GOOD, John (c.1568/71-1627), of Malden, Surr. and Chancery Lane, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1568/71,1 eldest surv. s.(?) of James Good MD, of Chancery Lane and W. Drayton, Mdx. and Joan, da. and coh. of Edward Glynton†, alderman of Oxf.2 educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1582, aged 11; L. Inn 1587.3 m. by 1599 (with 1,000 marks), Elizabeth (d.1649), da. and h. of Sebastian Bruskett (Briskett), merchant of St. Sithe’s Lane, London, 3s. 5da., 2 other ch.4 suc. fa. 1581; mother in Malden estate 1589.5 d. 30 Mar. 1627.6 sig. Jo[hn] Goode.

Offices Held


While politically insignificant, Good is of considerable interest as a church papist who left an autobiography explaining the grounds for his ultimate rejection of the Anglican Church. The surviving texts include a parliamentary speech which is attributed to Good in a separate copy, while many of the details contained in the narrative can be reconciled with the known facts of Good’s life.7 A dedication in one copy is signed G.B. rather than J.G., as one might have expected, but since Good’s wife had links to the Italian merchant community in London, these letters may stand for ‘Giovanni Bene’. Good’s tract was almost certainly written at the end of James’s reign, and references to the collapse of the Spanish Match suggest that it was completed in 1624.8

Good’s father, James, hailed from Dymoke, in Gloucestershire, and so was presumably descended from the Good family resident there and in the neighbouring parish of Redmarley D’Abitot, Worcestershire. He may also have been related to the Goods of Whitstone, Cornwall, whose arms differed only slightly from his own, but he was apparently unconnected with the Elizabethan Jesuit William Good, a Somerset man.9 Good was an unlikely conformist, as his Catholic parents actively conspired to place Mary Stuart on the English throne. His father, a doctor, attended Mary during her detention in England, and was imprisoned in the Tower from 1573 on suspicion of helping Mary to maintain a secret correspondence with her adherents. Kept under surveillance after his release in 1575, three years later he was said to be attending Mass at a Catholic conventicle in Redcross Street.10 Good’s mother, who included a plausible imitation of a predestinarian preamble in her will, was, by her son’s later admission, as devout a Catholic as her husband. Her purchase in 1581 of a 5,000-year lease of the manor of Malden, Surrey from Henry, earl of Arundel and John, Baron Lumley linked her to two of Mary’s keenest supporters, who had been imprisoned for involvement in the Ridolfi Plot.11 She allegedly sheltered a priest at Chancery Lane in 1584, and was later interrogated as to the whereabouts of one of the Babington Plot conspirators. Not surprisingly, Good recorded that his parents had raised him in the Catholic faith ‘pure and entire without the mixture and alterations then lately devised and published’.12

Good was ‘but a child’ when sent to Oxford after his father’s death, where he claimed to have converted to Protestantism under peer pressure. On returning home his mother’s influence brought him back to Rome, and he was ‘admitted to those mysteries [perhaps meaning the mass] which before I never received’. His parents’ house in Chancery Lane, where he probably lived while a student at Lincoln’s Inn, was ideally situated for clandestine Catholic worship, as the neighbouring inns of court were regularly visited by priests, and the liberty of the Rolls in which it was situated was exempt from the jurisdiction of the London and Westminster authorities. Because of his dubious background, he remained under suspicion for many years: in Easter 1594 an informant claimed that ‘divers of the seditious parties’ [i.e. Catholics] could be found at his house in Chancery Lane, and although his Surrey estate comprised 350 acres, he does not appear to have held local office of any kind.13

Despite his unsavoury reputation in official circles, Good eventually conformed to the Church of England, probably after his mother’s death in 1589. He may have been influenced, like many pro-Scots Catholics, by the belief that James VI would accommodate his scruples once he came to the throne of England,14 but his autobiography is notably ambiguous about his motives during this period. At one point he blamed the influence of ‘an unhappy guide, who proved false to God and himself’, and exploited ‘the horror I conceived of [auricular] confession’ to undermine his allegiance to Rome; this was the only doctrinal issue his autobiography analysed at any length.15 Elsewhere, he claimed that he had conformed out of ‘fear to incur those penalties which the rigour of the [recusancy] laws imposed’.16 In yet another passage he insisted that he was led into error by ‘my depraved will, my corrupt nature and vicious disposition to follow my sense and pleasures without control’, a common perception among evangelicals.17 Considered separately, each of these assertions provides a plausible explanation for Good’s conformity, but taken together they suggest that when Good wrote his tract he was disillusioned about his earlier attraction to the Church of England.

Good acknowledged the influence of a number of works on his own views, particularly St. Augustine’s Confessions, which, like Good’s own autobiography, explained the grounds of the author’s conversion to Roman Catholicism.18 He cited a wide range of other tracts, including Jewel’s Defence of the Apology of the Church of England, Foxe’s Acts and Monuments and other polemical works relating to the Protestant Reformation, and was familiar with the works of the Church Fathers on the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.19 However, the polemical stance of Good’s autobiography led him to downplay one crucial influence on his views, which he praised in the Commons in 1604: the ‘absolute and unanswerable works of Mr. [Richard] Hooker’.20 The two men may have met in the 1590s, when Hooker was expounding his controversial theories on ecclesiastical discipline at the Temple Church, a few hundred yards from Good’s house in Chancery Lane, and it is possible that Hooker was the ‘unhappy guide’ who seduced Good away from Rome.21 Hooker’s work On the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity stressed that the church hierarchy was the final arbiter of doctrinal disputes, a stance which positioned Canterbury much closer to Rome than Geneva. While Good dismissed the arguments of the Continental reformers and the puritans (among whom he included both Jewel and Foxe) on the grounds that their rejection of the apostolic succession rendered their views heretical, he recognized that Hooker’s ecclesiology made a plausible claim on his allegiance. Moreover, even after his final conversion to Rome, Good does not seem to have held an exalted view of the papal supremacy: his treatise scarcely mentions the pope, and his opinions on papal authority were similar to those of his celebrated contemporary, the Venetian anti-papal jurist, Paolo Sarpi. Viewed in this light, the intellectual divide between Canterbury and Rome was far narrower than most divines other than Hooker and Sarpi would have been willing to admit, and thus far easier for Good to bridge than for most converts.22

Good’s decision to seek election to Parliament in 1604 was undoubtedly inspired by the puritan revanchism demonstrated in the Millenary Petition of 1603. While this crisis was defused by the Hampton Court Conference, it was obvious that the puritans would attempt to raise the issue of ecclesiastical reform in the forthcoming Parliament, as they had done during the Presbyterian controversy in 1586 and 1589.23 At the time, the bishops were reluctant to seek parliamentary sanction for their actions, preferring to attack their enemies through a revision of the ecclesiastical Canons which were subsequently submitted to Convocation.24 However, one of the few Anglicans who was willing to submit the church to Parliament was Good’s likely mentor Richard Hooker, who taunted the puritans for their failure to secure statutory authority for their preferred form of semi-separatism.25

Good almost certainly secured his return for Camelford through the Cornishman William Carnsew, who had sat for the borough in the previous two parliaments. The pair may have met at Oxford in the 1580s, when Carnsew was a fellow of All Souls’,26 or been introduced by John Arundell* of Trerice, who had many Catholic relatives. Good and Carnsew were clearly on friendly terms by 1609-10, when Carnsew donated £8 17s. 6d. to the repair of Good’s parish church at Malden, and in 1613 Arundell recounted news of Good’s family to Carnsew.27

Good made his most important parliamentary speech at the second reading of a bill ‘against puritans’ on 25 Apr. 1604. Despite its title, this measure proposed to define puritanism so narrowly that all but the most obdurate separatists would escape its penalties. Good clearly intended to provoke a controversy, as he spoke from a prepared text, a copy of which he later sent to the king. The Journal merely records that Good spoke ‘touching the several degrees of puritans’, but the full text reveals that his real objection was that ‘this bill serves but as a bridge to pass over the known puritans indeed, to certain obscure and imaginary sectaries’. He complained of the ‘seditious libels, bitter invectives and unlawful petitions’ of the puritans, citing two recent anti-episcopal petitions, one of which had been presented to Speaker Phelips on 29 Mar. by a clergyman he lampooned as ‘brainsick [Bryan] Bridger’.28 The other petition, from the Northamptonshire clergy, had been tabled at the beginning of the session by Sir Edward Montagu*,

which although at the first sight it carry a show of milder temper, yet upon deep insight [it] will prove of dangerous sequel, for ... what else do those ministers crave who complain against suspension from their functions because they dislike some ceremonies and doctrine here publicly allowed and taught, but liberty to impugn the laws, orders and government of the church ...?

He moved for a proviso to bring all who opposed the existing ceremonies or episcopal jurisdiction within the compass of the penalties proposed by the bill, the very eventuality its promoters had been intending to avoid.29 This motion was swiftly attacked by several MPs, among them the bill’s promoter, Sir Francis Hastings, and Nicholas Fuller, a noted critic of episcopal jurisdiction. Good claimed that his opponents ‘cried me down for a papist and called me to the bar’, but the Journal records no such censure.30

Good’s views on religion quickly became notorious: the authors of the ‘Parliament Fart’ parodied him as saying that ‘this fart came forth from some Reformed brother’.31 However, this reputation did not prevent him from playing an active role at Westminster. His concern for puritan behaviour resurfaced in 1610, when he opposed the inclusion of a complaint about the silencing of nonconformist ministers in the petition for ecclesiastical grievances.32 He spoke only once more, on 16 June 1607, when Sir William Bulstrode moved to have the Commons’ petition for enforcement of the recusancy laws read. Speaker Phelips advised the House that the king intended to deal with the matter himself, whereupon Good, in a carefully judged intervention, attempted to stem the predictable outcry over the breach of the privilege of freedom of speech:

If the arrest of one Member be held with us an impeachment of our liberties, what shall an arrest of the whole House be? But ... I do not interpret His Majesty’s message as a stop by displeasure, but rather he doth as a kind father that doth not hide from us what will displease him, and what he would have us do.33

He may also have been keen to demonstrate his loyalty on the committee for the bill to attaint the Gunpowder plotters, to which he was named on 30 Apr. 1606. Other nominations to the committees for the Sabbath bill (29 Jan. 1606) and that for suppression of idleness (19 Apr. 1610) could have allowed him to interfere with measures usually monopolized by puritan interests.34

Good’s personal fortunes were affected by a bill which came before the Commons in June 1607, in which the Crown proposed to add 22 acres of Good’s Malden estate to the queen’s park at nearby Nonsuch. Legislation was required to confirm the residue to Good, who had technically forfeited his title under the terms of Joan Good’s will, which stipulated that an heir who attempted to alienate any part of the estate should be deprived of his inheritance. The earl of Worcester, who had arranged the deal, took care of the bill in the Lords, but it was delayed in the Commons’ committee by a complaint from Merton College, to whom the freehold interest belonged. The college disputed the validity of Good’s 5,000-year lease and attempted to insert a proviso allowing it to sue for its rights. The judges eventually ruled against the proviso, and the bill passed its final stages on the last day of the session.35 Good may have had an interest in two other estate measures: he was named to the committee for John Arundell’s bill on 27 Apr. 1610, only six months before Arundell’s sister married his parliamentary patron William Carnsew,36 and at the beginning of the same session a ‘John Good of Lincoln’s Inn’, presumably the MP,37 wrote to Robert Bowyer*, clerk of the parliaments, about the delivery of a restitution bill for (Sir) William Brooke*, whose father had been attainted for his part in the Bye Plot of 1603.38

Ironically, it was the reception that Good’s defence of episcopacy which caused him to reconsider his allegiance to Canterbury. The attacks on his speech by godly MPs appeared to underline the growing danger of a takeover of the Anglican church by puritans, ‘who in outward show seemed to concur with me and the present Church of England in the exercise of our religion’, but in reality sought to subvert the church.39 Despite the cooling of his enthusiasm for Canterbury, he remained a political loyalist, sending lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) a tract in defence of the oath of Allegiance a few years later. Observing, with justification, that Catholics would not be convinced by Protestant views on ecclesiastical discipline, he based his argument on the Catholic loyalist position, that the pope had jurisdiction only in spiritual matters, and asserted that James could not be deposed by papal decree, as he was ‘an absolute monarch of himself, holding his kingdoms only and immediately of God’.40

There is no evidence that Good attempted to secure re-election at Camelford in 1614, for by that time he no longer cared about the fate of the Anglican church. The progress of his conversion, like that of St. Augustine, was gradual and tentative, and his claim that fear of the consequences that recusancy fines would have for his family restrained him from leaving the Church of England doubtless represents only part of the truth. He was probably still conforming in 1609-10, when he claimed to have spent large sums on the refurbishment of his parish church at Malden, but by May 1622 he had probably returned to Rome, as he then passed the Malden estate to his son Sebastian*, leasing back a life interest for an annual rent of £84.41 However, he was offended by accusations that he had timed his conversion to coincide with the relaxation of the penal laws prior to the Spanish Match, claiming he had never believed it likely to succeed. Moreover, he insisted that he was ‘utterly unknowing and unknown to any Spanish agent, or to any great man, whether English or Scottish, that was employed in that business’. He was clearly regarded as a Catholic by the outbreak of the war with Spain in 1625, when his house at Malden was searched for arms.42

Good suffered two other indignities towards the end of his life, one in February 1622, when he was summoned before the Privy Council for refusing to contribute to the Palatine Benevolence,43 and the other a year later, when Merton College brought a suit against him in King’s Bench over the title to the manor of Malden. Good asserted the validity of his lease, and explained that he had sold many of his other lands and spent £2,700 on improving the estate and building a manor house. Merton, which recruited the help of Archbishop Abbot (who had been born at nearby Guildford) insisted that it was the owner of the title as the original lease had been procured under duress, a claim which was ultimately upheld. However, the verdict was only pronounced six months after Good’s death, and it was tempered by the grant of an 80-year lease of the manor to his heirs.44

Good began his will of 24 Aug. 1626, with an evangelical but otherwise ambiguous preamble: ‘first into Thy hands (O Lord) I commend my soul; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth’. Having inherited a considerable sum from his mother-in-law, he assigned the interest from £1,000 he had loaned out on a mortgage to raise dowries of 1,000 marks apiece for two unmarried daughters. He died on 3 Apr. 1627, and his widow proved the will a month later.45 His son Sebastian was returned for Tregony in 1625, presumably on the Arundell interest, but no other member of the family subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. He was said to be aged 11 at entry to university, but his MI claims he was aged 59 at his death.
  • 2. PROB 11/38, ff. 110v-11; PROB 6/3, f. 21; H.K. Cameron, ‘Brasses of Mdx.’ in Trans. London and Mdx. Arch. Soc. xviii. pt. 1, pp. 35-7.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; Harl. 776, f. 12; LI Admiss.
  • 4. PROB 11/80, f. 126; 11/151, f. 389; 11/208, ff. 271v-2; C142/232/9; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. lx), 51; Lansd. 776, f. 43v.
  • 5. PROB 11/73, ff. 372v-75.
  • 6. O. Manning and W. Bray, Hist. and Antiq. Surr. iii. 8.
  • 7. Lansd. 776, ff. 14v-16; Warws. RO, CR1998, Long Carved Box 67; HEHL, EL2077. See also Lansd. 849, f. 14.
  • 8. Lansd. 776, ff. 10-11, 14.
  • 9. PROB 11/16, f. 106v; Cameron, 35-7; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 39; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 189; T.M. McCoog, Eng. and Welsh Jesuits (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxxv), 192-3.
  • 10. APC, 1571-5, p. 390; 1575-7, p. 23; 1577-8, pp. 162, 174-5; HMC Hatfield, ii. 110; CSP Dom. Addenda 1566-79, pp. 550-1.
  • 11. PROB 11/73, f. 372v; PROB 6/3, f. 21; C78/474/6; K.N. Ross, Hist. Malden, 69-70; R.B. Manning, Religion and Soc. in Eliz. Suss. 226-8.
  • 12. Lansd. 776, f. 11v; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 149, 343; H. Foley, Recs. of the Eng. Prov. of the Soc. of Jesus, vi. 721.
  • 13. Lansd. 776, ff. 11-12; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 471; Ross, 75-6.
  • 14. Ex inf. Professor Michael Questier.
  • 15. Lansd. 776, ff. 24-5, 32v.
  • 16. Ibid. f. 13.
  • 17. Ibid. f. 12v; ex inf. Professor Michael Questier.
  • 18. Lansd. 776, ff. 9, 11v, 13.
  • 19. Ibid. ff. 16v-35.
  • 20. Ibid. f. 15.
  • 21. Oxford DNB sub Richard Hooker, Walter Travers.
  • 22. P. Lake, Anglican and Puritan, 153-82; Lansd. 776, ff. 16v-37; D. Wootton, Paolo Sarpi.
  • 23. P. Collinson, ‘Hampton Ct. Conference’, Bef. the Eng. Civil War ed. H. Tomlinson, 27-51.
  • 24. We owe this point to Conrad Russell.
  • 25. Lake, 207-13.
  • 26. Al. Ox. (William Carnsew).
  • 27. SP46/72, f. 110; Ross, 73; PROB 6/8, f. 117.
  • 28. CJ, i. 157-8, 184b, 956b.
  • 29. Lansd. 776, ff. 14v-16.
  • 30. Ibid. ff. 14, 16; CJ, i. 184b.
  • 31. Add. 34218, f. 21v.
  • 32. CJ, i. 420b.
  • 33. Bowyer Diary, 330-3. CJ, i. 1053a only records the first point, and thus garbles the sense of the speech.
  • 34. CJ, i. 263b, 303a, 419a.
  • 35. C78/474/6; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 340, 379; PROB 11/73, f. 374v; LJ, ii. 521b, 538a; CJ, i. 389b; HLRO, O.A. 4 Jas.I, c. 15.
  • 36. CJ, i. 421b; Vis. Cornw. 76-7.
  • 37. There was no lawyer of that name at the Inn, but Good’s house lay in the same street.
  • 38. HLRO, O.A. 7 Jas.I, c. 42; Lords’ Parchments, 5 Mar. 1610.
  • 39. Lansd. 776, f. 16.
  • 40. HEHL, EL2187.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 486; Manning and Bray, iii. 8; C78/474/6.
  • 42. Lansd. 776, ff. 10v-11; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 168.
  • 43. SP14/127/80.
  • 44. C78/474/6; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 593; 1635-6, p. 65; Manning and Bray, iii. 3.
  • 45. PROB 11/80, f. 126; 11/151, ff. 388-9; Manning and Bray, iii. 8.