FORSETT, Edward (c.1554-1630), of Marylebone, Mdx. and Charing Cross House, Westminster.

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



13 Nov. 1606

Family and Education

b. c.1554, 4th s. of Richard Forsett† (d.1561) of G. Inn, London and Margaret, da. of ?Robert Vaughan of G. Inn. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1564, aged 10, BA Trin. Camb. 1572, fellow 1574-81.1 m. 24 Apr. 1587, Elizabeth (bur. 18 Feb. 1625), da. of Robert Carr, innholder, of St. Clement Danes, Westminster,2 at least 2s. (1 d.v.p.) at least 3da. (?2 d.v.p.).3 d. by 25 May 1630. sig. Edw[ard] Forsett.

Offices Held

Commr. oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1605-d.,4 London 1609-d.,5 the Verge 1613-at least 1617;6 vestryman, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster 1606-at least 1616;7 commr. sewers, London and Mdx. 1606-at least 1618,8 London 1608-at least 1621,9 Coln valley 1609-at least 1624,10 Westminster 1611,11 Mdx. 1619-at least 1627;12 freeman, Wells, Som. 1606,13 ?London 1606;14 j.p. Mdx. 1608-d., Westminster 1619-at least 1625;15 commr. musters, Mdx. 1608, 1617-20,16 subsidy, Mdx. 1608, 1610-11, 1621,17 Westminster 1610, 1621, 1624,18 swans, Gravesend, Kent to Windsor, Berks. 1609,19 aid, Mdx. 1609,20 gaol delivery, London 1609-18, 1620,21 Newgate 1616-d.,22 highway repair, London 1609,23 water supply, 1610-at least 1611;24 gov. Highgate g.s. 1611-d.;25 collector, Privy Seal loan, Mdx. 1612;26 commr. annoyances, Mdx. 1613;27 abp.’s commr. to inquire into Hillingdon rectory, Mdx. 1614;28 commr. survey, L. Inn Fields 1618,29 trial of persons involved in riot at Spanish Ambassador’s house 1618.30

Commr. Works 1608,31 asst. officer of the Works 1609-12/13;32 dep. lt. of Tower (jt.) 1608-at least 1610;33 clerk of assignments of statutes, recognizances and bonds (jt.) 1609;34 commr. investigation of Sir William Fleetwood I* 1609,35 outlawry of Thomas Eltofts 1617.36

Member, Virg. Co. by c.1618-22.37


Forsett’s father, the Gray’s Inn lawyer Richard Forsett, lived in St. Andrew, Holborn, and was surveyor of the Court of Augmentations for Staffordshire during the reign of Edward VI. On his death in 1561, Forsett, then still a boy, was sent to Cambridge University, where he evidently excelled. Graduating as BA in 1572, he went on to hold a fellowship at Trinity College, and is thought to have written the Latin comedy Pedantius, which was performed at Trinity in 1581, his final year there.38 It was undoubtedly while he was at Cambridge that Forsett befriended the young Sir Francis Bacon*, who was at Trinity between 1573 and 1576.39 At the same time he was employed by the young Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, as an undated list of expenses, signed by Forsett, included the cost of painting the earl’s chambers and installing shelves in his study.40 In all likelihood Forsett served Essex at the prompting of the latter’s guardian, William Cecil†, Lord Burghley. Forsett’s father, who had been admitted to Gray’s Inn at the same time as Burghley, had owed his advancement to Cecil and had clearly hoped that his eldest son, John, would benefit from Burghley’s patronage.41 By November 1605 Forsett had entered the service of Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil†, 1st earl of Salisbury, at which time he assisted in the investigation of the Gunpowder plotters.42 He was subsequently included by Salisbury in a commission of enquiry into the Works department in October 1608, and in the following spring he investigated its surveyor at Salisbury’s behest. After helping to draw up new orders for the department, he was added to the ranks of its principal officers, almost certainly as Salisbury’s agent.43

Though a younger son, Forsett evidently prospered in the years between leaving university and entering Salisbury’s service, although his marriage in 1587 to the daughter of the Westminster innholder Robert Carr is unlikely to have brought him a large dowry. Nevertheless, Forsett succeeded in acquiring both money and property. In 1583 the queen granted him the lease of Marylebone manor in Middlesex at an annual rent of £16. 11s. 4d., which was renewed by James I in 1611.44 Forsett acquired another royal lease in August 1605, when he was granted property at nearby Kentish Town.45 In 1583 or 1584 he bought Marylebone rectory, which had formed part of his father’s estate, from his elder brother Richard for £100, selling it shortly afterwards for £262.46 It is not clear how he acquired the Suffolk manor of Wells Hall, which had also once belonged to his father, but in 1589 he sold this as well, for £900.47 In the following year he obtained two tenements in Uxbridge, Middlesex, with the assistance of the London Scrivener, Henry Best.48 Forsett may have become wealthy as a result of his property dealings, for sometime before 1604 he lent money to the London alderman and financier Sir John Hart†.49 He also contributed £20 to the 1614 Benevolence and subsequently invested £75 in the Virginia Company, though he wisely sold his shares a few years later.50

In November 1606 Forsett was elected to Parliament for Wells, in Somerset, following the death of the sitting Member, Sir Robert Stapleton. He was nominated for the seat by both Lord Chancellor Ellesmere and by his patron Salisbury,51 who badly needed to bolster the number of Members in the Commons who supported the proposed Union with Scotland. Forsett fitted the bill perfectly, for that same year he published a treatise on the subject in which he declared that the ‘whole island of Britannia’ had for centuries been ‘disfigured’, like some double-headed monster,

until at last the mighty and only wonder working hand of God, wiping away the deformity (not by any violent cutting off, but by a new moulding as it were of the two heads into one) hath restored it again to his first right, imperial and most monarchical greatness.

Forsett maintained that those who favoured the Union were actually in favour of reunion, and that those who did not wish to reunite both realms were actually in favour of perpetuating an unnatural disunity:

Surely such as do not gladly entertain this good opportunity to reunite that which hath so long been sundered seemeth to be better pleased with the imperfection, the weakness and misshapen form of the body under two heads, and with disagreeing parts, than that the whole strengthening of itself, with a comely accordance and uniform subjection, should be brought under the righteous government of one only sovereign head.52

Shortly after he took his seat in the Commons, Forsett was appointed to help confer with the Lords on the subject of the Union (24 Nov. 1606).53

Forsett’s views on the Union were calculated to please Salisbury, of course, but they were also designed to appeal to the king, whose favour Forsett may have been endeavouring to court. In an earlier passage in his treatise, he addressed the delicate issue of the king’s favourites. Comparing the latter to ‘the fantasies of the soul’, he posed the question, ‘which of us is there that doth not (especially in matters rather pleasing than important) follow and feed his fantasies, give scope unto them, suffer them to prevail with him, reckoning it a great part of his contentment to have them satisfied?’ Since every individual needs to indulge his fantasies, he argued, ‘there must be no despiteful envying at the sovereign’s favourites’, and he concluded that ‘their enriching, advancing and gracing with the dearest signs of their sovereign’s love is not only allowable but plainly necessary’, since kings ‘cannot walk continually in the sun’.54 These opinions were bound to gratify James who, on Salisbury’s recommendation in October 1607, conferred the reversion of the monopoly of glass manufacture then enjoyed by Sir Jerome Bowes* on Forsett and Sir Percival Hart†, Bowes’s nephew.55 Forsett’s inclusion in this grant was probably not entirely down to Salisbury, however, as Forsett lived next door to Bowes in Charing Cross, having moved there on his election to Parliament.56 In the event, neither Forsett nor Hart ever succeeded Bowes, as the latter relinquished his monopoly before his death.57 Nevertheless, both men believed that their grant remained valid, for as late as 1619 they apparently petitioned the king about the matter.58

Though clearly an eloquent political writer, Forsett seems never to have spoken in Parliament. His interests, as reflected in his 31 committee appointments, suggest that he was primarily concerned for his own locality of London and Westminster, being named to bills concerning London buildings and their inmates (8 Dec. 1606), watermen (13 Mar. 1607), curriers (30 Apr. 1607), the lands and rents of City companies (4 May 1607),59 the sale of properties in Westminster belonging to Hugh Platt (10 Mar. 1610) and the erection of waterworks at Hackney Marsh (22 June 1610).60 Forsett may have been especially interested in the Hackney waterworks bill, as he had been named a commissioner for improving the water supply to London three months earlier. Likewise, his appointment to consider the bill on the Highways Act (30 Mar. 1610) probably reflected his concerns as a commissioner for the repair of London’s roads. 61

As one of Salisbury’s clients, Forsett was naturally one of those named, on 23 June 1610, to consider legislation for the creation of Britain’s Bourse, a measure described by one diarist as ‘my lord of Salisbury’s bill’.62 Only one of Forsett’s committee appointments directly concerned his constituents, this being the flood relief bill (3 Mar. 1607). Somerset had been one of the counties affected by severe flooding over the winter.63 Among the remaining committees to which he was named, the bill regarding the assignment of debts (15 Mar. 1610)64 probably concerned him professionally, as four months earlier he had been appointed one of the clerks for the assignment of statutes, recognizances and bonds. Several other committee appointments suggest that Forsett, who became a Middlesex j.p. during his time in Parliament, was concerned with public order and the reformation of manners.65 On 5 July 1610, two bills - one of which seems to have dealt with dishonest pawnbrokers and the other with the relief of the poor - may have been delivered to Forsett for his comments.66 Forsett evidently took an interest in the repeal of obsolete statutes, an issue raised in Parliament in 1610. His signature, and that of the Chancery master and Lords’ assistant Sir John Tyndall, appears at the foot of an (undated) paper which listed 20 acts as fit for repeal, ten as worthy of either repeal or alteration and a further 22 as needing amendment.67

Shortly after the dissolution, Forsett obtained a grant of arms.68 In the following year he entered into a dispute with London’s corporation over the City’s water supply, which accused him of denying City officials access to the vaults and conduit heads on his property in Marylebone. After two years of wrangling, Forsett and his son Robert surrendered their claim to the springs in return for the right to nominate one person each to the City’s freedom and an ex gratia payment of £110.69 In December 1620 Forsett became involved in another dispute after he was chosen by his fellow parishioners of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to challenge the dean of Westminster’s nomination of William Man* as a Member for Westminster, ‘although he [Forsett] never made suit or stood for the same’.70 This was evidently not the only occasion on which his name was used without his prior knowledge, as Forsett may have unwittingly provided anti-Catholic propaganda following the collapse of the Spanish Match. In 1624 an anonymous acquaintance arranged for the publication of a tract written by Forsett in about 1609 for his own amusement, ‘beyond his expectation and, I am afraid, against his desire’.71 Entitled A Defence of the Right of Kings, the tract consisted of a withering attack on the arguments deployed by the Jesuit Richard Parsons in favour of the papal deposing power.

Forsett drew up his will in October 1629, by which time he was sick. He asked to be buried in the vault he had constructed in the chancel of Marylebone church, and left rewards for his servants and bequests to the poor of Marylebone and St. Martin-in-the-Fields to the discretion of his children. He died in May 1630.72 None of his descendants subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Al. Cant.; The Gen. xxi. 107-8.
  • 2. WCA, St. Clement Danes par. reg. i. f. 145v; St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 193. Forsett’s wife is misnamed Anne in C66/1941/24.
  • 3. The Gen. xxi. 107; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 174; CLRO, Reps. 27, f. 249.
  • 4. C181/1, f. 125v. Forsett was still being listed as a commr. for oyer and terminer, Mdx. in Feb. 1632: C181/4, f. 106.
  • 5. C181/2, f. 103; 181/4, f. 16.
  • 6. C181/2, f. 179v.
  • 7. WCA, F2001, ff. 44-5, 104v.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 20, 325.
  • 9. Lansd. 168, f. 152; C181/3, f. 27.
  • 10. C181/2, ff. 90, 116.
  • 11. Ibid. f. 140v.
  • 12. Ibid. f. 347v; C181/3, f. 213v.
  • 13. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. ed. A. Nott and J. Hasler (Som. Rec. Soc. xc), 194.
  • 14. CLRO, Reps. 27, f. 249.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 331; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 21.
  • 16. Add. 11402, f. 142; C66/2137.
  • 17. SP14/31/1; E115/100/85; C212/22/20.
  • 18. E115/157/48; 115/146/119; 115/241/144.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 89v.
  • 20. SP14/43/107.
  • 21. C181/2, ff. 104, 324, 351v.
  • 22. Ibid. f. 253; C181/4, f. 34.
  • 23. C193/6/188.
  • 24. C181/4, ff. 126v, 149v.
  • 25. LCC Survey of London, xvii. 141; GL, ms 12177, ff. 25v, 26v.
  • 26. E403/2732, f. 28v.
  • 27. C181/2, f. 199v.
  • 28. LPL, Abbot reg. i. f. 178v.
  • 29. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 30. C181/2, f. 319v.
  • 31. HMC 7th Rep. 669 (name mis-spelt ‘Forsall’).
  • 32. Hist. of King’s Works ed. H.M. Colvin, iii. 116, 119, 134.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 446, 624.
  • 34. C66/1829/17.
  • 35. E178/4181.
  • 36. C181/2, f. 289v.
  • 37. Virg. Co. Recs. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, ii. 64, 83.
  • 38. The Gen. xxi. 109.
  • 39. J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, i. 67.
  • 40. Lansd. 25, ff. 98-9. Forsett himself lived in rooms adjacent to those occupied by another of Essex’s servants, Gervase Babington, the future bp. of Worcester.
  • 41. PROB 11/44, f. 243.
  • 42. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 502; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 292-3, 295.
  • 43. Hist. of King’s Works, iii. 110-11, 116.
  • 44. Environs of London ed. D. Lysons, iii. 244; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 40.
  • 45. E310/19/91, no. 31; C54/1833.
  • 46. C54/1154; 54/1205.
  • 47. C54/1325.
  • 48. C54/2353/6.
  • 49. This appears to be the implication of W. Yorks. AS (Leeds), Vyner 1055, conveyance of 15 Dec. 1624 (ex inf. Mr W. Barber).
  • 50. E351/1950, unfol.; Virg. Co. Recs. ii. 64, 324, 592.
  • 51. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. 193-4.
  • 52. E. Forset, A Comparative Discourse in the Bodies Natural and Politique (1606), pp. 57-9.
  • 53. CJ, i. 324b.
  • 54. Forset, 15.
  • 55. C66/1744; SO3/3, unfol.
  • 56. This is the implication of WCA, F332-4. For evidence of Forsett’s arrival at this time in St Martin-in-the-Fields, see the payment ‘for the pewing of Mr Edward Forsett Esq. and his wife’ in WCA, F2, unfol.
  • 57. E.S. Godfrey, Development of Eng. Glassmaking, 43.
  • 58. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OL16.
  • 59. CJ, i. 328b, 352b, 365a, 368b.
  • 60. Ibid. 408b, 442b. On Platt’s bill, see ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 18v.
  • 61. CJ, i. 416b.
  • 62. Ibid. 443a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 17v.
  • 63. CJ, i. 346a.
  • 64. Ibid. 411b.
  • 65. Ibid. 328b, 389a, 417a, 429a, 434a.
  • 66. Ibid. 444a.
  • 67. HEHL, EL2615.
  • 68. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 91.
  • 69. Remembrancia ed. W.H. and H.C. Overall, 555-6; C54/2162/4; CLRO, Reps. 31, pt. i. ff. 8, 128v; pt. ii. ff. 279v, 422v-3.
  • 70. Surr. Hist. Cent. LM/1989.
  • 71. A Defence of the Right of Kings, wherein the Power of the Papacie over Princes is refuted; and the Oath of Allegeance is justified (1624), sig. A2.
  • 72. PROB 11/157, ff. 358v-9.