioc. bef. 1623,12 chan. by 1623-6, 1628 at least 1641 (kpr. of the spiritualities 1626-8);13 master in Chancery 1625-40;14 dep. judge, Admlty. Ct. by 1626-at least 1640;15 surrogate to the official of the archdeacon of London by Jan. 1629-at least July 1629;16 commr. visitation, Norwich dioc. 1636;17 assessor to earl marshal, Ct. of Chivalry, c.1638.18

J.p. Cambridge, Cambs. 1615-at least 1625,19 Suff. 1619-at least 1640, I. of Ely, Cambs. 1622-at least 1640;20 commr. piracy, London, Mdx., Essex, Kent and Surr. by 1619-at least 1639, Suff. 1640,21 Forced Loan, I. of Ely and Suff. 1626,22 sewers, Gt. Fens 1629-at least 1638,23 reform abuses in the king’s chapel in the Tower 1632,24 gaol delivery, I. of Ely 1636-at least 1641,25 court martial, London and Westminster 1644, New Model Ordinance 17 Feb. 1645-d., assessment 21 Feb. 1645-d.26

Member, Convocation, Ely dioc. 1625.27

Member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1633-41,28 great seal (roy.) ?1642-d.,29 Admlty. and Cinque Ports 19 Apr. 1645-d.30


Described as ‘an excellent advocate’ by the royalist writer David Lloyd, Eden was the younger son of a minor Essex squire, from whom he inherited 200 marks and an unspecified amount of land in Wickford, Essex in 1604.31 He is said to have been born at Ballingdon Hall, in northern Essex,32 a property owned by his uncle Thomas†, the head of the family, whose principal seat lay across the Stour at Sudbury in Suffolk. It was undoubtedly through this uncle that Eden was educated at Sudbury grammar school. Afterwards he was sent to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he remained until the end of 1596, when he acquired a scholarship and transferred to Trinity Hall, his father’s former college. Elected one of its fellows in July 1599, Eden graduated in civil law the following year, and subsequently took up a teaching post there. One of the beneficiaries of his father’s will was Dr. John Cowell, master of Trinity Hall, whose own will Eden witnessed in October 1611, a few days before Cowell’s death.33 Cowell was succeeded as master by Clement Corbett, who evidently held Eden in high regard. On his election as vice-chancellor of Cambridge University in the autumn of 1613, Corbett offered to resign his position as professor of Civil Law at Gresham College, London, in favour of Eden, whose single status qualified him for appointment. Naturally, Trinity Hall provided Eden with a written recommendation, but so too did the king, who declared (through one of his secretaries) that he had received glowing reports of Eden’s ‘worth and ability’. On 10 Nov. the trustees unanimously elected Eden to the vacant chair.34

Eden’s career now blossomed. On 6 July 1614 he was awarded a doctorate in Civil Law.35 In the following October he gained limited entry to Doctors’ Commons and was granted the right of audience before the ecclesiastical courts of Canterbury province. In March 1615 his talents were displayed before the king at Cambridge, where he conducted a disputation for the degree of a doctor in Civil Law, an entertainment that was much applauded. Eight months later he was granted full admission to Doctors’ Commons. During the later 1610s he presided over several of London’s ecclesiastical courts, and on his appointment as official to the archdeacon of Sudbury in March 1621 he obtained his own court, at Bury St. Edmunds. By 1623 at the latest he was also chancellor to the bishop of Ely, Nicholas Felton, who so valued his services that he declared that he hoped that his successor would ‘be as glad to find such a chancellor as you shall be to find him’.36 Shortly after Charles I’s accession Eden was made a master in Chancery, an appointment which led him to serve as a legal assistant in the House of Lords during the Oxford sitting of the 1625 Parliament, at which time he was also a member of Convocation.37

Seven members of Eden’s family had previously sat in Parliament, and in January 1626 Eden himself was elected to the second Caroline Parliament as the junior burgess for Cambridge University. Neither he, nor the occupant of the senior seat, (Sir) John Coke, encountered any opposition to their election.38 Once at Westminster, he was appointed to several legislative committees. Some of these, like those concerned with the granting of letters of administration, the disposing of unadministered goods (7 Mar.), and the mitigating of sentences of excommunication (2 May), reflected his legal interests,39 while regard for university property rights presumably explains his inclusion on the committee regarding the lease of a Surrey manor which had allegedly been obtained unduly from Merton College, Oxford (16 February).40 He was placed on committees concerned with four private lands bills, one of which concerned the sale of lands of the deceased Exchequer baron (Sir) James Altham† (18 March).41

Although a novice in the Commons, Eden participated in several parliamentary debates. His first reported intervention occurred on 21 Mar., during discussion of the privilege claimed by the Member for Bishop’s Castle, Sir Robert Howard. The latter had been excommunicated by High Commission for conducting an adulterous affair with Viscountess Purbeck, the sister-in-law of the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham. Howard had challenged the validity of the Court’s proceedings, however, claiming that at the time sentence had been passed he had been serving in the Commons and should therefore have been entitled to parliamentary privilege. After John Selden reported the matter to the House, Eden asked whether Howard had claimed privilege in writing,42 an inquiry which is unlikely to have been entirely innocent, as Eden subsequently helped to prosecute Sir Robert in High Commission.43 Some weeks later the House ruled that privilege should be granted and that High Commission should remove from its files all judgments against Howard (3 May), whereupon Selden remarked that an earlier court order absolving Howard was worthless because Howard had not made his submission under oath. Eden endeavoured to assuage this fear, declaring that the order was valid even without an oath, which was to be ‘taken as a thing of convenience, not of substance’.44

The Commons’ support for Howard was evidence of its hostility to Buckingham, against whom the House was preparing articles of impeachment. This antipathy took another form in early June, when the House learned that Cambridge University had elected the duke as its chancellor following the death of the previous incumbent, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, Sir Robert’s father. Many Members regarded the duke’s election as a calculated affront to the Commons and evidence of the creeping influence of Arminianism within the university. It fell to Eden alone to rebut these charges, as his fellow Member for Cambridge University, Sir John Coke, had been returned merely because he was secretary of state. During the debate (5 June), Eden declared that he knew nothing of Buckingham’s election beyond what had been reported in the House. However, he denied that there was anything irregular in the speed with which it had been held, as the university was required to choose a new chancellor within a few days of the death of the previous incumbent. He also asserted that Cambridge was free from both ‘Bellarminism’ and ‘Arminianism’, a claim later derided by Sir Alexander Temple, who ‘could as easily believe that there was not one whore in the town of Cambridge as that the university was without an Arminian’. Eden cautioned his colleagues against the easy assumption that Buckingham had, by his election, acquired more power than he enjoyed already. He pointed out that the authority of the chancellor was, for all intents and purposes, vested in the vice-chancellor, except on those rare occasions when the chancellor visited the university in person. Eden ended his speech, which was ‘much distasted’, by imploring the House to suspend its judgment and to ‘leave a gracious ear open to hear what the university can say for themselves’. This conciliatory gesture was immediately seized upon by Sir Thomas Hoby and Sir John Strangways, who demanded that the university send a deputation. This was not at all what Eden had intended. Indeed, he was subsequently at pains to deny ever having suggested summoning the leaders of the university. However, he was in no position to refuse, and therefore promised ‘to have here any whom the House shall be pleased to nominate’. He was spared the humiliation of writing to the university to express the House’s disapproval of Buckingham’s election, despite Strangways’ wishes, as it was concluded that the responsibility for penning such a letter properly lay with the Speaker.45

Apart from his work on the floor of the House and in the committee chamber, Eden made a fleeting appearance in the House of Lords on 1 Apr. as counsel for William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby. The latter had laid claim to the hereditary office of lord great chamberlain following the death without direct male heir Henry de Vere, 18th earl of Oxford in 1625, but Derby’s right to the title was disputed by Robert Bertie, 14th Lord Willoughby de Eresby. Derby decided to retain Eden, a civil lawyer, because, as Eden’s co-counsel, the common lawyer Christopher Sherland* pointed out, the case had ‘some affinity with honour’. However, Derby’s employment of Eden proved disastrous, as the Lords considered that the case lay firmly within the jurisdiction of the Common Law. Eden attempted to limit the damage to his client by announcing that he would ‘speak according to the Common Law’, but many peers were so incensed at his involvement in the case ‘that the whole House but one went clearly for the Lord Willoughby’.46

Shortly after the dissolution Eden was elected master of Trinity Hall. Although ranked only third in seniority among the college’s fellows,47 he was the choice of his predecessor, Clement Corbett, to whom he already owed his chair at Gresham College. In March 1628 he was re-elected as junior burgess for Cambridge University. As in 1626 he played only a modest role in parliamentary affairs, but once again he demonstrated that he was unafraid to voice an unpopular view. On 18 Apr., for instance, he defended the recent use of martial law, which Richard Spencer condemned as illegal and John Rolle denounced as unnecessary. Martial law was legal, he observed, because it was rooted in Roman Law, and it was necessary because, although many crimes committed by soldiers might also be perpetrated by civilians, some were peculiar to soldiers and so required special treatment. These offences included the selling of arms and colours to an enemy, striking an officer and revealing passwords without authorization.48 Eden may also have courted additional displeasure by opposing, on 22 Apr., the bill to allow men and women to marry at any time of the year. This measure was supported by godly Members such as Ignatius Jourdain, who argued that ‘it pleases God to forbid no time’. Eden had no sympathy for this viewpoint, however, because to allow weddings on fast days would be to authorize feasting on ‘fit times of abstinence’, such as Lent. His regard for the strict observance of Christian holidays led him to concur with one unnamed Member who, disgusted that the Commons was required to sit on Good Friday, remarked ‘that he could have wished to have been better employed that day than in a House of Parliament’.49

It was not only his views on religious holidays that are unlikely to have endeared Eden to many of his more puritan-minded colleagues in the House. On 21 May he took John Selden to task for arguing that ‘to subscribe to a canon not confirmed by Act of Parliament was like giving way to the destruction of ourselves in our freeholds’. In Eden’s view this was nonsense, for ‘a canon is but a canon of the Convocation House and cannot take away a freehold’.50 Ten days later Eden sought to lessen the House’s anger at one of the king’s chaplains, Dr. Roger Manwaring, who had allegedly preached that laymen were unqualified to censure the writings of divines. Manwaring was widely reviled in Parliament, but Eden cautioned the House against condemning him before it had obtained a copy of his sermon. Close examination of the text would reveal ‘how these complaints hang with the context’, he declared, as it was likely that Manwaring had been misrepresented and that his supposed offence ‘will not prove so foul’ under close examination.51

Eden initiated the light-hearted but lengthy debate on 31 May as to which university should receive first mention in the bill of subsidy. Oxford traditionally won this parliamentary trial of strength, as the Oxford-educated men in the House always outnumbered their Cambridge counterparts. Eden must have realized that he stood little chance of gaining the upper hand, but as a prominent Cambridge figure he was honour-bound to try. Hence he claimed that those who had attended neither university, such as Polydore Vergil, ‘have ever preferred Cambridge’. It was an argument easily dismissed by the Oxford-educated Edward Littleton, who airily enquired: ‘what have we to do with Polydore Vergil? One Vergil was a poet, the other a liar’.52

Eden was appointed to a handful of committees during the 1628 session. He was included on the committee for the marriage bill (22 Apr.), despite his opposition to the measure, and was placed on legislative committees concerned with preaching (17 Apr.) and subscription (23 April). Another committee to which Eden was nominated concerned the claim of Sir Edward Wardour* and others to the goods of the late William Bowdler (18 June). His interest is easily explained, as the case involved the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which numbered Eden among its judges. By contrast, the reason behind Eden’s appointment to the committee for the bill regarding the inheritance of William Cavendish*, 2nd earl of Devonshire (21 Apr.), is unclear. On 22 May Eden, together with fellow civilian Sir Henry Marten, was ordered to attend the committee for the Prayer Book, and to bring before it the form of subscription demanded of the clergy. 53

On 23 Apr. Eden was appointed to attend a conference with the Lords concerning the liberties of the subject. Although this was the only conference to which he was named, he may have appeared in the Lords on a subsequent occasion, as on 28 Apr. he was one of three civilian Members of the Commons sworn in to answer questions before the Lords’ committee for privileges regarding Viscountess Purbeck and her former paramour, Sir Robert Howard. In the Commons, Eden twice offered minor amendments to the wording of the Petition of Right (13 and 20 May). On 12 June the Lords’ committee for petitions ordered him, as chancellor of Ely, to disburse the money he had collected for the relief of plague victims in and around London.54

Eden played almost no recorded part in the 1629 session. His many judicial duties may have been partly responsible for this, as he presided over the Archdeaconry Court of London on several days when Parliament was sitting, taking the place of the archdeacon’s elderly official, Henry Moutlowe*. The only mention of him in the parliamentary records was on 30 Jan., when he took part in the debate concerning the archbishop of Canterbury’s confirmation of the Arminian Richard Montagu as bishop of Chichester. Many in the House thought that Montagu’s confirmation should have been prevented because various articles had been preferred against him by a printer named William Jones. According to Eden, however, the reason that these articles had been disregarded by Archbishop Abbot was because they had not been signed by an advocate.55

Eden’s contribution to the debates of 1628 and 1629 suggests that he had little sympathy with Calvinism. Not surprisingly, therefore, during the 1630s he became closely associated with the Laudian establishment. By the beginning of the decade, if not sooner, Eden was regularly practising in the Court of High Commission.56 From 1633 he served as one of its judges, though his role appears to have been limited to that of a referee, assessing alimony payments, for instance, and advising his colleagues on points of law.57 In 1636 he was chosen a commissioner for the visitation of the diocese of Norwich, perhaps at the suggestion of his old friend Clement Corbett, now chancellor of Norwich. This had the effect of bringing his talents to the attention of Matthew Wren, bishop of Norwich, who acquired Eden’s services full-time when he was translated to the see of Ely. Wren was the epitome of Laudian reform, and Eden appears to have enthusiastically supported his policies. For this reason, if for no other, he became widely hated. When some of the inhabitants of Cambridgeshire petitioned against their new bishop they also attacked Eden, whom they accused of abusing his position as chancellor by charging excessive fees, ‘whereby he hath advanced himself to a vast estate’.58

Eden resigned his chair at Gresham College in July 1640, and in the following November he also surrendered his mastership in Chancery. Returned to both the Short and Long Parliaments for the University of Cambridge, he soon came under fire in the Commons for the assiduousness with which he had implemented the policies of Bishop Wren, and for his role in censuring John Bastwick in High Commission. However, despite an investigation by the committee of religion in February 1641, Eden escaped punishment. At the beginning of the Civil War the king evidently expected Eden to side with him, as he appointed him a commissioner of the Great Seal. However, Eden remained at Westminster, where he became a generous contributor to the parliamentary cause and an active Member of the Long Parliament. So completely did he succeed in distancing himself from his Laudian past that in February 1644 he took the Covenant.59

Eden was in good health when he drew up his will on 24 Jan. 1644. By that time he was very wealthy, having no family to support and being blessed with an extensive and prosperous legal practice. Among the principal beneficiaries of his largesse was Trinity Hall, to which he gave £504 to enable it to purchase land to add to the property which he had previously bestowed upon it. Two of Eden’s nieces also did rather well out of their uncle, as they were left £4,000 apiece.60

Eden died in London on 18 July 1645, only three months after he was appointed to the committee for the Admiralty. As he had requested burial in the chapel of Trinity Hall, ‘before the treasure house door’, his body was embalmed, wrapped in a sheet of lead and transported to Cambridge, where it was interred on 2 Aug. under a black marble stone.61 However, Eden’s wish that Trinity Hall should, at its own cost, place a small and inexpensive marble monument in the window above his grave was not observed until the eighteenth century.62

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Age calculated from date of admiss. to university.
  • 2. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 390-1; LMA, DL/C 338, f. 183.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; J. Ward, Lives of the Professors of Gresham Coll. 240-1.
  • 4. Warren’s Bk. ed. A.W.W. Dale, 153, 159.
  • 5. Mercers’ Hall, London, Gresham Repertories, i. 1596-1625, p. 198; ii. 1626-69, p. 72.
  • 6. LPL, Abp. Abbot’s reg. i. f. 180.
  • 7. G.D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 170; B.P. Levack, Civil Lawyers in Eng. 227.
  • 8. DEL 5/5, f. 160; 5/6, f. 141.
  • 9. DEL 8/70, ff. 16-17, 22, 33, 35, 39v, 54.
  • 10. Bodl. Tanner 135, ff. 161-2; CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 195.
  • 11. W. Stevenson, Suppl. to 2nd edn. of J. Bentham’s Hist. and Antiqs. of Ely Cathedral, 21. Dates of tenure unknown.
  • 12. Ibid. 20.
  • 13. Add. 4274, f. 157v; C181/5, f. 195; Stevenson, 20.
  • 14. Cat. of Lords Chancellors comp. T.D. Hardy, 91.
  • 15. HCA 24/82/70, 73-4; 24/101/74.
  • 16. GL, ms 9051/7, ff. 39, 52v.
  • 17. Bodl. Tanner 68, ff. 22, 52.
  • 18. CUL, ms Dd. iii. 64, f.40.
  • 19. C231/4, f. 6; C181/3, f. 122.
  • 20. C231/4, ff. 92, 149; C66/2858, dorse.
  • 21. HCA 1/32/1, f. 21v (undated, but 1619); C181/5, ff. 130v, 176.
  • 22. C193/12/2, ff. 18, 55.
  • 23. C181/4, f. 30v; 181/5, f. 101v.
  • 24. Cal. of the Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry, 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts, pt. i (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv), 37-8.
  • 25. C181/5, ff. 45, 195.
  • 26. A. and O. i. 487, 621, 637.
  • 27. SP14/88/16.
  • 28. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 350.
  • 29. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 276.
  • 30. A. and O. i. 669, 783.
  • 31. LMA, DL/C/359 (microfilm X19/15b), f. 299r-v.
  • 32. D. Lloyd, Memoires of the Lives (1668), p. 593.
  • 33. PROB 11/118, f. 87v.
  • 34. Mercers’ Hall, London, Gresham Repertories, i. 1596-1625, pp. 198-9.
  • 35. CUL, UA, Grace Bk. E, p. 204 (ex inf. Dr. Mark Nicholls).
  • 36. Add. 4274, f. 157v.
  • 37. Procs. 1625, pp. 169, 171, 174-5.
  • 38. Procs. 1626, iv. 262.
  • 39. Ibid. ii. 216; iii. 120. Curiously, his name was added to the 2nd of these bill cttees. despite having been placed on the original cttee. list: ibid. 189.
  • 40. Ibid. ii. 53.
  • 41. Ibid. 86, 125, 312; iii. 340.
  • 42. Ibid. ii. 332.
  • 43. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 296.
  • 44. Procs. 1626, iii. 150.
  • 45. Ibid. 370-1, 377, 386; iv. 292; Birch, i. 110
  • 46. Procs. 1626, i. 244-5.
  • 47. C. Crawley, Trin. Hall, 95.
  • 48. CD 1628, ii. 548, 552, 560.
  • 49. Ibid. iii. 26, 34.
  • 50. Ibid. 515.
  • 51. Ibid. iv. 45-6.
  • 52. Ibid. 40, 42-3.
  • 53. Ibid. ii. 510; iii. 4, 22, 44, 526; iv. 360.
  • 54. Ibid. iii. 44, 397, 501; v. 353, 631.
  • 55. CD 1629, p. 118n. Name spelt ‘Eaton’.
  • 56. Reps. of Cases in Star Chamber and High Comm. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxix), 198, 216-17, 241-2, 248, 296.
  • 57. Crawley, 96.
  • 58. Episcopal Visitation Returns for Cambs. ed. W.M. Palmer, 74.
  • 59. HP Commons 1640-60, draft biog. of Thomas Eden (forthcoming).
  • 60. PROB 11/193, ff. 329v-30v.
  • 61. Add. 6209, f. 14v; Ward, 242. However, one contemporary letter writer suggests that the funeral service took place on 5 Aug.: Bodl., Tanner 60, f. 237.
  • 62. PROB 11/193, f. 329v; Stevenson, 21; Vis. Suff. ed. Howard, i. 16.