RICHARDSON, Thomas (1569-1635), of Pentney, Norf. and Serjeants' Inn, Chancery Lane, London

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

bap. 3 July 1569,1 1st s. of William Richardson, rector of Mulbarton, Norf. 1575-1616, and his 1st w. Agnes.2 educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1584; Thavies Inn; L. Inn 1587, called 1594.3 m. (1) 20 July 1595,4 Ursula (bur. 13 June 1624), da. of John Southwell of Barham Hall, Suff., 5s.(4 d.v.p.) 7da. (3 d.v.p.);5 (2) 14 Dec. 1626,6 Elizabeth (bur. 3 Apr. 1651),7 da. of Sir Thomas Beaumont II* of Stoughton Grange, Leics., wid. of Sir John Ashburnham of Ashburnham Place, Suss., suo jure 1st Baroness Cramond [S], s.p.8 suc. fa. 1616;9 kntd. 25 Mar. 1621.10 d. 4 Feb. 1635.11 sig. Tho[mas] Rychardson.

Offices Held

Commr. piracy, Norf. 1602-4;12 j.p. Norf. by 1606-d., Essex and Surr. 1629-d., Notts. 1628-9, Peterborough, Northants. 1629, Midland circ. 1629, Western circ. 1630-3, Home circ. 1633-d.;13 commr. sewers, Norf. 1607-11, 1622, river Ouse 1608, river Gleane 1609-18, 1627-34, Suff. and Essex 1617, Suff. 1626, Mdx. and Westminster, 1627, Cambs. 1627, Lincs. and Notts. 1627, Norwich, Norf. 1629, London 1629-32, Essex 1631-33, Surr. 1632, Westminster 1634, river Welland 1634,14 subsidy, Norf. and Norwich 1608, 1621-2, 1624,15 aid, Norf. 1609,16 swans, Norf. 1619,17 gaol delivery, Dunwich, Suff. 1620, Newgate, London 1626-9, Havering-atte-Bower, Essex 1633;18 freeman, St. Albans, Herts. 1621;19 commr. oyer and terminer, Eastern circ. 1623-d., London 1626-d., Mdx. 1627-8, 1632-d., Midlands circ. 1629-d., Home circ. 1629-d., the Verge 1629-d., Western circ. 1630-33, Wilts. 1631;20 piracy, Suff. 1627, London 1630,21 nisi prius, Bristol, Som. 1630-33.22

Dep. steward, Norwich chapter, Norf. by 1605;23 bencher, L. Inn 1609-14, reader 1614;24 sjt.-at-law 1614, KS 1625;25 recorder, Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. by 1617,26 Dunwich, Suff. by 1620-bef. 1627;27 Speaker of the House of Commons 1621-2;28 c.j.c.p. 1626-31;29 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1629-33;30 c.j.k.b. 1631-d.;31 commr. repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral 1631,32 soap monopoly 1634.33


Richardson, the son of a non-graduate clergyman beneficed in a county ‘always reputed the most fruitful nursery of lawyers’, was called to the bar shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday, and proceeded to a career at the top of the profession.34 In the ‘Addled’ Parliament of 1614 he appeared in the Lower House on 14 May as counsel for the Members in the disputed Cambridgeshire election.35 The following October he was promoted to the rank of serjeant-at-law. In 1619 he led the defence of lord treasurer Suffolk in Star Chamber ‘with that strength of wit and argument as has shaken much of the world’s opinion concerning the guilt of my lord in two charges of the ordnance and the alum business’.36 By 1622 Richardson’s estate was accounted ‘exceeding great, and rich besides’ by an anonymous assessor for the Palatinate Benevolence, who reckoned that he ‘may well lend £100’.37

Through his marriage Richardson became the brother-in-law of his Lincoln’s Inn colleague, Thomas Bedingfield†, who was probably responsible for Richardson’s appointment as recorder of Dunwich. Bedingfield’s son, Thomas*, represented the borough in the 1621 Parliament, while Richardson himself was returned for St. Albans on the nomination of the lord chancellor, Viscount St. Alban (Sir Francis Bacon*), having been selected by the latter as prospective Speaker of the Commons.38 With no previous parliamentary experience to draw upon, Richardson hastily amassed a volume extending to 320 pages in folio on procedure and precedents. A later copy of this volume survives, which starts with a history of medieval Parliaments, and includes a tract on procedure by William Hakewill*, followed by summaries of recent controversies including impositions, monopolies, and disputed elections.39 Richardson was formally proposed for the chair on 30 Jan. 1621 by Sir Thomas Edmondes* as one ‘eminent for his parts, learning, faculty in speaking’. While it was customary for the Speaker-elect to reply by protesting his unfitness for the role, Richardson’s attempt to decline the honour was particularly heartfelt: he declared that he was lacking ‘in apprehension, judgment, experience, especially the last, for never so happy as to be of the House till now’, but ‘seeing no excuse would serve his turn, he wept downright’.40

Given the unhappy endings of both of James I’s previous Parliaments, even a seasoned Member might have balked a little at the task ahead, and from the outset Richardson attracted criticism. On the opening day of business, 5 Feb. 1621, he was cautioned by Sir Thomas Roe for interrupting a speech by the cantankerous Edward Alford, and reminded that the Speaker was ‘not to speak, because [he] hath no voice, till [given] leave’.41 The details of Alford’s speech are not clear, but Alford was certainly concerned about the abridgement of liberty of speech in the Commons, since Richardson had failed to make the usual request for freedom of speech when he was presented to the king two days previously. On 12 Feb. a committee was appointed to remedy this situation either by petition or bill, so that James was obliged to send a letter for Richardson to read out to the Commons.42 Many Members showed a marked lack of respect towards Richardson by hastily departing before him at the rising of the House, contrary to parliamentary etiquette. On 12 Feb. Richardson complained ‘that none ought to go out before him’, but was ignored; on 5 Mar. it was ordered ‘that all those which disturb the House by rushing into the entry before Mr. Speaker, at the rising of the House, shall be called to the bar’. This rudeness, which had also been suffered by Richardson’s predecessor Ranulphe Crewe, was symptomatic of the contempt in which Richardson was held. On 7 May it was again ordered that ‘no man [is] to stir until the Speaker rise, and go before them’, but to little avail.43

Having been rebuked once by Roe for interrupting a speech, Richardson was slow to curb the anti-puritan histrionics of a younger member of his Inn, Thomas Sheppard, on 15 Feb., at which many Members took offence.44 His ‘rising unusually’ from the chair to close the debate of 9 Mar. on monopolies, thereby protecting the referees, was one of the most flagrant restrictions placed on the House during the period. Sir Robert Phelips immediately ‘admonish[ed] him that sometime neglecteth his duty to the House in intricating or deferring the question’, while Christopher Neville protested that ‘he hath made many plausible motions abortive’.45 On 17 Mar. Phelips again found fault with Richardson for allowing charges of corruption to be brought against Bacon in a manner unfitting for ‘a man of so eminent parts and place’.46 The fall of Bacon, who had presumably intended to micro-manage the Commons’ proceedings via his chosen Speaker, finally left the inexperienced Richardson completely adrift, in the absence of many of the usual privy councillors who might have been expected to have come to his aid. When John Glanville and Sir Peter Frescheville rose simultaneously to their feet on 26 Mar., Richardson attempted to resolve the situation by expressing the hope that ‘the wisest would sit down first’, only to be admonished by William Noye for ‘a jest unfit the gravity of this assembly’.47 By this point Chamberlain observed that Richardson had ceased to be ‘gracious with the House, having had divers brisk encounters and reprehensions for matters proceeding perhaps rather of ignorance than craft or cunning’.48 Nevertheless, James expressed his gratitude for the subsidy bill by knighting Richardson in full Parliament.

After the Easter recess Richardson commended the highways bill on behalf of the king (26 Apr.), and exercised his right to attend the committee of grievances as an ordinary Member during the inquiry into the gold and silver lace patent on 27 April.49 He observed from the chair on 1 May that the king was clearly misinformed about the provisions of the bill to restrict the appointment of clergymen to the county bench.50 According to Chamberlain, Richardson ‘did his part poorly’ by asserting the right of the Commons to punish the Catholic lawyer, Edward Floyd, for insulting the king’s daughter.51 By the end of the month his authority as Speaker had sunk to a new low. On the general cry for adjournment after the conference of 29 May Richardson sent for the keys, only to be reminded by Sir Samuel Sandys, ‘that he was our Speaker and not our gaoler, and like a wise man should rather labour to moderate men’s passions than to imitate them’.52 Two days later Sir Edward Cecil* told him, with soldierly bluntness, ‘Mr. Speaker, you must forbear your prefaces, for you are too large in them’.53 Before the Parliament adjourned Sir Richard Grosvenor and Sir Thomas Crompton proposed that Richardson should be ordered to have the mace carried before him throughout the summer recess, to refrain from the exercise of his profession, and to exercise unlimited hospitality for the benefit of Members; while their suggestions may have been light-hearted, they also indicate a perceived need to educate Richardson in what was expected of the Speaker, both in and out of Parliament.54

In the autumn, the second sitting went more smoothly for Richardson until he was required on 4 Dec. to read the king’s angry message forbidding the Commons to encroach on the royal prerogative by discussing the Spanish Match.55 On the following day, as all semblance of order unravelled into heated debate about the implications of James’s letter, Sir Henry Widdrington castigated the Speaker for ‘offering to go out of the chair without leave’, which he nevertheless did, thereby bringing the day’s business to a close.56 When Noye and Phelips proposed on 7 Dec. to send him to the king with the Commons’ reply, Richardson courteously requested ‘that nothing may be put on him that hath not been put on any of his predecessors; and that the House will be pleased to consider how far it may reflect on the House for him to be commanded to [do] what is improper and unfit for his place’.57 He was supported by William Hakewill, who generously acknowledged that he had been mistaken in alleging a precedent, and also by Sandys, and it was presently ‘resolved by general consent Mr. Speaker shall not go’.58 Nevertheless, order had by this time broken down, and Richardson proved powerless to restore it. On 15 Dec. he twice moved that they proceed to consider legislation, whereupon Mallory insolently desired ‘that the House would be pleased to order that we might not be troubled this day with the Speaker, and that it might not be permitted him to speak till the House called him up’, a motion that was ‘well approved of, but not ordered’.59 Three days later Richardson read another letter from the king urging the Commons to attend to the most urgent bills, but to no avail. Parliament was adjourned, first appointing, at Alford’s suggestion, a committee to meet at the Speaker’s house to view the still un-vandalized Journal, ‘and Mr. Speaker, if he please, to be present’.60

Never again was a totally inexperienced Member selected to fill the Speaker’s chair; Richardson himself certainly never stood again for, notwithstanding the election of Sir Edward Coke in 1621, it was the convention for former Speakers not to return except to serve a further term as Speaker. He later complained that he ‘had no penny recompense for any my pains, charge and loss’ as Speaker, although ordinarily the Speaker received a fee of £100 from the Crown.61 In the 1624 Parliament he appeared before the Lords to defend himself against allegations of ‘deceit and collusion’ relating to a Star Chamber case in which he had acted as counsel for the London Wharfingers against the Woodmongers Company; the petition of one Thomas Morley, a Woodmonger, was read and rejected ‘as a thing frivolous’, thereby exonerating Richardson, who was promoted to be a king’s serjeant soon after the accession of Charles I.62

In 1626 Richardson married a kinswoman of the duke of Buckingham, and was rewarded with the chief justiceship of the Common Pleas, though it was said that he had to pay £7,000 for the office.63 Reputedly ‘fitter to have made a bearward than a chief judge’, he was notorious for his indiscriminate leniency, towards Catholic priests, puritans like Hugh Pyne* and Henry Sherfield*, and even recalcitrant taxpayers.64 Perhaps the best-known incident in his career occurred when he was judge of assize on the Western circuit in the summer of 1631. In the words of the law report, a convicted malefactor ‘sudenment throwe ove great violence un great stone al heade del dit Seignior Richardson’, who was fortunately (and perhaps habitually) inclining to one side; in response to which he quipped that ‘if I been an upright judge, ... I had been slain’. Noye drew up the indictment, which turned out to be no laughing matter for the culprit.65 Richardson viewed his appointment to King’s Bench in 1631 as a demotion, and appealed to the 21st (14th) earl of Arundel to ‘seek some sign of favour’ for him by which it might be mitigated.66 Nevertheless, the following year he was found guilty by a panel of his fellow judges for granting bail to a debtor contrary to procedure, and had to thank the 1st earl of Carlisle for intervening ‘so as I might stand upright in His Majesty’s royal judgement’, adding that he would ‘rather die in prison, so it be in his favour, than to live in what sort soever in his distaste or displeasure’.67

Richardson’s tendency to misjudge political situations landed him in more serious trouble in 1633, when he decided to openly defy his instructions to revoke all orders prohibiting church-ales. At the Somerset assize he organized a petition for the suppression of ‘the disorders of prophanation of the Lord’s day’, which was signed by numerous local JPs. In retribution he was brought before the Privy Council, where he was severely reprehended by Laud, and demoted to the Home circuit. He lamented that he was ‘like to be choked with the archbishop’s lawn sleeves’; and in fact he never fully recovered from this humiliating episode.68 Finding himself ‘subject to some infirmities’, including a stroke, yet blessed with an estate ‘far above my deserts, hope or expectation’, he drew up his will on 16 Jan. 1635, leaving £100 to be spent on a memorial to encourage his grandchildren ‘to follow that profession wherein it hath pleased God to bless me, ... and not upon any conceit or vainglory at all’.69 An impressive list of land purchases, chiefly in his native county, and improved by judicious enclosure, enabled him to increase his wife’s jointure to £700 a year, and to provide a portion of £2,000 for his only unmarried daughter. He died on 4 Feb. at his house in Chancery Lane. An anonymous portrait of Richardson in his judicial robes is held by Lincoln’s Inn; another likeness is a bust adorning his monument in Westminster Abbey.70 George Garrard* wrote that ‘never sat there a judge that was less respected ... yet he hath left behind him an estate better than £3,000 per annum’.71 Richardson’s grandson Thomas represented Norfolk from 1660 until his death in 1674.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Foss, Judges of Eng. vi. 359.
  • 2. Blomefield, Norf. ii. opp. 449.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 35.
  • 4. CP, iii. 490.
  • 5. Ibid; Blomefield, ii. opp. 449.
  • 6. CP, iii. 488.
  • 7. Ibid. 490.
  • 8. Foss, vi. 360, 362.
  • 9. Norwich Wills (Norf. Rec. Soc. xxviii), 164.
  • 10. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 176.
  • 11. C142/543/6.
  • 12. C181/1, ff. 21v, 77.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 110; C66/2527; C181/3, f. 266v; 181/4, ff. 4v, 9; C231/5, ff. 25, 73, 124, 126.
  • 14. C181/2, ff. 46v, 62v, 84v, 148v, 272, 321; 181/3, ff. 41, 201v, 213, 214v, 220v, 228v, 255v; 181/4, ff. 76, 126, 128v, 136v, 154v, 161, 190v.
  • 15. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 16. SP14/43/107.
  • 17. C181/2, f. 342v.
  • 18. C181/3, ff. 9, 211v, 242v; 181/4, ff. 33v, 139.
  • 19. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/159.
  • 20. C181/3, ff. 87, 211v, 219v, 242v, 243v, 258, 261; 181/4, ff. 5, 43, 78v, 141v, 165, 170v, 175v, 181, 182v, 188v; C231/5, f. 74.
  • 21. C181/3, f. 232; 181/4, f. 45.
  • 22. C181/4, ff. 56v, 147v.
  • 23. Blomefield, iii. 360.
  • 24. LI Black Bks. ii. 120, 158.
  • 25. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 534.
  • 26. CD 1621, vii. 560.
  • 27. C181/3, ff. 9, 236.
  • 28. CJ, i. 507a.
  • 29. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 169, 177; ii. 136.
  • 30. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 357; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 326.
  • 31. Birch, ii. 136.
  • 32. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 173.
  • 33. C181/4, f. 186.
  • 34. R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Norf. in Civil War, 21; Blomefield, v. 80.
  • 35. Proceedings 1614 (Commons), 240.
  • 36. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 100.
  • 37. W. Hudson, ‘Assessment of Forehoe Hundred, Norf.’, Norf. Arch. xxi. 287, 292.
  • 38. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/159; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 150.
  • 39. HMC 2nd Rep. 79; Add. 36856; E.R. Foster, ‘Speaking in the House of Commons’, BIHR, xliii. 35-55.
  • 40. CJ, i. 507a; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 338.
  • 41. CJ, i. 508b; CD 1621, ii. 18.
  • 42. CJ, i. 518a, 522b; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 223.
  • 43. CJ, i. 518b, 541a, 1042b.
  • 44. Ibid. 521b, 522a; CD 1621, ii. 82.
  • 45. CJ, i. 546b; C. Russell, PEP, 38.
  • 46. CJ, i. 560a.
  • 47. CD 1621, iv. 196-7.
  • 48. CD 1621, ii. 273; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 358; Russell, 91.
  • 49. CD 1621, v. 349, 352.
  • 50. CJ, i. 599a.
  • 51. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 372; Eg. 2651, f. 29.
  • 52. CD 1621, iv. 390.
  • 53. CD 1621, iii. 369-70.
  • 54. Nicholas Procs. 1621, ii. 144-5.
  • 55. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 316.
  • 56. CJ, i. 659a.
  • 57. Nicholas, ii. 299.
  • 58. CJ, i. 661a.
  • 59. Nicholas, ii. 330; Russell, 39.
  • 60. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 322; CJ, i. 669b.
  • 61. Add. 36856, f. 117v; E.R. Foster, ‘Staging a Parl. in Early Stuart Eng.’, in The English Commonwealth 1547-1640 ed. P. Clark, A.G.R. Smith and N. Tyacke, 141.
  • 62. LJ, iii. 269b, 270a, 273b, 275b, 276a; Add. 41654, f. 7.
  • 63. Birch, i. 169, 177.
  • 64. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 242; Eg. 2978, f. 27v.
  • 65. Anecs. and Trads. W. J. Thoms (Cam. Soc. v), 53; J.H. Baker, ‘Le brickbat que narrowly mist’, Law Q. Rev. c. 544-8.
  • 66. Arundel, Autograph letters 1617-32, Richardson to Arundel, 1 Oct. 1631.
  • 67. Eg. 2597, f. 70.
  • 68. T.G. Barnes, ‘County Pols. and a Puritan Cause Célèbre: Somerset Church Ales, 1633’, TRHS (ser. 5), ix. 111, 113, 116, 118; Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry, 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv), 7.
  • 69. PROB 11/167, ff. 275v-77v.
  • 70. C115/106/8448; Blomefield, ii. opp. 449.
  • 71. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 373.