SKINNER, Sir Vincent (1543-1616), of Thornton College, Lincs.; Lincoln's Inn and Blackfriars, 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

b. 1543, o.s. of John Skinner, mercer, of Thorpe by Wainfleet, Lincs., and Elizabeth, da. of John Fairfax of Swarby, Lincs.1 educ. Trin., Camb. 1557, fell. 1561, MA 1564; incorp. Oxf. 1566; L. Inn 1565.2 m. (1) 16 Jan. 1570, Audrey (d. aft. Sept. 1582), da. of Richard Ogle of Pinchbeck, Lincs., wid. of John Man† (d.1569) of Bolingbroke, Lincs., s.p.; (2) c.1594, Elizabeth (bur. 16 Dec. 1633),3 da. of Robert Fowkes† of Symondsbury, Dorset, wid. of Henry Middlemore of Enfield, Mdx., 1s.4 suc. fa. 11 Oct. 1545.5 kntd. 7 May 1603.6 d. 28 Feb. 1616.7 sig. Vin[cent] Skynner.

Offices Held

Escheator, Lincs. 1573-4; duchy of Lancaster recvr. in Lincs. by 1581-1615; duchy of Lancaster feodary, Lincs. from 1582; constable Bolingbroke Castle and Lincoln Castle, Lincs. 1583;8 j.p. Lincs. by 1596-at least 1608,9 Mdx. by 1598-at least 1608;10 kpr. of Kirkby Park, Lincs. 1604;11 steward of Willoughton manor, Lincs. 1604;12 commr. inquiry, possessions of Sir Walter Ralegh† and Henry Brooke, 11th Lord Cobham†, London and Mdx. 1603,13 oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1603-1610, London, 1608-10,14 sewers, fenland 1604-5, Mdx. 1604, Lincs., 1607-10, Lea valley 1607-9, Lincoln, 1608, London, 1608, Colne valley 1609,15 charitable uses, Mdx. 1605,16 musters, Mdx. 1608,17 gaol delivery, London and Mdx. 1608-10,18 subsidy, Mdx. and Westminster 1608.19

Sec. to William Cecil†, Lord Burghley c.1575-93;20 writer of tallies and auditor of the receipt 1593-1609.21


As the only son of a Lincoln mercer Skinner’s family background remains obscure. When Skinner was about two years old his father died; he was certainly not the son of the John Skinner who, granted arms in 1557, preceded this Member as the duchy of Lancaster’s receiver in Lincolnshire, though the two were possibly related.22 Despite his humble beginnings, Skinner distinguished himself as a brilliant student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his friends included Thomas Cartwright, John Stubbe†, and Michael Hicks*, all puritans whose religious views he shared. These student connections may explain how Skinner first became acquainted with William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley. In 1570 he married a cousin of the latter’s wife Mildred, and obtained the wardship of his stepson with Burghley’s assistance.23 He sat in seven Elizabethan parliaments, either for boroughs where Burghley had the right of nomination or which were controlled by the duchy of Lancaster, in which Skinner held various local offices in Lincolnshire after 1573.24 He served, like Hicks, as one of Burghley’s most trusted secretaries until 1593, when he was appointed to the Exchequer as an auditor of the receipt.25

Skinner was conscientious in the performance of his Exchequer duties, but his enjoyment of this advancement was soured by a quarrel that had begun before he took over, between his predecessor, Robert Petre†, and the clerk of the pells, Chidiock Wardour†.26 After Burghley’s death, Skinner wrote in desperation to his successor Sir Robert Cecil† in 1599, that ‘as much as I acknowledge to him [Burghley] by whose favour I received the place (though unknown to me then how painful and troublesome it was and has since proved), no less shall I owe to you for your good means with tolerable condition to abandon it’. Protesting against Wardour’s revival of the ‘pell of issues’, he desired ‘to be freed from these public employments, and to attend my own poor particulars, which I have wholly intermitted, and find impaired’.27 However, his request was declined, although he repeated his pleas in a ‘Discourse Concerning the King’s Receipt’, submitted to Cecil following James’s accession.28 Consequently, despite claiming that Wardour’s changes had deprived him of at least half of his accustomed fees, he continued in the receipt until 1609.29 Skinner’s life at the Exchequer was made even more miserable by a quarrel with Sir Francis Bacon*, who berated him for failing to display ‘that regard which one in your place may owe to one in mine’.30

During his time in the Exchequer Skinner continued to serve the Cecils in a range of minor administrative capacities. In 1596 he was sent, along with Richard Topcliffe, to search the houses of suspected priest-harbourers in London and the suburbs.31 Moreover, holding a duchy of Lancaster lease of Enfield manor that entitled him to 40 loads of wood a year, he was also entrusted with several duties concerning Enfield Chase, of which Sir Robert Cecil was master forester and steward.32 He was variously commissioned to examine poachers taking partridges, to deal with the complaints of tenants, and to prevent bargemen from landing on the property.33 In 1603 Skinner and Sir Robert Wroth I* investigated disturbances raised by local women, who complained against Cecil’s servants for gathering firewood in the Chase. However, his report hinted that it was actually Wroth, another Cecil client, that had fomented the protest. As bailiff and woodward, Wroth received 60 loads of wood a year. On that occasion Skinner was able to negotiate a compromise, but competition for fuel remained a problem at Enfield, and consequently in 1605 he was again instructed to address the problem.34 Following Cecil’s appointment as lord treasurer in 1608, Skinner continued to be useful to his patron, who was now the 1st earl of Salisbury. For example, he provided Exchequer data to enable Salisbury to compare the receipts of the king with those of his predecessors, with a view to making a case for retrenchment of royal spending.35

Skinner was rewarded with several grants of leases, such as that of Cheshunt Nunnery, which was bestowed upon him in 1588.36 In around 1603 he received the manor of Thornton in Lincolnshire in consideration of his service to Sir Oliver Cromwell*, and he was knighted by King James at Theobalds on 7 May 1603.37 Nevertheless, he claimed to have made little profit from his office, once telling his creditors that ‘I did not help myself in my place as well as my clerks serving under me ... [who] by giving intelligence of debts due to His Majesty made so good boot thereof that of some they had the tenth part of His Majesty’s grants’.38 Early in the new reign Skinner began to experience serious financial problems, mainly as a result of undertaking an ambitious building project at Thornton College. He commissioned the architect John Thorpe to erect a stately mansion on the foundations of the ruined abbey, incorporating its buttresses. The design of the house displays considerable taste, but Skinner’s pleasure in it was short-lived, for the building inexplicably collapsed shortly after it was finished.39

It was probably his mounting debts that forced Skinner to seek election to Parliament in 1604. He did so through the Duchy rather than through Cecilian channels, ending up with a seat at Preston. A complete stranger to the borough, he was later listed by Arthur Hall† as one of several Members who had been ‘unlawfully’ elected.40 As a veteran of seven Elizabethan parliaments, Skinner was used to being named to a wide range of committees, but he had demonstrated no great concern for politics, nor had he ever made a recorded speech. This remained very much the pattern of his participation after 1604. He had long been interested in bills for religion; as early as 1572 he was one of the promoters of a bill to legalize puritan nonconformity, and his enthusiasm for such legislation remained constant.41 He was named to committees for bills concerning pluralism (4 June 1604), clergy reform (12 June 1604), non-resident clergy (22 Jan. 1606), and the Sabbath (29 Jan. 1606), and he was also named to conferences with the Lords touching recusancy (3 Feb. 1606) and grievances in ecclesiastical causes (10 Apr. 1606).42 It was in response to Sir Francis Hastings’ report from the conference with the Lords on religion (8 June 1604) that Skinner made his maiden speech, arguing that ‘since, by our writ, we are called to consult of matters for the church and commonwealth, we [should] make an act against the former protestation of the bishops and protest against them’.43

Skinner’s long experience in the Exchequer explains his inclusion on bill committees concerned with Exchequer procedures (14 June 1604) and ‘defraying of the charges of the king’s Household’ (18 June 1604),44 and his appointments as treasurer of the House’s charitable collections and benevolences.45 A significant proportion of his many other bill committee appointments were related to London matters, such as Bridewell hospital’s charter (9 June 1604), the ratification of the existing wharves and quays along the Thames (20 June 1604), new buildings (24 Jan. 1606), and the paving of Drury Lane (19 Mar. 1606).46 There were two private bills in which Skinner was indirectly involved. The first concerned an exchange of Lincolnshire lands between Trinity College, Cambridge and Sir Thomas Monson*, who later succeeded Skinner as the duchy’s Lincolnshire receiver. Skinner demanded that a survey of the lands should be seen by the House, and thereby ensured that the bill was rejected after a long debate (7 June 1604).47 The second dealt with the debts of Richard Orrell, a Lancashire gentleman for whom Skinner had stood as surety in a substantial loan. On 11 July 1610 Skinner argued that Orrell, who was under arrest awaiting trial, should be freed in order to defend himself by means of a private bill, which Skinner helped him to promote.48 The bill’s progress was interrupted by the prorogation, though Skinner blamed the ‘largesse of some and opposition of others, by dilatory pleas and pretences’ for its delay.49 His hopes of partially relieving his own financial crisis by this means having been dashed, Skinner could do little to save himself, and was arrested by the sheriff of Middlesex on the sixteenth day after the end of the fourth session.50 He appealed to Salisbury to free him from ‘this most odious restraint’, but in the event it was his old friend Sir Michael Hicks whom he had to thank for securing his temporary release a few weeks later.51 When Parliament was recalled in October 1610, Skinner’s predicament sparked a lively debate about the extent of privilege in the interim between sittings. It was resolved that 16 days was the maximum time needed for travel to or from the capital, so that at the time of his arrest privilege had not quite expired. There was considerable sympathy for Skinner, who was allowed to resume his place in the House.52 His example was later cited as evidence that parliamentary privilege was inviolable. In 1626, for instance, Christopher Brooke argued that ‘a Parliament man shall not be troubled at all’.53

By 1611 Skinner had apparently amassed outstanding debts in excess of £10,000.54 His difficulties were exacerbated by his stepson, Robert Middlemore, for whom he had obtained the reversion of the duchy receivership in Lincolnshire, but who ran up arrears which were mostly met by Skinner himself.55 To make matters worse, he also found himself in dispute with Middlemore over Enfield manor, upon which Skinner had secured certain loans but which Middlemore claimed as his inheritance because it had formed part of his mother’s jointure.56 At the same time Skinner’s tenants in Lincolnshire mounted a collective Chancery suit against him for attempting to change the terms and rents of their copyhold, though in the end the case was dismissed.57 Skinner’s most persistent creditor was his successor in the receipt, John Bingley*, who, in addition to trying to repossess Skinner’s house at Blackfriars, did his utmost to discredit him and deprive him of his remaining duchy offices, though these were Skinner’s last hope of raising the funds he needed to pay off his debts.58 Throughout this grinding humiliation, Skinner displayed an acute consciousness of his reputation as a public man, and as well as justifying his actions in office as free from the corruptions that he believed tainted his accusers, he constantly reminded his patrons of the need to ‘avoid a public scandal’.59 To Hicks he complained that he no longer had access to Salisbury, adding that ‘if there be no protection for my body I shall take the best course I can for my soul, think[ing] my self happy if the Lord would send me a dissolution of them both, for this labyrinth is hard for me to tread’.60 Before he died Hicks revised his will to erase all mention of Skinner, who had formerly been both a beneficiary and overseer.61 The support of the rest of Skinner’s circle gradually ebbed away, though he wrote in desperation to such former associates as Sir Walter Cope*, Sir Robert Cotton*, and (Sir) Thomas Bodley†, to whom he owed £315 that was never repaid.62

A grant of protection for one year was procured for Skinner in April 1612 by Sir Thomas Lake I*.63 Thereafter he spent the remainder of his days at Isaac Bringhurst’s house, a debtor’s prison in Holborn. He died intestate on 28 Feb. 1616, and was buried at St Andrew’s, Holborn the following day.64 Administration of his estate was finally obtained by his widow in 1622.65 At the time of his death Skinner’s only son, William*, was a 19 year-old student at Lincoln’s Inn, and was granted his chamber there.66 William later married a daughter of Sir Edward Coke*, and was returned for Great Grimsby in 1626.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 888.
  • 2. Al Cant.; LI Admiss.
  • 3. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 81.
  • 4. N and Q, n.s. ccix. 164-5.
  • 5. C142/74/133.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 104.
  • 7. C142/356/134.
  • 8. R. Somerville, Hist. Duchy of Lancaster, i. 580, 583; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 187-8.
  • 9. SP13/F/11; SP14/33, f. 39.
  • 10. APC 1598-9, p. 142; SP14/33, f. 42.
  • 11. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 441; SP14/7/51.
  • 12. E315/310, f. 15v.
  • 13. C181/1, f. 72v.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 66v; 181/2, ff. 30, 71v, 132v, 133.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 75, 88, 100v, 118; 181/2, ff. 48, 50, 75, 84, 90, 94, 119; Lansd. 168, f. 151v.
  • 16. C93/2/15.
  • 17. Add. 11402, f.142.
  • 18. C181/2, ff. 73, 103v, 110, 131v.
  • 19. SP14/31/1.
  • 20. HMC Hatfield, iv. 377.
  • 21. Exchequer Officeholders comp. J.C. Sainty (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xviii), 207.
  • 22. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 177.
  • 23. PSO 5/1, f. 9v; R.C. Barnett, Place, Profit and Power, 127-32; HMC Hatfield, i. 553, 571.
  • 24. A.G.R. Smith, Servant of the Cecils, 188.
  • 25. Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 12, 34, 68; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 6, 22, 70, 683, 688; 1591-4, pp. 3, 18; HMC Hatfield, iv. 377.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 21, 181, 392, 413, 471; APC, 1595-6, p. 137; HMC Hatfield, vii. 227-8, 520; viii. 286, 361; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 19, 158; APC, 1598-9, p. 190; HMC Hatfield, ix. 118, 131, 151-2, 229, 257-8, 298-9, 422; APC, 1599-1600, pp. 70, 93, 149, 255, 262, 270, 291; HMC Hatfield, x. 29, 43, 82, 83, 176, 281, 292-3, 339, 342; xi. 197, 348, 373, 404; xii. 435; xiii. 156-8, 425, 446; xv. 181, 229; Add. 38855, f. 39; G.R. Elton, ‘Elizabethan Exchequer: War in the Receipt’, in Eliz. Govt. and Soc. ed. S.T. Bindoff et al. 213-48.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 241-2.
  • 28. Lansd. 151, ff. 103-11; E407/71.
  • 29. HMC 8th Rep. 361; CSP Dom. 1601-3, pp. 8, 27, 133, 137, 167; APC 1601-4, p. 330; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 449, 493; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 66; HMC Hatfield, xii. 255; xvi. 127, 180, 190, 245; xvii. 436; xviii. 455; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 15, 587; Lansd. 159, ff. 181-3.
  • 30. Sloane 3078, ff. 49v-50v; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iv. 6-7.
  • 31. APC, 1596-7, p. 74.
  • 32. HMC Hatfield, ix. 118.
  • 33. Ibid. v. 407-8; xxiv. 109; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 3.
  • 34. SP14/1/25; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 116; D. Pam, Story of Enfield Chase, 48-9.
  • 35. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 436; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 587.
  • 36. Hatfield House, Deeds 191/5.
  • 37. C66/1705; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 441; 1603-10, pp. 99, 351; Lansd. 1217, f. 67.
  • 38. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 295.
  • 39. D.L. Roberts, ‘John Thorpe’s Drawings for Thornton College, the House of Sir Vincent Skinner’, Lincs. Hist. and Archaeology, xix. 57-63; Bk. of Architecture of John Thorpe ed. J. Summerson (Walpole Soc. xl), 7, 25, 28, 35, 65, 66.
  • 40. SP14/7/82.II.
  • 41. SP12/86/45; M.M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism, 233-4.
  • 42. CJ, i. 231b, 237a, 258a, 261b, 263a, 296b.
  • 43. Ibid. 235a, 989a.
  • 44. Ibid. 238b, 241b.
  • 45. Ibid. 250b, 381b.
  • 46. Ibid. 235b, 243b, 259b, 287a.
  • 47. Ibid. 234a, 988a.
  • 48. Ibid. 441b, 448a.
  • 49. Lansd. 91/79, 83; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 311; C2/Jas.I/S5/55.
  • 50. Lansd. 91/46, 80, 81, 82; C2/Jas.I/S30/29; 2/Jas.I/S23/63.
  • 51. Lansd. 91/89, 90, 91, 95.
  • 52. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 306-8, 387-8; Lansd. 486, f. 156; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 544.
  • 53. Procs. 1626, ii. 10, 16, 18, 62, 64, 331; Harl. 6850, f. 245*.
  • 54. Lansd. 91/107; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 295.
  • 55. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 17; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders, 188.
  • 56. C2/Jas.I/S38/67; C3/481/13.
  • 57. C78/167/13.
  • 58. Lansd. 91/102-104; 92/9, 71, 72.
  • 59. Lansd. 92/10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18.
  • 60. Lansd. 91/19; 92/58.
  • 61. Lansd. 91/88, ff. 147, 149-52; Smith, 153-4.
  • 62. Lansd. 91/103; Oxf. Univ. Arch. Reg. N.(23), f. 118.
  • 63. C66/1953; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 357.
  • 64. GL, ms 6673/1, unfol.
  • 65. PROB 6/10, f. 164.
  • 66. LI Black Bks. ii. 181.