LAWLEY, Thomas (1580/3-1646), of London; Twickenham, Mdx. and Spoonhill, Much Wenlock, Salop; formerly of Middelburg, Zeeland and Delft, Holland.

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. 1580/3, 3rd s. of Francis Lawley (d.1583) of Spoonhill and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Newport† of High Ercall, Salop.1 educ. appr. Draper, London. c.1600.2 m. 4 July 1625, Anne, da. and coh. of John Manning of Hackney, Mdx., 2s. 1da.3 suc. bro. Richard 1624;4 cr. bt. 16 Aug. 1641.5 d. 19 Oct. 1646.6

Offices Held

Member, Merchant Adventurers’ Co. c.1607;7 freeman, Drapers’ Co. 1623, master 1642-3.8

Freeman, Wenlock liberty 1625;9 j.p. Salop by 1636-?42;10 alderman, Castle Baynard ward, London Jan.-Mar. 1641.11


Resident at Wenlock by the early fifteenth century, William Lawley and his son John represented nearby Bridgnorth in the Commons five times during the reign of Henry VI. Their descendants subsequently played an active part in Wenlock’s municipal politics, although none of the senior branch of the family sat in Parliament again until Richard Lawley in 1545, who was returned shortly after his acquisition of substantial estates from the town’s recently dissolved priory.12 Richard built a house at Spoonhill, two miles south of the borough, and his son and eldest grandson served as bailiffs of Wenlock in 1582-3 and 1617-18 respectively, but it was the junior branch of the family which dominated municipal politics until the death of (Sir) Edward Lawley* in 1623.13

As the youngest of three brothers, Thomas Lawley had to make his own way in the world, and in about 1600 he was apprenticed to the London Draper Edward Rotheram. He did not take up his freedom until 1623, due to an extended sojourn in the Low Countries, where he resided from 1607, initially as a factor to his master no doubt.14 His move to the Low Countries was ideally timed to take advantage of the ceasefire talks between Spain and the United Provinces, which led to a formal truce in April 1609 and a trade boom thereafter. Lawley, a Merchant Adventurer operating from the Company’s Dutch staple ports, specialized in the shipment of ‘Spanish cloth’ (manufactured in England, partly from Spanish wool) to the Spanish Netherlands, although he turned his hand to other goods, such as madder and tobacco, when the opportunity arose.15 His return to London in May 1623 was doubtless prompted by the gradual tightening of restrictions on trade between the Dutch and Spanish Netherlands following the end of the Twelve Years’ truce in 1621.16 Most of Lawley’s business was with Bruges and Antwerp, and with the threat of a Spanish embargo on Dutch trade during 1623 it made sense for him to relocate his business to London and open direct links with his customers. However, England’s breach with Spain in 1624-5 must have come as an unpleasant surprise to him, and the efforts he made to collect outstanding debts over the next few years suggests that his trading income was reduced by the outbreak of war.

Any cash flow problems in Lawley’s business were offset by his inheritance of the Spoonhill estate at the death of his eldest brother in November 1624. He must also have received a substantial dowry with his own bride in 1625, as he assigned her a jointure estate worth £300 a year.17 One of the advantages of Lawley’s Shropshire inheritance was the influence it offered the holder within the borough of Wenlock, and, although an absentee, Lawley was admitted a freeman in April 1625. Returned to the next three parliaments for the borough, he left little trace on the records of the Commons’ debates. On 16 May 1626 he was ordered to attend the House to sign the general protestation that Sir John Eliot and Sir Dudley Digges had not meant to accuse Charles and Buckingham of murdering the late king in their presentation of impeachment charges against Buckingham. At the end of the following session, Lawley was named to the committee for the bill to naturalize the Dutch merchant Giles Vanbrugh (13 June 1628).18

The only parliamentary issue in which Lawley was directly interested involved a petition from another London Draper, Henry Billingsley, about the revocation of his contract to handle foreign letters for the Merchant Adventurers. This had been quashed at the behest of Matthew de Quester, whose existing monopoly of foreign posts it infringed, while Billingsley’s refusal to co-operate had led to his committal to the Marshalsea in March 1628. The issue was of direct relevance to Lawley, who stood surety for Billingsley’s debts only a few days before the latter’s arrest, and paid out £650 to Billingsley’s creditors over the next few months. Given this background, it is likely that Lawley promoted much of the parliamentary opposition to de Quester, whose patent was censured, although Billingsley’s own contract, held upon similar grounds, went unnoticed. An appeal to the king secured Billingsley’s release shortly after the end of the session, but he ungratefully fell out with Lawley later over the sale of the cloth the latter held as security for his debts.19

Lawley is not known to have been involved in the controversy over the seizure of the goods of the merchant John Rolle* for non-payment of customs, which became the focus of merchants’ grievances against the government during and after the 1629 session. However, the imposition of high duties on cloth imports by the Spanish Netherlands when trade resumed in the following year led him to join in a petition which persuaded the Privy Council to include the issue on the agenda at trade negotiations in 1631.20 English neutrality was an enormous benefit to merchants trading with Spain, and Lawley’s business apparently prospered over the next decade, during which time he also opened links to Portugal. His success enabled him to consider the purchase of a Worcestershire estate in 1635, while from 1639 he loaned his cousin Dame Ursula Bertie a total of £2,100 upon a mortgage of Wenlock Priory.21 With such financial resources at his command, it is unsurprising that he was appointed one of the sheriffs of London in 1639. Presumably mindful of difficulties over collection of Ship Money, though, he was one of no less than 35 men who each chose to pay a fine of £400 to escape the office.

Lawley is not known to have stood for re-election at Wenlock at either of the general elections of 1640. He did take up office as alderman of Castle Baynard Ward, London in January 1641, but he stood down after paying a fine of £800 only six weeks later ‘in regard of his inabilities of body’.22 He probably aimed to keep a low profile as the political situation deteriorated, but Shropshire’s early declaration for the royalist cause forced him to forfeit either his estates or his business. He chose to remain in London, serving as master of the Drapers’ Company in 1642-3, during which time he was rated to contribute £800 towards Parliament’s war effort. Having paid the first half promptly, he took ship for Holland at the end of his term of office, and after some months’ prevarication, he was awarded a discount of £200 on the final payment.23 He probably returned to England shortly thereafter, as he was buried at Twickenham in October 1646. In his will, presumably drafted shortly before his last trip to the Low Countries, he left £7,000 in goods to his wife and two younger children, while his eldest son Sir Francis†, 2nd bt. inherited the Shropshire estates. His widow quickly remarried John Glynne†, the recorder of London, while his descendants held their Wenlock estates until recent times, representing the borough in Parliament regularly from 1659.24

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. soc. xxix), 314.
  • 2. Drapers’ Hall, London, FA1.
  • 3. Vis. Salop, 314; LMA, Hackney par. reg.
  • 4. C142/431/98.
  • 5. CB.
  • 6. D. Lysons, Environs of London, iii. 582; C2/Chas.I/L7/62, f. 1.
  • 7. Assumed to have joined when he went to the Low Countries: C2/Jas.I/L15/18.
  • 8. Drapers’ Hall, London, FA1.
  • 9. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), vi. 277.
  • 10. SP16/405; C231/5, p. 287.
  • 11. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 93.
  • 12. VCH Salop, x. 416-17, 420-1.
  • 13. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), vi. 265; MUCH WENLOCK.
  • 14. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. xi. 14; Drapers’ Hall, London, FA1; C2/Jas.I/L15/18.
  • 15. E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern Eng. 34-41; J.I. Israel, Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 3-21; C2/Jas.I/L15/18; C2/Chas.I/L23/33; 2/Chas.I/L43/32, 51; 2/Chas.I/L65/32; C3/338/15.
  • 16. Israel, 143-5.
  • 17. C2/Chas.I/L22/60, 2/Chas.I/L23/31; HUL, DDFA 26/11; Borthwick, Wenlock deeds 5/10.
  • 18. CJ, i. 860b, 913a; C. Russell, PEP, 306-7.
  • 19. HMC Cowper, i. 295, 330; iii. 155; APC, 1627-8, pp. 99-100; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, ii. 176-8; CD 1628, iii. 185-7, 192; iv. 307, 446, 459-60, 464; C8/42/64; C2/Chas.I/B100/9; 2/Chas.I/L54/4, 61.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 480; APC, 1630-1, pp. 333-4; B.E. Supple, Commercial Crisis and Change in Eng. 1600-42, p. 116.
  • 21. E. Suss. RO, GLY/554; HUL, DDFA 26/14, 17; C2/Chas.I/L7/62; 2/Chas.I/L22/43; 2/Chas.I/L24/2.
  • 22. CLRO, Reps. 53, f. 241v; Reps. 55, ff. 60v, 64, 97v.
  • 23. CCAM, 169.
  • 24. C2/Chas.I/L7/62, f. 1; PROB 11/198, f. 281; Lysons, iii. 582.