LEWKNOR, Samuel (1571-?by..1615), of Upton Cressett, Salop

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

bap. 3 Nov. 1571, 6th s. of Thomas Lewknor† of Tangmere, Suss. and 1st w. Bridget, da. of John Lewes of Selsey, Suss.;1 bro. of Sir Lewis*. educ. Winchester 1584; travelled abroad (Germany, Poland, Prussia, Lithuania, Bohemia) c.1592-4.2 m. Jane (bur. 14 Jan. 1611), da. of John Hopton of Rockhill, Salop, wid. of Richard Cresset (d.1601) of Upton Cressett, s.p.3 d. ?by 1615.

Offices Held


Lewknor went overseas in about 1592, ‘without his father’s privity or liking’, and travelled widely in eastern Europe, where he was welcomed as ‘a very proper gentleman’. In the preface to the book that he wrote about his travels, published in 1600, he boasted that he had seen many foreign universities, but confessed that his scholarship might be at fault, being ‘one that hath more usually been acquainted with the warlike sound of martial drums than with the schools’. The book itself gives no further details of his military career, and only occasional glimpses of his movements. He recounted the religious differences of the area, but the respect with which he spoke of the educational achievements of the Jesuits was unusual, while his account of the deposition of King Bohuslaw of Poland by his own subjects, ‘the Pope first absolving them from their obedience’, scarcely confirms his brother’s claim that he had behaved ‘as becomes a good subject’ while abroad. Lewknor dedicated his tome to his uncle Sir Richard Lewknor†, chief justice of Chester and the presiding judge of the Council in the Marches at Ludlow, who no doubt arranged his marriage to a Shropshire widow. The heir of the latter’s first husband married a granddaughter of Sir Henry Townshend*, a local connection which probably explains Lewknor’s return for Bishop’s Castle in 1604.4

A regular and effective contributor to debate, on 15 June 1604 Lewknor opposed attempts to make husbands financially responsible for their wives’ recusancy fines: ‘as great reason that the husband should stand in a white sheet because his wife hath made him a cuckhold, as to pay £20 a month’. Six days later, he moved that Eton and his own former school, Winchester, should be included in the bill barring married men from the universities and cathedral chapters; a new bill was ordered to be drafted, but no further proceedings were recorded until the next session, when he was one of the committee for the married fellows’ bill (25 Jan. 1606). On 28 Jan. 1606, Lewknor complained that he and others present at the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters had been all but jostled off the tiered seating provided for them because of profiteering by the warden of the Fleet prison, whom he moved to commit to the Tower dungeon known as Little Ease for having ‘caused them to stand in little ease’.5

The next parliamentary session was dominated by the Union with Scotland, which was widely disliked, but could only be subtly opposed, for fear that the king might take personal offence. On 7 Mar. 1607, when Sir Edwin Sandys urged that existing plans be replaced by a ‘perfect’ Union, Lewknor apparently offered his support by moving that ‘no man might be employed [at a conference that afternoon with the Lords] that is against it’.6 On 2 May, James grudgingly conceded that much of his agenda could not be achieved, but asked for a bill to repeal those ‘hostile laws’ against the Scots which still remained on the statute books. Some MPs interpreted this royal attempt to stipulate which questions the House should debate as an abrogation of the Commons’ right to free speech. At the bill’s second reading on 6 May Lewknor attacked those who privately reported Commons’ debates to the king, moved for those whose words had caused offence to be allowed to clear their names, and urged James to ‘make known to this House that his princely meaning was, and is, that they should, with all liberty and freedom, and without fear, deliver their opinions in the matter in hand and so proceed according to their best judgment’. The debate over these motions, which were ‘much approved’ by the House, occupied a whole morning, and while James conceded two of Lewknor’s points, he took umbrage at the assumption that his speech of 2 May could have been construed as an attack on parliamentary privilege.7 The authors of the ‘Parliament Fart’ poem recalled Lewknor’s speech in their couplet on him: ‘Now, quoth Mr. Lewknor, we have found such a thing /As no tale-bearer dares carry to the king’.

For all this contention, the hostile laws bill was committed, but two days later, when the matter came to be debated, Lewknor secured an adjournment ‘because they were not there which he thought had most lynx’s eyes to pierce into those matters’. He made a similar complaint at another sparsely attended meeting on 4 June, and was himself sent to summon more Members.8

Lewknor played a less prominent part in the next session, which met in the spring of 1610. At the start of the session he was one of a committee ordered to prepare for a conference with the Lords over the absolutist views expressed by Dr. John Cowell in his law dictionary (27 Feb.), and he was later named to a committee for a private bill for Lord Bergavenny, whose brother Francis Neville I* had married his sister (7 July). According to Sir Herbert Croft*, he was the only Marcher MP who opposed efforts to include the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches over the border shires in the list of Commons’ grievances. On 5 May, speaking (perhaps) in the interest of his uncle, Justice Lewknor, he claimed that to include this point would constitute ‘an affront’ to Prince Henry shortly before his creation as prince of Wales, and insisted that there were ‘not four towns in those shires, not 100 men grieved’. Lewknor played no recorded part in the debates over the Great Contract - the ambitious plan to restructure Crown finances - and made only one intervention in the protracted dispute with the king over impositions. This occurred on 22 May, at a particularly tense moment during this confrontation. Fearing a dissolution, it seems, he warned Members ‘to expect what will come from the king’. However, quite unexpectedly, James gave way three days later.9

When the House reconvened in the autumn, it was clear that the Great Contract was a dead letter, as slowly became clear once the king pressed the House for a decision. On 16 Nov., after pointing out that it was a hard choice ‘when man is constrained to speak either with danger or against his conscience’, Lewknor pronounced what was, effectively, the epitaph of the Contract:

I remember the last session this Contract was by a great and honourable lord termed the fair Helen that we all courted. It is true we all did court her, but not as men court wanton ladies with show, only to pass away the time withal. But we became suitors with a firm purpose and resolution to wed her, might we have enjoyed her at the price she was once offered us ... But if our forwardness of desiring her hath caused her to be set at higher rate than our abilities could possibly reach unto, may we be justly blamed if we thought her parents were not willing to part from so dear a child, or may we justly be condemned for rejecting that which certainly by all means willingly was not rejected?

As for a consolatory vote of supply, he observed, the common people, being - like the king - too poor to pay, would say, ‘what have you brought us home after seven or eight years spent in Parliament but your own shame and our undoing?’ The merchants, too, were unable to pay, being crushed by ‘the late augmentation of imposts and customs’, and if James wanted supply, he should look to the nobility, who (Lewknor suggested) were placed to make as generous a gift as the friends of Cyrus.10 If the resources of the peers proved insufficient, James might emulate the Emperor Antoninus, and ‘abate his train, and from those that were idle and needless fellows ... take away their salaries and pensions’. As for the possibility that necessity might forced James to extreme measures,

His Majesty, wholly compact of goodness and the true mirror of justice, will ever prefer justice and honesty before his own profit and utility ... But if for our punishment God should be pleased, which of His mercy I hope He never will, that His Majesty should be otherwise disposed, then remaineth only for us prayers and tears, and we must resolve to endure that patiently which we cannot avoid conveniently.

He ended by asking ‘that no man will make any evil construction of that which with all duty and respect I have delivered’. There followed a long silence.11

Virtually nothing is known about Lewknor’s career subsequent to this speech: his wife died two months later, and Bishop’s Castle was still in arrears with his parliamentary wages in April 1612. He may have died shortly thereafter, as he was not mentioned in the will drafted by his uncle in 1615.12

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Simon Healy


  • 1. Soc. Gen. Selsey par. reg.; N and Q (ser. 12), v. 201-2.
  • 2. T.F. Kirby, Winchester Scholars, 152; S. Lewkenor, A Discourse ... of all those Cities wherein do flourish at this day privileged universities (1600).
  • 3. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 259; Salop RO, transcript of Bridgnorth St. Leonard par. reg.
  • 4. Lewkenor, 53-5; Harl. 7042, f. 166v; HMC Hatfield, iv. 424, 604.
  • 5. CJ, i. 260a, 993a, 996a; Bowyer Diary, 10.
  • 6. CJ, i. 1028b; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 112-13.
  • 7. CJ, i. 1041a; Bowyer Diary, 376; CD 1604-7, pp. 113, 144; Galloway, 120-2.
  • 8. Add. 34218, f. 21v; Bowyer Diary, 311, 383.
  • 9. CJ, i. 400b, 425a, 430b, 447a; R.E. Ham, County and Kingdom, 199.
  • 10. An allusion to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, for which see J. Cramsie, Kingship and Crown Finance under James VI and I, 25-8.
  • 11. Foster, Procs. 1610, ii. 332-6, 400-4; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 30v; C. Russell, ‘Parl. Hist. in Perspective, 1604-29’, History, lxi. 14.
  • 12. HMC 10th Rep. iv. 401; PROB 11/127, f. 488.