KYNASTON, Sir Francis (1587-c.1649), of Oteley, Ellesmere, Salop; later of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster and Covent Garden, Mdx.

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. 1587, 1st s. of Sir Edward Kynaston of Oteley and 1st w. Isabel, da. of Sir Nicholas Bagnall† of Newry, co. Down and Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffs.1 educ. Oriel, Oxf. 1601, aged 14, BA (from St. Mary Hall) 1604; L. Inn 1604, called 1611.2 m. (1) settlement 13 Apr. 1611 (with £1,500), Margaret (d. 23 July 1623), da. of Sir Humphrey Lee, 1st bt. of Langley, Salop, 1s., 4da. (2 d.v.p.);3 ?(2) Margaret (d. 23 Nov. 1661), sis. of Charles Mainwaring, s.p.4 kntd. 21 Dec. 1618 or 1 Jan. 1619;5 suc. fa.(?) 1640/1.6 admon. 13 Nov. 1649.7 sig. Fra[ncis] Kinaston.

Offices Held

?Cupbearer to King James; esq. of the body by 1624-42.8

Regent, Musaeum Minervae, Covent Garden 1635-7.9

Commr. array, Salop 1642.10


The Kynastons, who claimed descent from Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, an eleventh-century prince of Powys, were a prolific family concentrated in north-western Shropshire and adjacent parts of Montgomeryshire. In the early Tudor period Sir Francis’s great-great-grandfather married the heiress to a 7,0000-acre estate at Oteley, just outside Ellesmere, which gave his grandfather Francis sufficient status to be returned as knight for Shropshire in 1554.11 Kynaston himself received an unusually comprehensive education for a gentleman, qualifying as a barrister in 1611. Something of a polymath, according to Samuel Hartlib he had a notable music library, owned a fine telescope and promoted inventions and inventors. He published a Latin translation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida (1635) and two volumes of poetry (1635, 1642), and should also be credited as the author of an unpublished essay on Parliament, which survives in several anonymous copies (one dated to 1629). Internal evidence certainly suggests this tract was written by a Shropshire man, but the identification is clinched by Sir Francis Windebank’s† attribution of the essay to ‘Sir Fr. Ken.’ in notes surviving in State Papers.12

Kynaston married a Shropshire woman in 1611, shortly before his call to the bar: he is not known to have practised as a lawyer, though Lincoln’s Inn used him as a witness over a property dispute in 1636. On being knighted in 1618/19, it was assumed that he would take his place on the Shropshire bench, but unlike his father he never held local office, and spent most of his life in London. Hartlib claimed that Kynaston ‘was cupbearer to King James but trembled always, so that he was fain to resign his office, for he is of a modest, civil and somewhat timorous disposition’; yet he remained at Court, becoming an esquire of the Body by 1624. His return to the Commons in December 1620 as junior knight for Shropshire was clearly arranged by his father, whose name headed the election indenture.13

Kynaston is recorded as having spoken in only one debate during the 1621 Parliament, which concerned the Catholic lawyer Edward Floyd of Llwynymaen, near Oswestry. Floyd had publicly delighted in the defeat of the Protestant forces at the Battle of the White Mountain, referring to the king’s daughter as ‘goodwife Palatine’, and the Commons seized upon this insult as an inexpensive way of expressing their support for the Palatine cause. Kynaston, recalling that his father had seized popish books and crucifixes from Floyd’s father 25 years earlier, moved to search Floyd’s study, which was done with alacrity, whereupon prayer beads, books and a libel against Sir Edward Coke* were discovered. Having reminded the House that Floyd was a Shropshire magistrate, Kynaston used a biblical precedent to suggest that he should be incarcerated in the Tower until the Palatines were restored to their kingdom of Bohemia. The debate on Floyd’s punishment quickly ran out of control, with Members vying to suggest ever more gruesome tortures, and after the House settled upon whipping and a £1,000 fine, Kynaston (distantly related to Floyd through the Kynastons of Hordley) vainly attempted to save the accused’s family from the burden of this financial penalty.14

While he never sat in Parliament again, Kynaston offered a considered judgment on the institution in a tract entitled ‘A True Presentation of Forepast Parliaments’. Rebutting another anonymous work - which defended the Petition of Right, and more broadly, Parliament’s conduct throughout the 1620s - Kynaston sought to justify the Crown’s conduct by appealing to a legalistic definition of absolutism: where James grounded his authority on Divine Right, and Sir Robert Filmer saw the monarch as a patriarch writ large, Kynaston looked no further than the maxim that sovereignty was indivisible, which meant that a king could not be bound by laws implemented under his authority. This approach reflected the writings of the French absolutist Jean Bodin (consulted by Filmer), and was also a commonplace among civil lawyers such as John Cowell, who was, unlike Bodin, explicitly cited by Kynaston.15

If the ‘True Presentation’ had any claim to originality, it was through its use of antiquarian research to bolster the prerogative. While Polydore Vergil and Holinshed dated the first summons of Parliament to 18 Henry I, Coke and the lawyers of the defunct Society of Antiquaries claimed continuity with the Saxon Witangemot, and even the druidic assemblies of pre-Roman times, thus identifying Parliament as an institution coeval with, or even more ancient than the monarchy. Kynaston analysed a selection of early charters and chronicles, concluding that historical information about British and Saxon assemblies was so vague as to provide no real evidence for any continuity of membership, privileges or competence between the parliaments convened since 18 Henry I, and those representative institutions which existed prior to the Norman Conquest. Moreover, he asserted that Henry III had altered the membership of the Commons decisively by abandoning the previous general summons of freeholders in favour of a quota of elected representatives from shires and boroughs, concluding ‘we cannot see a more clear example of the king’s regal power confess’d than in this example of kings divesting their commons of privileges to which they pretended as to their right, their freedom, their inheritance, and that by a long tract of time or prescription’. Thus while Kynaston claimed to hope ‘I may never live to see a Parliament wherein the loyal and loving Commons shall be omitted’, he conceded the king’s right to do so. Having drawn these generous limits for the prerogative, he indignantly claimed that the 1624 Statute of Limitations, which curtailed the activities of concealed lands patentees, was an unwarrantable attack upon the principle of the inalienability of the royal demesne.16

Despite the sweeping nature of Kynaston’s theoretical claims for the powers of the prerogative, his arguments, like those of King James in his widely cited speech of 21 Mar. 1610, were defensive rather than aggressive. An absolute king was expected to take counsel, but his subjects also had an obligation to express their opinions in a restrained manner. This allowed Kynaston to take the political offensive against the Commons for its wilful conduct in recent years, particularly over impeachment:

if the wisdom of a commonwealth contained in a Parliament shall undoubtedly perceive that there are about an ill king ... bad officers or ministers ... it is then seasonable for a Parliament, as an assembly of loyal subjects, zealous and careful of their own and the common good by an humble petition or some good way of remonstrance to make the king sensible of the delinquency of his ministers of state ... who are not to be question’d or traduc’d in Parliament for a few unjust actions to particular men, though very unjust and heinously corrupt.

He also insisted that the Commons should not attempt to barter supply for privileges, censuring those who,

when their sovereign requires and importunes them for instant and speedy supply of moneys for just occasions, ... must either know what his occasions are, or be satisfy’d how he comes in want, whether by mis-spending of his treasure or revenues or otherwise, than whether his wants be real or but pretended, whether rumours of wars and invasions be not stirr’d up to draw on subsidies and for no other end; whether the war or expedition wherein much treasure was spent were just and honourable ... alleging that the gift of monies must be the last thing of necessity in policy to be treated on, for subsidies once given, there is no further hope of talking of anything else in Parliament.

In short, MPs should follow the model of republican virtue espoused in Cicero’s De Officiis: ‘no suppos’d relation which Parliament men have to the country or kingdom in general, or any county, city or borough in special ... should be so prevalent with them as to make them forget or neglect their great relation of allegiance and subjection which they owe to their sovereign’.17

Windebank’s notes on the ‘True Presentation’ suggest that Kynaston’s work was well received at Court, which perhaps encouraged him to pursue his most ambitious project, the establishment of the Musaeum Minervae, a finishing school situated in Covent Garden, and intended for the education of the sons of the nobility and the gentry in the manner of French or Italian noble academies. A patent of 1635 appointed him as regent, with a staff of six professors, and the prospectus published in the following year explained that students were offered courses of either three or seven years in a wide range of disciplines likely to prove useful to future magistrates: Kynaston himself undertook to give instruction in heraldry, law, antiquities and husbandry, while teaching, where possible, was to be by ‘demonstration and experiment’. Despite a donation of £100 from the king, and a visit from the young princes Charles and James, the project encountered hostility from the universities and inns of court, and was in serious financial trouble by 1637: it probably closed its doors after one of its professors died of the plague towards the end of the year.18

The failure of his academy must have left Kynaston with considerable debts, which came at an awkward time, as he was then in contention with his father over the settlement of the family estates. In 1631 Sir Francis’s father-in-law, Sir Humphrey Lee, sued Sir Edward Kynaston over his failure to entail his lands as agreed in the marriage settlement concluded 20 years previously. The dispute was settled amicably, but by 1638 Sir Edward, who had been quick enough to collect the £2,600 dowry due upon his grandson’s marriage, had still not settled the entail. Angry exchanges ensued between father and son, some before the Privy Council, and by the time Sir Edward drafted his will in September 1640 he had apparently disinherited Sir Francis in favour of his grandson.19 The latter fought as a royalist in the Civil War, was captured at the fall of Shrewsbury in February 1645, and compounded for the family estates two years later, but Sir Francis, although named as a commissioner of array in 1642, seems to have kept out of trouble. He may have remarried in his final years, but in 1649 administration of his goods was granted to his son rather than his wife, who died in London in 1661.20 His grandson Edward, the last MP in the family, was returned as knight for Shropshire from 1685 until his death in 1699.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 299.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 141.
  • 3. Vis. Salop, 299; C78/400/12.
  • 4. PROB 11/306, f. 331v.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 170.
  • 6. PROB 11/147, f. 327.
  • 7. PROB 6/24, f. 127.
  • 8. N and Q, cxcvii. 34; E179/70/131; SP16/154/76; LC3/1.
  • 9. C66/2691/14; N and Q, cxcvii. 33-7; Survey of London xxxvi. 254-8.
  • 10. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 11. Vis. Salop, 293-9; C142/227/216.
  • 12. Lansd. 213, ff. 146-76; SP16/233/51-2; N and Q, cxcvii. 34. Other copies in Stowe 331; Bodl. Ashmole 1149; FSL, V.6.189.
  • 13. LI Black Bks., ii. 141, 332-3; C78/400/12; HEHL, EL6533; N and Q, cxcvii. 34; C219/37/195.
  • 14. CJ, i. 600-2; CD 1621, iii. 118, 123; v. 127, 359; vi. 118, 120; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 374; Salop RO, 3365/2621; Vis. Salop, 331; R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, pp. 104-15; C. Russell, PEP, 117-18.
  • 15. Lansd. 213, ff. 146, 149; J.H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the Rise of Absolutist Theory, 54-69; J.P. Somerville, Pols. and Ideology in Eng. 1603-1624, pp. 34-9.
  • 16. Lansd. 213, ff. 149-60, 168-9; P. Croft, ‘Sir John Doddridge, King James I and the Antiquity of Parl.’, PER, xii. 95-107; G. Burgess, Pols. of the Ancient Constitution, 60-8; T. Hearne, Curious Discourses, i. 281-93; FRANCIS TATE.
  • 17. G. Burgess, Absolute Monarchy and Stuart Constitution, 37-40; Lansd. 213, ff. 161v-74.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 374; C66/2691/14; N and Q, cxcvii. 34-6; Survey of London, xxxvi. 255-8.
  • 19. C78/400/12; C2/Chas.I/K18/39, 2/Chas.I/K23/23; HMC Cowper, ii. 187; PROB 11/147, f. 327.
  • 20. H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 455-6; Brereton Letter Bks. ed. R.N. Dore (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cxxiii), i. 40, 138; CCC, 1024; PROB 6/24, f. 127; PROB 11/306, f. 331v.