LYTTON, Sir Rowland (1561-1615), of Knebworth, Herts.

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. 28 Sept. 1561,1 o.s. of Rowland Lytton of Knebworth and his 2nd w. Anne, da. of John Carleton of Brightwell Baldwin, Oxon.2 educ. privately; Caius, Camb. 1576; G. Inn 1579.3 m. c.1585, Anne (d. 28 Feb. 1602), da. of Sir Oliver St. John†, 1st Bar. St. John of Bletso, wid. of Robert Corbet† (d.1583) of Moreton Corbet, Salop, 3s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.).4 suc. fa. 1582;5 kntd. 7 May 1603.6 d. 23 June 1615.7

Offices Held

J.p. Herts. 1587-d., St. Albans liberty by 1599-d.;8 capt. militia ft. Herts. by 1588-1605;9 sheriff, Herts. 1594-5;10 commr. musters, Herts. 1598-1605;11 freeman, Southampton 1601;12 commr. oyer and terminer, St. Albans liberty by 1602-12,13 inquiry, lands of Lord Cobham and Bartholomew Brookesby, Herts. 1603;14 dep. lt. Herts. 1605-d.;15 commr. sewers, Lea Valley 1607-9,16 subsidy, Herts. 1608,17 coal purveyance 1608,18 swans 1612.19


Lytton’s great-grandfather, an Exchequer official from Derbyshire, acquired Knebworth in 1492 and represented Hertfordshire five years later.20 Lytton himself enlarged the estate by purchasing Hanchetts manor in Letchworth and the fifth part of the Brocket estate from the 3rd Lord North, although his main residence remained at Knebworth, which became a favourite country retreat for a circle of like-minded scholars and officials, including his ‘especial friend’ John Chamberlain, and cousin Dudley Carleton*.21 Lytton took great interest in the county militia, which he led to Tilbury during the invasion scare of 1599 and to London after the 2nd earl of Essex’s abortive rebellion in 1601.22 The following year, Chamberlain reported that Lytton was ‘much dejected’ by the death of his wife, though he remained ‘a very indulgent father’ to his six surviving children.23

Lytton was elected knight of the shire for the second time in 1604. He was named to major conferences with the Lords early in the session, on wardship and purveyance (26 Mar. 1604) and the proposed Union with Scotland (14 Apr.), and was required to help prepare for another on religion (19 April).24 Following the interruption of business by the Buckinghamshire election controversy, Lytton was one of a committee appointed to draft the reasons for admitting Sir Francis Goodwin (30 March).25 When the Union conference was reported on 23 Apr., a lengthy debate ensued in which Lytton moved for ‘a proviso that our own nation keep its bulwarks’.26 His main contribution, however, was on the subject of purveyance, a particular grievance in Hertfordshire. Ahead of a follow-up conference with the Lords, he was appointed on 7 May to provide ‘more pregnant proof’ of the abuses of purveyors in his county, and on 23 May spoke in favour of a general composition ‘for riddance of all purveyance whatsoever’.27 After the passing of the reckless motion to free Sir Thomas Shirley I* from the Fleet prison by force, he offered to speak on 9 May, but was overruled.28 He took part in the debate of 1 June on wardship, and was subsequently added to the committee which produced the Commons’ Form of Apology and Satisfaction.29 After the first session had been prorogued, Lytton was entrusted with preparing a list of the ablest men in Hertfordshire to lend money to the king.30

As soon as the second session resumed after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Lytton was among those appointed to consider how to proceed against Jesuits and seminary priests (21 Jan. 1606).31 Three days later he closed the debate on the trial of the surviving plotters with the observation ‘that the interest of Parliament makes them not competent judges’ in the case.32 He continued to take a keen interest in debates over purveyance, and was appointed to consider a radical bill devised by John Hare* ‘for the better execution of sundry statutes touching purveyors and cart-takers’ (30 Jan.), adding a motion on 11 Feb. that abuses in requisitioning horses for the postal service should not be overlooked.33 A conference between both Houses took place on 14 Feb., but Hare’s attitude deeply offended the Lords. Little progress was made even after a second conference was held, and on 24 Feb. Lytton urged that ‘there may be some act here entered that this law shall bind the prerogative’. The Commons was eventually obliged to reconsider schemes of composition to compensate the king for his loss of revenue, which Lytton seems to have become convinced was the only realistic option left, as he argued on 7 Mar.; however, on this no agreement could be reached.34

A strong advocate of ‘so cheerful a change of life’ as matrimony, even in the case of a confirmed bachelor like Chamberlain, Lytton on 3 Mar. introduced a proviso to the bill to prohibit the residence of wives and families in colleges, which was carried.35 On 9 Apr., at the report stage of the simony bill, he exposed some defects, whereupon the measure was recommitted.36 Appointed a member of the committee for the bill against pluralism and non-residence (5 Mar.), and a manager of the conference of 11 Apr. on ecclesiastical grievances, he was subsequently named to prepare an address to the king on religion (13 May), and to present it the following afternoon.37 After taking part in the debate of 22 May on a bill concerning sanctuary, he was added to the committee.38

In the third session Lytton was named to the conference of 25 Nov. 1606 on the Union, and was appointed to the committees for bills ‘to direct some proceedings in courts and causes ecclesiastical’ (29 Nov.), and ‘to restrain the execution of canons ecclesiastical not confirmed by Parliament’ (11 December).39 In debate about the bill to naturalize the French-born Dr. Peter Baro and his wife on 13 Dec., Lytton objected to a proviso proposed by Sir Henry Poole to debarr Baro from membership of Parliament. This was intended primarily to signal that even if the Union went ahead, naturalized Scots would not necessarily be eligible to sit in the English Parliament. Lytton moved that ‘a resolution in this particular might do hurt’, and the proviso, which was ‘stayed from question until there was some further proceeding in the general case of naturalization’, was omitted from Baro’s bill when it was enacted.40 Following the Christmas adjournment, on 7 Feb. 1607, he returned to London, principally, it would seem, to assist Sir William Borlase* in ‘compounding a quarrel’ with John Backhouse*.41 On 28 Feb. he was named to a special committee to consider the cruelties and wrongs committed by Spaniards.42 He contributed to debate on 4 Mar. on a bill for the better attendance of Members, but unfortunately the substance of his speech went unrecorded.43 His other appointments included committees for two Hertfordshire estate bills promoted by the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), confirming the latter in possession of the advowson of Cheshunt (12 Dec.) and the former royal estate of Hatfield (30 May); and bills concerning pluralism and non-residence (4 Mar. 1607), and an amendment to the Act of Uniformity (26 June).44

By the end of the year Lytton had lost the use of one eye ‘with a rebellious rheum’, and his sight deteriorated so rapidly, despite ‘much counsel and many medicines’, that he could no longer recognize faces, and had to rely on one of his daughters, ‘my she-secretary’, to carry on his correspondence.45 He wrote philosophically to Chamberlain that ‘others may be merry; I must be content’, and warned his friends not to expect to find him ‘altogether so merry and gamesome’ as before.46 He served on a local commission to regulate coal purveyance in 1608, and in the fourth session he was named to yet another purveyance bill (26 Feb. 1610).47 His last committee appointment was to a bill for the preservation of wood and timber (22 March).48 Shortly afterwards he fell seriously ill, and lay for a month ‘in very dangerous and almost desperate estate’, too weak to be moved to Knebworth.49 He was visited on his sickbed by Sir Richard Paulet* and Sir Henry Wallop*, and seems to have remained in London for the fifth session, of which he reported the dissolution to Carleton from Chamberlain’s house in the City.50

Lytton joined the delegation of Hertfordshire gentlemen led by Sir Ralph Coningsby* in April 1611 to demand the total abolition of purveyance.51 Later in the summer he surprised his friends by venturing overseas, with his younger son Philip and two Hertfordshire neighbours, to take the waters at Spa.52 Carleton commended his decision, writing that ‘I know not a better mind in a weaker body’, but Chamberlain thought the journey ‘overthrew’ him, ‘for he did even sensibly decay upon his return thence, both in body and mind’.53 Lytton drew up his will on 10 Jan. 1615, providing portions of £1,000 each for his unmarried daughters, annuities of 100 marks for his younger sons, a year’s wages for his servants, and 10s. each to the preachers of Hitchin and Baldock, ‘which benevolence I would have bestowed in the time of my languishing sickness’. The poor of Knebworth and six other Hertfordshire parishes were to be remembered at his funeral. His eldest son William* was named executor, and Sir Henry Wallop* one of his overseers.54 He died on 23 June, and was buried, in accordance with his wishes, with his ancestors in his chapel adjoining Knebworth church.55

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. C142/199/89; The Gen. n.s. xxxi. 204.
  • 2. R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 377.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 4. Clutterbuck, ii. 377.
  • 5. C142/199/89.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 104.
  • 7. C142/359/114.
  • 8. E163/14/8, f. 13; HMC Hatfield, ix. 131; C181/1, ff. 9v, 128v; 181/2, f. 192; Cal. Assize Recs. Herts. Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 58, 136, 145.
  • 9. HMC Foljambe, 38; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 437.
  • 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 64.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xiv. 148; xvii. 437.
  • 12. HMC 11th Rep. III, 22.
  • 13. C181/1, ff. 33, 128v; 181/2, f. 176v.
  • 14. C181/1, ff. 72, 73.
  • 15. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 437; xx. 276; SP14/66/11.
  • 16. C181/2, ff. 50, 94.
  • 17. SP14/31/1.
  • 18. C231/2, f. 43.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 173.
  • 20. VCH Herts. iii. 115.
  • 21. Ibid. 121-2.
  • 22. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 80, 121.
  • 23. Ibid. 138, 400.
  • 24. CJ, i. 154b, 172a, 178a.
  • 25. Ibid. 160a.
  • 26. Ibid. 955b.
  • 27. Ibid. 202a, 223a, 978a.
  • 28. Ibid. 205a.
  • 29. Ibid. 230b.
  • 30. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 186.
  • 31. CJ, i. 257b.
  • 32. Ibid. 259b.
  • 33. Ibid. 261b; Bowyer Diary, 33; P. Croft, ‘Parl. Purveyance and the City of London 1589-1608’, PH, iv. 23-30.
  • 34. CJ, i. 273b, 280a; E. Lindquist, ‘King, People, and House of Commons: the Problem of Early Jacobean Purveyance’, HJ, xxxi. 549-70.
  • 35. CJ, i. 276b; SP14/14/57.
  • 36. CJ, i. 295b.
  • 37. Ibid. 277b, 296b, 308b, 309a.
  • 38. Ibid. 311a.
  • 39. CJ, i. 324b, 326b, 329b.
  • 40. Ibid. 330b; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1606/4JIN.30.
  • 41. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 95; Chamberlain Letters, i. 241, 243.
  • 42. CJ, i. 344b.
  • 43. Ibid. 347a.
  • 44. Ibid. 330a, 347b, 377a, 387b.
  • 45. SP14/28/75; Chamberlain Letters, i. 277, 285.
  • 46. SP14/44/65; Chamberlain Letters, i. 289.
  • 47. CJ, i. 400a.
  • 48. Ibid. 413b.
  • 49. Chamberlain Letters, i. 299-300.
  • 50. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 9; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10v.
  • 51. SP14/63/1.
  • 52. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 58.
  • 53. HMC Downshire, iii. 117; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 70.
  • 54. PROB 11/126, ff. 66-67.
  • 55. Chamberlain Letters, i. 605, 616; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 115.