LUKE, Sir Oliver (1574-1651), of Cople Woodend and Hawnes, Beds.

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. 26 Oct. 1574, 1st s. of Nicholas Luke† of Cople and Margaret, da. of Oliver, 1st Bar. St. John of Bletsoe, Beds.2 educ. King’s, Camb. 1588; M. Temple 1592.3 m. (1) settlement 11 June 1599, Elizabeth (bur. 27 Oct. 1607), da. and coh. of Sir Valentine Knightley* of Fawsley, Northants., at least 2s.;4 (2) by June 1616 (with £300), Maud (d. Aug./Sept. 1656), da. of William Trenchard of Cutteridge, nr. Westbury, Wilts. at least 1s. 1da.5 kntd. 11 May 1603;6 suc. fa. 1613.7 d. by 29 Nov. 1651.8 sig. Ol[iver] Luke.

Offices Held

Freeman, Bedford ?1597;9 j.p. Beds. by 1614-27, 1628-?48, Bedford 1618-?48;10 commr. charitable uses, Beds. 1611,11 oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1616-?48;12 sheriff, Beds. 1617-18;13 commr. subsidy, Beds. 1621-2, 1624, 1641, Forced Loan 1626/7, Poll Tax 1641, Irish aid 1642, assessment 1642-8, levying of money 1643,14 preservation of game 1622;15 dep. lt. Beds. 1624, 1642;16 commr. sequestration, Beds. 1643, militia 1648.17

Commr. excise 1645.18


Two of Luke’s ancestors made their fortunes under the Tudors, one as a justice of King’s Bench and the other as an Exchequer baron, while in 1592 the future MP was admitted to the Middle Temple free of charge in recognition of the £20 that the Exchequer baron, a former bencher, had contributed towards the building of the Hall.19 Luke was first returned to the Commons in 1597 as Member for Bedford, where his father owned the rectory of St. Paul’s and his uncle, Oliver, 3rd Baron St. John†, was recorder.20 He married an heiress in 1599, and although she died young, her father bequeathed £5,000 and some Northamptonshire lands to two of his Luke grandsons in 1618.21 At his own father’s death in 1613, Luke inherited 2,500 acres in northern and eastern Bedfordshire and 3,500 acres in southern Huntingdonshire.22 He was involved in extensive litigation on behalf of his relatives, which may explain why his estates were encumbered with debts of £3,800 on the eve of the Civil War.23 In 1617 he refused to allow his youngest sister to marry one of his servants, and prosecuted the aspiring suitor for planning her abduction.24 During the 1630s his role as trustee for a Crown lease of assart lands in Salcey Forest on behalf of his brother-in-law John Cooke involved him in a lawsuit, as did his surety for £1,000 of the debts of his feckless cousin, Oliver St. John II*. He also defended the jointure interests of one of his first wife’s sisters after her husband was arrested for debt.25

The relative with whom Luke became most closely entangled was his brother-in-law Sir Miles Fleetwood*, for whom he purchased the manor of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, and on whose behalf he probably interceded with Oliver, Lord St. John† for a parliamentary seat at Huntingdon in 1614.26 Luke also joined his brother-in-law in guaranteeing £6,000 of the debts of Fleetwood’s nephew Charles, Lord Lambart*, the settlement of which involved him in years of litigation. Lambart hoped to pay off his debts by means of a dowry of £7,000 from his father-in-law Richard, Lord Robartes, but this agreement was never put in writing, and proved to be unenforceable. Robartes, who was eventually ordered to pay the £2,000 portion his daughter had been left by her grandfather, together with a further £2,000 as interest, unsuccessfully fought this ruling for several years, first by means of a parliamentary bill, which (perhaps with Luke’s assistance) was rejected at its second reading in the Commons on 9 June 1626, and then via a suit in Chancery.27 In the absence of financial support from Robartes, Lambart turned to Fleetwood and Luke for shelter from his creditors. A settlement was finalized at Westminster during the parliamentary session of 1628, but Lambart never quite managed to find the full £600 he was supposed to pay each year to amortize his debts, and he questioned some of the terms of the agreement in 1634-5. However, the compromise apparently achieved its primary function of discouraging his creditors from suing Fleetwood and Luke.28

Luke’s inheritance of the family estate in 1613 undoubtedly encouraged him to stand for Bedfordshire at the general election of the following year, but the crucial factor in his success was probably the 6th/7th earl of Kent’s promotion of his nephew and heir presumptive Sir Henry Grey* for the first seat. Under these circumstances Luke’s second cousin (Sir) Oliver St. John I*, senior knight in the two previous parliaments but heir to a mere barony, would have had to settle for the junior seat, and he apparently preferred to stand aside rather than cede precedence at the election. During the 1620s Luke shared the representation of the shire with his St. John cousins, without any known competition from other county families.

Luke played only a minor role within the Commons before 1629. He presumably sponsored a bill to confirm his purchase of lands in Huntingdonshire from Sir William Dyer, which received a single reading on 8 Mar. 1621.29 He was included on the committee for privileges three times (23 Feb. 1624; 21 June 1625; 20 Mar. 1628), and made a single recorded speech, during the subsidy debate of 4 Apr. 1628, when he supported the emerging consensus for a grant of five subsidies.30 Named to attend the conference of 7 Mar. 1626 at which the 3rd earl of Pembroke spoke in favour of the war with Spain, he was later among the delegation which delivered a Remonstrance to the king justifying the Commons’ attacks on the duke of Buckingham (5 Apr. 1626).31 Beyond this, only a handful of the committees to which he was named involved business of any political significance: the Palatine marriage bill (14 Apr. 1614), the preamble to the subsidy bill (10 Apr. 1624), billeting abuses in Surrey (28 Mar. 1628), a bill to confirm the privileges of Parliament (28 Apr. 1628) and the search for precedents to support the Petition of Right (added 21 May 1628).32

Luke’s political views are better illustrated by his activities outside the House. In February 1622 he was one of a large number of MPs summoned before the Privy Council to explain his reluctance to contribute to the Palatine Benevolence.33 Moreover, while he was one of the magistrates who backed Richard Taylor’s* appeal for contributions to the Benevolence raised in lieu of the subsidies lost at the peremptory dissolution of the 1626 Parliament,34 it is unlikely that he was too dismayed by the recalcitrance of the Bedfordshire subsidymen on this occasion, as he and his cousin Sir Beauchamp St. John* were soon in trouble for refusing to collect or contribute to the Forced Loan. Called before the Council on 2 Mar. 1627, Luke may have been required to attend daily thereafter, and was probably removed from the commission of the peace at this time. Lord president Manchester (Sir Henry Montagu*) reported that Luke ‘made fair and dutiful answers’ at a second interview, but he remained obdurate and was imprisoned at the Gatehouse on 4 July.35 Like many other gentry refusers, he was sent away from London at the end of the month, being committed to the custody of the sheriff of Berkshire. He was allowed to visit Westminster briefly at the end of November on private business (probably the arbitration of Lambart’s debts), but otherwise presumably remained in confinement until the general amnesty for refusers in January 1628.36

Luke was probably as concerned about religious issues as he was about the abuses of prerogative finance. Although a conformist before the Civil War, in 1629 he hoped to see ‘something ... for discountenancing both the Popish and Arminian party’.37 These priorities can be discerned throughout his parliamentary record, first in nominations to committees for bills to close loopholes in the 1606 Recusancy Act (2 Mar. 1621, 28 Jan. 1629) and for drafting petitions for stricter execution of the penal laws (5 Feb., 15 Feb. 1621, 24 June 1625), and secondly in his nomination to the committee for the bill for freedom of preaching (23 Jan. 1629) and his inclusion among a delegation sent to the king with a petition urging the rejection of Arminian doctrinal innovations (31 Jan. 1629).38 Aside from these contentious issues, Luke was twice named to attend conferences with the Lords for drafting a petition for a national fast day and once included among those sent to the king about this issue (23 June 1625, 21 Mar. 1628, 27 Jan. 1629). He was also appointed to committees for several bills promoting measures customarily endorsed by the godly: non-residency and pluralism (12 May 1614), restriction of the use of excommunication by ecclesiastical courts (27 June 1625) and simony (23 Feb. 1629).39

While Luke’s closest political allies were his St. John relatives, he also had connections with more radical critics of government policy including (Sir) John Eliot*. Eliot’s earliest biographer assumed that the pair met in 1614,40 but it is likely that they became acquainted either through Luke’s dispute with Robartes, or their shared opposition to the Forced Loan. Shortly before the opening of the 1629 session, Luke warned Eliot that the king had only summoned Parliament ‘in discharge of that obligation that lay upon him’, and advised him to ‘come up with a resolution to receive, not to seek grace’.41 The ironic tone of this letter suggests that Luke did not expect his advice to be taken seriously, and it did nothing to avert Eliot’s demonstration in the House on 2 Mar., which led directly to his arrest. Luke was refused access when he attempted to visit Eliot in the Tower on 8 May, but managed to hold a brief conversation with Denzil Holles* at the window of his cell.42 One of Eliot’s most frequent correspondents, Luke maintained a regular supply of provisions and firewood, and took Eliot’s daughter Elizabeth into his own household.43 He followed the attempts of the imprisoned Members to obtain a writ of habeas corpus, and was one of the friends among whom Eliot circulated drafts of his treatise De Jure Majestatis.44

Luke briefly entertained hopes of a fresh Parliament in the autumn of 1631, a notion quickly dispelled by Eliot.45 He kept a low profile during the decade, but was returned to both the Short and Long Parliaments for Bedfordshire. He raised the county for Parliament in the summer of 1642, but spent most of the war at Westminster, defending the interests of his son Sir Samuel†, governor of Newport Pagnell.46 In 1641 Luke tendered petition from his constituents for Root and Branch abolition of episcopacy, but his alarm at the rise of the Independent sects led him to support a Presbyterian church settlement, and his politics followed suit, which led to his seclusion from the House at Pride’s Purge in December 1648.47 He was reported dead on 29 Nov. 1651, but no will or administration has been found, and there is no record of his burial.48 The estate passed to his eldest son Sir Samuel, who sat for Bedford in both the Long Parliament and the Convention of 1660.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Secluded 6 Dec. 1648.
  • 2. F.A. Blaydes, Genealogia Bedfordiensis, 84.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. C142/343/177; Blaydes, 85; Southill (Beds. par. reg. xii), 11.
  • 5. PROB 11/79, f. 52v; 11/258, f. 156v.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 7. C142/343/177.
  • 8. CCAM, 347.
  • 9. Recorded as a freeman in 1627/8 and 1647: Beds. N and Q ed. F.A. Blaydes, iii. 94; Min. Bk. Bedford Corp. ed. G. Parsloe (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxvi), 4.
  • 10. C231/4, ff. 74, 228, 261; C193/13/3.
  • 11. Beds. RO, L.24/108-9.
  • 12. C181/2, f. 258.
  • 13. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 3.
  • 14. C212/22/20-23; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144; SR, v. 60, 81, 107, 141, 148; A. and O. i. 89, 146, 169, 543, 619, 635, 960, 1077.
  • 15. C181/3, f. 77.
  • 16. SP14/179/15-16; SP28/143 (unnumb. pt.), f. 11v; HMC 3rd Rep. 275b.
  • 17. A. and O. i. 110, 1234.
  • 18. Ibid. i. 691.
  • 19. MTR, 327.
  • 20. C142/343/177; BEDFORD.
  • 21. C142/375/65; PROB 11/132, ff. 466-7.
  • 22. C142/343/177.
  • 23. E112/158/51, f. 4.
  • 24. STAC 8/197/23.
  • 25. E112/158/51; 112/226/62; C2/Chas.I/B45/47.
  • 26. C2/Jas.I/L15/11; HUNTINGDON.
  • 27. C2/Chas.I/B143/24, R40/40, R46/30, R53/35, R61/93; Procs. 1626, iii. 404; Eliot Letter Bk. ed. A.B. Grosart, 13-14.
  • 28. C2/Chas.I/F27/72, F51/146, L35/66, L37/71, L41/58, L46/43.
  • 29. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 133.
  • 30. CJ, i. 671b, 799b, 873a; Procs. 1628, vi. 64.
  • 31. CJ, i. 832a, 843b; C. Russell, PEP, 288, 292-3.
  • 32. CJ, i. 465a, 762a, 876a, 889b, 902a; CD 1628, ii. 54, 517.
  • 33. SP14/127/82.
  • 34. G.D. Gilmore, ‘Pprs. of Richard Taylor of Clapham’, Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxv. 106-7; RICHARD TAYLOR.
  • 35. CSP Dom. 1626-7, p. 44; 1627-8, pp. 245-6; APC, 1627, pp. 86, 403; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 200. SP16/89/1 records him as a prisoner in the Wood Street Compter.
  • 36. APC, 1627, p. 445; 1627-8, pp. 147, 217.
  • 37. Eliot Letter Bk. 12.
  • 38. CD 1621, ii. 27, n.31; CJ, i. 522b, 534a, 921b, 923b, 924-5; Procs. 1625, p. 241; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. from Accession of Jas. I, vii. 21-4.
  • 39. CJ, i. 483a, 874a, 923a, 932b; Procs. 1625, pp. 228, 253.
  • 40. J. Forster, Sir John Eliot, i. 22.
  • 41. Eliot Letter Bk. 12-13.
  • 42. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 543.
  • 43. Eliot Letter Bk. 81-4, 116-18, 126-7, 199.
  • 44. Ibid. 81-4, 96-7, 126-7, 132-4, 155-6, 179, 184, 217-18, 224, 226.
  • 45. Ibid. 199, 208-9.
  • 46. SP28/143 (unnum. pt.), f. 11v; HMC 3rd Rep. 275b.
  • 47. A. Fletcher, Outbreak of Eng. Civil War, 95; Letter Bks. of Sir Samuel Luke ed. H.G. Tibbutt (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xlii), 367-8, 438-8, 478-9; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 379.
  • 48. CCAM, 347.