HELE, Sir Warwick (c.1563-1626), of Wembury, Devon and Paternoster Row, 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



22 Oct. 1605

Family and Education

b. c.1563,1 1st s. of Sir John Hele† of the Inner Temple and Wembury and Mary, da. and coh. of Ellis Warwick of Holbeton, Devon; bro. of John* and Nicholas*.2 educ. I. Temple 1581-2;3 travelled abroad (France) 1609-10.4 m. (1) Mary, da. of John Halse of Kenedon and wid. of William Hawkins (d.1589), merchant, of Plymouth, Devon, s.p.; (2) by July 1606, Margaret, da. of Sir William Courtenay† of Powderham, Devon, s.p.5 kntd. 22 May 1603;6 suc. fa. 1608. d. 15 Jan. 1626.7 sig. Warwick Hele.

Offices Held

J.p. Devon 1598-d.,8 treas. for maimed soldiers (jt.) 1600-1,9 commr. piracy 1603, 1606, 1614, 1619-20, 1624, Exeter, Devon 1606, 1612,10 recusants, Devon 1606,11 oyer and terminer 1612, Western circ. 1617-d.;12 sheriff, Devon 1618-19;13 commr. subsidy, Devon 1621-2, 1624,14 fees 1623,15 billeting, Devon and Cornw. 1625.16

Member, Virg. Co. 1609, Africa Co. 1618.17


Hele belonged to a minor Devon gentry family which traced its pedigree back through ten generations. His father, Sir John, the sixth son of a younger brother, enjoyed a successful legal career, rising to the rank of serjeant-at-law. By the time of his death he had also amassed an estate of around 2,500 acres, of which nearly two-fifths lay in the vicinity of Plymouth and Plympton Erle. Having represented the latter borough in the 1584 Parliament, he became its recorder in 1602 and constructed a lavish new seat at nearby Wembury, which reportedly cost over £20,000. Hele initially followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the Inner Temple, but his career was that of a country gentleman. He entered the Commons as a Plymouth burgess in 1597, and was appointed to the Devon bench in the following year, acquiring a knighthood in 1603.18

Hele returned to Westminster in 1605, replacing his late brother John as a Member for Plympton Erle, doubtless through his father’s influence. By now Sir John was in disgrace, having been convicted of abusing his office to secure the repayment of loans made to Henry Brooke alias Cobham†, 11th Lord Cobham. However, if Hele nursed any hopes of using his place in the Commons to obtain his father’s rehabilitation he was unsuccessful.19 His only recorded speech in the 1605-6 session, the sense of which has not survived, came during a debate on 10 Apr. on the bill to attaint the Gunpowder plotters. Hele was appointed to three conferences with the Lords, to discuss recusancy laws, ecclesiastical causes and a bill on beer exports (3 Feb., 10 Apr. and 16 May).20 He was presumably regarded as one of the godly, since he was nominated on 26 May to help investigate a sermon delivered the previous day in which Parliament had been criticized for interfering in the church. He also received nominations to nine bill committees, whose subjects included poor relief and the Cornish estates of Sir Jonathan Trelawny* (23 January). His grant of ten days’ leave from 18 Apr. allowed him to return late from the Easter recess.21 During the third session, Hele was appointed on 24 Nov. 1606 to a meeting with the Lords about the Union. On 20 Feb. 1607 he sought privilege for a servant claimed by William Towerson I* as a runaway apprentice. His request was backed by his kinsman Sir Richard Hawkins*, but the case was resolved by mediation the same day. Of his five legislative committee appointments, one was again concerned with the Trelawny lands (21 February).22

Hele succeeded to his patrimony in 1608, and thereafter steadily augmented his estates, in particular consolidating his property in the Plymouth region and Cornwall. In 1609 he invested in the Virginia Company, and also procured a licence to travel abroad. He was apparently in Paris by January 1610, but had returned in time to resume his Commons seat in the following month.23 Hele’s only recorded speech during the fourth session was a request on 30 Mar. for his fellow Devon magistrate, William Cary, to be granted leave of absence, though presumably he applied in person when permitted to depart himself on 13 July. He was named to two conferences with the Lords, first to discuss Prince Henry’s creation as prince of Wales (15 Feb.), and then to consider the bill to strengthen Parliament’s influence over the ecclesiastical Canons (5 July). On 26 June he was a teller for the noes in the third reading vote on the bill for better Commons’ attendance. The subjects of his 22 bill committee nominations included the restitution of Lord Cobham’s heir presumptive, (Sir) William Brooke*, and the estates of John Arundell* of Trerice, Cornwall.24

In 1611 John Chamberlain reported that the duchy of Cornwall had resumed one of Hele’s properties. To make matters worse, the management of his estates was being hampered by an elaborate entail established by his father in 1606.25 Accordingly Hele resolved on a parliamentary bill which would permit him to make long leases of certain lands. At the 1614 general election he was again returned at Plympton Erle, where he secured the other seat for his cousin Sampson Hele. His estate bill received its first reading on 3 May, and was steered through committee by Sampson’s brother-in-law, John Glanville. Once the consent of Hele’s brothers to the measure had been confirmed, it was reported to the House on 24 May ‘with some alteration and additions’, and ordered to be engrossed. However, it failed to achieve its third reading before the dissolution.26 Notwithstanding this disappointment, Hele was now emerging as a more prominent Commons’ figure. He was appointed on 14 Apr. and 1 June to conferences with the Lords concerned with the bills on the Palatine marriage settlement and the Sabbath. Of his seven speeches, two were procedural motions aimed at facilitating business (6 and 12 May). He helped to secure the recommittal on 19 May of a controversial bill for recovering small debts, and was duly added to the committee. On 31 May he prompted an undertaking from the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar, that legal process for recovery of old debts by the Crown would be suspended in anticipation of a bill of grace on the subject. This intervention also led to the establishment of a select committee to consider the problem of old debts, to which he was nominated.27 On 25 May Hele reacted firmly to bishop Neile’s provocative attack on the Commons, backing calls for a delegation of Members to be sent straight to the king, and two days later he insisted that the Lords should be presented with a written copy of the Commons’ verbal complaint to them. On 28 May he was appointed to accompany the Speaker when the House sought to explain why business had been suspended over the Neile affair. However, he took a lenient view of Richard Martin’s* outburst in defence of the Virginia Company, perhaps on account of his own former investment (17 May). Of his nine other legislative committee nominations, one was concerned with respite of homage and another with procedure in the Court of Wards (2 and 14 May). He attended the committee for the Charterhouse hospital bill, to which he was appointed on 9 May. Surprisingly, on 31 May he was teller against the bill for the repression of drunkenness.28

In June 1614 Hele was accused of handling goods stolen from a French ship, but he refused to return this property, insisting that he had bought it in good faith.29 He was now a respected magistrate, being frequently employed on local commissions and serving as sheriff of Devon in 1618-19.30 He continued to invest in trading ventures, speculating on New England settlements in 1620, and in 1619 he leased Liskeard Park from the duchy of Cornwall, thereby acquiring influence over the adjacent borough, which he used to secure a seat for his brother Nicholas in the next three parliaments.31 As a trustee of the lands of his nephew John Mohun*, whose marriage he had helped to arrange, Hele became embroiled in the bitter dispute which developed in the mid-1610s between Mohun and his father, Sir Reginald*.32

Re-elected at Plympton Erle to serve in the third Jacobean Parliament, Hele was again a prominent figure in the Commons, making around 30 speeches and receiving nominations to 19 committees. Appointed on 5 Feb. to the committee for privileges, he contributed to debates on the Sandwich and Westminster elections (22 March). He also took an interest in the Pembroke Boroughs election dispute, requesting leave for Lewis Powell* to return home (14 May), and insisting that the mayor of Pembroke needed more time to explain himself (18 May).33 Now sitting in his fourth Parliament, he took a keen interest in matters of privilege and procedure. When Henry Lovell* produced a female witness to substantiate his claim that threats had been made against him, Hele helped in her examination and urged that the offender should be committed (13 February). He backed Sir Julius Caesar’s proposal on 12 Feb. for a review of the statutes concerned with freedom of speech, and demanded an inquiry into Sir Thomas Shirley II’s alleged misuse of parliamentary privilege (22 March). However, he took a more lenient view of Thomas Sheppard’s* outburst against the Sabbath bill, twice urging that he should not be condemned unheard (15-16 Feb.), and he also argued that (Sir) Giles Mompesson* should not be forced to kneel at the bar until charges were levelled against him (28 February). On 26 May Hele objected on procedural grounds to the proviso offered by John Coucher after the third reading of the bill for free trade in wool. Two days later he challenged the judges’ opinion that the passing of bills terminated a session, citing Sir Thomas Shirley I’s case in 1604, and reminding the House that the subsidy bill had already passed that session.34

On 13 Feb. Hele helped to prompt a request to the king to ban the export of ordnance to Spain, and he was subsequently named to a committee which dealt with the same problem (14 May). Although not recorded as having spoken about the Catholic threat, he was appointed on 15 Feb. to the conference with the Lords about the joint petition against recusants, and added to the legislative committee concerned with clarifying the recusancy laws (11 May). Sufficiently esteemed within the House to be nominated to the committee for the subsidy bill (7 Mar.), albeit as the last name on the list, he was nevertheless ignored on 27 Mar. when he called for a message of thanks to Prince Charles for ‘His Highness’ favour in ‘all these parliamentary proceedings’.35

Undeterred by the failure of his estate bill in the previous Parliament, Hele again sought a legislative solution to his problems in 1621. A bill along the same lines was introduced on 23 Feb., and John Glanville once more steered it through committee. At the report stage on 10 Mar., however, concerns were raised over whether the consent of Hele’s heirs had been properly obtained, and the bill was recommitted. Glanville again reported the measure on 26 Mar., with amendments, but though it was passed for engrossing it failed to secure a third reading.36

As the intended beneficiary of his own bill, Hele was barred from discussing it during its passage, but on 17 May he intervened vigorously in the second reading debate on the bill to resolve the land dispute between John and Sir Reginald Mohun. Doubtless aware that his nephew would be penalized by this measure, he launched a scathing attack on Sir Reginald for attempting to disinherit John by means of fraudulent conveyances:

The finger of God is in this, for he that made these antedated deeds, which are above 60, run mad, and the man that they concern, viz. [Sir Reginald] Mohun, did so far forget himself that he made some dated before he was baronet divers years, by the title of baronet, and put in children who were not born then.

Named to the committee stage, Hele presumably helped to ensure that the bill did not re-emerge.37 During the debate on the minor felonies bill (22 Feb.), Hele seems to have acted in concert with his fellow Plympton burgess, Sir William Strode. He complained that magistrates were obliged to gaol even petty offenders, whereupon Strode offered the House a new bill to remedy this very problem.

Hele frequently presented local concerns in his speeches. Although not named to the committee for considering the bill to allow free trade in wool, he informed it on 16 Feb. that West Country weavers faced unfair competition from the Channel Islands. He was subsequently appointed to the legislative committee on the manufacture of perpetuanos (12 May), while on 26 May he argued against a total ban on the export of sheepskins. On 14 May he helped to secure the rejection of the Pewterers’ Company bill, which threatened the local tin industry, and he also expressed concern about the rising price of butter and fish in Devon (21 Apr., 25 May). Named on 26 Feb. to the committee for the bill to suppress the collection of tithes from fishermen, he successfully moved for the measure to be recommitted on 1 Mar. because the fleets working the seas off Ireland had been excluded. Despite his New England investment, he seems also to have lobbied behind the scenes against the attempt by Sir Ferdinando Gorges† to obtain a monopoly over fishing off the coast of North America. On 20 Nov. he confirmed reports that his Plymouth neighbour had obtained a Privy Council ban on rival fleets sailing to the New World, but added: ‘my lord treasurer (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) hath given order, that the ships shall go forth presently, without stay’.38

The failure of Hele’s second land bill prompted him to seek another solution to his estate management problems, and in June 1621 he conveyed his principal properties to a new set of trustees, including John Mohun and William Wrey*, on terms which protected his existing and future leases. In the following year he donated £100 towards the recovery of the Palatinate.39 Hele did not serve in the 1624 Parliament, but may have supplied a seat at Plympton Erle for Cranfield’s secretary, John Jacob, given his earlier dealings with the lord treasurer. He returned to Westminster in 1625, representing the same borough, but contributed little to the Commons’ proceedings. Of the five legislative committees to which he was named, three concerned recusancy, petty larceny and the vexed issue of free fishing (23, 25 and 27 June). His only recorded speech was delivered at Oxford on 2 Aug., when he proposed a bill to implement Sir Edward Coke’s proposal that Convocation’s approval should be required for all new books on divinity.40

Hele drew up his will on 1 June 1625, leaving bequests totalling over £2,000 to his wife and nearest relatives, as well as gold rings ‘to all the rest that were my followers when I was sheriff of Devon’. He assigned an income of £30 p.a. to the almshouses which he had founded at Wembury, and provided £100 for the poor to be set to work at Liskeard and four Devon parishes. He died in the following January, leaving an under-age nephew, John Hele, as his heir. Hele’s widow married Sir John Chudleigh*.41

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. C142/311/117.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 464.
  • 3. I. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. SO3/4; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 106.
  • 5. Vivian, 464; M. Lewis, Hawkins Dynasty, 68; C142/311/117.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 110.
  • 7. Vivian, 464; C142/423/80.
  • 8. C231/1, f. 45v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 6.
  • 9. Devon RO, Q. Sess. order-bk. 1600-7, p. 1.
  • 10. C181/1, f. 61v; 181/2, ff. 52, 175, 200v, 348; 181/3, ff. 1v, 130.
  • 11. L.F.W. Jewitt, Plymouth, 143.
  • 12. C181/2, ff. 164v, 269; 181/3, f. 178.
  • 13. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 37.
  • 14. C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 15. Bodl. Tanner 287, f. 72.
  • 16. APC, 1625-6, pp. 55-6, 266-8.
  • 17. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 312.
  • 18. Vivian, 461-2, 464; C142/311/117; J. Prince, Worthies of Devon, 485; J.B. Rowe, Plympton Erle, 102.
  • 19. Tudor Rule and Revolution ed. D.J. Guth and J.W. McKenna, 332-3, 337.
  • 20. CJ, i. 263a, 296a-b, 310a.
  • 21. Ibid. 258b, 300a, 312b.
  • 22. Ibid. 324b, 338b-9a.
  • 23. C142/423/80; Winwood’s Memorials, iii. 106.
  • 24. CJ, i. 394a, 417a, 421b, 443b, 446b, 449a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 5.
  • 25. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 319; C142/311/117.
  • 26. HLRO, HL/PO/JO/10/1/8; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 127, 268-9, 330, 335; Vivian, 411, 461-2, 464.
  • 27. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 82, 167, 218, 290-1, 391, 398, 405.
  • 28. Ibid. 120, 176, 235, 277, 343, 366, 377, 395; LMA, Acc/1876/G/01/16/1.
  • 29. PRO 31/3/48 (1 June 1614).
  • 30. APC, 1613-14, pp. 411-12; 1615-16, p. 644; 1623-5, pp. 41-2, 468.
  • 31. Rabb, 312; Parl. Survey of Duchy of Cornw. ed. N.J.G. Pounds (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxv), 78.
  • 32. STAC 8/208/27; Vivian, 464.
  • 33. CJ, i. 507b, 568b; CD 1621, iii. 286; v. 165.
  • 34. CJ, i. 517b, 519a-20a, 522a, 524b, 532b, 569b; CD 1621, iii. 318; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 113.
  • 35. CD 1621, ii. 71; CJ, i. 522b, 544b, 577b, 617a, 621b.
  • 36. CD 1621, ii. 126, 202-3; iv. 140-1; CJ, i. 531a, 548a, 575b.
  • 37. CD 1621, iii. 278; v. 286; CJ, i. 623b.
  • 38. CD 1621, ii. 117; v. 16, 89, 177, 505; CJ, i. 527a, 619a, 620a, 627a, 641a.
  • 39. C142/423/80; SP14/156/15.
  • 40. Procs. 1625, pp. 227, 245, 252, 378.
  • 41. PROB 11/148, ff. 1-2v.