LYTTON, William (1586-1660), 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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.)

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1586,2 1st s. of Sir Rowland Lytton*, and Anne, da. of Sir Oliver St. John†, 1st Bar. St. John of Bletso.3 educ. Westminster sch. 1601-2;4 Emmanuel, Camb. 1603-7;5 travelled abroad (France, Italy, Low Countries) 1608-9; Padua 1609.6 m. (1) 24 Feb. 1612,7 Anne (bur. 3 Mar. 1626), da. and h. of Stephen Slaney of Norton, Salop, 1s. 7da. (2 d.v.p.);8 (2) c.Nov. 1644, Ruth (d.1645), da. of Sir Francis Barrington*, 1st bt., of Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex, wid. of Sir George Lamplugh of Kirkby Sigston, Yorks., s.p.9 suc. fa. 1615;10 kntd. 25 July 1624.11 d. 14 Aug. 1660.12

Offices Held

Member, Virg. Co. 1612.13

J.p. Herts. 1615-30, 1635-49, 1660-d., St. Albans liberty 1617-29, 1635-41;14 Capt. militia ft. Herts. by 1615- at least 1629;15 commr. sewers, St. Albans river 1617, Mdx. 1645, 1654;16 collector of Palatinate Benevolence, Broadwater hundred and St. Albans liberty 1620;17 commr. commr. subsidy, Herts. 1621-2, 1624, 1628, 1641-2,18 highways, 1622,19 oyer and terminer, St. Albans 1625-44, Home circ. 1641, Herts. 1644;20 sheriff, Herts. 1625-6;21 dep. lt. Herts. 1625-30;22 limiting badgers 1630,23 assessment 1643-8,24 sequestration 1643, defence 1643, levying money 1643, Eastern Assoc. 1643, New Model Ordinance, Herts. 1645, militia 1648, Herts. and Beds. 1660.25

Commr. treaty of Oxford 1643,26 regulating the excise 1645, exclusion from sacrament 1646, scandalous offences 1648.27


Lytton’s attendance on William Cecil* in 1605 when the latter became knight of the Bath caused John Chamberlain to comment that ‘he must follow his father in an hereditary dependance on that house’.28 Completing his education with a tour of the Continent, Lytton began his travels with William Borlase*, but soon joined Cecil as his ‘principal minion’.29 An industrious student both at Cambridge and Padua, his letters put Cecil’s to shame. A good judge of youthful promise, Sir Henry Wotton*, wrote from Venice that Lytton ‘is a gentleman that hath brought an excellent good mind into this country ... and will enrich it abroad with the best observations’.30 Meanwhile his father was looking round for a good match for him, as ‘we lack money, and to market he must go’. His chosen bride, a Shropshire heiress, had great expectations from her aunt, Lady Weld, which were ultimately fulfilled; but the wedding was quiet, and for some years Lytton was far from affluent.31 His kinsman Sir Walter Cope* drew him into the Virginia Company, reportedly ‘with persuasion that he should not need to adventure anything unless he list, but only to give his name for an encouragement to others, and for a countenance to the cause’. However, once a member of the Company he was forced to disburse £40.32 His father had a high opinion of his abilities, and meant to make a statesman of him; but Chamberlain, seeking to recover money advanced to Lytton’s scapegrace brother Philip, found him untruthful and ‘degenerate from so worthy a father and mother’.33

In 1615 Lytton received a grant of free warren and a court leet at Knebworth after succeeding to the estate.34 By this time his patron Cecil had become 2nd earl of Salisbury, and although a ‘dryness’ overcame their previously close friendship, it was with Salisbury’s approval that he was first returned as knight of the shire in 1624.35 He was among those ordered to draft the preamble to the subsidy (10 Apr. 1624), and to consider bills to prevent the murder of bastard children (29 Apr.) and the receipt of secret pensions from foreign powers (12 May), as well as two private bills.36 In the autumn he was knighted at Bletsoe ‘sore against his will, as he would have the world believe’.37

Lytton was elected again in 1628. He was among those appointed to consider a bill for the reformation of abuses in the winding of wool (23 Apr.), to inquire into recusancy compositions (24 May), to draft the preamble to the subsidy bill (7 June), and to hear a petition from the country against exactions in London for metage and portage (25 June), which were chiefly injurious to the Lea river barge traffic.38 With the permission of the Commons he attended the Upper House on 10 June to give evidence against the absolutist preacher Roger Manwaring, whose recent sermon justifying the Forced Loan had argued, according to Lytton’s testimony, that ‘the subject has an immediate property in his goods, but in cases of necessity the king has a supreme or sovereign power’.39 In the second session Lytton was named to five committees, those to inquire into trading with the enemy (26 Jan. 1629), to attend the king with the petition for a fast (27 Jan.), to hear petitions against Tunnage and Poundage (9 Feb.) and the recusancy commissions (16 Feb.), and to consider a bill to prevent corruption in the universities (23 February).40

Lytton’s removal from the commission of the peace in 1630 may have been connected with the case of a Knebworth yeoman who declared at ‘an open assembly of the county’ that the Privy Council could not impose on them expenditure ‘for the binding out of apprentices and providing for the poor’, alleging that he had been so advised by Sir William Lytton.41 Although restored to the bench five years later, Lytton sued the sheriff that tried to force him to pay Ship Money.42 Elected to both the Short and Long Parliaments in 1640, Lytton sided against the king on the outbreak of civil war; his political career finally came to an end at Pride’s Purge, though he survived to welcome the Restoration.43 He drafted his will on 29 June 1660 and died on 14 Aug. following. As he had wished, he was buried privately at Knebworth, ‘by the book of Common Prayer, without funeral pomp’ and with no sermon, ‘for the avoiding of flattery’.44 His son and heir Rowland represented the county for the third time in the Convention Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Imprisoned at Pride’s Purge, 7 Dec. 1648.
  • 2. C142/359/114.
  • 3. R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 377.
  • 4. Recs. of Old Westminsters comp. G.F.R. Barker and A.H. Stenning, ii. 602.
  • 5. Al. Cant.
  • 6. SO3/3, unfol. (20 Dec. 1607); Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 254, 281; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 215; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, i. 478.
  • 7. HALS, DE/K/46547; Chamberlain Letters, i. 337.
  • 8. Clutterbuck, ii. 377.
  • 9. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 343; Luke Letter Bks. ed. H.G. Tibbutt (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xlii), 389.
  • 10. Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 115; C142/359/114.
  • 11. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 185.
  • 12. Clutterbuck, ii. 377.
  • 13. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 546.
  • 14. C231/4, ff. 9, 184; 231/5, ff. 35, 177, 179; C181/2, f. 305; 181/3, ff. 1, 264v; 181/5, ff. 23, 241; List of JPs (1660), p. 20.
  • 15. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 614; HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 268.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 297v; 181/5, f. 262; 181/6, p. 4.
  • 17. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 125.
  • 18. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 729; C212/22/20-1, 23; SR, v. 62, 84, 151.
  • 19. C181/3, f. 69v.
  • 20. C181/3, f. 174v; 181/5, ff. 134v, 193v, 240, 241.
  • 21. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 64.
  • 22. SP16/7/8; HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 270.
  • 23. APC, 1630-1, p. 132.
  • 24. A. and O. i. 91, 1084.
  • 25. Ibid. i. 113, 119, 231, 294, 622, 1238; ii. 1426, 1432.
  • 26. CJ, ii. 945a; B. Whitelocke, Mems. of Eng. Affairs, i. 195.
  • 27. A. and O. i. 691, 854, 1209.
  • 28. Chamberlain Letters, i. 200.
  • 29. Ibid. i. 232, 309; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 396; HMC Hatfield, xx. 105.
  • 30. SP14/28/75; Chamberlain Letters, i. 135, 295.
  • 31. SP14/57/23; Barrington Fam. Letters ed. A. Searle (Cam. Soc. ser. 4, xxviii), 188; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 498.
  • 32. Chamberlain Letters, i. 471.
  • 33. Ibid. 400; ii. 417.
  • 34. C66/2106.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters, i. 614; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 188.
  • 36. CJ, i. 703a, 762a, 779a.
  • 37. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 574-5.
  • 38. CD 1628, iii. 44, 593; iv. 178, 467.
  • 39. Ibid. iv. 220; v. 615.
  • 40. CJ, i. 922a, 923b, 927b, 930b, 932b.
  • 41. APC, 1630-1, pp. 386, 401-2.
  • 42. HMC 4th Rep. 292.
  • 43. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 263-4.
  • 44. Clutterbuck, ii. 384; PROB 11/304, ff. 161v-2v.