PARKINS (PERKINS), Sir Christopher (c.1543-1622), of the Gatehouse, Lambeth Palace, Surr.; formerly of St. Christopher-le-Stocks, London and Harrow-on-the-Hill, Mdx.; later of Cannon Row, Westminster

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.1543, s. of one Perkins of Reading, Berks. educ. Winchester 1555, aged 12; Oxf. BA 1565; Rome 1566, DCL (Rome) c.1570; G. Inn 1597.1 m. lic. 5 Nov. 1617, Anne, da. of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield, Leics., wid. of James Brett (d.1616) of Hoby, Leics., s.p.2 Ordained [Jesuit] 1575, discharged 1581.3 kntd. 23 July 1603.4 bur. 1 Sept. 1622.5 sig. Ch[ristopher] Parkins.

Offices Held

Envoy, Denmark and Poland 1588-9;6 amb. Denmark, Poland and the Baltic 1590-1, Germany and Holy Roman Empire 1593, Poland 1594-5, Denmark (jt.) 1598, 1600.7

Dean, Carlisle 1596-d.8

Acting Latin sec. 1596-1601, Latin sec. 1601-3;9 commr. piracy 1599, 1601;10 master of Requests (extraordinary) 1603-17, (ordinary) by Jan. 1618-d.;11 commr. naval inquiry 1608-9.12

Member, Doctors’ Commons 1605.13

Freeman, Clothworkers’ Co. aft. 1605;14 member, Virg. Co. 1609.15


Described in unflattering terms by Chamberlain as ‘a papist, a Jesuit, a doctor, a dean, a master of Requests, a knight and what not’,16 Parkins was the only ordained Jesuit to sit in the Commons in the early modern period, although John Kestell†, Oliver Manners† and Tobie Matthew* all joined the order after the end of their brief parliamentary careers.17 It is sometimes stated that Parkins hailed from Nottinghamshire, but Winchester College’s records state that he came from Reading, and he later acknowledged kinship with Francis Parkins of Ufton Nervet, Berkshire, who was descended from a servant of the fourteenth-century magnate Hugh Le Despenser.18 As a Wykehamist, Parkins presumably went on to New College, Oxford, although the only indication that he attended university was that he was awarded a BA in April 1565. Eighteen months later, he became a Jesuit novice in Rome.19 His admission clearly owed much to the influence of his Berkshire kinsmen, one of whom had been a gentleman usher to Cardinal Pole, while another was regularly convicted for recusancy in the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign. All were closely linked with other leading Catholics in Berkshire, including Thomas Vachell†, Edmund Plowden† and Sir Francis Englefield†, who went into voluntary exile in 1559.20

Parkins received a doctorate in Civil Law at Rome, was ordained at Augsburg in 1575, and taught at Jesuit universities along the Danube valley, but he successfully petitioned for discharge from the order in 1581.21 His reasons for leaving the Jesuits are unknown, but he may have been among those who dissented from the confrontational policy recently inaugurated in England by Edmund Campion and Robert Persons. Parkins’ knowledge of the Jesuits may have subsequently proved invaluable to the Elizabethan regime, as Camden later claimed that Parkins saved William Cecil†, grandson of lord treasurer Burghley (Sir William Cecil†), from a Jesuit assassination plot in Rome in 1585-6. Whether this tale is true is unknown, but Parkins certainly met the younger Cecil, who encouraged him to write a tract about the Jesuits, and presumably put him in contact with the Elizabethan regime.22 By 1588 Parkins was corresponding with secretary Sir Francis Walsingham†, at whose behest he lobbied on behalf of English trading interests in Denmark and Poland.23 He returned to England in the autumn of 1589, when he was briefly held under house arrest until he convinced the Privy Council of his good intentions.24

Parkins quickly made himself indispensable to the government, both as an envoy to Germany and eastern Europe and as an occasional substitute for the Latin secretary, Sir John Wolley†. However, as late as 1594 a Catholic exile stated that he had been saying mass while on a diplomatic mission to the emperor, and official misgivings about his religion presumably explain why he received only a modest annual pension of 100 marks in 1591.25 Although he claimed to have become estranged from the Catholic church during the 1580s, Parkins may not have conformed to the Anglican church until 1595, when he revised his tract on the Jesuits as a Protestant polemic at the suggestion of (Sir) Robert Cecil†. He urged that this document should remain anonymous if published, a wish which was presumably granted, as his treatise has not been identified.26 The main motives behind Parkins’ conversion were probably fear of the £2,000 bounty allegedly placed on his head by the pope during his embassy to Poland in 1594-5, and Cecil’s promise of preferment.27

On Wolley’s death in 1596, Parkins took over the duties of Latin secretary, which required linguistic expertise and a knowledge of protocol, and involved close consultation with Burghley, Cecil and the queen over issues of economic and diplomatic policy.28 Although not confirmed in office for five years, he was swiftly appointed dean of Carlisle, which Wolley had previously held as a sinecure,29 although he is only known to have visited Carlisle cathedral once, during the annual audit of 1599.30 Parkins was returned to Parliament for Ripon at Cecil’s behest in 1597 and 1601, and was tipped as a possible ambassador to France in 1601.31 After James’s accession, he became a master of Requests, a position he had been lobbying for since 1595, and was knighted at the Coronation.32 His personal circumstances were still very modest: he apparently lodged with the London alderman Anthony Ratcliffe until 1597,33 when he was admitted to Gray’s Inn, perhaps in order to secure chambers there. From 1604 he lived in the gatehouse at Lambeth Palace by arrangement with Archbishop Bancroft, his colleague on an embassy to Denmark in 1600. By 1611 he was, like many Cecil clients, resident in Cannon Row, Westminster.34

In 1604 Cecil interceded with Lord William Howard to secure Parkins a seat at Morpeth.35 Parkins was not a major figure in the Commons, but most of his recorded speeches concerned important issues, and the Cecil connection doubtless ensured that he was given a respectful hearing. On 4 June 1604 he opposed the free trade bill on the grounds that the chartered companies targeted by the bill were not created ‘for the enhancing of prices for a private purpose, to a public prejudice’ and thus were not technically monopolies.36 As a diplomat, he was aware of the vulnerability of English merchants to organized lobbying by foreign rivals, particularly the Hanseatic League.37 He did not speak on the Union, but as an expert on protocol he was named to a committee to discuss the diplomatic consequences of James’s plan to assume the title of ‘king of Great Britain’ (27 Apr. 1604); he was also one of those chosen to examine Bishop Thornborough’s criticism of the Commons’ stance on the Union (1 June 1604). He also helped to prepare for several joint conferences on the Instrument of Union in the autumn of 1606.38

As a Protestant convert, it is hardly surprising that Parkins was interested in recusancy legislation. On 6 June 1604 he was named to a committee for a bill to prevent the dissemination of Catholic books, and on the day after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered he was named to another for a general bill ‘for the better execution of penal statutes’. A few weeks later, he offered Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, suggestions for reforming the recusancy laws, and it was later claimed that he had a hand in developing the Oath of Allegiance.39 When Parliament reconvened on 21 Jan. 1606 Parkins was included on the committee charged with reform of the recusancy laws. This was reported to the House ten days later, and on 4 Feb. it was moved to refer these proposals to a forthcoming conference with the Lords: Sir Edward Montagu and Sir Francis Hastings objected, but they were opposed by Parkins, and the motion appears to have been carried.40 On 6 Feb. Parkins was named to a committee to consider measures to neutralize the security threat from English Catholics serving in the Spanish forces in the Low Countries. This move was sponsored by Salisbury, who planned to use the Commons as a means to overturn the clause in the Treaty of London permitting Catholics to enlist in the Spanish army. Support for this measure included ‘an eloquent speech’ by Parkins on 8 Feb., who ‘showed that the English serving under the archduke did not aim at the Low Countries, but intended all their purposes against England’. Two days later, Parkins reported the committee’s decision that mercenaries in the service of Catholic powers should be given six months’ grace in which to return home.41 Having served Salisbury’s purposes, Parkins’ interest in recusancy legislation waned, although he was later named to committees for a bill to punish church papists who refused to take communion (7 Apr. 1606) and the bill to attaint the Gunpowder plotters (30 Apr. 1606). On 26 May 1610 he was among the delegation sent to ask the king for a Proclamation ordering all officeholders to take the oath of allegiance.42

Parkins attended the joint conference of 15 Feb. 1610, at which Salisbury, now lord treasurer, unveiled his proposals for the Great Contract. During a debate on wardship (28 Feb.), he attempted to strike a positive note by reminding the House that the king had chosen not to impose a settlement by using his prerogative.43 However, he was as reluctant as other speakers to put a precise figure on the composition to be offered, and was even less willing to intervene over the impositions debate: on 22 May, after a justificatory speech by the king, he supported Sir Francis Hastings’ proposal for a committee ‘to set impositions by a rule’, in defiance of James’s claim to be entitled to set customs rates under the prerogative.44 In spite of any dissatisfaction with the king, Parkins was one of a small number of speakers in the subsidy debate of 14 June who offered an immediate grant of supply as a token of goodwill.45

Although only an occasional speaker, Parkins was named to 57 committees during the first four sessions of the Parliament, which suggests that he may have been a diligent committeeman.46 He clearly attended at least one other, as on 9 June 1607 he reported a naturalization bill from a committee to which he had not been named.47 A quarter of his committee nominations concerned legislation on ecclesiastical affairs, among which was a sub-committee to prepare for a conference of 11 Apr. 1606 about ways to restore ministers deprived for refusing to subscribe to the 1604 Canons; he was also named to the committee for the subscription bill (11 Dec. 1606), which sought to achieve the same end. In view of his close connections with Bancroft, it is likely that he hoped to obstruct these measures. The regularity with which Parkins was included on committees for measures against nonresidence (22 Jan. 1606; 5 Mar. 1606; 4 Mar. 1607; 16 Apr. 1610) suggests a desire to defend his interests as absentee dean of Carlisle.48

Parkins’ connection with Cecil undoubtedly helps to explain his appointment to committees concerning the Spanish Company’s charter (5 Nov. 1605) and complaints against Spanish treatment of English merchants (28 Feb. 1607).49 His membership of the Clothworkers’ Company may have prompted his nomination to the committee for the bill to assure the lands of the London livery companies (4 May 1607), while his position at Court doubtless explains his employment as a teller during a debate on the bill to reform the Marshalsea (26 Mar. 1607).50 He had little traceable interest in most of the other bill committees to which he was named, although his opposition to Sir Henry Crispe’s estate bill may have been encouraged by Lady Crispe’s counsel, Mr. Garrard, perhaps the Gray’s Inn lawyer Philip Garrard remembered in Parkins’s will.51

Outside the Commons, Parkins assisted Archbishop Bancroft’s attempts to persuade Tobie Matthew to renounce his conversion to Rome, or at least to take the Oath of Allegiance, and in 1606-7 he and Bancroft attempted to convert the recusant wife of Sir Robert Crosse†.52 Bancroft commissioned Parkins to censor Edward Ayscu’s history of Anglo-Scottish relations, but the author evaded his disapproval by applying to Archbishop Whitgift’s former censor for a licence, and the book was published in 1607.53 Parkins proved more successful in suppressing a Catholic tract in 1609, seizing several hundred copies at the Venetian embassy on the orders of the Privy Council.54

Having entered government service late in life, Parkins was keen to sustain his career into old age. In 1608 he was outraged at a rumour that he was to be passed over for an ordinary mastership of Requests because he was ‘old and weak’, and indeed in 1611 he took over the duties of Sir Daniel Dunne*, one of the ordinary masters, who was several years his junior.55 By 1616 he was the most active master, but with Salisbury and Bancroft both dead, his bid for promotion to an ordinary mastership following the death of Sir Roger Wilbraham* was frustrated by Sir Robert Naunton*, who was backed by his relative Lord Villiers, the new favourite.56 Parkins drew the appropriate conclusion from this episode, for when Dunne died in the following year he obtained his promotion in the face of strong competition by means of a timely marriage to Villiers’ widowed aunt, Anne Brett.57

Parkins’ marriage provoked much cynical comment. One writer suggested that ‘having been of long time suspected for a Jesuit, he did wonderfully wisely to give this testimony that the world had erred about his religion, for that he hath cast the prayer pro celibata out of his litany’.58 Tobie Matthew, on the other hand, believed that the marriage was a mere sham, and that Parkins ‘had a boy whom he was yet suspected to love more’, an insinuation which may have been coloured by resentment at the treatment Matthew had received during the Oath of Allegiance controversy.59 Bishop Goodman believed the marriage had been concluded on the understanding that Parkins would not break the vow of celibacy he had taken as a Jesuit, which seems plausible, although there is no evidence to support his assertion that Villiers was furious when he learned of this arrangement.60

Referred to as ‘the old dotard’ in 1617, Parkins nevertheless clung to office until his death.61 Although Goodman claimed that he was notoriously open to bribes from both parties to a dispute, and he was accused of corruption in a petition to Parliament in 1621, he did not die a rich man.62 In his will of 30 Aug. 1620 he allowed his wife the choice between a third of the rents of his house in Cannon Row and his lands in Kent or a life annuity of 100 marks, and he shared a further £1,000 between four friends and servants. He also left a perpetual annuity of £25 to the divinity lectureship at Oxford University, £20 to the poor of Westminster, and £50 to Westminster Abbey, where he was buried on 1 Sept. 1622.63 The remainder of his goods went to his ailing servant Anthony Bright, rather than to his wife, whom Goodman claimed he had planned to divorce. Bright was thereby able to make generous bequests to his family before his death a few weeks later.64

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. T.F. Kirby, Winchester Scholars, 133; Al. Ox.; Eng. and Welsh Jesuits ed. T.M. McCoog (Catholic Rec. Soc. lxxv), 265; GI Admiss.
  • 2. London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 1045; Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 170-1, 206; PROB 11/128, f. 163v.
  • 3. Eng. and Welsh Jesuits, 265.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 114.
  • 5. Reg. Westminster Abbey ed. J.L. Chester, 119.
  • 6. Cott. Nero B.II, ff. 172-4, B.IV, f. 29; HMC Hatfield, iii. 411.
  • 7. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 30, 31, 59, 138, 214.
  • 8. J. le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, iii. 246; C66/1455/49.
  • 9. APC, 1601-4, p. 179; C66/1550/4.
  • 10. C66/1511 (dorse); 66/1554, m. 10 (dorse); CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 147, 271.
  • 11. APC, 1601-4, p. 499; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 131.
  • 12. Jacobean Comms. of Enquiry ed. A.P. McGowan (Navy Recs. Soc. cxvi), 2.
  • 13. G.D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 167.
  • 14. PROB 11/140, f. 176.
  • 15. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 464.
  • 16. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 451.
  • 17. Kestell is wrongly identified in the printed version of HP Commons, 1558-1603. See T.H. Clancy, ‘First generation of Eng. Jesuits’, Archivum Historicum Societatis Jesu, 120, n. 20.
  • 18. Kirby, 133; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 119.
  • 19. Al. Ox.; English and Welsh Jesuits, 265, 348.
  • 20. PROB 11/42A, ff. 9-10, 338; Recusants 1581-92 ed. T.J. McCann (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxxi), 132; Recusant Roll 1 ed. M.M.C. Calthrop (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii), 8; Recusant Roll 2 ed. H. Bowler (Cath. Rec. Soc. lvii), lxxxiv-v, 2-3; HP (Commons) 1558-1603, (Sir Francis Englefield).
  • 21. English and Welsh Jesuits, 265, 348; HMC Hatfield, vii. 404-5.
  • 22. Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, i. 330-1; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 125-6, 183.
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, iii. 411; Cott. Nero B.II, ff. 172-4; B.IV, f. 29.
  • 24. APC, 1589-90, p. 136; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 624.
  • 25. Verstegan Pprs. ed. A.G. Petti (Cath. Rec. Soc. lii), 211; C66/1394/15.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 125-6.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, v. 339-40, 369; vi. 92-3, 248, 262; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 130, 188; 1598-1601, pp. 49-50.
  • 28. HMC Hatfield, vii. 516.
  • 29. His Roman ordination was considered valid by the Church of England.
  • 30. C66/1455/49; HMC Hatfield, ix. 376, 411; xii. 346.
  • 31. HMC Hatfield, vii. 404; xi. 390, 409, 442, 444; Chamberlain Letters, i. 131; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 112.
  • 32. APC, 1601-4, p. 499; HMC Hatfield, vi. 248; vii. 404-5; Shaw, ii. 114.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 247-8; HMC Hatfield, iv. 239; A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, ii. 178.
  • 34. GI Admiss.; Shaw, ii. 114; Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew ed. A.H. Mathew, 70; Bell, 31; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 431; xxi. 291-2.
  • 35. H.V. Jones ‘Jnl. of Levinus Munck’, EHR, lxviii. 250.
  • 36. CJ, i. 985b. He was also named to the cttee. for the free trade bill of 1606, ibid. 292b.
  • 37. E.g., CSP For. 1589-90, pp. 406-8, 416-18, 433-6; 1591-2, pp. 459-61.
  • 38. CJ, i. 188b, 230a, 326b, 329b, 1003b. For his expertise on protocol, see CSP For. 1595, p. 259; Cott. Nero B.XI, f. 300.
  • 39. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 558; CJ, 233b, 257a; Ct. of Jas. I, i. 333. The proposals Parkins sent to Salisbury do not survive.
  • 40. Bowyer Diary, 2, 19-25; CJ, i. 257-8, 263.
  • 41. Bowyer Diary, 28-31; CJ, i. 264-6; P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archduke’, BIHR, lxiv. 289-304.
  • 42. CJ, i. 294b, 433b, 435a.
  • 43. Ibid. 393b, 402b.
  • 44. Ibid. 430b.
  • 45. Ibid. 439b.
  • 46. No figures are available for the fifth session due to the loss of the Journal.
  • 47. CJ, i. 379b, 381a.
  • 48. Cott., Cleopatra F.II, f. 239; CJ, i. 258a, 277b, 347b, 418a.
  • 49. CJ, i. 256b, 344b; Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), pp. xxxv-xxxvii.
  • 50. CJ, i. 354b, 368b.
  • 51. Ibid. 409b, 419b; ‘Paulet 1610’, ff. 6-7; PROB 11/140, f. 176v.
  • 52. Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew, 71-6, 84; HMC Hatfield, xix. 46.
  • 53. HMC Hatfield, xix. 450.
  • 54. CSP Ven. 1607-10, pp. 313-14, 367.
  • 55. HMC Hatfield, xx. 98; Chamberlain Letters, i. 323; Goodman, 332.
  • 56. R.E. Schreiber, Pol. Career of Sir Robert Naunton, 8-10; Bodl. Carte 74, f. 402; HMC Downshire, vi. 25; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 230.
  • 57. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 99, 105, 131; HMC Downshire, vi. 326.
  • 58. HMC Downshire, vi. 326.
  • 59. Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew, 70.
  • 60. Ct. of Jas. I, i. 333-4.
  • 61. HMC Downshire, vi. 326; Recs. Virg. Co. ii. 79.
  • 62. Ct. of Jas. I, i. 332-3; HMC 3rd Rep. 23a.
  • 63. PROB 11/140, ff. 175-6; Regs. Westminster Abbey ed. J.L. Chester, 119.
  • 64. Ct. of Jas. I, i. 335; PROB 11/140, f. 143; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 525.