POPHAM, Sir Francis (c.1573-1644), of Wellington, Som. and Littlecote, Wilts.; later of Houndstreet, Som. and Stoke Newington, Mdx.

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



1640 (Nov.) - July 1644

Family and Education

b. c.1573, o.s. of Sir John Popham†, c.j.q.b. 1592, of Wellington, and Amy, da. and h. of Hugh Adams of Castleton, Glam.1 educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1588, aged 15; M. Temple 1589.2 m. (1) 1590,3 Anne, da. and h. of John Dudley I† of Stoke Newington, 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 8da.4 kntd. 27 June 1596;5 suc. fa. 10 June 1607.6 d. 28 July 1644.7 sig. Francis Popham.

Offices Held

Vol. Cadiz expedition 1596.8

Col. militia ft., Wilts. by 1597-1605;9 j.p. Wilts. 1597-at least 1642,10 Som. 1602-1643;11 dep. lt. Som. 1597-at least 1633, Wilts. 1598-d.;12 bailiff, Glastonbury manor, Som. 1603;13 commr. sewers, Som. 1603-41,14 oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1604-42;15 gov., Sir John Popham’s hosp. for orphans, Wellington 1604-d.;16 commr. Thames navigation, Wilts. 1607,17 subsidy, Wilts. 1608, 1622, 1624, 1628-9, Som. 1608, 1621;18 collector aid, Som. 1609, 1612;19 constable, Taunton Castle, Som. 1613;20 commr. inquiry, Wilts. cloth trade 1616,21 disafforestation, Roche Forest, Som. 1627,22 swans, Som., Hants, Wilts., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. and I.o.W. 1629,23 repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Som. 1633,24 contributions, 1643, malignants, 1643, assessment, Wilts. 1644, militia, Wilts. 1644.25

Member, Mines Royal Co. 1604,26 Council for Virg. 1606-8, Council, New Eng. Co. 1620.27


The Pophams, who could trace their lineage to the reign of Henry I, took their name from a village near Basingstoke, Hampshire. By the thirteenth century they had settled at Huntworth, Somerset, and in Elizabeth’s reign Popham’s father, Sir John, built a magnificent mansion at Wellington. This and several other properties in Somerset and Wiltshire were settled on Popham at his marriage in 1590.28 As part of his wife’s portion he also received 700 acres in Tottenham, Middlesex, while in 1602, following the death of his mother-in-law, he obtained Stoke Newington manor, a property conveniently close to London which later became one of his principal residences.29 By 1597 he had been given Littlecote, and on his father’s death in 1607 he inherited an estate said by John Aubrey to be worth £10,000 a year.30 Popham’s many sisters’ and daughters’ marriages linked him with a number of prominent gentry families: he was brother-in-law to Edward Rogers†; an uncle to the brothers Sir John* and Thomas Horner†: and father-in-law to William Borlase*, Sir Francis Pile†, Thomas Luttrell†, and Sir Edward Conway II*.31 Encouraged by his father, a keen investor in overseas expansion, Popham chaired the Council for Virginia established in 1606; but he was sued in 1608 by the survivors of an ill-equipped expedition, and thereafter kept a low profile in the records of the Virginia Company.32 Like his father, Popham had puritan leanings, and made several attempts to suppress alehouses in Somerset; in 1633 he even denounced the royal declaration encouraging church ales.33 On his own and his son’s behalf he engaged almost constantly in litigation, being described by one adversary, Sir Edward Alford†, as ‘very much bent to have his will in what he once undertakes’.34

On his return from the Cadiz expedition, during which he was knighted by the 2nd earl of Essex, Popham was appointed a colonel of the Wiltshire militia. He may have been negligent in some of his military duties, for at a muster held in early September 1605 his regiment was short of 100 men. The lord lieutenant, Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford, was ‘much incensed’ and replaced Popham with Sir William Button*.35 Popham nevertheless continued to serve as a magistrate and deputy lieutenant in both Somerset and Wiltshire.36 With the support of his father, he was elected for Wiltshire to the first Jacobean Parliament.37 On the first day of business (23 Mar. 1604) he was appointed to the committee for Sir Robert Wroth’s I* motion to consider various grievances such as wardship, purveyance and monopolies.38 He was twice named to accompany Speaker Phelips to attend the king concerning the Buckinghamshire election dispute (28 Mar.; 12 Apr. 1604).39 His other appointments during the first session included a committee to prepare for a conference on religion (19 Apr.); two conferences with the Lords, on purveyance (7 May) and wardship (22 May); and a bill against clerical pluralism (4 June).40

In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, Popham was appointed to a committee to prevent further conspiracies (21 Jan. 1606).41 Though named to consider a bill against purveyance (30 Jan.), most of his remaining appointments concerned private measures.42 On 1 Apr. he was named to consider a bill for the restitution to Roland Meyrick of the properties of his attainted father, Sir Gelly Meyrick†, with whom Popham had served on the Cadiz expedition in 1596.43 Landholdings and connections in the West Country explain Popham’s appointments to bill committees concerned with the sale of the Wiltshire estates of the debtor Thomas Mompesson (1 Apr. and 26 Nov. 1606); the diversion of revenues from a Devon manor for maintaining a free school (25 Feb. 1607); flood relief in the Bristol channel (27 Mar. 1607); and improvements to Minehead harbour (23 Feb. 1610).44 He also appeared in the committee lists for several religious bills, concerning non-communicants (7 Apr. 1606); ecclesiastical canons (11 Dec. 1606); and subscription (14 Mar. 1610).45 In 1610 he was named to attend the conference with the Lords on 15 Feb. at which the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) outlined proposals for the Great Contract. Popham’s subsequent appointments again included a committee to consider a purveyance bill (26 Feb. 1610).46

Popham was returned at the next general election for Marlborough, eight miles west of his seat at Littlecote. He was on good terms with the corporation, who regularly sent him gifts of sack and wine, often after he reviewed the local trained bands.47 His bill committee appointments were concerned with false bail (16 Apr. 1614), the repeal of a statute allowing the Crown to alter Welsh law without recourse to Parliament (18 Apr.), the wasteful consumption of gold and silver (5 May), the repair of highways (7 May), wardship (14 May), and the construction of new buildings in London and Westminster (1 June).48 He was also named to committees for the continuance of expiring laws (8 Apr.), to search for precedents to establish whether the attorney-general was entitled to serve as an MP (8 Apr.), and to draft a presentation to the king against the ‘undertakers’ alleged to have packed the Commons (13 April).49 On 14 Apr. Popham was named to a joint conference with the Lords regarding the bill to naturalize the children of James’s daughter, Elizabeth, who had recently married the Elector Palatine.50

In December 1620 Popham was nominated by Hertford for a seat at Great Bedwyn, a borough four miles south of Littlecote, and was duly returned.51 He was appointed to help manage a joint conference on recusancy (15 Feb. 1621), and to three bill committees concerning the manufacture of cloth (10 Mar.), the estate of Martin Calthorpe (17 Mar.), and the use of gold and silver thread in apparel (21 April).52 At the grand committee for complaints against courts of justice on 21 Feb., Popham was appointed to consider a petition brought in by Sir Warwick Hele*; and on 2 Mar. he was one of six Members sent by the committee of the whole House to go out and gather petitions and present those worthy of consideration.53 Taking an interest in the reported abuses committed by the warden of the Fleet, Popham, on 17 Feb., asked for Sir Francis Englefield, who had been kept a close prisoner in the Fleet for five weeks, to be questioned in the House, and was subsequently named to the committee to examine the warden (3 March).54 He made only one other speech, on 31 May, when he called for a general order to be made against decrees in Chancery.55 On 1 June Popham claimed parliamentary privilege against a suit in the duchy of Lancaster. The matter was referred to the privileges’ committee, but no resolution was reached before the summer recess; and on 24 Nov. Popham appealed for a subpoena against his tenants in relation to the same case to be lifted while Parliament was sitting.56

Popham was involved in a contest against John Pym* for the junior seat at Chippenham in 1624. This resulted in a double return, which the privileges committee resolved in Popham’s favour, after a long delay, on 9 April.57 The following day, Popham, who immediately took his seat, was named to help draft the preamble to the subsidy bill and to a legislative committee concerning the drainage of Erith and Plumstead marshes in Kent. His interest in the latter measure was possibly a sign that he was considering similar drainage projects for the Somerset level, where he was a long-serving sewer commissioner; it is otherwise hard to explain why he was appointed to Kent drainage bills in this and the next Parliament. He was later appointed to consider bills concerning wives’ recusancy fines (1 May), and the maintenance of hospitals and free schools (19 May).58 Popham may have been personally interested in this last bill in his capacity as a governor of his father’s hospital for orphans in Wellington.59

Popham was re-elected at Chippenham to the first three Caroline parliaments. In 1625 he was appointed to the privileges’ committee (21 June), and to five bill committees, relating to the export of wool (27 June); Plumstead drainage (28 June); the estates of the 4th earl of Dorset (Sir Edward Sackville*, 8 July); sheriffs’ accounts (9 July); and rural depopulation (1 August).60 In his only recorded speech, on 23 June, he defended the appointment of the solicitor general, (Sir) Robert Heath*, as chairman of the committee for religion. Perhaps mindful of the Commons’ decree in 1621 that chairmen should be chosen by committees themselves rather than by the House, Popham asserted that ‘it is against precedent that he that sits in the chair at a committee should be named by the House’; and added, ‘whomsoever we employ, we are too many witnesses to suffer wrong’.61

In the 1626 Parliament Popham was appointed to the privileges’ committee (9 Feb.), and to consider bills concerned with administering oaths (11 Feb.); concealments (14 Feb.); ecclesiastical patronage (14 Feb.); and apparel (15 April).62 His remaining appointments were to committees to handle compensation for a merchant whose ship had sunk on its return from Cadiz while in the king’s service (22 Mar.), and the presentation of the Commons’ request for the arrest of the duke of Buckingham (9 May).63 Popham was nominated in the next Parliament once again to the privileges’ committee (20 Mar. 1628), and to consider measures to prevent the procuring of judicial places by bribery (23 Apr.), and to preserve parliamentary liberties (28 April).64 His puritan sympathies may explain his inclusion on a committee to hear the petition of Michael Sparkes, a printer charged by High Commission with publishing unlicensed tracts (3 June).65 On 13 June Popham was named to the committee charged with suggesting a course to be taken with the Tunnage and Poundage bill, and a week later he was appointed to the delegation to attend the king.66 In his only speech, on 31 May, he joined the universities precedence debate intended to stall the subsidy bill, in defence of his alma mater Oxford.67 In the 1629 session he was appointed to bill committees concerned with bribery (23 Jan.); trade with Spain (26 Jan.); and to consider a petition brought by William Nowell* against Sir Edward Mosley*, the attorney of the duchy of Lancaster (7 February).68

Outside Parliament, Popham was involved in a number of contentious Chancery suits in defence of his property interests.69 Litigation also arose as a result of marriages contracted for his numerous children. This clearly strained him financially, despite the legacies of £1,000 towards each of his daughters’ portions provided in his father’s will. In August 1620 his inability to raise money for Frances’s dowry forced him to delay her betrothal to Sir Edward Conway.70 The profitable marriage of Popham’s eldest son, John*, to the only daughter of Sir Sebastian Harvey did not restore his finances to sound health, but instead resulted in a lengthy legal battle with Sir Thomas Hinton*, who had married Harvey’s widow. Popham accused Hinton of falsely depriving the young couple of the profits of an estate settled on them in May 1621.71 By the time the dispute ended a decade later both parties had spent £20,000 in legal fees.72 Popham’s indulgence towards John’s extravagant lifestyle also obliged him to sell a large number of properties to help pay the latter’s debts which by the mid-1630s were rumoured to have reached £100,000. By this time he had settled Littlecote on John, who was reputedly ‘a great waster’, and according to Aubrey, Popham himself was reduced to living ‘like a hog ... with a moderate pittance’ at Houndstreet near Bath.73 He may have moved to Stoke Newington soon after John’s death in 1638, for in May of that year he was sued by the minister of the parish for appropriating a parcel of land which the churchwardens had formerly used for the benefit of the poor.74

In the Long Parliament Popham represented Minehead, a seat which he probably owed to his connection with the Luttrells, and sided with the parliamentarians when civil war broke out.75 He died intestate at his house in Stoke Newington on 28 July 1644. On 15 Aug. his body was taken to the parish church in a procession attended by the Speaker of the House (William Lenthall*) and a number of lords and MPs, as well as his household servants and two chaplains.76 Administration of his estate was granted to his son, Alexander, on 24 Apr. 1647.77 Three of his sons, Edward, John and Alexander, as well as a grandson and great-grandson sat in Parliament for various Wiltshire and Somerset constituencies.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 124-5.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. F.W. Popham, A West Country Fam. 58.
  • 4. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 124-5; J. Burke, Commoners, ii. 196-9.
  • 5. S. and E. Usherwood, Counter-Armada, 1596, p. 147.
  • 6. C142/303/128; J. Aubrey, Brief Lives ed. A. Clark, ii. 160.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1644, p. 382.
  • 8. Usherwood, 147.
  • 9. Longleat, Thynne Pprs. (IHR microfilm XR71/4), vii. f. 102; SP16/502/71(I); Earl of Hertford’s Ltcy. Pprs. ed. W.P.D. Murphy (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 92-3.
  • 10. C231/1, f. 37v; 231/5, p. 529.
  • 11. C231/1, f. 129; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, i. 10-11.
  • 12. C231/1, f. 56v; APC, 1597-8, pp. 91-2; SP12/283A/85; 16/247/17.
  • 13. E315/310, f. 14v.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 70; 181/2, ff. 129v, 245v; 181/4, ff. 21, 172v; 181/5, f. 205.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 76, 131v; 181/2, ff. 7v, 335; 181/3, ff. 6, 259v; 181/4, ff. 11v, 193v; 181/5, ff. 5v, 221.
  • 16. PROB 11/112, f. 18v.
  • 17. C181/2, f. 34.
  • 18. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20, 21, 23; Add. 34566, f. 132; E179/199/400.
  • 19. SP14/43/107; E403/2732, f. 15v.
  • 20. J. Toulmin, Taunton, 269; S.W. Bates-Harbin, MPs for Som. 133.
  • 21. APC, 1616-17, p. 21.
  • 22. SP16/73/68.
  • 23. C181/4, f. 2.
  • 24. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 12.
  • 25. A. and O. i. 68, 69, 460, 475.
  • 26. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 15.
  • 27. A. Brown, Genesis of US, ii. 968-9.
  • 28. VCH Som. vi. 33; A. Humphreys, Hist. Wellington, 42, 46.
  • 29. W. Robinson, Stoke Newington, 30; VCH Mdx. viii. 177; v. 329; PROB 11/63, f. 117v.
  • 30. J. Aubrey, Brief Lives ed. A. Clarke, ii. 159; PROB 11/112, f. 118v.
  • 31. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 151; Burke, Landed Gentry, 196.
  • 32. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 7-12.
  • 33. Som. Q. Sess. Recs. II ed. E. Bates-Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiv), 138-9, 144; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 350.
  • 34. SP16/392/32.
  • 35. Murphy, 85, 93.
  • 36. SP12/283/85; APC, 1597-8, pp. 91-2.
  • 37. E179/199/334; VCH Wilts. xii. 28.
  • 38. CJ, i. 151a; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 43.
  • 39. CJ, i. 157a, 169b.
  • 40. Ibid. 178a, 202a, 222b, 232a.
  • 41. Ibid. 257b.
  • 42. Ibid. 261b.
  • 43. Ibid. 292a.
  • 44. Ibid. 291b, 325a, 340b, 355b, 399a.
  • 45. Ibid. 294b, 329b, 410b.
  • 46. Ibid. 393b, 400a.
  • 47. Wilts. RO, G22/1/107, f.28; G22/1/205/2, ff. 28v, 30v, 34v, 62v; A1/150/1, 2.
  • 48. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 91, 98, 145, 170, 235, 402.
  • 49. Ibid. 33, 35, 76.
  • 50. Ibid. 82.
  • 51. C219/37/302.
  • 52. CJ, i. 523a, 548a, 559b, 584b.
  • 53. CD 1621, vi. 258, 276.
  • 54. CJ, i. 536b; CD 1621, v. 512; vi. 455.
  • 55. CD 1621, iii. 366; iv. 395.
  • 56. Ibid. iii. 438, 442; vi. 194; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 200-1; CJ, i. 634a.
  • 57. ‘Pym 1624’, i. ff. 6, 55; ‘Hawarde 1624’, pp. 189-91, 241; ‘Spring 1624’, pp. 21, 193; CJ, i. 684a, 684b; J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases, 47-62.
  • 58. CJ, i. 696a, 705a, 762a.
  • 59. PROB 11/112, f. 18v.
  • 60. Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 252, 257, 349, 358, 375.
  • 61. Nicholas, i. 279; Procs. 1625, p. 234.
  • 62. Procs. 1626, ii. 7, 21, 32, 34, 446.
  • 63. Ibid. ii. 340; iii. 201.
  • 64. CD 1628, ii. 29; iii. 44, 122.
  • 65. Ibid. iv. 59.
  • 66. Ibid. 289, 404.
  • 67. Ibid. 43.
  • 68. CJ, i. 922a, 927b.
  • 69. C2/Jas.I/R1/26; SP16/362/114; 16/363/63; 16/371/96.
  • 70. PROB 11/63, f. 117v; SP14/116/80.
  • 71. C2/Chas.I/P63/62; 2/Chas.I/H59/64; 2/Chas.I/H19/68; 2/Chas.I/H32/27; 2/Chas.I/H36/69; C78/274/4; SP16/173/52.
  • 72. SP16/196/22.
  • 73. Aubrey, ii. 159-60; SP16/311/66.
  • 74. SP16/391/33.
  • 75. J. Wroughton, A Community at War, 41.
  • 76. Add. 71131R.
  • 77. PROB 6/22, f. 50.