ROLFE, William (c.1594-1646), of the Inner Temple, London and Enford, Wilts.

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

c.1594, s. of William Rolfe of Enford (d. bef. 1616), and Sarah, da. of John Blake of Andover, Hants.1 educ. appr. Vintner, London, 1608; I. Temple 1617.2 m. (1) 7 Jan. 1619, Joan, da. and coh. of William Wright of Riverhead, Sevenoaks, Kent, s.p.;3 (2) 1622, Sarah, da. of Sir Richard Deane, Skinner and alderman of London, s.p.4 d. Apr. 1646.5 sig. Will[iam] Rolfe.

Offices Held

Freeman, Vintners Co. 1614,6 steward 1619-20,7 asst. 1631.8

J.p. Wilts. 1627-36, Hants 1630-6;9 commr. repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wilts. 1633.10

Clerk of the warrants, c.p by 1633-at leat 1635, clerk of the estreats by 1637.11


Rolfe came from a yeoman family of ‘mean estate’ settled in Enford for at least two generations.12 In 1608 he was bound apprentice to a member of the Vintners’ Company, probably his uncle William Blake*. Rolfe himself became a freeman of the Company in 1614, and two years later began working at Blake’s scrivener’s shop in Fleet Street.13 Blake’s connections probably secured Rolfe a place at the Inner Temple in 1617, for he was admitted by the special licence of Sir Edmund Prideaux, who had been engaged with Blake in a number of property deals.14

By an advantageous first marriage to the co-heiress of a Kentish gentleman, Rolfe secured a mansion house in Riverhead, Kent, two manors in Somerset and, in exchange for a payment of £600 to his sister-in-law, another manor in north Wales.15 He soon afterwards speculated in further property purchases; by 1624 he had bought the Wiltshire manors of Enford, Chisenbury and Dinton, as well as property in Hampshire and the leases of two coalmines in Warwickshire and Yorkshire.16 Rolfe’s principal residence during the 1620s was in London, possibly in Fleet Street or in lodgings at the Inner Temple.17 He purchased Heytesbury manor in Wiltshire, from Blake in late 1626, and was returned for Heytesbury, a proprietary borough, at the next general election.18 His reasons for standing are not known, but as a Vintner he may have wanted to sit in Parliament to secure the release of those wine merchants who had been imprisoned for refusing to pay an impost on wines. On 17 Apr. 1628 Rolfe was allowed five days leave, though for what reason is unknown. He was named to only three committees, these being to consider petitions from the Exchangers and Goldsmiths (13 June 1628) and bills against bribery (23 Jan. 1629) and ecclesiastical appropriations (29 January).19

In 1631 Rolfe asked to be excused the mastership of the Vintner’s Company by reason of ‘the remoteness of his dwelling in the times of the vacation, whereby he should be much hindered from the necessary attendance on the Company’s affairs’.20 In fact he was by this time in considerable financial difficulty, and spent much of the 1630s unsuccessfully defending himself in Chancery against accusations of fraud and deceit in various business transactions. Blake’s widow sued him in 1631 for the recovery of several properties, including part of her jointure lands, which had been assigned to him in trust.21 That same year he was also ordered to repay £315 to an investor whose money he had improperly lent to friends ‘out of a desire for pleasure ... and to gain great benefit to himself’. Two years later, while a trustee for the Hampshire estate of Thomas Antrobus*, from whom he had purchased Easton manor, near Winchester, he was fined £1,100 for appropriating more than £4,000 from the estate for his own use. In another instance he was ordered to repay £615 which had been assigned to him by Sir Clement Scudamore, a man whom Rolfe had deemed ‘not much vigilant or careful in matters touching his own estate’.22 By 1635 he was compelled to sell most of his properties to satisfy accumulated debts, estimated by Blake’s widow to have reached £30,000.23 Enford brought him £9,500, and he conveyed Heytesbury to his wife Sarah as compensation for jointure lands which he had already sold.24 He was removed from the Wiltshire and Hampshire benches in 1636.

Rolfe faced further censure in early 1638, when he and his business partner Ralph Massey were fined a total of £1,550 as a result of suits brought, among others, by the countess of Castlehaven, who had deposited £1,000 with them.25 Massey was granted royal protection for a year to allow him to raise the capital, but in June 1638 the Privy Council reported that he had ‘been unable to bring the same to perfection by reason of the absence of Rolfe, who is principally chargeable in the said accounts’.26 Rolfe was believed to be hiding in London, but by November he was imprisoned in Warwick gaol, where he languished ‘for want of money’.27 In 1643 Blake’s daughter-in-law petitioned the House of Lords against Rolfe, accusing him of defrauding her of jointure lands and annuities which were supposed to have been paid to her as a result of her father’s sale of Heytesbury 17 years earlier. Her claim against him was finally withdrawn in December 1645, though the outcome is unknown.28

Rolfe made his will on 19 Apr. 1646, styling himself as of the Inner Temple and requesting that his debts be satisfied by the sale of unspecified lands in Warwickshire and other properties which had earlier been settled on his wife. Administration of the estate was granted a few weeks later to his brother-in-law and creditor, John Goodwin†.29 No other member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Som. and Dorset N and Q, x. 309-10.
  • 2. GL, ms 15211C/3, f. 117; CITR, ii. 103.
  • 3. The Gen. n.s. xii. 240.
  • 4. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 238; A. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 64, 83.
  • 5. PROB 11/196, f. 153.
  • 6. GL, ms 15211B/3, f. 61.
  • 7. Ibid. 15201/2, f. 253.
  • 8. Ibid. 15201/3, f. 30.
  • 9. C231/4, f. 237; 231/5, f. 53; Wilts. RO, A1/150/6; PC2/45, ff. 293, 335, 341.
  • 10. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 13v.
  • 11. CITR, ii. 210; State Pprs. Collected by Edward, Earl of Clarendon ed. R. Scrope and T. Monkhouse (Oxford, 1767-86), i. 348; Cal. of Ancient Deeds, iv. 243.
  • 12. Wilts. RO, Archdeacon of Sarum wills, 1579-1645; E115/322/62; E179/199/398.
  • 13. C2/Chas.I/B107/62.
  • 14. CITR, ii. 44, 103; P. Wright, Strange Hist. of Buckingham Palace, 199.
  • 15. PROB 11/133, f. 110.
  • 16. VCH Wilts. xi. 119, 130, 174; viii. 28; VCH Som. vi. 300; VCH Warws. vi. 28; VCH Hants, iii. 318; APC, 1621-3, p. 348; A. Hughes, Pols. Soc. and the Civil War in Warws. 1620-60, p. 10; SP14/171/67; 14/527/8.
  • 17. CITR, ii. 148; E115/333/38; Sloane 1044, f. 261; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 367.
  • 18. C2/Chas.I/B77/56.
  • 19. CD 1628, ii. 507; iv. 289; CJ, i. 922a, 924a.
  • 20. GL, ms 15201/3, f. 30.
  • 21. C2/Chas.I/B66/11; 2/Chas.I/B77/56; 2/Chas.I/B107/62; 2/Chas.I/B115/12.
  • 22. C78/433/12; 78/465/7; 78/371/1.
  • 23. C2/Chas.I/B77/56.
  • 24. Wilts. RO, 101/30/6; C54/3043/23; 54/2890/1; VCH Wilts. xi. 130, 174; C. Mayo, Municipal Recs. of Dorchester, 623; D. Stroud, South Kensington estate of Henry Smith, 13.
  • 25. SP16/388/47; C78/429/8.
  • 26. SP16/393/89.
  • 27. SP16/401/66; 16/402/12.
  • 28. LJ, v. 565b; viii. 67.
  • 29. PROB 11/196, f. 153; Year Bks. of Probates ed. J. and G.F. Matthews, iv. 147.