POPHAM, Edward (1581-1641), of Huntworth, Som.

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. 11 Nov. 1581, 1st s. of Alexander Popham* of Huntworth, and Dowsabell, da. of John Bayley of ?Salisbury, Wilts.1 educ. M. Temple 1600.2 m. (1) 1603, Dorothy (d.1614) da. of Richard Bartlett of Berks., 1s. d.v.p.; (2) 29 Oct. 1618, Anne, da. of Henry Gifford and wid. of Sir John Portman of Orchard Portman, Som., s.p.3 suc. fa. 1602.4 admon. 6 Mar. 1641.5

Offices Held

J.p. Som. 1607-26,6 commr. sewers 1610, 1616, 1625, 1629, 1634;7 treas. of hospitals, E. Som. 1613-17, maimed soldiers, Som. 1615;8 sheriff, Som. 1622-3,9 dep. lt. 1623-c.1630;10 commr. enclosure, Sedgemoor, Som. 1628.11


Popham should not be confused with his cousin and namesake, a naval officer in the late 1630s, an admiral under Cromwell, and MP for Minehead between 1645 and 1651.12 Popham’s family derived their name from a Hampshire manor which they owned as early as the twelfth century. They acquired the Somerset estate of Huntworth, three miles from Bridgwater, in the late 1200s, and first represented the county in Parliament in 1299.13 Popham’s great-grandfather Alexander, who apparently profited financially from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, revived the family’s local importance, becoming recorder of Bridgwater, and sitting as the town’s MP in 1545 and 1547. This distinctive combination of offices was also held by Popham’s grandfather and father under Elizabeth.14

Initially, Popham himself seemed destined for a similar career. He entered the Middle Temple in 1600, acquiring chambers there six years later.15 However, in May 1607 he abandoned his pursuit of the law, and instead sailed on an expedition to establish a colony at Sagadahoc, Maine. This venture, which was organized by his great-uncle, lord chief justice Sir John Popham†, and led by his uncle, the sometime Bridgwater merchant George Popham, failed within two years. Although he received £20 under the will of his uncle George, who died at Sagadahoc, Popham doubtless lost out financially, and thereafter showed no direct interest in commerce or colonization.16 Nevertheless, in February 1619 he petitioned Prince Charles for ‘some yearly allowance to breed an Indian who is to be baptized and sent to Oxford to be made fit to preach to his countrymen’. He was presumably referring to a native American brought back to England by the expedition. This godly initiative was rewarded by the prince with a contribution of £5.17

Popham could probably not easily afford the losses sustained during his American adventure, for his entire career was dogged by financial difficulties. Although he was the principal heir to a moderate landed estate, his mother retained control of two-thirds of this property until her death in 1608, and allegedly detained from him the residue of his inheritance. Popham also claimed to have been defrauded by her second husband, Thomas Warre*, who supposedly induced him to pay £500 for the household goods at Huntworth that legally belonged to him already.18 In consequence of these problems, Popham was unable to honour his father’s will, under which his four sisters were to inherit £3,000, while two of his brothers stood to receive annuities of £40 and £50. He was sued in 1610 by one sister for the £1,000 owing to her, but was apparently unable to settle this debt.19

By 1613 Popham was obliged to mortgage some of his lands to one Robert Shaa of Hinton, Somerset, whom he owed £600.20 However, his finances were now hopelessly tangled, and in the following year he used Wellow, in Somerset, one of the properties already mortgaged to Shaa, to negotiate a loan of £4,000 from the Bristol merchant Matthew Haviland.21 In 1618, apparently as part of the settlement preceding his second marriage, Popham attempted to rationalize his affairs. In August he purchased a modest new residence in Hinton for £330.22 Then, in early October, he and Haviland sold Wellow for £2,600, of which £2,000 was employed towards repaying Haviland.23 The marriage settlement itself, concluded on 22 Oct., showed that Popham’s debt problem remained acute, for he was bound to two of its trustees in the sum of £10,000.24

Despite these intractable problems, Popham pursued an active career in local government, at least until the end of James’s reign. One of Somerset’s more effective magistrates, operating mainly in the area around Bridgwater, he was evidently respected by his colleagues: in 1618 he and another j.p. were given special responsibility in west Somerset for dealing with routine communications received from the Privy Council.25 In October 1625 he was one of four magistrates authorized to raise a tax on the parishes around Bridgwater to relieve the town following a severe epidemic. On top of these responsibilities, he also held the shrievalty in 1622-3.26

Popham’s earliest recorded involvement in parliamentary politics came in 1614, when he was a prominent canvasser for Sir Robert Phelips*, who was standing for one of Somerset’s county seats. He ‘procured’ 80 freeholders to vote for Sir Robert, presumably from the area around Huntworth and Bridgwater. He was also one of more than 20 local j.p.s who signed a letter to lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), protesting that Phelips had been defeated by unfair means.27 This activity may indicate that Popham belonged to the circle of the 1st earl of Hertford, Phelips’ most powerful backer. Among the earl’s tenants who had voted for Phelips was Popham’s cousin Sir Francis Popham*, who had himself procured some votes for Sir Robert from his lands in Somerset.28

Popham’s own arrival in the Commons in 1621 may have been encouraged by Sir Francis, who needed allies in the House that year, since the bishop of Lincoln was seeking parliamentary permission to proceed against some of the latter’s tenants in a land dispute.29 It was a clear measure of Popham’s local standing that he was able to secure a seat at Bridgwater in every election from then until 1626. He could doubtless also rely on the backing of his brother-in-law, Roger Warre, the recorder of Bridgwater, who himself sat for the town in 1621 and 1624, while several other close kinsmen, including his own brother Alexander, were prominent residents of the borough.30 Despite this run of electoral success, Popham left almost no trace on the parliamentary records. He apparently never contributed to debate, and attracted just two committee appointments, both on 24 Apr. 1624, to scrutinize the bills to naturalize David Stanniere and Sir Robert Kerr*.31

Popham’s final session as a Bridgwater burgess, in 1626, coincided with his removal from the Somerset bench. This virtual termination of his public career was almost certainly due to his escalating financial crisis. In 1620 he had attempted to restructure his debts by conveying his remaining lands to trustees, but his problems continued, and he was outlawed for debt three years later.32 Following this setback, Popham broke the 1620 trust by mortgaging his principal manors of Huntworth and North Petherton, Somerset to two moneylenders, William Rolfe and Peter Vanlore, in return for the payment of debts of £5,060.33 However, even this desperate measure proved inadequate, and he was again outlawed for debt annually between 1625 and 1627. He persuaded the Privy Council to grant him temporary protection from his creditors, but this privilege was withdrawn in August 1627 after it became clear that he was making no effort to satisfy them.34 It was probably at this time that Popham’s debt was estimated to have reached £18,000. He was therefore forced in 1629 to sell North Petherton rectory outright to Rolfe, who apparently then reneged on an undertaking to surrender his remaining mortgage rights.35

Following the sale of the rectory, Popham fled to France to avoid being arrested by his creditors, but his financial collapse continued. In 1632 he sold his principal remaining estates outright to his wife’s nephew, Sir William Portman. This transaction raised a further £7,000 towards clearing Popham’s debts, but at a heavy price, the manors of Huntworth and North Petherton passing out of his family after almost 350 years.36 By 1635 his remaining assets had dwindled yet further, as two minor properties were granted by the Crown to another of his long-term creditors, William Dowthwaite of Bridgwater.37 In June 1632 the Privy Council issued ‘another pass for Edward Popham of Huntworth ... to travel for three years’, and this licence was renewed in 1634. It is unclear how long he remained abroad, but in 1640 he was outlawed for debt yet again.38

On 7 Feb. 1641 Popham complained to the Privy Council that certain people were unfairly exploiting his outlawry.39 In his will, drawn up two weeks later, he repeated this allegation, asserting that Sir William Portman and others were withholding lands and personal estate which were rightfully his. His claim that he had merely ‘made assurance’ of his manors to Portman, ‘upon a trust and certain conditions which he hath not performed’, smacks of wishful thinking. Nevertheless, Popham stated that he had preferred a petition ‘to this present High Court of Parliament, intending to prosecute the same for the recovery of my right if please God to spare my life’. In the event, he died shortly afterwards, childless, poignantly bequeathing his lands to his brother Thomas if the latter proved able to establish his title to them.40

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: George Yerby


  • 1. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 87-8; F.W. Popham, A West Country Fam. 27.
  • 2. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Vis. Som. 87-8; Popham, 29.
  • 4. VCH Som. vi. 300.
  • 5. PROB 11/185, f. 298v.
  • 6. Popham, 29; Q. Sess. Recs. 1625-39 ed. E.H. Bates Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiv), 11; E163/18/12.
  • 7. C181/2, ff. 130, 246; 181/3, f. 186v; 181/4, ff. 21, 172v.
  • 8. Q. Sess. Recs. 1607-25 ed. E.H. Bates Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 100, 153, 215.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 125.
  • 10. T. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, p. 317.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 267.
  • 12. Life and Times of Sir Henry Mainwaring, i. ed. G.E. Manwaring (Navy Rec. Soc. liv), 269, 288; B. Capp, Cromwell’s Navy, 175.
  • 13. Popham, 4-14.
  • 14. Ibid. 16, 23; HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 134; 1558-1603, iii. 233.
  • 15. MTR, 421; 454, 458, 460, 471.
  • 16. Popham, 51-2; W. Bradford, The Plymouth Plantation, i. 65n; Som. Wills ed. F. Brown, v. 108.
  • 17. Harl. 781, f. 20v.
  • 18. Barnes, 23; PROB 11/99, f. 150; C2/Jas.I/P15/5.
  • 19. C2/Jas.I/P23/10.
  • 20. LC4/198/17; Som. RO, DD/PM/3/2/8, 10.
  • 21. Som. RO, DD/PM/3/2/9.
  • 22. Som. Enrolled Deeds ed. S.W.B. Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. li), 224.
  • 23. Som. RO, DD/PM/7, North Petherton litigation: Lady Portman’s grant of the goods of Wellow.
  • 24. E112/236/24; Som. RO, DD/PM/3/2/15.
  • 25. Q. Sess. Recs. 1607-25, pp. 116, 139, 146, 154, 160, 166, 177, 197, 219-20, 226, 321.
  • 26. Q. Sess. Recs. 1625-39, pp. 11-12.
  • 27. Som. RO, DD/PH/216/95, 97.
  • 28. Ibid. DD/PH/216/99, 101.
  • 29. CD 1621, iii. 438; vi. 194-5.
  • 30. Popham, 72.
  • 31. CJ, i. 689b.
  • 32. Som. RO, DD/PM/7, North Petherton litigation: Sterling v. Cannington.
  • 33. Ibid. Sterling v Cannington.
  • 34. E112/238/109; Som. RO, DD/PM/7, Memorandum for Lady Portman; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 104; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 296.
  • 35. E112/238/120; Som. RO, DD/PM/7, Sterling v. Cannington.
  • 36. Popham, 30; Som. RO, DD/PM/3/2/16; DD/PM/7, Sterling v. Cannington.
  • 37. VCH Som. vi. 298.
  • 38. PC2/42, p. 91; 2/44, p. 429; Barnes, 23.
  • 39. Popham, 30.
  • 40. PROB 11/185, f. 298v.