HARINGTON, Sir James (c.1555-1614), of Ridlington, Rutland and Merton, Oxon.

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.1555,1 3rd s. of Sir James Harington† of Exton, Rutland and Lucy, da. of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst Place, Kent;2 bro. of Sir John†. educ. Shrewsbury g.s. 1564;3 King’s, Camb. 1571.4 m. (1) by 1583, Frances (bur. 26 Sept. 1599), da. and coh. of Robert Sapcote (Sapcotts) of Elton, Hunts., 8s. 5da.;5 (2) c.24 Sept. 1601, Anne, da. of Francis Bernard of Abington, Northants., wid. of John Doyley of Merton, Oxon. s.p.6 kntd. 18 Apr. 1603;7 cr. bt. 29 June 1611.8 d. 3 Feb. 1614.9 sig. James Harington.

Offices Held

J.p. Rutland by 1591-d., Oxon. 1602-?d.;10 sheriff, Rutland 1593-4, 1601-2, Oxon. Feb.-Nov. 1606;11 collector, subsidy, Rutland 1590, tenths, Rutland 1603, 1608,12 Privy Seal loans, 1604-5;13 commr. subsidy, Rutland 1608,14 aid Oxon. and Oxf. Univ. 1609;15 ?dep. lt. Rutland, 1607-d.;16 collector (jt.), aid, Oxon. 1612-13.17


Harington probably spent part of his youth with his mother’s family, entering Shrewsbury school in 1564 with his cousin, Sir Philip Sidney†, whose father was then president of the Council in the Marches.18 His landed income was surprisingly large for a younger son: his father assigned him a lease of part of the manor of Ridlington, Rutland (later granted outright) and a life annuity of £100; he was the main beneficiary of the will of his childless uncle William Harington; and he also inherited the Huntingdonshire manor of Upton from his father-in-law Robert Sapcote in 1600.19 He sold the latter property, but quickly purchased the manors of Thornbury Park and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, while in September 1601 he and his eldest son made a double match with the widow and heiress of an Oxfordshire landowner, by which he acquired an interest in his new wife’s jointure estates at Merton, Oxfordshire and Shugworth, Berkshire.20

Harington served as sheriff of Rutland in 1593-4,21 and was returned to Parliament as knight of the shire in 1597 on the interest of his eldest brother, Sir John. The latter replaced him in 1601, when Harington, although present at the hustings,22 was not considered for re-election as Sir Andrew Noell† claimed the nomination for the other county seat.23 However, Noell, excluded from election as sheriff, created a furore when he attempted to foist his 19-year-old son Edward Noell† upon the freeholders, despite Sir John Harington’s objections. To defuse the crisis, Noell returned himself, probably in the expectation that his term of office would be ended by the time the Commons rejected his return.24 Unfortunately for him, the annual pricking of sheriffs was delayed until 2 December, two weeks after the second election was held.25 Consequently, Noell revived his son’s candidature, whereupon Sir John Harington asked his brother to stand. Harington later claimed that ‘he did not intend to stand to be a knight of the said Parliament’,26 an assertion may be regarded with some scepticism, but with a new wife and various property transactions claiming his attention, there was perhaps some initial doubt about his candidacy. He only arrived in Rutland on the eve of the election,27 while in the meantime Sir William Bulstrode*, who organized the Haringtons’ electoral interest within the shire, had been promoting William Bodenden of Ryhall (whose wife was a Harington) as a potential substitute.28 On election day Harington probably secured a clear majority of voices at the cry and the view, as Sir Andrew Noell felt obliged to proceed to a poll. Following the poll Noel declared his son elected, but Harington filed a suit in Star Chamber, claiming that Noel had intimidated many of his supporters into withdrawing their voices.29 Noell replied by prosecuting his opponents for soliciting for voices, a practice which, though widespread, was technically illegal.30 The hostility engendered by this quarrel poisoned relations within the county for a year.31

The Haringtons’ stock rose sharply on the accession of King James, with whom they claimed a very distant kinship: Harington was knighted by the king on the latter’s progress south in 1603, while his brother acquired a barony and was appointed governor to Princess Elizabeth.32 There is no direct evidence of a contest having taken place at the Rutland election of 1604, but neither side is likely to have relinquished their designs upon the county seats. Noell revived his Star Chamber suit in January 1604, shortly before the new election, when depositions on behalf of both parties raked over the embers of the earlier dispute.33 As Edward Noell had now achieved his majority, he and his father presumably decided to contest both seats, while Lord Harington backed his brother and his mother’s relative Sir William Bulstrode. The Haringtons’ estates and influence within the shire far outweighed that of their rivals, and, in the absence of a partial sheriff, the Noells could not hope to win; they may have withdrawn from an unequal contest to avoid a humiliating defeat.

Harington did relatively little with the seat his family laboured so hard to acquire. He and his brother-in-law Sir Edward Montagu were participants in a heated debate of 10 May 1604 over the report on the bill to ban the shooting of game birds. Later in the same day, Montagu’s brother Sir Henry* brought in a bill to indemnify the warden of the Fleet prison, who had refused to release the debtor Sir Thomas Shirley I* until he had been granted immunity from prosecution for the latter’s debts. Many Members wished to punish the warden by incarcerating him in the Tower, but Harington moved that he should be brought before the House once again, presumably to see whether a compromise could be arranged.34 The elaborate preamble to his will suggests that Harington shared his family’s puritan traditions, but he is not recorded as having spoken on any religious issue in the Commons, and he was named to only one bill committee concerning religion, a minor measure ‘to take away all excuse of not coming to church’ (27 June 1604).35 His interest in major political issues does not appear to have been much greater: he was named to the committee for the bill which would have removed the financial benefits the Crown derived from purveyance (30 Jan. 1606) but took no further part in the heated debates on this topic; he attended the conference of 15 Feb. 1610 at which lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) laid out his plans for financial reform; while he was later included among a delegation sent to ask the king to waive his objections to a formal debate on the legality of impositions (24 May 1610).36

Harington may have helped promote some local measures within the House, as he was named to two committees for private bills concerning Northamptonshire estates, those of Dame Eleanor Cave (22 Jan. 1606) and Lord Spencer (7 Feb. 1606).37 In the aftermath of the East Midland enclosure riots of 1607, he was also named to the committee for the bill ‘for reformation of disorders and abuses amongst commoners concerning their commons’ (19 Feb. 1610). His constituents may have had an interest in the bill ‘to avoid the wasting of wheat’ by starchmakers, as both Harington and Bulstrode were among the first named to the committee (26 Feb. 1607).38 Finally, on 2 Mar. 1610, Harington was named to a committee to examine a Westminster pot-boy about an extortion racket being run at a local tavern by the servants of several MPs. The incident was of little consequence, but as the committee members left the House to interrogate the boy, a petition was read from the burgesses of Coventry excusing the absence of their ailing burgess John Rogerson.39 It is likely that the reading of this petition was moved by Harington, as his nephew Sir John Harington was the Member returned at the resulting by-election.

Outside the Commons, Harington was involved in extensive litigation on behalf of his relatives. He was involved in one dispute as trustee of the Kentish estates of his heavily indebted brother-in-law Sir Edward Wingfield†.40 More significantly, he became embroiled in a dispute with Sir William Bowes† over the Derbyshire inheritance of Sir Thomas Foljambe, whose wardship he had bought in 1601, and to whom he later married one of his daughters. Bowes claimed that he had been granted mineral rights on Foljambe’s land, but Harington contested the claim in a series of lawsuits spread over the last ten years of his life, which allegedly cost him £2-3,000.41 It was presumably in connection with this dispute that he was fined £20 by Star Chamber in 1610.42

Harington undertook considerable expenditure in his final years: he paid the full £1,095 purchase price for one of the first baronetcies in 1611, and insisted in his will that the coat of arms on his funeral monument be altered to superimpose the red hand granted to all baronets, ‘which though I have not pride therein, so I do not disdain that badge His Majesty hath given me and my heirs male forever’.43 He was presumably also the Sir James Harington who was granted two shares in the plantation of co. Tyrone in 1609, though he may have purchased these on behalf of his brother Sir Henry Harington, who had campaigned in Ireland for many years.44 In his will of 16 June 1613, Harington acknowledged that the Almighty ‘gave me more than I have well used, and so worthily hath ... punished me in lessening much the same’. He left Thornbury Park and Merton rectory to his wife as a jointure estate, but exhorted her to exchange these lands with his eldest son Sir Edward to secure possession of her first husband’s estate. He ordered the sale of Oldbury and two of his Midland manors, which he valued at more than £10,000, to pay his creditors. However, most of his estates were entailed on his heir Sir Edward, who was charged with annuities for five of his younger sons. His second son, Sir Sapcotts Harington, was only to receive £500, as he stood to inherit other lands.45

Harington died on 3 Feb. 1614, a few months after his elder brothers Sir John and Sir Henry; his widow subsequently married Sir Henry Poole*. His nephew Sir John, 2nd Baron Harington, died within a few weeks, completing what the letter-writer John Chamberlain called ‘a fatal year for that family’.46 Harington’s grandson, another Sir James Harington, fought for Parliament in the Civil War, was returned as a MP for Rutland in 1646, and, though not a regicide, was a prominent Republican whose estates were confiscated at the Restoration. Another namesake among Harington’s descendants was the political theorist and author of The Commonwealth of Oceana.47

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Assuming him to have been aged 16 at matriculation at Cambridge.
  • 2. Vis. Rutland (Harl. Soc. iii), 38-9.
  • 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Reg. Scholarum ed. E. Calvert, 15.
  • 4. Al. Cant. which confuses him with a namesake who matriculated from Christ’s at Easter 1595.
  • 5. C142/342/105; Leics. RO, DE3468/1, unfol.; Vis. Rutland, 39; Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 12.
  • 6. Vis. Rutland, 39; Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 225; Vis. Northants. ed. W.C. Metcalfe, 3.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 101.
  • 8. C66/1942/45.
  • 9. C142/342/105.
  • 10. Hatfield House, ms 278; SP13/F/11; C66/1549, 1620; C231/1, f. 136.
  • 11. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 109, 114.
  • 12. E401/1846; E179/283, vols. ‘JEG 10514’, ‘TG 10806’.
  • 13. E401/2585, f. 73.
  • 14. SP14/31/1.
  • 15. SP14/43/107; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 165.
  • 16. HMC Hatfield, xix. 124.
  • 17. E359/5.
  • 18. Reg. Shrewsbury Sch. 15.
  • 19. PROB 11/79, ff. 1-3; 11/99, ff. 50v-1v; C142/342/105; Leics. RO, DE3214/185/18; VCH Hunts. iii. 114.
  • 20. C66/1660; C142/342/105; J. Maclean, ‘Glos. Feet of Fines’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xvii. 163, 199; PROB 11/82, ff. 56v-7v.
  • 21. List of Sheriffs, 114.
  • 22. As he testified in STAC 5/N1/32, f. 5, though he did not sign the return, C219/34/2/86.
  • 23. Sir John Harington made this point clearly in STAC 5/N1/32, f. 7.
  • 24. STAC 5/H57/26, 5/H46/9; J.E. Neale ‘Rutland Election of 1601’, EHR, lxi. 29-42.
  • 25. C227/20B.
  • 26. STAC 5/N12/25, dep. of (Sir) James Harington, Q.5.
  • 27. STAC 8/220/32, dep. of William Shortred, Q.9.
  • 28. STAC 5/N6/11, dep. of Thomas Exton, Q.7; STAC 8/220/32, dep. of Richard Tampion, Q.31, dep. of Thomas Hunte, Q.31. See also STAC 8/220/32, dep. of Henry Poole, Q.3.
  • 29. STAC 5/H2/7; 5/H9/34; 5/H11/37; 5/H57/26. For a list of those whose voices were disallowed by Noell, see STAC 5/H46/9, deposition of Sir Andrew Noell, Q. and A. 24.
  • 30. STAC 5/H57/26; 5/N1/32.
  • 31. STAC 5/N1/32.
  • 32. I. Grimble, Harington Fam. 63-4, 144-5; Shaw, ii. 101; CP sub Harington of Exton; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 57.
  • 33. STAC 8/220/32.
  • 34. CJ, i. 205b, 968-9.
  • 35. Ibid. 998b; PROB 11/123, f. 66v.
  • 36. CJ, i. 261b, 393b, 432a.
  • 37. Ibid. 258a, 265a; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 34, 41.
  • 38. CJ, i. 342b, 396b.
  • 39. Ibid. 303b-4a.
  • 40. C2/Eliz/R8/59, 2/Eliz/W24/49.
  • 41. STAC 8/52/3, ff. 4-5; 8/56/16; 8/165/26; LPL, ms 3203, ff. 292, 306.
  • 42. E159/449, catalogued by T.G. Barnes (printed index in National Archives).
  • 43. C66/1942/45; PROB 11/123, f. 66v.
  • 44. CSP Ire. 1608-10, p. 180.
  • 45. PROB 11/99, f. 50v; 11/123, ff. 66v-7v.
  • 46. C142/342/105; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 516.
  • 47. Grimble, 182-233.