HEIGHAM (HIGHAM), Sir John (c.1540-1626), of Barrow and Bury St. Edmunds, Suff.

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.1540,1 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Clement Heigham† of Barrow, Speaker 1554, being 1st s. with his 2nd w. Anne, da. of George Waldegrave of Smallbridge, Suff. wid. of Henry Bures of Acton, Suff. educ. Trin. Hall, Camb. 1555; L. Inn 1558, called 1565. m. (1) 11 Dec. 1562, Anne (bur. 24 Dec. 1609), da. and coh. of Edmund Wright† of Bradfield Combust, Suff., 4s. 9da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) Anne (bur. 13 June 1623), da. of William Poley of Boxted, Suff., s.p. suc. fa. 1571; kntd. Sept. 1579. d. 2 May 1626.2 sig. J[ohn] Heigham

Offices Held

J.p. Suff. c.1573-83, c.1593-d.,3 Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. 1603, Thetford, Norf. 1603-11;4 sheriff, Suff. 1576-7;5 commr. piracy, Suff. 1577, 1612;6 freeman, Ipswich, Suff. 1585;7 dep. lt., Suff. 1585-96, by 1609-d.;8 commr. restraint of grain exports, Suff. 1586;9 capt. militia ft., Suff. 1588-at least 1615;10 commr. oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. by 1595-d.,11 musters, Suff. 1596,12 charitable uses 1599, 1617,13 gaol delivery, Ipswich by 1601-13,14 inquiry, limits and boundaries, Cambs. 1602;15 steward, Bury St. Edmunds 1603;16 commr. sewers, Fenland 1605-1618, Norf. and Suff. 1605, Essex and Suff. 1617, Suff. 1619, inquiry, lands of the Gunpowder plotters, Suff. 1606,17 subsidy, Suff. 1608, 1621-2, 1624-5, Bury St. Edmunds 1621-2, 1624,18 aid 1609, 1612-13;19 escheator, Norf. and Suff. 1618-19;20 commr. brewhouse survey, Suff. 1620.21


Heigham’s ancestors were freeholders on the west Suffolk manor from which they took their name and which they acquired in the mid-fourteenth century. However, Heigham’s father, Clement, a lawyer from a cadet branch, was the first of the family to enter Parliament. Chief bailiff of the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds and a staunch Catholic, Clement purchased part of the estate of his former employers after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1539 he also bought the manor of Barrow, near Heigham, where he built his home. Elected first for Rye in 1553, he sat for Ipswich in 1554, when he served as Speaker, and was subsequently appointed a privy councillor and baron of the Exchequer by Mary, before losing office and retiring to Suffolk at the accession of Elizabeth.22

By contrast with his father, Heigham was a puritan, losing his place on the bench in 1583 after clashing with the bishop of Norwich. With his lifelong friend Sir Robert Jermyn† he exercised severe moral discipline over Bury St. Edmunds, although he had close connections with conforming Calvinist ministers such as Andrew Willet and William Bedell.23 During the Armada campaign he commanded a Suffolk detachment at Tilbury.

Elected knight of the shire for the second time in 1604, having not sat in Parliament for 17 years, Heigham was named to 135 committees and made 20 recorded speeches in the first Jacobean Parliament. In the opening session he was among the Members named on 23 Mar. to consider the grievances presented by Sir Edward Montagu, which included the ‘burden’ of the ecclesiastical courts and suspension of nonconformist ministers. On 16 Apr. he was appointed to the committee for religion established on the motion of his fellow puritan, Sir Francis Hastings. When articles for a proposed conference with the Lords were reported from the committee on 5 May, Heigham argued that clergymen should be required to subscribe only to those Canons confirmed by statute.24 The committee for religion also drafted a bill ‘for the providing of a godly and learned ministry’, which, after its second reading on 31 May, was referred for consideration by the members of the committee for Montagu’s motion. However, when it was reported to the Commons on 6 June, Heigham protested that the committee had removed a proviso allowing for non-graduate clergymen; he successfully moved for its reinstatement.25

Heigham was named to consider several bills concerning religion and the clergy, including measures to declare ministers’ marriages lawful (11 May), to reform ecclesiastical justice (16 June), and ‘for avoiding unjust suits’ against clergymen (19 June).26 He probably worked closely with Sir Francis Hastings on religious issues, and it may have been the latter who, having undertaken to seek support for a grant of taxation, persuaded Heigham to speak in favour of supply on 19 June. Heigham told the House that he knew of ‘four recusant papists’ who had said that ‘the king’s Protestant subjects ... will yield him [James I] nothing’.27

Heigham was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords about the Union with Scotland on 14 Apr., and he also spoke in the debate over the name to be given to the new, united kingdom four days later. Quoting scripture, he seems to have regarded James’ accession as the divinely ordained consummation of Tudor policy, stating that in the Elizabethan period ‘this Union [was] affected many ways’ and asking, ‘if the queen in her time, had commanded it, should we have refused it?’28

Heigham was twice named to delegations to attend the king regarding the Buckinghamshire election dispute (28 Mar. and 12 April).29 In addition he was named to committees to settle the doubts and questions raised by the privilege case of Sir Thomas Shirley I (27 Mar.), and to search for precedents following the Speaker’s suggestion that the warden of the Fleet be fined for his contempt in refusing to release Shirley (8 May). He himself urged the Commons to defer the decision to send the warden to the Tower until the following day.30

Heigham’s interest in the legislative business of the House extended beyond measures concerning religion. On 20 Apr. he spoke in favour of the bill for better execution of justice (formerly entitled the extortions bill) at its third reading.31 The following day he was named to the committee to consider two bills relating to drinking establishments. A further measure, ‘to restrain the haunting of alehouses’, was subsequently referred to the same body. Heigham was among those who debated this bill at its third reading on 5 June, although what he said is unknown.32 He was the first Member appointed to consider bills for regulating labourers’ wages and apprenticeships on 28 April. The former was reported by Nicholas Hyde on 3 May, but ‘upon some defect appearing’, it was recommitted and reported again by Heigham later the same day.33

Heigham reported two further public bills: the subsequently enacted measure to combat outbreaks of the plague on 14 June, and a bill concerning the drainage of the Fens 16 days later, which was ordered to sleep until the next session.34 He also reported three private bills, all concerning Norfolk men. His main concern was the bill promoted by the creditors of Edward Downes of Buckenham Castle, who had become heavily indebted and needed statutory authority to sell his entailed lands. Heigham had a close interest in the bill because his son, Sir Clement, was the most prominent of the creditors, and indeed the latter was one of the commissioners named in the measure to sell the estate. It is likely that Heigham obtained his return to Parliament in part out of a desire to see this measure enacted.35 Heigham was the first man named to the committee on 2 May, and reported the measure on 18 May, when it was ordered to be engrossed. Six days later Sir Charles Cornwallis moved for a proviso to be amended. It was presumably pursuant to this motion that, at the third reading on 16 June, Heigham presented an additional clause with, he claimed, the consent of the parties. Though this was thereupon added to the bill, the Lords subsequently rejected the entire measure.36

The second of the private bills concerning Norfolk men reported by Heigham was the bill to allow the sale of lands by Henry Jernegan the younger of Costessy. On 7 June Heigham was named to the committee, from which he reported four days later.37 The final bill concerning a Norfolk man that Heigham reported concerned a bill to execute a Chancery decree obtained by William Le Gris of Norwich. On 2 July, after the measure had been recommitted following its third reading, Heigham reported back to the Commons. The committee appears to have tried to find a compromise between the parties concerned, as Heigham stated that ‘an arbitrament, [had been] moved, but not assented’. He suggested a new proviso, which was approved, but with only five days of the session remaining, the bill was not enacted.38

Heigham was almost certainly in Westminster when the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, as he was appointed to the privileges committee on 5 Nov. 1605.39 When the second session resumed in the New Year he was among those ordered, on 21 Jan., to recommend ‘timely and severe proceedings’ against Catholics and measures ‘for suppressing their plots and practices’. Among the articles drawn up by the committee was a proposal for all recusants who subsequently started attending church to receive communion within a year. When this article was reported to the Commons on 3 Feb. Heigham moved for provisions for those recusants who had already conformed, presumably on the same lines.40

On 22 Jan. Heigham was appointed to the committee to consider ‘the general planting of a learned ministry’ and the problem posed by non-resident clergy. He was subsequently named to consider bills concerning pluralism and non-residence (5 Mar.) and those ministers deprived for failing to subscribe to the 1604 Canons (7 March). This last issue was evidently of particular concern to him, as he was one of the Members who ‘much urged’ the restoring of deprived ministers when their ejection was reported as one of the grievances by Nicholas Fuller on 15 March.41 Although not among the Members appointed on 10 Apr. to prepare for the forthcoming conference with the Lords about ecclesiastical grievances, he may have attended the committee regardless, as he was appointed to the sub-committee assigned to prepare the first article, concerning deprived ministers.42

On 7 Feb. Heigham was among those instructed to consider the explanatory bill concerning the provision in the Elizabethan statute of artificers concerning apprenticeships. He reported it on 22 Feb., when it was ‘thought fit to sleep’.43 On 24 Mar. he spoke in favour of the bill to prohibit the export of unfinished coloured cloth.44 During the session he again pursued private bills of local interest. One of the trustees appointed by the Court of Wards for Sir John Rous I* of Henham Hall, Suffolk, he reported a bill for sale of land during Rous’s minority on 24 Feb. 1606.45 On the next day he recommended hearing counsel in respect of the revived Le Gris bill.46 It was, however, the reintroduced Downes bill that was his main concern, the diarist Robert Bowyer writing that he ‘most and principally followed’ the measure. The first Member named to the committee on 21 Feb., he reported the bill on 6 March. Two days later, however, it was revealed that a proviso added by the committee on a loose piece of paper attached to the main text had been lost. Heigham moved for the bill to be recommitted, but the Commons ordered that the whole bill be rewritten. At the third reading on 4 Apr., however, Heigham was obliged to reveal that the new text was also missing a proviso, possibly the same one. It was finally produced the following day, whereupon the bill was passed.47

Heigham had been a Member of the 1586/7 Parliament, and when the Speaker cited a precedent from 1587 in a privilege case on 13 Feb., Heigham was able to show that the circumstances now were different.48 On 31 Mar. he obtained permission for his sick colleague, Sir Robert Drury, to depart.49 His last reported speech of the session, on 11 Apr., concerned the Union. Following the proposal of the Lords to defer consideration until the next session, Heigham successfully moved for the issue to be referred back to the Upper House.50

Heigham was again appointed to the privileges committee at the start of the third session (19 Nov. 1606). On 9 Dec. the clerk made a note to inquire of Heigham how long the 1586 Parliament had lasted, although the reason for this question is not stated. Heigham was granted privilege for staying a trial at the Suffolk assizes on 5 Mar. 1607 and, 18 days later, during the Speaker’s illness, he moved successfully for a junior postal official imprisoned by order of the Commons for requisitioning a horse from Thomas James* to be released.51

Heigham was among those instructed to attend the conference with the Lords of 25 Nov. on the Union. On 3 Mar., and again on the 30th, he reminded the Commons that the Lords were awaiting a reply to their request for a conference on naturalization. He offered to speak on the subject of the abolition of the hostile laws between the two kingdoms on 4 June, but further debate was deferred.52

Heigham was again appointed to a series of committees relating to religion, including those for bills to prevent the enforcement of those Canons not confirmed by statute (11 Dec.); against pluralism and non-residence (4 Mar.); and for the endowment of under-resourced parishes (15 May).53 On 18 May he proposed a select committee to frame a petition to the king for the better execution of the recusancy laws, and to consider pluralism, non-residence, and ‘the more free preaching of the gospel’. According to the Journal ‘the motion was well liked’, although Bowyer records the Speaker’s alarm at the prospect of presenting the petition to the king. Heigham was the first Member appointed to the committee after the privy councillors.54 However, proceedings in respect of the petition were discontinued on 18 June after the king expressed his opposition.55

On 28 Apr. Heigham was named to consider the Holditch estate bill. This measure, promoted by John Holditch, sought to confirm a judgment in Common Pleas. The court had found that one of Holditch’s predecessors had made an error in conveying property in Suffolk to his tenants, as a result of which Holditch hoped to force the former tenants to pay him £1,000 between them. Heigham persuaded the House to give the ex-tenants notice of the committee meeting, and on 9 June, possibly in expectation that the bill would not have time to pass in the remainder of the session, the Speaker appointed five local knights, including Heigham and Sir Henry Glemham*, to arbitrate between the parties and reach a composition ‘out of the equity of the cause and the poverty of the petitioner’. However, the issue was still unresolved when Parliament reconvened in 1610.56 Heigham had an interest in the ‘great’ fen drainage bill, which received its second reading on 27 Apr., since he was a member of the corporation which proposed to undertake the work; however he played no recorded part in the proceedings concerning this measure, which was not enacted.57

Heigham took a much less prominent part in the next session. He made no recorded speeches, and was named to only six committees. He was named to attend the conference of 15 Feb. 1610, at which the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) outlined the parlous state of the royal finances and demanded supply, and on the following day he was appointed to the committee for the bill for the construction of gaols. The flow of private bills from Norfolk continued, and he was named to the committees for the bill to confirm the purchase of the manor of Lowestoft by Sir John Heveningham*, the son of Heigham’s ‘intimate friend’, Sir Arthur, (20 Feb.) and for the bill to enable the lands of Richard Beckham of Narford to be sold (21 February). His last committee appointments were made on 26 Feb., and concerned purveyance and clerical pluralism.58

It seems to have been ill health that ensured that Heigham left no subsequent trace on the records of the first Jacobean Parliament. Writing to lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) from his Westminster lodgings on 22 Mar., he stated that he had been ‘unable to travel out of my chamber’ because of ‘a looseness which hath this five weeks possessed me; ... violently both night and day’. He informed Ellesmere that the Commons had given him licence to depart, although there is no record of this in the Journal, and that he was intending to return home, presumably to convalesce. He evidently made a full recovery as he survived another 16 years and remained active in county administration till within a few months of his death.59

There is no evidence that Heigham sought re-election in 1614; but he remained keenly interested in parliamentary matters, particularly as negotiations for the Spanish Match gathered pace. In late 1617 Andrew Willet, the Church of England controversialist, wrote to Heigham, enclosing a manuscript tract advocating a generous grant by Parliament, which he evidently hoped would soon be summoned, arguing that James would not need the dowry from Spain if the Commons supplied him with money. Heigham circulated copies of Willet’s letter and the tract to other members of the Suffolk bench ‘to know the disposition of the principal gentlemen ..., that so they who are likeliest to be chosen Members of the Parliament may be summoned, and so foreign attempts dissolved’. However, the correspondence was forwarded to the king, and the only upshot was a period of imprisonment for Willet.60

As an octogenarian, Heigham, with his Essex colleague Sir John Deane*, kept a watchful eye on the problems of the heavily industrialized Stour valley. In 1622 they warned the government of the danger to public order consequent on the collapse of the market for the new draperies and widespread unemployment among the clothiers.61 Heigham was still active in county affairs as late as 20 Mar. 1626,62 but made his will, ‘faint and weak in body’, a month later. He gave his age as 96 ‘within a few months complete’, and bequeathed 20s. to the poor of Barrow and to each parish of Bury St. Edmunds. He requested his ‘good and loving friend’, William Bedell, subsequently bishop of Kilmorey in Ireland, to preach at his funeral. He died on 2 May 1626, and was buried the following day, in accordance with his wishes, at Barrow. The epitaph on his tomb, with slight exaggeration, gave his age at death as 97. He was clearly of a robust constitution, which he passed on to his numerous offspring. All his sons survived him, and seven of his nine daughters married. He was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Clement, who had already represented Suffolk in 1593; but no member of the family subsequently sat in Parliament.63

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. E134/29Eliz/Trin2.
  • 2. Vis. Suff. ed. Howard, ii. 291-3; Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. i. 346; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 80.
  • 3. Eg. 2345, f. 32; Royal 18 D.III, f. 37; Hatfield House, ms 278; Harl. 1622, f. 73.
  • 4. C181/1, ff. 62, 66; 181/2, f. 155v.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 132.
  • 6. Lansd. 146, f. 17; C181/2, f. 174.
  • 7. N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswche ed. W.H. Richardson, 341.
  • 8. CPR, 29 Eliz. I ed. L.J. Wilkinson (L. and I. Soc. ccxcv), 187; APC, 1596-7, p. 52; Harl. 3786, f. 35v; SP16/12/14.
  • 9. Lansd. 48, f. 136.
  • 10. Suckling, Suff. i. p. xxvi; Add. 39245, f. 22v.
  • 11. CPR, 37 Eliz. I ed. S.R. Neal and C. Leighton (L. and I. Soc. cccx), 121; C181/3, f. 176v.
  • 12. APC, 1596-7, pp. 51-2.
  • 13. C93/1/7; 93/9/4.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 14; 181/2, f. 195v.
  • 15. C181/1, f. 32.
  • 16. Lansd. 1217, f. 10.
  • 17. C181/1, ff. 112, 125, 131; 181/2, ff. 3v, 272, 349v.
  • 18. SP14/31, f. 37v; C212/22/20-1, 23; Harl. 305, f. 206v.
  • 19. SP14/43/107; E163/16/21; Harl. 354, f. 68v.
  • 20. List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii) 97.
  • 21. APC, 1619-21, p. 204.
  • 22. Vis. Suff. ii. 279, 298; Oxford DNB sub Heigham, Sir Clement; HP Commons, 1509-58, ii. 330-1.
  • 23. P. Collinson, Eliz. Puritan Movement, 188, 315; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 285-6; P.S. Seaver, ‘Community Control and Puritan Pols. in Eliz. Suff.’, Albion, ix. 297-315.
  • 24. CJ, i. 151b, 173a, 965a.
  • 25. Ibid. 229b, 231b, 233a, 986b.
  • 26. Ibid. 206b, 240b, 241b.
  • 27. Ibid. 995a; Letters of Sir Francis Hastings 1574-1609 ed. C. Cross (Som. Rec. Soc. lxix), 85-6.
  • 28. CJ, i. 172a, 949b.
  • 29. Ibid. 157a, 169b.
  • 30. Ibid. 155b, 203a, 967a.
  • 31. Ibid. 952a.
  • 32. Ibid. 180a, 222a, 233a.
  • 33. Ibid. 189b, 197b, 963a.
  • 34. Ibid. 239a, 250b.
  • 35. HLRO, HL/PO/JO/10/4/1, parchment main pprs. 16 June 1604.
  • 36. CJ, i. 195a, 213b, 978b, 993a.
  • 37. CJ, i. 233b, 236b; Blomefield, Norf. ii. 416; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1603/1J1n65.
  • 38. CJ, i. 202b, 239b, 251a; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1605/3J1n56.
  • 39. CJ, i. 256a.
  • 40. Ibid. 257b, 263a.
  • 41. CJ, i. 258a, 277b, 279a, 285a.
  • 42. CJ, i. 296b; Cott., Cleopatra FII, f. 239.
  • 43. CJ, i. 264b.
  • 44. Ibid. 288b; HMC Lords, n.s. xi. 100-1.
  • 45. HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1603/1J1n62; CJ, i. 273a.
  • 46. CJ, i. 273b.
  • 47. Ibid. 272a, 278a, 280b, 283a, 29a; Bowyer Diary, 67-8, 102; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1605/3J1n49.
  • 48. Bowyer Diary, 36.
  • 49. CJ, i. 291a.
  • 50. Ibid. 297a-a; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 81.
  • 51. CJ, i. 316a, 349b, 353b, 1008b.
  • 52. Ibid. 324b, 346a, 1034b, 1049a; Bowyer Diary, 293.
  • 53. CJ, i. 329b, 347b, 374a.
  • 54. Ibid. 375a.
  • 55. Ibid. 384a-5b.
  • 56. Ibid. 364b, 380b-1a.
  • 57. Ibid. 357b, 364a; W. Dugdale, Hist. of Imbanking and Drayning of Divers Fenns and Marshes (1662), p. 387.
  • 58. Ibid. 393b, 394b, 397b, 398b, 400a, 400b; Blomefield, vi. 232; Merry Passages and Jeasts’: A Manuscript Notebook of Sir Nicholas Le Strange ed. H.F. Lippincott (Salzburg Studies in Eng. Literature: Eliz. and Renaissance Studies xxix), 79.
  • 59. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), FL501/11/351.
  • 60. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 505; SP14/94/79; Oxford DNB sub Willet, Andrew.
  • 61. APC, 1621-3, p. 372.
  • 62. Letters from Redgrave Hall, ed. D. MacCulloch (Suff. Rec. Soc. l), 114.
  • 63. Suff. RO, (Bury St. Edmunds), IC500/1/95/148; Oxford DNB sub Bedell, William; Vis. Suff. ii. 293.