OWEN, Sir Roger (c.1573-1617), of Condover, Salop and Lincoln's Inn, London

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



by 22 Jan. 1606

Family and Education

b. c.1573, 1st s. of Thomas Owen† of Condover and L. Inn, j.c.p. 1595-8, and 1st w. Sarah, da. and coh. of Humphrey Baskerville, Mercer and alderman of London; bro. of Sir William*.1 educ. Shrewsbury g.s. 1583; L. Inn 1589, called 1597; Christ Church, Oxf. 1590, BA 1592.2 m. settlement 25 July 1599 (with £9,000), Ursula (bur. 7 May 1629), da. of William Elkyn, Mercer and alderman of London, 2da.3 suc. fa. 1598;4 kntd. 30 May 1604.5 d. 29 May 1617.6 sig. Roger Owen.

Offices Held

J.p. Salop by 1601-d.; member, Council in the Marches 1602-7;7 sheriff, Salop 1603-4;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1605-d., sewers, Essex 1605, subsidy, Salop and Shrewsbury, Salop 1608.9

Steward, reader’s dinner, L. Inn 1604, assoc. bencher 1609-11, bencher 1611-d., treas. 1612-13.10

Member, Muscovy Co. by 1606.11

Commr. inquiry, embezzled prize goods 1607.12


Owen’s grandfather was a Shrewsbury mercer, while his father, a lawyer, served as the town’s recorder and as its MP in 1584. The latter invested a large part of his fortune in land, buying Condover and other manors in Shropshire as well as West Thurrock in Essex, and a lucrative lease of the Crown lordships of Arwystli and Cyfeiliog in western Montgomeryshire. A justice of Common Pleas from 1595, Thomas Owen was said to have been in contention to succeed Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) as master of the Court of Wards shortly before his death three years later.13

Roger Owen followed his father into the legal profession, being called to the bar in 1597, the same year he was returned for Shrewsbury. Shortly after his father’s death he reaped a huge dowry by marrying his stepsister, and these two inheritances secured his election as knight of the shire in 1601. He was to have been pricked as sheriff of Shropshire in 1602, but it was objected that he would show partiality to Henry Vernon of Stokesay in a lawsuit before the Shropshire assizes concerning Sir William Herbert’s* title to the lordship of Powis, Montgomeryshire. Owen’s appointment was consequently held over for a year, and as sheriff he was ineligible to stand for Parliament at the 1604 general election.14 He became deeply involved in the contested election at Shrewsbury, where the corporation returned their recorder, Richard Barker, and Francis Tate, the nominee of lord president Zouche. Owen held some undisclosed grudge against Barker, perhaps related to the 1584 election, when his father and Barker had been involved in a three-way contest with another local lawyer, (Sir) Thomas Harris*. He therefore used his power as sheriff to delay the writ, threatened the corporation at the hustings, and when Barker was chosen despite his efforts, he drafted another indenture returning Harris.15 The Commons rejected both returns and summoned Owen to Westminster, doubtless to get him out the way before the election was re-run on 28 April. He ignored this summons, moved his household into Shrewsbury and started a brawl when it became clear that Barker had won the day over Harris. The under-sheriff refused to return the indenture, but Owen eventually endorsed the new return, for which, and ‘for the respect they [the Commons] did bear to his father’, he escaped any further punishment. He also obtained a knighthood before returning to Shropshire.16

Despite his earlier misconduct, Owen was returned as knight of the shire at a by-election caused by the death of Sir Richard Leveson* on 2 Aug. 1605. The date of his return is unknown, but he may have missed the opening of the second session, as he does not appear in the records until 22 Jan. 1606, when he was named to the committee for the bill to reform the enforcement of penal statutes.17 Though fairly active thereafter, his absence from the 1604 session meant that he was not one of the Commons’ inner circle: he took no part in the key debates on purveyance in 1606; nor is he known to have assisted in the formulation of the Commons’ grievances, though he was one of the delegation which presented the final draft to the king on 14 May. Moreover, despite having made a nuisance of himself in 1601 by opposing the Crown-sponsored bill for better church attendance, he left little mark on the passage of recusancy legislation five years later. On 3 Feb. 1606 he raised half a dozen unspecified objections to the clause in the recusancy bill which required Catholics who conformed to take communion within one year, and he was ordered to attend a conference with the Lords on this subject three days later.18

During the spring of 1606, most of Owen’s parliamentary speeches concerned issues of personal or local interest. On 17 Mar., at the second reading of the bill to dissolve the monopoly rights of the Muscovy Company, he revealed that he had invested £300 in Company stock (for a handsome profit), and warned that abrogation of the monopoly would lead to a glut upon the market and ruin the trade. The vehemence of his opposition merely ensured that he was excluded from the bill committee. He also raised objections to the bill for assurance of titles to copyhold lands, but these were perhaps of a technical nature, as this time he was named to the committee (28 January). He was the first MP named to the committee for the Welsh cottons bill, a measure sponsored by the Shrewsbury Drapers’ Company (10 Mar.), who sent him a tun of wine for steering it through the House. This bill survived concerted opposition in the Lords, and when it returned to the Commons on 19 May, Owen helped defend it against its chief enemy, the alnager John Tey*, thus ensuring that it reached the statute book. As a member of the Council in the Marches, Owen was named to the bill to put the court on a statutory basis (21 Feb.), although he clearly shared the reservations of many Marcher gentry about the Council’s authority: when the Chepstow bridge bill returned from the Lords, he unsuccessfully called to ‘exclude the jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches of Wales’. These publicly expressed qualms may help to explain his removal from the Council in September 1607.19

The next parliamentary session, in 1606-7, was dominated by the Union. The Instrument of Union, drafted by commissioners of both nations in December 1604, was read in the Commons on 21 Nov. 1606, and Owen was one of 80 MPs ordered to confer with the Lords four days later. Serious debate began in the aftermath of this meeting, when one of the first issues under consideration was escuage, a form of land tenure which mandated military service against the Scots. The king, reasoning that the Union meant an end to cross-border hostilities, called for its abolition: Nicholas Fuller* argued that the wardship rights the Crown claimed would also be extinguished; while Owen made a lengthy but poorly reported speech on the origins of escuage, and moved to seek the judges’ opinion over the point about wardship. This suggestion was adopted, and on 17 Dec. the judges ruled that though the tenure cease, the Crown’s right to wardship would remain.20

From February to April 1607 Parliament debated whether subjects of the English and Scottish Crowns gained automatic naturalization in each other’s realms as a result of the Union. The Instrument of Union asserted that post-nati Scots (born since James’s accession to the English throne) were automatically English subjects, and proposed a statute to extend the same rights to those born before 1603. In response, on 18 Feb. Owen offered a list of issues to be resolved before naturalization could be conceded: Scottish privileges in France were to be surrendered; the Kirk was to be subordinated to the Church of England; Scots law was to be subject to Common Law; and for a time, Englishmen were to have precedence over Scots when seeking preferment in their own country.21 This was a promising delaying tactic, as each point was likely to provoke a lengthy controversy, but the Commons chose another line of defence, questioning whether allegiance to James’s person necessarily implied subjection to the laws of Scotland. Owen spoke on this subject on 21 Feb., and although the substance of his argument is not recorded, he may have had problems with this change of approach, for when named to help present this case to the Lords he asked to be excused ‘for his own disability and for some fear of distaste’. Any objections notwithstanding, four days later he helped present the Lords with parallels from Civil Law and continental experience to support the Commons’ rejection of the Crown’s claim to de jure naturalization.22

This conference was a disaster for the Commons, as on 26 Feb. the judges rejected its arguments with a ruling that the duty of allegiance to the person of the monarch outweighed any implicit subjection to Scots law. Over the next two weeks Sir Edwin Sandys developed the disingenuous argument that the Commons supported a ‘perfect Union’ of laws and offices, which would bring the Scottish legal system into line with the Common Law, and bar Scots from most civil and ecclesiastical offices; it would also sideline the naturalization question. This cleverly threw the blame for failure to achieve Union upon the Scots, an approach which echoed Owen’s speech of 18 Feb., and it is therefore not surprising that the latter assisted in presenting the Commons’ case to the Lords on 7 Mar., when he handled measures to prevent Scots remitting the profits of their English estates and offices north of the border. However, the Lords insisted on returning to the question originally posed in the Instrument: whether the ante-nati were to be granted the same rights as the post-nati. A heated debate followed in the Commons, during which Owen offered a ‘long discourse’ in which he disagreed with the judges’ ruling of 26 Feb., called for further debate and urged an appeal to the king for arbitration. As the Easter recess was then imminent, this amounted to a filibuster, and nothing substantive was achieved before the adjournment on 31 March.23

The naturalization debate resumed on 28 Apr., when Sandys altered his approach to a ‘perfect Union’, calling for the establishment of a commission to carry it into effect. This divided opinion within the Commons, with some arguing that a statute on naturalization was necessary to avoid ceding the initiative on this important issue to the judges (as ultimately happened). Owen, however, was one of those who backed Sandys, cynically arguing that the ‘perfect Union’ realized the king’s most cherished desire and would take no more time than the partial Union envisaged by the Instrument; only if this failed should the Lords’ bills for naturalization be allowed to proceed. This futile debate tried James’s patience beyond endurance, and he put an end to consideration of the naturalization question on 2 May.24 Four days later, several speakers complained of the aspersions cast upon the Commons by the king on this occasion. Richard Barker, whose election at Shrewsbury Owen had attempted to overturn in 1604, warned that the House should ‘not wander into these extravagant and by-matters’, only to be put down by Owen, who insisted that Members should be allowed to justify their speeches and urged the king not to credit private reports of debates.25

Amid such disagreements, the Commons offered James one last ray of hope: legislation abrogating the hostile laws which remained in force on both sides of the border. A bill to this effect was tabled on 4 May, and committed to the whole House three days later. Owen, however, apparently remained silent until the principle of remanding was debated on 28 May, when he vehemently opposed the extradition of Englishmen to Scotland, ‘for then we shall transmit a subject not only to subjection to another crown, but to another law, whereas in other countries the Civil Law for the most part doth govern all’. He cited many examples from the Continent and warned that an offence ‘may be felony in Scotland which is not so here, and econverso’. A new clause was inserted making remanding a felony, to the dismay of the king, who undertook to use his prerogative to abrogate this clause if it passed the House.26 Debate then moved on to the question of witnesses: Scottish lawyers claimed that their courts allowed the accused the right to examine hostile witnesses; while James asserted the contrary. Owen highlighted this disagreement on 4 June, and the following day he rehearsed ‘all the reasons that witnesses shall be examined’; the clause making remanding a felony was allowed to stand after a vote, and the bill was sent up to the Lords. The Upper House registered their objections at a conference on 11 June, asking to delete the witness clause; they were answered by Owen and Lawrence Hyde I, and a compromise was later arranged under which juries were allowed to decide whether witnesses could be cross-examined.27 The amended bill returned to the Commons on 25 June, and was scrutinized on the following day, when Nicholas Fuller objected to the modification of the witness clause. Owen, however, surprisingly endorsed it: ‘this clause of witnesses without prejudice ... here the jury is judge and allower of the witness, it is more like to the trial by the Civil Law, where the judge is judge of the fact and may reject the juror’. Fuller then complained that remanding had been omitted from the preamble: Owen observed that where a preamble implied one interpretation and the body of an Act the opposite, the judges were allowed to impose their own interpretation - exactly the situation that the Commons had hoped to avoid. This debate was reported to the House three days later, when Owen again supported the witness clause, and it was allowed to stand. This was the only piece of Union legislation which reached the statute book during the session.28

Preoccupied as he was by the Union, Owen did little else during the 1606-7 parliamentary session. At the third reading of the bill to confirm grants to corporations which were invalidated on technical grounds (1 Dec. 1606), he made ‘a long speech against the particular parts of it’, following which the bill was voted down. He was also one of many who spoke, to unknown effect, at the second reading of the fen drainage bill on 9 May 1607. Two days later he and other representatives of clothing towns spoke at the third reading of the woollen cloth bill, which was recommitted with amendments.29

While the Union debates were constitutionally unproductive, Owen’s speeches helped to establish his reputation as an effective politician, upon which he was to build during the parliamentary sessions of 1610. On 15 Feb. he attended the conference with the Lords at which lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) outlined the Great Contract, and four days later, when the Commons debated its initial response, he joined Richard Martin and Sandys in calling for the grievances’ committee to handle negotiations, which was ordered. At this committee two days later, Owen spoke against purveyance, an issue which was already earmarked for inclusion in the Contract; and he unsuccessfully called for alehouse licences be added to the negotiations. When Salisbury’s detailed proposals for the Contract were debated on 28 Feb. it was quickly agreed that they should be explored further, but Owen, among others, expressed misgivings about offering a particular sum before it was known what would be compounded for: ‘fit to say we will give when the grievances are known to be relieved; then we may offer more largely’. He was one of those ordered to put this response in writing for communication to the Lords (1 March). Thereafter, Owen took no further part in the Contract negotiations before the House rose for Easter on 3 Apr., making only one further recorded speech, on 9 Mar., when he expressed disapproval that Sir Francis Lacon had been returned at the Bridgnorth by-election on a defective indenture. Although he was named to 17 bill committees over the next four weeks, Owen’s uncharacteristic silence suggests that he may have absented himself from the House during the assizes.30

Owen returned to Westminster in time for the debate of 1 May over the king’s demand for ‘support’, a fixed income to secure implementation of the Great Contract, for which Salisbury demanded £200,000 above whatever revenues the Crown lost through concessions over grievances. No-one was prepared to grant such a huge sum: Owen concluded ‘that silence best, or else to send a message that we can go no higher [than the Commons’ initial offer of £100,000 a year], and to leave it to their lordships’. On 2 May Owen, Sandys, Sir Herbert Croft and Sir Maurice Berkeley were assigned the delicate task of re-drafting a text supplied by Berkeley refusing this offer, and the next day they were charged with reporting the ensuing conference with the Lords.31 Salisbury reopened negotiations on 26 May, and a week later a sub-committee was appointed to consider the details of the Great Contract. Owen, Sir John Savile and others, however, refused to serve, on the grounds that the Commons could not afford to raise their initial offer for support.32 The Great Contract also called for a present supply of £600,000, mainly to settle the Crown’s debts. This subject was broached on 13-14 June, when it quickly emerged that few were prepared to contemplate a grant of more than £100,000. Owen and Henry Yelverton refused to entertain even this modest sum, on the grounds that the last of the 1606 subsidies were still being collected. They called for the question of supply to be postponed for a month, perhaps hoping to use the delay as leverage in the concurrent disputes over support and impositions.33

During May and June, negotiations for the Great Contract gradually yielded precedence to debates over impositions, in which the Commons sought to reverse the decision of Bate’s Case (1606), which allowed the Crown to alter customs rates without parliamentary approval. Attempts to deny the Commons access to legal records in the Tower were quashed on 30 Apr., when Owen cited a statute of 46 Edward III granting this right; he was dispatched to find the original of this Act (30 Apr.), then included on the committee appointed to search the records (1 May). On 11 May a message purporting to come from the king urged the Commons not to attack the prerogative in their debates on impositions; further inquiry revealed that the Privy Council had been the authors, acting on the king’s behalf, on which grounds Owen moved to discount the message. James renewed the prohibition on 18 May, provoking an ill-tempered debate on freedom of speech. Solicitor general Sir Francis Bacon told the Commons that while James was prepared to allow debate about matters of fact, he would not permit the questioning of his prerogative. Owen, picking up on the conciliatory tone of this speech, tactfully suggested that the king was merely testing the Commons’ obedience, as God had done in ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22).34 Against all expectations, this assessment was proved correct: James gave the Commons leave to discuss impositions on 25 May, although the debate was held over until after 16 June, when it was allowed to precede a final vote on supply.35 In the last ten days of June, the senior lawyers of the House each spoke on impositions at length, demonstrating their mastery of legal precedent. Owen, apart from an unrecorded speech on 29 June, was one of the last to have his say, on 2 July, when he pronounced impositions ‘not agreeable to the law of nations, nor to the practice of modern nations, nor the law of the land’. Unlike most of his peers, he concentrated upon biblical, classical and Saxon precedents, and examined the collection of impositions in other countries; the few legal precedents he cited concerned Parliament’s right to replace customs duties with other forms of taxation. This approach offered little more than circumstantial evidence against the ruling laid down in Bate’s Case, but Owen was nevertheless included on the committee for drafting a petition against impositions (3 July). He was also one of the lawyers ordered to prepare a digest of the Commons’ case against these duties (11 July), when a record he had discovered in the Tower ‘showing that Privy Seals to take men’s goods should not be granted’ was sent for as a precedent.36

Having considered impositions, the Commons returned to the vexed question of the support required in return for the Great Contract. Speaking in committee on 9 July, Owen asked

that according to the manner of our ancestors we might petition the king ... For when the 9th sheaf and 9th fleece was demanded of the people for the sustenation of their wars with France [in 1340], they desired in Parliament that they might have leave to confer with their country about it, which when they had done and set it, yet it was found so grievous as the king was [fain] to remit much of it.

This suggestion for a wider consultation, first made by Sir William Twysden on 2 May, was approved by other speakers, and was carried into effect after the prorogation.37 The committee also recommended that the House raise its offer for annual support to £180,000. When this proposal was reported to the House on 13 July, Owen presumably endorsed it, as on the following day he was named to the committee handling the details of negotiations. Moreover, on 18 July he volunteered precedents on fees to restrict the compensation officials of the Court of Wards might claim in return for the abolition of their offices.38

In the spring of 1610, as earlier, Owen’s speeches focused on the key issues of the session, rather than other important business such as religion. Nevertheless, at a conference on 6 July he was one of the speakers who unsuccessfully moved the Lords to appoint a parliamentary commission to reform the ecclesiastical laws. Unlike many lawyers, he played little part in steering private legislation through the Commons, with the exception of Sir Robert Drury’s* estate bill, which he made arrangements to redraft on 18 May 1610.39 One issue in which he took an active interest was the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches, which was cited as a grievance at the start of the session by Sir Herbert Croft, who, like Owen, had been sacked from the Council in 1607. On 15 Feb. 1610 Sir Henry Montagu defended the Council, whereupon Owen evidently backed Croft’s complaint. The issue was subsequently included among the Commons’ grievances, although not without contestation: Owen, among others, deflected attempts to quash this grievance on 5 May. At the end of the session, Croft, Owen and several other Marcher MPs secured the adoption of a petition to the king asking for removal of the Marcher shires from the Council’s jurisdiction to be included in the Great Contract. Owen expended little effort in the debates on other grievances, important as these were to the success of the Contract, although on 7 May he endorsed criticisms of the Crown’s use of Proclamations. He was named to the committee for the bill to punish Sir Stephen Procter (15 June), whose patent for old debts also featured among the grievances, and another committee to pen the final draft of the grievances (10 July).40

When Parliament reassembled in October 1610 it was obvious that opinion had turned against the Great Contract. James pressed the Commons for a decision on 31 Oct., but this merely encouraged MPs to voice a host of private misgivings about the terms offered. Speaking on 3 Nov., Owen volunteered a more comprehensive list of demands than most: satisfaction over the Commons’ grievances, including impositions, before the Contract could proceed; agreement over how to levy the annual support required by the Contract; guarantees that the figure for support would not be increased in case of a debasement of the coinage; assurance that Parliament would continue to be summoned regularly even if the king’s financial difficulties were resolved; and an undertaking that the Crown would never alienate the support offered by the Contract. He also voiced widespread fears that James would not remain bound by the terms of the Contract, but would later seek to revive revenues he had waived. On 6 Nov. the king impatiently reminded the House that he now required £500,000 in supply to secure the Contract, whereupon the Commons put an end to the negotiations.41

In 1614 Owen was once again returned as knight for Shropshire, a signal honour, as the county seats usually rotated among the leading gentry; he clearly had some doubts about his chances of election, as he procured a borough seat at Chippenham, Wiltshire to ensure his presence in the House. Owen played a key role in the disputes over ‘undertaking’ with which the session began, and which focused upon a plan put forward in 1612 by Sir Henry Neville I* to manage a Parliament for the king. Controversy initially centred on Sir Francis Bacon*, whose right to sit in the Commons was questioned on the grounds that the attorney-general usually received a writ of summons to the Lords as a legal assistant. Owen presumably did not know of Bacon’s scheme to manage the Court’s electoral interest in order to secure a compliant Commons, but he nevertheless described all royal servants as undertakers and moved for the attorney to be summoned to the Lords. One of those appointed to investigate precedents (8 Apr.), he subsequently reported (11 Apr.) that these offered little help, and that while Sir Henry Hobart* had been appointed attorney during the previous Parliament, the House had decided against his removal. Secretary Sir Ralph Winwood then successfully suggested a compromise, which he had previously cleared with Owen: Bacon should be allowed to keep his seat but subsequent attorneys would be barred.42

Secretary Winwood, perhaps interpreting the resolution of the Bacon dispute as a good omen, called for a grant of subsidy on 12 Apr., but Francis Ashley and Sir Herbert Croft preferred to ask that those accused of undertaking might clear their names. Owen supported this motion, and the day ended with a resolution to defer the question of supply until after Easter. On the following day Edward Alford moved to draft a protestation to the king that the Commons was not being manipulated, and was seconded by Owen, who called ‘to let him [the king] know whatsoever shall be done for him shall be merely out of the love of the whole House to him’. Owen chaired the committee appointed to draft the petition, and on 2 May he reported its proceedings, condemning undertakers as ‘worse than the powder traitors’ for subverting the House by stealth rather than force. He rehearsed the precedents for undertaking, and concluded that the best solution was to renew the order of the previous Parliament ‘that no man but the Speaker might go to the king to confer with him about Parliament business’. Further investigation was ordered, but before any report was made, a clear-cut case of interference surfaced in the Stockbridge election dispute, in which it was shown that the chancellor of the duchy, Sir Thomas Parry*, had repeatedly badgered the townsmen to send him a blank indenture on which he could return his own nominees. On 10 May Bacon pleaded for leniency, but Owen snapped ‘that the eyes of Mr. Attorney, his understanding, may be sealed up by his place’; he also seconded Sir John Sammes’s mischievous call to abolish the duchy court. In response, Bacon ironically termed Owen ‘the heir apparent of eloquence’. Tempers subsequently flared at the undertaking committee on 13 May, when Sir William Herbert accused Owen of partiality, and Sir Robert Killigrew and Sir Charles Wilmot attempted to pull Owen out of the chair. Following a formal complaint from Sammes and Sir Henry Widdrington, Herbert and Killigrew were required to apologize, though Wilmot cleared himself. Thus vindicated, on 14 May Owen reported on the nature of the undertakings mooted for this Parliament, reading Neville’s 1612 memorandum to the House. Neville was exonerated, but despite renewed calls for a petition to the king about the allegations of undertaking, no further action was taken.43

Owen’s report made light of undertaking in order to focus attention on the main business of the session, the abolition of impositions. A bill to this effect was first read on 14 Apr., but at the second reading four days later Sir George More called for the debates of 1610 to be rehearsed, a motion which, if adopted, would have stalled the bill’s progress. Owen, among others, sought to avoid this pitfall by suggesting that the lawyers should bring their notes of the earlier debates to the committee and summarize their arguments there, whereupon the bill was duly committed. It was reported on 5 May, clashing with the scheduled debate over supply. During the confusion which ensued, the Crown’s spokesmen, seeing their chances for a subsidy vote slipping away, asked for a general statement of willingness to give at a later date: Owen refused to concede even this, ‘for then the House shall be engaged’, and went on to address the European context of the impositions debate. The only substantive decision arising from this debate was the appointment of a committee to prepare for a conference with the Lords on impositions, on which Owen was included; he was later one of those deputed to search Sir Robert Cotton’s* library for parliamentary precedents relating to this issue (20 May). On 12 May the programme for this conference was unveiled, at which Owen was to be one of eight speakers, assigned to use continental precedents to establish ‘that no king in Christendom has power to impose without consent of the three estates’. He was also to assert that the judges should have left a decision over Bate’s Case to Parliament, and move the Lords to join in a Remonstrance to the king for the abolition of impositions. On 21 May Owen, after hearing Sir Henry Wotton insist that the power of imposing belonged exclusively to hereditary monarchs such as James, insisted that no monarch anciently claimed the power of imposing. Instead, he asserted that kings ‘have got it partly by force, partly by resignation’, and he concluded ‘that it was not so much the pleasure of the House to insist upon histories as upon the ancient laws of England, which must only decide the question’.44

As was his wont, Owen had little to do with more minor issues during the Addled Parliament. On 20 Apr., when the French Company’s monopoly came under attack, London’s recorder, Sir Henry Montagu, pleaded to be allowed to submit a list of advantages the Company brought to the French trade. Owen supported this motion, and suggested that the Londoners follow the example of the Exeter Merchant Adventurers in securing privileges for their city alone rather than cling to a national charter. The offending patent was brought before the House on 3 May, when attorney-general Bacon questioned whether the Commons had the power to revoke a royal grant. Owen successfully moved for a committee to investigate, ‘and alleged there were precedents to show that men have been banished for begging the king’s money when the king was in want himself’. Due to the press of other business this issue never resurfaced, although on 6 May Owen called for two other patents to be referred to the same committee.45

As an experienced parliamentarian, Owen was named to the privileges’ committee (8 Apr.), where his knowledge of precedent proved useful, particularly when he related the circumstances of his own summons to the bar of the Commons in 1604. At the airing of the Ludlow election dispute on 9 Apr., he recalled that borough bailiffs had been excluded from the Commons since Griffith Payne’s* case in 1604, while in the debate of 14 May on the Cambridgeshire election he provided medieval precedents for the punishment of sheriffs for returning men who had not obtained a majority of voices on polling day. He also seems to have played a part in questioning the election of Matthew Clarke, mayor of King’s Lynn, at the instigation of Sir Robert Cotton, who had applied for a seat there.46

The Commons’ substantive proceedings came to a halt on 25 May, when it was claimed that Bishop Neile, speaking in the Lords, had said ‘that to question the king’s prerogative in imposing ... we did not only cut off a branch, but strike at the root of the imperial Crown’. In the angry debate which followed, Owen melodramatically protested that ‘the Parliament in Spain has more liberty than here’, and moved for a committee to examine the truth of the allegation, which was ordered. On the following morning, William Hakewill reported that the committee was divided on whether to appeal to the Lords or to the king. Sandys urged a resort to the Lords, for fear that James would use this incident as a precedent to interfere with either House at the behest of the other, but Owen retorted that the Lords, having failed to call Neile to order, could hardly be expected to give the Commons a fair hearing. The House resolved to go to the Lords, whereupon Owen and seven others were ordered to pen a suitable message, which Owen reported and redrafted on 27 May.47

Before the message could be dispatched, Speaker Crewe read another from the king, asking why the Commons had voted to cease all other business. To avoid distraction from the Neile inquiry, Owen, Sir Edward Montagu and Recorder Montagu pedantically insisted that the wording in the Journal, which James had seen, did not imply a cessation of business, merely a change of focus, a suggestion which Owen can hardly have believed, as he had himself called for a cessation two days earlier. Nevertheless, this was the tenor of the message to the king which Owen helped to draft, and as one of its authors he accompanied the Speaker in order to deliver it on 29 May. On the following day, Owen reported on the other issue arising from the debate of 27 May, that of courtiers misinforming the king of the Commons’ proceedings, and expressed a general desire to consider new ways of ensuring secrecy of debate. Alford suggested that a committee be appointed to scrutinize the Journals at the end of each week, but before any decision could be made it was observed that Owen’s report infringed the order to suspend all business. To make the point, the House sat in silence for an hour.48

The cessation ended when Sir Edward Hoby, who had delivered the message about Neile to the Lords on 28 May, described how Neile had demanded satisfaction for Hoby’s alleged misquotation of his words. This revived the dispute about whether to go to the Lords or the king for satisfaction: Owen concurred with the majority, who wanted to make a further appeal to the Lords, although his expectations were not high, and he wished ‘to let the Lords know that if they did not give us good satisfaction that we intend to go to the king’. By the time Owen reported the draft of this message on 31 May, it had been decided to invite the Lords to state what Neile had said. Presumably speaking for himself, Owen warned that if this approach was spurned, ‘then to take the course that they do in law in another kind - to follow him [Neile] with hue and cry’. Owen delivered this message to the Lords, who predictably cleared the bishop of giving ‘any manner of offence’. The next morning, Owen acknowledged the tears of regret Neile had shed when he delivered the Commons’ message, but insisted that an approach to the king was now necessary to resolve the dispute. Few wished to see such a confrontation, and when Sir James Perrot accused Neile of providing a bogus conformity certificate to enable a recusant, Francis Lovett, to escape forfeiture of his estates, many hastened to follow this new line of attack. Lovett, examined on 3 June, certified that he had never received communion, which was, as Owen pointed out, a legal requirement before receiving a conformity certificate. Meanwhile, the decision about further proceedings in Neile’s case was referred to a fresh committee, including Owen (1 June), which never reported, as its proceedings were overtaken by subsequent developments.49

Lovett’s arrival in the Commons coincided with a final message from the king stating that unless the House debated supply he would dissolve the Parliament. A draft reply offered subsidies on condition that impositions were surrendered, terms which were utterly unacceptable to James, but on 7 June, the day of the dissolution, there was a last minute attempt to avert disaster, which Owen, among others, spurned: ‘not to give now, not to have it [subsidy] won by voices’. On the following day several MPs were arrested, while Owen and others were summoned before the Privy Council and required to surrender the briefs they had drafted for the abortive conference with the Lords on impositions.50

Owen was an unusual MP, having little to do with the minutiae of the Commons’ daily business, and focusing upon the key political issues in each session, hence the soubriquet bestowed upon him by one diarist: ‘a gentleman of great universality’. He was also an eccentric lawyer: in his parliamentary speeches he rarely cited statutes or legal precedents, preferring to buttress his arguments with examples from classical literature, medieval cartularies and chronicles, and a wide range of parallels drawn from contemporary Europe. This erudition was useful to the Commons, but may explain why he was allowed to forgo the usual reading when he became a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1611.51 In the years following the dissolution of the Addled Parliament he pondered the wider implications of the issues raised in the Commons, producing a lengthy and probably incomplete treatise on ‘the antiquity, ampleness and excellency of the common laws of England’. This tract attempted a close textual criticism of medieval sources to identify the origins of the Common Law in Saxon times, although his logic relied heavily on the assumption (shared by Sir Edward Coke*) that where positive evidence for the existence of any institution or procedure was lacking, the customs of later ages could be assumed to have applied.52

For all the turmoil of 1614, Owen looked to have a promising career ahead of him, both in the legal profession and in Parliament. However, on 17 May 1617, he became ‘crazy and distempered’ and collapsed in the Exchequer court. Certified insane with unseemly haste, he died on 29 May, leaving a wife and two daughters aged four years and 18 months respectively. His widow secured administration of his estate three months later, and in 1619 wardship of the infants was granted to four of her relatives. Much of Owen’s estate had been settled on his brother Sir William* in 1610, but Dame Ursula retained a life interest in Condover manor, even after her remarriage to Walter Barker of Haughmond Abbey, brother of Sir Roger’s adversary at the Shrewsbury election in 1604.53

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 387-8.
  • 2. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium ed. E. Calvert, 84; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 52; Al. Ox.
  • 3. C142/374/86; C2/Jas.I/O4/7; Condover par. reg. (Salop par. reg. vi), 79.
  • 4. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 61.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 132.
  • 6. Condover par. reg. 59-60.
  • 7. P. Williams, Council in the Marches under Eliz. 352-3.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 119.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 116, 121; SP14/31/1.
  • 10. LI Black Bks. ii. 84, 117, 137, 150.
  • 11. Bowyer Diary, 81.
  • 12. E178/4429.
  • 13. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), v. 121; C66/1276; NLW, Powis 11409; C54/1897; Chamberlain Letters, i. 61.
  • 14. C142/374/86; C2/Jas.I/O4/7; HMC Hatfield, xii. 496-7; List of Sheriffs, 119; C219/35/2/37; SIR ROBERT VERNON.
  • 15. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (o.s.) iii. 300; (ser. 4), xii. 200-1; Bodl. Blakeway 16, pp. 184-5; CJ, i. 154a, 170b-171a, 201, 936a; CD 1604-7, p. 27; SHREWSBURY.
  • 16. CJ, i. 175b, 195a, 197a, 201, 204a, 208a; C219/35/2/36; Shaw, ii. 132.
  • 17. C142/312/158; CJ, i. 258a. He was involved in the subsequent progress of this bill, see CJ, i. 290b, 294a.
  • 18. CJ, i. 263a, 309a.
  • 19. Ibid. 260b, 272b, 281a, 285b, 305b; Bowyer Diary, 81-2, 149; Salop RO, 1831/6/1, p. 358; 1831/14, letters of 18 Mar. 1606, 4 July 1608; SR, iv. 1092; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 101.
  • 20. CJ, i. 324b, 1007-8; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 97-8; Bowyer Diary, 200-2.
  • 21. Galloway, 104-6; CD 1604-7, p. 131; CJ, i. 337b, 1016.
  • 22. Galloway, 106-10; CJ, i. 339-40, 1019b-23a.
  • 23. Galloway, 110-17; CJ, i. 350a, 356, 1033-4; Bowyer Diary, 227, 244-50.
  • 24. Galloway, 117-19; CJ, i. 365a, 1037; Bowyer Diary, 269-71.
  • 25. CJ, i. 370, 1041b; Galloway, 120.
  • 26. CJ, i. 368b, 1046-7; Galloway, 120-3; Bowyer Diary, 304-5.
  • 27. Galloway, 124-6; Bowyer Diary, 310-14, 323-7; CJ, i. 1049.
  • 28. CJ, i. 387b, 1055; Bowyer Diary, 350-5; Galloway, 126; SR, iv. 1134-6.
  • 29. CJ, i. 315b, 371-2, 1006b, 1043.
  • 30. Ibid. 396-7, 402-3, 408a, 410a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 2; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 31, 359; BRIDGNORTH. For the cttee. nominations, see CJ, i. 409b-419a.
  • 31. A.G.R. Smith, ‘Great Contract of 1610’, Eng. Commonwealth ed. P. Clark, A.G.R. Smith and N. Tyacke, 118-19; CJ, i. 423-4.
  • 32. Procs. 1610, ii. 120-4; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 46.
  • 33. CJ, i. 438-9; Procs. 1610, ii. 144-7.
  • 34. CJ, i. 422-3, 427b; Procs. 1610, ii. 84, 93-6, 365; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10.
  • 35. CJ, i. 431; Procs. 1610, ii. 114-16; Parl. Debates 1610, p. 58.
  • 36. ‘Paulet 1610’, ff. 19v, 21v, 23v; Parl. Debates 1610, pp. 112-15; CJ, i. 445b, 447b; Procs. 1610, ii. 272-3.
  • 37. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 22v; M. Jurkowski, C.L. Smith and D. Crook, Lay Taxes in Eng. and Wales 1188-1688, pp. 43-6; Procs. 1610, ii. 366; Smith, 121-3.
  • 38. CJ, i. 449-51.
  • 39. Ibid. 429a; Procs. 1610, i. 125-6.
  • 40. CJ, i. 393-4, 425b, 440a, 447b, 451-2; Procs. 1610, ii. 354-5.
  • 41. Smith, 123-6; Parl. Debates 1610, p. 127; Procs. 1610, ii. 398.
  • 42. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 17-18, 30-2, 52-8; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 64-6.
  • 43. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 61, 65-7, 76, 120-6, 228-32, 238, 244-7. C. Russell, Addled Parl. of 1614, pp. 18-19.
  • 44. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 93-6, 100-1, 145-59, 214, 219, 226, 297, 310-17; Wentworth Pprs. 66-9.
  • 45. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 111-12, 127-30, 168-9.
  • 46. Ibid. 39, 102, 107, 242, 273; Cott. Julius C.III, f. 287.
  • 47. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 344-54, 355-7, 362, 364.
  • 48. Ibid. 371-3, 376-8, 379, 383.
  • 49. Ibid. 380-1, 384-6, 390-1, 393, 397-8, 400-11, 413-14, 418-19; Chamberlain Letters, i. 535.
  • 50. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 413, 418, 425, 435-40; APC, 1613-14, pp. 460, 466; Chamberlain Letters, i. 539.
  • 51. Bowyer Diary, 326; LI Black Bks. ii. 137.
  • 52. M. Judson, Crisis of the Constitution, 238-9; J.P. Somerville, Pols. and Ideology in Eng., 1603-40, pp. 89-92; W. Klein, ‘The Ancient Constitution Revisited’, Pol. Discourse in Early Modern Britain ed. N. Phillipson and Q. Skinner, 23-44. For surviving copies of Owen’s tract, see E.A. Strathmann, ‘Ralegh’s Discourse of Tenures and Sir Roger Owen’, HLQ, xx. 220-3.
  • 53. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 76, 79; C142/360/54; 142/374/86; 142/394/31; Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OL29; WARD 9/162, f. 314v; C2/Jas.I/O4/7; Condover Par. Reg. 63.