HORSEY, George (c.1588-1645), of Clifton Maybank, Dorset

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.1588, 2nd s. of Sir Ralph Horsey† of Clifton Maybank and Edith, da. of Sir William Mohun† of Boconnoc, Cornw.1 educ. Trin., Oxf. 1604, aged 16.2 m. 21 Oct. 1606 (with £3,000), Elizabeth (bur. 5 Nov. 1638), da. of Sir Thomas Freke* of Iwerne Courtnay, Dorset, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. 1612;3 kntd. 16 Feb. 1619.4 bur. 10 Jan. 1645.5

Offices Held

Freeman, Poole, Dorset 1620, Weymouth, Dorset 1634;6 j.p. Dorset 1617-c.1635,7 commr. inquiry, 1st earl of Somerset’s lands, Dorset 1617,8 subsidy, Dorset 1621-2, 1624,9 oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1625-35,10 Forced Loan, Dorset 1626-7,11 disafforestation, Roche forest, Som. 1627, Selwood Forest, Som. 1628,12 knighthood compositions, Dorset 1630-1.13


By the reign of Henry III Horsey’s ancestors owned the Somerset manor from which they took their name. They acquired Clifton Maybank by marriage around two centuries later, and first represented Dorset in Parliament in 1421. Horsey’s father, Sir Ralph, owned more than 11,000 acres in these two counties, but his extravagant lifestyle ran him into debt, and he began selling land in 1597.14 For reasons which remain unclear, Sir Ralph effectively disinherited his eldest son in 1606, advancing Horsey as his principal heir instead. However, although most of his property was conveyed in trust that year to (among others) Sir Edward Phelips* and Sir Thomas Freke, whose daughter Horsey married that October, the family’s finances continued to deteriorate. By 1609 the situation was so desperate that the king instructed lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) to mediate between Sir Ralph and his creditors. When Horsey finally inherited in 1612 he was faced with debts totalling over £30,000.15

Horsey first entered the Commons as a Dorchester Member in 1614. The only non-resident to sit for the borough in this period, he was possibly nominated by Freke, who had himself been returned there in 1586. One of the many novices in the Addled Parliament, he left no trace on its records.16 At the next election he found a seat at Poole, where his wife’s great-uncle, Richard Swayne†, was the borough’s recorder. However, Horsey was scarcely any more active in the House in 1621, being named only to legislative committees concerned with conveyancing abuses, and the estates of his uncle, Sir Reginald Mohun* (10 Mar. and 17 May).17

Presumably in the hope of improving his financial position, Horsey acted as agent for the 1st earl of Cork in 1623 when the latter purchased some Irish estates recently acquired by lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) from Bevill Grenville* and his father.18 In the following year, despite his mounting debt problems, Horsey stood as a knight of the shire, in partnership with Sir John Strangways*, who would shortly become a trustee of the Clifton Maybank estate. Both men represented the dominant grouping of Dorset gentry, but Horsey faced a challenge from Sir Nathaniel Napper*, a comparatively new face in county politics. According to William Whiteway II*, Horsey misled Napper about his intention to stand, causing the latter to act complacently in rallying his own supporters. As a result, Horsey defeated his rival by 70 votes, though he damaged his reputation in the process.19 He again made little impact on the Commons in 1624, being named to just four committees. These scrutinized the bill on the American fisheries, the new Mohun estate bill (15-16 Mar.), and two other private measures. Horsey also sent Cork an account of ‘passages of Parliament’, but the details are not known. He apparently never sought election again.20

At the start of the next reign Horsey’s local standing may have suffered through association with the disgraced earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), as another of the trustees for his estate was Philip Digby*, the earl’s brother. However, this was a minor concern compared with his rapidly worsening debt crisis. By 1629 even his father-in-law had lost patience with Horsey’s ‘expensive courses’ and reluctance to fulfil his financial obligations, and sued him in Chancery.21 In the following year, Horsey gambled yet more money on a chimerical project to reclaim the salt-water lagoon between the Chesil beach and the Dorset coast. Strangways gave his syndicate a rent-free lease for 32 years, but their title was challenged by George Kirke*, who obtained a grant of part of the site from the Crown. By 1633 Horsey had spent £1,000, yet gained no return ‘except some small quantity of fish’.22

Horsey was under royal protection from his creditors throughout 1631, and in the next few years he sold or mortgaged almost his entire estate, even parting with Clifton Maybank in 1634 for £28,000.23 He reportedly evaded arrest at one stage by living at sea, off Weymouth, but by 1638 he was in London’s Newgate prison and living from hand to mouth. In the following year his brother-in-law John Freke offered him shelter at Iwerne Courtnay, and around this time he was improbably associated with the pioneer ironmaster, Dud Dudley, in a patent for smelting with sea-coal.24 However, this scheme also came to nothing, and by February 1640 Horsey had again been outlawed, together with his trustee Sir George Morton*. He died in January 1645, possibly in the Fleet prison, for he was buried at St. Anne’s, Blackfriars, London, his proud inheritance utterly lost. No will has been found and he was the last of the family to sit in Parliament.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vis. Dorset Addenda ed. Colby and Rylands, 3.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. Vis. Dorset Addenda, 3; C78/284/2; Soc. Gen., Shroton par. reg.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 171.
  • 5. Vis. Dorset Addenda, 3.
  • 6. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 32; ii. 452.
  • 7. C231/4, f. 49; C193/13/2.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 271v.
  • 9. C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 10. C181/3, f. 178v; 181/4, f. 185.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144; C193/12/2, f. 11v.
  • 12. C66/2463, 2441.
  • 13. E178/7154, f. 288C; Som. and Dorset N and Q, iv. 15.
  • 14. Hutchins, iv. 426; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 341.
  • 15. C142/334/67; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 561; APC, 1630-1, p. 191.
  • 16. OR.
  • 17. Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 1, 41; Hutchins, ii. 453; CJ, i. 548b, 623b.
  • 18. HMC 7th Rep. 253; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1) ed. A.B. Grosart, ii. 87; M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 384-5.
  • 19. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xii. 159; William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 58.
  • 20. CJ, i. 687a, 688a, 737a, 766a; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 2), iii. 111.
  • 21. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xii. 159; C54/2643/7; CP25/2/412/2Chas/Easter; 25/2/412/2Chas/Mich; 25/2/412/3Chas/Easter; 25/2/412/4Chas/Hil; 25/2/412/5Chas/Trin; 25/2/412/5Chas/Mich; C78/284/2.
  • 22. Dorset RO, D124 (Ilchester v. Raishley), 38-40.
  • 23. APC, 1630-1, p. 192; CP25/2/412/8Chas/Easter; William Whiteway, 144; Som. and Dorset N and Q, vii. 311.
  • 24. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xxiii. 225; Hutchins, iv. 429; D. Dudley, Metallum Martis (1665), p. 17.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 423; Vis. Dorset Addenda, 3.