PARKER, Sir John (c.1548-1617), of Pendennis Castle, Cornw. and Charing Cross, Westminster; formerly of Willingdon, Suss.

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.1548, 2nd s. of Thomas Parker† (d.1580) of Willingdon and Eleanor, da. of William Waller of Groombridge, Kent; bro. of Sir Nicholas†. unm. kntd. 22 Apr. 1603. d. 15 Oct. 1617.1

Offices Held

Gent. pens. by 1587-d.; kpr. of bills, answers and pleadings, Chancery 1594-1604.2

?Lt. Pendennis Castle, Cornw. by 1601,3 capt. 1603-d.4

Commr. anchorage and quayage, Penzance, Cornw. 1603,5 wardship compositions, Cornw. 1603,6 piracy 1604-13;7 j.p. Cornw. 1604-d.8


A younger son from a prominent Sussex family, Parker had an early career that was obscure even to his contemporaries: his cousin and patron, the 1st Lord Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†), referred to his 14 years of service to the Crown on writing to the master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Egerton†, in 1594, but this time had increased to 22 years by the time Buckhurst wrote again to Egerton two years later. In the first of these letters Egerton indicated that Parker had at some point visited Venice.9 His handwriting shows he was not the army officer with his name serving in Ireland by 1580 and later in the garrison at Berwick,10 with whom this Member has been erroneously identified.11

Buckhurst’s letters to Egerton relate to a patent issued to Parker in April 1594 establishing a new office for the filing and keeping of Chancery bills and answers, a task previously handled in haphazard fashion by the Six Clerks. Parker naturally never intended to do the work involved himself; instead he proposed appointing one of Buckhurst’s clients, Robert Bowyer*, as his deputy. However Egerton, who had been appointed master of the Rolls the day after the patent was issued, took the side of the Six Clerks, who bitterly opposed Parker’s grant as a threat to their fees. According to Sir Julius Caesar*, Parker ‘had never any possession ... nor any execution of the office’, probably because Parker and his deputy needed to be sworn before the master of the Rolls before assuming their duties. However, thanks to Buckhurst a compromise was eventually reached, whereby the filing remained the responsibility of the Six Clerks, who in return agreed to collect and pay Parker the fees the patent granted him. In fact, the Six Clerks seem to have done little to enforce payment beyond supplying Parker with the names of non-payers.12

Parker was probably the ‘kinsman and lieutenant’ sent by his cousin Sir Nicholas Parker, captain of Pendennis Castle, to London in March 1601 with an Irish prisoner; a month later Sir Nicholas expressed his gratitude to Sir Robert Cecil† for the latter’s ‘speeches’ which Parker communicated to him.13 The following February Sir Nicholas described his lieutenant as ‘a soldier of good experience’, suggesting that Parker had been previously employed in a military capacity.14 It was presumably Sir Nicholas who secured Parker’s return for the Cornish borough of Launceston later that year. This was the third time Parker had sat in Parliament, having previously represented Hastings (probably at Buckhurst’s nomination) in 1589, and Truro in 1593.15

Shortly after the accession of James I, Parker succeeded his recently deceased cousin as captain of Pendennis. However, in other respects, the new reign proved a setback as the Six Clerks announced that, following James’s Proclamation rescinding Elizabethan monopolies, no one was willing to pay the fees they had promised to collect for Parker. He responded by petitioning the king to be allowed to enjoy the full benefit of his patent, whereupon James referred the issue to the chief justices of King’s Bench and Common Pleas and the chief baron of the Exchequer.16 It may have been in the hope of being able to lobby for a favourable outcome that Parker had himself returned to Parliament for the Cornish borough of East Looe, over which town he had influence as captain of Pendennis.

Parker’s name appears only once in the surviving records of the 1604 session, when he was named to the committee for a bill to reform abuses in the sale and purchase of pilchards (20 June), an important issue to his constituents.17 However, as a burgess for a port he was also entitled to attend the conference with the Lords on 30 June which, among other matters, dealt with the complaint against Bishop Thornborough’s tract in support of the Union with Scotland.18 Parker evidently attended this meeting as, writing to Cecil shortly after, he referred to Cecil’s conference speech alluding to a puritan petition to the king entitled ‘To the Monarch of Great Britain’. Parker may have been echoing Cecil when he attributed the petition to ‘one or more of our false brethren’; Cecil was presumably trying to demonstrate the presence of supporters of the Union among the godly in the Commons as well as among the bishops. However, despite Cecil’s efforts, Parker reported that ‘every of us, yea and as many conceive the wittiest, I verily think the purest’ concurred in the charge against Thornborough, a reference perhaps to John Hoskins* and Nicholas Fuller*.19

Following the recent collapse of Sir Francis Hastings’ attempt to persuade the Commons to vote subsidies for the Crown, Parker offered to explain to Cecil ‘a manner ... how the king’s present wants might be relieved, ... and yet ... the generality and poorest subsidymen no whit touched’. Parker apparently believed that if the scheme was ‘moved today by such a one grave and wise, who carries also credit and authority with his speech, and seconded by some few of like quality’ the Act could be passed the end of the week; nothing further is known of his project.20

Parker was undoubtedly keen to secure Cecil’s favour because, on 28 June, the judges had ruled against his patent for filing Chancery bills. They found that the custody of the records of the court lay solely with the master of the Rolls, and that therefore the 1594 grant had been invalid. In response Parker tried to obtain some compensation from the Six Clerks, charging them with continuing to collect fees previously paid over to him for their own use. In November 1604 Parker appealed to Cecil, by now Viscount Cranborne, but this only lead to a fruitless hearing before two privy councillors in 1605. His decision to return to Cornwall in May 1605, ostensibly to combat a threatened infringement of the liberties of Pendennis Castle from the deputy lieutenants, may, in reality, have been prompted by the failure of his suit.21

Parker returned to Westminster for the second session with a letter from Thomas Provis* to Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, asking to be allowed to resign his seat at Penryn for business reasons.22 When the session resumed after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Parker introduced a bill to regulate the copying of legal documents, intended not merely to fix the fees clerks could charge but also to specify the minimum number of lines on each sheet and even the number of syllables in each line. An undated paper addressed to the Commons proposed that an officer should also be appointed to supervise legal copying. It seems likely that Parker was behind this document, and that he was trying to establish a modified version of his 1594 grant. Read on 25 Jan. 1606, the paper was ‘called for’ four days later, but the Speaker informed the Commons that ‘many finding themselves grieved with this bill’ desired to be heard by counsel, which was ordered accordingly.23

Parker felt it necessary to make at least a show of moderation in the face of the criticism of his measure. Consequently, he conceded that it was reasonable for counsel to be heard on behalf of the ‘parties grieved’. In addition, no doubt conscious of the number of lawyers in the Commons, he explained that the legal profession had been deliberately left out of the bill as they ‘spent much time and charge in their studies and for that whatsoever was given them was voluntary’. However, he was clearly not willing to make concessions to the clerks of the law courts, who ‘do expect these great fees against the suitors’ will’. He asked that ‘such lawyers as be of account in the House would prepare themselves ... to defend the bill’ and asserted that the clerks’ counsel ‘can allege ... no law for their defence but ... must stand only on custom’, which he thought ‘no stronger for them to do this wrong by extortion’ than for highway robbery.24

In the event the clerks’ counsel, Ranulphe Crewe*, was able, as Parker’s former putative deputy Robert Bowyer conceded, to demonstrate the legality of the clerks’ fees at the second reading on 14 Feb., even though Crewe ‘spake nothing of the smallness of the page nor of the few lines on a side nor few words in the lines’. In the ensuing debate Parker, arguing that bad customs required abolition, asserted that copying in the offices of the Six Clerks cost litigants £40,000 a year. According to Bowyer, the House conceded that the practice of copying required regulation. Although some Members wanted to refer the matter to the judges, sufficient support for a legislative solution existed for Parker’s measure to be committed. Parker himself was named to the committee, whose proceedings were reported three weeks later (7 Mar.) by William Brocke.25 The committee decided not to proceed with the measure as the clerks’ fees was a subject ‘not fit to be dealt with’, but permission was granted to anyone to bring in a new bill solely concerning ‘the abuse of copies’, and, according to Bowyer, two members of the committee had already been asked to draft a new bill for that purpose.26 A new measure was introduced by Parker’s cousin, Sir Thomas Waller, and received a first and second reading on 25 Mar., despite objections that it contravened the resolution of the committee for Parker’s bill.27 Possibly in response to these criticisms, Parker himself produced a new bill on 28 Apr., which received a first reading two days later,28 and a second on 6 May. It was, however, probably Waller’s bill which was the one that was reported on 8 May, as it is clear that it dealt with the clerks’ fees, a matter which the House had already ruled to be unfit. It is hardly surprising therefore that, on the committee’s recommendation, the measure was ordered to sleep.29 Nothing further is heard of Parker’s measure before the session was prorogued.

The only other occasion on which Parker was mentioned in the records of the 1605-6 session was on 26 Apr., when he was appointed to the committee for the bill to legalize bowls, tennis, and other games prohibited by the Statute of 1542.30 After the prorogation Parker prepared a petition to the king ‘for relief of his decayed estate’, and submitted it to Salisbury for approval. If it were disliked he promised to ‘retire to his charge in Cornwall, where, not able to live as he would, he will content himself as he may, and shape his coat according to his cloth’.31

Despite this pledge, Parker returned to Westminster for the third session, in which he was named to six committees. On 24 Nov. 1606 he was named to attend the conference with the Lords on the Union, and was added to the committee for restricting the sale of beer to unlicensed alehouses on 13 December. He was among those instructed to consider the preservation of woodland threatened by the demands of London ironworks on 11 Mar. and to enable Buckhurst’s son (Robert Sackville*) and grandson to surrender their reversions to the office of chief butler, intended to enable Buckhurst, by now the earl of Dorset, to transfer the butlerage to Parker’s kinsman, Sir Thomas Waller.32 On 27 Mar. 1607, Parker once again called attention to ‘the infinite charge and mischief falling daily upon the subject by the length, width, and wasteful writing of copies’ by the clerks of the law courts, stating that ‘Sir Thomas Tasburgh† paid £60 for one copy, Mr. Serjeant [John] Hele† £50 for another. The Lord L’Isle [Robert Sidney†], in a suit depending two years, paid for 6,000 sheets of paper’. He concluded that this was ‘a grievance ... exceeding the purveyors, and all monopolies’.33 However, it was not until 11 May that a bill concerning copies received a first reading. A second reading followed the day after, and Parker was named to the committee, but the measure was never reported.34 The authors of the ‘Parliament Fart’ poem alluded to Parker’s legislative ambitions at around this time: ‘No, saith Sir John Parker, I swear by my rapier / ’twas a bombard stuffed with vile copy paper’.35

Parker’s last committee of the session was for a bill to enable Salisbury to exchange Theobalds for the Crown estate at Hatfield (30 May),36 although at around this time Parker fell out of favour with the earl. In March 1607 he had received a re-grant of the keepership of Pendennis, probably to settle a dispute between Parker and the deputy lieutenants of Cornwall over the liberty of the castle, which had arisen in 1605.37 However, Parker evidently did not think that the new grant had resolved the issue in his favour, as he complained bitterly to Salisbury in October 1607 that all the Cornish gentry knew he was in disfavour with the earl and that Francis Vyvyan*, the newly appointed vice admiral of South Cornwall, felt that he could order Parker about as he pleased. It was doubtless because of this dispute with Vivian that in 1609 Parker expressed a desire not to sit on a piracy commission, to which both had been appointed.38

In the fourth session Parker again introduced a bill for regulating fees for legal copies, and was appointed to the committee after its second reading on 13 Mar. 1610. His only other appointing was for the bill to preserve timber (22 March).39 When, following Sir Edwin Sandys’s report of the ecclesiastical grievances, the inclusion of the failure to execute the penal laws on recusancy was put to the question on 23 Apr. 1610 ‘only Sir John Parker said No; and they gave him liberty to show his reason, which is a rare and an unusual case’, although his explanation for his dissent was not recorded.40 He left no trace on the records of the fifth session.

Parker was not elected to the Addled Parliament, by which time he was in his mid-sixties. ‘Weak in body’, he drew up his will on 6 Dec. 1616. He left £1,200 to his nephews and nieces for their better education and maintenance, his dwelling-house to Waller’s widow, his coach and horses to his niece Anne Moore, and his bay nag to his neighbour Edward Forsett*. His nephew (Sir) Thomas Parker* was his residuary legatee. He died on 15 Oct. 1617, a bachelor in his 70th year, and was buried three days later at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. A memorial was erected in Willingdon church near those of his ancestors, mentioning his office as gentleman pensioner to both Elizabeth and James I and his captaincy of Pendennis, but not his parliamentary service.41 A portrait of Parker, painted in 1589 by the Flemish artist Jeronimo Custodis, survives at Hampton Court.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Peter Lefevre


  • 1. H.R. Mosse, Monumental Effigies of Suss. 160-1; W. Berry, County Gens.: Peds. of Fams. in Co. of Suss. 12; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 102.
  • 2. E407/1/18; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 482; Mosse, 191.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, xi. 121.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 10; Mosse, 161.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 110.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, xv. 264.
  • 7. C181/1, f. 82v; 181/2, ff. 56, 186; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 10.
  • 8. C66/1620; 66/2047.
  • 9. Egerton Pprs. ed. J.P. Collier (Cam. Soc. xii), 198, 209.
  • 10. Ex inf. Prof. William Tighe.
  • 11. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 172; W.J. Jones, Elizabethan Ct. of Chancery, 70.
  • 12. Jones, 70-6; Lansd. 174, f. 43.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xi. 121, 174.
  • 14. Ibid. xii. 56.
  • 15. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 172.
  • 16. Jones, 76; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 370.
  • 17. CJ, i. 243a.
  • 18. Ibid. 232b, 248b.
  • 19. Hatfield ms 190, f. 2; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 258-9; CJ, i. 251b; A. Bellany, ‘Poem on the Archbishop’s Hearse: Puritanism, Libel, and Sedition after the Hampton Court Conference’, JBS, xxxiv. 142-3.
  • 20. Hatfield House, ms 190, f. 2.
  • 21. Jones, 76-7; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 369-70; xvii. 217, 618.
  • 22. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 461.
  • 23. Bowyer Diary, 7, 12, 140 n. 1.
  • 24. Ibid. 12.
  • 25. Ibid. 38; CJ, i. 268b.
  • 26. CJ, i. 279a; Bowyer Diary, 64.
  • 27. CJ, i. 283b, 288b. The clerk, who expected the bill to be rejected, made no record of the cttee. It was probably committed to the same Members as Parker’s measure. The committee was ordered to meet on 2 and 3 May. Bowyer Diary, 91, n. 1; CJ, i. 303b, 305b.
  • 28. CJ, i. 301a, 302b.
  • 29. Ibid. 305b, 306b; Bowyer Diary. 152.
  • 30. CJ, i. 301a.
  • 31. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 184.
  • 32. CJ, i. 324b, 330b, 351b, 356a.
  • 33. Ibid. 355b-6a.
  • 34. Ibid. 372a, 373a.
  • 35. Add. 34218, f. 20v.
  • 36. CJ, i. 377a.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 353; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 217.
  • 38. HMC Hatfield, xix. 270; xxi. 10.
  • 39. C173/2/1; CJ, i. 410a, 413b.
  • 40. CJ, i. 420b.
  • 41. PROB 11/130, f. 345; St. Martin-in-the-Fields ed. T. Mason (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxv), 175; Mosse, 199.
  • 42. R. Strong, English Icon, 196.