LEWKNOR, Sir Lewis (c.1560-1627), of Selsey, Suss. and Red Cross Street, London; later of Drury Lane, 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. c.1560,1 1st s. of Thomas Lewknor† of Selsey, and his 1st w. Bridget, da. of John Lewes of Selsey; bro. of Samuel*.2 educ. Lyon’s Inn; M. Temple 1579; MA, Camb. 1623, incorp. Oxf. 1624.3 m. (1) by 1587, Beatrice (d. 11 Mar. 1605), da. of one de Rota, merchant, of Antwerp, 2s.;4 (2) 13 June 1605, Katherine (bur. 10 Sept. 1605), wid. of Thomas Argall of East Sutton, Kent, s.p.;5 (3) by 1614, Mary, da. and coh. of Richard Blount† of Dedisham, Suss., 1s. d.v.p. 1da. suc. fa. 1596; 6 kntd. 22 Apr. 1603.7 d. 11 Mar. 1627.8

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. (Spanish army) by 1586-7.9

Gent. pens. 1599-1605;10 commr. arms for Ireland 1601;11 master of ceremonies 1603-d.12

Freeman, Southampton, Hants 1603;13 steward, Selsey manor by 1605-?12;14 commr. oyer and terminer, the Verge 1606-17;15 j.p. Mdx. c.1605-at least 1624,16 Westminster 1619-25;17 commr. annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613, 1625,18 ltcy. Mdx. 1614-22, Tower Hamlets, Mdx. 1616,19 inquiry, lands of Thomas Escourt 1617;20 vestryman, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx. 1618;21 commr. survey, L. Inn Fields, Mdx. 1618,22 subsidy, Mdx. 1621-2,23 inquiry, Dame Anne Clere well, Mdx. 1622,24 nuisances, Mdx. 1624.25


Lewknor was descended from the senior surviving line of a family seated in Sussex since the thirteenth century and which had first represented the county in 1335. His father, Thomas Lewknor, acquired through his wife a lease of the demesne lands and park of Selsey, a Crown manor near Chichester, where he had settled. Despite their Catholic sympathies, Thomas and his brother Richard† were the dominant justices in the Chichester rape in the 1580s.26

Lewknor himself served with the Spanish army in the Netherlands under the duke of Parma, married a Flemish wife, and rose to the rank of captain. Severely wounded in his right arm in 1587, he was subsequently unable to continue in his profession. Since he was also disappointed in his wife’s dowry, he gave himself up in 1590 to Sir Robert Sidney†, the governor of Flushing, who found him ‘a proper civil man’. Lewknor paid his passage by informing on other Catholic exiles, and in his Estate of English Fugitives (1595) described the Spaniards as ‘in their hearts pagans and Moors’.27 By the end of the reign he was regularly employed to entertain distinguished foreign visitors, and when James I created the office of master of ceremonies it was bestowed on him as ‘a gentleman well languaged, of good education and discretion’.28

Lewknor’s uncle, now chief justice of Chester and a prominent member of the Council in the Marches, secured his return for Bridgnorth to the first Jacobean Parliament. He made five recorded speeches, all in the opening session, and received 37 committee appointments between 1604 and 1610. He was named to the committee for privileges on 22 Mar. 1604 and was among those appointed to consider the grievances raised by Sir Edward Montagu the following day.29 His experience of dealing with diplomats probably explains why he was among those ordered to manage the ‘matter of estate foreign or matter of intercourse’ at the conference with the Lords of 28 Apr. on the Union with Scotland.30 On 3 May he was added to committee appointed to confer with the upper House about purveyance. Four days later he was among those instructed to prepare for a further conference to draw up a petition against the abuses of purveyors, when he was also listed as one of the Members able to ‘make more pregnant proof for the several articles’.31

Lewknor’s first recorded speech came on 5 May, when he was one of the disputants who spoke in the debate on religion initiated by Sir James Perrot, although his words were unrecorded.32 In addition, on 15 June he supported the proposal to free husbands from financial responsibility for their wives’ recusancy, arguing that individuals were responsible for their own salvation.33 An unrecorded speech he made five days later, probably on the Form of Apology and Satisfaction of the Commons, provoked such a hostile reaction that a new standing order was made against hissing and interruptions.34 His words again displeased his colleagues when eight days later, while the House was considering a motion from Sir Edward Hoby to send Members to commiserate with the king after a hunting accident, he clumsily ‘interposed’ a speech to the effect ‘that he was induced by some late conference with a foreign ambassador to put the House in mind of some answer to be made to the king’s late letter’ in which James had disclaimed any interest in a subsidy. He was promptly rebuked by Richard Martin, who stated that it was unprecedented for a new motion to be made before an existing question had been resolved.35

Lewknor’s principal legislative interest in the 1604 session seems to have concerned a bill to void a ‘release unduly procured’ between Anthony Penning, a Suffolk justice resident in Ipswich, and the latter’s brother, Edmund.36 Lewknor was first named when the measure was committed on 8 June and he also successfully moved for new Members to be added to the committee six days later; however the bill was never reported. It is possible that Lewknor was acting on behalf of his Suffolk relative, Sir Edward Lewknor I, who was also named to that committee.37 In addition, Lewknor was also first named to consider the bill ‘for redress of certain abuses and deceits in painting’ on 15 June.38

Assessed for the Privy Seal loan in August, Lewknor told Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†) that his ‘poor estate’ made it impossible for him to contribute.39 Early the next year his first wife died after a long illness. Although ‘overwhelmed by sorrow’, he almost immediately married a young widow, but she too died before the year was out ‘of the small pox’.40

In the second session Lewknor was appointed to consider four bills, including one on the Marshalsea Court (21 Mar.), which had jurisdiction over the royal Household, and another to attend the conference with the Lords on 6 Feb. 1606 concerning the recusancy laws.41 On 25 Feb. he was the only Member to oppose the motion to proceed with the purveyance bill.42 On 22 Mar., after learning that a rumour that the king had been assassinated was false, Lewknor conveyed the news to the Spanish ambassador, who reportedly presented him with a chain worth 400 crowns.43

In the third session Lewknor was named to attend the Union conference of 25 Nov. 1606. He was added to the committee to consider the revived bill for reforming the Marshalsea Court on 21 Feb., which may have been of greater interest to him now as he was a commissioner for oyer and terminer for the Household. His only other appointment, seven days later, was to consider ‘the cruelties and wrongs of the Spaniards’. He was obviously well qualified for this task, but was already regarded by the foreign ambassadors in London as pro-Spanish, and it was during this session that one of his sons was reported to have made open profession of Catholicism in France.44

In 1609 Lewknor was granted the goods of a convicted felon.45 In the fourth session he was instructed to attend the supply conference of 15 Feb. 1610, at which Cecil, by now 1st earl of Salisbury, detailed the financial needs of the Crown. He was also appointed to consider 15 bills, including one to confirm Magna Carta (3 Mar.), a further measure to reform the Marshalsea Court (29 Mar.), and a bill to naturalize the children of ambassadors (27 April).46 He made no mark on the records of the fifth session. At an unknown date during the 1604-10 Parliament the inhabitants of Bridgnorth approached Lewknor, ‘of whose honest and just dealing with us by former experience we rest very confident’, to present a petition to the Crown to allow them to purchase the fee farm of former chantry lands, but it is not known whether he intervened on their behalf.47

In 1611 Lewknor’s younger son, Thomas, became a Jesuit in circumstances of even greater secrecy than usual, ‘his father ... being morally sure to lose his place (which is worth unto him £1,000 a year, and his estate not great besides it)’.48 Lewknor surrendered his lease of Selsey to the Crown the following year.49 There is no evidence that he sought re-election in 1614, when Bridgnorth returned two townsmen. In April 1618 he wrote a letter to the confessor of the Spanish ambassador which suggests that he was reconciled to the Church of Rome at about this time.50

Following the collapse of the negotiations for a Spanish Match for Prince Charles in 1623, Lewknor increasingly came under suspicion. In 1624 he and his third wife were presented by Parliament as ‘justly suspected to be popish recusants’.51 In the same year Lewknor was briefly imprisoned in the Tower for presuming to order a ship for the departure of the Spanish ambassador without authorization.52 In the following year he suffered a few days in the Marshalsea and suspension from office for allegedly attempting to exclude the Venetian ambassador from James I’s funeral. The Venetians had for some years regarded him as ‘the most ardent hispanomaniac’ in England.53 He was purged from the bench and, during his period of disgrace and again in the spring of 1626, he was indicted for recusancy at the Middlesex sessions. He nonetheless remained master of ceremonies until his death on 11 Mar. 1627, the last of his branch of the family to sit in Parliament. No will or grant of administration has been found.54

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Age estimated from date of admiss. to M. Temple.
  • 2. Suss. Gens.: Lewes Cent. comp. J. Comber, 153; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 475.
  • 3. MTR, 229; J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 812; Al. Ox.
  • 4. APC, 1599-1600, p. 364; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 345; CSP For. 1590-1, p. 113; HMC Bath, iv. 165; A.J. Loomie, ‘Spain and the English Catholic Exiles’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), p. 220.
  • 5. GL, St. Giles Cripplegate par. reg.; PROB 11/105, f. 141.
  • 6. CSP Ven. 1615-17, p. 599; Comber, 153; Hackney Par. Reg. (Soc. Gen. transcipt).
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 102.
  • 8. ‘Notebook of John Southcote’ ed. J.H. Pollen, in Miscellanea (Cath Rec. Soc. i), 113.
  • 9. A.J. Loomie, Spanish Elizabethans, 10 where his first name is incorrectly given as Samuel.
  • 10. E407/1/29, 37.
  • 11. APC, 1600-1, p. 219.
  • 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 144; CSP Ven. 1626-8, p. 162.
  • 13. HMC 11th Rep. III, 23.
  • 14. Lansd. 89, f. 144.
  • 15. C181/2, ff. 13v, 287.
  • 16. C66/1662; Mdx. Co. Recs. ed. J.C. Jeaffreson, ii. 177.
  • 17. C231/4, f. 88; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 21.
  • 18. C181/2, ff. 142, 199; 181/3, f. 157.
  • 19. APC, 1613-14, p. 566; 1616-17, p. 14; C66/2137; 66/2234.
  • 20. C181/2, f. 289v.
  • 21. J. Paston, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, 353.
  • 22. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 23. C212/22/20-1.
  • 24. C181/3, f. 41v.
  • 25. Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 96.
  • 26. HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 474-5; OR; VCH Suss. iv. 208; H. Ellis, ‘Certificate concerning Justices of the Peace in 1587’, Suss. Arch. Colls. ii. 59.
  • 27. CSP For. 1590-1, p. 113; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 683-4; HMC Downshire, v. 369; C. Whitfield, ‘Sir Lewis Lewkenor and "The Merchant of Venice": a suggested connexion’, N and Q, ccix. 123-33.
  • 28. APC, 1599-1600, p. 259; 1601-4, p. 505; Rymer, vii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 29. CJ, i. 150a, 151b.
  • 30. Ibid. 188b.
  • 31. Ibid. 198a, 202a.
  • 32. Ibid. 199a.
  • 33. Ibid. 992b-3a.
  • 34. Ibid. 995b.
  • 35. Ibid. 247b-8a, 998a-b.
  • 36. Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 157. When the bill received its first reading it was entitled ‘For the frustrating of a release unduly procured by Anthony Penning from Edmund Penning ...’, but at second reading it was ‘for frustrating of a release unduly procured by Edmund Penning ...’. CJ, i. 233a, 234b.
  • 37. Ibid. 234b, 239a.
  • 38. Ibid. 239b.
  • 39. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 198.
  • 40. HMC Bath, iv. 165.
  • 41. CJ, i. 263a, 288a.
  • 42. Bowyer Diary, 54.
  • 43. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 333.
  • 44. CJ, i. 324b, 339b, 344b; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 350; CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 213, 523.
  • 45. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 535.
  • 46. CJ, i. 393b, 404b, 416a, 422a.
  • 47. HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 197.
  • 48. H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. ii. 636; vii. 454.
  • 49. VCH Suss. iv. 208; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 345.
  • 50. Spain and Jacobean Catholics Vol. II: 1613-24 ed. A.J. Loomie (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxviii), 105.
  • 51. LJ, iii. 395.
  • 52. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 247-8.
  • 53. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 101; 1625-6, pp. 53-55, 168-9; J. Finet, Finetti Philoxenis (1656), pp. 148, 150.
  • 54. Mdx. Co. Recs. iii. 5, 8.