JAMES, Francis (c.1559-1616), of Barrow Court, Som.; formerly of Bristol, Glos.

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.1559, 3rd s. of John James of Little Onn, Staffs. and Ellen, da. of William Bolt of Sandbach, Cheshire.1 educ. All Souls, Oxf. 1581, aged 22, BCL 1583, DCL 1588; adv. 1590;2 G. Inn 1606.3 m. (1) Elizabeth Winter (d. 1 May 1599), s.p.;4 (2) Blanche, da. and coh. of Francis Gunter, Skinner, of London and Albury, Herts., wid. of William Billingsley of London, 4s. 5da. d. 26 Mar. 1616.5

Offices Held

Fell., All Souls 1577;6 member, Doctors’ Commons 1590-1615;7 chan., Bristol dioc. 1587-1603,8 Wells dioc. 1599-d.;9 judge of V.-Admlty, Dorset 1603, Bristol, Glos. 1604.10

Judge, Ct. of Audience 1590-d.;11 master in Chancery (extraordinary) by 1601, (ordinary) 1614-d.;12 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1601-d.13

J.p. Dorset c.1592-d., Som. 1597-d.,14 commr. piracy, Dorset 1601, 1603, 1611,15 Bristol 1604, London 1609,16 commr. subsidy, Bristol, Dorset and Som. 1608,17 sewers, Som. 1616.18

Member for Bath and Wells, Convocation of Canterbury 1604.19


The younger brother of a Jacobean bishop of Durham, James was financially one of the most successful civil lawyers of his generation, notwithstanding his complaints about his ‘poor, troublesome, and wearisome’ offices, which towards the end of his life included positions in Chancery and the Canterbury High Commission. In 1602 he could afford to purchase the Somerset seat of Barrow Court, which he probably rebuilt.20 Heavily involved in West Country ecclesiastical administration for much of his career, he drew on his local contacts to obtain seats in the last three Elizabethan Parliaments, representing Somerset or Dorset boroughs. As chancellor of Bristol for 16 years prior to 1603, when he sold the post to Sampson Hussey†, he was doubtless a familiar figure in Dorset, the greater part of which fell within that diocese, and he also served on the county bench. Precisely who mediated his return at Wareham in 1604 is unclear, but one possibility was his ‘good friend’ Leonard Parry, rector of the nearby parish of Owermoigne, whom he later appointed to oversee a charitable donation to the town.21

One of the more prominent Members of the first Jacobean Parliament, particularly in its early stages, James received 115 committee appointments and made 12 recorded speeches. At the start of the 1604 session, he was named on 23 Mar. to a select committee to consider the grievances on religion, wardship, purveyance and other topics raised by Sir Robert Wroth I*. He was subsequently nominated to attend a conference with the Lords about wardship, and was listed as a Member who could supply evidence of purveyance abuses (7 and 22 May). Although his views on the Buckinghamshire election controversy were not recorded, he was nominated on 5 Apr. to confer with judges about the Commons’ right to resolve this dispute. He was also named on 14 Apr. to attend a conference with the Lords about the Union.22

Surprisingly, James’s presence in the House was never directly challenged, for as a member of Convocation he was officially ineligible to sit in the Commons. Presumably he was one of those Members whom Francis Tate and Sir Edward Phelips had in mind when they observed on 8 June that there were some men in the House with seats in Convocation.23 James naturally took a keen interest in matters of religion in the Commons. He chaired the committee which examined Brian Bridger, a clergyman who had used a petition to the Commons to attack the episcopate, and reported to the House that the petitioner was a man ‘void of all piety and discretion, ... a schismatic in the highest degree’ (29 Mar. and 2 April).24 Nominated on 27 Apr. to scrutinize the bill to found a new church at Melcombe Regis, Dorset, he brought the measure back to the House on 17 May with a recommendation that it be scrapped and replaced. He also chaired the committee for the revised bill, delivering a positive report on 25 May, and the legislation was subsequently enacted.25 James enjoyed less success with the bill to increase clerical stipends. Named to the committee on 18 June, he reported the measure nine days later, but it was rejected at its third reading on 28 June.26 Other similar bills which he was appointed to consider included those on London tithes, clerical marriages, the reform of ecclesiastical courts, and unjust lawsuits against clergy (10-11 May, 16 and 19 June). He also spoke, on 15 June, against an amendment to the recusancy laws, which would have removed husbands’ responsibility for paying the fines incurred by their Catholic spouses.27

As an experienced lawyer, James was an obvious choice on 24 Mar. to help prepare the bill for the continuance or repeal of expiring statutes. Once this task was completed, he was also named to the bill’s committee, and subsequently to that of another measure to revive certain statutes which had expired on the death of Elizabeth I (5 and 22 June).28 Nominated on 9 May to the committee for the bill concerning costs in a prohibition, he was instructed six days later to take charge of this measure. No record of the committee’s report survives, but he contributed to the third reading debate on 31 May, at the end of which the bill was rejected.29 Clearly this failure did not reflect badly on James himself, for on 2 June he was again appointed to take charge of a bill, this time concerned with the garbling, or cleansing of spices in London. Already a member of the committee, he reported the bill on 5 June, and it later passed into law.30

James was less vocal during the 1605-6 session, though he continued to receive numerous committee nominations, mainly on matters of law or religion. Named on 30 Jan. to consider John Hare’s radical bill for reforming purveyance, he was also appointed to help draft the subsidy bill (10 February). He unsuccessfully opposed a measure to prevent married academics and clerics from residing in colleges or cathedrals with their families (3 Mar.), and contributed to the debate on 3 May about ejected ministers, though his views were not recorded.31 His stance on Catholics was legalistic but not unduly harsh, considering the recent Gunpowder Plot. Appointed on 3 Feb. to help confer with the Lords about tightening the recusancy laws, he was dismissive on 14 Apr. of John Bond’s objections to a clause in the resulting reform bill, whereby offenders were automatically to be deemed excommunicate. In James’s view, this was actually a more humane approach to the Catholic problem, for previously the law had stated that all recusants should be individually excommunicated by the church authorities, requiring formal absolution if they conformed to the Anglican church. However, under these new provisions, their exclusion from the sacraments would be lifted as soon as they abandoned popish practices. This, as James noted at considerable length, was a rather more moderate stance than the Catholic Church was willing to adopt towards Protestants abroad, who were liable to be burnt as heretics.32 On 26 May he was nominated to help investigate an ‘invective’ sermon preached at St. Paul’s cathedral, which attacked Parliament for interfering in religious affairs.33

James’s high profile in the Commons was confirmed in the 1606-7 session, when he became a member of the committee for privileges and returns.34 He is not known to have spoken on religious affairs this time, but was named to committees for two bills to reform the ecclesiastical courts, and another to block the implementation of Church Canons which had not been confirmed by Parliament (29 Nov. and 11 Dec. 1606; 16 May 1607). The latter measure will have been of particular interest to him, as it represented the latest stage in the Commons’ ongoing battle to prevent Convocation from introducing changes to the established Church without parliamentary approval.35 Appointed on 18 May to help draft a petition to the king on recusancy and other church matters, he was also selected to search for precedents after the monarch declined to receive this document (16 June).36 James was nominated on 24 Nov. to attend a meeting with the Lords about the Instrument of Union, and also to help manage two subsequent conferences on the contentious issue of naturalization (24 Feb. and 7 March). On this matter he offered his firm opinion on 23 Feb.: unless a perfect Union of England and Scotland was achieved, then no Scots could automatically be classed as naturalized Englishmen.37

In the first session of 1610, James was appointed to attend the first conference with the Lords at which supply was discussed (15 Feb.), but he subsequently passed no recorded comment on the Great Contract proposals. Still a member of the committee for privileges, he was named on 18 Apr. to consider a bill to improve Members’ attendance in the Commons, but he himself failed to turn up when the measure was discussed. He was also nominated to legislative committees relating to boroughs that he had previously represented, these being Dorchester and Minehead (17 and 23 February).38 Appointed on 4 May to help draft a bill on excommunication, he opposed another bill to limit ecclesiastical jurisdiction, asserting on 21 May that ‘the High Commission do more service than all the magistrates in the kingdom, for discovering of recusants’. James presumably attended the second 1610 session, but left no trace on its scanty records.39

James claimed to be in perfect health when he drew up his will in November 1613, and he still nursed ambitions to sit in Parliament. However, when he stood in the following year for an Oxford University seat, he lost out to two more prominent lawyers. He is not known to have sought a place at Wareham, the borough having fallen under the sway of William Pitt*, whose brother had once been pilloried at Blandford, Dorset for bringing a slanderous accusation against James in Chancery. Instead, he threw his energies into canvassing for Sir Robert Phelips* in the Somerset election, another campaign which ended in failure.40

James died in March 1616, and was buried at Barrow. An ‘inward man, ... wise and secret’, he directed in his will that all his papers should be burnt, and while ‘much approving the Christian memory of friends deceased’, requested that there be no ‘costly or chargeable monument’ erected to him. Indeed, he took a gloomy view of his own career:

It was my hard hap to live in those times as a public person in the government of the Church, when with some sorts of people (and those many and of place) the best actions of church officials could never receive good interpretations. ... God in his good time will right and free the Church from many wrongs, and amend that which is amiss.

He bequeathed £150 in total for charitable purposes at Bristol, Dorchester, Wareham, and Wells, Somerset. To each of his five daughters he assigned portions of £400, and he requested that his second son William either be placed with James’s brother as an apprentice ‘if he shall be fit for it’, or educated at university or the inns of court. His widow, who proved the will, subsequently erected a rather old-fashioned memorial in Barrow Gurney church, showing them both at prayer with their nine children.41 Their eldest son, Francis, was still a minor, but she purchased his wardship for £140, helped by her stepbrothers, Henry and Thomas Southworth*. Francis sold Barrow Court 20 years later, and nothing further is known of this family.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vis. Dur. ed. Foster, 187.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. GI Admiss.
  • 4. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxvi. 264-5.
  • 5. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 7, 61; Collinson, Som. ii. 312-13.
  • 6. Al. Ox.
  • 7. B.P. Levack, Civil Lawyers, 243.
  • 8. Hutchins, Dorset, i. p. xxix.
  • 9. Levack, 243.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 62v, 92v.
  • 11. Levack, 243.
  • 12. T.D. Hardy, Principal Officers of Chancery, 89.
  • 13. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 6; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 291.
  • 14. Hatfield House, ms 278; C231/1, f. 35; 231/2, f. 245.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 12v, 62v; 181/2, f. 159.
  • 16. C181/1, f. 92v; 181/2, f. 101v.
  • 17. SP14/31/1.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 246.
  • 19. SP16/88/16.
  • 20. Vis. Som. 61; Levack, 31; PROB 11/127, f. 345; Collinson, Som. ii. 311; N. Pevsner, N. Som. and Bristol (Buildings of Eng.), 87.
  • 21. Bristol RO, will of Sampson Hussey; Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxiii. 148; PROB 11/127, f. 343.
  • 22. CJ, i. 151a, 166b, 172a, 202a, 222b.
  • 23. Ibid. 989a.
  • 24. Ibid. 157b, 161a.
  • 25. Ibid. 187b, 212b, 224a, 980a.
  • 26. Ibid. 241a, 247a, 248a.
  • 27. Ibid. 205a, 206b, 240b, 241b, 992b.
  • 28. Ibid. 152b, 232b, 244b.
  • 29. Ibid. 204a, 229b, 973a.
  • 30. Ibid. 228b, 232b, 984b.
  • 31. Ibid. 262a, 266b, 276b, 304b.
  • 32. Ibid. 263a, 298a; Bowyer Diary, 125-6.
  • 33. CJ, i. 312b.
  • 34. Ibid. 386a.
  • 35. Ibid. 326b, 329b, 374b.
  • 36. Ibid. 375a, 384b.
  • 37. Ibid. 324b, 340a, 350a, 1020a.
  • 38. Ibid. 393b, 394b, 399a, 418b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 185.
  • 39. CJ, i. 424b, 430a.
  • 40. PROB 11/127, f. 342v; Oxf. Univ. Arch. Reg. Convoc. K. (22), f. 139v; Harl. 2143, f. 65; E. Farnham, ‘Som. Election of 1614’, EHR, xlvi. 590.
  • 41. Collinson, ii. 312-13; HMC Hatfield, xii. 508; PROB 11/127, ff. 342v-5v; Pevsner, 87.
  • 42. Sales of Wards 1603-41 ed. M.J. Hawkins (Som. Rec. Soc. lxvii), 118-19; A.J. Jewers, Wells Cathedral, 44; Som. and Dorset N and Q, xi. 152.