RIDDELL, Sir Thomas (1567/8-1650), of Gateshead, co. Dur. and Fenham, Northumb.

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. 1567/8, 1st s. of William Riddell of Gateshead and his 1st w. Anne, da. and h. of William Lawson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.; half-bro. of Sir Peter*. educ. Clifford’s Inn; I. Temple 1588.1 m. by 1597, Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Conyers of Sockburne, co. Dur. 7s (2 d.v.p.), 5da.2 kntd. 25 Apr. 1616;3 suc. fa. 1600.4 d. 30 Mar. 1650.5 sig. Tho[mas] Riddell.

Offices Held

Member, Merchant Adventurers’ Co., Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1600, gov. 1604;6 freeman, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1600, sheriff 1601-2, mayor 1604-5, 1616-17;7 member, Hostmen’s Co., Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1602-d., gov. 1604, 1614-15;8 j.p. co. Dur. 1602-40, Northumb. 1608-25;9 bailiff, Gateshead, co. Dur. 1605-6, 1614-15, 1620-1;10 commr. oyer and terminer Cumb., Northumb. and Westmld. 1607-24, co. Dur. 1623-5, piracy, co. Dur. and Northumb. 1614, subsidy, co. Dur., and Northumb. 1621, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1621, 1624, inquiry, River Tweed 1625.11


The Riddells, who traced their ancestry back to the thirteenth century, were a prolific family of Newcastle merchants, but none served as MP before 1621. William Riddell, mayor of Newcastle in 1582-3 and 1595-6, consolidated the family’s fortune by investing in leases of Tyneside coalmines just as the trade with London underwent a vast expansion. He was also a founder member of the Hostmen’s Company in 1600. When a cartel was established by the Company shortly after his death three years later, William’s family was allocated a quota of 15,400 tons p.a., equivalent to around eight per cent of the planned output.12 Sir Thomas Riddell’s share of the family’s mining interests was valued at £1,000 p.a. in 1620 and £800 p.a. in 1636, and it is hardly surprising that he became a prominent local figure. In 1616 he and Sir George Selby* were cited as the leading opponents of the newly erected office of surveyor of Newcastle coals, created to verify the quality of coal shipments at a charge of 4d. per chaldron, a function the Hostmen would have preferred to retain in their own hands.13

Along with Sir Henry Anderson, cousin of his half-brother Sir Peter, Riddell was returned to the Commons in 1621, where both men vigorously defended municipal interests. One of the most serious threats to the local economy was a bill to ban the export of wool. At its second reading on 30 Apr., Riddell, backed by Anderson, moved for a proviso exempting coarse Northern wools, but although both men were named to the committee, no amendment was forthcoming. When the bill was reported on 26 May, Riddell tried again, observing that while an Englishman exporting Northern wool would face a charge of felony, a Scot who carried the same wool across the border would not. Despite support from Anderson and the Berwick MP Sir Robert Jackson, his objection was not addressed. The Northern men mounted a final effort at the third reading on 30 Nov., when Jackson moved to add a proviso for Berwick, which was backed by no less than four Northumberland MPs. Riddell observed that Berwick had been allowed to export wool by Edward IV and Henry VIII, and reiterated the point that Scottish merchants would be able to ship the same wool with impunity, but after a lengthy debate this proviso was rejected.14

Another measure which threatened Northern interests during the 1621 session was the bill to ban the import of grain during times of plenty. At the second reading on 8 Mar. Riddell was one of several speakers who claimed that the Baltic merchants could obtain little but rye in return for their cloth. He also noted that if the price of English grain fell while a shipment was in transit from the Baltic, a merchant could find his goods liable to forfeiture upon his return home. Despite these objections, the bill was committed. When the measure was reported on 17 May, Riddell and many other merchants rehearsed their earlier arguments, forcing a re-committal; the bill did not emerge again before the dissolution.15

Various other issues attracted Riddell’s attention during the 1621 session. At the second reading of the bill against informers on 7 Mar., he was one of those who held that the attorney-general should be barred from laying informations at Westminster courts. A proviso was duly added, despite the fact that some Members feared that it would meet opposition in the Lords, as indeed proved to be the case. On 21 Mar. Sir Edward Coke reported the concealments bill, to which an amendment had been added, at the request of solicitor general (Sir) Robert Heath*, to allow the continued levy of an ancient duty of 2d. per chaldron on Newcastle coal. Riddell, having presumably been consulted about this amendment, signified his support, and the bill was ordered to be engrossed. However, when a bill to raise a similar duty for the repair of Dunwich haven was reported on 3 Dec., Riddell protested that Newcastle coal already bore charges of £16,000 every year, and should not be subjected to another levy; the bill was rejected.16 At the third reading of the bill for Lord Lumley’s Durham estates (1 May), there were calls to delay a vote until the House was fuller, but after Riddell observed that there were no objections to the measure, it was passed without a division. During the session there were complaints about the alleged peculations of John Cradock, chancellor of Durham diocese. When these were reported on 15 May, Riddell was one of many speakers who urged the House to investigate the charges further before referring them to the Lords.17

At the 1624 election, Riddell was replaced as Member for Newcastle by his half-brother Sir Peter. In a session dominated by hostility to Spain and domestic Catholics, the recusancy of Riddell’s wife, convicted in 1615, was liable to become an issue, particularly as in 1623 a trunk addressed to Riddell had been intercepted at Dover and found to contain popish books and pictures. Riddell was not surprisingly included among the list of recusant officeholders submitted to the king at the end of the 1624 session, which may explain why, shortly thereafter, he was dropped from the Northern oyer and terminer commission.18 However, his wife’s recusancy proved no impediment to his re-election at Newcastle in 1625. He left no trace on the records of the brief session, and may have stayed away because of the plague. Sir Peter was returned in his stead in 1626, when Riddell was again listed as a Catholic officeholder because of the recusancy of his wife and eldest son.

Both brothers were returned for Newcastle in 1628, but Riddell himself made only one speech. This was on 7 May, when reports of fresh captures of Northern shipping by Dunkirk privateers moved him to observe that Newcastle had lost £60,000 since the outbreak of the war with Spain, and to complain that the duty on coal had risen to 2s. per chaldron thanks to Sir John Savile’s* 6d. charge for the maintenance of the coastal protection squadron in 1627. The House was sympathetic to his motion that the relevant Privy Seals be called in for investigation, but lost sight of the issue during negotiations with the Lords over the Petition of Right, and no action was taken.19 Riddell was cited as a recusant officeholder once again, was named to a committee investigating the dispute between the whalers of London and Hull (17 May), and another for a bill to prevent the begging of forfeitures in advance of attainder proceedings (14 May). In the 1629 session he was appointed to the committee to investigate a complaint against Savile’s recusancy composition committee, an issue which interested his brother (16 Feb.), while both he and Sir Peter were named to two committees for private estate bills (20, 21 February).20

Riddell was returned to the Short Parliament in 1640. The arrival of the Scots army in Newcastle the following September broke the power of the municipal oligarchy, while the troops wrought havoc among the Tyneside mines. A royalist during the Civil War, Riddell stoutly defended Tynemouth castle against the Covenanters in 1644. He eventually petitioned to compound in May 1649, when his fine was set at £408, a remarkably low figure which probably reflects his wartime losses. Eight days before his death, in March 1650, he assigned part of his estate to trustees to pay off this sum. He left no will, nor have any letters of administration been found. In 1651 the Rump ordered his lands to be sold, despite the protests of his family. These were recovered at the Restoration by his descendants, who were Catholics and later Jacobites; none subsequently sat in Parliament.21

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 2. Durham Vis. Peds. ed. Foster, 271; Vis. Northumb. ed. Foster, 101.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 157.
  • 4. R. Welford, Hist. Newcastle and Gateshead, iii. 424.
  • 5. Vis. Northumb. 101.
  • 6. Tyne and Wear RO, GU/MA/3/2, ff. 45, 54v-5.
  • 7. Newcastle Freemen ed. M.H. Dodds (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Cttee. iii), 6; Northumb. RO, ZAN/M13/B34.
  • 8. Recs. Co. Hostmen ed. F.W. Dendy (Surtees Soc. cv), 263, 267.
  • 9. C231/1, f. 138; 231/4, f. 154.
  • 10. Arch. Aeliana ed. C.H. Hunter Blair (ser. 4. xxiii), 137.
  • 11. C181/2, ff. 50v, 215v; 181/3, ff. 95, 155v; C212/22/20-3; C66/2327/1; 66/2348/5.
  • 12. Durham Vis. Peds. 271; Northumb. RO, ZAN/M13/B34; Recs. Co. Hostmen, 44, 266.
  • 13. CD 1621, vii. 87-9; J.U. Nef, Rise of Brit. Coal Industry, ii. 241-5, 416; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 360, 374-5.
  • 14. CJ, i. 597a, 628a, 653a; CD 1621, ii. 394-6, 478-9; iv. 276; vi. 214-15.
  • 15. CJ, i. 544b, 624a; CD 1621, ii. 378-9; iii. 281; iv. 358.
  • 16. CJ, i. 542b, 567b, 655a; Kyle thesis, 211-15, 257-8.
  • 17. CJ, i. 600b; CD 1621, iii. 119, 265.
  • 18. Dur. Q. Sess. Rolls ed. C.M. Fraser (Surtees Soc. cxcix), 246; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 611; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 163-4, 180v.
  • 19. Procs. 1626, iv. 213; CD 1628, iii. 311, 319; E351/2595.
  • 20. CD 1628, iii. 404, 449; iv. 319; CJ, i. 930b, 931b, 932a.
  • 21. J. Hatcher, Hist. Brit. Coal Industry, 85; R. Howell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Puritan Rev. 131-2, 146-7; CCC, 2037-8; R. Surtees, Co. Pal. Dur. ii. 128-9.