ROBSON, John (c.1581-1645), of Morpeth and Whalton, Northumb.; later of Durham, co. Dur.

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



1621 - 8 Feb. 1621

Family and Education

b. c.1581, s. of Robert Robson (d. by 1607), rect. of Warcop, Westmld. educ. Appleby sch. Westmld. (Reginald Bainbrigg); Queen’s, Oxf. 1598, BA (St. Edmund Hall, Oxf.) 1602, MA 1605, incorp. Camb. 1607. m. by 1621, Margaret, da. of John Cradock, chan. of Durham dioc., 2s. (1 d.v.p.). ordained 1605 or 1606. bur. 12 Apr. 1645.1 sig. Jo[hn] Robson.

Offices Held

Fell. Caius, Camb. 1608.2

Rect. Morpeth 1610-c.1643, Whalton 1614-d.;3 member, York convocation from 1614;4 chaplain to Jas. I by 1620;5 preb. Durham cathedral 1623-d.6

Member, High Commission, York prov. 1620-at least 1639,7 commr. sewers, co. Dur. 1630,8 j.p. Northumb. and co. Dur. 1630-at least 1640.9


Robson was born at Kirkby Thore, Westmorland, and initially educated at Appleby, five miles from his father’s parish of Warcop. Like many scholars from north-west England, he progressed to Queen’s College, Oxford, but completed his first degree at a neighbouring institution, St. Edmund Hall. He may have been ordained with a view to remaining an academic, since most university fellowships were then open only to the clergy. However, in 1610, less than two years after taking up a post at Caius College, Cambridge, Robson was instituted rector of Morpeth. In 1614 he also took charge of the parish of Whalton, and in the same year he was admitted to the York convocation. It is not known how he became one of James I’s chaplains, but this dramatic promotion in turn led to his inclusion from 1620 on the High Commission for the province of York.10

Although Robson was now emerging as an influential figure in Northumberland, it is nevertheless surprising that he was elected to represent Morpeth in the 1621 Parliament. First, there was already a well-established convention that clergy should not sit in the Commons. Secondly, the borough normally returned outsiders nominated by the principal local landowner, the Catholic Lord William Howard of Naworth. However, while Robson was undoubtedly known to Howard, who was obliged to pay him tithes, there is no evidence of a close personal relationship, and this politically experienced peer is unlikely to have recommended a candidate whose eligibility was in doubt. Rather, it seems that on this occasion the Morpeth voters ignored Howard’s wishes, probably in protest at his heavy-handed enforcement of his tenurial privileges, and instead elected men of local standing who might promote the borough’s interests.11 In the event, Robson’s voice was never heard in the Commons. On 6 Feb. Sir Edward Montagu alerted the committee for privileges to his clerical status, prompting a recommendation that his election be declared void. Two days later, the committee’s conclusion was firmly backed in the House by Sir Edward Coke, who cited the well-known precedent of Alexander Nowell, a Westminster prebendary ejected from the Commons in 1553. Coke’s arguments were promptly endorsed by the House, and a new election was ordered on the grounds that Robson ‘is a minister and so hath or may have a voice in the convocation house’. However, a move to fine Morpeth for returning him was rejected on the grounds of the borough’s poverty.12

In 1623 Robson became a prebendary of Durham cathedral, probably through the influence of his father-in-law, John Cradock, the diocesan chancellor. As one of Durham’s resident canons, Robson was directly involved with the Arminian practices introduced to the cathedral’s worship during this decade under the aegis of the bishop, Richard Neile, and his protégé John Cosin. Indeed, his eldest son was the first child baptized in their new, highly ornamented font.13 Robson never committed his theological opinions to print, so his precise views on these innovations are not known. However, while he cannot be identified as one of Cosin’s principal allies in the cathedral chapter, he was clearly not uncomfortable with the changes. When another of the canons, Peter Smart, was suspended from his prebend in September 1628 for preaching against Arminian ceremonial, Robson was appointed one of the sequestrators, though in one account of events he is said to have protested at the harshness of this penalty. Smart swiftly counter-attacked by spreading reports that Cosin had denied the Royal Supremacy, but in November Robson provided an affidavit in which he stated that Cosin’s remarks had been misrepresented, thereby helping Cosin to secure a royal pardon. This episode was inconclusively investigated by the Commons in February 1629.14

Robson became a magistrate in both Northumberland and county Durham in 1630, and remained a member of the northern High Commission throughout the following decade, though he obtained no further ecclesiastical preferment. In 1638 he sent both his sons to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where Cosin was now the master.15 The Durham Arminians once more came under public scrutiny in 1640, when Smart petitioned Parliament for redress. The Commons brought impeachment charges against Cosin and his allies in March 1641, with Robson specifically accused of helping to replace the cathedral’s communion table with a stone altar, though he was not otherwise singled out for criticism. He twice appeared before the Lords during May, and in his written defence broadly supported Cosin. However, he also affirmed, with some justification, that most of the innovations at Durham had occurred before he became a prebendary. With much more pressing business to attend to, both Houses gradually lost interest in the impeachment proceedings, which were finally abandoned in the following year.16 Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Robson was ejected from his Morpeth benefice, but apparently remained unmolested at Whalton and Durham. In his will, drawn up on 9 Apr. 1645, he left all his landed property to his wife, instructing that after her death it should be held in trust for the benefit of his surviving son, who was still under age. Robson died a few days later, and was buried in Durham cathedral. He is the only member of his family known to have sought election to Parliament.17

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Al. Ox.; Al. Cant.; J. Venn, Biog. Hist. of Gonville and Caius Coll. i. 198; Regs. Durham Cathedral (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxiii), 86, 93.
  • 2. Venn, i. 198.
  • 3. IND 1/17000, f. 207; J. Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy (1714), pt. 2, p. 19; Al. Cant.
  • 4. Recs. of Convocation ed. G. Bray, xiv. 465.
  • 5. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 174.
  • 6. J. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, xi comp. J.M. Horn, D.M. Smith and P. Mussett, 98.
  • 7. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 174; viii. pt. 1, p. 91; pt. 2, p. 198; Acts of High Commn. Ct. within Durham Diocese ed. W.H.D. Longstaffe (Surtees Soc. xxxiv), 258, 273.
  • 8. C181/4, f. 58.
  • 9. C231/5, pp. 36, 38; C66/2859.
  • 10. Venn, i. 198.
  • 11. CJ, i. 989a; J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. pt. 2, ii. 517; Household Bks. of Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lxviii), 339.
  • 12. CD 1621, ii. 32, 41; iv. 22, v. 250, 442; vi. 444; CJ, i. 27b, 513a-b.
  • 13. Regs. Durham Cathedral, 1, 86; N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 116-19; P. Smart, Canterburies Crueltie (1643), p. 10.
  • 14. Acts of High Commn. Ct. 198; Corresp. of John Cosin, i ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lii), 148-9, 198; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 390; CD 1629, pp. 36-7, 41, 59.
  • 15. Al. Cant. (John and Richard Robson).
  • 16. CJ, ii. 8b, 25a, 101a; Smart, 7-10; LJ, iv. 249a, 256b, 259b; v. 106a; HMC 4th Rep. 65.
  • 17. Durham UL, DPRI/1/1645/R7/1-2; Regs. Durham Cathedral, 93; Al. Ox. (John Robson).