HOLCROFT, Sir Thomas (1557-1620), of Vale Royal, Cheshire

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. 17 July 1557,1 1st s. of Sir Thomas Holcroft† of Vale Royal and Juliana, da. of Nicholas Jennings of London. educ. G. Inn 1588.2 m. (1) Elizabeth (d.1595), da. of Edward Fitton† of Gawsworth, Cheshire, 1s.; (2) Elizabeth (d.1612), da. of Sir William Reyner of Orton Longueville, Hunts. wid. of Henry Talbot, 3rd s. of George, 6th earl of Shrewsbury, s.p.3 suc. fa. 1558; kntd. 17 Apr. 1603.4 d. 20 Feb. 1620.5 sig. Tho[mas] Holcroft.

Offices Held

J.p. Cheshire c.1587-d., Lancs. by 1598-at least 1604;6 commr. musters, Cheshire 1596,7 sewers, R. Dee and port of Chester, Cheshire 1607, Chester 1609,8 subsidy, Cheshire 1608;9 sheriff, Cheshire 1598-9;10 mayor, Wigan, Lancs. 1604;11 dep. lt. Cheshire by 1608.12

Commr. Union 1604-6.13

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.14


Holcroft was a year old when his father died and he became a ward of his future father-in-law, Edward Fitton.15 He attained his majority in 1578, but until his mother’s death in 1595 his annual income was less than £10.16 In 1578 Holcroft was convicted of the manslaughter of the eldest son of the 4th Lord Burgh in a duel,17 and in 1592 he was attacked by Sir Richard Bulkeley*.18 Holcroft’s mention in the ‘Parliament Fart’ of 1607 reflects his violent past: ‘it would bear action quoth Sir Thomas Holcroft, I would make of this fart a bolt or a shaft’.19

Through his kinsman, Thomas Holcroft I†, a servant of the 1st Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†), Holcroft was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1588. The following year his niece married Burghley’s grandson, William Cecil†, and in 1600 and again in 1604 Thomas Cecil†, 2nd Lord Burghley, recommended Holcroft to his brother, Robert† (later 1st earl of Salisbury).20 Though his main estates lay in central Cheshire, Holcroft also inherited several manors near Wigan from his father.21 At the Wigan parliamentary election of 1604 Holcroft, then mayor of the borough, reserved the first seat for Sir William Cooke, a fellow kinsman of the Cecils. Holcroft himself was elected to the first Jacobean Parliament as knight of the shire for Cheshire, having served in this capacity twice previously. He was named to the privileges committee (22 Mar.) and on 23 Mar. to the general committee appointed to consider Sir Robert Wroth I’s motion that the House should examine wardship, purveyance, the Book of Common Prayer and monopolies. On 26 Mar., following the motion of Sir Henry Neville I, Holcroft was named to another general committee, concerned with treason and the Common Law position on royal grants.22 The majority of Holcroft’s bill committee appointments during the session were to measures of general interest to a member of the county gentry. They concerned depopulation (28 Apr., 25 May), abuses in alehouses (2 May), relief of the poor (8 May), fen drainage (12 May, 14 June), preservation of game (23, 30 May), expiring laws (5 June), the infringement of the London Painters’ Company monopoly by their rivals the Plaisterers (15 June) and river navigation (23 June).23 On matters of local interest he was named to a bill to naturalize Mary Aston, the wife of his fellow Cheshire Member Sir Roger Aston (12 May). He was also added to the Tunnage and Poundage bill committee on 13 June, following the addition of a proviso for Chester.24 Holcroft was appointed to two delegations to attend the king in connection with Sir Francis Goodwin’s* case (28 Mar., 12 Apr.), and was one of the seven Members instructed to visit James after he fell from his horse (28 June).25 He was also twice appointed to joint conferences on the Union (14 Apr., 4 May) and on 12 May he was named a Union commissioner.26 Holcroft was appointed to help search for precedents in the case of Sir Thomas Shirley I* (8 May) and four days later was one of the committee charged with discovering whether, in accordance with the House’s instructions, the warden of the Fleet had been confined to Little Ease in the Tower.27

Holcroft made at least 12 speeches during the session but the contents of five - on bills for the better execution of justice (20 Apr.), alehouses (5 June), free trade (6 June), a land exchange between Trinity College, Cambridge and Sir Thomas Monson* (7 June), and the increase in livings for parsons (28 June) - have gone unrecorded.28 On 9 May he argued that the Instrument of the Union should be submitted in writing and not delivered verbally. He made a similar observation on 8 June in respect of Convocation’s instrument criticizing the Commons for dealing in matters of religion.29 When Sir Francis Bacon disparaged his fellow lawyers as ‘Gentlemen of the Short Robe’ on 12 May, Holcroft replied that ‘many men could speak well, but not do well; whereof he thinks him to be one’.30 On 14 May he suggested that a writ of habeas corpus be used to free Sir Thomas Shirley I. On 25 June he participated in the debate on whether mayors should be permitted to sit in the Commons, in which he himself was interested, being then mayor of Wigan. He argued that it was reasonable to exclude them if they returned themselves, but not if they were elected knights of the shire. He seems not have revealed that he was a mayor himself, which was judicious as the House subsequently ruled that none should ever sit.31 The following day Holcroft apologized for having told the king that the Commons was willing to vote supply, which had led James to write that he had not asked for any. On 29 June, at the end of the session, Holcroft observed that precedent required Members to make a donation towards the poor and maimed soldiers and for the relief of London’s prisoners, and accordingly offered 10s. from his own pocket.32

During the 1605-6 session Holcroft was again appointed to committees on river navigation (7 Feb.), alehouses (11 Feb.) and fen drainage (4 March). The other other public legislative committees to which he was named concerned the confirmation of leases (23 Jan.), the conveyance of lands (29 Jan.), the subsidy (10 Feb.), the Marshalsea Court (13 Mar.), butter and cheese (4 Apr.), the false making of black soap (5 Apr.) and the attainder of the Gunpowder plotters (30 April).33 Holcroft’s interest in the fate of the plotters dated back to 24 Jan. when he had advocated holding the trial in Parliament, for in September 1397 Richard II had ‘made a wooden house and there the king and Parliament sat and the offenders were judged’.34 It was also Holcroft who urged the first reading of the attainder bill on 4 Apr., even though few Members were then present. The implied criticism of Sir Henry Yelverton, who had suggesting delaying the reading until the House was fuller, angered Sir Edwin Sandys.35 Ironically, Holcroft had told the Commons four days earlier that ‘it will be a scandal to show what we have done with so small number’. During the subsequent debate on absenteeism, Holcroft was the only Member known to have favoured sending out verbal rather than written instructions to return to the Commons.36

Holcroft did not believe the charge that Sir William Maurice had attended mass, and therefore argued that Maurice should be allowed to listen to the debate (1 February). The Commons disagreed and, after Maurice made a statement Holcroft and others urged him to withdraw. After Maurice was cleared, Holcroft demanded unsuccessfully that his accusers be censured.37 During the debate on the Sabbath bill (13 Feb.), Holcroft proposed that the fines for breach of the Sabbath be given to the town in which the offence was committed. Where he lived a single parish might contain up to 40 towns or villages

and some justices being lord of some one or two towns, having reduced his tenants even to beggary by extreme racking of them, will and often do relieve such poor upon the forfeitures and penalties of the inhabitants of another town within that parish, who, living under a more conscionable landlord are of more ability and live well.

The bill was accordingly recommitted, but the proposed alteration was not accepted, and therefore when the measure was reported two days later Holcroft moved to add a proviso, but without success.38

Holcroft argued in favour of increased supply on 14 Mar. and four days later acted as a teller in the division. He also participated in debates on the bill for fees in Courts of Record (14 Feb.) and on Sir Roger Aston’s greenwax patent (15 Apr.) but his words have gone unrecorded.39 On 5 May he spoke on the scandalous ministers bill, when he queried the use of the term ‘minister’ suggesting it be replaced with ‘dean, arch-deacon etc.’. He was again overruled, as the House decided that ‘minister’ was ‘now usual and well understood’.40

Although he did not play a significant role in debate in the third session of 1606-7, Holcroft took an interest in the Union. On 21 Nov. he was named a commissioner for the Union and three days later was appointed to a joint conference on the subject.41 Holcroft spoke on the hostile laws bill on 27 Nov., arguing that the issues involved were so labyrinthine that each point should be put to the question.42 On 16 Feb. he argued in vain that Sir Christopher Piggott’s outburst against the Scots should be heard in committee rather than the House.43 Holcroft was often involved with procedural matters. On 11 Mar. he moved that joint conferences be held in secret and free from strangers.44 The following day he was named to the committee charged to ask the Lords to dispense with the rule obliging Members to stand bareheaded at conferences because of the increasing number of such meetings. Shortly after the Easter recess he asked the House to consider whether to hold a joint conference on naturalization in general, or only on specific points concerning the post-nati and ante-nati.45 He was also appointed to committees on how to proceed in the absence of the Speaker (23 Mar.) and to peruse the clerk’s Journal (19 June). He acted as a teller for the noes when they approved the passage of a bill to prevent wheat from being wasted by not having it turned it into starch (29 May). On 15 Dec. Holcroft protested at Sir Thomas Vavasour’s comment that ‘he cared not what they did in the Lower House, he knew there would be a stop above’.46 Holcroft was named to six bill committees in the third session. These concerned the Cambridgeshire lands of Sir Roger Aston (13 Dec.), forcible entries (18 Feb.), the Marshalsea Court (21 Feb.), the lands of London’s livery companies (4 May), unlawful assemblies and leather (1 July).47 On 3 June Holcroft asked for and was granted leave to dispense with the normal parliamentary privilege so he could answer a case against him and sue his opponent.48

Holcroft’s main activity in the fourth session was to pursue the punishment of Sir Stephen Procter. On 5 May he was appointed to collect information against Procter, and was accordingly named to a committee on 15 June. On 19 July he was the first to suggest that Procter should be exempted from the pardon, and he stressed that the Commons should present a clear, point-by-point case against him.49 Holcroft supported the attempt to remove Sir George Somers from the Commons due to his absence overseas (14 February).50 On 23 May he suggested waiting until the king’s views on impositions were heard before presenting a petition. He argued against the passage of the wine bill on 12 June and on 23 July he considered that the measure on the Oath of Allegiance should be allowed to ‘sleep’.51 On 27 Mar. he successfully called for the reading of a bill for better attendance. He acted as a teller for the yeas on 2 Mar. when there was a question over whether a stranger who had been in the House should be admonished at the bar. He also served as a teller in favour of the adjournment on 28 Feb., for the committal of the Biggleswade highway bill on 2 Mar., and against the passage of the bill for Hugh Platt eight days later. On all three occasions he was defeated.52

As in previous sessions, Holcroft was named to consider several measures of general interest to the gentry: cloth (23 Feb.), preservation of wood, game (22 Mar.), husbandry (27 Mar.), suits against magistrates (28 Mar.), the Marshalsea Court, hawking (29 Mar.), copyholders (31 Mar.) and swearing (30 May).53 He was also named to consider legislation to repeal the New River Act (20 June) and to the committee to survey the New River during the next session (16 July).54 He was named to six private bill committees, two of which dealt with subjects of particular interest to a Cheshireman: Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey, and the Isle of Man.55

Nothing is known of Holcroft’s activity in the poorly recorded fifth session. After the Parliament, Holcroft embarked on a process of selling his Cheshire estates (which Chamberlain later described as impoverished). In 1616 he sold Vale Royal to the widow of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and took lodgings in London.56 A comment in the 1613 visitation of Cheshire that he became a gentleman pensioner seems to be unfounded.57 On 19 Feb. 1620 he fell down the stairs at his residence in the Strand and ‘so bruised his skull that he died the next morning’.58 No will, inquisition post mortem or letters of administration have been found. His only son from his first marriage wed the daughter of his second wife.59 No further member of his family sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. DL7/10/13.
  • 2. GI Admiss.
  • 3. G. Ormerod, Hist. Cheshire, ii. 154; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 127.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 100.
  • 5. Cheshire and Lancs. Fun. Certs. ed. J.P. Rylands (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. vi), 110.
  • 6. Lansd. 53, f. 178; C66/1549; Lancs. RO, QSC 1-3.
  • 7. APC, 1595-6, p. 156.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 46v, 233v.
  • 9. SP14/31/1.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 18.
  • 11. Wigan AS, D/DX Ap. G. 3.
  • 12. SP14/33, f. 4v.
  • 13. CJ, i. 208b.
  • 14. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 211.
  • 15. CPR, 1558-60, p. 35.
  • 16. Lansd. 53, f. 178; Ormerod, ii. 154.
  • 17. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1566-79, pp. 530, 532.
  • 18. APC, 1592, pp. 249, 359.
  • 19. Add. 24218, f. 20.
  • 20. HMC Hatfield, x. 236, 253; xvi. 243.
  • 21. DL7/10/13.
  • 22. CJ, i. 150a, 151a, 154a.
  • 23. Ibid. 189b, 225b, 962b, 202b, 207b, 239a, 224a, 229a, 232b, 239b, 245b.
  • 24. Ibid. 208b, 238a. For Holcroft’s other bill cttee. appointments see ibid. 172b, 193b, 198b, 199a, 211a, 213b, 226b, 228b, 237b, 239a, 249a, 251a, 252a.
  • 25. CJ, i. 157a, 169b, 248a, 999a.
  • 26. Ibid. 172a, 199a, 208b.
  • 27. Ibid. 203a, 971a.
  • 28. Ibid. 179a, 233a, 987b, 234a, 999a.
  • 29. Ibid. 968a, 989a.
  • 30. Ibid. 970b.
  • 31. Ibid. 246b, 997b. The Journal incorrectly has Holcroft state that a mayor could be chosen ‘sheriff’ of a county instead of ‘knight’.
  • 32. Ibid. 998a, 250b.
  • 33. Ibid. 265a, 266b, 277a, 258b, 261a, 266b, 284a, 293b, 294a, 303a.
  • 34. Ibid. 259a; Bowyer Diary, 7.
  • 35. Bowyer Diary, 101.
  • 36. Ibid. 96-7; CJ, i. 291a.
  • 37. Bowyer Diary, 17-18.
  • 38. Ibid. 35; CJ, i. 268b.
  • 39. CJ, i. 284b, 286b, 268b, 298b.
  • 40. Bowyer Diary, 148-9.
  • 41. CJ, i. 319a, 324b.
  • 42. Bowyer Diary, 198.
  • 43. CJ, i. 1014a.
  • 44. Bowyer Diary, 232.
  • 45. Ibid. 261; CJ, i. 352a.
  • 46. CJ, i. 354a, 386a, 376b, 1010b.
  • 47. Ibid. 330b, 337a, 339b, 368b, 389a, 389b.
  • 48. Ibid. 378b.
  • 49. Ibid. 425a, 440a, 452a.
  • 50. Ibid. 393a; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 7.
  • 51. CJ, i. 431a, 437a, 453b.
  • 52. Ibid. 415b, 417b, 403a, 404b, 408b.
  • 53. Ibid. 399a, 413b, 414a, 415a, 415b, 416a, 417a, 434a.
  • 54. Ibid. 442a, 450a.
  • 55. Ibid. 414a, 441a. See also 415a, 417b, 430a, 441b.
  • 56. 39th DKR, 152-3; Ormerod, ii. 153.
  • 57. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 127.
  • 58. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 291.
  • 59. Cheshire and Lancs. Fun. Certs. (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. vi), 110.