PARKHURST, Sir William (-d.1667), of Richmond, Surr. and the Tower of London; later of Lenham, Kent.

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

?s. of James Parkhurst of Lenham (d.1598).1 m. lic. 2 May 1618, Anne, da. of Sir Gervase Elwes, lt. of Tower, 1s. at least 1da.2 kntd. 19 July 1619.3 bur. 9 Mar. 1667.4 sig. William Parkhurst.

Offices Held

Sec. to Sir Henry Wotton*, amb. to Venice and later Savoy, 1604-11, 1612; acting agent, Savoy 1612-14.5

Bailiff, Jersey 1622-4;6 j.p. Mdx. 1625-at least 1640, Kent 1625-6, Essex 1625-6, Surr. 1625-6, Oxf. from 1644;7 collector, Privy Seal loan, Surr. 1625-6;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1625-6, London 1625-7, Mdx. 1625, 1636-8, from 1641,9 array, Kent 1642.10

Warden of Mint, Tower of London 1623-6 (jt.), 1626-9 (sole), 1629-43, 1660-d. (jt.), Shrewsbury 1642-3, Oxf. 1643-6;11 commr. mastership of Mint 1625-6,12 ltcy. of Tower of London 1625, 1626, 1627,13 goldsmiths’ abuses 1635,14 regulation of gold and silver thread 1636, incorporation of maltsters 1637, brewing by 1638, gaming fraud 1638.15


Parkhurst’s forebears hailed from Norfolk, but settled during the sixteenth century in the adjacent Kentish parishes of Lenham and Boughton Malherbe. Parkhurst’s father has not been certainly identified, but a likely candidate is James Parkhurst, who by the mid-1580s was raising a family at Lenham, Parkhurst’s only recorded home in Kent.16 In 1604 he was recruited by Sir Henry Wotton to accompany the latter to Venice as his secretary, working alongside (Sir) Albertus Morton*. Wotton was himself a Boughton Malherbe resident, and assembled his entourage largely from among his neighbours, a fact which tends to confirm Parkhurst’s origins. In 1608 the ambassador described Parkhurst as having ‘little fortunes’ at home, but he valued his ‘honesty and carefulness’, and sent him back to England at least once with confidential messages for the king.17

Following Wotton’s recall in 1610 Parkhurst returned to Kent, but rejoined his master in 1612 on a mission to Turin aimed at promoting a marriage alliance between England and Savoy. When discussions collapsed at the end of the year due to Prince Henry’s death, Parkhurst found himself stranded at the duke of Savoy’s Court, Wotton having earlier been summoned home for negotiations in London. Morton, the official replacement as Turin agent, failed to take up his post until January 1615, apart from a brief visit during the previous summer, and Parkhurst by default took on this role.18 His dispatches to England indicate competence in the ritual of ducal audiences, while the Venetian ambassador in Turin complained in December 1612 that he was ‘so sagacious and reticent’ that no sensitive information could be extracted from him. Nevertheless James I denied him formal status, supplying him with neither money nor instructions. By March 1613 Parkhurst was financially dependent on the duke, and became sidelined as the latter prepared to attack the neighbouring fiefdom of Montferrat.19 In April French hostility to this Savoyard aggression raised the threat of a reprisal from the north-west, including military action by Geneva, which was then a French dependency. Parkhurst, ignorant of James’s disapproval of the Montferrat adventure, but mindful of earlier English mediation between Geneva and Savoy, sought to improve his country’s and his own standing in Turin by offering his services to the Duke as an envoy to discourage Genevan intervention. In the event, Parkhurst’s mission in May 1613 proved inconclusive, his frankness with the Genevan authorities about his ambiguous diplomatic status helping to stall discussions. However, the resultant widespread rumours of tacit English support for Savoy outraged the French, who assumed that James was going back on pledges to the contrary. As Parkhurst had half-predicted in his dispatches alerting London to his scheme, the king repudiated his actions, rendering necessary an abject apology; but he was not summoned home, and continued in the same modus operandi until December 1614, when he formally requested his own recall. The duke obligingly funded the journey to England in return for the conveyance of some letters.20

Three months later Parkhurst was back at Turin, after briefly calling on Wotton in Holland. In June 1615 he provoked further diplomatic speculation by accompanying two Savoyard agents to Berne and Heidelberg, but this particular trip was sanctioned by Morton. Parkhurst finally left Turin for good soon afterwards, as in March 1616 he carried a government dispatch from London to Paris.21 He was again in London in 1618, when he married the daughter of the former lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Gervase Elwes, and he appears to have lingered on the margins of the Court for some time. When the earl of Southampton was placed in Parkhurst’s charge for three months in 1621, Chamberlain speculated that he would accept any other comparable employment. His appointment as temporary bailiff of Jersey in April 1622, a post which he executed through a deputy almost from the start, provided a steady income for two years. However, his major breakthrough came in July 1623 when he was granted the joint wardenship of the Mint. It is not known whether this development implies some connection with the duke of Buckingham, half-brother of his fellow warden Sir Edward Villiers*.22

Parkhurst’s motives in seeking a place in the 1625 Parliament remain obscure. He was elected at St. Ives, where the borough’s principal patron was the 4th marquess of Winchester. Parkhurst’s route to a nomination there was probably via his Kentish friend and neighbour Sir Anthony Mayney, a former Member for St. Ives and an intimate associate of Winchester’s family, rather than through Buckingham, as has been suggested. Parkhurst was named as Mayney’s executor later that year, but he seems not to have sympathized with the prevalent Catholicism of Winchester’s circle, with which he was not otherwise visibly linked. He left no trace in the Parliament’s records.23

Parkhurst was granted the wardenship of the Mint for life, initially in partnership with Villiers and then, from 1629, with Sir Anthony St. Leger. The post was not especially lucrative, offering annual fees of £100 shared between the joint wardens, with little opportunity for additional gain, though Parkhurst seems also to have used the official house provided at the Tower. Most of the routine management of the Mint was conducted by the master, technically a subordinate officer, and apart from a period in 1625-6 when Parkhurst served on a commission intended to reform the mastership, he was free to perform other tasks.24 Many of these related to the Mint’s basic functions, such as inspection of exchanged foreign currency brought in for re-coining, efforts to improve the standard of new coinage and combat forgery and, from 1637, regulation of a new mint at Aberystwyth. The warden’s status as superior magistrate in Mint-related matters may explain why, in 1625, Parkhurst was briefly named to all judicial commissions in the London region. His residence within the Tower also made him an obvious candidate to take charge of the fortress in the lieutenant’s absence.25

The cash-flow crisis precipitated by the Second Bishops’ War forced the government into a re-coinage programme in mid-1640, which Parkhurst supervised. He had already joined the king’s camp by August 1642 when Parliament seized the London Mint, and by the time he was officially removed from the wardenship in the following year, he had already helped to establish a rival mints first at Shrewsbury and then Oxford.26 He compounded under the Oxford articles of 1646, being fined £436, and later claimed that he had suffered imprisonment for a time. This fine, along with additional demands by the Commonwealth government, strained his finances to the point where he was obliged to sell his family’s Kent estates, to which he had retired after the fall of Oxford.27

Parkhurst and St. Leger recovered their wardenship in 1660, and during the next few years presided over the re-minting of the old Commonwealth coinage and the adoption of mechanized production, programmes dictated by the government. Parkhurst’s main personal initiative, the manufacture of farthings of full intrinsic value to replace the customary tokens, was abandoned after 1665.28 He was also unsuccessful in his bid to secure the reversion of his office for his son-in-law, and in 1666 lost one of his principal duties, his control over the Mint’s accounts, in a reform of the organization’s finances which saw more power pass to the master. This alteration in procedure was probably not a comment on Parkhurst’s personal performance, though it subsequently emerged that he had failed to submit his accounts for auditing since the Restoration. As part of the reform programme the warden’s annual fees were increased in mid-1667 to £350, but Parkhurst died in early March that year, too soon to benefit from the rise. He was buried at the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower. No will or administration for him has been found. A portrait medal of Parkhurst was struck at Oxford in 1644.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Arch. Cant. vii. 36.
  • 2. Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 1611-1828 ed. G.J. Armytage (Harl. Soc. xxvi), 60; London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 1020; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 10; Eg. 2538, f. 249.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 172.
  • 4. Musgrave’s Obit. ed. G.J. Armytage (Harl. Soc. xlvii), iv. 357.
  • 5. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 476.
  • 6. APC, 1621-3, p. 213; G.R. Balleine, Biographical Dict. of Jersey, 322.
  • 7. C231/4, ff. 175v-6, 177, 191; C66/2859; Harl. 1622; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 190.
  • 8. E401/2586, p. 49.
  • 9. C181/3, ff. 139, 182v, 183v, 191, 208v, 235; 181/5, ff. 57v, 114, 213v, 231.
  • 10. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 11. C66/2300/14; 66/2477/28; C.E. Challis, ‘Ld. Hastings to Gt. Silver Recoinage’, New Hist. of Roy. Mint ed. C.E. Challis, 282-3, 339; CSP Dom. 1645-7, p. 393.
  • 12. New Hist. of Roy. Mint, App. 2, pp. 741-2.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 547, 572; APC, 1627-8, p. 86.
  • 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 4, p. 123.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 178; 1636-7, p. 404; 1637-8, pp. 230, 295.
  • 16. E. Hasted, Kent, v. 409, 429; C2/Jas.I/P12/34; 2/Jas.I/P13/11; PROB 11/129, f. 420; IGI, Kent.
  • 17. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, i. 48-9, 420-1.
  • 18. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 312; CSP Ven. 1610-13, pp. viii-ix, xii, 374; 1613-15, p. 332; SP92/2, f. 42. The DNB erroneously assigns this Turin episode to John Parkhurst.
  • 19. SP92/1, ff. 84-7, 109-10v, 115-7; CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 459.
  • 20. SP92/1, ff. 128-30v, 134-6v, 147-53; 92/2, ff. 118, 133-4, 383; CSP Ven. 1610-13, pp. 528, 550, 554; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 464.
  • 21. SP92/2, f. 237v; SP81/14, ff. 106-8; CSP Ven. 1613-15, pp. 328, 478; Stowe 176, f. 1.
  • 22. London Mar. Lics. 60; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 384; APC, 1621-3, pp. 21, 37, 213; Balleine, 322; C66/2300/14.
  • 23. PROB 11/124, f. 360; 11/151, ff. 131v, 132v; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 306; SP92/2, f. 30; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 147.
  • 24. C66/2300/14; 66/2477/28; HMC 8th Rep. i. (1881), p. 64; J. Craig, The Mint, 47, 125, 143.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 547; 1627-8, p. 189; 1635, p. 1; 1636-7, p. 414; 1637-8, pp. 42-3; Craig, 48, 150.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 465-7; 1641-3, p. 347; CCC, 1542; Craig, 150-1; Challis, 281-3.
  • 27. CCC, 1542; CCAM, 867; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 10; Hasted, v. 409, 429.
  • 28. Craig, 154, 157-8, 173; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 78, 307.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 10; HMC 8th Rep. i. 103; SR, v. 599-600; HMC Lindsey, 173; Craig, 168-71; Harl. 3361, f. 10v; Challis, 271.